SPAIN: Table Wines
The table wines from the Rioja region are certainly world
famous and in the cellars of connoisseurs around the world.
We're seeing a dramatic improvement to the wines of Spain and there are still great
bargains to be found here. For many years we've been exploring this delightful area
of the wine universe. You'll find, as a result, we have a substantial stock of
The Lay of The
Land...Backgrounder on Spain
Some Wines and Wineries We Like:
- LA RIOJA ALTA
- Located in
is a very traditional, old-time winery. They grow enough fruit to supply about half
of their production, buying grapes from growers to meet the demands of the market.
These are "classically-styled" Rioja wines. They're not dark
in color, nor are they fruit bombs. As a result, wine writers who
appreciate traditionally-made Spanish wines find these to be quite good, while
those looking for "extreme" wines such as those produced in
California and Australia routinely are not impressed.
A representative of the winery told us recently "We no longer send our
wines to certain American publications. Why should we? After all,
they do not understand our wines."
I'm certain the critics in question would argue otherwise, but one of them
once published an article on paella. They could not recommend a Spanish
wine for paella, but they did like some California Zinfandels and Pinot Noirs!
If you like old-fashioned, classic Spanish reds, La Rioja Alta should be viewed as a
really good winery. And they make a nice wine, or two, which can
successfully accompany a good paella.
very high percentage of the wines here are Reserva or Gran Reserva designations.
They have more than 30,000 barrels in the cellars!
long been fans of
their "Viña Alberdi," a Reserva wine with a relatively modest price tag. The
2003 is quite good, showing the lovely woodsy notes we've come to expect in
this wine. It's matured for a year in new American wood before being
racked into older cooperage. We find some nice berry-like fruit, with
fine "woodsy" notes on top. It's a medium-bodied Rioja and one
that's perfectly drinkable right now. It's especially good with grilled
meats, but a paella with seafood and sausages works well, too.
The 2001 Viña Ardanza is delightful and "classically-styled"
Rioja. You'll find plenty of oak and the usual woodsy notes of
patiently matured Spanish red wine. It's very drinkable now, though it
ought to last for five+ years more. Very fine and well-priced.
The 1997 Gran Reserva #904 is a very smooth red. Medium-bodied, this
can be paired with both white or red meats. It's quite good now.
Lots of woodsy, oaky notes. The acidity is crisp, giving the wine
the ability to cleanse the palate when you're bombarding it with
garlic-seasoned grilled lamb chops, por ejemplo. We suggest
opening this and allowing it to blossom in a decanter for an hour or so
Reserva #890 from the 1994 vintage was just being released at the end of
2007. Here's a remarkable, very traditionally-made Rioja wine.
It comes from old vines which yield few grapes. It's approximately 85%
Tempranillo and the rest is Graciano and Mazuelo. Six years of
aging in wood!! Imagine that! Once bottled, the wine was then
stored for another 6 years and it's offered to the market in 2007! The
bouquet is lovely, woodsy, cedary and shows a note of cigar box...It's dry
on the palate, but not "plush" in the fashion of modern-styled
wines. Pair this with a roast or grilled meats. Very special.
- Currently available: 2003 "Viña Alberdi"
Rioja Reserva (List $25) SALE $19.99
1997 Gran Reserva #904 $59.99
2001 Viña Ardanza $35.99
1994 Gran Reserva #890 List $160 SALE
- PAGO FLORENTINO
- You might think
"Florentino" is an Italian wine, but it's not. This comes
from La Mancha, a vast wine region south of Madrid, a place where loads of
everyday, simple wines have been produced.
Of course, it's possible to make really superior wine in La Mancha, but this
takes desire, drive and dedication. The grapes are already there, but
if they're farmed for quantity, you're pretty much out of luck in making
This is an off-shoot of Bodegas Arzuaga and and I prefer this to their
Arzuaga wines frankly. Lavishly oaked, deep in color and teeming with
black fruit, it's a delicious, modern style of winemaking. You can put
this on the dinner table in place of good Napa Cabernets or Bordeaux.
We had suggested this to a fellow recently who was dining across the street
in the new Italian place, Rocca. I finally got the doors shut, about
20 minutes later than official closing time on that Monday. A few
moments later there was a frantic tapping on the front door. This guy
They'd just opened their bottle of Pago Florentino and
immediately were smitten, realizing one bottle was simply not going to be
sufficient. Another customer had ordered a mixed case of
"good value" wines to serve to guests after a special event...he
reported back that everyone was thrilled by our selections and he
particularly liked the "killer Spanish wine." He ordered a
case to be sent to the office. Try a bottle for yourself and see
Currently in stock: 2007 Pago Florentino $21.99 (back in
- Borsao comes from a cooperative winery
(actually, it's three wineries!) in the Aragon region of
Spain. They have something like 1500 hectares of vineyards, primarily in Garnacha
vines. The official name of the winery is the Sociedad Cooperativa Agricola Limitado
de Borja, so you can see their name Borsao is certainly much easier to remember.
With a price tag of about six bucks-and-change, it's hard to forget! The wine is made for
immediate consumption, being primarily Garnacha with a bit of Tempranillo. They do a
fermentation in the style of Beaujolais....a whole berry fermentation which minimizes the
tannin and highlights the red fruit notes (raspberry, strawberry, zesty
plums, etc.). This is best served at cool cellar temp and you will
want to drink this in its youth as it's not made with the idea of needing 5
years of bottle aging.
A visitor from Los Angeles was poking around a few years ago, admiring all the
interesting and famous California wines and he saw a little sign on this wine.
"How can this be any good for five bucks?" he asked quizzically.
"Why don't you buy one and find out?" I replied.
He put some money on the counter and departed with a bottle of this.
About four days later he called from L.A. and arranged to have a dozen bottles shipped to
his front door.
The current bottling of Tres Picos is a delight. It's a
sweetly-scented, very berryish red wine with a nice touch of oak. The wood
is fragrant and beautifully integrated, too. It's a medium-bodied wine
with good length. Not a wine for cellaring, it's at its best right now.
- Currently available: 2010 Borsao "Campo de
Borja" (list $9.00) SALE
- 2009 TRES PICOS GARNACHA Sale $15.99
Also located in Haro,
this family-run producer also has its own cooperage associated with the winery. They
buy wood, season it themselves and there's a cooper on hand to build and repair
barrels. While many wineries in Rioja are using stainless steel for their
fermentation, Muga clings to the past, fermenting in wooden vats! They are using
French and American oak for their wines, having more than 10,000 barrels in their
long-time prestigious bottling of "vino Tinto" is called Prado Enea. This
is predominantly Tempranillo with about 20% split amongst Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo.
Matured for an extended period in oak, the 2000 is just now coming to market!
It is drinkable now and should be in tip-top form for another 5-8 years, maybe
Torre Muga is the "reserve-reserve" bottling. It is a big
time red wine and the 2005 is the current release. It's a three grape
blend, 75% Tempranillo, 15% Mazeulo and 10% Graciano. The juice gets a
long period of skin contact and the wine is matured in wood for
approximately two years, 18 months being in brand new barrels. Here's
a thoroughly modern wine made by a fairly traditional winery...You can pair
this with grilled or roasted red meats...drinkable now, it may cellar well
for another 5-10 years...
- Currently available: 2003 Muga "Rioja
Reserva" Sold Out
2005 Torre Muga (list $95) SALE $84.99
Alava and Navarra contribute their first letters to form
"LAN," the name of this enterprising bodega. These are the
three regions intersected by the Rioja region. The winery was
founded in the early 1970s and became the property of a gentleman who made
batteries and plastic tubing.
The winery has been on a mission, after making serious investments in
stainless steel tanks, oak barrels and other winemaking tools. What
it lacked was vineyards and grapes. LAN began its search for better
fruit and they've made great investments to assure top quality
grapes. You see, they're paying above-market prices for grapes and
the quality of the LAN wines has risen handsomely.
They produce a large quantity of wine and we find some of their vintages
to be spot on and price-worthy.
Currently we have a 2006 "Crianza" in the shop. It's made
entirely of Tempranillo and aged about a year in small American oak
barrels. While it's not the most compelling bottle of Rioja we've
run across, it is the best buy in good Rioja...it costs a mere ten bucks,
unheard of these days. Try finding an entry level red in Napa for
$9.99. Buena suerte as they say in Spanish.
The 2006 Crianza is a medium-bodied red. Nice woodsy notes from the
oak and some red fruit elements from the Tempranillo. It's drinkable
now and you can cellar it for a few years.
The 2005 Reserva is a winner...lovely, classic Rioja...80% Tempranillo,
10% Mazuelo, 10% Garnacha, the grapes coming from the Rioja Alta
area...older vineyards, too. It's matured for a year in both
French and American oak. We like the woodsy notes on the
nose. And it's smooth enough to enjoy immediately.
- Currently in stock: BODEGAS LAN 2006 RIOJA
2005 BODEGAS LAN "Reserva" $17.99
MARQUES DE DAROCA
- This winery is located in an unknown region of northeastern Spain.
Aragon has an area known as Valle del Jiloca and it's between Rioja and
the east coast of Spain.
This firm seems to be on the right track, making wines which have a bit of
soul to them (unlike the schlock you find from California's Central Valley
or the big production "coastal" wines from Beringer or Mondavi,
The 2009 blend of Grenache + Syrah is remarkably good. You will detect the berryish notes of both varieties and a
hint of spice, too. The tannins are not huge, making this drinkable
now. And you can't beat it for good value! They changed
the label to the less "noble" Daroca and dropped the "Marques
de" since maybe nobody there is of noble heritage. Who knows?
Currently in stock: 2009 Grenache/Syrah $7.99 (case discounts,
BODEGAS JUAN GIL
- There has been
a succession of Juan Gils at this winery, which traces its roots back to the
early 1900s in south-eastern Spain. After the first Juan, maybe they
should have named these guys by number, Two Gil, Three Gil, etc.
I think the current owner is Four Gil.
They're located in the Jumilla region, a place where the Monastrell vine is
- We were curious to taste a current vintage from this producer, having read
an article in a French magazine indicating the Juan Gil wine fared very well
in a blind-tasting comparison of Mourvèdre wines, most of which were from
France's Bandol appellation. And you know the French often believe
they have exclusive "rights" to all things of culture, whether
it's wine, food or art, so when you read a French journal praising a Spanish
wine that's a fraction of the price of the Bandols...well...
The 2009 is made entirely of Monastrell and matured for about a year in
small French oak barrels. It's a fairly hefty red wine...robust, but
soft and fairly smooth on the palate. Lots of dark fruit notes, some berries
and vanillin along with a touch of cedar. This is best consumed
in its youth...the acidity is not terribly high, so it's not a candidate for
- Currently in stock: JUAN GIL 2009 Jumilla Red $15.99