TN:Iconic wines from Spain at the SWE conference

Some brief notes from a session on “ Iconic“Spanish wines. Not sure how iconic but there were some excellent wines.

These wines were tasted during a double session over 3-1/2 hours with a live feed via Scythe where we had the representatives from Lopez De Heridia, Marques di Riscal and Ramirez de Ganuza with Pancho Campo MW moderating the discussion of their growing and winemaking philosophies while sitting in the vineyards of Marques Di Riscal with additional feeds from Neo and Felix Callejo later.

The tasting started off with a

1998 Gramona Cava

1970 Tondonio Rioja Lopez de Heridia Gran Reserva – 85% viura and 15% malvasia bottled in 1978

1964 Tondonio Rioja Lopez de Heridia Rioja Gran Reserva - Light to medium garnet, some oxidized notes with tomato, celery salt and red fruits.

1956 Marques de Riscal Rioja Gran Riserva – This was 55% tempranillo, 45% cabernet sauvignon and 4 years in French oak, Light to medium garnet with a garnet tawny rim, Nose of old furniture, leather, tobacco with red fruits with good intensity for a wine this old. Very interesting with the cab and French oak in the wine.

1995 Vega Sicilia Unico - 28 months in neutral oak, 22 months in French oak and 34 months in 1000 liter American oak – Medium deep ruby with a ruby rim, cedar dried fruit, red fruits and lifted high toned nose, Palate showing floral, violets, and red fruits. this was restrained and elegant. Still was rocking after 2 hours in the glass.

Now for some more modern Spanish wines

2004 Ramirez de Ganuza Reserva Rioja from 80 year old vines, one interesting thing they talked about was that only the shoulders gets used for the wine with the tips going into the wine slated for the domestic market. I had probably heard this before but did not recall this. The grapes were cold soaked at 5 degrees C for 72 hours.
Deep Purple/Ruby, floral and perfumed with red and black fruits on the nose, rich and intense on the plate with medium plus tannins with some licorice showing on a very long finish.

2001 Marques de Riscal Baron de Chirel Rioja Reserva– 85% Tempranillo 15% Cavbernet and 12 months in American oak, Deep ruby/purple, moderately pronounced with cassis and lifted OH/VA, moderate to pronounced oak spice box and black fruits.

2005 Bodegas Felix Callejo Ribera del Duero Reserva Back to Traditional style here 100% tinto fino, 25 day extended maceration and 18 Months in French oak.
Medium Deep ruby dried red fruits and tobacco, great balance and concentration with meim to medium plus tannins. Very elegant wine.

2006 Neo Punta Esencia Ribera del Duero – back to a more modern style 200% new oak,didn’t catch how long
Deep ruby purple medium plus intensity on the nose with oak, spice box and black fruits, Rich intense and concentrated on the plate balanced with moderate acid and tannins with a medium plus length.

Now they are just getting bigger and bigger

2005 Aalto PS Ribera del Duero
Holy shit is this big, Deep purple/ruby. All I can say is big rich and intense black fruits.

2005 Bodegas Vina Magana Calchetas Navarra - 20 months in new French Oak
Deep Ruby/Purple Big, rich and intense as my palate is pretty much shot with tannin from the last few wines.

04’Bodegas Castillo de Perelada Finca Garbet Emporda- Costa Brava
60% Cabernet 40%Syrah
Medium deep ruby with brick edge, Big and rich with great fruit intensity and concentration.

Vall Lach Priorat carinena, merlot and cabernet sauvignon blend appears to be in the 65/25/10 range in any given year.
Did not get the vintage another big kick ass wines with tons of new oak.

We then finished with a 50 year old solera Amontillado from Gonzalez Byass that was around $150,one of the best if not the best sherry I’ve had, Later in the week we had 3 VORS Gonzalez Byass, Del Duque Amontillado and Apostales Palo Cortado amd Muy Viejo PX that gave this a run for it’s money.

Last was a Montilla-Morales PX

Then it was time for lunch TFG!!

Thanks for the notes Mark. I did not realize they could use so much Cab in Rioja or maybe that is a vestige of an older way of doing things?

Marqués de Riscal has has cabernet sauvignon vineyards since the 1860s. The greatest Marqués de Riscal wines ever, the fabled ‘Cuvée Médoc’ wines in the broad-shouldered bottle ‘à la Haut-Brion’, between the 1920s and the 1940s (1936, 1945…) had as much as 60% cabernet sauvignon in the blend… Barón de Chirel is the revival of those ‘Cuvée Médoc’, but with much less cab (it’s tolerated now, within the appellation rules, but can account for no more than 20% of a blend).

Chris, They commented that back in the 50’s there was a much larger portion of Cab in the wines and use of French oak than the wines of the 70’s and 80’s having a higher percentage of Tempranillo and French oak. Now we are seeing the reversal again back to what they were doing in the 50’s. Thr CR does not mention cabernet as grape variety today, Just tempranillo, garnacha mazuelo graciano.

PS Now I see Victor’s post but I could not find the actual grape rules listed on the CR’s site.

Chris - I think cab sauv has been in Rioja as long or longer than garnacha. I’m sure Victor will correct me if I’m wrong but back in the mid 1800s they were using cab, in part because they were adopting some technology from the French and then when the French got phylloxera, French winemakers and vines came over to Rioja. Garnacha of course is both an older grape and is native to Spain but I don’t think it was cultivated to any great extent in Rioja.

Thanks for the info guys.

Greg, I’ve heard similar stories about Bordeaux varieties in Spain being related to winemakers escpaing to Spain at that time. Usually it has been related to Cab Franc which some claimed took on the name of Mencia. I believe that was disproved but I’m not certain. Where is Carol Meredith?


Not sure if the comment “back in the 50’s there was a much larger portion of Cab” refers to Rioja in general or Marqués de Riscal wines. I do not believe in those times there was that much Cabernet Sauvignon in Rioja as a region. Nowadays there is still very little Cabernet Sauvignon in Rioja (less than 1% of all red varietals).

Cabernet Sauvignon use in Rioja is only allowed on experimental basis and could not be mentioned on the label or in the description of the wine. When it is used, the label will state “others” instead of Cabernet Sauvignon.

During my last trip to Rioja a few weeks ago one of the wineries I visited had a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that was only exported to Germany. The wine still had a Rioja DOC label but there was no mention of varietals on the back.



DNA testing has been done and the results have shown that Mencía and Cabernet Franc are not genetically related.


Thanks Jose, Since you were there a few weeks ago, Do you have any reccomendations on wineries to visit as well as restaurants. I’ll be visting for 3 nights in October staying in Lagaurdia.


Can they still plant Cabernet in Rioja or do they just tolerate the existing plantings?


I was in Rioja for two weeks this past June and I had a great time there. I have been in Rioja a few times in the past and I always enjoy my visits there.

Rioja is quite a large region and three nights do not give you that much time to explore the region. Good planning ahead will give you maximum amount of bang for your buck. I would recommend no more than three wineries per day and make sure you make appointments for the visit. Get the name of the person who will give you the tour of the winery at the time you get the appointment. Going in October could be tricky since many wineries will not take visitors during the harvest. If you do not speak Spanish make sure you state so when you set up your appointment and that way they will have someone who speaks Spanish during your visit. BTW, very few wineries in Spain open on weekends so check ahead of time for their schedule.

With that said, I will recommend you to dedicate one day of your visit to the wineries in Haro. The town of Haro is located about half hour west from Laguardia. In Haro you can visit Roda, López de Heredia, Muga, La Rioja Alta and CVNE. My recommendation is to visit the first three wineries mentioned. They are walking distance from each other and you will get a good flavor of Rioja from the most traditional, López de Heredia, to one of the most modern ones, Roda.

You can dedicate another day in the Rioja Alavesa region. Over there you can visit Remírez de Ganuza, Remelluri, Contino, Viña Real & Artadi. Remelluri’s estate is one of the most beautiful in Rioja. There is a small chapel a few centuries old and their vineyards lie on the foothills of the Sierra Cantabria mountains. Sometimes they take you on a four wheel drive up the vineyards and you can get great views of Rioja. Viña Real is probably one of the most modern wineries you will ever visit and they will probably serve you wines from their other two sister wineries CVNE and Contino.

Las Duelas in Haro is probably one of the best restaurants in the region. You can also do a great tapas crawl in Laurel street in Logroño.

Let me know if you need any other information on Rioja.


I would second what José says. Advanced reservations are now essential to the major bodegas. The first time we went there, several years ago, they were unnecessary, but now I believe López de Heredia (to take one example) books several weeks in advance, and it can be difficult sometimes to find english tours at convenient times. If you can manage in spanish you will have a lot more options.

Another interesting example is Marqués de Riscal, with their hotel/spa designed by Frank Gehry, if you are interested in architecture. (Or if you are tight on time you can skip the visit to the bodega and just see the hotel). It is in Elciego, Rioja Alavesa.

Unfortunately with most of the larger bodegas you are likely to get a large impersonal tour now (Riscal, Muga, LdH, CVNE, etc.) unless you know someone there.

I should add that both Haro and Laguardia are beautiful small towns that deserve a walk around. Of the two, Laguardia is smaller but more striking, a medieval town high up on a hill with an amazing view of the valley of Rioja.

Jose and Douglass,
Thanks for your comments.
We do not speak Spanish which may limit us. I hope my association with working for a US winery for 17 years, the Society of Wine Educators (CWE), WSET (Diploma) and being a Certified Spanish Wine Educator (The Wine Academy of Spain) will get us some more intimate tours. We always make appointments. I have a few trade contacts in Spain as well.

We will also be spending some time in Ribera del Duero. We will probably visit Neo and I have one importer working on Abadia for me. So that was why I was asking about Rioja.

My day job is in construction so I am absolutely interested in architecture. I was planning to go to Marques di Riscal (they are not taking vistors at the moment according to their website) and Ysios just for that.


Re. Marqués de Riscal, it may be that you have to take a tour of the bodega to get entrance to the hotel. (That’s how we did it). At any rate, I’m looking at their website now and there are opportunities to book a tour online or by phone.

I haven’t been inside Ysios, but walked around the outside. It is very impressive, also when viewed in the distance from the terraces surrounding Laguardia.

Ribera del Duero is significantly less touristed than Rioja; as a result visits there are usually quieter and more personal. Of course, if you have industry contacts that is always the best way to go.

I should add that visits to smaller wineries like Remírez de Ganuza are usually significantly more personal and interesting, especially if you go without contacts. You will have to call in advance, but RdG was particularly welcoming, and it was nice to meet and chat with Fernando Remírez de Ganuza out in the driveway afterwards.

I was planning to go there.