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Decanter March 19

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!

Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon

Rioja Gran Reserva 2010



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 Reservarecipient 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;

- non-fortified wines from Jerez also make a showing, with good scorers from Barbadillo, Cota 45 and those über-Sherry-meisters Hidalgo; and

- 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 ...).

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Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva Rioja 2011 (1x75cl)

The 2010 vintage was awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2019 edition review of 2010 Riojas (see blue link below).

Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva Rioja 2010 - March 2019 Decanter review

The 2010 vintage was also awarded 92 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2017 edition review of Premium Rioja (see blue link below).

Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva Rioja 2010 - March 2017 Decanter review

Exel note: it's worth saying that, for all the fame of the 2010 harvest, 2011 was also regarded as a wonderful year: rated Excellent by the Rioja Consejo Regulador and rated 93/100 by Wine Enthusiast. The 2011 has only recently been released and has yet to come under test in the UK. Both the 2010 and 2011 scored 91 with Spain's leading reviewer, Penin.

Established in 1924 and based in Haro, Ramón Bilbao has 180 vineyards spread across Rioja. Today, it is the fastest growing winery in the region and has firmly established itself as one of Spain’s most exciting and innovative producers. Born and bred in the region chief winemaker Rodolfo Bastida is a man who likes to push the boundaries and believes the future lies in trial and exploration.

To see an excellent fiche technique for this wine from the winemakers at Ramon Bilbao, please click on the blue link below.

Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva Rioja 2011 - fiche technique


Bodegas Protos Rueda Verdejo 2018 (1x75cl)


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).

Bodegas Protos Rueda Verdejo 2017 - March 2019 Decanter review

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).

100% Verdejo.

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%.


De Wetshof Estate Bateleur Chardonnay 2016 (1x75cl)

Awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2019 edition's Spurrier's Fine Wine World (see blue link below).

De Wetshof Estate Bateleur Chardonnay 2016 - March 2019 Decanter review

The name De Wetshof has been synonymous with the production of fine wines in South Africa since the 1970’s. As the first registered wine estate in the Robertson Wine Valley, De Wetshof has become known internationally as South Africa’s eminent Chardonnay House due to the pioneering role it played in introducing this noble Burgundian grape to the country. The De Wet family’s winemaking heritage can, however, be traced back to 1694 when the first De Wets arrived at the Cape and immediately made a mark on the South African wine industry. Today, De Wetshof is one of the few third generation wine estates in South Africa. Here Danie de Wet, proprietor and cellarmaster, is assisted by sons Johann (viticulture and marketing) and Peter (winemaker). 

This wine is a reflection of Danie de Wet`s personal taste combining great depth and length of flavour with elegance and finesse. An in depth knowledge of his specific vineyard plots allows him, in conjunction with barrel selection, to craft one of the best Chardonnays made in South Africa. Full spectrum of Chardonnay flavours explode in the mouth, with tropical and stone fruit flavours tempered with fresh zingy lime acidity and a creamy textured finish.

100% Chardonnay.

To see more detailed information on this wine from De Wetshof themselves, please click on the blue link below.

De Wetshof Estate Bataleur Chardonnay 2016 - fiche technique


Akarua Brut NV (1x75cl)

Awarded 91 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their March 2019 edition Weekday Wines feature (see blue link below).

Akarua Brut NV - March 2019 Decanter review

The Skeggs family were among the first people to buy and plant vineyard land in Central Otago in the mid 1990s, so were lucky enough to acquire a superb north-facing site in Bannockburn. Planted in 1996, this 50-hectare site has since provided the backbone of the Akarua wines. Due to the short growing season in Central Otago, site selection is one of the key elements in making a great wine, and Akarua have a site that is among the very best. Akarua was re-introduced after many years to Liberty Wines by Tony Jordan, who makes their sparkling wines. Tony built Domaine Chandon in Australia, and is one of the world's leading experts in sparkling wine production. He has been convinced of the potential for Central Otago to make top quality fizz for quite a while, and is now doing so with Akarua.

All the grapes are harvested from Akarua's 50 hectare estate on Cairnmuir Road, Bannockburn which lies at 270 metres above sea level. The soils are fine and sandy with loam topsoil overlaying schist. Vine age is 12 years.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from several blocks on the vineyard were hand harvested and whole bunch pressed. All batches were kept separate. Juices were settled and racked to yeast fermentation in old oak barriques and stainless steel tanks. Once malolactic fermentation was complete, the base wines, together with up to 15% of reserve wines were blended to produce the Akarua Brut NV. The blend was transferred to bottle with yeast and a precise amount of sugar to undergo the secondary sparkling fermentation. The wine was then aged for a minimum of 18 months on yeast before riddling, disgorging and labelling.

67% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir.

Akarua Brut NV is a fresh aperitif style with floral perfumes and savoury bread dough aromas. With lovely balance and complexity, the palate is clean, has a creamy middle and a long, crisp finish.

ABV = 13.0%.

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