Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva 2001 – Review

One particular bottle that I have been really looking forward to trying for some time is the Bodegas Faustino I.  It’s a wine that comes with impressive critical acclaim and, with the ease of the availability of other wines in the full range (V, VII, for example), it represents something that is within touching distance, and yet has remained elusive to me until now.

Wine is a product that is inherently limited, but in the main isn’t sold on a ‘Limited Edition’ basis.  I’ve tried many English wines that, when you see the low thousands of bottles produced each year, you feel truly honoured to be able to taste them at all.  The Faustino I is clearly labelled with the edition number of 226,400 bottles produced for this vintage and, with the full clarity that this is no small production run, it was still absolutely interesting to me that I was tasting bottle 39,797 and bottle 39,856 (not on the same day I might add!).  I’ve often been interested in small facts like this, and I do think it really helps towards the ‘artisan’ element of the production, even if some production volumes are what others would consider ‘industrial’.

With both the Gran Reserva 2001 and 2004 available to me at this time (both rated as ‘Excelente’ vintages), I opted for the older 2001.  Not only was this vintage slightly smaller than surrounding vintages, I also noted that it was likely to age longer than the ’04 (due to damp conditions that year), and would therefore represent more of a longer term trajectory.

I was also swayed by the inclusion of a neck brace on the bottle proudly proclaiming that this wine was a Decanter ‘Wine of the Year’ in 2013, scoring 19.25 points out of 20.

Pic Faustino

Bodegas Faustino, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001, Rioja, Spain, 13.5% (~£18)

Before we get to looking at the wine itself, the first thing to discern is the care that has gone in to the bottle appearance.  The frosted glass is adorned with a completely distinct label – a 1641 portrait of Dutch merchant/trader Nicolaas Van Bambeeck by revered artist Rembrandt.  This particular portrait was chosen in order to symbolise the family’s passions for both art and commerce.

When looking at the wine in the glass, it was a dark and opaque dense cherry red in colour, clear with almost no hint of a lighter rim.  On the nose there was an immediate hit of dark chocolate, and sweet notes of spices and cloves.  The red cherry fruits then came to the fore, brushing alongside wood, vanilla, giving an incredibly full, layered and vivid nose.  At once, this wine was serious, intense, and inviting.  The literature for the wine confirms that they put an immense amount of focus on berry grape selection in order to preserve that quality of grape, and overall composure.

The initial palate was given over to the cherry fruits (both black and red), although my immediate view was that the fruits were just slightly over-ripe, almost confectionate and sweet, which isn’t something that appeals to me.  This wasn’t a negative for the wine however, as it still forged a good strawberry line, and held that ‘creamy’ texture that you can find in a good aged Rioja.  Subtle integrated acid and a light tannin kept it moreish and pleasant, whilst touches of dark chocolate and bitter characters brought up the rear.  The palate is absolutely still all about the fruit as opposed to the tertiary characters, and it’s a testament to a 15 year old wine that the fruit can remain such a pivotal point of the focus and be so rounded, full and velvety smooth.

They certainly weren’t wrong in the official reviews that this wine has a life ahead of it, and I’d be very interested to revisit this in a few years time.  This was a wonderful wine and it didn’t disappoint.

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Laithwaites Premiere Taste Panel – September 2015

I wrote back in July about the Premiere selections from leading online wine merchant Laithwaites where, for a one-off yearly charge, they send you 2 additional bottles to try every time you purchase a case of wine.  These additions are specially picked wines by the Laithwaites team, the idea being that, because you haven’t ordered them, you probably won’t have tried them, and this promotes a good way to expanding your wine horizons.  In my first 3 months as a member I noted that the selections provided seemed firmly rooted at the £8.99 price-point, so I was pleased and interested when this months’ selections turned up with recommended retail prices set at £9.49 and £9.99.

Time to see if the extra pennies would add much in terms of the quality of these new discoveries.

LaithPremSB

Pago Centro Sauvignon Blanc 2015 – San Antonio, Chile – 13.5% abv – £9.49

A pleasing pale straw colour, with visible tears in the glass hinting at the high alcohol level from the well ripened grapes.  The San Antonio valley is coastal and so the natural heat of the climate is moderated with the cool sea air, giving a long balanced growing season.

The nose is extremely full with a myriad of fruits and fragrances vying for attention.  Alongside the grassiness that you would expect from Sauvignon Blanc is a touch of dried tropical fruit alongside apples and pears, citrus, kiwi and asparagus.

This medium bodied wine is packed with a mouth-watering acidity.  The key notes are fleshy green apple, intense lime, cream, and just a touch of oil.  The interesting thing about this wine is the way that the layers approach you – one minute you are experiencing the fresh citrus, the next is a fruit medley, and then it is back to the citrus.  This carries on throughout the finish, which is extremely long and enjoyable.

After I raved about the Tesco Finest Sancerre last month, I am now completely converted to Sauvignon Blanc around the £10-£12 price-point.  Being primarily a red wine drinker, and well aware of the fashion for Sauvignon Blanc and the (too) abundant choice in the entry level arena, it has not been something that I have gravitated towards.  The producer here is top Chilean estate Luis Felipe Edwards, who have teamed up with award winning New Zealand winemaker Matt Thomson.  Clearly winemakers from New Zealand know a thing or two about producing Sauvignon Blanc, and the team effort here and the strict selection of grapes has produced a beautiful wine.

I’m definitely going to pick up more of this.

Don Mendo Gran Reserva 2008 – Carinena DO, Spain – 13% abv – £ 9.99

From the north-eastern Spanish region of Carinena, this wine is a blend of Tempranillo (60%), Grenache (30%) and Carinena (10%).

6 years maturing in both barrel and bottle have helped to give this wine an opaque dark appearance.  The nose is an austere, dark, stewed and confected mixture, with hints of red cherry sweetness and notable liquorice, and was actually incredibly similar to the nose of a Port.

The palate is smooth like velvet, but in contrast to the heaviness of the nose, the body comes though as medium and not over-bearing at all.  Dark cherry hits you straight away, and this gives way to a slightly distracting acidity which floods the mid-palate somewhat.  The finish is of a decent length and does retrieve some of the fully ripe fruits, but I detected a slight alcohol burn (which is odd as this isn’t that high alcohol).  After the first glass I left the wine to air for an hour and came back to it.  In fairness, the acidity had dropped away, the weight had rounded out and newer flavours of dark chocolate appeared to give the wine the body it needed.  This is a wine that I would recommend to decant first, and I don’t think I saw it at its best.

In summary, I think I need to try a further bottle to fully evaluate it.  It didn’t grab me straight away, which a good wine should be able to do, but there is clear evidence of good wine-making technique.

Even allowing for the need to re-try the Don Mendo, I adore the Pago Centro, which gives the ‘try a new wine’ experience a 50% success rate, and keeps me an advocate of the Premiere scheme.  I’m already looking forward to next month.

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