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Faustino VII Rioja 2005 with whole wheat pasta
This lively red from Rioja, Spain, 50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnacha, is a light red color with intensely fruity aromas and vanilla, and velvety cherry flavors and smooth slightly spicy finish. Again, this wine is very fruit forward but so smooth and light, an excellent food wine. I paired it with whole wheat pasta, steamed broccoli, prosciutto and (toasted) pignoli nuts with grated locatelli cheese.

Winemaker notes: In 1861 Eleuterio Martinez Arzok set out on a journey, selling his Rioja wines direct from the barrel, working from the back of a horse-drawn cart. Thus began Bodegas Faustino, today Spain’s largest producer of Reserva and Gran Reserva Rioja wines. In the late 1950s, Eleuterio’s equally adventurous descendant, Faustino Martinez, launched the Faustino label. Source of over 25% of all Reserva and Gran Reserva Riojas sold abroad, Faustino is a proud custodian of the Rioja’s international reputation for world-class wines. A phenomenal nine million bottles of Reserva and Gran Reserva wines are stored in Faustino’s magnificent cellars.

Production Area Grapes are harvested exclusively from Faustino estate vineyards in Spain’s Rioja region.

Vinification It is aged 10 months in oak casks and in bottle for 6 months prior to its release. Alcohol 12.5

Raul Calvo Ribera Del Duero 2004
This red wine is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes from the Ribera Del Duero region of Spain... my wife bought this bottle at a charity auction for $5 and I was blown away by how good it was.

The color is a deep dark violet with intense floral aromas, bright black currants, and earth.

The palate is exploding with extremely ripe cherries and toasted oak, and a smooth tannic finish that reminds me very much of a Nero D'Avola from Sicily called Firriato Chiaramonte.

If I could find more of this wine I would be so happy.

Campo Viejo Crianza 2005 Tempranillo
From Rioja, Spain comes this wonderful Crianza ... aged for 12 months in oak casks and another 12 in bottle. Dark ruby in color with warmer colors around the edges and a medium body, this has rich, jammy aromas and sniff, sniff... hmm, there are some horses in the barn... and a hint of minerality. On the palate is a warm strawberry pie (you can almost chew it), super ripe plum and raw (as opposed to toasted) wood. Nice velvet tones at the end stretch across the finish line. The Wine Room of Forest Hills had this keeper for about $10.

Crianza Borsao 2005 Campo de Borja
Coming from our amigos in the Riojas region of Spain, this medium bodied red Crianza is a blend of 60% Garnacha and 40% Tempranillo. Depending upon the specific region, Crianzas must be aged in oak for at least a year and then a year in bottle. It is all glycerine, licorice, spice and because of the aging, wood on the nose, while the palate sings of strawberries, cherries and oak. Paired well with lentil soup and a panini at Uvarara. Retails around the $10 mark and a decent deal. .

Colleccion Vivanco 4 Varietals Dinistia Vivanco
Another tasting entry from La Rioja Wine Seminar at Astor Center, this one is a red made from 70% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, 10% Garnacha and 5% Mazuelo-- all fermented separately in French oak vats. Aged for 24 months in French oak barrels. Color is a deep rose red with a floral nose of violets and cherries. On the palate is oak, toast, flower petals and cherries.

Conde De Romanones Reserva 2003 Marques de Camp Noble
Here are some more tasting notes on the Vanguard style wines from Spain offered at La Rioja Wine Seminar last week. As far as I can tell this is 100% Tempranillo grapes aged for 18 months in new French oak barriques and at least another 18 months in bottle before release. The aromas are very funky like an earthy underbrush and sour cherry. On the palate are mushrooms, and, freshly dug earth.

Trapio 2005 Bodegas La Purisima
Here's a another red wine from the Murcia Tasting at the Astor Center last week. This dry red wine from Murcia region of Spain is made from 100% Monastrell grapes from the Yecla Zone. The vines are some of the oldest of the region, some being more than 50 to 70 years old. Aged in new French barrels for 14 months and another 12 months in bottle. Color is dark cherry red and looks thick and unfiltered. There is lot going on here, especially on the nose... alternating between a raw vegetal scent like fresh bark stripped from a tree, and a very floral violet flavor. The finish is balsamic and the tannins are a bit astringent but hold my interest. I would like to try this decanted for a few hours to release its full potential.

Paso A Paso 2006 Jorge Ordonez Selections
Previously known as Mano a Mano, this deep ruby red wine is slightly amber around the edges, and is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes from the La Mancha region of Spain. It's aged in oak for 6 months and has slightly heavier than medium body. At first impression there are the aromas of warm fresh coffee in the morning, chocolate and ripe red fruits, then on the palate a dance of cinnamon and cherry with tannins that have some power, but not too much, and good balance. The 13.5% alcohol makes it formidable and it goes for about $11. Found this at The Wine Room of Forest Hills.

Divus 2006 Bodegas Bleda
Starting off with my favorite pick from the 25 plus wines sampled at the Murcia Tasting at the Astor Center this week, from Jumilla, Spain comes this wonderful blend of 95% Monastrell (the lynchpin grape of the region) and 5% Merlot. It is aged in French oak barrels for 9 months and the result is a ruby red with a nose of ripe fruits, intense violets and fresh herbs. And I mean intense.... I could almost see the violets. On the palate are powerful meaty flavors contrasting with a pretty, balanced and velvety finish that remains full on the tongue for a good long while. The tasting was led by Fernanado Gurucharri, President of the UEC (Union Espanola de Catadores, The Spanish Union of Winetasters)

Marquez de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2002 Spain
This dry red wine in the familiar silver netted bottle is made from 90% tempranillo, 10% graciano y mazuelo grapes aged 2 years in American oak. Color is ruby red with medium to heavy weight and on the nose is raspberry and cherry and on the palate chocolate, tabasco and slight hint of mold or mushroom. Price ranges $13-17 and 14% alcohol.

3000 Anos 2006 Bodegas Del Rosario
Here's a red wine from the Murcia Tasting at the Astor Center, from the Bullas region of Spain, a blend of 60% Monastrell, 35% Syrah, and the other 5% is not indicated on the spec sheet. Aged for 14 months in French oak and 6 months in the bottle, the first image to imprint itself on my senses is that of roasted red meats. The sensation at first is on the nose, and quickly moves to the back of the tongue, and is very pleasant and richly textured. Color is ruby red, and other aromas range from fruits and a floral hint on the nose, to vanilla and oak on the palate with a creamy woody finish.

Campo Viejo Reserva Tempranillo 2003
This Tempranillo from the Rioja region of Spain is aged in oak for 18 months and in bottle for 18 more. I had originally thought it was 100% Tempranillo, but It's actually a blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, and 10% Mazuelo... it's a deep warm ruby color, with medium body. On the nose are ripe fruits (almost strawberry), a bit of ash and a mild minerality, along with ripe fruits, sour cherry and licorice on the palate. The soft, full finish is excellently balanced, especially when paired with a good homemade pasta with meat sauce and a side of sausage and red and yellow peppers prepared by Jody A. The price for this gem was around $14 at The Wine Room of Forest Hills.

La Montesa Palacios Remondo 2004
From what the folks at La Rioja Wine Seminar call their Vanguard Signature Series, this red wine from Spain is a blend of 40% Granacha, 35% Tempranillo, 15% Mazuelo, and 10% Graciano aged 12 months in barrel, and contains 14.1% alcohol. It's color is a ruby red with good complexity-- on the nose‚ there is an earthy, fruity, smoky barnyard aroma and on the palate fresh ripe cherries, raspberry, and toasted chocolate. The combination of funky aromas and bright fruity flavors made for an impressive contrast.

Bodegas Zabrin Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines 2006 Spain
Bodegas Zabrin Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines 2006 This Grenache from Spain's Catalayud region has a bouquet of spices and smoke, soft tannins and on the palate, cherry, plums, and vanilla. Medium bodied, 14% alcohol, and ruby red, this went well with a cavatelli pasta with garlic and olive oil, sausage and broccoli rape. Finish was ripe sour fruits. Nice price of $7 makes it a no-brainer for an everyday wine with dinner. Picked this up at Rosetta Wines.

Juan Gil 2005 Bodegas Juan Gil Spain
This dry red from the the Jumilla region of Murcia Spain is made from 100% Monastrell grapes where whole clusters are macerated "Sur Lie" (On Lees or on the yeast residue) for 25 days, then pressed and aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. Color is deep purplish ruby and on the nose is red fruit and a hint of minerality balanced by the oakiness of the barrels. On the mouth there are cherries and a very good balance of tannins and acidity.

Casa De Las Especias Crianza 2004
Another pick from the 25 plus wines sampled at the Murcia Tasting at the Astor Center this week, from Yecla, Spain, comes this blend of 50% Monastrell*, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Syrah with 10 months in French and American oak and 14% alcohol. Color is a clear, ruby red. On the nose (nadiz) is a luscious fruitiness from the Monastrell, while the mouth (boca) has a floral freshness probably from the Syrah. The finish is long and smooth with oak influences. I like this one a lot.

* There was some speculation that the Monastrell and Mourvedre grape were one in the same, but has since been proven untrue by dna tests.

Leza Garcia Valdepalacios Vendimia Seleccionada 20
Another wine from La Rioja Wine Seminar at the Astor Center, this red wine from Spain is mainly Tempranillo with a small amount of red garnacha. On the nose is a nice caramel and vanilla aroma and on the palate chocolate cherries, fresh strawberries/red fruit. Opens nicely.

Monte Real Gran Reserva 1998 Bodegas Riojanas
As promised, here are my first tasting notes from La Rioja Wine Seminar at the Astor Center. In the 2nd hour they served up a group of nine Classic red wines from Spain, namely Reservas and Gran Reservas. According the governing traditions the Reservas must spend (at least) 1 year in oak barrels and 2 years in bottle; Gran Reservas spend (at least) 2 years in barrels and 3 years in bottle.

This one was one of my favorite wines of the day. The Monte Real GR blend is 80% Tempranillo, 15% Mazuelo and 5% Graciano, aged in American oak casks for 24 to 30 months and in bottle for 36 months. On the nose are beautiful bright cherries with aromatic spices and ripe summer fruits, while on the palate waves of dark fruit make for an excellent balance a and lush, long finish. I did a search and PJ Wine Co. has it listed retail at $26.99. This, I believe, is an amazing value.

Bodegas Ondarre Rioja Reserva 2001
70% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, and 15% Mazuelo, all varietals are fermented separately in American and French oak casks for 16 months. Color is deep cherry with oak, leather and spice aromas. It has good body, structure and balance with a long finish. Found this at a tasting at Best Cellars on 3rd avenue an 87th street in the $15 range. Nice.

Estate Bottled Montebuena Rioja 2005
This Spanish red wine is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes grown in the Rioja region. The last attempt in 2004 was a superior effort and the 2005 is less distinct, but with a 3 hour decanting it opened nicely. The nose is considerably milder but with hints of dusty fruits. Color is deep rose purple, mouth is tart dry cherries and glycerine, moderate tannins and low acidity. $12 range.

Altos De La Hoya 2006 Monastrell Jumilla Finca Hoy...
Spain... This Monastrell Jumilla is a dark red wine with medium to heavy weight and fragrances of white pepper and concentrated sour cherries, reminds me of a Syrah. Also present is the distinct bouquet of vanilla sticky buns with a long spicy finish. $13 from the Murcia region of Spain.