• The Crescendo of La Rioja Alta:  Gran Reserva 890 & 904

    The Crescendo of La Rioja Alta: Gran Reserva 890 & 904

     

    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.

     

    Posted by Alexander Rosen
  • Straight Outta Haro:  Lopez de Heredia Back-Vintage Treasures

    Straight Outta Haro: Lopez de Heredia Back-Vintage Treasures

    Founded in 1877, the winery has maintained a level of excellence and held onto a deeply traditional winemaking philosophy that's simply the model for Rioja today. When Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta began his venture he quickly realized that by purchasing grapes there was simply no way to ensure high quality. And with that, the Tondoñia vineyard was planted in 1913.

    Today's offer also coincides withe one of the most long-awaited events of the year, when Lopez de Heredia's California importer announces small allocations of back-vintage Rioja wines sourced directly from the region.

    Today, I'm happy to offer a small collection that has just arrived. In addition, today's list features other Rioja estates, all bottles coming directly from Spain through the same California importer.

    Founded in 1877, the winery has maintained a level of excellence and held onto a deeply traditional winemaking philosophy that's simply the model for Rioja today. When 
    Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta began his venture he quickly realized that by purchasing grapes there was simply no way to ensure high quality. And with that, the Tondoñia vineyard was planted in 1913.

    * While the aged wines listed below are, no doubt, expensive, I implore you to consider the 2010 Rioja Crianza at $28 per bottle to see the magic of this historic Rioja estate from one of the most heralded vintages over the last many decades.

    Viña Bosconia comes from the clay and limestone "El Bosque" vineyard located under a mile from the winery. The name "Bosconia" ia a bit of an ode to a style of wine made generations ago here called, “Rioja Cepa Borgoña” which contained a high portion of Pinot Noir (hence the rare Burgundy shaped bottle). Today, this cuvée is comprised of about 75% Tempranillo, 7% Garnacha, with the rest divided by Mazuelo and Graciano.

    Viña Tondonia is also on clay and limestone, but planted with slightly more Garnacha. It is the most famed vineyard of Haro with its iconic position on the banks of the Ebro river. Tondonia is the more structured of the two wines, although both cuvées have proved they can age gracefully for many, many decades.

    Traditional winemaking here relies on American oak, of course. But, the influence of new wood is minimal, if at all. Both the 2005 Bosconia Reserva and Tondonia Reserva are current releases from Lopez de Heredia's California importer. The Bosconia sees 5 years in wood prior to additional aging in bottle, and the Tondonia is aged 6 years in wood.

    Where does Lopez de Heredia diverge from the other great traditional Rioja estates? I have always found an elegance and subtlely to both wines that stands out from the pack. Although not light in color, they both see less extraction than many of their neighbors. In short, they are the best case made in the world today for Tempranillo's ability to transmit terroir in the most delicate framework possible. 

    The inherent value in this estate-aging is really without peer in the world of wine. Not only are both vineyards regarded as Grand Crus of Spain, but they also offer a massive window of continued aging and development should you choose to cellar. And, at the same time, both wines are released to be enjoyed tonight without the need for significant decanting. Do not miss the two wines that personify Spain's traditional foundation like no other.
    Posted by Alexander Rosen
  • Mosel Lace at its Finest:  Willi Schaefer Domprobst & Himmelreich

    Mosel Lace at its Finest: Willi Schaefer Domprobst & Himmelreich

    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.
    Posted by Alexander Rosen
  • The Pearl of Volnay:  Domaine Michel Lafarge

    The Pearl of Volnay: Domaine Michel Lafarge

    The highlight through eight days in Burgundy in July 2018 was undoubtedly visiting for the first time with Frédéric Lafarge in Volnay. The village is synonymous with grace and delicacy, but ardent collectors know in the traditional realm they can be among the most long-lived in Burgundy. The wines of Domaine Michel Lafarge are models for this tightrope act of finesse and tension, and they are among my favorites for this reason precisely.

    Today, I'm happy to offer a deep lineup from Domaine Michel Lafarge, highlighted by one of the regions's greatest value Pinot Noir, the Bourgogne Rouge from 2015 & 2014.

    The Bourgogne Rouge is sourced from one hectare of 41-52 yr-old vines in the lieu dit, 
    Petit Pré. Within the context of this most humble Burgundy appellation, Lafarge's example is the stuff I simply dream to drink on a nightly basis. It's highlighted by a purity and ethereal lift that's almost never realized at this level in Burgundy.

    Domaine Michel Lafarge was founded in the early 1800's, and today is managed by Michel, with his son Frédéric, and granddaughter Clothilde. The trio has seen dramatic trends sweep through Burgundy in their time. During the 1950's, vignerons started incorporating chemicals in the vineyard, but Lafarge never considered it. In the mid to late 80's when the practice of elevated extraction was rampant this domaine continued their own path founded on transparency. And then in 1995, Lafarge was one of the very first to begin biodynamic practices in the vineyard.

    Tradition can mean so many things in Burgundy, but the use of hand-destemming and reliance on nearly all older barrels for aging places the domaine in a very specific position.

    It may be unfair to jump in categorizing Volnay as feminine and ethereal, leading one to believe the wines lack the rigid structure required for serious aging. Michel Lafarge touched on this really eloquently in his terrific interview with Levi Dalton on I'll Drink to That! Wine Podcast:

    "It's difficult to achieve the silkiness in tannins, but in Volnay it's unacceptable to have hardness. It's the silkiness of the tannins that define the overriding definition of Volnay."

    Domaine Lafarge holds vineyards primarily in Volnay, with plots in Pommard, Beaune, and Meursault. All wines have a regal frame met with the translucent qualities that put terroir firmly in the crosshairs. Volnay may not have Grand Cru vineyards, but if given the opportunity to drink any Côte de Beaune reds, my first choice is always Volnay.

    Volnay Vendanges Sélectionnées comes from multiple parcels in the middle of Volnay adjacent to Premier Cru vineyards. 1.25 hectares of 50-yr-old vines. Aged in 7% new wood.

    Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Aigrots comes from a 0.88 hectare parcel of vines planted as far back as 1949. Soil here is limestone and clay, but with a mix of gravel and red clay.

    Beaune 1er Cru Grèves comes from a 0.38 hectare parcel of vines planted in 1951 on light gravel soils over limestone.

    Volnay 1er Cru Les Caillerets comes from a 0.28 hectare parcel planted in 1957 on red and brown clay soils over limestone. Aged in 15% new wood.

    Volnay 1er Cru Clos du Château des Ducs (Monopole) comes from a 0.57 hectare parcel planted as far back as 1946 on deep brown clay soils over limestone. This vineyard is owned exclusively by Lafarge and located next to their home garden. Aged in neutral oak.

    Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chênes comes from a 0.9 hectare parcel planted as far back as 1951 on shallow red clay soils over limestone on the lower portion of the vineyard.
    Posted by Alexander Rosen
  • 2013 Nebbiolo in Flight:   Antoniolo Gattinara Osso San Grato

    2013 Nebbiolo in Flight: Antoniolo Gattinara Osso San Grato

    "Antoniolo remains a reference point for what Nebbiolo in northern Piedmont is all about. I can't recommend these wines highly enough."  
    Antonio Galloni of Vinous July, 2015

    High in the hills above Barolo and Barbaresco, Alberto and Lorella Antoniolo personify the grace and wisp of Alto Piemonte. The wines of Gattinara may be more pale and transparent vs. their southern counterparts, but the elegance in glass is supported with a beguiling structure allowing them to shine decades after bottling. Antoniolo, the very first estate to bottle single Cru wines in 1948, is the beacon of the comune that draws in the most savvy of traditional Nebbiolo collectors.

    Osso San Grato and San Francesco were both planted in the early 1960's. Osso San Grato the more powerful, saturating, and structured, whereas San Franceco is defined by its early approachability and delicate frame. Wines are aged one year in 500-liter neutral barrel, followed by 18 months in large botti, and then one year in bottle.

    Gattinara sits on volcanic rock, as opposed to the limestone and clay soils of Barolo and Barbaresco an hour south. The prime vineyards here share a common trait of white, dusty and sandy soil above the mother rock. The cooler climate in the hills here is obviously a huge factor in how these wines are distinguished. The profile is one of  high-toned red and black fruits, menthol, and finely-woven streak of minerality. 

    Although grapes like Bonarda and Vespolina are legally permitted to blend with Nebbiolo here to soften the edges and plump up the fruit profile, Lorella's family has always vinified 100% Nebbiolo in their Crus. These special parcels flaunt Nebbiolo with a wild array of flowers, mint, sage, leather, with high toned cherry and wild strawberry notes. 

    Finding top single vineyard wines from Piedmont's most revered producers is becoming more of a challenge each year, to say nothing of the rising prices. Antoniolo is a perfect example to why searching a bit further north can land you with brilliant, age-worthy Nebbiolo, that still represent terrific value. 

    “Antoniolo’s bottles contain the best of Northern Piedmont’s heritage. Hard-boned and only apparently lean, they can survive the decades while making all their greatness immediately obvious.” - Gambero Rosso
    Posted by Alexander Rosen