Except for a white 'appetizer', this was Giaconda's first all-red tasting and as such, it was another high quality evening spotlighting a quality, classic producer from Ribera del Duero, guaranteed to pull on the heartstrings of Old World wine lovers.
I had approached the tasting with no little anxiety. Recovering from a cold, the days leading up to the tasting found me devoid of appetite and my senses of smell and taste in tatters. Cigarettes had been reeking of wet cardboard for days; while a glass of Gaja, Barbaresco, 1986 - offered by a friend at a restaurant just the night before - tasted and smelled of acetone. But after identifying the first wine of the tasting, my mood picked up as I realized that with a little patience and concentration, I'd be able to make something of the wines.
As usual, I have not taken the trouble to summarize and/or plagiarize other sources to give you any background information on Bodegas Ishmael Arroyo. But you should make an effort to Google it, because Arroyo is one gorgeous winery.
Rebholtz, Pfalz, Chardonnay "R", 2005
A very appealing and memorable nose: yellow fruits, with a touch of apples, laden with mushrooms. A full, round body with ripe acidity and noticeable residual sugar suggesting its origin. Village level and, at about 180 NIS, under-priced for a village. Sold out, alas.
The rest of the tasting was served in flights of twos and I will serve up my notes accordingly.
Val Sotillo, Crianza, 2004 (108 NIS)
Montecastro, 2005 (150 NIS)
I tasted them together a few months ago, preferring the Montecastro at the time. This time, I would give the Val Sotillo the nod, with its subtle mineral overlay and a hint of mildew on the finish. The Montecastro is fruiter, more forward, with plenty of acidity.
Val Sotillo, Reserva, 2001 (225 NIS)
Val Sotillo, Reserva, 1999 (270 NIS)
Not only was there a distinct rise in quality, but also in typicity: these wines are more obviously Spanish, more obviously Ribera. These wines are obviously cut from the same cloth: black fruit shying far from the verge of blockbuster-ness, a bit of mildew, a bit of leather. Except that the 1999 has a greater aromatic depth and complexity, is much more communicative and enjoyable. The 2001 is still taut and reserved and I would be hard put to predict who will turn out to be the better wine. So I won't.
Val Sotillo, Gran Reserva 1995 (360 NIS)
Val Sotillo, Gran Reserva, 1994 (not for sale)
The Gran Reservas introduce greater weight and presence without compromising any elegance. The 1994 is just your every day good wine (well, for people who drink 300+ NIS wines regularly) and justifies its Gran Reserva label, but the 1995 charts out a bit of Wonderland, being slightly peppery on one hand while rich enough on the other to feel almost sweet. Yet this sweetness is a matter of fruit, not sugar, and the whole package is so deftly balanced, it registers on the palate holistically as "delicious". Consumer Warning: these wines came directly from the winery and friends tell me that bottles of the 1994 stored outside of the winery's underground caverns did not last this far. No worries about the 1995, from all accounts.
Val Sotillo, Gran Reserva, 1990 (not for sale)
Val Sotillo, Gran Reserva, 1989 (not for sale)
It is quite tempting, since I bought a bottle of the 1995, to believe it will evolve even further to match the 1989, which was really the wine of the night (and according to the winemaker, his best wine ever). It has more "old wine" aromas, a few more twists on the finish, not to mention plenty of acidic zest left. The 1990 is a lesser wine, maybe not even on par with the 1994, but boasts an enticing "sweaty horse hide" aromatic signature, before it succumbs to old age.