Category Archives: Rioja

Classic Rioja – 75 Years In The Making!


Viña Ardanza, the estate owned by La Rioja Alta, is celebrating its 75th Anniversay this year with the release of their 2008 Rioja Reserva. The 2008 is the first vintage that uses 100% grapes grown by the estate. In years past the 20% Garnacha that was blended in with their estate grown Tempranillo was purchased from other growers. While purchasing grapes in and of itself is not problematic, it is clear from statements made by winemaker Julio Sáenz that having control over all of the grapes is a welcome improvement. Sáenz even compares the 2008 to the extraordinary 2001 Reserva Especial which also happens to be the only other Spanish red wine I’ve ever written about for a Saturday night newsletter – that was five years ago!
Though La Rioja Alta is considered a classic, traditional producer of Rioja, their winery facility is state-of-the art. What makes Viña Ardanza Rioja considered traditional is the winemaking and aging. After fermentation, the wine is put into barrels. The barrels are made “in house” in their own cooperage using only American oak that has been cured outside for two years. The wine does not go into new oak, but into used barrels. It is then racked, using gravity, every six months for 3 years (a little less time for the Garnacha). This extended racking method removes sediment from the wine and gently oxygenates it, which helps to soften the tannins and creates an opulent, supple texture. Nearly ten years out from harvest, the wine shows both maturity and youthful vigor. This contrast provides a complex tasting experience; flavors of fresh red cherries mingle with balsamic, herb, spice and cedar.

Most of the time, you will hear me banging the drum for small production wineries. La Rioja Alta is not a small producer. At any one time, they are said to have over 50,000 barrels and 6.4 million bottles stored- not all of it Viña Ardanza, of course. So for the consumer of Viña Ardanza, this means an opportunity to drink aged, classic Rioja at a very affordable price. At less than $35 a bottle, you can drink an aged, ready to drink red from one of the world’s great wine regions made by one of its most respected producers. I’d say that is real value, and a true bargain.


I played tourist with my husband, daughter and one of her friends on my day-off this week. We went to the Academy of Sciences, rented a pedal-boat on Stow Lake, had lunch at The Yellow Submarine and got a scoop of ice cream at Polly Ann’s. On the way home, driving north out of the city we marveled at the majestic fog ripping down the Headlands. We drove with the windows open so we could greet the fog and let it cool us. It was a very good day. -Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, Rioja, Spain

The Wine House SF Top Ten Wines Of 2012

Now that we’ve all settled into 2013, we have to say with excitement that this is going to be a great year! We are anxiously looking forward to all of the good things and the many great wines coming our way in 2013. But before we get too far into it, let’s have a look back as we reveal our Top Ten Wines of 2012!

The concept may sound simple … the top wines, right? Well, not so fast. We could tap into the multitude of reviews from wine writers and critics and fashion a list of highly rated, don’t drink until 2025, keep in a bank vault wines, but that’s not how we roll here at TWH. In years past, our Top Ten lists are comprised of wines we all love. Wines that deliver. Wines that outshine their respective price points. Wines that provide pleasure, because really, isn’t that what wine is all about? We taste a whole lot of wine throughout the year, both here and abroad, and only bring in the ones we deem worthy to be on our shelves for you, our customers. Choosing a Top Ten out of all of the wines we’ve said yes to is a fun albeit difficult exercise. It’s fun because we get to relive our tasting experiences, remembering the meals, the ambiance, and the company that went along with each wine. Remember, some of the wines have sold out, but we list them here based on their merits … So without further ado, here is The Wine House San Francisco’s Top Ten wines of 2012!!!

Please use these links to view our Top Ten from last year, 2010, or 2009.

20NV Pascal Doquet Extra Brut Premier Crus Blancs de Blanc
With New Year’s memories slowly fading, let’s begin with some bubbles. TWH mainstay Pascal Doquet makes some of the best Grower Champagne that we’ve encountered. He sure has been garnering praise recently from the likes of James Molesworth of The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni. Why wouldn’t he? His artisanal Champagnes have been wowing our staff for over a decade! When this Extra Brut landed here in our shop this year, it instantly became a favorite of our staff and all customers who have tried it.Here’s what Mr. Galloni had to say about it, “Doquet’s NV Extra Brut Premier Crus Blanc de Blancs is pretty, soft and enveloping. Dried pears, spices, crushed flowers and almonds wrap around the palate in this expressive, layered Champagne. This is one of the more open Extra Brut Champagnes readers will come across, likely because of the high presence of 2005 juice and full malolactic fermentation. Technical details aside, the wine is flat out delicious. 91 points”
NV Pascal Doquet Premiers Crus Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs
Sparkling; Champagne Blend; Champagne;
$54.98
Add to Cart

 

19Michel-Andreotti Montagny les Guignottes
White Burgundy. Honestly, we don’t really have to say much more than that. It is special wine. Unfortunately, supply and demand do what they do, and a great amount of it is priced in the ‘special wine’ echelon. Well, David’s trips to Burgundy have paid off yet again, as we are now importing the Montagny “Les Guignottes” from Michel-Andreotti. From the slightly off-the-beaten-path appellation of Montagny in Côte Chalonnaise, “Les Guignottes” outperforms its price point by far and reminds us that there is good White Burgundy out there for a fair price. First came the 2010. It’s an understatement to say that it sold out quickly. Then along came the 2011, it sold out too, but we just re-loaded and it’s back in stock. Which one made our Top Ten of 2012? It’s a dead heat. They both belong!
2011 Domaine Michel-Andreotti Montagny Les Guignottes
White Wine; Chardonnay; Burgundy;
$19.99
Add to Cart

 

182011 Juicy Villages From Juicy Rebound
Now for some local representation. You’ve got to love old-vine Mourvèdre. It’s rare to find a blend from California that showcases the grape in the leading role. Winemaker and hockey fanatic Douglas Danielak took 120+ year old Mourvèdre from the Evanghelo Vineyard in Contra Costa where the vines look like “little trees” and blended it with Syrah and Grenache to create a mouth-filling berry bomb bestowing it with the catchy name, Juicy Villages. There’s plenty of grip and tang to give Juicy Villages a well-balanced flavor experience. A whopping 100 cases were produced of this unique and delicious Côtes du Rhône-esque red. All that for a price that’s more than fair on your pocketbook. Bravo!
2011 Juicy Rebound Juicy Villages California
Red Wine; Rhone Blend; Other California;
$19.98
Add to Cart

 

172009 Domaine Martin Bart Marsannay
2012 was the year of containers. It seemed all throughout the year, we were simultaneously in the process of consolidating one overseas, anticipating the arrival of the one already on the water, and unloading the container at our dock! That just means we found lots of goodies on our trips overseas. The 2009 vintage was a phenomenal one in France (more on that later), and we tasted a lot of great wines that now have “Imported by Wine House Limited” on their labels.So 2009 was great in Burgundy, especially for the red wines. So again, we’re sure the top names of the region produced formidable wines, but we like to kick tires and look under rocks to find value! David is on a roll bringing some amazing, new-for-us, high-quality producers to join TWH family! Another feather in his cap in 2012 were the wines from Domaine Bart in Marsannay. Their Les Champs Salomon was a home run of a Red Burgundy. It smelled fancy. It tasted fancy. Its price tag? Not so fancy. That all explains its sold out status. Welcome to TWH top 10, Domaine Bart!

 

16Ravan From Kabaj
We’ve got our eyes open for great wines from all corners of the wine world. Like Slovenia. Wines from Slovenia are catching favor with consumers and critics alike, popping up on restaurant wine lists and profiled in thoughtful wine publications. Just one whiff, just one taste was enough for us to throw caution to the wind and stack the Ravan from Kabaj high and proud. Were we concerned whether TWH customers would shy away from an unknown producer from an unfamiliar wine region? Not. The staff were all in for sure, but when a wine is this delightful, exotic and complex, we knew our adventurous clientele would embrace the Ravan from Kabaj just as passionately. The 2009 has sold out, but we find the 2010 a worthy successor!
2010 Kabaj Ravan White Wine Goriska Brda
White Wine; other white varietal; Slovenia;
$19.98
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152009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape – Tour de l’Isle
Imagine attending a traveling French wine trade show in Chicago in the middle of January … brrrrr! Seriously, at some point you have to ask yourself why? Well, part of our service to you all is to indeed kick tires, look under rocks, kiss some toads, and every now and then, we get lucky. Here goes your proof. Last January David braved the elements and flew into 6 degree Farenheit Chi-town. He met a lot of people and tasted a lot of wine. When he met the folks representing the Tour de l’Isle brand, he was gaga over their Châteauneuf-du-Pape! A sample bottle was shipped to the shop the following week, and now we all sing the praises of this rich, powerful (yet friendly), stone mineral driven, Grenachey Grenache! The 2009 was already in the US, courtesy of another importer. Well, we all love it so much that we made ’em an offer they couldn’t refuse. We bought their entire stock and are now the proud importer of their wines! Boo Yah!
2009 Tour de l’Isle Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Red Wine; Rhone Blend; Rhone;
$34.99
Add to Cart

 

142009 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon
One of the advantages, and pleasures, of being in business for over 35 years (!) is the long-standing relationships we’ve forged with both customers and vendors. One of David’s first discoveries working at The Wine House was the debut vintage of Spottswoode’s estate grown 1982 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Wine House has been proudly offering their Cabernet Sauvignon every vintage thereafter. The 2009 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon is a standout among a very long line of outstanding efforts; it has that unmistakable thread of Spottsberry fruit pushing through with the signature silky tannins wrapping around it. It is a true collectable California Cabernet and we are happy and proud to include this monumental effort among our Top Ten Wines of the year!
2009 Spottswoode Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley
Red Wine; Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa;
$144.98
Add to Cart

 

132011 Gavi di Gavi
We’ve been directly importing the Ernesto Picollo line of Gavi wines for 5 vintages now, and though we have always felt they smash the quality for price ratio, their 2011 Gavi di Gavi Rovereto has that extra umph that propels it into 2012’s Top Ten! Anya swears that it is the fact that Picollo’s top cuvée Rughe wasn’t made this year, so that special older-vine fruit made its way into the Rovereto. Whatever it was, there’s no denying the quality of this wine. Crisp, mineral driven, and precise, you would swear that the bottle cost would be twice or even three times as much as it is! It is that special. It’s very likely THE best white wine deal in the house!
2011 Picollo Ernesto Gavi di Gavi Roverto
White Wine; other white varietal; Piedmont;
$15.99
Add to Cart

 

122001 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial
Chances are if you’ve been in our shop in the latter part of 2012, and perhaps overheard a customer request for a “special wine” or a “gift wine”, you would have heard a member of TWH staff gush over the merits of the 2001 Reserva Especial Rioja Viña Ardanza by La Rioja Alta. Whew, that’s a mouthful; but so is the wine! This well known Rioja producer has only thought it appropriate to make this special bottling in two other vintages: 1964 and 1973! Space limitations will keep us from gushing too much over this in writing, but let’s just say that if it were twice the price, it would still be a bargain. With 11 years of age, it can be enjoyed anytime from now until your 3 year old graduates from college … and then some!
2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial Rioja
Red Wine; Red Blend; Rioja;
$29.98
Add to Cart

 

11Bet you didn’t see this one coming. Of course it had to be a 2009 Bordeaux. I only wrote about this vintage and its wines umpteen times. But which one? Seriously, this was the toughest point of this exercise. But when you take everything into consideration, we’ve got to give the big tip of the cap to the 2009 Château Larrivaux, Haut-Médoc. I loved it out of barrel. Then, when the first 2009’s arrived in early 2012, it was on the first container. Chris and I grabbed a few of the new arrivals and taste tested them. His overwhelming favorite of the bunch was the Larrivaux. We opened another bottle the following week for Anya, Tom, and David to taste, and it was unanimous! Now that everyone was on board, we went back to the marketplace and loaded up. It is certainly not the only success story from the 2009 vintage, but that kind of quality for less than $25 resonates big time! Ignore at your own peril.
2009 Chateau Larrivaux Haut Medoc
Red Wine; Bordeaux Blend; Bordeaux;
$23.98
Add to Cart

 

So there you have it, our Top Ten Wines of 2012! We’ve already begun tasting new wines in the new year, and we’re taking good notes, so we’ll have plenty of candidates for this list this time next year! Wishing you all the best in 2013!Anya Balistreri & Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under 2009 Bordeaux, Anya Balistreri, Chateauneuf du Pape, Contra Costa County, Cortese, Domaine Bart, Gavi, Haut-Medoc, Marsannay, Montagny, Mourvedre, Napa Valley, Peter Zavialoff, Rioja, Slovenia, Top Ten Wines Of The Year

2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial

Vina Ardanza is an estate owned by La Rioja Alta who is widely recognized as one of Rioja’s finest, classical producers. The 2001 Reserva Especial from Vina Ardanza is not only an example of great Rioja, but is among the world’s greatest wines. Only twice before, in 1964 and 1973, has Vina Ardanza classified their Reserva with the added designation of “Especial”. In 2001 the growing season and harvest was uniquely uniform and gloriously uneventful albeit a smaller crop due to spring frost, though it was the resulting wine that confirmed the exceptional quality of the vintage. I have come to Spain late in my wine life; after all you can’t know it all…nor drink it all. A few years back, as The Wine House looked to expand its offerings of value-priced wines, Spain entered the picture; so I began to taste. I had (and still have) a lot to learn. A few months back, TWH had been invited to meet with a principal from La Rioja Alta to taste through their current offerings. Before arranging this appointment, I asked David if he was familiar with La Rioja Alta and he said of course, that they are considered one of the best, old-school Rioja producers and that he would very much like to be present to taste the wines. I love to taste wines with David as his impeccable tasting skills force me to pay that much more attention. The range of wines from La Rioja Alta went from delicious to sublime. It was, however, the 2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial that had us oohing and ahhhing the loudest.

The 2001 Vina Ardanza is redolent of spice with rich fruit and long oak notes. My tasting book has “smells AMAZING!!!” in black ink blazing across the page. The developed aromatics are attributable to the traditional method of aging the wine in American oak for 3 years, racking the wine every six months before bottling and then resting the wine in bottle even further before release. This oxygenation, if you will, of the wine allows for a development of flavors without losing any of the vigor of fruit. The benefit of this long winemaking process to the consumer is that you essentially get a perfectly cellared wine that is ready to drink and has a long life ahead of it. I am told the aging trajectory of great Rioja is not typical of most wines because it can plateau at peak drinking potential for decades. Interesting. I will need to discover this for myself!

I enjoy wine reviews that give a tasting note and then suggest a theoretical bottle price for what it tastes like versus what is actually costs to better illustrate the wine’s value. At TWH we reached a consensus that the Vina Ardanza at twice the price would still be a deal and is probably worth even more given its pedigree. At $29.98 per bottle, the 2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial gives affordable entree to one of the world’s great wine regions from a legendary producer for a wine they deemed “Especial”, having done this only twice before in their long history!

By this point I hope I’ve made a strong case for the 2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial. I’ve done due dilligence at the store, suggesting it to anyone who is inclined to listen to my recommendations. In almost every instance where I or my colleagues have convinced someone to taste a bottle, they have come back to buy more. This is true; cross my heart. A loyal customer who normally sticks to California wines under $15, picked a bottle of Vina Ardanza to take along to a dinner party after Pete told him he had to try it; a few days later he came back to buy a case. I share this story because it shows anecdotal evidence that for someone who normally spends half as much on a bottle of wine found such value and quality in the Vina Ardanza, it was worth it to them to buy more and in quantity.

The Halloween decorations have been pulled out of storage, so things have been looking pretty spooky around chez Balistreri. I still have some finishing touches left to do on a few costumes and l still need to stockpile more candy because we get over 200 trick-or-treaters. I’m not going to lie and say I’ll be drinking Vina Ardanza that night, no I’ll wait for a more intimate occasion. I will, most likely, be filling up my glass with something blood red. Or perhaps a sticky to go with the candy would be better? Ummm, what to pair with Twix and Snickers? Any thoughts? I’ll report back on that one later! —Anya Balistreri

2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial Rioja
Red Wine; Red Blend; Rioja;
$29.98
Add to Cart
“2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial is a blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha from their vineyards in Fuenmayor and Rioja Baja respectively and it represents only the third vintage to be declared after 1964 and 1973. Aged in American cask for 36 months, it has a bucolic, natural bouquet of bright red cherries, balsamic, mint and a touch of dried honey all with superb delineation. The palate is medium-bodied with wonderful delineation and supple, lithe tannins. The acidity is very well judged and it leads to a pert, tense finish of bitter cherry, loganberry and licorice. This is an outstanding wine drinking perfectly now, but it should age effortlessly. Drink now-2030.” Wine Advocate 93 pts.

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Rioja