French & Spanish Wine Reviews

Posted by Keith Wallace

Spanish Wine Reviews

Anecoop Casa L’Angel Old Vines, Valencia (SP)

This bottle smells like a pirate ship: aromas of ocean air, old wood, and gun smoke. It’s another story for the palate, which goes toward fennel, toast, and blueberry preserves—a very nice bottle with a finish that goes toward a smoked savory quality. The tannins are nicely structured but not imposing.

This wine is mostly Tempranillo from the  Finca Traver vineyard, with about 15% Cabernet Sauvignon from the nearby Finca El Poblet vineyard. These vineyards occupy a sweet spot for wine growing in Valencia. They are nearly a mile above sea level in dry sandy soil. Winemaking is pretty standard, with the wines aged for a year in seasoned French oak.

Anecoop is one of the largest agricultural cooperatives in Spain, known mostly for wholesale fruit and grain. This is not the type of company that usually makes fine wine. In fact, such companies often make terrible incubators for winemaking. Sadly, I know this from personal experience.`

That is not the case here, however.  Anecoop diversified into wine in 1986 and instituted a Chinese wall around the winemaking operations, allowing winemakers to manage most division elements. That has kept quality levels high, and Anecoop is now strongly represented in two important wine regions,  Valencia and Navarre.

Bodegas Abanico “Eternum Viti” Toro(SP)

Deeply hued wine with aromas of allspice, star anise, burning flowers, and dark fruit. On the palate, the dark fruit pushes forward with velvet texture into lush fruits, both red and exotic. Flavors of burnt chocolate and liquid cherry keep the party going as the smooth, but impressive tannins turn fragrant in a finish of earl grey and jasmine.

A stellar bottle from Toro, a wine region just west of Ribera del Duero. Sourced from 60 to 130-year-old Tempranillo vines.

Abanico is a relatively new winery founded in 2006 by  Nuria Altes and Rafael De Haan. The story is unique and a great example of how the modern wine trade works (and how individuals can create something special outside the usual channels).

Nuria was the export manager for Celler Batea in Terra Alta when she met and Rafael in 2005. He had just opened his own wine import company, Exportiberia, and began importing her wines into England.  From that chance meeting, they became partners and founded Abanico, which now (2015) produces wine from a half dozen wine regions in Spain and a few from South America.

Their competitive advantage was simple: they knew a lot of great wine wasn’t being exported. Instead, it was being blended with lesser wines to be sold as inexpensive wine locally.  Neither of them was a winemaker (Nuria earned a certificate from a school similar in scope to the Wine School of Philadelphia), but both had worked in the wine trade for about five years and knew the export markets. They didn’t have their own winemaker or vineyards or staff. They had working knowledge, and that is sometimes the best advantage in the wine trade.

Altavins “Domus Pensi” Terra Alta (SP)

The aroma is complex and delightful; A touch of curry leaf, cardamon, and smoked licorice are infused into rich dark fruit.  On the palate, this wine opens into silken mocha and ripe plums that evolve into blackberries as the acid moves into the front. In the finish, well-integrated tannins coax out notes of tea leaf and cinnamon. Aged for 18 months in old French oak barrels.

Altavins is a winery similar to  Bodegas Abanico (there are only two people involved) and the very opposite (it’s a purely local and hands-on affair). This winery is no bigger than the average American garage, and pretty much everything is done by two-man, winemaker  Joan Bautista Arrufi I Pieg and enologist Jordi Casado.  They don’t hire seasonal workers, either, so that means they harvest the grapes and run the bottling line, too.

Their vineyards are located in two villages in Terra Alta, Batea and Gandesa. The vines are, on average, 30 years old clones of Grenache called Garnacha Peluda (also called Hairy Grenache, which would also be a great band name). There is a bit of old Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon planted, as well.

French Wine Reviews

La Celestiere Cotes du Rhone

This is not the typical Cotes du Rhone bottling, largely do the large addition of Cinsault. On the nose, this comes off as a blueberry-herb smoothy. Sweet and ripe dark fruit mingle with smokey tarragon and fennel on the nose. Flavors of beef jerky and tobacco turn up the volume simultaneously that fresh cherry and plum flavors drop in. I want this bottle with a charcoal-grilled steak with a side of creamed spinach.

La Celestiere’s wines are both brilliant and expensive. They also make this lovely and inexpensive bottle from a tiny 3-hectare vineyard they own in the Cotes du Rhone outside Chateauneuf du Pape.  The vineyard is comprised of Grenache and Cinsault,  with vines on average of a half-century old.

Driving west on the Route de Roquemaure, past the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is the beautiful and modern winery La Celestiere. Only a few years ago, this wasn’t the case. This winery was  Domaine de la Glaciere, a quaint if somewhat rundown Châteauneuf-du-Pape property owned by Rémy Diffonty of Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches.

In 2008, the winery was purchased by Noel and Beatrice Joyce, the owner/winemaking team of the critically acclaimed Chateau Dalmeran in Provence.  They extensively renovated the property and now make 4 bottlings of Chateauneuf du Pape from their 10 hectares of vineyards in CDP.

Cave de Rasteau “Dame Victoria” Rasteau

Cave de Rasteau 2012 Dame Victoria Rasteau

Remember IHOP boysenberry syrup, then get ready to wax nostalgic. From the first whiff to the finish, this is all about the fruit. There are other elements here, as well. Crushed wildflower and Asian spices with a whiff of a burnt tree.  An excellent value.

Established in 1925, Cave des Vignerons de Rasteau is one of the oldest cooperative wineries in France. It’s a high-quality co-op with nearly 200 growers. However, there has been a bit of confusion in the marketplace over this winery, though. It goes by both Cave des Vignerons de Rasteau  and Cave des Rateau. That isn’t too big a deal. However, since 2006, some of its wines go by the trademark ORTAS, and some used to go by the name Domaine de Pisan (they kept the vineyards and sold the name).

This bottle is not under the ORTAS label (which is great) but the Cave de Rasteau label, even though the name of the wine is Dame Victoria in big 36-point type on the label.  Rasteau deserves more attention in the marketplace (it’s positioned between Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas), but confusion about whose making the wine is hurting its appeal in the U.S. market.

Vignerons de Caractere “Roque Colombe” Chateauneuf du Pape (FR)

A stylish CdP with aromas that veer toward sage leaf and rose stems. On the palate, a silken texture with molten licorice and crushed berries notes. Asian spices linger on the finish with a whiff of cigar box.

One of the most reviewed wine producers here at the Wine School. That fact is they keep importing large quantities of Vignerons de Caractere wines and keep pricing them below-market prices.  What can I say? They make classical regionally correct wines without too much fanfare.

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