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Decanter March

¡Ola, entusiastas del vino!

It's late January, and that means it can only be time for a Spanish-focused edition of Decanter. The March edition (www.decanter.com) cover leaves none of us in any doubt of that:

The wines featured this month in Decanter - and that we list - appear at the foot of this page. The reviews for each wine  appear on each product page.

Before we cover this month's wines, some/many of you will remember it was in this issue last year that the Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva 2010 broke the horizon, landed 96 points/Outstanding status in - and topped - a review of 2010 top-end Rioja(s), and properly became A Big Thing. It proved enormously popular with hundreds of Exel customers. We could go on (and we have). However, as many know, that vintage ran out just into the New Year. The new vintage has just been released by the producer and arrives here shortly. So, both for fans of the 2010 and those coming to this wine anew, we've written here of just how the new vintage - another officially Excellent year in Rioja - with the old. In (very) short, it remains an exceptional Rioja at £14.95.


Likely to be by far the most pored-over feature of the new edition is a(nother) panel tasting of (red) Rioja(s). This time, compared with last year, Decanter have widened the scope of wine types and vintages to make it a test of Affordable Rioja (their title) in the price bracket of £10-£20 (interestingly, the entry criterion at the time samples were submitted was a top price of £15, but the upper bound was extended to £20 when (other) merchants submitted their prices for the wines on test. Make of that what you will.

In most other famous red wine areas - Chianti, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa, say - a maximum price of £20 would allow you only into the world of 'ordinary' wines. In Spain generally, and particularly Rioja, £20 still provides access to some quite astounding wines. Mainly, despite the undoubted popularity of Rioja, one can put this down to high volumes of supply and tight inter-producer competition holding down prices (Ribera del Duero providing an interesting and costlier counterpoint). It's what makes this panel - and the Spanish edition generally - so interesting: an exposure of great wines at great - one might even use "everyday" - prices. 

In general, echoing the above theme, the panel were hugely impressed by the overall quality, a key quote being:

"Rioja drinkers will be getting seriously good wines of real complexity... for a price that's relatively unbeatable around the world in terms of the quality they offer".

The test - of a massive 183 wines in total - reveals two Outstanding/95-point wines and 53 Highly Recommendeds (90-94 points). We'll get to those in just a second.

The composition of those 55 wines is interesting: one might expect them all to be Reservas, but, in fact, honours are more evenly shared. Just one Gran Reserva makes the list, plus 20 Reservas, 21 Crianzas and 13 'others' (a few being young (surprisingly good) génerico wines, and rather more being wines of a single, non-Tempranillo, permitted-in-Rioja grape variety (Garnacha or Graciano here) that have chosen to avoid the classic oak-time-based classifications (even though they may, in fact qualify for one such).

To the key wines, then. Now you know us: we want to - and generally do - bring you the very toppest of the panel toppers. Here, then, we'd love to let you have the two Outstandings. Thing is, we can't. And neither can anyone else right now.

  • One is a Naked Wine, but two vintages ahead of the huge stock they already hold; they tell me we're unlikely to see the rated wine for at least another year.
  • The other is resolutely not available in the UK. And don't we just know it, having been in long discussions with the producer? Right now, we learn, the UK market is not a key priority for them.

But be you not dismayed, for we bring you two superb wines - two of the top three Highly Recommendeds, and one - a classic and glorious Reserva on 93 points - is but £12.50. It is (Bodegas) Muriel's Fincas de la Villa Reserva 2015, which has yet to reach the UK market and is - excitingly - on its first (and only current) release here via us. Its low price tag absolutely does not preclude very fine viticulture and winemaking: harvesting is by hand, rigorous grape selection is applied and French and American oak are brought to bear in the cellar (a generous 30% of both is new). Mi amigo/as, this is no tatty génerico.

Decanter's words (see immediately below) can leave us in little doubt of the proposition before us. If that review doesn't describe a classic Rioja - especially terms such as "dark chocolate" and "exceptionally smooth and supple" - then we don't know what does. Our own tasting does not see us separate from Decanter. The rounded mouthfeel and flavour intensity here are ones you'd expect of a wine some times the price of this. Click the box below for more details and/or to buy.

The other 93-pointer is an old favourite of ours and we're delighted to see it fare well under test (although it's no surprise as it has done so before in previous vintages). Sierra Cantabria are a firm favourite at Exel; we offer a very full range we've been to see them in Rioja (in the dead of winter) and they then came to visit us in Perth for a great evening of tasting. The standout (and real surprise) hit of that Perth evening was the wine now rated here. It's not one of their timeless, classic, Tempranillo-based Riojas, but a 100% Garnacha (Grenache). We talk of their 2015 Rioja Garnacha. Much of the Garnacha used in Rioja - especially its lower wines - is grown in the hotter, flatter, eastern province of Rioja Oriental (Baja, as was) and brought west for vinification in blends to fatten and 'fruit up' much Rioja. Much of that Garnacha itself can do what Grenache so often does - go all flabby, over-ripe and even sweet. Credit then, to Sierra Cantabria, who grow their Garnacha for this wine in and among their best vineyards in Rioja Alta (near San Vicente de la Sonsierra) to markedly higher standards.

As Decanter's review testifies, that quality shows. Although aged in oak (14 months), this is a fruit-driven wine of considerable opulence and style. Now, "fruit-driven" is often a term oftem used euphemistically to cover a lack of complexity and for simple 'gluggers'. This wine - as its score rather suggests - is not that at all. Rather, as Decanter put it, it is "superb".

I admit to having a glass of it on my desk as I type this, and, as a consistency check, I am also checking back to the notes I made at that Perth tasting, which read: "bountiful, full-on and opulent. Huge fruit. Somehow, not a Rioja, but arguably better. Most of all, extremely moreish" (underlining as in notes). At £16.65, it's a little more than the Muriel, but a delicious take on modern Rioja from a classic, old-school producer and still amazing value (and you find it at Exel markedly cheaper than you will elsewhere this side of the Pyrenees).

Of course, for those wishing to take a broader tour of Affordable Rioja, we offer others among the Highly Recommendeds, chiefly 


There's a point made in the panel test regarding consistency, which is: find a producer whose wines you like and follow them. Indeed, we know a good few Exel customers who may look askance at the wines above in favour of doing just that and sticking with a more prestigious name... and in Rioja, thre are many. But few are more prestigious than La Rioja Alta

We mention this as the edition features an excellent producer feature on LRA. In particular, it focuses not only on the great classics - the 890 and 904 Gran Reservas and the Ardanza Reserva - but also on LRA's satellite Torre de Oña estate in Rioja Alavesa. Purists may not see these as true LRA wines, but we beg to differ. They see all the love and attention of the LRA originals, yet come in at an incredible price for wines of such quality. We've been able to taste a number of the Torre de Oña wines recently and are hugely impressed. Although not featured in the review, the Martelo Reserva is quite outstanding in its fruit/oak balance (and now a go-to Rioja Reserva for me, more so perhaps than the hallowed (and older) Ardanza).


Elsewhere in the magazine:

  • boutique producer Abadia Retuerta see their awesome Negralada feature twice: once in 20 Best North-West Spanish Reds and again in a review of best Tempranilllos by Sarah Jane Evans MW (with whom <he casually namedrops> I stood chatting last week on the topic of Scala Dei above) ...
  • the LaLomba Rosado from Ramon Bilbao makes an appearance in a regional feature on Rioja Oriental;
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Muriel Fincas de la Villa Reserva 2015 (1x75cl)


Awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 edition panel tasting of Affordable Rioja (see blue link below).

Muriel Fincas de la Villa Reserva 2015 - March 2020 Decanter review

Founded in 1982, when Julian Murua Entrena revived his father, Jose Murua’s winery, which dates back to 1926 in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa (one of the three sub-regions that make up Spain’s Rioja appellation). The cellars are in the quaint, historic village of Elciego, which is renowned for being surrounded by some of the best “terrior” in Rioja. The name “Muriel” comes from the combination of the family name, Murua, the region, Rioja, and the name of the town itself, Elciego.

Today, Julian and his son Javier run the winery with the mission to meld the long-held winemaking traditions of the region with new technologies and techniques in order to make wines that express the “best qualities” of the grapes coming from these fertile Riojan vineyards. Like most of red wines in the region, all Bodegas Muriel wines are 100% Tempranillo, the “signature” grape of the region.  Due to the special micro-climate of the region, there is a triple influence from the Mediterranean, Continental and Atlantic climates, which helps the vines produce very aromatic and elegant wines, whose main characteristic is the potential to age.

Located in Rioja Alavesa (Elciego), the vineyard is grown using both trellised and traditional gobelet-pruned system on very poor calcareous soil with a clay loam texture.

The fermentation and maceration process is carried out over 20 days in stainless steel vats. The daily pumping over routine allows an optimal extraction of colour and tannins. The aging process lasts for 24 months, including three rackings in 225-litre American and French oak barrels (50% of each type; 30% of the barrels are new). The wine matures in the bottle for another 12 months before it is released to the market.

100% Tempranillo.

For a little more detail, see the blue link below for the excellent technical note from the winemakers themselves.

Muriel Fincas de la Villa Reserva 2015 - fiche technique

Classic ruby red with hints of a light brick red colour. Very complex and intense aroma, with fine scents of aging which are assembled perfectly: vanilla, spices and herbs. Very ripe fruit recollections appear. In the palate, it is a finely balanced wine, with a polished and elegant body, with a long and pleasant aftertaste. Matches especially well with roasted lamb, cutlets barbequed on vine shoots, fish in sauce recipes, as well as smoked and cured cheese. Excellent wine to accompany chocolate desserts.

ABV = 13.5%.



Rioja Garnacha, Sierra Cantabria 2015 (1x 75cl)

Awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 edition panel tasting of Affordable Rioja (see blue link below).

Rioja Garnacha, Sierra Cantabria 2015 - March 2020 Decanter review

Also the most sold wine (by far) at our 2017 Perth tasting with Sierra Cantabria!

Founded in 1957 by Guillermo Eguren, Sierra Cantabria is nestled in the heart of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, a town of great winemaking tradition, situated in a unique location between the River Ebro and the Sierra Cantabria mountain range. The Sierra Cantabria mountain range (1,200 m. of altitude) and the river Ebro (350 m.), create a special microclimate with Mediterranean and Continental characteristics - providing mild winters and gentle summers- unique for vine cultivation. On the other hand, the summer thermal jump (intense heat during the day with fresh night temperatures) creates an increase in the level of polyphenols, normally associated with excellent quality wines. 

100% Grenache.

Traditional winemaking: fermented with indigenous yeasts. Maceration of 21 days with reduced frequency of pump-overs to avoid the extraction of bitter characters. Malolactic fermentation in barrel, these being French oak, 15% new and 85% one-use barriques.

Ageing: 14 months in 225-litre barriques.

See also the blue link below for the excellent fiche technique/technical note from the winemakers themselves.

Rioja Garnacha, Sierra Cantabria 2015 - fiche technique

Sourced from a single vineyard planted in 1927 in San Vicente, this is a comparatively rare varietal Garnacha from the Rioja Alta sub-region. Elegant and well balanced, it has red cherry and pomegranate flavours, scented oak and a spicy undertone.

ABV = 13.5%.


Bodegas Martinez Laorden, Lanzado Crianza, Rioja 2016 (1x75cl)

The 2015 vintage was awarded 91 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 edition panel tasting of Affordable Rioja (see blue link below).

Bodegas Martinez Laorden, Lanzado Crianza, Rioja 2015 - March 2020 Decanter review

Martínez Laorden are producing some of the most cutting edge wines in Spain. They are fresh and vibrant with winemaker, Jose Maria Martínez, striving to produce modern wines from his families old vineyards. Jose Maria constructed the first bioclimatic winery in Europe complete with solar panels, gravity fed wine pumping and a comprehensive plan for reusing waste water reducing the winery's carbon footprint. Jose is a total maverick and only produces wines up to and including Crianza level as he does not agree with the stipulations for Reserva and Gran Reserva.

The vines are grown in clayey-ferrous soils, which are garnet in colour and absorb water easily, producing low yielding vines with small berries.

The grapes were harvested at optimal phenolic maturity, sorted and then fermented in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures, to retain the fruity characteristics of the Tempranillo variety.

Tempranillo 100%.

Soft oak, black cherry and dried fruit aromas are followed by warm earthy tones on the palate, with a touch of oak on the finish. Good integration of tannins and fruit make this a rich, smooth and balanced wine.

ABV = 13.5%.


Rioja Crianza, Sierra Cantabria 2016 (1x75cl)

Awarded 91 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 edition panel tasting of Affordable Rioja (see blue link below).

Rioja Crianza, Sierra Cantabria 2016 - March 2020 Decanter review

Founded in 1957 by Guillermo Eguren, Sierra Cantabria is nestled in the heart of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, a town of great winemaking tradition, situated in a unique location between the River Ebro and the Sierra Cantabria mountain range. The Sierra Cantabria mountain range (1,200 m altitude) and the river Ebro (350 m), create a special microclimate with Mediterranean and Continental characteristics - providing mild winters and gentle summers - unique for vine cultivation. On the other hand, the summer thermal jump (intense heat during the day with fresh night temperatures) creates an increase in the level of polyphenols, normally associated with excellent quality wines.

The calcareous clay soil is excellent for obtaining high quality wines and to enhance the expression of Tempranillo. Environmental integrated agriculture cultivation, applying a viticulture respectful with the environment, following the biorhythms of the plant and organic fertilization.

Grapes are traditionally destemmed and fermentation is temperature-controlled between 26 and 28ºC with indigenous yeast selected from their own vineyards. Extended maceration on the skins for 24 days, starting with two daily pump-overs and then a light pump-over daily during the last ten days.

Ageing: 14 months in barriques of French and American oak, almost all pre-used (but never for more than 3 uses).

See also the blue link below for the excellent fiche technique/technical note from the winemakers themselves.

Rioja Crianza, Sierra Cantabria 2016 - fiche technique

100% Tempranillo. 

A smooth and elegant Crianza from this esteemed Rioja producer, which deftly balances fruit and oak. This is arguably Sierra Cantabria's most admired wine due to its incredible value and delicate but complex style. Ripe cherry and red fruit, hints of spice and smoke, and a dusting of cocoa combine to form an elegant, complex Rioja with layers of oak and fruit. 

ABV = 14.0% (this figure does vary on bottles; we have also seen 13.5%).


Bodegas Ondarre, Ondarre Reserva, Rioja 2014 (1x75cl)

The yet-to-be-released 2015 vintage was awarded 90 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 edition panel tasting of Affordable Rioja (see blue link below).

Bodegas Ondarre, Ondarre Reserva, Rioja 2014 - March 2020 Decanter review

Bodegas Ondarre, is based in Viana, a historic town six kilometres from Logroño, Rioja's capital. Founded in 1986 it has quickly become one of the standout producers in the region with its elegant and distinguishable style. Their most acclaimed wines are their Reservas, which win top awards and critical approval every year. They attribute their success to the hard work in the vineyards and their continual investment into the winery and barrel stock. They use both French and American oak casks to help them obtain the incredible character in their wines. As well as their Reservas, they produce a few thousand cases of a single varietal Graciano; this is a real rarity due to the low-yielding nature of the vine.

The grapes are grown in vineyards covering 1,200 hectares around the winery, at the point confluence of La Rioja, Alava and Navarra. The area offers an optimum climate and terroir. The vines are grown in clay-based soils with high iron and chalk content.

A cold winter with high rainfall, followed by further rains in April and May created good soil water reserves. Weather patterns were mixed over the summer, with some rain, sunny days and overcast days, but véraison occurred on time and the growth cycle of the vines continued at a steady pace. September saw warm, sunny weather which encouraged the ripening of the berries. The grapes were exceptionally healthy and of very good quality at harvest.

Each grape variety was fermented separately in temperature controlled vats at 28 to 30°C, which lasted for between 16 to 18 days. The wine was blended and then aged for 16 months in American and French oak, Bordeaux-type casks imparting subtle oak complexity. During the maturation the wine was racked four times, in order to gently extract phenolic compounds by oxygenating the wine. This produced a softer wine which exhibits great varietal fruit character.

Tempranillo 75%, Mazuelo 15%, Garnacha 10%.

Leather, vanilla and spice of traditionally made Rioja enveloped in a smooth and textured palate. Balanced, with ripe, wild strawberries and integrated tannins through to a long, lingering finish.

ABV = 14.0%.


El Coto, Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva 2015 (1x75cl)

Awarded 90 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 edition panel tasting of Affordable Rioja (see blue link below).

El Coto, Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva 2015 - March 2020 Decanter review

El Coto was founded in 1970 in Rioja Alavesa and has grown from modest beginnings into one of the best known Rioja producers. Today El Coto has over 700 hectares of vineyard in production across the three Rioja DOCa sub-zones of Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. They also source grapes from all three areas, but mostly from Rioja Alavesa. Head winemaker César Fernandez oversees production, starting with hand-picking into 350 kg crates to ensure the grapes arrive at the winery in pristine condition. Modern and intelligently designed, the emphasis in the winery is on temperature control and gentle handling of the grapes.

Grapes for the two Coto de Imaz wines are sourced exclusively from El Coto's estate in Cenicero in Rioja Alta. The low yielding bush vines aged between 35- 55 years are planted on predominantly limestone and clay soils.

2015 was characterised by abundant rainfall in the winter and a very warm spring and summer, which meant the grapes were harvested earlier than usual. August, however, was marked by more moderate temperatures which enabled the grapes to retain freshness and aromatics in the run up to harvest.

The best grapes were needed for the Imaz wines because of the extended maceration on the skins which lasted for 21-30 days during fermentation in stainless steel tanks at 22-27°C. Malolactic fermentation took place in the tanks before the wine was transferred to new American oak barrels (225-litre) to age for at least 18 months. Following bottling, the wine was further matured for a minimum of 24 months prior to release.

100% Tempranillo.

This wine is intense cherry in colour with a hint of ageing at the rim. On the nose, it has a wide range of delicate red fruits accompanied by smoky nuances and hints of vanilla from the new American oak. On the palate, the wine is velvety and round, with smooth tannins and good acidity. The finish is balanced and long.

ABV = 13.5%.


Fincas de Azabache, Rioja Tunante de Azabache 2018 (1x75cl)

Awarded 90 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 edition panel tasting of Affordable Rioja (see blue link below).

Fincas de Azabache, Rioja Tunante de Azabache 2018 - March 2020 Decanter review

Fincas de Azabache is a state of the art cooperative, founded in December 1956. The Bodegas now owns 2,600 hectares of vineyards at the foot of Mount Yerga, in the dry region of the Rioja Oriental. With limited risk of rot, it is an area conducive to the principles of organic viticulture, to which the Bodegas is firmly and successfully committed. The cooperative have recently invested heavily in a new winery, the fruits of which we are now seeing.

This is an unashamedly young and straightforward Rioja that sees no oak treatment in seeking to maximise the pure fruit character of the Tempranilo grape.

100% Tempranillo. 

A vibrant, unoaked and supple red, made exclusively from Tempranillo grapes grown in the dry Baja region of Rioja. This plummy, soft seductive wine exhibits typical Tempranillo character of red fruits such as cherry, raspberry and plum with notes of liquorice and finishes soft and rounded.

ABV = 14.0%.


Izadi Rioja Reserva 2015 (1x75cl)

Awarded 90 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 edition panel tasting of Affordable Rioja (see blue link below).

Izadi Rioja Reserva 2015 - March 2020 Decanter review

Izadi is based in Villabuena in the Rioja Alavesa, the highest part of Rioja. The hillside winery (whose precipitous slope allows for gravity assisted production) was founded in 1987 by Gonzalo Antón as a modern breakaway from the traditional style of wine produced by other members of his family. As his son Lalo, who now runs the estate, says: "the whole concept of Izadi really started around wanting to produce wine to satisfy the needs of our friends over a meal". Izadi produces modern, international wines that are true to their roots and a natural expression of the area.

Izadi owns 178 hectares and sources fruit from selected growers from another 108 hectares of old vineyard with an average age of 45 years. All located within the triangle formed by three villages: Villabuena, Samaniego and Ábalos. The vines are traditionally trained bush vines, a method which Izadi believes gives better exposure of the grapes, something which in turn leads to better ripeness and softer, fuller wines. The vineyards are 450-550 metres above sea level so warm days give way to cool nights, encouraging the aromatic qualities in the grapes to develop. The vineyards are planted in clay-chalk soils.

2015 was characterised by abundant rainfall in the winter and a hot summer, which brought the harvesting period forward. August was marked by more moderate temperatures and an excellent vegetative state with a moderate yields - factors which endured until harvesting.

Grapes were destemmed and fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks at 28ºC, with pumping over several times daily to extract the right amount of colour and tannins. The wine underwent malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks before being aged in a mix of French (27%) and American (73%) oak barrels for 16 months prior to more than two years additional ageing in bottle before release.

100% Tempranillo.

This wine displays intense aromas of red fruits, liquorice and spices combined with delicate hints of cedar and smoky notes. The full bodied palate is rich and concentrated with a long, fruit-forward finish.

ABV = 14.0%.


Abadia Retuerta Pago Negralada Single Vineyard Tempranillo 2015 (1x75cl)

Awarded 93 points by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in Sarah Jane Evans MW's March 2020 12 Top Tempranillos article (see blue link below).

Abadia Retuerta Negralada 2015 - Decanter review

Awarded 93 points by Decanter (www.decanter.com) the March 2020 edition's Northwest Spanish reds article (see blue link below).

Abadia Retuerta Negralada 2015 - Decanter review

Awarded 92 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) when this wine was tasted by Sarah Jane Evans MW (see blue link below).

Abadia Retuerta Negralada 2015 - Decanter review

In their single vineyard wines Abadia Retuerta seek to bring out, above all, the true character of the terroir. Pago Negralada comes from a plot of Tempranillo, the noblest Spanish grape variety. The vines are planted in deep gravel soils intermixed with sand at the surface, and produce wines with a distinctive firm, tannic character.

Having aged 18 months in new French oak barrels, the wine has now developed its full potential. Its full ripeness comes to the fore with layers of fragrant strawberry fruit, liquorice, herbs and minerals with soft, silky tannins on the palate.

100% Tempranillo.

The Pago Negralada has a very intense, fresh nose, with aromas of wild black fruit and subtle creamy notes. Following on from the vibrancy of the nose, the palat attack invades then the palate with delicacy, leading to an ample wine, solid, meaty and oily with unusual refined tannins for a Tempranillo. It has a very long finish which is well marked with the character of the varietal. With its great ageing potential, this is a wine for the long haul, a wine with its roots firmly in the past and its sights set on future triumphs.

ABV = 14.5%.


LaLomba Rosado, Ramon Bilbao 2018 (1x75cl)

Awarded 88 points by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 regional profile of Rioja Oriental (see blue link below).

LaLomba Rosado, Ramon Bilbao 2018 - Decanter review

The grapes were harvested manually into small, 15kg crates which were refrigerated and taken to the winery where they remained in cool conditions for a further 24 hours. They then passed to the optical sorting table where only the best loose, whole, healthy grapes were selected. After gentle maceration and racking, the must is transferred to concrete eggs to settle before fermentation. The fermentation occurs over 20 days and is done at temperatures below 15°C to conserve the wine's more delicate aromas.  After fermentation the wine is left on its fine lees for around a month before bottling.

90% Garnacha, 10% Viura.

LaLomba Rosado has a pale peach colour which is both clear and bright. The aromas are complex with medium intensity with notes of fresh red fruits, apricot, lychee and citrus. There is also a hint of orange blossom and some delicate herbal notes. The palate is perfectly balanced and it recalls the fruity character foiund on the nose.  This wine is ready to drink but can be laid down if necessary.

This is a great aperitif but also goes well with salmon, sushi and mussels.

ABV = 13.0%.


Valdespino Manzanilla Deliciosa (1x75cl)

Awarded 94 points by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 expert tasting (by Sarah Jane Evans MW) of Manzanilla (see blue link below).

Valdespino Manzanilla Deliciosa - March 2020 Decanter review

Valdespino is among few family-owned bodegas in Jerez, and with a history of sherry production going back six centuries, also one of the oldest. Alfonso Valdespino was one of 24 knights who fought for the city of Jerez with King Alfonso X, against the Arabs in 1264. As a reward for his efforts he was given land in the Jerez region. Today Valdespino belongs to the Estevez family, and they own 750 hectares of their own vineyards in Jerez, rare in this region, which allows them close control over grape quality. Their Pago Macharnudo vineyard provides the grapes for their single vineyard wines, which include the Fino 'Inocente', the 'Amontillado 'Tio Diego' and the Palo Cortado 'Viejo CP'. They are one of the only bodegas currently producing single vineyard sherries. Valdespino is also renowned for their VOS (Very Old Sherries) with over 20 years of ageing and VORS (Very Old Rare Sherries), with over 30 years of ageing.

The Palomino grapes for the Manzanilla come from Valdespino's single vineyard (Pago) Miraflores, which is situated in Sanlucar de Barrameda. The white albariza soil is typical of the region, and comes from a layer of earth rich in marine fossils. Thanks to the high content of calcic carbonate, its clayey texture does not split; it is soft when wet and absorbs rain like a sponge, and when it dries out it forms a layer that holds in the water, preventing evaporation. This reserve of moisture encourages the vine roots to develop, some reaching to more than four metres depth, allowing them to use this water reserve when needed.

The must is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to preserve crisp, fresh fruit flavours. At this stage is has reached between 10.5% and 12% alcohol, and is then fortified to 15% and the 'flor' yeast layer is encouraged to develop, protecting the wine from oxygen and transforming its components. The Manzanilla bodega is situated in Sanlucar de Barrameda, where the climate is cooler than inland Jerez, and as a result the flor layer is thicker, offering more protection to the wine and therefore more freshness and saline character. The wine ages biologically, spending five years under the flor, and producing a more delicate style of Sherry.

100% Palomino.

Pale straw yellow coloured, with a delicate yeasty, bready note on the nose, as well as a hint of flower blossom. On the palate it is very dry, crisp and fresh with a slightly saline finish.

ABV = 15.0%.


Bodegas Verum, Ulterior Parcela #17 Graciano 2016

Awarded 90 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 edition feature, Weekday Wines (see blue link below).

Bodegas Verum, Ulterior Parcela #17 Graciano 2016 - February 2020 Decanter review

Awarded a Gold medal and 95 points at the 2019 Decanter World Wine Awards (click link for details).

For other 2019 DWWA winners, click here.

The origins of the López-Montero family in wine-making and distilling date back to 1788. It was then when the first of their wineries in Tomelloso was registered, which is still on the records at the local archives of the town. In 1963 Juan Antonio López Ramírez and María Victoria Montero established Altosa, a winery and distillery that continues to make and market wines and distilled spirits. In 2005, María Victoria, with her daughter, María Belén, and her sons, Juan Antonio, Pedro José and Elías, created Bodegas y Viñedos Verum. The brand encompasses the wines of the López-Montero family from the best vineyards and terroirs in their property.

Put simply, La Mancha's Bodegas Verum is an organic vineyard which produces mono-varietal wines from both traditional grapes and forgotten indigenous varietals such as Albillo Real and Tinto Velasco.

For this, the Ulterior Parcela #17, a single-vineyard wine from Parcela 17 of the El Romeral vineyard, the grapes are picked by hand, destemmed, crushed and fermented in stainless still tanks, then transferred to old barrels for malolactic fermentation. 10% of the wine is aged in oak demi-muids of 600 liters made of new French oak, the rest in earthen jars (clay) of ~ 5,000 liters for 8 months. After bottling, it is held another 12 months before release.

Verum puts its wines on sale when they are at the optimum moment for consumption;  nevertheless, you can store this wine up to 7 years after harvest.

100% Graciano.

Cherry red with white trim, bright. On the nose it is intense, highlighting a floral character of violets, lavender and other aromatic herbs (typical of ripe Graciano) with a background of black fruit and subtle cocoa. On the palate it is also intense and ripe with smooth/fine-grained tannins that provide structure. There is great persistence that brings back the black fruits and violets, plus a touch of appealing bitterness that adds character.

Or, as DWWA 19 put it:

"Bright and pure purple berry fruit nose with attractive vanilla bean new oak aromas. On the palate, this is sumptuous and rich with generous, fleshy fruit. Very pure and expressive".

ABV = 13.5%.


Donnafugata Vigna Di Gabri 2017 (1x75cl)

Awarded 91 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2020 edition feature, Weekday Wines (see blue link below).

Donnafugata Vigna Di Gabri 2017 - February 2020 Decanter review

Awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter in their May 2019 producer profile of Donnafugata (see blue link below).

Donnafugata Vigna di Gabri 2017 - May 2019 Decanter review

The Rallo family has made wine in Marsala since 1851 and their ancient cellars tunnel beneath the city. They were one of the first families to begin making high quality table wine when sales of traditional Marsala started to decline, launching the Donnafugata label in 1983 and championing the potential of the region's native varieties. Today, Donnafugata has four estates in Sicily: a modern winery and 283 hectares at Contessa Entellina in the hills east of Marsala; 36 hectares in Vittoria to the south eastern point of the island; 68 hectares on the island of Pantelleria; and 18 hectares on the slopes of Etna. Donnafugata means 'fleeing woman' and is a reference to Queen Maria Carolina, who escaped the court of Naples in the early 19th century with her husband, Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, when Napoleon's troops arrived. The couple took refuge in Sicily at the Santa Margherita Belice palace, also the favourite residence of celebrated writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and depicted on the 'Mille e una Notte' label. 

The terrain on the Contessa Entellina estate in south-west Sicily is situated at an altitude of between 200-300 metres above sea level. Soils are clay with a sub-alkaline reaction (pH 7.5 to 7.9). Total limestone content is from 20 to 35% and soils are rich in nutritive elements (potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, zinc). The vines are trained on a vertical shoot positioned system and cordon spur pruned. Average planting density is 4,500 - 6,000 vines per hectare and yields are approximately six tonnes per hectare. 

The 2017 vintage was characterised by relatively low rainfall, which was mainly concentrated in the autumn and winter months. The lack of rain in June and July meant Donnafugata had to intervene with emergency irrigation to ensure the vineyards remained healthy. Higher than average temperatures in July and August caused the grapes to ripen 1- 2 weeks earlier than usual. However, despite the high temperatures, the good diurnal temperature range gave rise to healthy grapes with good aromatic and phenolic ripeness.

The grapes were soft-pressed and the must was fermented at a controlled temperature in stainless steel. 85% of the wine matured in stainless steel vats and 15% in second use French oak barriques. The wine was aged for at least three months in bottle before release. 

This wine is a blend of Ansonica, Catarratto, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier.

Vigna di Gabri is a brilliant straw yellow colour with light green reflections. Classic white peach aromas combine with a citrus note of grapefruit, and floral notes of elderflower and wild flowers. The palate reflects the nose, enlivened by a fresh savoury streak. This is a fine and elegant white, with an intriguing personality and surprising longevity.

ABV = 13.0%.

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