Best is Best: A reflection on 2011’s best wines.

california wine, colorado wine, french wine, Lopez de Heredia

Every year, I am amazed at the wealth of new wines that find their way to the market. It opens my eyes to the potential of so many regions and varietals. This past year, so many wines made an impression on me. Some, new vintages of old friends. Others, brand new kids on the block making their way into my radar. What follows is what I feel were the best of their category (in my ever so humble opinion). They are the ones that stick out above the rest in 2011. (I have kept a somewhat realistic price point in mind, as I am honestly more impressed by lesser expensive wines that over deliver… It’s more of a challenge to be best when you are under $50+ per bottle.)

Best Overall: 1990 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia Gran Reserva ($175)–I mean, come on. Give me any wine in the world right now within reason, this is the one I will want to drink this one. Why? This winery always manages to beat everyone else, for it has the power to transfer you to another place and time. Wine is no longer made like this anymore. Like time stopped in 1889, these wines are haunting, saddled with stories, mysteries and family legend. They have a most unusual, identifiable aroma to them. I am at once nostalgic for what I cannot articulate. Sensational and moving, these wines evade a clear definition. They are the most memorable I have ever experienced. These wines, in fact, are an experience in themselves. I guess that’s the definition.

Best Old World Red: 2003 i Clivi Merlot ($26)–If this doesn’t redeem the ever-fallen Merlot varietal, I don’t know what will. I craved this wine often this year with a variety of foods, as it went perfectly with game, duck, rustic casseroles, pot roast, or simple cheese plates. Ripe, concentrated red fruits, spice and a respectful nod to the great wines of the right bank of Bordeaux, this Friulian find has been in the front line of recommendations for me. Rustic and wholesome, an uncompromising wine in its focused agenda to please yet be taken seriously.

Best New World Red: 2007 Bonny Doon Cigare Volant ($35)–A tired choice to some? Perhaps. But in all seriousness, trying it again this year a couple of times reminded me that it is truly an outstanding wine in so many ways. Incredibly complex for the price and indicating that bottle age will only unravel more facets, this Rhone blend is an outstanding wine from one of our country’s most gifted vintners.

Best Old World White: 2010 Patrick Piuze Petit Chablis ($21)An absolute rockstar to keep an eye on, Piuze is like the soil whisperer. He has a way to take a region that already enjoys fame for its minerality and take it to an ever more pronounced level in his wines. No better way to prove it than with his entry level Petit– a region that is greatly overlooked for its lesser glorified Portlandian soil, he manages to give it an admirable face lift.

Best New World White: 2008 Pyramid Valley Vineyards Riverbrooke Riesling ($29)–I seldom bring in New Zealand Riesling, let alone higher end selections. They are a hard sell. This one had to, though. It is hard to put into words. I don’t worry that it might sit. It will only get better with time.

Best Champagne: 2002 Gaston Chiquet Special Club ($72)-How people can drop $175 for Dom when a 1er Cru Vintage can be had for more than half the price less is beyond me. A simply superb buy from a true farmer, from the vine to the bottle.

Best Bubbles: Camille Braun Cremant d’Alsace Rose ($25)– A remarkable new addition to the Denver market, this rose has provoked more of a response from my customers (and myself) than any bubbly ever has. It is stunning. Near flawless. Only 300 cases made. And that is evident on the palate.

Most Eccentric: 2008 Penalba Cruz Bianco of Tempranillo/Sauvignon Blanc ($21)–An incredibly intriguing wine, for they remove skins from the red Tempranillo grape, blend it with Sauv Blanc then leave it in barrel to become a most unusual, profound substance. Delightfully rich and multidimensional.

Best Value: 2008 Chateau Valcombe Cote du Ventoux ($15)–An old favorite, this red has the rusticity of the Rhone with the finesse of Burgundy. Delicate layers and hidden aromatics will have you sniffing for hours.

Most Surprising Gem: 2004 Crooked Creek Meritage ($13)–Wow. Blindfold me, and I was guessing a well made, mid-priced ($25ish?) aged Cab from California, only to find it had a fair amount of Cab Franc from where else but Creede Colorado! Outstanding little blend.

Best Conversation Starter: 2008 Casalone Freisa ($17)–A winery that has been elevating every varietal in Piemonte other than Nebbiolo since the 1700s, including the rare Freisa grape. A light froth on this purple liquid might have you thinking sweet lambrusco, but you will find a savory sensation that is dying for cured meats and cheese to really shine.

Best Weekly Standby: 2008 Damiano Ciolli Silene Cesanese ($20)–Anyone who had me to dinner this year has probably tried this fascinating varietal from just outside Rome in the region of Lazio. This grower is bringing Cesanese back and showing everyone that it can be extremely complex. I cannot get enough.

Best Label Design: Lini 910 Lambrusco Bianco ($17)–If this were a place, it would be Williamsburg. Hip and edgy, it is pushing the envelope by refusing to be confined to a predictable definition. Dry, crisp, white and complex, this bubbly will have you scratching your head if you ever beheld Reunite.

Best Book on Wine: Reading Between the wines by Terry Theise ($20)–It doesn’t even take a wine lover to slip into this memoir. Terry Theise is a lover of language and his ability to arrange it in beautiful shapes is both refreshing and inspiring. A different way to consider wine.

Best Wine List in Town: Table 6–Best is Best. Whether I recommend them all the time or not. Come on Denver. Give them some competition. Bigger is not better. It’s the thoughtfulness that counts.

Best Night Cap: Vajra Chinato ($80)–An old recipe from Piemonte, it isn’t difficult to imagine this was an apothecary liquid to cure winter born illness. Christmas spices will warm you from the base of your body on up to your brain. A soothing voice manifests itself in this Barolo kissed digestif.

Best Aperitif: Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth ($35)– On one massive rock with a twist of orange, and you just might start to hear an old jazz standard playing in the background of each sip.

Best of the Eco-Friendly: 2009 Nikolaihof ‘Hefeabzug’ Gruner Veltliner ($24)–2010 still a little too jazzed. This vintage is drinking perfectly from the oldest estate in Europe, first to be Demeter biodynamic certified.

Best of the Boxes: Caves de Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet ($22)–This is just one of those gems I will never tire of, as it proves that a wine need not be pricey to impress an entire room of novices and know-it-alls alike. Fresh, zippy and playful.

Love, New York and a one night stand.

food pairing, Lopez de Heredia, NYC, Spanish Wine, Wine Blog

Anyone who knows me, knows I like to kid about how Sutter Home White Zin was the wine that started this great love affair. But it’s not really true. No, White Zin–along with just about every other wine I indiscriminately placed in the cart– was just that wine I had late night rendezvous with, the one that looked ‘good enough’ when my beer goggles were fully in place. The cheap, available vino that made me feel temporarily good (if I plugged my nose) and absolutely awful the next day. It was just something that tasted better than beer and liquor, to be honest.

It wasn’t until I was well into undergrad, maybe twenty years old, that it was less about getting loaded with my friends (a very brief phase thankfully) and more about appreciating wine itself. And as I got more into cooking, wine pairing naturally became a great hobby. I met a few wines with great personalities, but seldom went out with the same one twice. I was a player. I wanted to know them all! It seemed silly to grab the same wine when there were thousands out there. I still feel this way. I had never taken a formal wine class, but I would pore over the labels, note which I liked more than others and flip through a Speculator if I was at a magazine rack. It was just so much information. Navigation was daunting. How does one ever really get into this?

Then one evening, in our teeny apartment for four (I literally slept in the closetless family room for a year and a half…for $1k a month), we crammed about twenty people inside to listen to our friend discuss Spanish wines. He worked a Sherry-Lehmann, a well respected shop in the city. I could scarcely follow his instruction, but I could tell I was way more interested than the other twenty-somethings. As they slugged down their garnachas and albarinos, I struggled to fight the urge to grab my notebook. I sipped slowly, so as to really understand the nuances he described. And for the first time, it honestly made a little bit of sense. The subregions, soils and styles were just a lot to take in all at once. The wines became a blur, and the night took on the jovial, antique hue of a lifelong memory.

It was this night that I was introduced to Lopez de Heredia–the whites and reds, various vintages and vineyards. I had absolutely no clue what I was sipping. It was unlike anything I had ever had. I was not familiar with aged wines, let alone one that was simply dripping with terroir and history. I was enamored… It was the first wine that proved my one night stand theory for wine wrong, for it became true love for life. I have enjoyed Lopez many times since then. Those wines may be the reason I fell so hard for this career in the first place. Wine is so mysterious, so enchanting and so utterly dynamic in its geographical versatility, personality and overall capacity for prose.

So what is the point, anyhow? The topic of true love from a one night stand is very relevant for me as I board this plane to New York City for the weekend to celebrate two dear friends as they embark on that fabulously challenging journey called Marriage. I lived with one, I worked with the other. I introduced the two one hazy pub crawl kind of a night. The next day, he was making coffee in my kitchen. I smiled politely, went back to bed and proceeded to text my friend: wtf? Several months later, they shacked up. About a year later, they were engaged. And now, I get to witness one of the more curious miracles ever: how the one night stand became a vow for lifelong love.

This weekend is particularly special to me, as I return to the City that parallel miracles have happened for me. It was the scene of my first love: New York City itself. I had never stepped foot on NYC until I moved there. It was the place that brought me to my first sip of Lopez, still my favorite wines in the world. It was here that I had my first date with Jonathan… two years ago, hand in hand and all smiles as we bopped around the Village (I know what you’re thinking…and no, don’t draw TOO many parallels. Dirty minds. Shame…). It was here I shrugged so much of my girlish naivety, shed some tears but ultimately crafted my adult sensibilities and armour.

I am returning to a place so familiar. A place that is so inextricably linked to my person. I am returning to me for a few days. The place where I got to know her best. And luckily, a place that let me take the important parts of her with me when I left.

Tasting a memory: a night with Lopez.

Lopez de Heredia, Spanish Wine

Have you ever actually felt the mechanics of a memory in the making?  Like a photograph mid-click, you can already sense that this is one you will want to keep in your wallet and return to for decades to come.  I am quite certain that these moments hold so much weight, because they are, quite literally, one of life’s rare instances when all the senses are saturated.  To see, hear, smell, touch, and taste so intensely—so much so that each sense falls into the next— is indescribably profound.

Such was the other night.  The night for Lopez.

Lopez de Heredia wines are, undoubtedly, my favorite wines from Spain.  As I have prattled on about in previous posts, this family-run estate has been playing with grapes since the 1870’s, when everyone was leaving phylloxera-infested Bordeaux in favor of growing some roots next door.  From then until now, little has changed about how Lopez makes their wine.  They craft their own barrels in their cooperage, store their wines for what seems like an ungodly amount of time, at which point they release them to the public when they feel they are truly ready to meet…to socialize with peoples’ palates, so to speak.

Most wineries do no have the luxury of time.  They must move their wine and make money.  As a result, the choice to age a bottle falls on the consumer.  And let’s face it.  Most of us are too impatient for such self-discipline and patience.

That’s why I love Lopez wines.  They get it.  They don’t take for granted their ability to age wines until they are ready for the public.  For them, it preserves the integrity of the wine—the integrity of the sale.

Last night, my lips were introduced to the oldest wines yet: the 1947 Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva, 1974 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Red, and the 1957 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva White (amongst other geeky wines that are whole blogs unto themselves: 1988 Salon, 2000 Cantemerle, and the 1994 Eysler Huxelrebe Beerenauslese to name a few).

The ’47 Viña Bosconia, was by far the most shocking.  It was remarkably youthful—in color, smell, and flavor.  Around the room, whimpers of half-belief stared at the liquid, searching for an explanation, as though written on the rim. “Oh my God,” one person murmured, “It’s still a teen.”

Damp, mossy earth, a patch of wild mushrooms, were the first to say hello, followed by softer, sweeter notes of sweet cherry and pie spice.  As air worked its way in over the hour, allowing cocoa dust to have its say.  The palate was generous, full, and…so young!  I can’t say this wine has even seen its peak yet.  Incredible to think this sixty-three year old wine will easily live longer than most human beings, likely into its hundreds were what most of us predicted.

The ’47 Viña Tondonia, though from the same year and their best vineyard, did not seem quite as resilient as its neighbor Bosconia, who lives just a bit higher up on the land, and whom, coincidentally, does not regularly profit from the River Ebro that the flagship Tondonia vineyard borders upon.   The ’47 Tondonia was quite hazy and lighter in color than the impossibly rich Bosconia.  In terms of grapes, this one saw a bit more Garnacha, a little less Tempranillo, and a touch more Graciano.  I am no chemist.  But I can observe along with you.  The acid seemed a little waning comparatively as well.  But the minerals… well, it won there.  It blew a sea breeze saltiness to the nose that inspired salivation in a way the physical acid failed to produce.

Whether back vintages or new, someone remarked that I was consistent in my comparisons of the two vineyards.  While most people find the Bosconia fuller and fleshier, those I tasted with did not.  I disagreed.  So I suppose in going against the grain, I was actually taking a stand for popular opinion, ironically…  I found the Bosconia deep, spicy, powerful but still elegant—like a hearty Gevry-Chambertain.  The Tondonia, on the other hand, I perceived as more focused, leaner, less fruity, and marked with more minerality—perhaps like a Graves Rouge, to extend the metaphor.  The framework seemed more raw… more skeletal but sturdy.  We all agreed ‘bigger’ was a slippery term with wine.  More structure versus more body and fruit both fall under ‘big’ wine characteristics.  So I suppose they both are ‘big’ in different ways.

And finally, the one I lost my heart to that night: the 1957 Viña Tondonia white.  I held the glass with so much apprehension.  I could not bring my nose to the rim for minutes.  I just sat and swirled, gazing at the beautiful golden hue.  Mid-swirl, a fellow taster stole my attention.  Within seconds, I habitually raised the rim to my nose.  Shocked, I stopped what I was saying, and put the glass down on the table with a wide-eyed expression on my face.  What was that?  When the frozen look began to melt, I actually gave out a nervous giggle.  I was instantly self-conscious, for I was clearly geeking out.  Once I restored myself, I courageously grabbed the glass, gave it another swirl, and took it in for real this time.

My eyes got a bit misty.  Fine.  A little more than misty.  But I didn’t full-on weep.

I know.  It’s embarrassing to admit.  I wanted to be alone.  I turned bright red.  Please no one look at me, I thought, fearing paranoia might taint the wine.  But I couldn’t help it.  I felt a temporary loss of air.  It was, quite simply, the best thing I had ever smelled in my life.  Every sense—sight, sound, touch, taste, smell—was intoxicated with perfection for a moment.

Wines like this are difficult to describe.  But it was something like this from my notes: honeyed citrus (like Tokaji), marmalade on palate, a kind of saline minerality, a golden tea-like color, brown sugar aromas, the finish lasted minutes.  Paired with a cave-aged gruyere, I nearly stopped breathing altogether.  Everything I had just smelled and tasted became louder with a bite of this semi-soft cheese.

But all silly scribblings aside, this wine was spellbinding.  It was the best white wine I have every consumed.  Not only for the wine itself, but the history, the winery, the company with which it was shared.  It was truly special.

And so, there I was tonight, frozen with nine others, swallowing history, sipping on some stupid good wine, and saying ‘cheese’ to the camera of my mind.

inexpensive wine that is worth it.

Lopez de Heredia, Wine Blog

Wines with personality. Is that too much to ask for these days? It can be if you expect to leave your local wine shop spending less than $10. It’s not so much that one cannot unearth quaffable table wines that will make do for the evening at that price, but if you want it to be more than just another flavored beverage, unfortunately, you have to lay down just a few more dollars.

The good news? There are several wines under $25 that are not only interesting, but they contain character and complexity that is astounding for the price. They deliver so much more than the dollars drawn on their tags might indicate. It’s not easy, in this economy, to bring home a Grand Cru Bordeaux or Burgundy, but with a little bit of insight, you can still enjoy incredible wines that have integrity and purpose everyday of the week.

People continuously ask me what I recommend.  Here are a few of my favorites.  It’s rather lengthy, so I suggest scrolling through the selections and reading up on the ones that seem to call your name…

2007 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling ($22.99) Poetry in a bottle, as Robert Louis Stevenson might say. A well-made, elegant Riesling is like that, such as this selection from Selbach-Oster. Pulled from Grand Cru vineyards, these grapes come to articulate the essence of the Mosel. Without reserve, this well-balanced white blossoms with rich notes of ripened apples, vanilla, and above all else magnanimous mineral depth that discloses the slatey soils of this region. Seamless and sophisticated. Classic and consistent. A gem. Not to mention, Riesling is one of the most versatile food pairing wines.

2007 Joseph Drouhin Saint Veran ($15.99) Corton-Charlemagne may be the wine you are craving, but having it on the table every night is hardly a reality. Instead, reach for this Chardonnay from the Maconnais subregion of Burgundy. For the price, it never fails to deliver that Burgundy itch you are seeking to scratch, even if only for temporary relief until you can climb the crus. Light lemon notes, wet stones, and white flowers greet the nose and are confirmed on the palate. Wonderful with crab, mussels, and shrimp.

2007 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny ($14.99) Beginning on the eastern edge of Touraine, this quaint little Loire appellation of Cheverny is not far from the popular Sancerre region. Cheverny, however, offers flinty, mineral-driven whites at a fraction of Sancerre’s prices! Continually recognized for their consistency and great value, the Delailles have been growing grapes at Domaine du Salvard for over 100 years using sustainable practices. This blend of Sauvignon Blanc (85%) and Chardonnay (15%) sees no oak, so the fruit and minerals are very pronounced on the palate. Some time spent on its lees gives it additional structure in the mouth. A fantastic wine to enjoy with appetizers, poultry, and seafood.

2007 Sineann Gewurztraminer ($17.99) Hands down one of the finest domestic Gewurztraminers on the market today. Enticing stone fruits, lychee nut and flowers embrace the nose. It lays fairly heavy on the tongue with rich flavors of tropical fruit and subtle minerality. Fully appreciated with exotic spiced dishes, such as Thai green curry soup and cilantro-kissed Pad Thai, as well as sautéed foie gras, pork tenderloin, and mild cheeses.

2007 Chehalem Pinot Gris ($17.99) Simply divine. This Pinot Gris from Oregon plays a tune that sounds of Alsace, France, displaying rich notes of ripened pears and honeysuckle that are careful not to play over the soft mineral utterances. This grape excels in Oregon and is fast becoming a favorite on many tables. Stunning with butternut squash dishes, risottos, white fish, and muenster cheese.

2008 Bieler Pere et Fils Rose ($10.99) A classic Provencial blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault, this delightful sipper is laced with delicate strawberry aromas, lavender, and citrus. This rose also demonstrates decent acidity, making it ideal for pairing with spicy Thai cuisine, pesto dishes, and garden fresh salads.

2006 Domaine des Tours ($18.99) If what you seek is old world, look no further. This wine is exceptional. It is possibly the best value on the market! You actually feel fortunate with every sip that there is a red with such character and depth at this price. Dirt, mineral, dried cherries, and lavender are just the beginning. Dried flowers, herbs, cranberries, garrigue and smoke unravel thereafter. From the Reynaud family who handles such estates as Fonsalette and Chateau Rayas, this blend from Vaucluse tells the story of history, family, and the Rhone Valley. It forces you to slow down and think. Truly exquisite.

2002 Lopez de Heredia ($26.99) There is a reason some of the greatest wine writers, critics, and enthusiasts have fallen in love with this winery specifically. There, quite literally, is nothing like it in Rioja anymore. Modern winemaking techniques have supplanted much of how wine in Rioja used to be made. Lopez is unique, because little to nothing has changed since it was found in the late 1800’s. They still run their own cooperage, handcrafting all the barrels that are used to age their wines from American oak from the Appalachians. They also age the wines for you. They decide when it is time for consumption. This 2002 is a current release from their Cubillo vineyard—one of four Lopez vineyards. This clayish-limestone land sees Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo, and a little Graciano in the way of grapes. It exhibits age and wisdom, you may compare to older Bordeaux, along with dried cherry fruit, well-woven spices, and a dusty quality. It has a wise voice with thoughtful inflections. It is extremely smooth and can be consumed with a variety of cured meats, cheeses, and tapas.

2006 Barrel 27 Syrah ($18.99) Founded on friendship and hard work, this is a winery that realizes the importance of wine’s role in quality of life. They believe in the value of a hard-earned dollar and therefore strive to make the best wine they can at the most affordable price possible. This is an incredible expression of Central Coast California Syrah. Full-bodied and laden with layers of smoked game, dark forest fruit, leather, and cocoa, this red manages to be gregarious but not over-the-top. It is dynamic yet controlled. One of the best values out of California today. Enjoy with grilled meats, lamb, and cheese.

2007 Perez Cruz Cab ($12.99) This is Cab that puts Chilean wine on the map in a very serious way. Beyond the steady scent of dark cherries, blackberries, tea, vanilla and dried fruit there is a distinct component that establishes what a Maipo terroir might be–a peaty aroma almost. It is not overdone, though. It is intriguing, reflective, and warm in character. For Pablo Perez Zenarto, one of Chile’s leading winemakers, quality takes uncompromising precedent, therefore all vineyards see low yields, each grape is hand-picked, and the careful process of crushing is crucially meticulous. If you are curious to see the potential of Chilean wine, the direction and depth they can and have achieved, you must get to know Perez Cruz.

2007 Padrillos Malbec ($13.99) Best bang for your buck from this much-loved Argntinean varietal! It wears a dazzling, dark purplish hue in the glass and open up strong with a melody of rich, raspberry jam, dried violets, and blackberries. As opposed to some Malbecs that just fall apart on the palate with lush extravagance, this red is more focused and forthright. It has an enticing edge, a serious grip that begs for bigger meat and aged cheese. The finish, though, is soft and comfortable, persistently pulsating with soft, singing flavors.

2007 Poppy Pinot Noir ($14.99) Since Sideways, it is getting more difficult to come by affordable Pinots. Poppy is the exception to the rule. Sourced from some of the best regions in California for Pinot, Poppy delivers the desired notes of cherry, plum, tea leaves, clove, and even a touch of minerality. The Monterey Wine Company clearly believes that great wine does not need to be reserved for special occasions. High quality wine has a place on your table any day of the week.

geeking out.

california wine, French Wine Travel, Lopez de Heredia

Anyone who is truly passionate about wine can identify with the titillating effects of spending an evening with other like-minded cork dorks. To gather round, share a meal, and analyze wines of character—well, there are few other pastimes that get me so giddy. It’s unexplainable, that feeling when everyone is on the same passionate page.

The other night happened to be one of those evenings. A few of my wine geek friends and I gathered, each happily holding our bottle to share.

We began by enjoying a caprese salad made with fresh basil from the garden along with the 2007 Domaine Tempier from Bandol. This may sound a bit familiar from a previous posting entitled: ‘La la la la Lulu: rose that makes you think.” The Californian 2007 Bedrock ‘Ode to Lulu’ Rose was created with 120 year old Mourvedre vines in honour of Lucien Payraud, pioneer of Bandol and creator of Domaine Tempier wines. As soon as I put my nose to the glass, a little rush of excitement filled me: this was quintessential southern France. I hadn’t really had a French rose since my return, and I immediately was back on the Mediterranean.

Once I got past the bittersweet tug of newly formed nostalgia, I took care to note the delicate herbs and strawberries that lined my nostrils. There was a candied quality to it tempting me to take a sip, which I did. “So this is what $40 rose tastes like?” I thought. Was it worth it? All things considered, yes. My expectations were met. As I have always been adamant about, this is not just another rose. This is part and parcel of an entire history of the Bandol winemaking region. This is from a family who believed in Southern France and its capacity for world class, age-worthy wine. This rose is serious, showing textural nuances on the palate and demonstrating considerable complexity. Above all, it makes you think. If you are unconvinced that rose can play with the big boys, this is an impressive pink that might change your mind.

We then opened a 2004 Peter Jakob Kuhn ‘Quartzit’ Trocken. This dry German Riesling from one of the most esteemed producers in the Rheingau was ageing beautifully. Kuhn must have a sense of humour, for knowing that he would undoubtedly create a wine with utmost sophistication, he sealed the bottle with a metal crown beer cap. After popping it off with a chuckle, a golden yellow hue greeted us. We took a sniff and started to smile. It wasn’t botrytis (also known as ‘noble rot’), but it was a complex honeyed or petrol quality that signaled late harvest, though this was merely a trocken style Riesling (12.5% alc by vol). Actually, it was more like honeycomb, for there was a grittiness to it, reminiscent of a rind as well as notes of quince, tangerine, and flowers. As it opened a bit more, some dried herbs came through. For $28, we all felt extremely fortunate to have found such magnanimous personality in this well-made Riesling.

As we began dinner—a spread of mussels, grouper, seasoned rice, grilled asparagus and radicchio—we enjoyed a 2006 Feudi della Medusa ‘Albithia’ made from the Vermentino varietal. Truth? This wine ticked me off. I loved it, but it frustrated me. This a wine that can send you into a frenzy if you work too hard to pin it down. It resists all words of confinement. By the time you walk away from this wine, after much contemplation, you can only really determine that it has incredible minerality, well-stated acidity, a respectable mouthfeel, and remarkable balance. It sees 100% steel, but still, crisp apple and floral components only faintly come through. We were all really excited about the austerity in this $15 find.

We moved onto reds, beginning with one of my favorites: the 2006 Domaine des Tours. This is one of the more inexpensive wines you can find from the Reynaud family, who also handles such estates as Fonsalette and Chateau Rayas. I continually tell people this is possibly the best wine I have ever consumed under $20. Every year for several, I have held that opinion. It is consistently phenomenal for the dollar and unlike anything I have ever had within and without the Rhone. This blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Merlot, Cunoise, and Dious has synthesized beautifully, giving off a range of aromas from dried flowers and cranberries to cloves and garrigue (or dried leaves). On the palate, the scent is confirmed and it feels closest to Pinot Noir or possibly Beaujolais in texture. I can’t say enough about this wine. It’s incredible. Everything from the Reynaud estates are first rate, but this little red from Vaucluse is unmatchable in terms of quality for the money.

We then brought out the decanter, in which a 1998 Clos du Mont-Olivet Chateauneuf du Pape had been resting for a couple hours. As some may already know, 1998 was a fantastic year for this region. The weather was warm, and well-spaced rainfall ensured that both Grenache and Syrah—Rhone’s leading red varietals—experienced optimal ripening conditions. It showed in the wine. The nose revealed a desirable aged aroma—a raisiny smell held down by dark cherries. The palate erupted with spices from nutmeg to oregano, cloves to lavender. I think it is drinking superbly right now and probably has another year or two in this state of mind before it begins to change its personality once again.

Finally, what’s a night without some Lopez? We ended the night by sharing a 2000 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Rojo from Rioja. Not surprisingly, this traditional-style Spanish red spoke in a familiar tone, displaying deep, thoughtful fruit, well-woven spices, and a kind of depth that takes you back to the 19th century. This current release proves, once again, there is no Spanish winemaker quite like Lopez. Seriously. You must try these wines if you haven’t already.

A couple cups of coffee later, the geek squad dissipated. Off we were to revisit our journals, considering the places we just visited and the years we time-travelled to, all the while pondering which bottle we might bring to the next nerdy gathering of wine lovers.

1998 rosé?

Lopez de Heredia, Spanish Wine

Is that even possible?

Oh, yes it is.

Thankfully, there is a winery like R. Lopez de Heredia in Rioja, Spain to deliver such a rare, provoking possibility.  Before today, I had only tasted the reds and whites from the Lopez line, which are divine to say the least.  But this legendary rosé, composed of Tempranillo (30%), Garnacho (60%), and Viura (10%), was what I had been after since day one.  Even Asimov is smitten with the impossible harmony that is to be found in this pale piece of paradise.

To be honest, though, what has driven my curiosity the most is my incurable weakness for paradox.

Rosés, as a rule of thumb, are typically meant to be consumed young and fresh.  They embody that stage just before loss of innocence, as they dance to a tune that hasn’t quite assumed a tone of melancholic irony just yet.  They are fun, simple, and easy-going.

Not the Lopez Rosé.

For one thing, this rosé isn’t fresh off the bloom.  It doesn’t wear a true pink hue.  Rather it slips on a gown that appears antique, a rusty salmon shade that harkens twilight.  Take one sniff and you are summoned to concentrate if you care to get to know this alluring liquid.  There is the distinct outline of oxidation but an interior that seems to melt into minerals and sherry-like qualities.  On the palate, this wine will excite you with its sturdy acidity, it will woo you with its complex unraveling of flavors.  You may catch some citrus (orange?), a touch of the tropical, a meandering of mineral…but don’t get too hung up on the flavor profiling.  You are tasting a lost art.

When Don Rafael  Lopez de Heredia came to Rioja during the French phylloxera outbreak, in the middle of the 19th century, he was meant to stay.  He fell in love with the region and became one of the three houses who first established wine in Rioja around 1877.  One hundred-thirty-two years later, Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia has taken over as winemaker and continues to produce wine that reflects the passion and love that originally attracted her family to the vineyards.  They remain traditional in style, which Maria explains, “We mention tradition, not as an idea meaning immobility, opposition to chance, but as a dynamic and aesthetic concept in maintaining principles and criteria that remain eternal.”

This rosé is a product of that philosophy.  Aged for four and a half years (racked twice a year) in barrels that are crafted in their very own coopery, this rosé evolves into something that is highly complicated and distinctive.  This is the only Gran Reserva Rosé in the world.  It is a rare gem.  It is enlightening.

Whether you are a rosé fan or not, this is one you simply must experience.