Posts belonging to Category Rioja Alta

Krisses in Rioja: Lopez de Heredia y Gonzalo Gonzalo

the LOVE barrel in Jerez

the LOVE barrel in Jerez

The Krisses took an early summer trip to Spain. tBoW has selected from their notes and fotos for your reading pleasure. As usual, Kris-B is el voz and Kris-A is la fotografera. We join them after visiting Jerez and the Sherry region, traveling as the seagulls fly to San Sebastian and Basque country, and having arrived in La Rioja.

Lopez de Heredia: Our last full day in Rioja took us to the town of Haro, where traditional Rioja wine royalty is based. Lopez de Heredia

Lopez de Heredia cellars

Lopez de Heredia cellars

is the granddaddy of them all, founded in the late 1800s. We had few qualms about paying for a tour because a bottle of wine from their top vineyard is included in the cost [ed. tBoW is fond of LdH Vina Gravonia, a white wine]. We saw all their old barrel fermenters, traditional filters made out of bundles of grape vine stems(!), large old blending barrels (which are truly massive), and the half mile or so of tunnels where they store their wines aging in old barrels and in bottle. Lots of penicillin mold to help regulate humidity and spider webs to catch moths that eat corks. Lopez de Heredia’s “young” wine is released after five or six years. The youngest WHITE wine is released after 10 years. The reds are kept even longer. I think the most recent release of the Gran Reserva is from ’94. The rosé is even kept for ten years!

Gonzalo Gonzalo: Today was the day we’d been looking forward to. The day we meet Gonzalo Gonzalo. The winemaker who signs all his emails with “hiiihaaw.” The guy who films himself harvesting his grapes alone (a whole vineyard he harvests by himself!) with a handlebar mustache, throwing a cowboy hat in the air, all while rocking out. He could not possibly live up to our expectations, could he? After meeting in the town square we stopped by his little old aunt’s house to “pick up money.” She gave him about 30 euros, so not very much, making the stop seem like a weird one to make. He showed us the basement of her apartment/house, telling us it was built over a Roman road. Old Roman columns had been incorporated into the room’s architecture, which used to be a taberna. A poem had been translated from Spanish to Latin and painted on the wall.

Sherry bodega

Sherry bodega

It basically said to go to the country side and enjoy life there, instead of working in the city. Gonzalo is featured in Alice Feiring’s book Naked Wine. His bodega is a noted party stop for winemakers and the fortunate few.

We made a stop at his tiny warehouse at the end of the street to pick up some wines and a copy of the book he wrote on the wine industry before walking to the old bodega. We sat down at the long table and started to taste some wines. He was not exactly the carefree guy he portrayed in his emails and videos. In between discussing the wines, he told us how his father was ill and in a wheelchair because of all the chemicals he had used growing his grapes. Gonzalo is 100% organic with his own wines. It seemed like the wine business was kind of depressing for him, as he said he’s more into growing herbal medicines for people who are sick and then mailing them the plants for free. He made it seem like making wine was not easy at all from a commercial sense. He explained there is always a black sheep in the family. I think he was talking about himself. Gonzalo Gonzalo is one complicated dude.

His wines were quite good. We had an old wine he calls Orgullo, which is probably 100% Viura. It was ten-years-old, the first white wine he ever made.

Krisses would never take this foto!

Krisses would never take this foto!

It was very good. We compared it to the current vintage of white yeti, which is the same wine as the Orgullo, just younger. The white yeti was a bit thin but will likely become like the relatively weighty Orgullo in a few years. He makes a fairly standard Rioja (“Gran Cerdo,” named after the bankers who gave him problems early on) , which is quite good. A very fruity, but tasty, rosé (“Pink Kong”), an amarone style, and some crazy late harvest dessert wines. He found some old tempranillo of his father’s that he thinks rocks even though it was made from “toxic vines”.  We tried another one of his dad’s old wines and an orange wine from Castilla Y Leon. He told us how he doesn’t drink that much anymore because his liver is in really bad condition. He loves jurançon dessert wine.

We then walked with him to the “new bodega”, built 30 years ago by his dad to house concrete wine vats. He quickly grabbed the wines we wanted to purchase from him. We asked him how much he wanted for the three wines and he deferred to us kind of sheepishly, saying he had no idea. We thought that 20 euros was a fair price given that he sells his wine wholesale for 1-2 euros and asked him for change for a fifty. He had exactly thirty euros on him (the money from his aunt), so it was meant to be.

tBoW here:What a lovely trip! Many thanks to Kris-B for sharing his travel notes. Many followup questions… to follow. tBoW recommends when traveling make it a wine tour. The only stops we like to add are castles which are often located in wine country. Let’s look at a Gonzalo Gonzalo video showing how he gets into the proper frame of mind for harvesting grapes. First job is to setup the turntable.

How to Taste Wine: Old School Tasting for New World Wines

Tasting wines blind usually works well…usually. It turns out that bagging and tagging can challenge even the most widely traveled among us. RULES for bagging: Learn to hold onto the bags used at your local wine shop; i.e., Woodland Hills Wine Co. Place the wines in plain brown wine bags. Pull the corks first and put them aside. Use corks from other bottles that occupy an otherwise useless drawer in the kitchen. Tape the bags tightly just below the rims. Send someone else to number the bags.

Problems can also arise when the concept fails. The latter occurred recently when we tried to taste off Pinot Noir wines, all from Santa Rita Hills. We were hoping to discern the differences between winemaker styles: terroir vs. fruit driven, lower vs. higher alcohol levels, New versus Old World preferences. Other “territorial” nuances might have played a role but that would lower this blog to the level of “entertainment” rags like People, US, and OK or some other Rupert Murdoch publication [ed. just ask, he’s itching to gossip if only someone was interested!]. Suffice it to say the SRH Pinot Noir taste-off proved to be more cerebral than distinctive. Given the sameness of outcomes, i.e., all the wines were pretty darn fruity with alcohol levels above 14%, we turn to the science of measurement to present our findings.

Here then is a matching quiz where you THE WELL INFORMED READER will successfully match the label to the description of the wine. Record your matches at the end under COMMENTS. Enter the number for the wine with the letter for the description. If you believe the #1 wine 2010 La Grange aux Belles La Niña matches the letter F description then enter 1F under COMMENTS. Your complete finished answers will read 1F, 2G, 3D…

OK. Pick up your pencils and break the seal on your booklets. Like so. You may begin.


1. 2010 La Grange aux Belles La Niña (Gamay) 13%
2. 2001 Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial (80% Tempranillo) 13.%
3. 2010 Cold Heaven Peacemaker Pinot Noir 14.75%
4. 2006 D’Alfonso-Curran Pinot Noir Los Hermanas Vineyard, 14.1%
5. 2007 Talley Arroyo Grande Pinot Noir 14.1%


A. Fruity, balanced, not overwhelming. Tastes like Sangiovese. Forward cherry fruit. Medium weight. Pretty fresh for older wine. Fan favorite. $30

B. Alcoholic, big wine with peppery nose and flavors. Cherry cola. Powerful, like Syrah. $45

C. Funky nose and flavors. Is this Pinot Noir? Thick, unctuous, vinous. Sweet, cherry Robitussin, tannic. Off balance. $15

D. Sweet flavors. Smells and tastes like Pinot Noir but not distinctive. $25

E. Too big. Lots of alcohol. Hot. Everything wrong with SRH Pinot Noir. Gets more intense with time in the glass. Too focused. $45

Our tasting was undone not only by the lack of distinction among Central Coast Pinot Noir winemakers but also by the entry of two non-Pinot Noir wines. In the end the Spanish wine was most favored [ed. hint hint]. Once again, SRH Pinot Noir wines will go on hiatus. As took place with Paso Robles, we shall turn our attention to Rhone style reds from Santa Barbara. David Corey of CORE Wine Company has made the point in spades that these are the varietals which do best round these parts. In the queue for further testing on that proposition, we have Blair Fox of Blair Fox Cellars and Mikeal Sigouin of Kaena Wine Company; both premium and high rep Rhone style wine makers from the region.

As we observed in Paso Robles White Rhone style wines from SRH are another story. Some local SRH winemakers are doing a bang-up job with Rhone varietals such as Viognier, Rousanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Kris Curran has been making very popular and luscious Grenache Blanc wines for longer than we can look up. We tasted two Viognier wines recently from producers with whom we were less familiar. We often find the Rousanne/Marsanne/Grenache Blanc blends fairly pleasing. However, we have consistently been unimpressed with Viognier as a varietal in general. Things have changed.

2010 Cold Heaven Sanford & Benedict Viognier $34: This is Morgan Clendenen’s signature wine. The next issue of Elegant Living magazine includes my incredibly perceptive interview/profile of her. This wine has a powerful nose. First flavors are steely, acidic, sharp. There is ferality but none of the dreaded feline quality. With a little more time citric and lemon flavors emerge. Kind of like ripe kiwi. Next stage shows peach. This is getting delicious. Excellent. Check the alcohol. 13.5%

2009 Blair Fox Paradise Road Santa Barbara County Viognier
$24: Another winner. Comes out strong but not beefy. Think Marshall Faulk. A tough, persistent and shifty runner with enough power and strength to carry the ball the entire game. Solid fruit flavors. More peachy than lychee. Also more straight ahead where the Cold Heaven teases and tempts. Like the Cold Heaven version this wine has very good acid to support the fruit. Also featured in the November 2012 issue of EL. Another winner. 14.2%

Although these two wines are not U20 values they are still good value in terms of quality. Keep in mind these are very low production hand-crafted wines made very skilled local winemakers. It shows. If somebody wants to know what to bring to the holiday party suggest one [ed. or both!] of these wines and you will be watching the door. Timing is perfect for bigger red and solid white wines. We especially like these white Rhone varietals with their lighter alcohol levels. The weather will turn cooler and Turkey Day is on the horizon. Stay frosty.

Pink Savages: BEST of the Large Fantastic

tBoW team taster The Large got inside the ropes at the premiere party for Savages. Being this close to Benicio del Toro [ed. the Hunted, Fear & Loathing], and Salma Hayek [ed. lead vampire From Dusk Till Dawn – see video!] sent Large for a Loop crossing his appetite for blush wines with movie star fever. We all benefit from his pyretic vision shared herein: tasting notes, sexy babes, paired foods. Welcome to the Large location food truck.

Summer is the season of blush. You see it in the cheeks of that beguiling and shapely post-teen prancing the beach!…in her bikini — tiny sparks of sand fly off her electrically as he turns to notice her staring at him; she’s caught with an embarrassed smile, pale perfectly smooth skin scattered with freckles turning deep pink… her deep red hair masking the sun like some flaming halo…. Or is it just the way the late afternoon sun disperses as you twist your glass, its dancing rays sparkling atop a sea of pink. It’s the season of hotter days… our ecosphere is boiling over, starting to fry large swaths of the Eastern seaboard into the midwest.

Hollywood spews out sizzling summer thrillers, with tall blondes in pink dresses sharing bong hits while manacled, held hostage by a ruthless, decapitation-happy enforcer working for a struggling, ruthless Baja cartel (Benicio del Toro, could it be any other, I ask you?). And after cutting a maniacal workday short and putting your feet on the patio furniture, it’s time at last to savor another wine of countless variations: Rosé.. (more…)

Wine School: How to Value Wine From $10 to $100

Recently we’ve been thinking how the wine world has it all figured out now. The recession blew the socks off trophy wines taking down everyone with them. The “survivor-type” wine producers foresaw the end of the “wine bubble” and started moving to lower pricing without sacrificing quality. The intersection of CHEAP and QUALITY is precisely where most wine consumers get lost. The old signals no longer work. You really just have to taste the wines to know for sure. There are other indicators such as knowing the importer or distributor but that gets into advanced wine studies. Here are some tips for selecting and detecting which wine to buy and which wine to pass on. (more…)

GREAT Summer Prospects & SUPER Online Vendors

wine angel

U20s abound. We are proud to point out thebestofwines saw the trophy-wine-bubble bursting urrlllyy on. Way ahead of the trend…a trend not set as deep, perhaps, as current real estate prices. When will our multi-million dollar homes and those fat home equity credit lines come back? Only when $350 Napa Cabernets become hard to acquire. Right now they are simply hard to find. Try China [ed. “wine angels” are supposedly the hot ticket in Beijing and Shanghai]. In the meantime the thoughtful oenophile can sample from a slew of retailers’ bargain bins PLUS the gemstone picks by some very savvy online/email vendors. Here are three we like [ed. with thanks to alert tBoW team taster Krisses!] (more…)