BEST of Truly Superb Wines PLUS Focus on Alta Colina

Today: Lopez tasting room

We love to find the U20 wines that are today’s hot ticket. Let me reach around here for a moment and pat myself on the back. Ah. That’s good. HOWEVER…good as those U20 wines are with their high value to quality ratio, it is not often they will make a list of Truly Superb wines. And what are those? And why are they? They are remarkable wines. Often made from unfamiliar even unusual grapes. Unexpectedly delicious. Sometimes even strange but not too often. Most importantly, they are the wines we remember just because they were so special. We have tasted a few of these recently and report on them right here and right now. Even better, these Truly Superb wines are available right now.

2001 R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva $50: A blend of 75$ Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, 5% Graciano and 5% Manzuelo. Wow. This is the best winery in Spain. This may be the best wine in Spain. This sets the standard for what Tempranillo is supposed to taste like. Absolutely superb. Tasted it along with the 2009 Anne Gros Hauts Cote de Nuits which was superb [ed. reviewed here]. The Tondonia was better so says Dotoré. tBoW cannot dispute. Of course this is like comparing Fortalezza Añejo to Reposado tequila. The wine is sublime. Soft not flabby. The Fernando Lamas of wine. Or at least the characters he plays. Sophisticated in ways we can only accept but never understand. I must make it an annual goal to drink more Lopez de Heredia wines. Flavors are distinctive while being very delicately integrated. At 11 years there is no flavor of raisins, no sharp fruit. Not even spices. I am at a loss for words. Let’s see what others say about this wine. The R. Lopez website says dried berries. S. Ireñe Virbila LA Times says sweet spices, silky and soft.

18th century: Don Lopez in the cellar

Jamie Goode wine writer in London said “notes of spice, earth, herbs, minerals and subtle oak notes. Fresh with some cherry fruit, but the dominant character is non-fruit complexity: warm, spicy, evolved, grippy, sweetly aromatic…” Jamie does the best job of trying to capture a wine so enigmatic experienced wine writers are pretty much dumbfounded by this exotic critter. At this price it is a S-T-E-A-L if you ever want to taste what the truly great wine expression of the soil and grape is all about. Available in most premium wine shops. 12% TWELVE PERCENT.

2009 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Mt. Eden Clone El Jabili Vineyard Santa Rita Hills $43: Richard Sanford prefers the Volnay style for his Pinot Noir wines. That would be soft, fruity with very little tannin. Always well balanced. This is from his oldest vineyard; almost 40 years. What a difference that seems to make. This wine is cardinal red, with an evident spicy nose. The flavor shows subtle spice as well. This is complex wine. When a wine tastes like the varietal but it is hard to place exactly how it is unlike the varietal because the flavors are so unusual…and pleasing…that is one mark of a great wine. At least if you prefer the delicate feminine style. Tooth busting zin and cab folks will not get this wine (or the Lopez above). Kudos to Richard. Need some more! Available from the winery as well as stores and restaurants. 14.5%

2008 Sweeney Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills $50: The vineyard has been planted sine the early 1980s but we believe they added Pinot Noir in 2001. This is their third Pinot Noir vintage and the 7th year of vine growth [ed. 7 is the magic number for vine maturation]. Kristi Marks is the winemaker and husband Chris is the vineyard manager. They sell some of their fruit to local vintners including Brewer-Clifton. We first tasted these wines at the Santa Barbara Wine Festival at the Natural History Museum. In our opinion, they poured the best wines we tasted. The Sweeney Canyon Pinots impressed us as a “pure” expression of the Santa Rita Hills. No. We do not know what that means other than this Pinot Noir wine is distinctively different from any other Pinot Noir from SRH since we tasted the first vintage of Paul Lato; his 2002. This 2008 wine is outstanding. We also tasted the 2007 and 2009. Each was plenty good but this vintage knocked our socks off. Outta nowhere. When you think you have seen it all, tasted all the big hitters from the big name vineyards, here comes a “nobody” killing the premium varietal softly – Pinot Noir – like nobody else. Available from the winery or stores and restaurants on their website. 14.3%

fog rolls in at Alta Colina

Alta Colina is a somewhat new – 2003 – label in Paso Robles.Bob Tillman has pulled together a bare-bones team that includes his wife and daughter PLUS a very skilled winemaker, Scott Hawley. Alta Colina is producing some very nice wines which we tasted recently and liked very much. You have to look for these in premium wine shops or they can be had direct from the winery.

2009 Alta Colina GSM Estate $38: Bob Tillman is making some of the finest wines from Paso Robles. I think we can stop saying “Rhone style” now since it is obvious this is what Paso does best. Even at the monstrous alcohol level this wine stays in balance. You will not singe your nose hairs taking a deep whiff. Bread dough from the oak. Deep dark red color. Almost black. Sweet bacon. Truly outstanding even though if you told us the alcohol was close to oporto level we would never believe it. He does not make a lot of it. We reviewed Bob’s 2008 white blend a while back. The obvious comparison for this high alcohol wine can be made with another highly collectible Paso label. No contest. This wine is so much more palatable it’s making me thirsty. 15.6%

2009 Alta Colina Grenache Estate $42: Another high alcohol wine that simply does not show the heat. This is meaty like a frankfurter. How about some bacon fat? Works better in a wine glass than a Paula Dean recipe. Rich with vanilla flavors. Excellent. 15.1%

2008 Alta Colina Claudia Cuvee $28: The white wine blend of 58% Marsanne, 21% Rousanne ad 21% Grenache Blanc. Oranges and orange rind jumps out of the glass. It’s the Marsanne which can get cloying but the winemaker has the less appealing sweetness under control here. There are some cotton candy flavors along with lemon pie and green apple. How can so many different flavors be in one glass? We don’t know. Ask Bob. This is wonderful stuff. 14%

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