Category Archives: Spain

Gallina de Piel, Ribeiro (Galicia, Spain) “Manar dos Seixas” 2018

($37, Bluest Sky Group):  Two sommeliers, one of whom, David Seijas, worked at El Bulli, named the best restaurant in the world five times by Restaurant magazine, founded Gallina de Piel (which transliterates as “chicken skin” from Spanish, the equivalent of “goose bumps” in colloquial English). They travel around Spain finding unique wines to bottle under that label.  It’s aptly named.  Their wines, especially this one, could induce that reaction.  Manar dos Seixas, an enlivening blend of typical Ribeiro grapes, Treixadura, Godello, Albariño, and Loureiro Blanco, is refreshing and startling—in a nice way.  It could give you goose bumps.  Saline and taut, it is piercing, yet not aggressive because it has wonderful concentration.  It finishes with a delightful and invigorating subtle bitterness.  This chiseled, angular wine screams for shellfish, but I wouldn’t be fussy.  Any fish, even a tomato-based fish stew, would do.
93 Michael Apstein Dec 15, 2020

Bodega del Abad, Bierzo DO (Castilla y León, Spain) Mencia “Abad Dom Bueno” 2016

($16):  Beirzo, located in the northwest corner of Castilla y León bordering Galicia and Asturias, is home to the Mencía grape, from which this wine is made.  With is weight and concentration, it’s a well-priced example of what that variety is capable of delivering.  A touch of oak still shows at this stage, but it is not intrusive nor overdone.  Tannins are noticeable, but not intrusive in this hearty wine, which is an easy choice for robust winter fare.
89 Michael Apstein Dec 15, 2020

Bodegas Pinea del Duero, Ribera del Duero (Spain) Tempranillo “Pinea” 2017

($150, WineSmith Company):  The packaging and verbiage, 14.9 percent stated alcohol, the over-sized 2.6-pound (empty) bottle and the back label informing that the wine was aged in” very special French oak” for two years, put me off.  But I remember how impressive their second wine, simply labeled “17” was.  And once again, just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a wine by its packaging.  This is a fabulous young wine from the Ribera del Duero, one of Spain’s greatest wine regions.  Dark, powerful and plush, the wine is not flamboyant or overdone.  Indeed, it’s wonderfully balanced, carrying the alcohol and the “very special French oak” effortlessly and without a trace of heat or woodiness.  Tightly wound, it gradually reveals its mineral-infused glory over time in the glass.  It’s more savory than fruity, though there’s plenty of the latter.  The tannins are barely noticeable because they are so fine and well-integrated.  Paradoxically, it’s powerful, yet reticent, and finishes with a delightful hint of bitterness, which, to me, is a hallmark of a great wine.  It’s one for the cellar, to be sure.  But it you can’t wait and your budget allows you to buy multiple bottles, open and decant one hours before you drink it with garlic-infused roasted leg of lamb this winter.
97 Michael Apstein Dec 8, 2020

Pazos de Rey, Monterrei DO (Galicia, Spain) Godello “Pazo de Monterrey” 2019

($15, Aviva Vino):    Do.  Not.  Miss.  This.  Wine.  Made from an obscure grape (but not for long), from an obscure region (also not for long), this wine is a bargain.  The small, relatively unknown Monterrei DO (pronounced—Mon-ter-rey) is located in the southern part of Galicia near the Portuguese border.  Think of the Godello grape as Chardonnay with an edge.  Pazos de Rey’s 2019 is racy and bright, more mineral-y than fruity, with a delightful hint of lush creaminess.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 8, 2020

Bodegas Pinea del Duero, Ribera del Duero DO (Castilla y León, Spain) “17” 2017

($65, WineSmith Company):  Bodegas Pinea, a new entry in Ribera del Duero, is off to an excellent start.  Founded just this decade, their first release of their flagship wine, Pinea, was in 2017, which gave rise to the name of this wine, 17, their second label.  Brimming with spice and dark fruit flavors, it’s a terrific second wine.  Made entirely from Tempranillo, it’s certainly big, but not boisterous or overdone.  Its depth nicely balances its 14.8 percent stated alcohol, keeping it in check.  To be sure, it’s a winter kind of wine, perfect for hearty roast or a leg of lamb.  This is not a before-dinner sipper.  For all its power, it is not heavy or over-the-top.  An uplifting raciness keeps it going throughout a meal.  An attractive hint of tar-like bitterness in the finish balances its fruitiness.  I just wish they’d ditch the overly heavy bottle.  The wine speaks for itself.
93 Michael Apstein Apr 21, 2020

Tinto Pesquera, Ribera del Duero (Spain) Crianza 2014

($35, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  The wine from Tinto Pesquera, the Fernandez family’s flagship estate, brought critical acclaim to Alejandro Fernandez decades ago.  As much as I like the Crianza from their Condado de Haza estate, this Crianza is just, well, better.  It has all the alluring features of the one from Condado de Haza — dark fruitiness and minerality — but with more polish and a silky suaveness. Sometimes when wines are polished they lose character.  Not this one.  Its energy and personality come through.  It’s another wine that delivers far more than the price suggests.  Although it will undoubtedly gain more complexity with additional bottle age, it’s an excellent choice tonight with a grilled steak.
94 Michael Apstein Mar 5, 2019

Condado de Haza, Ribera del Duero (Spain) Crianza 2015

($24, Folio Fine Wine Partners): This must be one of the best wines selling for less than $25 a bottle in today’s market. The estate, Condado de Haza, is part of the Fernandez family’s holding in Ribera del Duero, the area which gained its D.O. largely through the efforts of the patriarch, Alejandro Fernandez.  So, if anyone knows the region, it is he.  This, the family’s sister estate to the more famous Tinto Pesquera, is located in a slightly cooler and rockier area, which likely accounts for its sleekness.  The 2015 Crianza, made entirely from Tempranillo, is a fabulous value.  It has everything — dark fruit notes, mineral-like undertones all wrapped in fine tannins that give it a suave texture.  It combines power and elegance and finishes with an attractive bitter note, which to me, indicates a superb wine to complement a rich meaty dish.  Lively acidity keeps it fresh throughout the meal.  It should get extra points for value.   
93 Michael ApsteinFeb 26, 2019

El Vínculo, La Mancha DO (Spain) Airen “Alejairén” 2015

 ($30, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  The Fernández family, headed by patriarch Alejandro who is best known for his Tinto Pesquera, a wine that was instrumental in the formation of the Ribera del Duero DO, has expanded to the La Mancha area.   Made entirely from Airén and the only white wine in the Fernández portfolio, Alejairén is bold, expressing ripe stone fruit-like flavors.   Despite its power, the wine is not heavy.   It’s reminiscent of a Rhône Valley white, but with bright acidity that keeps it fresh and lively.   It works well with roast pork.  
90 Michael ApsteinFeb 19, 2019

El Vínculo, La Mancha DO (Spain) Crianza 2013

 ($19, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Made from Cencibel, a thicker-skinned type of Tempranillo, this Crianza comes from the Fernández family’s outpost in La Mancha.   It conveys a combination of hearty dark fruit flavors mixed with the spice characteristic of aging in American oak barrels, where it spent 18 months.   With a charmingly rustic boldness, it makes a good choice for the long simmering meals that comfort us in the winter.  
88 Michael ApsteinFeb 19, 2019

Viña Eguía, Rioja Reserva (Spain) 2014

 ($19, Quintessential Wines): Here’s yet another example of why Rioja can be such a treasure trove of value-paced wines.  Viña Eguía’s Reserva, made entirely from Tempranillo, provides a lovely balance of vibrant red fruit-like flavors and savory nuances.  The modest 13.5 percent-stated alcohol belies the weight and depth of the wine.  It would be a good choice for roasted pork or sautéed chicken thighs with mushrooms.   
89 Michael ApsteinJan 15, 2019

Marqués de Murrieta, Rioja Reserva (Spain) 2014

($26):  This mid-weight red is a spectacular bargain, which should not come as a surprise because Marqués de Murrieta is one of the leaders in the Rioja.  A blend of mostly Tempranillo (84%) with Graciano, Mazuelo and Garnacha, it manages to delivers both fruity and savory elements enrobed by fine tannins.  Elegant and juicy it does double-duty holding up to robust beef as well as flavorful seafood, such as rare tuna.  Its suaveness makes in perfect for drinking now and over the next several years.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 4, 2018

Bodegas Terras Gauda, O Rosal, Rias Baixas (Spain) 2017

($21):  O Rosal, named for a sub-region of Rias Baixas, is the flagship of Bodegas Terras Gauda, one of the region’s top producers, according to their website.  The addition of Caiño and Loureiro to the blend adds roundness and complexity to the cutting spiciness that Albariño, the predominant grape of the region, brings to the table.  The resulting combination makes it ideal for hefty seafood, such as grilled sardines or swordfish.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 4, 2018

Luis Anxo Rodriguez Vázquez, Ribeiro (Galicia, Spain) “Eidos Ermos” 2016

($16, Skurnik Wines):  Luis Anxo Rodriguez Vázquez has at least two things working against him, his size and location.  He has just over 12 acres spread over 100 tiny plots in the rather obscure DO of Ribeiro.  What he has going for him is the ability to make excellent wine.  The Ribeiro is a tiny DO in Galicia previously focused on bulk wines, but now producing note-worthy whites made from blends of local varieties, such as Treixadura, Lado, and Loureiro, to name just three, that are worth searching for.  This Eidos Ermos delivers delicate white flower notes buttressed by refreshing and mouth-cleansing acidity.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 4, 2018

Llopart, Cava (Spain) Brut Nature Reserva 2015

($23):  Llopart consistently gets it right because they are one of the oldest producers of Cava.  The Brut Nature category requires the best grapes because regulations require that sugar, which could potentially mask flaws, may not be added during dosage.  Unsurprisingly, Llopart got it right with this 2015 Reserva.  Clean and precise, it refreshes and lingers.  The obligatory minimum of 15 months of aging for a Reserva adds smoothness and complexity. Its straight spine of acidity makes it a wonderful accompaniment to unlikely pairings, such as beef carpaccio.  It’s hard to find a better sparkling wine for the price.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 4, 2018

Bohigas, Cava (Spain) “Rosat” NV

($13, Polaner Selections):  It can be difficult to find a wine to accompany Vietnamese, indeed most Asian fare, with its plethora of flavors.  This Rosé Cava worked splendidly with the stellar food at the Hanoi House in New York.  It was gentle enough to work as a celebratory pre-dinner drink and firm enough to cut through the spice and lemongrass.  The spine of acidity makes it a fine choice even with something like barbequed pork.  It’s good to remember the “wine” in “sparkling wine” because they can be perfect throughout a meal.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 3, 2018

Raventós I Blanc, Vino Espumoso de Calidad (Penedes, Spain) “de Nit” Brut 2015

($23, Skurnik):  Raventós I Blanc, one of the shining stars of Spanish sparkling wine, left the Cava DO in 2013 and is spearheading a project to create a new one, Conca del Riu Anoia, based on the Anoia River Valley.  They felt the regulations governing Cava were weak and wanted stricter ones for producing higher quality sparkling wines.  With the barest hint of a light copper hue, you’d be excused if you thought this was a white wine.  It takes its “color” from the 5 percent of Monastrell in the blend with Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo.  So don’t buy it expecting a pinkish hue to wow your lover on Valentine’s Day.  Rather buy it because it is outstanding and a bargain for what it delivers.  Impeccably balanced between a delicate fruitiness and an elegant structure, it has a caressing texture that allows you to enjoy it on its own, but enough substance and structure to hold up nicely against full-flavored Vietnamese cuisine.
93 Michael Apstein Jan 23, 2018

Raventós I Blanc, Vino Espumoso de Calidad (Penedes, Spain) “Textures de Pedra” 2012

($41, Skurnik):  A blend of three red grapes — so technically a Blanc de Noirs — this white wine is an outstanding sparkler and shows that the Champagne region does not hold a monopoly on high-quality bubbly.  Creamy and persistent, it demonstrates power and elegance.  Drink it as an aperitif, and then take it to the table.  It’s perfect for the multi-flavors of tapas, because it’s spine of acidity allows it to cut through the plethora of flavors on the table and reinvigorate the palate.
95 Michael Apstein Jan 23, 2018

La Rioja Alta, Rioja Reserva (Spain) “Viña Ardanza” 2008

($32): Where else but Spain, and specifically Rioja, do you find a nine year old wine as the current release?  And look at the price.  Not to mention that La Rioja Alta is one of the best producers in Rioja. Here’s a chance for consumers to taste the magical transformation of youthful fruitiness in a wine to intriguing and hard to define non-fruit flavors of leather and earth. Not overdone, successive waves of flavor crash over the palate. Brilliant juicy acidity and moderate power makes it a divine choice for grilled meat once the weather turns chilly in the evening.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 15, 2017

Arínzano, Pago del Arínzano (Spain) “Hacienda di Arínzano” 2011

($19, Stoli Group USA): The Vinos de Pago category sits at the pinnacle of Spain’s official wine hierarchy.  A Pago is basically a single estate that has its on Denominacion Oregin.  Arínzano was northern Spain’s first estate to be awarded Vinos de Pago status.  Surprisingly, the Hacienda di Arínzano, with all its power and grace, isn’t even the estate’s top wine.  But it’s likely the estate’s top bargain.  A blend of Tempranillo (80%) with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot comprising the remainder, it’s explosive, yet defined.  Though powerful, there’s restraint so it’s not over the top or in your face.  A seductive silky texture makes it easy to enjoy now.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 18, 2017

Finca San Blas, Utiel-Requena DO (Valencia, Spain) “Lomalta” 2014

($14): The Denominación de Origen (DO) of Utiel-Requena in eastern Spain has traditionally been known for bulk wine from the prolific Bobal grape.  Slowly, producers are changing the image.  This robust red, a blend of Merlot, Bobal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Syrah, has remarkably mild tannins, which makes it a good choice for hearty fare, even barbeque.  It provides a lot of bang for the buck as long as you like the “big red” style of wine.
87 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2017

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Codorníu, Cava (Penedes, Spain) Gran Reserva Brut “Jaume” 2012

($60): It should come as no surprise that Codorníu, still a leader in Cava production and the company essentially responsible for creating the category, should produce a show-stopping wine.  In this Gran Reserva, one of their top bottlings, they use an unusual blend — at least for Cava — of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Xarel-lo.  The result is a creamy and mineral-y combination with a suave refined texture.  Graceful enough to enjoy by itself, it has enough power and persistence to accompany full-flavored main courses, such as a pork roast.
95 Michael Apstein May 2, 2017

Arínzano, Pago del Arínzano (Northeastern Spain) “La Casona” 2008

($30): In the hierarchy of the Spanish classification of wine growing areas, a Pago is at the top.  Pago is a single estate that produces exceptional wines according to the Spanish authorities.  La Casona is their mid-level wine, which seriously over delivers for the price.  A marvelous well-balanced blend of Tempranillo (75%) and Merlot, it is rich without being heavy.  The Merlot adds an attractive earthy funkiness without dominating the wine.  Suave and succulent, it would be a good choice with hefty beef this winter.
92 Michael Apstein Feb 28, 2017

Terras Gauda, O Rosal, Rias Baixas (Galicia, Spain) 2015

($18, Baron Francois): The so-called “flagship” of the winery, this Rias Baixas is a blend of primarily Albariño (70%) and other indigenous varieties, Loureira and Caiño, which add subtle complexity.  O Rosal refers to the valley in Rias Baixas where the vineyards are located.  There’s no mistaken the cutting verve imparted by the Albariño.  The other grapes fill out the wine with a welcome generosity.   This energetic wine would be a good foil for even tomato-based seafood dishes.  And it’s a bargain.
93 Michael Apstein Jan 10, 2017

Bodegas Franco Españolas, Rioja Reserva (Spain) “Rioja Bordón” 2011

($18, Vision Wine & Spirits): A more serious wine than their Crianza, Bodegas Franco Españolas’ Rioja Reserva is yet another example of how Spanish wines over-deliver.  It’s more refined and polished, delivering more complexity compared to the Crianza.  The Crianza’s vivacity is apparent here as well, which means you will not tire of it throughout a meal.  It’s a fine choice this winter for grilled meat. You cannot beat it at the price!
90 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2017

Bodegas Franco Españolas, Rioja Gran Reserva (Spain) “Rioja Bordón” 2005

($25, Vision Wine & Spirits): Astounding to find beautifully matured wine at retail at this price.  This Gran Reserva demonstrates the virtue of cellaring wine…only in this case, Bodegas Franco Españolas did the work and absorbed the expense involved in aging.  Refined and suave like velvet, it conveys a hint of mature, non-fruit flavors without losing any freshness or vivacity.  Those looking for bold flavors of the New World will be disappointed.  But its glossy texture and layers of flavors that caress the palate during a meal are likely to make you a convert to properly aged wines.  It’s appropriate for a special meal with the advantage of having an ordinary price.  I’ve had many older vintages of this wine that are sensational.  Buy this one by the case and savor its pleasure over the coming decade.
93 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2017

Bodegas Franco Españolas, Rioja Crianza (Spain) “Rioja Bordón” 2013

($13, Vision Wine & Spirits): The wines from Franco Españolas are just another example of the excellent bargains available from Spain.  Take this Crianza for example.  A blend of Tempranillo (80%) and Garnacha, it is a lively mixture of red fruit flavors, spice and herbs.  It’s rare to find this kind of interplay of flavors at the price.  Tannins are smooth, which means it’s perfect for current consumption.  It’s bright enough to cut through the spectrum of flavors — even shrimp and garlic — served on “small plates” (a.k.a. tapas).
88 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2017

Bodegas Ochoa, Navarra (Spain) Reserva 2009

($22, Frontier Imports): Big and powerful, this blend of Tempranillo (55%), Cabernet Sauvignon (35%) and Merlot has a glossy texture.  Even at seven years of age, a hint of seductive, almost sweet, oakiness remains.  Its ripeness is felt in the finish as a touch of heat.  Brilliant acidity keeps it fresh and prevents it from being heavy or tiring.  It has the flamboyance of a New World wine with an Old World structure. It’s a lot of wine for the price.
88 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2017

Príncipe de Viana, Navarra (Spain) Tempranillo Reserva 2011

($17, Classical Wines of Spain): Navarra, a wine region in northern Spain, is best known for its Garnacha-based rosado.  With its proximity to Rioja (indeed, a part of Rioja DOCa lies within the geographic area of Navarra) it is not surprising that Tempranillo, the major grape of its neighbor, does well too.  Despite its five years of age, this rich wine remains tight and needs additional bottle age.  It’s closed, but balanced, at this stage, and just needs time to open as opposed to being hard or astringent and needing time to soften.  Lively acidity balances its plum-like fruitiness and muscular stature, keeping it fresh.  If you opt to drink it this winter, open a few hours before the meal and decant it to let it breathe.  Alternatively, find a place for this bargain-priced beauty in your cellar.
92 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2017

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Cellars Uinó, Montsant (Catalonia, Spain) Garnacha “Perlat” 2014

($12, Monsieur Touton): Montsant is sometimes referred to as a “little brother” appellation to its more famous and expensive neighbor, Priorat.  There’s nothing little brother about this wine.  Waves of aromas pour from the glass predicting pleasure on the palate.  It’s wonderfully dense, dark and ripe, yet does not go overboard and finishes with a subtle and paradoxical succulent bitterness.  There’s no flamboyance, yet it’s a robust wine, with an almost tarry element.  For all its power, it’s actually an elegant wine.  What a bargain!
93 Michael Apstein Dec 6, 2016

Bodegas Virgen del Agulia-Paniza, Cariñena (Spain) Garnacha Vina Vejas de Paniza 2012

($14, Vinaio Imports): It’s curious — and perhaps confusing — that the primary grape of the Cariñena region is Garnacha and not Cariñena (a.k.a., Carignan in French and Carignano in Italian, and generally spelled “Carignane” in the U.S.A.).  That said, there’s nothing confusing about this wine — it’s terrific.  The old vines (vina vejas) must account for the wine’s complexity — a seamless combination of ripe fruitiness and spice.  The paradoxically subtle but persistent wild strawberry-like character of Garnacha is apparent without being sweet.  Suave tannins provide appropriate structure without intruding on the wine’s finesse.  This is a wonderful wine for hearty fare this winter.
91 Michael Apstein Dec 6, 2016

Don Olegario, Rias Baixas (Spain) Albarino 2015

($20, Kobrand Wine & Spirits): Lovely wine, dreadful label.  I rarely comment about a wine’s label.  After all, it’s what’s in the bottle that counts.  And in that category, this wine is easy to recommend.  The problem is that the script on the label makes it almost impossible to figure out the name of the producer, so buying it is likely to be difficult.  Still, it’s worth the struggle because its clean, saline-tinged character gives a good introduction to what the Albariño grape can do in Rias Baixas.  Cutting and precise, with the barest hint of an attractive prickly sensation on the palate, it’s a good choice for flavorful seafood preparations.
89 Michael Apstein Oct 4, 2016

Rolland & Galarreta, Rueda (Spain) Verdejo 2014

($22): Michel Rolland, owner of Château Bon Pasteur in Pomerol and consulting wine maker to scores of properties around the world, has had an enormous impact changing the style of wine.  His stylistic imprint is most apparent in the reds, making them riper and bolder.  Judging from this wine, he — the master of Merlot — is truly multitalented.  Not tasting riper or bolder, this white from Rueda is instead flowery and fresh with a seductive texture.  A bright finish keeps you coming back for more.
91 Michael Apstein Feb 2, 2016

Rolland & Galarreta, Ribera del Duero (Castilla y León, Spain) Crianza 2011

($24): This masterful blend of Merlot and Tempranillo should walk off the shelves. It’s a big muscular and meaty combination but with glossy tannins usually associated with far more expensive wines. Powerful and simultaneously elegant, it marries dark fruit and savory elements. Nicely balanced, it’s a “big” wine without the tannic trappings that often accompany that style. It would be a great choice for current drinking with hearty wintery fare.
93 Michael Apstein Feb 2, 2016

Beronia, Rioja Reserva (Spain) 2010

($19, San Francisco Wine Exchange): I continue to be amazed — year after year — by the value Rioja delivers.  It’s hard to imagine a more delightful wine selling for less than $20.  It’s a balance of sweet, yet not heavy, fruit coupled with savory elements.  Aging in American oak adds a touch of spice to this traditional Tempranillo (95%) Graciano and Mazuelo blend.  Suave tannins provide appropriate structure without being intrusive.  This graceful wine is an outstanding bargain.  You’ll wind up drinking many bottles this winter.
91 Michael Apstein Jan 5, 2016

Beronia, Rioja Gran Reserva (Spain) 2006

($29, San Francisco Wine Exchange): Full disclosure, this wine gets additional points for value. I would run to buy it because wines of this quality at this price will disappear rapidly.  Another fabulous bargain from Beronia, a Rioja producer whose well-priced wines rarely fail to thrill, it’s a traditional blend of Tempranillo (95%), Graciano and Mazuelo. The 2006 is Beronia’s current release of Gran Reserva because they, like Rioja wineries in general, have a tradition of cellaring wines for extended periods of time before release.  At 10 years of age, it is showing graceful maturity, with a magical combination fresh and dried fruits intertwined with earthy leafy flavors.  This traditionally framed Rioja shows enormous finesse and complexity.   Where else can you find a beautifully mature wine for less than $30?
95 Michael Apstein Jan 5, 2016

Viña Altamar, Ribera del Duero (Spain) Tempranillo 2013

($14, Hammeken Cellars): It is rare to find a wine from Ribera de Duero, one of Spain’s top wine areas, at this price.  Especially one of this quality.  Stony elements buttress the lovely rich, but not jammy, dark fruit flavors.  Far more sophisticated than the price suggests, it has polished tannins and wonderful structure.  It would be a great choice for hearty winter fare this year.
90 Michael Apstein Jan 5, 2016

Emilio Moro, Ribera del Duero (Spain) “Malleous” 2011

($45, Moro Brothers): Moro’s 2011 Ribera del Duero is impressive because of its suaveness despite its size.  Focusing more on mineraly or savory flavors than fruity ones, it has an attractive firmness without being hard.  Some might complain about the amount of oak flavors showing at this stage, but they convey an alluring creaminess.  It would be a good choice either for the cellar, or if you don’t mind a touch of oak, with a standing rib roast this winter.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 17, 2015

Bodegas Sepa 21, Castilla y León (Spain) “Hito” 2014

($16): Full disclosure:  I gave this wine extra points for value, because it would be hard to do better at the price.  It delivers a marvelous combination of black cherry-like fruitiness — not too much — and a slate-like minerality.  The winemaking team has resisted the temptation to over extract the flavors and tannins or mask them with oak.  The result is a classy wine at a fabulous price.  It would be perfect for drinking this fall and winter.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 17, 2015

Alvaro Palacios, Priorat (Spain) “Les Terrasses” 2012

($38, Rare Wine Company): Palacios is one of the winemakers who were responsible for the renaissance of winemaking in this unique region.  It’s easy to see why the vines were abandoned over the years:  steep slopes of solid rock.  A reasonable person could ask, why bother to replant vines here?  Fortunately for us consumers, Palacios and his compatriots bothered.  You can smell and feel the stone in this wine.  A blend of Garnacha and Cariñena, locally referred to as Samsó, it’s firm and mineral-infused, yet not hard or astringent. The combination of power and elegance is simply stunning.  Indeed, you can enjoy it now, albeit, with hearty winter fare.  This is not a wine to sip as an aperitif.  But, boy is it good with lamb chops.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015

Descendientes de J. Palacios, Bierzo (Spain) “Pétalos” 2013

($19, Rare Wine Company): Palacios is one of the most famous and revered names in Spanish winemaking.  Alvaro Palacios, along with others, is credited with the revival of the entire Priorat region.  Now at his family’s estate in Rioja, he is energizing and reconfiguring how people think about wines from that region.  His nephew, Ricardo, is responsible for the outpost in Bierzo, still a relatively unknown area in northwestern Spain.  Bierzo will not remain unknown for long as the public discovers the dazzling wines Palacios produces there from the Mencia grape.  This one, Pétalos, is made from a combination of their own grapes plus some purchased from neighbors.  Minerally and firm, it has a seemingly paradoxical austerity and richness with a slight appealing tarriness in the finish.  This is an extraordinary bargain for the excitement it delivers.  Few under $20 wines show this kind of complexity that unfolds in the glass.  This easy-to-recommend wine is perfect for the heartier dishes of fall and winter.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015

Descendientes de J. Palacios, Bierzo (Spain) “Villa de Corullon” 2012

($40, Rare Wine Company): Almost a decade ago, Oscar Alegre, export manager at Descendientes de J. Palacios, told me, referring to Bierzo, that “Nobody in Spain thinks quality wine comes from here.”   I do not know whether the thinking in Spain has changed, but I can assure you that very high quality, exciting wines come from Bierzo, especially those made by Descendientes de J. Palacios.  The wines impressed me then and still do.  Villa de Corullon is the label Palacios uses for wines blended from several vineyards they own — all planted with Mencia — in the village of Corullon.  Less accessible than Pétolas at this stage, it’s more minerally and tarry, but more sleek and elegant.  A subtle leafiness and spice just adds intrigue.  Although it shows plenty of black fruit character, this wine is not just about fruitiness, by a long shot.  Indeed, it’s the non-fruit elements that are captivating.  Despite its size, it has tremendous elegance.  But it’s best left in the cellar for a few years.  Enjoy the Pétolas while you wait.  You won’t suffer.
94 Michael Apstein Oct 6, 2015

Marques de Caceres, Rioja (Spain) Blanco 2009

($9, Vineyard Brands):  To most consumers, Rioja means red.  And to be fair, the vast amount of it is.  Until the last decade or so, the white wine produced in Rioja was not popularity here because it was often oxidized and tired.  But that’s no longer the case.   This one, made entirely from Viura is crisply clean and bright.   Gentle hints grapefruit reinforce its freshness.  It’s an easy choice for simple seafood at a fabulous price. 87 Michael Apstein Oct 19, 2010

Bodegas Bilbainas, Rioja Reserva (Spain) “Viña Pomal” 2010

($21): Befitting a Rioja Reserva, there’s healthy dose of savory non fruit flavors that adds complexity and balances the red and black fruitiness of this Tempranillo-based wine.  Indeed, it’s the earthy quality in this mid-weight traditionally framed wine that is captivating.  Its moderate tannic structure and uplifting acidity means it is better on the table with spiced Spanish cuisine or even a simply grilled hanger steak than as a stand-alone glass of red
90 Michael Apstein Jan 13, 2015

Bodega la Bastida, Rioja (Spain) “R & G” 2010

($26, Kysela Père et Fils): Though the producer is Bodega la Bastida, make no mistake, the names to remember are Michel Rolland, the internationally renowned oenologist who advising leading Bordeaux estates, and Javier Galarreta, a Spanish wine entrepreneur — hence the “R & G” emblazoned across the label.  The grapes come from La Bastida’s 1200 acres in the Alavesa, a region of Rioja revered for high-quality fruit.  Rolland oversees the winemaking and uses state of the art equipment, including an optical sorting machine, that ensues only the best grapes make it into the fermenting vats.  The result, not surprisingly, is a polished wine with excellent concentration without being overdone.  A smoky element, dark cherry-like flavors and a subtle bitterness in the finish add intrigue, while glossy tannins allow enjoyment now. All in all it screams for roasted red meat.  It is another example of the bargains to be found in Spanish wines.
92 Michael Apstein Jan 13, 2015

Bodegas Valtravieso, Ribera del Duero (Spain) “R & G” 2010

($26, Kysela Père et Fils): A blend of mostly (90%) Tempranillo and Merlot, this, like their Rioja, is a joint venture between the world-famous enologist, Michel Rolland, a Spanish wine entrepreneur, Javier Galarreta, and Bodegas Valtravieso, from whose 200 acres Rolland selected the grapes.  Similar to the “R & G” Rioja, this Ribera del Duero is plush, polished and concentrated, without being overdone.  It conveys an alluring minerality that is more apparent here than in the Rioja.  By no means just fruity, the earthy mineral quality shines and distinguishes it from their Rioja, showing the different expression of Tempranillo in these two regions.  If you’re one for analogies, their Rioja is like a fine Chianti Classico, while the Ribera del Duero speaks like a Brunello di Montalcino.  Here’s another well-price Spanish gem.  More steak, please.
93 Michael Apstein Jan 13, 2015

El Coto, Rioja Blanco (Spain) 2012

($12, Frederick Wildman): Rioja Blanco — yes, you read that correctly.  Though 95% of wine in Spain’s famed Rioja region is red, a small — and shrinking — amount of Viura is planted as growers replace that white grape with Tempranillo.  This bargain-priced wine is one to grab and hope El Coto continues to find suppliers.   Clean and bright, it delivers a hint of spiciness that balances its body.  It would be a good choice for roast chicken or sautéed fish.
88 Michael Apstein Dec 9, 2014