It's one of Rioja's great gifts to hold back wine in bottle under the aging requirements of the Reserva and Gran Reserva designations. For me, La Rioja Alta sits in elite company with a very select band whose wines typify the heights that can be achieved with Rioja's extended winery aging protocol.
Today, I'm happy to offer a range of La Rioja Alta's Gran Reserva 890 & 904, including their flagship 2009 Viña Ardanza at $40 per bottle.Gran Reserva 904 comes from vines with an average age of 60-yrs-old comprised of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano. Gran Reserva 890 comes from La Rioja Alta's very oldest vines, with 95% Tempranillo, supplemented by just 3% Graciano and 2% Mazuelo. Like all aged Rioja, both 904 and 890 take on notes tobacco, leather, cinnamon, bright red cherry, and a finish with very subtle vanilla bean and coconut.
But as you imagine, these aged reservas flaunt deeply layered and complex notes, all interwoven seamlessly with an unrelenting and haunting finish that exemplifies what Grand Cru level Rioja is all about. Examples going back to 1973 have been some of the most memorable wine experiences I've ever had. But, make no mistake, the extended aging at the winery means each is ready for prime time tonight. Five families in 1890 from Rioja and the Basque country founded Sociedad Vinícola de La Rioja Alta with a common goal of making age-worthy, grand wines. Located just across the street from Lopez de Heredia, La Rioja Alta also has come to be respected as a prime address for terroir-driven Rioja, emphasizing elegance and transparency of Tempranillo at a time when a more extractive and heavy-handed style has come to garner the 100-point-scores.Traditional winemaking in Rioja is centered around using American oak for aging. All barrels are air dried and manufactured on site, a rarity in the world of wine that allows for ideal quality control. At La Rioja Alta barrels utilized for aging are more aged and neutral, limiting the overt American oak flavors of coconut and dill that tend to dominate modern producers here, masking the more earth-inflected, tobacco, and red cherry notes that make Rioja one of a kind.Rigorous selection of grapes is the foundation of producing world-class wines for so many decades here. Small refrigerated boxes are used to transfer clusters from the vineyards to the winery. The success at the estate over the years have given way to a brand new winery in 1996 where no expense was spared. La Rioja Alta marries the great tradition of winemaking in this region with the modern advancements now giving clean, precise, and soulful wines of place.
Visiting with Christoph Schaefer seven years ago at his family's cellar at the foot of the wickedly steep Domprobst vineyard of Graach (pictured above) was an unforgettable experience. The wines have long impressed me for their featherweight lightness and mineral spring purity of fruit. The balance found throughout the wines coming from the Mosel River Valley captivate us at every turn, but, for me, those from Willi Schaefer sit in a select category. Along with J.J. Prüm, this is where the Mosel reaches its crescendo.Today, I'm happy to offer the full range of in-stock Willi Schaefer Rieslings. The list covers current releases as well as extreme rarities. Value can be found with age, now at 15 years the 2004 Riesling QBA at $34/btl is a great example of the magic capable of developing in bottle. And, several Auction (Grosser Ring) bottlings with a big emphasis on the epic 2001 vintage certainly marks the highlight of this group.Schaefer's minute holding of 4.2 hectares almost exclusively focuses on two vineyards in the village of Graach, the Himmelreich and Domprobst - both comprised of Devonian slate soils. The Himmelreich, in its youth, is the more approachable, fruity, and silky. Lots of citrus and white peach tend to dominate. There's an agility and sense of weightlessness to Himmelreich that personifies the magic of the Mosel.The Domprobst is the more deep, spicy, and powerful. Earthy characteristics reveal themselves here in wines with slightly higher acidity. Flavor profile tends to push further away from the citrus register and into yellow and red orchard fruit notes.
An epic retrospective tasting of the wines from Giuseppe Rinaldi were featured by Antonio Galloni in Vinous in May of 2017. This dinner in London was complete with vintages spanning 1990-2010. Looking back at these notes recently was the impetus for today's offer. A visit just before harvest in 2012 to the cantina was one of my very fondest memories of travels on the wine route. It was a true privilege to meet the family and taste the wines, including the monumental 2010's still in botti.Today, I'm happy to offer a wide range from Giuseppe Rinaldi stretching back to the epic 1967 Brunate Riserva. The first wines labeled under Giuseppe Rinaldi came in 1921 (pictured below). Battista Rinaldi continued the tradition at the estate in 1945, and after his passing his son Beppe returned home in 1992. Beppe's spirit over the last decades has been even more immortalized than the legendary wines he's produced. It was over this span that worldwide attention on Piedmont had gradually increased, and even in the last 15 years pricing and scarcity of the wines has drastically changed. In 2010 Beppe's daughter's Marta and Carlotta began making the wines, continuing in the same traditional fashion.Along with drinking the wines of Bartolo Mascarello and Giacomo Conterno, Rinaldis are among the most memorable I've had in Barolo. They appeal to every aspect of the senses and continually remind me that no matter how articulate experiences can be conveyed the true magic of them is a deeply personal one.As noted by Galloni, most of the production from this cantina had been sold to private customers. Finding back-vintage wines is not a common occurrence today. I was thrilled to be able to work over the last year with Rinaldi's US importer, Vinifera Imports, to acquire several older wines directly from the Rinaldi estate. Rinaldi is a revered traditionalist, following the techniques Battista and Giuseppe had employed in the early and mid 1900's. Wines are macerated on their skins for a long time, and aging takes place large botti. The results are powerful, deep Barolos that are met with the precision and aromatics that make them incomparable. They offer wild spices, gamey notes, and of course Nebbiolo's tell-tale tar and roses.Essentially two Barolos were made, the Brunate-Le Coste and the Cannubi (San Lorenzo)-Ravera. Laws recently changed and now multiple crus aren't permitted on labels. Starting in 2010 the Brunate-Le Coste was bottled with a higher 85% Brunate and just 15% Le Coste (the maximum legal addition). The Cannubi (San Lorenzo)-Ravera began to implement wine from Le Coste and the new name for the bottling is "Tre Tine" (three vats).
I've slowly been amassing this collection from Barbaresco's most historic estate. There's no winery in Piedmont, or perhaps the world, which exemplifies the spirit of collective contribution quite like the Produttori del Barbaresco. While the single-vineyard Barbarescos garner much of the fame, the blended straight Barbaresco has proven to be one of the world's great values in cellar-worthy wine. Today's collection features wines as far back as 1964 through the current releases.
It was in 1894 when the headmaster of the Royal Enological School of Alba, Domizio Cavazza, created the cooperative by pulling together nine vineyard owners to bottle their wines in his castle. Before then, grapes had been sold off to Barolo producers or simply labeled as "Nebbiolo di Barbaresco". This Cantine Sociali was then closed in the 1930's due to the economic restrictions of fascism. In 1958, the priest of Barbaresco gathered together nineteen growers, knowing the only chance at prosperity was to form as one - the Produttori del Barbaresco was officially founded.
Today, 51 growers are the backbone of production covering nine great single-vineyard Barbarescos: Asili, Rabajà, Pora, Montestefano, Ovello, Pajè, Montefico, Muncagota, and Rio Sordo. Truly reflecting this band of brothers, these prized Barbarescos will only be produced if each one meets the highest standards. Should only one vineyard not make the cut then there will be no single-vineyard wines produced that year.
The Langhe Nebbiolo is the entry-level wine of the Produttori, offering immediate accessibility. The straight Barbaresco is made each year comprised of grapes within the DOCG zone. For me, this is the benchmark bottling of the region, offering a value that consistently delivers well above its price point. In exceptional years, the nine single-vineyard Barbarescos will be produced. The rigorous standards today are as strong as ever.
Magical is a word that adequately sums up the Koehler-Ruprecht estate in Germany's Pfalz region. But, when we are talking about the super rare reserve bottlings, "R" and "RR", we've entered another dimension of dry Riesling.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2007 Koehler-Ruprecht Saumagen Riesling Auslese Trocken "R" and "RR". This is the only listing for either wine in the entire U.S.
The "R" and "RR" come from a special selection of the smallest, golden berries harvested in the Saumagen vineyard. The "RR" is differentiated partially by its extra aging in barrel as compared to the "R". 2007 saw near perfect balance for Pfalz whites, and much like in Burgundy, there's a freshness to this vintage that continues to appeal to classic-leaning palates.
The wines of Koehler-Ruprecht bear little resemblance to those of neighboring producers, nor to those next door in France's Alsace. Though Riesling is the focus here, a super-natural element exists within all of their wines that make them stand out among their contemporaries. These are some of the very most fascinating wines on earth, and it's the extreme hands-off approach here that's largely responsible for that singular quality.
The winemaking has remained about the same since the early 18th century when the domaine was established. Ferments occur completely naturally. Aging takes place in larger old German oak barrels. The vineyards are worked without herbicides, pesticides, or irrigation. The sweet spot of the holdings comes from Kallstadter's famed Saumagen vineyard, which translates to "pig's stomach" due to its shape. The Pfalz is home to an amalgamation of soils. But, here in Saumagen, it's limestone that takes center stage and bears the most responsibility for this site's crystalline nature, and peerless transformative abilities in bottle.
Koehler-Ruprecht produces Rieslings dry, off-dry, and sweet, but it's their trocken (dry) bottlings that really hit the mark for me. With age these begin to convert into absolutely mystical wines. Their calling card is a cotton candy note that slowly develops. The protective influence of the Vosges mountains to the west gives the Pfalz the lowest amount of rainfall in Germany. This abundance of sunlight gives ample texture and full-throttle ripeness. Finding wines from the Pfalz that avoid getting a little chunky can be challenging. Koehler-Ruprecht's dry versions always carry a flashy mineral streak that brilliantly juxtaposes with the golden apple, sweet corn, ginger, and quintessential cotton candy note.
I was thrilled to receive this quad of Saumagen bottlings. Each vintage offers a perfect illustration into how all these elements balance together, unfolding slowly over time. The wines are pure, textured, with a laser-cut focus to them - Riesling at its most enchanting.
The different designations like Kabinett and Auslese refer to the ripeness level at picking. Auslese, picked later, will show more weight, and power. While Kabinett will show more delicate and agile. Each wine is fermented completely dry.