‘Reformer’ Riojas – MS Spanish Tasting, October 18th

MS Spanish Tasting Oct 2015 1

The September issue of Decanter contained an excellent article on the new wave of ‘reformer’ Rioja producers emerging in Spain who believe the current three levels of classification is too simple for such a complex region of terroirs. The traditional small plot sizes of many Rioja vineyards, and the fact that only a few bodegas own their own vineyards, has resulted in a system being established where bodegas purchase fruit from many growers in order to assemble their wines, and the resulting blending process has suited a DOC classification system that describes a style or quality of wine, rather than a wine that is an expression of locality.

This article was an illuminating text to refer to when appreciating the wines of this Magnum Society tasting. In addition, DB, our host, presented these informative notes:

“For this tasting, we will be looking at Rioja, Ribera and Priorat, and the years 05, 06, 09 and 11. All wines fall into the “modern” camp and will be tasted while they are exuberant and fresh, a recommendation some writers are making about these less-than-traditional styles.


You all know about the Rioja. Tempranillo with occasional blending contributions from Garnarcha, Graciano, and/or Mazuelo. Best wines come from the northwest up in the foothills of the Sierra Cantabria in the Rioja Alta or Rioja Alavesa sub-regions, on the north side of the river Ebro. The climate is Atlantic maritime which means the area is cooler and wetter than the Mediterranean and continental regions further inland and to the east. The soils are chalky with various clays rich in trace elements. Wine began here in the early 1800s and many old vineyards exist. Several bodegas remain devoted to historical techniques, and wine styles. Since the 1990s, however, there has been a huge expansion of new wave styles, and, after a false start, a new expression of Rioja has emerged which has taken the modern world by storm. All four Riojas we will taste fall into this category.

The four vintages we will taste are:

2005: An excellent year considered at least as good as 2004 in Rioja. Textbook conditions from the start to finish. Lovely rich balanced wines.

2006: A very warm year bordering on hot with differences in sugar levels and phenolic ripeness. Some fat wines low in acidity. 2

2009: Another hot and dry year with hail. An uneven vintage. Mixed views on the wines although most top wines are outstanding.

2011: Unusually warm and dry year giving impressive consistency, powerful intensity, and soft tannins.

Finca Allende Rioja Calvario 2005 Allende was established in 1995. Allende’s signature is a careful balance of tradition and modernity. Their top wine, Aurus, is a blend from nine plots of Tempranillo and Graciano. In 1999, Calvario first appeared as a foil to Aurus. Calvario is from a single vineyard planted in 1945 and generally is 90% Tempranillo, 8% Garnacha, and 2% Graciano. It is aged in new French oak for 14 months. Single vineyard wines in Rioja used to be quite rare but now Calvario is considered to be at least equal to Aurus.

Romeo Rioja la Vina de Andres Romeo 2009 Benjamin Romeo is a rock star winemaker. Think Contador, first made in 1999. Both the 2004 and 2005 were Parker 100 pointers. In 2001, Benjamin debuted a single vineyard wine planted by his father, Andres Romeo, in the early 1980s near San Vicente. The original 2.5ha plot is located alongside the Ebro river and was 100% Tempranillo. This is what we will taste. More recently, Benjamin has added an adjacent plot to raise the total to a huge 3.65ha, and planted a little Graciano. The site has alluvial soil and is warmer than up in the hills giving size and ripeness to the wine. Benjamin uses very gentle hands- on winemaking, malo in new French oak, ageing 17 months in 100% new wood, and bottles without fining or filtration.

Exopto Rioja Horizonte de Exopto 2009 Bordeaux born and trained enologist Tom Puyaubert established Exopto in 2003. While his winery is in Rioja Alavesa, Exopto owns no vineyards but sources from 9ha spread over Rioja. Exopto champions blends. For Horizonte the blend is 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha and 10% Graciano, organically grown, and from vineyards planted in the 50s and 60s. Eight tiny parcels are used which cover a total of 2.45ha and only 850 cases are made. Winemaking appears to be quite conventional. Malo is in oak where the wine ages for 12 months, 80% French, 20% US, one third new, one third 1 year, one third 2 years old. The wine has a reputation for richness, fruit forwardness, and fine structure.

Paganos El Puntido Rioja 2006 One of six wineries owned by the Eguren family (of Bodegas Sierra Cantabria fame) and located at 600 metres in the hills of Rioja Alavesa. El Puntido was founded in 1998 with the winery built in the middle of the 25ha vineyard, which was planted in 1975. Calcareous clay with high mineral presence and a sandstone subsoil. This is ideal for Tempranillo and this wine is 100% and made to be a true expression of what the Egurens feel is an outstanding site. Winemaking is conventional, malo in Bordeaux barrels with 16 months ageing in new French oak.

Ribera del Duero

To remind you about the Ribera: southwest of Rioja, centrally located. Continental climate. High plateau. Large diurnal temperature changes. Chalk and rocky soils. Mostly Tempranillo, but historically has leaned towards blends that evoke Bordeaux structure. Unknown region except for Vega Sicilia until mid 1980s, then growing from nine bodegas to around 300 today. Nowadays, wines vary in style with some quite individualistic examples standing out.

Dominio Pingus Flor de Pingus 2011 Peter Sisseck established Pingus in 1995. He unashamedly set out to produce a “garage” wine using very old vines which had been farmed naturally all their lives. The first release of Pingus created a storm of media attention lead by the irrepressible Mr 3

Parker who called it “one of the greatest and most exciting wines I have ever tasted.” (96 points). He gave the 2004 100 points. The wine we will taste is the Flor, Pingus’s second wine. It is 100% Tempranillo from 16 bio-dynamically farmed parcels, a mix of old and young vines. Conventional winemaking, malo in French oak, 18 months in 2 year old French wood. This wine has variously been described as “big and bold sporting 15.5% alc”, and by Sisseck himself as “finesse and elegance”. Parker: “full bodied, generous, supple”. We shall see.


To remind you about Priorat: 120km southwest of Barcelona, inland from the Mediterranean, high in the Sierra de Montsant. Vineyards on very steep schistous slopes. Very poor slate quartz soils. Low rainfall, very high diurnal temperature change, very low yielding vines. Priorat was virtually unknown until 1989 when Rene Barbier (Clos Mogador) and four others began renovating some old vineyards around Gratallops, and planting some new ones on old sites but with several varieties. It soon became clear that old Garnacha vines, and some Carinena vineyards held the best expression of the region.

The 2011 vintage: fine spring with rain. Cold July. Then immense dry heat through to harvest which was early. Careful selection needed to avoid de-hydrated fruit.

Mas Martinet

Jose Luis Perez was one of the original Barbier group. He began in 1986 with small very old parcels of Carinena but planted other varieties in new or old abandoned sites. In 1999, he handed over to his daughter Sara who expanded plantings, mostly Garnacha, out to 10ha all on red and yellow slate soils scattered in the hills. Mainly, she used the Coster system whereby bush vines are randomly planted wherever they can be on bare steep slopes, without terraces, orderly rows, or trellising. Sara has achieved organic certification and is moving into bio-dynamics. Total production is now up to 3000 cases which would be borderline uneconomic were it not for her stellar reputation and the wines’ quite high prices. Incidentally, Sara has married Rene Barbier’s son Rene jnr who, in his own right, is becoming the face of Clos Mogador. We have two wines from Mas Martinet:

Els Escurons 2011 4.7ha single vineyard, Coster grown, 600 metres altitude, 100% Garnacha planted in 2000. Known for its purity and elegance. Sara ages half the production in clay amphorae and the other half in barrique.

Cami Pesseroles 2011 60% Carinena from 95 year old vines, 40% young Garnacha. Single vineyard from a very small parcel producing only 1100 bottles. 18 months in French oak. This wine is generally deeper and richer than the Els Escurons, and has been compared to Chateauneuf du Papes.”

MS Spanish Tasting Oct 2015 2

And thus to the wines, 60ml pours served blind, first without and then with food…

Mas Martinet Els Escurons 2011 – Vibrant colour. Medicinal, sharp tang on the nose, & tobacco. Sweet and intense attack, bright red fruits, raspberries, pretty, elegant and balanced. Gold.

Mas Martinet Cami Pesseroles 2011 – Vibrant colour. Engaging aromas of violets, hay mocha, spice, vanilla and oak. Sweet fresh attack, softer than the first Mas Martinet, tar and vanilla on palate, fine -grained tannins, pretty also, with a hot fresh finish. Gold.

Exopto Rioja Horizonte de Exopto 2009 – Vibrant, browning. Perfumed, floral, showing some early tertiary characers. Balanced flavours, elegant, mouthwatering freshness on finish. Some said confected, disjointed. I didn’t see that. But my least favoured wine of the flight.

Finca Allende Rioja Calvario 2005 – Deep browning on the rim. Deep and intense nose, draws you in. savoury, wild herbs, dusty. Very good. Great fruit weight and balance. Dusty drying finish. Went very well with the spicy food accompanying the tasting. Gold. My WOTN.

Paganos El Puntido Rioja 2006 – Browning. Perfumed, dark florals and pepper. Dusty and savoury to taste, with great fruit weight and power and balance. Elegant. Gold.

Romeo Rioja la Vina de Andres Romeo 2009 – Deep, dark red colour. Higher on the nose, touch astringent, leggy, hay, dried florals, touch herbaceous. Powerful flavours – cassis, blackcurrant, dense, well-made, hot at the back. Gold.

The wines had been steadily getting more alcoholic as we moved through the flight…cheery smiles started appearing on our faces…and in the words of HD, “the run rate is getting high, and the batsmen are swinging for the fence” J

Dominio Pingus Flor de Pingus 2011 – Browning. Leggy. This was huge. Son of Pingus. A statement wine. First impressions: SIZE. Fragrant. Feminine. Glorious sandalwood. Intense, undoubtedly powerful, almost barely under control. Lots of extract. Fine tannins with heft. Drying with a very hot finish (15.5%). Wow. GOLD. Could have been WOTN but the Finca was a more complete wine.

What’s in the glass tonight October 23rd

Rockburn Pinot Noir 2013

Rockburn Pinot Noir Central Otago 2013 

Another wedding gift 🙂

Deep pinot ruby. 14% alc.

A first-up hit of wild herbs and savoury notes, manuka leaf, hay, dark cherries, and a bit of stalk. A good hallmark of a cool-climate Pinot Noir.

In the mouth; bright ripe fruit, velvety tannins, warm, smokey, bouquet of old library books. A sweet finish, long and hot with spice. There is a touch of stalk on palate as well.

VG 4

Straight to the Pool Room – October 2015

Pool Room Oct 2015

Bought following the Escarpment Martinborough tasting. A brace of the last few bottles remaining from the vintage…

Escarpment Vineyard Kupe Pinot Noir Martinborough 2013 – $$$+ – drink 2015-2023. A superb wine. The highlight of the tasting. Such power and density!

Notes from the website: “This is the ninth release from The Escarpment Vineyard’s close planted vineyard on Te Muna Road, Martinborough.

The vines which have grown this wine have been our pride and joy since being planted in 1999. The spacing of 1.5m * 1m (6,600 vines/ ha) is approaching the planting densities used in Burgundy from where the inspiration for this wine comes. The season was warm and drier than average for this block. It has created fruit harvested in brilliant condition giving ripe flavours and soft tannins. At the time I said I’d waited 30 years for this vintage!

Fermented in wooden French cuvees, hand plunged and aged in 50% new French oak barriques for 18 months. It was bottled without fining or filtration, promoting soft mouth feel and texture. The wine was given every priority during its elevation and now shows all the hallmarks of a grand young wine on release in 2015.

It is at the vanguard of Pinot noir style in the New World and should age gracefully for up to 10 years”

What’s in the glass tonight October 22nd

Oyster Bay PG 2014

Oyster Bay Pinot Gris Hawkes Bay 2014

A regional HB blend. 13% alc. Pale straw.

Clean clear aromas. Pears, light apples. Smells like summer 🙂

An off dry style in the mouth. Crisp pear flavours, slightly bitter. A light, approachable and agreeable fruit-full quaffer.

BTG 3+

An Insight to Escarpment Vineyard with Larry McKenna and Huw Kinch – October 2015

Escarpment Tasting 2015

Escarpment Martinborough Tasting, and the superlative 2013 Kupe Pinot Noir.

Another tasting at my favourite bottle store Regional Wines and Spirits, hosted by Richard Sheriff. I remember vividly the last time I tasted a horizontal of Larry McKenna’s wines. He produces some great ones. I recall being really taken with his Pahi Pinot Noir back then, and still have a bottle of it in the Pool Room.

Good news for the producer is that their investor has recommitted to the venture, and this security of investment is driving export expansion and new construction in the winery. 70% of what Escarpment produce is being exported now. Which is good for them, but not so good for us who want to drink the wines here…

The bad news is that they have lost access to fruit from the Pahi vineyard. The owner passed away, and the plot was sold to a higher bidder, and rival winemaker. Still, Larry sez he still has the ’14 and ’15’s in barrel…

And so to the wines:

2013 Escarpment Riesling – 12%. Very pale greenish straw colour. Fresh, fruity and gracious, with a phenolic tang. Sharp and light to taste, bracing acidity to the mid-palate, lemony green and sharp. Good now, will really hit its straps in another year or two. Excellent start to the flight! 4

2012 Escarpment Chardonnay – Wow. This boasted aromas similar to a European Chardonnay. Was it sulphur, was it reductive?  Anyway, it smelled complex and intriguing, and bold, with sensitive oak and soft golden fruit notes. In the mouth it was lean and linear, with lemon/lime flavours in a Chablis style. A mouthwatering finish. Wild fermented in 15% new lightly-toasted barrels. A compelling wine. 4+

2012 Escarpment Kupe Chardonnay – Single vineyard Chardonnay. 25% new oak with full malo treatment. Floral bouquet with vanilla and honey, slightly sweet. To drink it tasted tight and angular, locked-in, almost unfinished in a way. Ended on the bitter side. A much different wine to the estate wine just before it, and not as successful to my taste.

2013 Escarpment Pinot Noir – 50% whole bunch fermentation. Deep carmine colour. The ‘district’ blend. Notes of black cherries on the nose, a little closed. ‘Hay’-like typicity. To taste – dusty, smooth, with ripe fruit, fine tannins, and a light spicy finish. Nice.

2013 Escarpment Pahi Pinot Noir – The first of the SV Pinot’s. Deep carmine. Lovely floral character, light and sweet, with ripe red cherries. There was enough density in the glass to hold up very well, with perfect ripeness, generosity, and pure fruit. A joyful expression of Pinot Noir. 4+

2013 Escarpment Kiwa Pinot Noir – Picked earliest, whole bunch fermented for texture, with vine age. Deep carmine again. A nose that was dense and composed with a lovely floral quality. Savoury and gamey to taste, a step up in intensity from the Pahi. It was tannic and brusque, with medium grained tannins. Showed purity and ripeness. Explosive. 4+

2013 Escarpment Te Rehua Pinot Noir – 50% whole bunch fermentation, plunged twice daily. Deepest carmine colour. A lifted, increased intensity on bouquet, showing more weight and structure, and ticklish on the nose with bold spice. Deep and impressive in the mouth. Compressed. Lots of deep fruit flavours, with oak and vanilla. Soft, fine tannins. It shows the deepest fruit weight of those shown so far. Delicious. 4

2013 Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir – The nominal ‘top’ wine of the stable. 70% whole bunch fermentation. Deep carmine. High level of dry extract. An amazing wine. – spectacular in structure and depth. A fine blend of balance and power. Dusty and dry, fruity and powerful. Lots of ‘stuffing’ in this wine. Gorgeous, I was blown away. 20/20 by one critic. I agree. Outstanding! 5

2012 Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir – 35% whole bunch fermentation. Brownish deep carmine. The nose exhibits bright medicinal top notes, with some tertiary evidence of age beginning to show. Slightly stalky to taste (it was a cool wet vintage), less fruit on show, and savoury. SV elegance, with structure.

2011 Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir – 70% whole bunch fermentation. Brownish deep carmine. Somewhat closed nose. An attractive medicinal character peeks through. There is power and intensity on palate, supported by fruit ripeness. The tannins are grippy and crystalline. Shows the benefit, yet again, of a superb vineyard site.

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This tasting was held the night before my wedding. A very kind and thoughtful friend, GN, who was there also, made a gift of a bottle of 2013 Escarpment Pahi Pinot Noir to me and my wife L, and delivered it to the venue the following day. Thank you very much, G. You must come over sometime soon and help me drink the ’10.

What’s in the glass tonight – Oct 16th

Fiano 2012

Off Topic: Castellani Fiano Beneventano IGT – Sanvito Campagnia 2012 – $$

Friday was warm and sunny. I went out looking for a Picpoul to toast the end of the working week, but came back with this wine instead. It comes from the Campagnian region of Italy, via the bottlestore down the street from my work.

Wikipedia sez about the grape, “According to Jancis Robinson, Fiano can produce an age-worthy wine that has to potential to develop in the bottle for several years after the vintage date. In its youth Fiano is often intensely flavored and aromatic with honey notes that over time develop more spicy and nutty notes. The advent of modern winemaking techniques with its emphasis on limiting oxidation and preserving freshness, have improved the overall quality of Fiano wines over the years. However, some producers that still practice more traditional winemaking techniques can still produce wines that come across as heavy and be prone to premature oxidation.”

12.5%. Pale straw colour.

On bouquet, strong aromas of spice, florals, honey and nutty notes, & rolling tobacco.

To taste, fresh & structured & textured, with citrus, honey and hazelnut flavours. Grapefruit finish. I liked it.

BTW the Roman wine Apianum was produced by a grape known as vitis apiana, whose name is related to the Latin word for “bees” which were strongly attracted to the sugary pulp of the grapes. Some wine historians believe that the grape behind Apianum may have been Fiano.

What’s in the glass tonight Oct 15th

Falconhead Chardonnay 2013

Falconhead Chardonnay Hawkes Bay 2013 – $

Raymond Chan gave this new brand 4 out of 5 stars. So I laid my money down.

Gold colour. 13%.

Nose of clean fruit, floral, fresh. Notes of butter and oak, lemon and peach. Very nice.

Fresh on palate, with luscious citrus character and bright ripe fruit. Generous and fresh and simple. An uplifting style of Chardonnay. Shows good quality but not overworked. Great value!

VG 4

What’s in the glass tonight October 13th

27 Acres Pinot Noir 2012

Lynfer Estate 27 Acres Pinot Noir Gladstone 2012 – $

Produced by Lynfer Estate out of Gladstone, Wairarapa. I know nothing about these winemakers. Nothing on their website about this label, either. Just the ‘13s and ‘14s feature…

Light pinot ruby. 12.2% alc.

Dumb, somewhat underdeveloped nose. Slightly stalky. Some light and savoury fruit trying to break thru.

Same comments as above on palate. Light/dumb. Has some charm, but I tend to give any pinot a pass mark regardless, cos I like the variety A LOT, unless it is red lolly-water. Which this isn’t. I just kind of had hoped for a revelatory bargain with this bottle.

They can only get better tho. Gladstone is an up and coming area for P’Noir.

OK 2+

NEXT DAY UPDATE: The half-bottle held up really well overnight and was showed more bouquet – red roses, cherries, & that pinot florality I love. More flavour in the mouth too. Obv needed decanting.

G 3

What’s in the glass tonight October 12th

Black Cottage PN 2013

Black Cottage Reserve Pinot Noir Central Otago 2013

A much-appreciated wedding gift wine. I drank it out of one of the new Eisch pinot wine glasses we were also given.

13.5%. Dark carmine, slightly cloudy.

Closed, dumb nose. Some red cherries. Over time it became more piquant.

Good fruit weight, lots of mouth-filling flavours of soft ripe red fruits. Tannic mid-palate, spicy finish. Long and expansive. Great with dinner.

BTG 3+

What’s in the glass tonight October 10th

Moet vs Deutz

Moet vs Deutz

L and I and the kids popped over to where the Aussies were staying and shared a last meal with them before they flew back home on Sunday.

Chippies, oven-baked spring rolls, take away pizzas. We provided the bubbles: generous wedding gifts – NV Moet & Chandon Brut from Rheims, and NV Deutz Methode Brut from Marlborough. I thought it would be interesting to compare them side-by-side – local fizz vs French fizz, in plasticware…

The Moet was ripe and fresh and clean with fine bubbles. It had a really delicious attack and went down dangerously easily with little of the Champagne bitter finish.  On the other hand, the Deutz in comparison tasted more tart and angular, less ripe. The bubbles were coarser and the overall impression was somewhat more muscular and less refined. Interesting. This perhaps shows the effect of winemaking style, vine age and vintage ripeness, but is probably one of the few situations where a higher price does deliver an appropriate reward.