wine - Haaretz - August 3 2011
A Bulgarian barrel room. Photo by Haaretz
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Haaretz
Castra Rubra. Photo by Haaretz

If you're looking for positive surprises on imported wines, Giaconda may be the ticket. I recently attended a tasting of company's newly imported wines of Ribera del Duero's Montecastro winery.

Montecastro is a young winery, established on paper in 2000, with their first plantings coming in 2002 and 2003.

Located in the heart of Spain's Ribera del Duero, the winery, which counts singer Julio Englesias as a partner, relies primarily on Tinto Fino, the local synonym for Tempranillo, as well as smaller quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha. Grapes come from the winery's own vineyards as well as from vineyards under contract, some containing vines that are a century old.

The winery relies on barriques: 70 percent French oak, 25 percent American and 5 percent from Eastern European countries. The flagship Montecastro wine is aged in oak for 16-20 months, depending on the vintage and the winemaker's choice. Current production is between 100,000-150,000 bottles annually and plans are to grow to 250,000-300,000 bottles.

Following are reviews of wines available locally. For further information or to place orders contact Giaconda by telephone at 03-6022746 or by email at wine@giaconda.co.il.

Bodegas y Vinedos Montecastro, Montecastro, Ribera del Duero, 2006: Dark, almost impenetrable garnet, full-bodied, with chewy tannins and reflecting its 18 months in oak with smoky oak in fine balance with acidity and fruits. A big, muscular wine, on the nose generous black fruits and then opening in the glass to reveal black currant and black cherry fruits followed by notes of roasted herbs, earthy minerals, and on the long finish, the tannins and fruits rising to reveal a note of citrus peel. Delicious and lingering but muscular enough that it needs large roasted cuts of beef, mutton or lamb. Drink now-2016, perhaps longer. NIS 160. Score 92.

Bodegas y Vinedos Montecastro, Montecastro, Ribera del Duero, 2005: Made entirely from Tinto Fino grapes this year, reflecting its 17 months in oak with generous but soft tannins and roasted herbs. Medium- to full-bodied, leaning to the full, with fine balancing acidity to keep the wine lively, opens with cassis, red fruits and figs on a background that hints of toasty oak, stony minerals and loam. Turns muscular on the finish but retains a sense of elegance. Drink now-2016. NIS 150. Score 92.

Bodegas y Vinedos Montecastro, Alconte, Ribera del Duero, 2008: Made entirely from Tinto Fino grapes fermented in concrete tanks and developed for 12 months in French, American and Eastern European oak. Deep cherry red toward garnet, medium-bodied, with soft, gently caressing tannins and just a bare kiss of sweet-and-spicy oak. On the nose and palate raspberries and blueberries, on a background that hints at one moment of eucalyptus and another of mint. Scheduled for sale during the winter of 2012 at about NIS 100. Score 88.

Bulgarian beauts

Some Bulgarian wines I wrote about previously are now making their way to Israel and are available at the Wine and More chain of wine shops.

The wineries represented locally are Telish and Castra Rubra, both in the southern Sakar-Haskovo region of Bulgaria and both under the same ownership. Producing about 5,000,000 bottles annually, the Telish brand is well known throughout Bulgaria for almost entirely unoaked wines, the majority offering clean and pleasant, fresh and fruity wines meant for early drinking at excellent value and a few in a higher series that stand out for their excellence.

The Castra Rubra (Red Fortress ) brand aims higher. Founded only in 2006 by Jair Agopian, the winery relies largely on organic techniques. Grapes are entirely hand-harvested and wood fermentation vats have an internal cooling mechanism. Wines are later transferred largely to French barriques. Some of the wines are placed on specially designed racks so that the barrels may be rotated on a regular basis, the lees thus circulating freely during the barrel aging period. Production is approximately 1,300,000 bottles annually.

Many of the wines now being imported are from the 2007 vintage. I originally listed most of the Telish wines as being in "drink now" condition. Several of these wines are now throwing sediment and are clearly in a "drink up" condition.

Starting with the 2008 vintage at least some of the wines will be issued as kosher cuvees.

Castra Rubra, Castra Rubra, 2007: The winery's flagship wine. Deep, almost impenetrable garnet in color, full-bodied and concentrated but showing tannins that are soft and gentle notes of spicy wood that give the wine a round and well-balanced personality. A blend of 60 percent Merlot and 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 12 months in oak, showing a thoroughly New World profile of forward black fruits, supported by hints of dark chocolate and spices. Long and generous. Drink now. NIS 139. Score 89.

Telish, Mavrud-Merlot, Haskovo, 2007: An unoaked blend of equal parts of both varieties, showing fine extraction and flavor. Dark garnet toward brick red, opens with a mouthful of chocolate and espresso coffee, yielding to blackberries and raspberries, both supported nicely by stony minerals as well as overtones of tobacco and freshly cut herbs. Medium-bodied, with gently caressing tannins and an appealing note of musk from the Mavrud grape. Drink now. Score 87.