The March 2019 Decanter (www.decanter.com) is out. Which is good news, because it's a rather good one. Especially if (as we do) you like Spanish wine(s). It's a Spanish Special. From the cover, Decanter are leaving us in no doubt of that ...
We at Exel particularly like the March edition as we can show off one of the super-top-headliners that promises, comfortably, to be one of our most popular wines all year.
It's the Olarra Cerro Añon Gran Reserva 2010, which - with an Outstanding rating and 96 points - tops the extensive Rioja panel tasting of the 2010 vintage - a quite superb year, as it has emerged - and does so at just £14.95 a bottle.
There's a lot to say about this one - and about its excellent (and brilliant value) younger siblings - so that's what we've done on another page, which you may like to head to. You don't see 96-point Riojas for fifteen quid every day of the week, after all.
But if you want to buy the blessed Rioja without any more information, just click the bottle below!
We've far more to offer from this edition than just the Cerro Añon(s)... 22 other wines, in fact, albeit only three that aren't Spanish. Some are long-established favourites of ours, others recent award winners elsewhere. Let us explain....
The wines featured this month - and that we list - appear at the foot of this page. The reviews for each wine from this current Decanter appear on each product page.
1) The Rioja 2010 review concerns itself only with a) that vintage and b) wines of the UK-ever-popular Reserva and Gran Reserva categories (ie aged over a year in oak and three years in total before release). There are two Outstandings, one of which is pricey and not available within these shores. There are an impressive 34 Highly Recommendeds (90+ points).
Notwithstanding the Outstanding Cerro Anon above, two other wines stand out - both already big-sellers wih Exel customers in 2018 - being
- the Finca Nueva Reserva - recipient of a Gold medal and 95 points in the 2018 DWWAs - whose "delightful Mediterranean nose" and "seductive palate" land 93 points and attract remarks of "classy", "stylish and harmonious". We knew this, as did many of you: this is a superb Rioja at the price (£16). It runs the risk, in this company, of becoming a case-filler for the Cerro Añon. But it's way better than that. This particular blog writer may even prefer it slightly to the Añon, truth be told.
- the Ramón Bilbao Gran Reserva - which scores 93 points. "Powerful, dark and brooding" and "impressive, modern and polished" say Decanter. I got to try this one (see below) in Haro last January, and I'd not disagree: it has a "punch" beyond that of almost all Gran Reservas I've ever tried. NB: We have now run out of the 2010, as have both the importer and Ramón Bilbao themselves! However, the 2011 comes from a vintage also rated "excellent" by the Rioja Consejo Regulador, and held in high esteem by the pundits (Decanter, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator); so, although not the vintage on test, one should not (for one moment) discount it. Personally, I regard the 2011 as more approachable and fuller; the 2010 as the better long-term ager. Both the 2010 and 2011 GRs scored equally well (91) with Spain's leading reviewer, Penin.
Beyond these three above, we offer non-2010 versions of 4 more Highly Recommendeds from La Rioja Alta (two of these), Roda and Sierra Cantabria. In some cases here (and many across the review more widely), the 2010 vintage is simply not available any more: we're never sure how or why these wines ever make it to the tasting panel.
2) The other main panel tasting is of the increasingly-recognised Spanish red variety of Mencia, from a number of regions (mainly scenic Bierzo...
... but also Ribera Sacre and Valdeorras).
This is perhaps not a variety for fans of Monster Reds: it has a precision, poise and elegance that makes it more cru Beaujolais than Ribera del Duero (say). Whether you're thinking of trying Mencia or an old hand, the 91-point Ronsel do Sil and the 90-point Black Mencia from the fascinating Cuatro Pasos (you must check out the origins of this name, especially if you like bears... yes, bears) are definite 'must-try's.
3) An article of 40 Best Tempranillos exposes some pricey-but-wonderful gems: the 2009 Rioja Alta 904 (Gran Reserva) (97 points), the 2011 Roda I (95 points) <NB: very little 2011 left in the UK, although the 2012 has now arrived> and the awesome Pago Negralada 2015 from Abadia Retuerta (92 points - I tried this in Ribera last year, and it quite one of the most wonderful and intense Tempranillos I've been lucky enough to taste - 92 is a bit harsh, in my view).
4) Other Spanish regions:
- Rueda makes a feature, and both Ramón Bilbao's and Protos's (we love this) Verdejo(s) are listed; both are complexified sobre lias (lees-aged) versions - rather explaining their scores - but still fantastic value at £11-£14;
- Hot Toro is emerging as a new home to very impressive (if heady) Tempranillos à la Ribera del Duero, and at superb prices. Exhibit A, Your Honour: we've long sung the praises of the two wines featured this month from Vetus: the Flor de Vetus (2015 - 90 points) and the classic Vetus proper (2014 - 91 points... in its very masculine bottle).
5) Finally, it's not (quite) all Spain:
- Jean-Claude Lapalu's Brouilly 2017 sneaks in in an article on Vielles Vignes (old vines, if you must);
- de Wetshof’s Bateleur Chardonnay gets the Spurrier's World treatment, although we (obviously) can't get access to the 2016 vintage he tried (can anyone?) and offer the 2014; and
- the enticing and fascinating Akarua Brut NV ‘Kiwi Fizz’ (how denigrating that term is; traditional method, this, two-thirds Chardonnay, one-third Pinot Noir) finds itself into 91 points and among the recommended Weekday Wines (you’re having a good week if this is being uncorked ...).
Awarded 95 points and Gold status at the 2019 IWC (International Wine Challenge) in May 2019.
The 2010 vintage was famously awarded 96 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2019 edition review of 2010 Riojas (see blue link below).
Of the 2010: "I bought six of these and unfortunately I have given three away to friends. We opened it last night and decanted as per the instructions of your shop staff. The wine is truly spectacular and I am working out how to break in to my friend's flat to steal back the wine I gave him. I have never been moved to comment on a bottle of wine by email. Thank you for the spectacular experience. Another 6 please. I won't be as generous with the next lot!"
- regular (anonymous) Perth customer [who ultimately bought another 12]
Crucially, you may wish to know how the 2010 and the 2011 compare; customers of the 2010 are naturally asking, "is it as good?" We carried out our own tasting and assessment and you can find the results here.
Bodegas Olarra was created in 1973. Situated on the outskirts of the city of Logroño in Rioja Alta, their winery – a Y-shaped building designed to make optimum use of the space for both production and ageing of the wine – is known as “the Cathedral of La Rioja”. From the beginning, the winery has known how to combine the traditional methods of production and ageing with the most advanced modern techniques of viticulture and vinification. A favourable geographic location, gives the vineyards all the ingredients to produce good fruits. Indeed the clay and chalky soil is watered by the rain and the Ebro river. This area also benefits from warm sunshine and the influence of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. In 1978, Bodegas Olarra achieved their first Gold medal for a Cerro Añon wine in the tenth International Wines and Spirits Competition in the UK. Numerous awards followed from then on, proof of the outstanding quality of their wines.
Grapes for the Gran Reserva are drawn solely from Olarra vineyards; these are located primarily in Rioja Alta, but also in Rioja Alavesa to a lesser extent. Vines in these vineyards are all grown in the traditional way. The average age of the vines is over 30 years. Most of the vineyards sit on a clay-rich soil in Rioja Alta and on limestone-clay soils in Rioja Alavesa.
Tempranillo 80%, Mazuelo 10%, Garnacha 5%, Graciano 5%.
Fermentation and maceration lasted for a total of 19 days and were performed in stainless steel vats at a controlled temperature of 28ºC. Later on, the wine was racked into new French (Allier) oak, 225-litre casks/barricas where the malolactic fermentation took place, followed by a stay on the lees for a little over two months, with regular batonnage.
By the end of winter, the wine was racked into new oak barrels, where it remained for a further six months. After this, the rest of the oak ageing - up to the total 29 months - was conducted in different barrels again: Allier and American (Missouri) oak, all with a medium toast, and with different ages spanning from brand new to 5 years. After fining with egg whites, the wine was bottled and stored in Olarra's bottle cellar for 43 months, before it started to be released.
See also the blue link below for Olarra's own fiche technique/technical sheet.
The Gran Reserva 2011 shows a deep red colour with shades of ruby on the rim of the glass. On the nose, at the time of original release, it revealed a delicate balance between predominantly black fruit and ripe red berry aromas, and those of cedarwood, spices and smokiness. Over time, this developmental bouquet has grown more complex, showing aromas of leather, tobacco, coffee beans and prunes. On the palate, it is full and round, thanks to its long period in the bottle. Mouthfeel is as firm, elegant and smooth as one should expect from a great Rioja Gran Reserva, with a surprisingly long and fresh finish.
ABV = 14.0%.
The 2016 vintage of this wine (now very hard to find - we can't) was awarded 92 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2019 edition article on Discovery/New Wave Spain (see blue link below).
Alfredo Maestro Tejero’s vineyards are located within the Ribera del Duero D.O., but Alfredo has decided not to participate in the D.O., so his wines are classed as Vino de la Tierra de Castillo y León. They are completely natural wines, with no sulphur added in the vineyard or the winery. All vineyard treatments are natural and biodynamic practices are followed.
The isolated Gredos mountain range which lies 70 kilometres west of Madrid is home to a mosaic of tiny old-vine vineyards planted mainly to Grenache. El Marciano comes from one such 70-year-old granitic site lying at a staggering 1,150 metres elevation. The grapes are mainly destemmed, 20% whole bunches were retained and fermented with wild yeasts in stainless steel vat of 2000 litres with daily stirrings. The wine undergoes no filtration or fining and has no added sulphur.
This gorgeous wine typifies Alfredo’s delicate touch and respect for his land. It is juicy and flavoursome, laden with spicy blackberry aromas as well as raspberry, liquorice and a fresh earth scented palate. The texture is rock-sculpted (the granite bedrock of the site lies just a few inched below the surface) and the acidity is thrillingly bright, drawing all corners together.
The label is a representation of the remote and barren granite-ridden landscape that make up this wine’s terroir. It depicts Alfredo directing two martian vineyard workers who are clearly not comfortable in their endeavours. El Marciano translates from Spanish as The Martian.
ABV = 15.0%.
** NB: NEW BOTTLE DESIGN/SHAPE **
The 2017 vintage was awarded 89 points and Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2019 edition review of Rueda (see blue link below).
The guiding philosophy of Protos is "Quality above all". For this reason, the whole process leading to the production of their wine undergoes an in-depth analysis. The vineyards are controlled exhaustively by both technicians and experts throughout the growth cycle, yielding a production of the highest quality. This also gives them in-depth information about all the grapes to be used before they reach the winery.
Harvesting for this wine is done at night, is 100% manual and the production was gathered in 20-kilo boxes; the grapes are then spread over sorting tables. This allows them to guarantee that only completely healthy, whole grapes reach the fermentation tanks. After fermentation this wine spends a further 3 months resting on its fine lees (indeed, the 2017 and 2018 vintages have been labelled, as per the photo, as a sobre lias).
This wine has a greenish straw colour and is bright and clean. The Protos Verdejo is powerful yet fruity with green apple, citrus and tropical fruit aromas as well as white blossoms, fragant herbs and fennel hints. The flavours are very fresh, with good acidity, fruity, well balanced flavours. It is a complex wine, with a long finish.
ABV = 13.0%.