La Rioja Alta S.A. is one of the most renowned producers of traditionally-styled Rioja, with a history dating back well over a century. Originally founded as the Sociedad Vinicola De La Rioja Alta in 1890 by five viticultural families of the Basque and Rioja regions, the name was soon changed to simply La Rioja Alta.
The company now owns two wineries with the original building located in Haro, being joined by a second, modern winemaking facility built in 1996 at Labastida just 1.5km to the north-east. The new winery contains temperature-controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks, allowing La Rioja Alta much greater control of the fermentation process. The estate covers 360 hectares of vines with parcels in much of the best parts of the Rioja Alta subregion. Though primarily Tempranillo, small amounts of Graciano and Mazuelo are planted and the estate also has 63 hectares of Garnacha vines in the Rioja Baja subregion.
The winery has its own cooperage producing barrels from oak imported from America and dried for two years. The production of their own barrels had been an integral part of La Rioja Alta in its early days through to the 1950’s but the practice had stopped until 2002 when the company returned to tradition and revived its in-house cooperage.
Returning to their own cooperage is not the only move to traditional practices shown by the estate. During the 1980’s, many Rioja producers were experimenting with shorter aging times in order to produce fresher, more ‘modern’ style wines that embraced a trend for more fruit-forward wines. La Rioja Alta decided to go against the trend and actually increased the aging of their wines in barrel and bottle, cementing their commitment to quality, traditional Rioja wines. Even the entry-level Viña Alberdi receives two years aging in oak and an additional three years in bottle.
The Viña Alberdi is 100% Tempranillo selected from the highest plots of their Rodezno and Labastida vineyards. The vines here are over thirty years old and grow in a soil composed of limestone and clay between 480 and 790 metres above sea level.
Next in the line-up is the Viña Arana Reserva Rioja, made up of 95% Tempranillo and 5% Mazuelo, given three years barrel age with racking every six months.
One of the true stars of the La Rioja Alta range is the Viña Ardanza Reserva. First created in 1942, it is named after one of the founding families. It is only produced in the best years, La Rioja Alta skipped both the 2002 and 2003 vintages, and the current vintage is the 2004. The wine is made up of 80% Tempranillo from thirty year old vines and 20% Garnacha coming from very old, goblet-pruned vines 600 metres above sea level in Rioja Baja. The Tempranillo spends 36 months in American oak while the Garnacha receives ‘only’ 30 months in oak to preserve its freshness, before the components are blended and bottled. The wine receives a further four years bottle age. Structure, elegance and aromatic complexity are the hallmarks of this superb example of traditional Rioja wine.
The two top wines of the range are the Rioja Gran Reserva 904 and Gran Reserva 890, named after the years they were first produced (1904 and 1890 respectively). Both are made up of a strict selection of the best grapes, 90% or more Tempranillo, from La Rioja Alta’s oldest vines. The 904 receives four years in oak before bottling while the 890 is aged for six years in barrel before additional bottle aging.
One of the most well-known and highly-regarded producers in Germany, Dr. Loosen has done much to restore and reinvigorate the reputation of German wines, particularly the stunning Rieslings of the Mosel valley.
The estate has been in the hands of the Loosen family for over 200 years, but it was not until Ernst Loosen took over in 1988 that the producer began to establish their worldwide renown. Ernst immediately recognised the potential for quality that lay in the Loosen family’s plots of very old, ungrafted Riesling vines scattered throughout some of the Mosel’s absolute finest vineyards. The vineyard practices were completely overhauled to emphasise quality over quantity. Yields were reduced, strict selection at harvest was introduced and the use of all chemical fertilizers was stopped.
Riesling is the sole grape variety grown by Dr. Loosen and it is produced in a broad spectrum of styles. The German Pradikat system classifies wines based on the ripeness (sugar levels) of the grapes at harvest time and this generally corresponds reasonably closely to the sweetness of the finished wines. Kabinett wines are made from grapes harvested earlier and thus tend to be less sweet than Spätlese or Auslese made from later-harvested, riper grapes. Dr. Loosen produces Rieslings that range from bone-dry Trocken wines, to off-dry Kabinetts, medium Spätlese and sweet Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein.
Dr. Loosen has around 25 hectares of vines in six of the Mosel’s most highly regarded, ‘grand cru’ vineyards, Bernkasteler Lay, Graacher Himmelreich, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Ürziger Würzgarten, Erdener Treppchen and Erdener Prälat. These steep, slate and volcanic-soil vineyards lining the banks of the Mosel river are key to the quality of Mosel Riesling, offering maximum exposure to the sun. The river reflects sunlight and heat onto the vines and the slate soils also have excellent drainage and heat retaining properties. All vital elements in successfully ripening grapes in this cool climate area. Many of the best vineyards have virtually no topsoil at all, being comprised completely of weathered slate and volcanic rock. This soil has proved to be an inhospitable home to the phylloxera louse which decimated European vineyards in the 1800′s and necessitated the grafting of European vines onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks. Because of this many very old ungrafted vines exist in the Mosel’s vineyards, including those of Dr. Loosen.
Single-vineyard wines of varying styles are produced from all six of the ‘grand cru’ vineyards along with blended wines, such as the entry-level ‘Dr L’ Riesling which always offers excellent value. Though styles and sweetness levels vary, each of the single vineyards do possess a unique character that carries through into each of the wines.
The Bernkasteler Lay vineyard lies between the Loosen estate house and the village of Bernkastel. Its slate soils are slightly heavier and its slope gentler than many of the Mosel vineyards and the wines tend to be dense and richly textured with racy acidity.
Graacher Himmelreich lies between the villages of Bernkastel and Wehlen. It’s a steeper slope than Bernkasteler Lay with deep, slate soils. The wines from here always possess a strong mineral structure and citrus flavours.
Wehlener Sonnenuhr is perhaps ones of the most highly regarded vineyards of the Mosel. The grapes from this pure blue slate soil produce elegant and complex wines with very fine acidity and a mineral streak running through peach and citrus fruit flavours.
Ürziger Würzgarten is a very dramatic vineyard. An extremely steep slope of vivid red volcanic rock. This is home to Dr. Loosen’s oldest vines and the wines produced here are uniquely exotic with ripe, tropical fruit flavours and strong spicy notes (Wurzgarten translates as ‘spice garden’).
Though directly adjacent to the vineyards of Ürzig, the vineyards of Erden produce quite different wines. The wines of the Erdener Treppchen vineyard produce big, quite dense and powerful Rieslings from these iron-infused red slate soils.
Also in Erden is the Erdener Prälat vineyard, one of Dr. Loosen’s most prestigious holdings. this tiny 1.6 hectare vineyard is completely south facing, giving this very steep red slate slope a uniquely warm micro-climate that ensures excellent ripeness in every vintage and allows for the production of stunningly concentrated and rich Ausleses with great aging potential.
One of the vinous highlights of John’s trip last year to Southern Italy was tasting the fine wines of Feudi di San Gregorio, so this year we’re bringing them in! Feudi di San Gregorio was first established in 1986, yet despite its relatively short history, it has established an enviable reputation as one of Italy’s finest, most innovative, and critically acclaimed producers.
Although Feudi was established less than 30 years ago, the area in which their vineyards are based, the Irpinia region of Campania in Southern Italy, has a much longer history. Records indicate that vines have been grown here since at least 590 AD. The area is home to some of Italy’s most unique volcanic terroir and ancient grape varieties. It was these attributes that Feudi di San Gregorio set out to promote, almost single-handedly pioneering a renaissance in Southern Italian winemaking. A skilful blend of contemporary and traditional viticulture and winemaking techniques is applied to indigenous varieties such as Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina and Aglianico.
It is these unique grape varieties upon which Feudi’s reputation is based. Originally, 30 hectares of vines were planted by husband and wife owners, Enzo Ercolino and Mirella Capaldo. The estate has since expanded to around 270 hectares and in 2004 a new, state of the art winery was built. Ricardo Cotarella, Italy’s most respected consultant winemakers, oversees the production. They produce a multitude of wines from several varieties but are most well known for their highly regarded white Greco di Tufo DOCG, Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina del Sannio DOC, and red Taurasi DOCG and ‘Serpico’, both made from Aglianico.
Greco di Tufo was elevated to DOCG status in 2003 and is Campania’s largest producer of DOC quality wine. The soils of the region are composed of tuff, a rock formed from the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius, which Feudi believes imparts the wines with their distinct mineral character and freshness.
Feudi di San Gregorio produce two cuvees of pure Greco di Tufo. The regular cuvee is one of the best in the region generally showing aromatic notes of peach, pear and almond with a distinct minerally streak. The top-tier ‘Cutizzi’ Greco di Tufo is made from a selection of the best grapes, with the inclusion of a small amount of late-harvested grapes adding additional richness and complexity.
The Fiano grape was in danger of extinction throughout most of the 20th Century, it’s low yields combined with thick skinned berries that give little juice making it a less economical variety to grow. Along with other wineries dedicated to preserving Campania’s grape legacy such as Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio helped to reverse the decline in Fiano’s popularity. Along with Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino was elevated to DOCG status in 2003.
Fiano wines are fairly weighty with aromas and flavours of honey and spice. From a good vintage, Fiano di Avellino has potential to age beautifully in bottle, developing complex nutty and spicy notes. Feudi produce two cuvees, a regular Fiano di Avellino and the top ‘Pietracalda’ which like the ‘Cutizzi’ sees the addition of some later-harvested fruit and also lees-stirring to develop weight and complexity.
Falanghina, a variety not indigenous to Irpinia, but typical of neighbouring Campania regions was a later addition to the Feudi line-up. An ancient variety, Falanghina was appreciated by the Romans and produces perfumed, fresh, floral wines. Again, Feudi di San Gregorio produce two versions, a regular cuvee and the deluxe ‘Serrocielo’ from a selection of the best grapes.
Feudi di San Gregorio’s most highly-regarded reds are made from Aglianico, the most important fine red wine grape in Southern Italy. Their ‘Rubrato’ offers a fresh, youthful expression of the variety with juicy black fruit and licorice flavours. Their Taurasi DOCG is widely considered the best example made and is one of the finest reds of Italy. Their prestige cuvee ‘Serpico’ is also extremely well-regarded , crafted from grapes grown on century-old Aglianico vines in the heart of the Taurasi zone.
We were pretty chuffed to open Metro Magazine’s annual ‘Best of Auckland’ issue this week to see that Caro’s Wines has been named Best Wine Store for the ninth consecutive year! Huge thanks to all our customers and suppliers who’ve helped us along the years. Here’s to the next nine years!
Our newest container of European wines arrived last week and everything has been unpacked and hit the shelves. There are loads of new things to try including new Ribera del Duero wines from Callejo, a new producer for us, Clos Figueras from Priorat and Godello from Luna Beberide in Mencia among the Spanish goodies.
From France we have 2010 white burgundies from Vincent Girardin and Talmard and great value 2009 red Bordeaux from Chateau Carignan. One of the new wines we’re all eager to try is the 2011 Le G de Chateau Guiraud, the dry white from the renowned Sauternes producer.
There’s a bunch of great Italian wines in too, including top Chianti producer, Felsina, and our favourite value Sangiovese from Di Majo Norante. This year we’ve also brought in a small amount of their fantastic Aglianico called Contado and the delicious Italian white, Falanghina.
Here are just some of the wines we’ve loaded onto the shelves this week…
It may be slightly scary to think about but it’s already that time of year when the Christmas decorations start going up! On the plus side, it’s also the time of year when the Champagne deals start rolling in! So last week we put together our Christmas display. This year, determined to celebrate all the great things about a Southern Hemisphere Christmas regardless of what Mother nature actually throws at us, we’re going for a Summer theme. Here are a few shots of the setup and result! All the Christmas Champagne and sparkling wine deals are in store now so drop by or head over to www.caros.co.nz to check them out.
This week we had our final tasting for the year before taking apart the tasting area to make room for silly season shenanigans. The tasting was the last, but also a first for us. For some reason, we’ve never gotten around to putting together a line up of top flight Rioja before and this tasting left us wondering why we hadn’t done it sooner.
It was fascinating to compare the wines from the various producers. There were clear stylistic differences giving a great overview of the state of Rioja wines today, demonstrating the modern, the traditional and everything in between!
First up were a pair of young wines from Artadi. The 2009 Viñas de Gain was a fresh, juicy and modern style. Medium-bodied with nice acidity. The 2009 ‘Valdegines’ is one of Artadi’s three new single-vineyard Rioja bottlings. ’09 is the first vintage of this wine, which was previously blended into the old vine cuvee, Pagos Viejos. A step up in intensity, with a slightly warmer, riper impression, but still possessing nice fresh acidity. Both the Artadi’s demonstrated the clean, modern style they helped to spearhead.
We moved on to three wines from Bodegas Muga who are known for a more traditional style next, starting with their 2006 Rioja Reserva ’Selección Especial’. This had a more intense nose than the Artadi, with perhaps a bit more oak evident. A weightier and more savoury wine, quite dense and serious with bigger tannins on the finish. Moving on to the 2006 ‘Torre Muga’ was another jump up in ripeness and weight. Big tannins were balanced out by equally big fruit, creating a full-bodied, soft impression. This is Muga’s big, modern, blockbuster and it was indeed a big, hefty wine. Last of the Muga’s was the 2004 Gran Reserva ‘Prado Enea’. A really striking contrast, this was a much more traditional style. Mellower, with a lovely savoury nose with hints of strawberries and floral notes. Subtle oak. This was deliciously silky and drinking just perfectly now.
Next up was the 2005 Rioja Reserva from Remirez de Ganuza. A great balance of old and new styles here, this was full-bodied and ripe but with a great sense of elegance and real complexity. Soft, smooth tannins led to a very long finish. One of the stars of the tasting. Remirez de Ganuza is a real perfectionist estate, going so far as to only use the riper top half or ‘shoulders’) of the grape bunches in their wines – a somewhat costly practice which no doubt goes some way to explain the costs of the wines!
To finish off we tried a pair of wines from one of Rioja’s most established producers, Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE), or Cune, as it’s often called. like the ‘Prado Enea’, these two were again a swing towards a lighter, mellower style. The 2005 CVNE Rioja Gran Reserva ‘Viña Real’ was gentle, smooth and rounded from it’s extended aging in oak cask and bottle. Nicely balanced and drinking really well now. The 1999 CVNE Gran Reserva ‘Imperial’ had a beautiful savoury nose and was equally soft, creamy and smooth. Quite delicious and very easy drinking.
It was a real treat to try such a range of high quality wines from one of Spain’s most established, but also most exciting wine regions. Caro’s imports a number of wines from Rioja so it’s a real wonder we hadn’t done a tasting like this before. Now that we have done the first, it certainly won’t be the last!
Last night we tasted a line up of 2008 Barolo wines. They were an interesting contrast to the 07′s we tasted earlier this year, coming from a much more classic vintage than the warm and ripe 2007.
Things kicked off with the Massolino Barolo 2008. A surprisingly easy-drinking wine in a fruit-driven style with relatively light tannin. This was delicious and seemingly ready to go, though it would no doubt cellar well too. At around $60 this is a really good value and would be a good proposition to drink while more structured 08′s are still sleeping in the cellar.
Marcarini’s Barolo ‘Brunate’ was a stark contrast. Much more austere with big tannin and acidity. This was definitely in need of cellar time but has loads of potential.
Next we moved on to a pair of Azelia crus. The ‘San Rocco’ had a great nose, quite ripe fruit, floral notes, just touch of oak influence. Much weightier and riper on the palate. Quite a powerful style. The ‘Margheria’ had a much cooler, more delicate nose. Fairly complex with lovely balance.
Massolino’s version of the Barolo ‘Margheria’ shared the Azelia’s more restrained nature. Still a fairly weighty wine, but quite tight at this stage with drying tannins building up on the finish.
The Massolino ‘Parafada’ was a bit more open with a nice cool, floral nose an classic hints of tar. Perfectly ripe fruit and herbal notes. Nice weight with great balanced acid and tannins.
A distinctly more modern wine, the Conterno-Fantino Barolo ‘Sori Ginestra’ 2008 had a big, explosive. Very weighty with luscious ripe fruit and big tannins, this had great structure underneath all the fruit.
To finish off, we went back a few years to try the 2001 Parusso Barolo ‘Bussia’. Softer and rounded, this had great spicy and floral aromas. Drinking beautifully right now.