2004 López Heredia, Vina Cubillo — If you want to experience the pure essence of classic Rioja, you can’t do much better than Bodegas López Heredia. It is one of the oldest houses in this northern Spanish region, and one of the most staunchly traditional in the country. For well over a century, they have made their wines using only their own fruit, no filtration, and all natural yeasts. They make no concessions to modern technology or expediency, sometimes aging their wines 20-plus years before release (not an inexpensive task). This 2004 Vina Cubillo is a relative baby, by their standards. But it is an excellent introduction to what López Heredia is all about, showing the classic exotic tones and complexity that comes from honest, traditional winemaking. This mostly Tempranillo and Garnacha blend, (with Mazuelo and Graciano), is $22 and ready to drink now or over the next few years, with meat dishes, tapas, or charcutery. We have had the pleasure of meeting members of the López Heredia family on several occasions. They are charming and generous and, we’re delighted to know, completely committed to keeping traditional Rioja wines alive.
2009 Val de Salis, Marselan — Marselan is a relatively obscure grape developed in 1961 as a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. It didn’t really catch on at the time, but it seems to be getting more attention lately, especially in the south of France. This one is made by Val de Salis, located on the site of an ancient wetland in Languedoc. Val de Salis is unique in that they flood their vineyards at the end of each winter, an age-old practice that protects the vines from the destructive phylloxera louse. Most vines in France are grafted to American rootstock to accomplish this, but Val de Salis is able to grow their vines on their own rootstock, which they feel gives the wines more intensity and authenticity. Their Marselan shows the finesse and tannin of the Cab, and the robust and juicy spiciness of the Grenache. Pair it with juicy steak or grilled sausage, or cheese dishes. It’s a great value, at $9.50.
NV Va Piano Vineyards, Bruno’s Blend VII — This is the fourth time we’ve featured Va Piano’s Bruno’s Blend in the club, so by now you know the story. It is named for Father Bruno Segatta, who insipired winemaker Justin Wylie during his college days. The wine has always been a non-vintage, Syrah-based blend, but this year not only is the blend new (mostly Cab Sauv, with Cab Franc and just 5% Syrah), it is also all 2008 fruit (though they kept the non-vintage designation). And we think it is just about the best Bruno’s yet. We tasted it just after bottling and already it was beautifully balanced, full of flavor, yet soft and approachable. Justin made only about 900 cases and it is $19.75 (down from the $23 it has usually been in the past). As always, a portion of the proceeds go to a charity of Father Bruno’s choice.
2008 Château d’Epiré, Savennières – The Savennières appellation is located in the Anjou region of the Loire, and Château d’Epiré is one of its oldest and most respected wineries, with 11 hectares of predominately schist soil planted to Chenin Blanc. Chenin grown on limestone (as in Vouvray) is superb. But when it is grown on schist it achieves amazing substance and minerality. This 2008 Chenin has a beautiful texture and aromatics which it gets from six month aging on its lies, plus full malolactic fermentation. It is $22 and lovely now, as an aperitif, or with canapés, oysters, veal ragout, or goat cheese.
2009 Boekenhoutskloof, Wolftrap White — The Wolftrap red has long been popular in our under-$10 bins. It is a big, dark, smoky wine, so we didn’t know what to expect when we recently learned that they make a white blend as well. And we were blown away when we tasted this soft, pretty, southern Rhône-inspired blend of Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Grenache Blanc. From South Africa’s Boekenhoutskloof winery, it was a huge hit at our “value wine” tasting in January: spicy and aromatic, with graceful texture and balanced acidity. Best of all, it’s only $9.75 and easy to enjoy any time. Try it with Chinese food.
2007 Clos Bagatelle, Donnadieu, Cuvée Camille & Juliette — The Côteaux du Languedoc, in southern France, is a large and varied appellation, from which we see lots of great wines and some excellent values. It is also home to three crus, or subappellations, which are allowed to put that name on the label. One of these is St.-Chinian, the most westerly of the crus, with a history dating back to the 9th century. And one of the more respected estates here is Clos Bagatelle, which has been in the Simon family since 1623. Today, siblings Luc and Christine Simon produce the wines, including this tasty blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan. Named after Luc’s daughters, Camille et Juliette, it is softly spicy, with herbal aromas, and a gentle rustic quality. It is $18 and great now, with lamb stew, duck, or cassoulet.