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Lopez de Heredia Not-So-Recent Recent Releases

Vinted on June 6, 2013 under kick-ass wines, wine review

Ideally, this article would begin with a preamble about visiting the historic property at Rioja’s R. Lopez de Heredia, telling you about how I ran my hands through the cobwebs and dust covering the old bottles in their “Cemetery” cellar museum, strolling in the half-light through the corridors of barrels in the late-1800s El Calado Cellar, finally taking in the sunset at the Viña Tondonia vineyards on the river Ebro.

But none of that has ever happened, so I’d be lying about all of it (unless you don’t count dreams as lying as a matter of technicality).

R. Lopez de Heredia remains the most iconic producer I’ve not visited while touring a wine region. The fact that I made it to Rioja and didn’t sneak away to see these guys is something that will haunt my days until I return there, and is a serious contender for number one on the list of reasons why I suck and should be destroyed.

While it wasn’t on the itinerary during my jaunt to Rioja last year, I did manage to order and drink the stuff that Heredia churns out every chance that I could get as we tapas-crawled our way through the narrow streets of the older towns there. And that’s because Heredia, along with La Rioja Alta, S.A. (which I did happen to visit), remains the class of act of Rioja, having established their vineyards in the early 1900s and progressively kicking higher and higher volumes of ass in the ensuing decades.

Now, this is the part in the feature where I’m supposed to tell you some history about Heredia, sprinkled with a few quotes from their winemaking or vineyard staff, setting the scene for the tasting notes on the wines that will follow. But we already know that I haven’t been to the place, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to regurgitate a bunch of text on their history that you could easily go and read on their website (hey, since you’re here reading this we can safely presume that you already know how to use the Internet, right?).

Instead, I will tell you that the time between when I received these Heredia samples – a ten day minimum that I normally wait before opening any wines, in order to allow the wines to recover from any shipping-induced bottle shock – and when I opened them can best be described as bitter, gnashing-of-teeth agony. And that all you really need to know about Heredia’s approach to making wine is that the white and red they sent me are just under ten and twenty years old, respectively, and are the current releases

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Planes, Trains, And Single-Day Butt-Numbing Automobile Rides To Dão (Quinta dos Roques Recent Releases)

Vinted on May 30, 2013 under elegant wines, overachiever wines, wine review

The first thing I need to tell you is that I’m deeply grateful to ViniPortugal for having invited me to Lisbon to judge in the 2013 Wines of Portugal Challenge (the first time they’ve opened it up to international judging), and for the hospitality that they showed to me while I was there.

I have to tell you this first because I’m about to spend the next few hundred words sounding as if I’m undermining every word of that previous sentence, even though it happens to be the truth, truth that’s balder than Bruce Willis.

What’s also the Die-Hard-With-A-Vengeance-bald truth is that, despite the fact that I’m about to recommend a Dão producer (Quinta dos Roques / Quinta das Maias) to you, I cannot tell you diddly-squat about them. I know, we are off to a swimming start here, aren’t we? Hang on, it will get better, I promise.

Here’s the thing: the Wines of Portugal public relations folks face a daunting task in trying to herd a large amount of fiercely independent winemaking and food-crafting cats. If they ever get the PR situation to match their culinary and wine prowess, I suspect they would conquer the planet storm trooper style. Until then, though, you won’t need to stock up on any ammo, based on my recent experiences (but I still love you, Portugal!).

Exhibit A: I, along with about ten fellow newly-minted international judging alumni, spent more time on a bus traveling from Lisbon to Dão and back in one day in May than I spent (by about an hour) in a plane flying from Philly to Lisbon, all in the name of tasting the wares of a few of the best-regarded producers in Dão. The number of wines we tasted that day? About 12. The number of bottles of water or beer (or anything else) aboard the bus on that 7+ hour jaunt? Zero.

Exhibit B: We were served a fixed menu of bacalhau (traditional Portuguese salted cod, of which there are rumored to be one thousand different preparations) five times in four days, often successively for dinner and lunch on the same days (including the day of our Dão expedition). When we burst out laughing at the final dinner when we each received a serving of cod the size of my mastiff’s head, I was asked “what’s wrong, don’t you like it?” My reply: “I didn’t say that; it’s amazing food, but I don’t like anything five times in one week no matter how amazing it is… with the possible exception of sex with my wife…”

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Toilet Frogs And Whale Tails (Alto De La Ballena Recent Releases)

One could go their entire blogging life and never be fortunate enough to use the phrase “toilet frog.” And yet… here I am, able to use the term from personal experience.

I need a moment to revel in this, people. Please, indulge me a moment, for I have met them, in person.

T-o-i-l-e-t   f-r-o-g-s…. As in, frogs that live in a toilet. Yes, seriously, and for realz, as the youngins say these days.

The toilet frogs moment comes courtesy of Alto de la Ballena (literally, “height of the whale [hills]”), a relatively small producer (about 55k bottles) with a relatively small vineyard area (about 20 hectares) in a relatively small country (Uruguay) who are making relatively excellent wines that are not yet available in the U.S. (though they are working on it; it’s a situation I sincerely hope changes after this, and not just because they showed me their toilet frogs).

The story begins in the Sierra de la Ballena, a stretch of hills that begin at a whale-watching peninsula near the seaside resort town of Punta de Este, a spot where the seafaring mammals stop during their August/September migration to Patagonia. Taking their name from the whales, the Sierra de la Ballena undulate to the north, about fifteen kilometers inland to the town of Maldonado, which is where Alvaro Lorenzo and his wife Paula Pivel decided to plant their vineyards in 2000/2001.

Lorenzo and Pivel were all alone on the steep, rocky, gravel, granite, limestone, and schist hills in Maldonado.

“At the time, no one was here,” Lorenzo told me when I visited the property as a guest of Wines of Uruguay; “we took the risk.”

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What’s Young Is Old Again (Irony In Uruguay, And Narbona’s Recent Releases)

In Carmelo, about three hours drive from the bustling city of Montevideo in Uruguay, along the river that divides the country from Argentina, there exists the picturesque hamlet of Narbona, the kind of place with such  overwhelming quantities of irony that it causes story-relating fingers like mine to nearly freeze at the keyboard.

Where to begin?

It’s probably best to start with Winemaker Maria Valeria Chiola. Female winemakers aren’t exactly the norm in the relatively conservative sphere of Uruguayan winemaking, but the ironic (or maybe just surprising?) thing is not her sex, but the fact that twenty-eight year old Chiola is, at such a young age, making some of the best wine that I tasted during my travels there. And she has almost no sense whatsoever of what a powerful example she could be for the promotion of wine in Uruguay abroad, mostly because the cult of winemaker personality that dominates the fine wine media in the U.S. is pretty much non-existent in that small country (another irony).

Chiola has some pedigree, of course: her father has a winery in Canelones and she’s worked at Miner (among other places). She claims winemaking duties fall exclusively to her, an intern, and infrequent consultation with Michel Rolland (Rolland himself meets with her only twice per year). She suggested that there is healthy tension between the winemaking styles she’s after and the styles that are being pushed by the Rolland consultants.

Whatever is going on between tenderfoot winemaker and veteran consultant, much of that tension seems to be working in the wines’ favor. More on that in a minute or two, after we visit some of the other ironies dripping from the Narbona story…

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