Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Oct 1st, 2016

Telmo Rodriguez Tells All on Spain; Top Spanish Buys; International Smart Buys
by John Szabo, MS, with notes from David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Has Spain’s idea of progress been a disaster? This week I take a deep look into Spain’s past, present, and future through the thoughts of one of Iberia’s most celebrated winemakers, Telmo Rodriguez. This month also saw the biggest tasting of Spanish wines in Toronto in the last decade, a sure sign that this corner of Europe is on the move, while Spain is also one of the themes of the October 1st VINTAGES release (though it’s all Rioja). David Lawrason and I share our top picks from both LCBO and consignment/private imports, so if Spain is your thing read on. If it’s not, then you should definitely read on. And just in case, see my Buyers’ Guide for the best of the rest hitting shelves on October 1st.

Spain’s idea of progress in the past has been a disaster: interview with Telmo Rodriguez

“Spain’s idea of progress in the past has been a disaster”, Telmo Rodriguez tells me as we settled in recently to taste the latest releases from his family estate in Rioja, Remelluri. “Progress was planting international varieties, introducing trellising and irrigation, focusing on winemaking techniques. Nothing was done to exploit the potential of Spain’s amazing diversity of terroirs and varieties”.

Rodriguez, one of the Spanish wine industry’s best known figures internationally, is not shy about his opinions and criticism of the industry, but nor is he short on ideas about what needs to be done and how to go about it. He can be credited, at least in part, with sparking the revolution that is currently sweeping across this once-sleepy giant, the country with the greatest acreage under vines on earth, and is genuinely excited about the changes that have already occurred and especially what is yet to come.


Telmo Rodriguez in Toronto

Rodriguez was born in Irun, in Basque country in northeastern Spain, where his family still lives in a 500 year-old stone house. His introduction to wine came early when his parents bought the centuries-old Remelluri estate in Rioja in the early 1960s. Although his father did not initially intend to make wine, the potential of Remelluri, one of the oldest estates in the region that had been in the hands of the church until the 19th century, and with intact lagars from the 10th century and abandoned vineyard terraces from the Roman era, was too alluring.

Telmo studied winemaking and then worked in Bordeaux, but eventually moved on to southern France where he felt a much closer connection with the vignerons. “The people are closer to the land, to their vineyards”, he explains. Rodriguez fine-tuned his craft in some of the region’s most celebrated cellars, notably at Domaine de Trevallon in Provence, followed by several vintages with Gérard Chave in Hermitage. “They were heroes of the vineyard”, he says with some reverence, “willing to work in dramatically difficult vineyards at a time when their wine prices could hardly justify the effort”. It reminded him of Spain. Although back home at this time, in the early 1990s, most of the dramatic vineyards, the old vines on precipitously steep parcels and terraces, the local varieties, had all but been abandoned and forgotten.

Compañia de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez

The experience inspired him to return to his homeland, where along with partner Pablo Eguzkiza, he launched the Compañia de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez (originally the Compañía de Vinos de La Granja) in 1994. The philosophy was simple: to recover some of the country’s formerly great, abandoned vineyards and focus exclusively on native varieties. Rodriguez now produces wine in nine regions across Spain: Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Toro, Rueda, Cigales, Valdeorras, Cebreros, Alicante and Málaga. You could say he’s achieved his goal.

But don’t call him a flying winemaker. He speaks of vineyards and expression of place with as much conviction and passion as any terroir-obsessed Frenchman, and insists that his job is not winemaking, but rather identifying and exploiting regions with huge potential. “All my work since the beginning has been focused on places, not brands. Our wines are not made by winemakers, they’re made by grape growers. These people control the vineyards. Once you understand your place, you know how to work”, he says with genuine conviction.

Today, this sounds like typical PR propaganda, the 21stC battle cry of the wine world, but it’s a philosophy that Rodriguez espoused long before it was fashionable.

The Current Drama

Despite his success, Rodriguez is the first to concede that Spain still lags well behind other wine producing countries in the world of fine wine. The steep price commanded for Chave Hermitage today, for example, makes Rodriguez both smile and cringe. He smiles at the potential for Spain’s future, but cringes at the current reality. “I have some vineyards that cost 5x more to work than grand cru Bordeaux”, he points out, “but the wines only fetch a fraction of the price. This is the current drama of Spain.”



Rodriguez explains: “in Spain, wine was until very recently like bread, an everyday product, not a luxury product”, he says. It’s undeniably true that wines from regions like Bordeaux, Champagne, or Burgundy began the transformation from basic commodity to luxury goods a century or two ago, while other regions, like the northern Rhône, and most of Italy, joined the luxury game beginning after WWII.

But unlike Italy, Spain was very closed politically throughout most of the 20th century, isolated from the rest of the radical economic development ongoing in Europe, especially after the Civil War during the Franco dictatorship. Spain remained a poor country. While Italy was creating the “economic miracle” converting from an agriculture-based society to economic powerhouse and modernizing the entire country along the way, Spain carried on in a 19th century world. Italy’s new wealthy middle and upper classes fuelled demand for fine wine, while in Spain, wine remained basic daily bread. There was, and still is, much catching up to do.

Rodriguez tells me that for the most part during this period, grape growers sold to cooperatives or large companies. Small grower-producers were exceedingly rare. “There are still only about 3000 producers in Spain, compared to something like 60,000 in Italy”, he reveals, a country with slightly less acreage than Spain. It’s a statistic that reveals much about industry structure.

Rioja Reality: Traditional vs. Modern?

Spain’s initial efforts to modernize the industry in the post-Franco era in the early 1980s were, as Rodriguez pointed out off the top, misguided, at least in hindsight, out of step with today’s worship of local, original, unique, vineyard-driven wines. But technology-driven, industrial production has much deeper roots in Spain, going back much further than the last 40 years. It’s another sore point for Rodriguez.

“I hate the discussion of modern vs. traditional. I don’t know what traditional is”, he says, referring to the common distinction made between styles of Rioja, much like the discussion that dominated Barolo circles up to the end of the 20th century.

He asks me which producers I consider traditional, and I point out names like La Rioja Alta, Marqués de Murrieta (especially the Castillo Ygay bottling) and Lopez de Heredia, all established in the 19th century and widely considered arch-classics of the region. The unique aromas and flavours of long ageing in American wood of these and other ‘traditional’ wines is the most obvious marker for any student of wine looking to identify Rioja in blind tastings.

But then with piercing eyes he pounces on me, clearly well prepared to make his point. “These ‘Traditional’ wineries established in the 19th century were industrial wineries, large scale production facilities. They were absolutely modern at the time and had little to do with the earlier traditions of the region, which were based on small landholdings and individual cellars in each village”, he says with unveiled disdain. “They were the ones who broke from tradition.” And from this point on, he points out, Rioja, and the Spanish wine industry overall, became dominated by brands and managers, not winegrowers.


Vineyards and Tolon Mountain, Remelluri

He implicates French winemakers in the demise of traditional Rioja, especially those from Bordeaux. The Marqués de Murrieta (as well as the Marqués de Riscal), studied winemaking in Bordeaux in the mid 1800s, returning to the region with the new ideas and techniques they acquired. Then the Bordelais themselves began arriving in droves towards the end of the 19th century, in search of wine to replace the losses from their phylloxera-devastated vineyards. With them came more French technology and a philosophy of large-scale, homogenized production, which irrevocably changed the game.

It was an eerie foreshadowing of what would happen a century later, a mistake then, as it was more recently, in Rodriguez’s view. “Rioja took the wrong direction”, he asserts matter-of-factly. Wines were made from blends of grapes grown throughout the vast Rioja region in order to create a consistent style. It was also around that time that American oak casks became prevalent in Rioja, which again altered the “traditional” taste of Rioja.

“So what’s the real taste of Rioja, the real tradition? Is it just American oak?”, Rodriguez asks rhetorically. “We haven’t defined the taste of Rioja yet.”

For a man fixated on terroir, a wine blended from a staggeringly large, 60,000+ hectare area and then flavoured so heavily with oak that origins become unidentifiable is a complete anathema. (Ironically the taste of oak has come to define the region as a whole). And don’t even get him started on vinos de autor, the wave of “winemaker’s wines” that began arriving to market in the 1990s, an unofficial, loosely defined category of wines often treated to lavish new French oak, figuratively bearing the personal signature of the winemaker (the ‘author”), not the imprint of any particular sub-region, village or vineyard. In his mind, these wines are equally misguided.

To make the point of how far Rioja has strayed from terroir, Rodriguez asks me to name 10 villages in Rioja. I stumble. And to go further and describe the typical character of wine from those villages would surely be impossible for anyone but an experienced local grape grower. By contrast, most sommeliers and wine writers, even non-specialists, would have no difficulty in naming 10 communes in Burgundy, and even provide a general description of the wines produced in each. It’s standard wine education. “But we have no culture of villages”, Rodriguez says sadly. Indeed it’s still technically illegal to put the name of a village of origin on a label of Rioja, even if it is grown exclusively within one, which is why nobody knows them, let alone what the wines they produce will taste like.

And then, Rioja Pricing

There is, however, the obstacle of glass ceilings on price that hinder progress towards real quality, certainly true in Canada. “Spanish wine in Canada is very generic”, Rodriguez laments. “Rioja has to be cheap. Spain’s image was and still is cheap”. It’s a refrain I’ve heard from many Canadian importers, who find it almost impossible to sell Rioja, and Spanish wine for that matter, much above $20 or $30. “$60 Rioja? That’s a very tough sell”, Derek Kranenborg of All the Right Grapes, a Rioja importing specialist in Ontario, tells me.

Price limitation is a direct reflection of the simplistic view that people have of Spain. Rodriguez points out an interesting statistic: “Spain harbors 62% of Europe’s biodiversity, and 2/3 of fish species. So why is it seen as such a simple country?”

In terms of diversity of wine, Spain is also incredibly rich. But Rodriguez has answered his own question; until very recently Spain has been presented as a very simple country, as in Rioja wine. There’s one large regional appellation, and wines are classified into basic quality categories according to how long they age before release. Simple.

The trouble is, quality does not derive from any length of ageing, short or long. It’s as absurd a system today as is the German approach to classifying quality based on how ripe grapes are at harvest. (Why Chianti Classico recently introduced a top classification based on length of ageing is still a mystery to me.) “The early success of Rioja was the simple message”, admits Rodriguez. “But now it’s time to move on.” It’s telling that a great many of the latest generation of Rioja grower-producers are moving away from the traditional crianza/reserve/gran reserva nomenclature on labels. And in place of a single appellation covering the entire region, Rodriguez believes there should be at least 60.

Bringing the Real Taste of Rioja Back to Life

But Rodriguez’s MO is not only to criticize, but to foment change by leading by example. The future of Rioja, and indeed all of Spain, is to rediscover the individuality of regional expressions on a much smaller scale, knowledge that has been largely lost over the last century. The most emblematic expression of this vision is Rodriguez’s top single vineyard Rioja bottling called Las Beatas, a wine made from a tiny 1.9 hectare parcel that has taken him 20 years to bring to fruition, first released from the 2011 vintage. The aim was to “bring back to life the real traditional taste of Rioja”, or at least the maximum expression possible from this exceptional place, not his personal signature.


Las Beatas

Rodriguez painstakingly assembled the small La Beatas plot by acquiring many even smaller contiguous parcels, all on abandoned terraces that date back to the 7th century in the Rioja Alavesa zone. He then revived the vineyard by grafting old vines and planting them in high density, mixed plantings, including many forgotten varieties. According to his research, “more than 50 grapes were originally planted in the region going back to the early 20th century. Rioja was always a field blend”.

The high-density plantings, at 5000 vines/hectare, are technically illegal. “There’s an appellation law limiting density to 2500 vines/hectare”, says Rodriguez, “in place to encourage growers to work less and sell grapes more cheaply”, which naturally perpetuates the cheap image of Rioja. After some wrangling, officials eventually accorded Las Beatas “experimental vineyard status” so he could retain the Rioja designation. “Imagine”, says Rodriguez with a chuckle, “a thousand year old vineyard planted more or less as it was back then, considered experimental!”

But the fight to retain the Rioja DOCa is a testament to Rodriguez’s belief in the region. He could easily have opted to abandon the appellation certification process and label Las Beatas as a table wine, as another high profile producer, Artadi, recently did with their entire range in protest of the outdated appellation regulations and poor international image. But Las Beatas was to remain a Rioja.

Taking his revival further, Rodriguez bought a 17th century cellar in which to make and age his treasured wine, as was once common, in cool, humid conditions underground. He seems to have found the real taste, or at least something special; since the first release in 2011, Las Beatas has widely been considered one of the top references in the region, alongside other iconic single vineyard Riojas like Artadi’s El Pison. Rodriguez makes no effort to hide his pride in the fact that Rioja’s top wines these days are mostly all from single vineyards, not “traditional” regional blends. Las Beatas sells for about $180 (available at Bin 905 in Calgary).

The Future of Spain

So what’s next? Consider the Spanish culinary scene for a moment. The world was turned upside down by El Bulli, considered the best restaurant in the world while it existed, and the most revolutionary. Without exaggeration, it quite literally changed culinary history. Many others followed, finding their own paths to culinary stardom. Now Spain has several restaurants on everyone’s world top fifty list, more than any other country. The diversity of products available in the country is a large part of the success, as well as the innovative spirit of their chefs. It’s only a matter of time before this spirit permeates into the wine industry. “Spain is no longer just tapas and paella”, declares Rodriguez. And nor is it just a limited handful of grapes, regions and wine brands.

Rodriguez is of course not the only one fighting for the future of Spain. Artisanal grower-producers are emerging in in every corner of the country, rediscovering local varieties and abandoned vineyards that date back hundreds, if not a couple of thousand years. “What is happening in Spain is absolutely amazing”, Rodriguez enthuses. “The country is being revolutionized by a new generation of growers, and the potential is huge.”

There’s clearly a great deal of excitement and it’s starting to trickle into Canada. Ric Kitowski of TWC Imports, with one of the more impressive Spanish portfolios in Ontario, reports that his sales of Spanish wine in consignment have tripled in the last couple of years, with the list of non-Spanish restaurant clients growing. And, “a lot of people still don’t know Spain”, he says, “which means there’s still a lot of room to grow. It’s much harder to grow Italian wines, for example. The market is so saturated.”

While the selection at the LCBO remains mostly staid and ordinary to say the least (the VINTAGES October 1st “Spain” thematic features only wines from Rioja, and from a handful of usual suspects, all under $30 – at least call it a Rioja feature), private import and consignment channels are indeed beginning to fill with truly exciting wines from the new generation.

This is the future of Spain.

See below for some of the best wines you can get your hands on now.

Buyers’ Guide to the Wines of Telmo Rodriguez

Telmo Rodríguez 2015 Gaba Do Xil Godello – Particularly ripe and fleshy, Rodriguez’s 2015 godello from Valdeorras in northwestern Spain is suffused with honeydew melon, pear and Golden Delicious apple on a fullish, round and gentle frame. Available in consignment from Lifford Wine Agencies.

Gaba do Xil 2013 Mencía – A fine and fragrant, floral and herbal, red and blue fruit-scented mencía in the regional idiom, with no evident oak. The palate is fullish, flavourful, balanced and fresh – a genuine mouthful of fruit and light spice, nicely proportioned, with great length and complexity at the price. A superb value, full of joy and happiness. Available in consignment from Lifford Wine Agencies.

Telmo Rodriguez LZ 2014 – Fresh, firm, grippy and juicy, with nary a sign of wood, you might call this Rioja ‘unplugged’, or simply just a delicious tempranillo blend (with graciano and garnacha), aged in cement tank. It’s infinitely drinkable, especially lightly chilled, not to mention versatile at the table. Available in consignment from Lifford Wine Agencies.


Remelluri Vineyards

Remelluri 2012 Rioja Blanco – Remelluri is Telmo Rodriguez’s family property, which has never seen any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, and remains the largest organic estate of La Rioja. This exceptional white is crafted from a field blend of nine varieties, entirely from the property, an interpretation of this high-altitude estate, the highest in the region up to 650m. The 2012 offers gorgeous aromas of white flowers, orange blossom, almonds, perfectly ripe orchard fruit, white and yellow fleshed, like golden delicious apple and succulent pear, with terrific complexity. The palate follows through, with a perfect balance of acids and alcohol, seamless and pure flavours, rendered creamy by delicate lees influences. A wine of exceptional depth and genuine flavour intensity, with excellent length. Drinking beautifully now, though this is a wine I’d love to revisit in several years, say after 2020 to test the limits of how well this will age – I suspect it will be excellent. If you’re looking for a reference point, the nearest I could suggest would be white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, at the very highest level, albeit fresher with higher acids. Available in consignment from Noble Wine Estates.

Lindes de Remelluri 2012 Viñedos de Lasbastida – From nearby, non-estate vineyards in the village of Labastida (“lindes means more or less “on the borders”), this is the rounder, softer, more delicate bottling of the two wines in the Lindes range. It’s delicate and soft, perfumed, with no apparent wood flavour (aged in barrel and 5000l vats), silky-textured, focused on fresh, mostly red fruit, and with very good to excellent length. A classy and elegant wine. Available in consignment from Noble Wine Estates.

Remelluri 2010 Rioja Reserva – At 90 hectares, Remelluri is the largest organic vineyard in Rioja, and with vines up to 650m, the highest in the region; harvest often stretches into November. The results are among the freshest and liveliest in the appellation, featuring fresh-ripe fruit and genuine, lively acids, crisp and precise. Like all of Remelluri’s wines, wood is not a significant flavour influence, and the hallmarks of elegance and delicacy shine through. The 2010 is reliably classy and poised, even if the nose is still quite closed at the moment – be sure to decant if serving now, or better yet, wait 2-4 years at least, as tannins are still quite firm and furry. Available in consignment from Noble Wine Estates.


Granja Nuestra sra de Remelluri

Granja Remelluri 2009 Rioja Gran Reserva – Although this wine was not made by Telmo Rodriguez himself, who rejoined the family estate at the behest of his brothers in 2010, he did compose the blend. Various parcels and varieties were included, with a high percentage of garnacha grown at the coolest, highest elevations on the property (up to 650m some of the highest in Rioja), a “mountain garnacha” as Rodriguez describes it. It’s a Rioja of sublime finesse, lovely, delicate, perfumed, very elegant. The palate reveals very fine grained, silky tannins and mostly bright red fruit, ripe but still fresh, succulent and savoury. Surprisingly, it shows very little bottle development now seven years in, and as such promises to live for a very long time, into the late ’20s I suspect, even if it can be appreciated now. Length and presence on the palate are simply excellent. Available in consignment from Noble Wine Estates.

Our Top Picks from the Oct 1st VINTAGES release:

Buyers’ Guide to Rioja

Palacios Remondo 2014 La Vendimia DOCa Rioja ($15.95)
John Szabo – Bright, simple, fruity, fresh red berry-scented, with low tannins and bright acids. This is designed to drink with a light chill, without contemplation, in large draughts.

Rioja Vega 2011 Reserva, DO Rioja ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This fine Rioja displays a compelling and lifted nose with intense cherry/currant fruit nicely meshed with the generous oak. It’s medium weight, edgy yet juicy with piquant but balanced acidity, Delicious and excellent value.

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2014 Rioja Vega Reserva 2011 Conde De Valdemar Gran Reserva 2007 Barón De Ley Gran Reserva 2010

Conde de Valdemar 2007 Gran Reserva DOCa Rioja ($29.95)
John Szabo – This has shifted nicely now into the mature, bottle-aged spectrum of flavours, fully umami-rich with earthy-caramel-maple syrup flavours, while fruit has dried up. The finish puts toasted coconut and balsam wood on full display, slightly drying, but still holding on. A fine flavour experience for fans of the late 19th century style. Best 2016-2022.

Barón de Ley 2010 Gran Reserva DOCa Rioja ($29.95)
John Szabo – A classic, old school gran reserva, with very fine, dusty tannins, bright, sharp acids, crunchy red fruit and of course a serious lick of sandalwood and cedar from extensive American oak ageing. This is the sort of wine you can drink now, or hold another decade or more without concern.
David Lawrason – This is a gran reserva with some gravitas. It has a lovely, rich nose. It’s bodied, smooth and almost satiny, with fine tannin. It is really well integrated, approachable and delicious. Best now to the early 2020s.

Buyers’ Guide to Szabo’s International Smart Buys 


Boschendal 2015 Rachelsfontein Chenin Blanc WO Coastal Region, South Africa ($12.95)
John Szabo –  $13? A steal for this ripe and fleshy, ripe orchard fruit – pear-nectarine-apricot-flavoured chenin blanc. It offers terrific length and complexity for the money. Sadly the low price will probably keep consumers away, thinking it must be a fairly basic, cheap South African white. It’s anything but.

Les Grands Presbytères 2013 Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine AC Loire ($14.95)
John Szabo – There’s exceptional weight, density and breadth of flavour in this muscadet, and genuine old vines vinosity, at once fresh and citrusy, and relatively fleshy and gentle on the palate with the added creaminess of sur lie ageing. And then factor in the price: $15. What a superb value for fans of characterful, minerally, unoaked white wine.

Boschendal Rachelsfontein Chenin Blanc 2015 Les Grands Presbytères Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2013 Domaine Loew Vérité Sylvaner 2013 Domaine Des Chesnaies Côteaux Du Layon 2014

Domaine Loew 2013 Vérité Sylvaner AC Alsace Alsace ($25.95)
John Szabo – An exceptionally ripe and fragrant, late harvest-style (but fully dry) sylvaner, a wine of above average intensity and complexity to be sure, at an attractive price. The palate is at once crisp but plush and fleshy, with terrific stony extract and dense, succulent acids. Very good to excellent length. Superb sylvaner with a very honest, natural appeal, without artifice.

Domaine Des Chesnaies 2014 Côteaux du Layon AC Loire ($27.95)
John Szabo – A medium-deep, straw-gold coloured, late harvest-style chenin blanc, profusely aromatic, dense, ripe and sweet on the palate, honey and saffron-flavoured, with evident botrytis influence. Acids remain quite tart and acidulated on the finish, giving this a much drier and balanced impression than you might expect considering the residual sugar (56 grams), with excellent length. I’d bring this out with the cheese board, anytime over the next decade.


Waterkloof 2012 Circumstance Syrah WO Stellenbosch Stellenbosch ($22.95)
John Szabo –  Here’s a nice and smoky-peppery, iodine and dark fruit scented wine, immediately identifiable as syrah, with firm, grippy, assertive structure and very good to excellent length. Very tidy value and characterful wine all in all, genuine and honest. Best 2016-2022.

Hedges 2012 Family Estate Estate Grown And Bottled Red Red Mountain, Yakima Valley Washington (39.95)
John Szabo –  One of my top Washington State references, this is a genuine and spicy, herbal and ripe dark fruit-scented syrah from Hedges, plush, soft yet structured enough to be considered in the realm of serious reds. There’s still the loose-knit generosity on the palate of the new world, but this hits all of the right notes. Best 2016-2022.

Waterkloof Circumstance Syrah 2012 Hedges Family Estate Red 2012 Renato Ratti Marcenasco Barolo 2011

Renato Ratti 2011 Marcenasco Barolo DOCG Piedmont ($53.95)
John Szabo – Lovely floral, red-berry, sweet herb, candied cranberry… I could go on – this is a beautifully perfumed Barolo from Ratti, very much in line with the historic house style and the terroir of La Morra. The palate is poised and elegant, so feminine and delicate, immediately enjoyable but capable of sitting in the cellar for another decade. It’s not the most ageworthy Ratti cru, but certainly one of the most immediately appealing vintages for Marcenasco. Terrific length and depth. Just singing now. Best 2016-2025.

Buyers’ Guide to Spanish Wines in Consignment/Private Order


Augustí Torelló Mata 2012 Cava Rosat Trepat, Penedès ($25)

John Szabo – An outstanding rosé Cava of superb complexity made from the rare trepat variety, at the top of its class. Offers lovely hibiscus flowers and dried roses, on a matur, toasty, toasty frame with excellent length. Available in consignment through TWC Imports.

AT Roca 2014 Brut Reserva Cava, Penedès ($24)

John Szabo – From the same family who brings us Augstí Torelló Mata (above), this is an exceptional, organically-grown blend of half macabeo and a split of xarel.lo and parellada, given 18 months sur lie. It delivers uncommonly full flavour and vibrant fruit, absent the earthy flavours that occasionally plague some cava. Lovely bubbles. (Also from this estate, don’t miss the eye-opening 2015 Floral, a blend of macabeo and malvasia de Sitges that impresses with it’s purity and aromatic kaleidoscope). Available in consignment through TWC Imports.


Bodegas Itsasmendi 2015 Txacoli de Vizcaya ($22.50)

John Szabo – An evidently ripe vintage for this txacoli, one of the very few in the Ontario market. It’s nonetheless a sharp, salty vibrant and perfumed, aperitivo style wine with solid length and intensity. Available in consignment through TWC Imports.

Valdesil 2014 Sobre Lias, DO Valdeorras ($26.55)

David Lawrason – From the godello grape rising to stardom in northwest Spain, this is a brilliant, unique white that opens aromatically with exotic pineapple, honeysuckle and lemon, then shifts to great linearity and minerality on the palate. Excellent length. John Szabo – a perennial favourite of mine, delivering all the necessary, and more, in 2014. Available in consignment through TWC Imports.


Tajinaste 2015 Tinto Tradicional, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, Canary Islands ($21.50)

John Szabo – Made from old vines listán negro, better known perhaps as California’s mission grape or Chile’s país, this is a fresh, light, ripe red fruit flavoured wine in the style of crunchy fresh reds (cru Beaujolais style), with lovely floral aromatics alongside peppery spice. Tannins are light ans acids bright. From the north side of Tenerife grown in pure volcanic soils. Available in consignment through TWC Imports.


Augustin Farrais – Tajinaste, Tenerife

Tentenublo 2015 Xérico Vino de Aldea Viñaspre Rioja ($31.95)

John Szabo – Roberto Oliván is a young, 4th generation winegrower in his early 30s farming 22 different family plots; grapes were formerly sold off or made into local bulk wine. Xérico is a field blend from several plots, a mid-tier wine in the portfolio, under the single vineyard wines. Terrific nose here, very pure, open and honest, all fresh raspberry and strawberry, black cherry. I love the freshness on the palate; acids are marvellously fresh and the fruit character carries through nicely from the nose, almost in a whole berry/partial carbonic expression. Mid-weight, refined and elegant, still a year or two away from prime drinking.  Available on Private Order through, [email protected]

Artuke 2014 Rioja Finca de Los Locos Rioja ($39.95)

John Szabo – Arturo and Kike are the two Blanco brothers who joined to form Artuke in Baños de Ebro in Rioja Alta, 5th generation growers and 2nd generation winemakers. Five wines are produced at the estate including three single vineyards of which this is one, Finca de Los Locos (“crazy farm”), a very sandy terraced site on which nobody thought grapes would grow, planted in 1981. It’s beautifully perfumed, very whole bunch-like, spicy, savoury and resinous. The palate is surprisingly mineral, the texture gravelly and firm, with freshness provided by both acid and tannins. I like the structure, the abundant but not hard tannins, and the lingering perfume. A very interesting expression. 80%. Tempranillo. 91 points. Available on Private Order through, [email protected]

Abel Mendoza 2013 Seleccion Personal Rioja Tempranillo ($63.95)

John Szabo – A ‘new wave’ producer who first came on the scene in the 1980s, farming in San Vicente de La Sonsierra near Haro on the Ebro River. The Selecion Personal is a blend of tempranillo from several vineyards, a clean, powerful Rioja, ripe and weighing in at 14.5% alcohol declared, aged in French oak, polished and stylish without flash or bling. There’s real depth and complexity on offer, abundant but velvety tannins, fine, juicy acids. Very good to excellent length. Classy wine. 93 points. Available on Private Order through, [email protected]

Finca Moncloa 2013, VDT Cadiz, ($28.00)

David Lawrason – The deep, hot south of Spain is not known for fine, balanced red wines, but this new project by Gonzales Byass shows there is reason to do so. After experimenting with various grape varieties for several years they have come up with a quite fine, rich red based on an all-but-extinct variety called tintilla de rota. It is blended with syrah and cabernet sauvignon. Available in consignment through Woodman Wine & Spirits.

Losada 2012 DO Bierzo ($24.50)

David Lawrason – A modern winery harvesting 60 year old bush vines on Bierzo’s slate and clay soils is creating great value reds from the native mencia grape. This is rich, complex, meaty and deep-fruited with intriguing almost saline minerality. Available in consignment through TWC Imports.

Vina Olabarri 2009 Reserva. DO Rioja ($21.95)

David Lawrason – The 2011 Crianza at Vintages now is very good too, but this takes the quality deeper and value quotient higher. This traditional, small house from Rioja Alta has created a ripe reserva of elegance, density and poise. Available in consignment from


That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES October 1st, 2016

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Beringer Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013