Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES May 29th, 2021

Spain and Australia

By John Szabo, with notes from David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

The Vintages May 29th release puts Spain and Australia in the spotlight. Neither selection is especially riveting. The Spanish feature in particular fails to capture the current mood and stylistic line permeating the Spanish wine scene, which is one of youthful dynamism, exploration and tradition-bending wines. Instead, we’re left, for the most part, with an anachronistic collection of “old school Spain” – mostly traditionally-styled, heavily oak-influenced mature wines (read: Rioja), that would have been stylistically comfortable in a released in 2011, or 2001, or 1991 for that matter. It’s a far cry from the New Spain, if at least familiar, and in some cases good, but don’t take this range as representative of what’s happening on the ground today. Read on for the few exceptions, including a mini-profile on Pepe Mendoza, who has redefined monastrell from Alicante and has two excellent wines in this release. Also noteworthy are two releases from the Fernandez-Rivera Family, established by Ribera del Duero producer Alejandro Fernandez of iconic Pesquera fame. Grab a bottle of 2016 Condado De Haza Crianza ($27.95) and the 2015 Dehesa La Granja ($21.95), and join David Lawrason and I live this Saturday, June 5th on Zoom at 5pm for a tempranillo happy hour featuring these two wines (and Tinto Pesquera, now sold out) as we discuss these important Spanish wines and Spain’s most planted red grape.


The Australia feature fares somewhat better with a handful of progressive wines from outside the ‘classic’ zones and styles that made Australia’s popularity in the 1990s and early 2000s. But the industry has of course, moved on since to embrace much more regionalism and fresher, breezier wines than those generic sunny chardonnays or classic bold Barossa Shirazes. I was also recently reminded of the brilliance of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon during a global comparative seminar put on by Wine Australia in May. Although shiraz usually springs to top of mind for Australian reds, cabernet, too, reaches world class heights in a surprisingly wide range of styles linked to diverse origins. Click here for some thoughts on Coonawarra, Margaret River and the Yarra Valley and a replay of the seminar, or scroll through for all of our top picks from Spain, Australia, and the best of the rest.

Pepe Mendoza: The Spanish Exception Redefining Monastrell

Pepe Mendoza of Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, has redefined the potential for monastrell (aka mourvèdre) in the region of Alicante, formerly known for, and still associated with rustic, alcoholic reds. “We are not Rioja, Ribera [del Duero], or Bordeaux” says Pepe. “There was a stigma attached to the region and we were considered crazy men from Alicante making millions of liters of poor quality, over ripe monastrell”, Mendoza describes, referring to the uphill battle of associating Alicante and fine wine

Pepe Mendoza pouring wines in the Estrecho vineyard

The secret? Mendoza’s vineyards are impeccably-farmed, and he’s proven that it’s possible, through diligent work, to harvest monastrell at perfect ripeness to achieve concentrated wines that are also balanced and naturally fresh, with little intervention needed in the winery. The trade-off is volume: “I get one kilo per plant rather than three”, he reveals, though the results are worth the effort. In addition to the impressive entry-level ‘La Tremenda” bottling in the release, Mendoza produces two single vineyard wines from ancient bush vines grown on different soil types. La Quebrada from limestone is the more dense and powerful wine (also in this release), while Estrecho, from a higher elevation site with nearly 100 year-old vines on pure sand is the more floral and fragrant, pot-pourri scented version, revelations in the genre.

Pepe Mendoza in Las Quebradas vineyard

Vintages Buyer’s Guide May 29th:


Condado de Haza Crianza 2016, Ribera del Duero, Spain
$27.95, Trialto Wine Group Ltd.

John Szabo – Condado de Haza is the Fernandez family’s higher elevation Ribera del Duero property (compared to the original Pesquera estate acquired in the early 1970s by Alejandro Fernandez). The nose is classic Spanish tempranillo through and through, complete with notable American oak influence in the form of toasted coconut and melted butter. A big and satisfying wine, well-priced and satisfying to be sure, with more than a measure of finesse and refinement.

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That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix

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