On the Trail

Tasting at the Asador

Joe Manekin

Yesterday was an interesting day. The original plan was to rent a car and drive two hours up to Ribera del Duero to visit a few producers and walk some of the first vineyards of my trip. Due to unforeseen circumstances, however, I had to improvise a bit. Such is life on the trail. In the end, I did manage to make it up to RDD wine country, maintain two of my three appointments, and re-schedule the third. There was unfortunately no time to walk vineyards, but needless to say, we tasted wine and had ample opportunity to not only sample the powerful, mineral, structured red wines of the region, but also to enjoy some equally impressive local gastronomy and history. 

Maria Alvarez is our most trusted broker of fine Spanish wines. In addition to helping us source some of our favorites such as Bodegas Puelles, Castillo de Vinas, and Honorio Rubio, Maria is a human dynamo: an avid motorcyclist, mother of two, frequent world traveller (she markets and sells wines in China, Japan, the UK and EU, in addition to the US of course) and a good friend. She's the best. Since she is based in Logrono (Rioja) and as I am not able to make it up there this trip, Maria drove a few hours southwest to meet me in Ribera del Duero.

We sat down to taste new releases and dine in a well known "asador" called El Lagar de Isilla in Aranda de Duero, a small city in the heart of the region. We started with the 2016 Bodegas Puelles Blanco. We currently have the 2015 vintage in stock which is not only a great value, it is a sneakily brisk seller; often times before I realize I should have ordered more we are down to our last ten cases (note to self: next time, buy more!) From there, we tried the new 2016 Castillo de Vinas Rosado. Castillo de Vinas is one of Maria's private brands, sourced from wineries that she feels offer great typicity and value within the Rioja D.O. Our 2014 Castillo de Vinas Crianza at under $10 is poised to become a staff and customer favorite, and the 2012 Castillo de Vinas Reserva shows richer dark fruit flavors, well integrated oak and nice balance as well thanks to a healthy 10% dollop of Graciano grapes. Unlike these two wines, which are sourced from a well known winery in the warmer, further inland Rioja Baja, the Blanco and Rosado wines hail from a cool section of Rioja Alta that is well known for its "clarete" style roses. Clarete means that a combination of white Viura grapes and red Garnacha are co-fermented with just a bit of skin contact, creating a pale pink, crisp, refreshing style of wine. Muga popularized the style, and while their example is undoubtedly delicious, we also are huge fans of another one which we directly import, the 2016 Pedro Martinez Alesanco Rosado Rioja

From there we tasted a a few crisp, crunchy Northern whites, one Txakoli and a Godello Treixadura blend from the Monterrei D.O. Then it was back to Codorvin, Rioja, where Honorio Rubio makes the aformentioned Castillo de Vinas Blanco and Rosado. We tasted a barrel aged rose from Honorio that was delicious. It was like a richer, but also higher acid, Bandol rose wwith some bottle age on it. Finally, we had a Terroirs of Spain (another Maria label) Ribera del Duero which was showing great - rich dark and red fruits, with well balanced, subtly spicy/sweet notes of oak blending perfrect with the fruit and tannin structure. This wine went great with the lechazo, the local specialty of suckling lamb. 

Following lunch, we were invited to check out the extensive underground 16th c. cellars beneath the restaurant! Wine was fermented and aged here as recently as 2001. Pretty cool.

Afterwards we had a quick visit at a producer of Ribera del Duero that is new to Maria's book. Structured, chalky, mineral and balanced, Hacienda La Solana makes serious wines which we may well be telling you more about sometime in the not so distant future. At the end of the day I headed back to Madrid with a taste of Ribera del Duero that made me hungry for more.

-Joe Manekin