Tempranillo


The title of this post says it all: Some Big-Hearted, Two-Fisted Reds for That Memorial Day Cook-Out. We cover a wide geographical range: Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Australia, Napa Valley and Lake County in California. Whether you’re grilling hots dogs or sausages, burgers or steaks; pork chops or leg of lamb or ribs, there’s a robust red for you. No technical, historical or specific regional/terroir-type information; just quick, incisive, evocative reviews intending to whet the palate and create a craving. If you’re lucky enough to merit a three-day weekend, have fun, consume alcohol moderately, drive safely and remember that Memorial Day honors the men and women of the American military forces who gave their lives so that we could enjoy our rights and freedoms — whatever party and philosophy we subscribe to and however ambiguously we regard the notion, the operation and the effectiveness of our pretty darned great but surely imperfect democracy. These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events. There are some truly great bargains among these reviews.
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Monte Velho 2010, Alentejano, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Grapes: trincadeira 40%, aragonez 40%, castelao 20%. Well, this is really different, beginning with the trio of indigenous grapes. Boisterously spicy, buoyantly fruity, dark and alluring; currants, plums, mulberries and more than a touch of some wild exotic thing; briers, brambles, soft slightly grainy tannins; notes of dried spice, dried flowers; fruit and spice-packed finish with a graphite-slate element. Nothing complicated, mind you, but tasty and, well, different. Very Good. About $10, an Amazing Value.
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San Huberto Malbec 2010, Castro Barras, La Rioja, Argentina. 13% alc. Inky-ruby color; clean and fresh yet dusty, earthy and minerally; black olive and celery seed, thyme and cedar, black currants and black cherry with a hint of blueberry; wild, untamed, close to exotic, solid structure with dusty, fine-grained tannins and spicy oak; touches of licorice and pomegranate, quince paste and macerated figs wrapped about a black tea and bittersweet chocolate core; dense, dark, almost brooding finish. Now to 2015 to ’16. Excellent. About $11, a Bargain of the Century.
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Lamadrid Single Vineyard Reserve Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple; ink, iron and iodine bouquet, mint and lavender; dusty, intense and concentrated black currants and plums with a hint of wild berry; impressive weight and substance married to a paradoxical sense of refinement, even delicacy; finely-milled tannins; subtle, supple oak; bright acidity; a moderately long finish freighted with clean earth and underbrush qualities. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz Cabernet 2008, Limestone Coast, Australia. ?% alc. Medium ruby color; intense and generous, a little fleshy and meaty, mint, eucalyptus, cherry-berry and an unusual touch of strawberry; exotic spice; earthy, smooth, honed tannins, a minerally-foresty back-note. Lots of personality, almost charming. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
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Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. 85% tempranillo, 10% garnacha, 5% carignan. Deep ruby with a dark violet rim and a purple center; tobacco leaf, sandalwood, bacon fat and tar; vivid notes of black and red currants and cherries, undertones of rose petal and fruitcake; then hints of leather, cloves, sandalwood and green peppercorns; beautifully balanced and integrated, dense, slightly grainy tannins, a subtle and supple oak influence for a firm foundation and framework, a burgeoning element of graphite-like minerality; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit flavors; vibrant acidity, a sleek, spice-and-floral finish. Through 2015 or 2016. Excellent. About $19, a Great Bargain in a mature Rioja.
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Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Red Hills, Lake County, California. 14.3% alc. 94% cabernet sauvignon, 3% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Deep ruby-purple; sleek and scintillating, notably clean and fresh, a powerhouse of spicy black and blue fruit scents and flavors strictly tempered by layers of earthy, dusty graphite and plush finely-milled mineral-laced tannins dressed out with vibrant acidity; comes close to being elegant, though concealing a barrow-load of coiled energy. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $30.
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Mullineux Syrah 2008, Swartland Wine of Origin, South Africa. Dark ruby color; black and red currants, plums, fruitcake, a spike of black pepper and cloves; very earthy and spicy, wild and ripe mulberries, blueberries and plums; deeply earthy, supple, sinewy, bolstered by plush, grainy tannins and dusty granite; exuberant acidity and a long, spice-packed finish. Quite a performance. now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $33.
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Priest Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 3% petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple; penetrating graphite and granite minerality, a real charcoal edge; cranberry, mulberry and black currant, very dry, dense and chewy, velvety, touch of iodine and iron, smooth integrated tannins; deeply spicy and slightly austere finish. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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The vineyard and wine-making region of Ribera del Duero lies on the vast plateau of north-central Spain, athwart the Duero River in the province of Castilla y Leon. The principal grape is Spain’s most famous, the red tempranillo, known, however, in Ribera del Duero as tinto fino. Tempranillo is also the primary grape of Rioja, to the northeast, in Navarra; while Rioja long held a reputation for fine red wines — or, to be honest, frequently long-aged, woody, attenuated wines — Ribera del Duero functions as the upstart, the relatively new kid on the block, at least in terms of gaining international renown. Traditionally matured in American oak barrels, the wines of Ribera del Duero have come under the spell of French barriques, and you will see some evidence of that influence in this report, though as usual in the Friday Wine Sips, I eliminate technical, historical and explicit geographical data. The wines of Ribera del Duero must contain 75 percent tempranillo grapes, the rest made up from merlot, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, malbec or the local albillo; most of the wines mentioned here are 100% tempranillo. “Crianza” indicates a wine that has undergone at least one-year aging in oak barrels. These are not wines of finesse and refinement, but when well-balanced by fruit, their power and presence can be seductive. With two exceptions, these were samples for review. It was particularly gratifying to taste examples from 2005, ’04 and ’03.
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Vivir, Vivir 2007, Ribero del Duero. (Bodegas J.C. Conde) 13% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color with a darker center; soft, funky spicy nose, macerated red and black currants and plums; lovely ripe and fleshy black fruit character, vibrant acidity and fine-grained tannins; dusty graphite and underbrush, bittersweet chocolate, finish more austere and rigorous. Now to 2015 or ’17. Very Good+. About $12, so Run Out and Buy a Case.
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Damana 5 2007, Ribera del Duero. 14% alc. With 4 percent cabernet sauvignon. Med ruby color; red currants, raspberries and plums with that slight astringency of the tempranillo grape; high notes of wild berries and violets; dry and tannic, dried spices and a sort of distillation or intensification of potpourri and graphite; finish a bit rustic, glaringly dry and austere. Try 2013 to 2016 to ’18. Very Good. About $16.
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Aventino Tempranillo 2007, Ribero del Duero. 13% alc. First note: “this is great!” Dark ruby color with a garnet rim; terrific balance of power and elegance with all elements perfectly integrated; tobacco, spice, dried flowers and berries; deeply tannic and wood-influenced but all melded and meshed and layered; texture and structure one with the fruit and bright acidity; a few moments bring up hints of oolong tea, orange rind and fruitcake. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $13, an Absolute Freaking Bargain and Worth a Search.
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Ebano 6 2007, Ribero del Duero. NA% alc. Dark ruby color with a touch of magenta at the rim; give it a few minutes in the glass and it becomes quite appealing and drinkable; rich, warm, spicy, savory; red and black currants and cherries, tea and bittersweet chocolate; hefty, slightly grainy tannins are still fairly tight but unfold with airing in the glass; black and red fruit flavors open to hints of sour cherry and fruitcake; solid structure with some manageable woody austerity in the finish. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+. About $18, Good Value.
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Tinto Federico Roble 2007, Ribero del Duero. 12.5% alc. Warm, fleshy, spicy, ripe, appealing; softly macerated red and black berries and plums, touch of tobacco and iodine plus the whole box of exotic spices; plush and velvety yet sustained by striking acidity and fairly resolute tannins; the woody, tannin nature comes out more in the dry, austere finish. Try 2013 to 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $18.
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Pagos del Infante Crianza 2006, Ribero del Duero. (Lynus Viñedos y Bodegas) 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; cool, clean, scintillating inky graphite-like minerality, a touch of mint; more spice than fruit, though an intense concentration of black currants, black raspberries and plums with fruitcake, orange pekoe tea and quince paste; long, dense, impressive, avoids austerity through sheer power of personality. A modern style but more than merely legitimate. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $NA.
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Callejo Crianza 2006, Ribero del Duero. 14% alc. Lots of dimension without much detail; dense, dusty, chewy iron-like tannins; leather and brambles; even the warm spicy aromas feel as if they’re part of some rigorous architecture, etched with a smoke and charcoal edge; dry and austere. A big hmmmm. Perhaps try from 2014 to 2018. Very Good. About $30.
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Portia 2006, Ribera del Duero. 14% alc. Dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim; ripe, spicy, fleshy, warm; good balance and integration; tasty and appealing; moderate and well-integrated oak and tannins. Not exciting but drinks nicely. Now through 2014 to ’16. Very Good. About $30 (or close)
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Rush right out and buy a few bottles of this wonderfully appealing yet suitably serious example of Rioja, from Spain’s most renowned wine region. Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, was produced by a cooperative established by six families in 1987, since grown to 16 families. Altogether, they draw on 494 acres of vineyards, the majority by far devoted to red grapes. While the average age of the vines is 30 years, some of the garnacha (grenache) goes back 90 years. Oak is 90 percent American, 10 percent French. Winemaker, since 2003, is Gorka Etxebarria.

Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, is a blend of 85 percent tempranillo grapes, 10 percent garnacha and 5 percent carignan. The color is an entrancing deep ruby with a dark violet rim and a purple center that almost pulses with intensity. Scents of tobacco leaf, sandalwood, bacon fat and tar are woven with vivid notes of black and red currants and cherries and undertones of rose petal and fruitcake; give the wine a few moments in the glass and it accumulates hints of leather, cloves, sandalwood and green peppercorns. As if that panoply of delights were not enough to entice you, in the mouth, the wine is beautifully balanced and integrated, though dense, slightly grainy tannins and a subtle and supple oak influence lend a firm foundation and framework, abetted by a burgeoning element of graphite-like minerality. All of these qualities, including spiced and macerated black and blue fruit flavors, are bound by vibrant acidity that arrows straight to a sleek, spice-laden finish concluding with a final fillip of lavender and licorice. Alcohol content is a very comfortable 13.5 percent. Drink now through 2015 or ’16 with roasted chicken, game birds or hearty stews. Excellent. About $19 or $20, representing Great Value. Restaurants take note: how often can you get a mature wine from 2006 on your wine lists at a price diners will appreciate?

Imported by Kysela Pete et Fils, Winchester, Va. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

The theme today, such as it is, is diversity. I chose eight wines that were either 100 percent varietal (or a little blended) from eight different regions as a way of demonstrating, well, I guess the amazing range of places where wine can be made. Eight examples barely scratch the surface of such a topic, of course, and a similar post could probably be written in at least eight variations and not use the same grapes as primary subjects. Another way would be to create a post called “1 grape, 8 Places,” to show the influence that geography has on one variety. That topic is for another post, though. All the whites were made in stainless steel and are perfect, each in its own manner, for light-hearted summer sipping. The reds, on the other hand, would be excellent will all sorts of grilled red meat, from barbecue ribs to steaks.
All samples for review or tasted at trade events.
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Sauvignon blanc:
The Long Boat Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Marlborough, from Jackson Family Wines, is the archetypal New Zealand model that bursts with pert notes of gooseberry, celery seed, new-mown grass, thyme, tarragon and lime peel; it practically tickles your nose and performs cart-wheels on your tongue. It’s very dry, very crisp, a shot of limestone and chalk across a kiss of steel and steely acidity that endow with tremendous verve flavors of roasted lemon, leafy fig and grapefruit. That touch of grapefruit widens to a tide that sends a wave of bracing bitterness through the mineral-drenched finish. Truly scintillating, fresh and pure. 12.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Ca.
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Riesling:
The Gunderloch “Jean-Baptiste” Riesling Kabinett 2009, Rheinhessen, Germany, is a fresh, clean and delicate wine that opens with hints of green apple and slate and slightly spiced and macerated peaches and pears; a few minutes in the glass bring out a light, sunny, almost ephemeral note of petrol and jasmine. Ripe peach and pear flavors are joined by a touch of lychee and ethereal elements of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone that persist through the finish; the texture is sleek, smooth and notably crisp and lively. Really charming. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
Rudi Wiest for Cellars International, San Marcos, Ca.
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Chenin blanc:
Made from organically-grown grapes, the Heller Estate Chenin Blanc 2009, Carmel Valley, California, is refined, elegant, almost gossamer in its exquisite melding of tart apple and ripe peach with spiced pear and a hint of roasted lemon; there’s a touch of chenin blanc’s signature dried hay-meadowy effect as well as a hint, just a wee hint, of riesling’s rose petal/lychee aspect. (This wine typically contains 10 to 15 percent riesling, but I can’t tell you how much for 2009 because I received not a scrap of printed material with this shipment, and the winery’s website is a vintage behind; hence the label for 2008. Hey, producers! It doesn’t take much effort to keep your websites up-to-date!) Anyway, the wine is crisp and lively with vibrant acidity and offers a beguilingly suave, supple texture. It’s a bit sweet initially, but acid and subtle limestone-like minerality bring it round to moderate dryness. Lovely. 13.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
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Chardonnay:
Roland Lavantureux makes two wines, a Chablis and a Petit Chablis. Both are matured 2/3 in stainless steel tanks and 1/3 in enamel vats; the Petit Chablis for eight months, the Chablis for 10. The domaine was founded in 1978 and is family-owned and operated. The Roland Lavantureux Petit Chablis 2009 makes you wonder how the French wine laws differentiate between “little” Chablis and “regular” Chablis. This rated a “wow” as my first note. It feels like a lightning stroke of shimmering acidity, limestone and gun-flint tempered by spiced and roasted lemon and hints of quince, mushrooms and dried thyme. This wine serves as a rebuke to producers who believe that to be legitimate a chardonnay must go through oak aging; it renders oak superfluous. (Yes, I know, oak can do fine things to chardonnay used thoughtfully and judiciously.) The Roland Lavantureux Petit Chablis 09 radiates purity and intensity while being deeply savory and spicy; it’s a natural with fresh oysters or with, say, trout sauteed in brown butter and capers. A very comfortable 12.9 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $19 to $23.
Kermit Lynch Imports, Berkeley, Ca.
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Pinot noir:
Bodega Chacra, which makes only pinot noir wines, was established in Argentina’s Patagonia region — the Rio Negro Valley in northern Patagonia — in 2004 by Piero Incisa della Rochetta, the grandson of Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, the creator and proprietor of Sassicaia, one of the most renowned Italian wineries, and nephew of Niccolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, who currently manages the family’s winemaking enterprises. Bodega Chacra produces three limited edition pinot noirs, one from a vineyard planted in 1932, one from a vineyard planted in 1955, and the third made from a combination of these old vineyards and grapes from two 20-year-old vineyards. The vineyards are farmed on biodynamic principles; the wines are bottled unfiltered. The Barda Pinot Noir 2010, Patagonia, is an example of the third category of these wines. It spends 11 months in French oak barrels, 25 percent new. Barda Pinot Noir 2010 is vibrant, sleek, stylish and lovely; the bouquet is bright, spicy and savory, bursting with notes of black cherry, cranberry and cola highlighted by hints of rhubarb, sassafras and leather. It’s dense and chewy, lithe and supple; you could roll this stuff around on your tongue forever, but, yeah, it is written that ya have to swallow some time. Flavors of black cherry and plum pudding are bolstered by subtle elements of dusty graphite and slightly foresty tannins, though the overall impression — I mean, the wine is starting to sound like syrah — is of impeccable pinot noir pedigree and character. 12.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.
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Zinfandel:
If you grow weary, a-weary of zinfandel wines that taste like boysenberry shooters, then the Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley, California, is your cup of, as it were, tea. No bells and whistles here, just the purity and intensity of the zinfandel grape not messed about with. Grgich Hills is farmed entirely organically and by biodynamic principles, and winemaker Ivo Jeramaz uses oak judiciously, in this case 15 months in large French oak casks, so there’s no toasty, vanilla-ish taint of insidious new oak. The color is medium ruby with a hint of violet-blue at the rim; the nose, as they say, well, the nose offers a tightly wreathed amalgam of deeply spicy, mineral-inflected black and red currants and plums with a swathing of dusty sage and lavender, wound with some grip initially, but a few minutes in the glass provide expanse and generosity. Amid polished, burnished tannins of utter smoothness and suppleness, the black and red fruit flavors gain depths of spice and slate-like minerals; the whole effect is of an indelible marriage of power and elegance and a gratifying exercise in ego-less winemaking. 14.7 percent alcohol. We drank this with pizza, but it would be great with any sort of grilled or braised red meat or robustly flavored game birds. Excellent. About $35.
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Cabernet sauvignon:
You just have to rejoice when you encounter a cabernet, like the Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mendoza, Argentina, that radiates great character and personality — yes, those are different qualities — and maintains a rigorous allegiance to the grape while expressing a sense of individuality and regionality. The vineyards average 3,510-feet elevation; that’s way up there. Five percent malbec is blended in the wine; it aged 15 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels, and while that may seem like a high proportion of new oak, that element feels fully integrated and indeed a bit subservient to the wine’s strict high-altitude tannins and granite-like minerality. Aromas of black currants and black plums are ripe and fleshy, a bit roasted and smoky, yet iron-like, intense and concentrated; a few moments in the glass bring up classic touches of briers and brambles, cedar and wheatmeal, thyme and black olive, a hint of mocha. This is a savory cabernet, rich, dry, consummately compelling yet a little distant and detached, keeping its own counsel for another year or two, though we enjoyed it immensely with a medium rare rib-eye steak. What’s most beguiling are the broadly attractive black and blue fruit flavors permeated by moss and loam and other foresty elements married to muscular yet supple heft, dimensional and weight. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Ca.
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Tempranillo:
Here’s a terrific, slightly modern version of Rioja, by which I mean that it’s not excessively dry, woody and austere, as if made by ancient monks putting grapes through the Inquisition. Bodegas Roda was founded by Mario Rotillant and Carmen Dautella in 1991, in this traditional region that abuts Navarra in northeastern Spain. The deep and savory Roda Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain, blends 14 percent graciano grapes and five percent garnacha (grenache) with 81 percent tempranillo; the wine is aged 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, and spends another 20 months in the bottle before release. The color is rich, dark ruby, opaque at the center; aromas of black currant and black raspberry are infused with cloves and fruit cake, sage and thyme, bacon fat, leather and sandalwood, with something clean, earthy and mineral-drenched at the core. That sense of earth and graphite-like minerality persists throughout one’s experience with the wine, lending resonant firmness to the texture, which also benefits from finely-milled, slightly dusty tannins and vibrant acidity, all impeccably meshed with smoky, spicy flavors of black and red fruit and plum pudding. 14 percent alcohol. An impressive, even dignified yet delicious wine for drinking now, with grilled meat and roasts, or for hanging onto through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $45.
Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.
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The wines of Vinedos y Bodegas Garcia Figuero — to give this estate its full name — are made of 100 percent tempranillo grapes, some of which derive from vineyards that date to the 1930s. For decades, the grapes from the Figueros vineyards went into the wines of other producers in the Ribera del Duero region in north central Spain, part of the province of Castilla y Leon, until the family launched its own winery in 2001. As far as this palate is concerned, it was a wise decision.

Yes, these wines age in French and American oak barrels, much of them new barrels, qualifying the the wines for the often-used designation “new” or “modern” wines, in opposition, I suppose, to “old” or “traditional” wines, you know, the ones that aged years in large, ancient wooden casks or vats and emerged dry, austere and fruitless. I tend, as I have iterated many times, to be a purist about such notions of a region’s tradition and heritage, but Figeuros proves that we don’t have to adhere to tradition slavishly. Yes, the top levels of these wines display notable austerity on the finish, but that quality is preceded by rich, ripe fruit.

The Figuero 15 2004 and Figuero Noble 2004 I reviewed in June 2008, and these vintages are still the current releases for the wines in the U.S.A. I tasted them again in September 2010, and it was fascinating to see how the wines had developed over more than two years.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal. Samples for review.
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Figuero 4 2008, Ribero del Duero, aged four months in a combination of 85 percent American oak and 15 percent French oak, all new barrels; the grapes derive from vineyards that are 10 to 20 years old. The wine presents a dark ruby color and aromas of black currant, black cherry and wild mulberry drenched in spice, dried flowers and dried herbs. This is a solid, dense, chewy wine, almost powdery in the texture of its resilient tannins and graphite-like minerality, yet the black and blue fruit flavors are succulent and luscious, unfolding with tantalizing hesitation to reveal depths of lavender and licorice, dried fruit and bitter chocolate. Bring on the medium-rare rib-eye steak, the grilled pork chops, the roasted leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $20.
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What are the differences between Figuero 4 2008 and Figuero 12 2005? First, of course, the vintages; second, those numbers, 4 and 12, that indicate that aging times, 12 months opposed to four months. The grapes for Figuero 12 ’05 are from vineyards that are 20 to 40 years old. Interestingly, this is the only wine in the group that does not spend time in new oak; the barrels, 90 percent American and 10 percent French, are two or more years old. In the bottle, somehow, these factors translate to more of a mineral edge, more forest-freighted tannins yet also more spice, more forcefully juicy black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors and greater fathoms of potpourri, lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. The finish is long, solid, packed with dense tannins and sleek oak, though the wine exhibits lovely balance and integration of all parts. Another wine for roasted and grilled red meat. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $33.
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Here’s what I wrote about Figuero 15 Reserva 2004 in June 2008:

Next is Figuero’s 15 Months in Barrel Reserva 2004, a wine that I found absolutely compelling in smoothness and mellowness, in balance and harmony. The grapes are from 50-year-old vineyards. Despite aging in new barrels for 15 months — 95 percent American — the wine, like its cousin mentioned above, displays no trace of vanilla or new oak toastiness. Instead, the oak provides a sturdy framework, a permeating presence of spice that never becomes obtrusive. Mint, eucalyptus and cedar float above scents and flavors of black currant, black cherry and plum set into a lush, dense and chewy texture. I rated the wine Excellent and said to drink through 2012 to ’15.

To which I would add that tried again in September 2010, the wine felt even more integrated, more harmonious, heady, seductive, dense with dusty granite-like minerals and dusty, briery tannins, yet lush and silky, deeply and darkly spicy and fruiyt; the finish lasts and lingers. I would extend the consumption window to 2015 to ’18. 14 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $80.
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And here’s what I wrote about the Figuero Noble Gran Reserva 2004 in June 2008:

You will need patience for the Figuero Noble Gran Reserva 2004. The vines whence the grape derive are more than 70 years old, a factor that contributes to the wine’s extreme density, richness and austerity. The aging is sequential, first 15 months in American oak, then six months in French. It’s true that Noble 2004 emits beguiling touches of cedar and tobacco, mint and eucalyptus, but this is mainly about gritty tannins, polished oak and brooding earthy, minerally qualities that will require aging until 2011 or ’12 to achieve company manners. After that, consume through 2018 or ’20.

A bit more than two years later, the wine felt much the same though it had deepened the effect of its layers of black fruit flavors and spice and had smoothed out and mellowed, with the oak thoroughly absorbed, into almost inexpressible confidence, balance and integration. This would be superb with small games birds like squab and pheasant, but I sipped it, instead, with a demitasse of espresso and a slice of intense chocolate cake. Yikes! 14 percent alcohol. 2018 to ’20 still seems reasonable. A world-class wine of unimpeachable character. Exceptional. About $130.
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I receive wine samples almost daily, but they come, delivered by the friendly personnel of UPS or FedEx, from wineries, importers and marketing firms here in the United States of America. Recently, however, I received samples directly from a producer in Spain’s Toro region, part of the state of Castilla y León, nestled right up against Portugal, where the Duero river, flowing west and south, becomes the Douro. The producer is Bodegas Fariña, and the wines were made primarily from tempranillo grapes, or, rather, from tinto de Toro, a clone of tempranillo. The snug but scary little plastic foam box arrived at my doorstep despite the fact that my name, the street name and the city were all misspelled. I mean, there might be a mysterious town called Menphis somewhere in Tennessee, emerging now and then like Brigadoon, and the box could have gone astray, but fortunately (miraculously?) it arrived safely.

The town of Zamora, “the museum of the Romanesque,” is the center of the Toro region (and the capital of the province of Zamora) and the headquarters of Bodegas Fariña. The nearest airport, apparently — reports are slightly contradictory — is at Valladolid, the capital of the state of Castilla y León. So the package was assembled in Zamora and taken to the UPS store, driven, one assumes, to the airport at Valladolid, loaded on an airplane and shipped to — Cologne! That’s right, the sticker you see in the accompanying image carries the abbreviation CGN, which happens to be the code letters for the Cologne-Bonn airport, where UPS has a giant European hub. Checked out by the authorities there — no bomb! whew! — from thence, it was flown across the cold, gray, dolphin-flecked Atlantic to land, eventually, at my front door.

The Dama de Toro line is a new label for Bodegas Fariña, at least in the U.S. The winery was founded in 1942, when the region’s wines were rustic and rough and reached alcohol levels on 17 percent. Salvador Fariña revolutionized production by moving the harvest forward, to lower alcohol to 13 or 13.5 percent, and introducing stainless steel tanks. Salvador’s s son Manuel ran the property for many years; his son Bernardo now operates the family-owned winery.

Dama de Toro wines are imported by Specialty Cellars, Santa Fe Springs, Cal.
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Aged four months in half-and-half French and American oak barrels, and containing a dollop of garnacha (grenache) grapes, the Dama de Toro Tempranillo 2008 offers aromas of pure fresh and dried red and black currants with dried baking spice and touches of dried flowers. It gets a little earthy, a little mossy and funky and then draws up flavors of plum and black raspberry, shale and a sort of minerally-tannic-oaky dusty character as foundation. Nothing profound, but a pleasing personality and delicious effect. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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An older vintage, longer time in barrels — eight months American oak — and undefined “old vines” lend the Dama de Toro Crianza 2004 more depth and dimension than its counterpart mentioned above can assay. The color is dark ruby-purple. A seductive bouquet of dried currants, orange zest, plums and violets entices the nose; after a few moments touches of briers and brambles, woody spices and black tea emerge. This complexity is reflected in the mouth in an amalgam of tightly-woven black and red fruit flavors permeated by dried porcini and forest floor, potpourri and violets and, as in the previous example, a plethora of dry, dense, dusty, granite-like features slicked with fairly formidable but finely-milled tannins and balanced by acute acidity. If you’re going to drink this now, try it with braised meat dishes — veal or lamb shanks, short ribs and so on — and rich, mature cheeses or hold on until 2012 or ’13. Alcohol level is 13.5 percent. Very Good+. About $15, another good price for the quality and for an interesting tempranillo experience.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________ The top of this line is the Gran Dama de Toro 2004, made from 80- to 90-year-old vines and aged 15 months in 30 percent French oak, 70 percent American; besides the tempranillo, there’s six percent garnacha in the wine. This is wild and exotic, a creature unto itself, and I found it a little more approachable and drinkable than the Dama de Toro Crianza 2004. What’s here? Macerated and spiced plums and fruit cake; blueberry, mulberry and pomegranate; moss, clean earth, burning leaves and mushrooms; lavender and vanilla, smoke and sandalwood; a dense, dusty velvety texture imbued with fully loaded tannins and a packed-in granite-shale character. This strikes me as a world-class wine that will develop more complexity and be at its best from 2014 or ’15 to 2020 or ’24. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Excellent. About $45.
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