Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Bottle shots by Gonzalez Byass
Exceptional Wines are Landing in the US
The Gonzalez Byass family has been producing high quality sherry in Jerez for over 180 years. In the US it is best known for its award-winning, ultra-dry aperitif, Tio Pepe, made from Palomino grapes, but the company also makes a wide range of classic still wines as well as an exceptional cava in Penedés, a very nice brandy at state-of-the-art holdings in Rioja, and high class reds at Bodega Beronia in Alta Rioja. There is newer venture in the Somontano region, and they also have wineries in such diverse international locations as Champagne in France, in Chile’s Maypo and Leyda Valleys, in Portugal, in Australia’s McLaren Vale, and in Marlborough New Zealand.
I have visited a few of the Gonzalez Byass associated wineries, including the headquarters in Jerez to taste some of the older soleras; also Vilarnau - Sant Sadurní d'Anoia in Catalonia; and the winery in Santiago de Chile; I will state that most of the still wines and cava I have tasted are truly exceptional.
At a recent NYC tasting I had, for the first time, wines from the Somontano vineyards. Somontano is a newer Spanish DO located at the Southern foothills of the Pyrenees, in northern Aragon. The Viñas del Vero wines, both white and reds are interesting and very well priced; a few of these wines have been in the US market since 2007.
The top red, 2010 Viñas del Vero Secastilla, created from 100-year old Garnacha Tinta vines, is priced in the US between $31 and $35 retail, which is a steal for what’s in the bottle. Black and red plums and cherries on the nose with minty notes and rich dark fruit with noticeable minerality on the palate; it has a nice juicy length. It would be an ideal accompaniment to strong flavored red meats and game. This is an absolutely classic Garnacha.
A well priced and very nice wine made from Grenache Blanc, the 2013 Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla, is 100% Garnacha Blanca and is priced at about $12 to $14 per bottle. This wine should be served well chilled, as the oak from the new Allier barrels where the wine is aged for 4 months is quite noticeable when the wine is warm. Otherwise the fruit aromas - green apple, and citrus notes - lead to soft but distinguishable flavors in the mouth. The acidity is good and the wine would be excellent with white meats and fresh seafood.
I also recently had lunch with Matias Calleja, the winemaker of Bodegas Beronia, another Gonzales Byass affiliated winery. We had verticals of the best Beronia reds, including Reserva and Gran Reserva made from old-vine grapes; many vines are 70 to 100 years old, planted pre-phylloxera. These wines are quintessential classic red Alta Riojan blends; the backbone is Tempranillo and the other grapes are Mazuelo (Carigñano) and Graciano. The production area is influenced by both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and has chalky and clay soil; that combination makes it an outstanding enclave for vineyards.
The top category, Gran Reserva, is one of the best Alta Rioja wines. It spends 18 months or more in oak and at least another 18 months aging in the winery’s cellars in bottles, which makes creating this wine a costly undertaking. These wines are of immense depth and concentration, requiring a few years of cellaring before reaching their peak drinking window. New American oak barrels were the standard in Rioja for the greater part of the 20th Century; more recent trends have seen an increase in the use of French oak, and a hybrid barrel with staves of American oak and ends of French oak is the barrel type Matias Calleja uses to age his Gran Reservas.
The reason the Beronia wines are so food-friendly is that Beronia started as a Gastronomic Society by a group of Basque friends that were going to La Rioja for summer vacations. Gastronomic societies are quite common in Spain, where groups of men get together to enjoy great food they cooked themselves and excellent wines.
During lunch at NYC’s Aureole, we had a chance to explore verticals of Beronia’s Reservas and Gran Reservas. Both styles were outstanding while accompanying the courses that executive chef Gabriele Carpentieri offered. Especially good pairing was the 2011 Reserva with the Venison Ragout Cavateli and the 2008 Gran Reserva with the NY Strip Loin. Both wines were dark maroon in color with purple highlights. The Gran Reserva was redolent of black fruit, dried Morello cherries, saddle leather, sweet dates, chocolate and spice. It is a wine with great personality and structure. The Reserva was a little lighter in color, closer to a traditional Rioja, but took more time to open, and to me tasted more like a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wine than a Tempranillo dominated one, with tastes of cassis and Morello cherries and a long finish with toffee, cassis and mocha.
Both wines are well priced for the quality they represent and would pair very well with traditional Spanish dishes as well as more modern International cuisine interpretations.
To your health!
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