Eguren wines with Marcos Eguren

Late October I participated in a presentation of some of the Eguren family’s wines in Brussels, presented by Marcos Eguren. Eguren has their base in Rioja where they have several bodegas, as well as having one in Toro. To many, the names of the bodegas and the prestige wines may be more familiar than that of Eguren, names such as such as Sierra Cantabria, San Vicente, Amancio and El Bosque.

Bodega Numanthia Termes in Toro (which produce the wines Numanthia and Termanthia) was started by them in 1998, but was bought by LVMH in the beginning of 2008, soon after Termanthia 2004 was awarded 100 points by Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate (by Jay Miller in February 2007, TWA #169). I hope they charged a lot for this bodega, because LVMH is not exactly running a charity operation. 🙂 And neither should we expect that of a publicly traded corporation in the business of selling luxury products at an elevated price. Well, the first thing Eguren did after having sold Numanthia Termes was to start up a new Toro bodega under the name Teso La Monja, which was inaugurated with the 2007 vintage. This bodega also has vineyards with quite old, partially non-grafted vines, just as Numanthia Termes. So there is still a Toro bodega in the Eguren range, with a range of wines very similar to that of their previous one (although with different bottle shapes).

Eguren was apparently one of the early pioneers of modern-style Riojas, using a clearly different (”internationally modern”) wine making than the traditional, in combination with ”terroir” philosophy. San Vicente was apparently one of the first vineyard Riojas using modern wine making, and since its creation the range has been expanded by several prestige wines based on more strict grape selection even more extreme wine making – se the description of Amancio below for a good example…

Marcos Eguren did the presenting. Apparently, mostly a mixed bunch of EU people had been invited, with a certain emphasis on Spaniards. This meant that the presentation was given in Spanish. Those who know this language can read about it here. From a marketing perspective one can question the wisdom of mostly inviting countrymen, if you are something of a prestige producer with several high-priced wines. Sure, there is something to be said for using your countrymen as “ambassadors”, but people from wine-producing countries and regions are somewhat notorious for mostly buying cheap when they buy local, and avoiding things priced at the level of “international quality wines”. That is to say, unless the Spanish have very different wine buying habits than e.g. Germans and the French, where I definitely have noted this phenomenon. You usually become a prestige producer by exporting, and exporting usually involves selling your products to foreign people, at least the way I understand the phenomenon. 🙂

Wine dealer Gert Claes from Alter Vinum, who sells the Eguren range, provided us with short summaries in English of what Marcos Eguren said. Below, I’ve indicated approximate prices from Alter Vinum.

We tried six wines from the middle and top part of the Eguren range, all from the vintage in current distribution. Of their four most expensive wines, two were included – La Nieta and Amancio. (The other two are El Bosque and Alabaster.)

Sierra Cantabria Colección Privada 2007
Rioja, € 28. 100% Tempranillo, slightly overripe grapes from vines more than 50 years old, yield 28 hl/ha, half the grapes subjected to carbonic maceration. 18 months in new oak barriques av, 50% French oak and 50% American oak.
Dark red, purple toned colour. Powerful, clearly fruity and sweetish nose with clear vanilla, dark berries and some spice and tar. Slightly more than medium bodied, good fruitiness on the palate with dark berries, slightly flowery notes, some sweetness, quite a lot of tannin, but of a very soft character. 89-90 p. (Parker’s Jay Miller has scored it 94 p and recommended drinking 2015-2027 “if not longer”.)
A wine produced in a style which is deliberately easily accessible, which shows. Carbonic maceration is mostly familiar from Beaujolais. In Rioja, it is mostly used in Joven wines, which usually don’t have this concentration (or price) or have received this type of barrel treatment. Marcos said that it should show raspberries or similar fruits, but I didn’t detect that type of red berry notes. Instead, there was quite sweet fruit in the nose, more than the impression of sweetness that can come from a vanilla note. It’s definitely a good wine, but I realise it’s an opinion that would be safe to voice in any circle of wine geeks. 🙂 In a sense, it’s an odd wine, because it can’t be common to use carbonic maceration for such a concentrated and expensive wine, or that grapes of this quality level go into a deliberately easy-drinking wine. I’d like to serve it blind in a wine tasting of experienced tasters and see what they think, and I expect divided opinions. I don’t see it as obvious that the wine would improve with cellaring, although I couldn’t rule it out. I’m fairly sure it could take a number of years in the cellar, but I do question Jay Miller’s drinking recommendation.

San Vicente 2006
Rioja, € 35. 100% Tempranillo Peludo from a specific vineyard (La Canoca, located in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, 18 ha in size), yield 26 hl/ha. 16 months in barriques of new oak, 90% French and 10% American oak.
Dark red colour, some purple. In the nose dark and red berries, clearly spicy, slightly sweetish impression and some liquorice. Initially less expressive than Collécion Privada, but more nuanced in the nose. Slightly more than medium bodied, dark berries with some red berries on the palate, some eucalyptus, very slight sweetness, obvious tannin and an aftertaste with acidic red fruit. 90-91 p. (Jay Miller: 93 p, drink 2016-2026.) Young, shows potential, grew in the glass.

El Puntido 2006
Rioja, € 34. 100% Tempranillo from a specific vineyard (El Puntido, located in Páganos-Laguardia, 25 ha in size), yield 23,5 hl/ha. 16 months in new barriques of French oak.
Dark red colour with purple notes. In the nose red and dark berries, aromatic-flowery with well integrated oak notes, some chocolate. On the palate slightly more than medium bodied, red and dark berries, aromatic and with good acidity, well integrated tannin. Young, but definitely approachable, and very pure aromas. 91-92 p? (Jay Miller: 94 p, drink 2016-2026.) Slightly more elegant than San Vicente, but not directly more powerful.

Victorino 2008
Toro, € 34. 100% Tinta de Toro (=Tempranillo), partly non-grafted vines, vineyards in Valdefinjas, Villabuena del Puente and Toro (Zamora), yield 16 hl/ha. 18 months in new barriques of French oak.
Very dark red colour with purple notes. In the nose dark berries, relatively sweetish, some tar and liquorice and some flowery notes – violet-flavoured candy? Full bodied, dark berries, big concentration, very obvious tannin, very good acidity, a slight alcoholic note. 90-91 p. Young, would definitely justify 1-2 p more if the alcoholic note was more integrated – could this be produced by more maturity, perhaps? I was surprised that I could feel alcohol coming through given the impressive concentration, and since I’ve previously tasted its “little brother” without feeling this. Victorino is the new Numanthia, while its little brother is called Almirez and its big brother (the new Termanthia) is called Alabaster. Victorino 2008 has been said to be more accessible and less closed than the 2007 was one year ago. A very good aspect of the wine is that it is high in acidity for a Toro. Perhaps more at the level typical for a Ribera del Duero. Apparently the vineyards are located at high altitude. Definitely a wine which has some characters that could produce a really big wine in a top vintage.

La Nieta 2007
Rioja, € 75. 100% Tempranillo from a specific vineyard (La Nieta, located in Páganos-Laguardia, 1,75 ha), yield 21 hl/ha. 18 months in new barriques of French oak.
Dark red colour, some purple notes. In the nose dark berries, tar, slightly sweetish and spicy impression. Slightly more than medium bodied, quite dark berries, very pronounced acidity, long aftertaste. 92-93 p. (Jay Miller: 93 p, drink 2015-2027.) La Nieta shows darker aromas both compared to Amancio and Victorino (a bit of a surprise for a Rioja) and clearly the highest acidity, but has less weight than those two. A very interesting combination. It comes across as young and relatively closed, so it would be interesting to see how it develops. I have a hunch that with maturity, this wine could develop to something very elegant and impressive, and that the high acidity would make it develop slowly. By the way, Jay Miller scored it one point less than Colección Privada 2007 and recommends cellaring these two wines equally long before drinking. What a joke!

Amancio 2006
Rioja, € 75. 100% Tempranillo from vineyards in the La Veguilla area (in San Vicente de la Sonsierra) with a yield of 28 hl/ha. Of this, 8-10% is selected in the vineyard in the form of individual bunches, and is then destemmed by hand, which is to say grape by grape. 24 months in 200% new French oak (barrique), which means that it received a second round of new oak treatment after the first one.
Clear dark red colour. In the nose dark and red berries, aromatic-flowery violet, some vanilla, slightly sweetish note, very pleasant. Its nose is very modern and ambitious (read “smells expensive”), so there are clear traces of the style of winemaking. Full bodied on the palate with high fruit concentration, slightly sweetish notes, clearly present but well integrated tannin (more than El Puntido), good acidity. 92-93 p. (Jay Miller: 95+ p, drink 2014-2026.) Claimed to be the wine with the most capacity for long storage, and perhaps it has the concentration to last almost for ever. I’m sure that a couple of years of cellaring would make it more elegant and complex in its already impressive aromas, but it is not obvious to me that a wine with such a massive (if well integrated) oak component is a wine for truly long cellaring. My guess is La Nieta is built in such a way that it would respond better to 10 years in the cellar than this wine would.

After the tasting some nibbles were served to one white and two red wines from slightly lower in the Eguren range. I scribbled down some quick notes standing up, and tannins of the previous flight’s wine had previously bitten my tounge, so perhaps these notes are not to be trusted too much.

Organza Blanco (2008?)
Rioja, € 14. A blend of Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca, barrel fermented.
In the nose yellow fruit, slightly aromatic, oak, some mineral. Slightly more than medium bodied, good concentration on the palate, again yellow fruit, some spice, oak. Food-friendly profile. 86-87 p? (Jay Miller: 89 p, drink 2010-2014.) In general, a proportion of Malvasia tends to give a white Rioja a lot more character, and can contribute both more aromas and a fatter palate, compared to the more neutral Viura (also found in Cava under than name Macabeo). Apparently it is not very easy to handle, and tends to low acidity, so varietal wines are not common.

Sierra Cantabria Crianza (2007?)
Rioja, € 10
Redcand some dark berries, medium bodied, lightly alcoholic, some tannin. 86-87 p? (Jay Miller: 89 p)

Almirez 2008
Toro, € 15
Dark and red berries, lightly sweet, rather tannic, good acidity. 87-88 p?

A very interesting tasting, and a good map of Eguren’s style, which is clearly modern, ambitious and terroir-oriented, but going in several different modern directions. Tempranillo has something of a reputation of being a chameleon grape, but this tasting also underlined that Rioja is something of a chameleon region, if the entire price range is considered. Traditional Rioja – not really to be found in the Eguren range – can also be quite exiting if well made, but the typical descriptors of these wines are nowhere to be found in the notes of any of the eight red wines (six Riojas) that we tasted.

They also pointed out in their invitation that 13 of their wines had been scored over 90 poäng by “‘The Wine Advocate’, Robert Parker’s magazine” during 2010. A plus for an entirely correct phrase, since it is no longer Parker himself but Jay Miller who covers Spain. In those cases where I have added Miller’s score next to mine, I’d like to point out that I wrote my evaluation first, without having checked TWA or anyone else.

I also wonder what has happened to Numanthia and Termanthia since LVMH bought them? I encounter these wines much less now. Are they focussed solely on the American market or what has happened?

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

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