This was an off day, which is not the same as a day off. Woke up in Jumilla (southern Spain) at 5:45 AM to a crisp 23 degrees. Drove 200+ miles northwest to Madrid to pick up Anna and Heather, then another 200+ miles north to Navarra to visit a new Bodega. Tasted 18 wines, bought nothing. Every single wine was good, but nothing made the cut. To make the cut, a wine has to either scream ‘value’ or roar ‘wow’. These were mumbling.
Paniza is the home of Las Valles, ia Garnacha and Señorio del Águila, three bright stars of the HPS portfolio.
This is a vast Cooperative with amazingly high standards. 180 member owner growers own 30 acres each, with another 120 part-timers holding 5 acres each for a nice spread of 6000 acres of vines. A fortunate contact with a German supermarket chain 20 years ago led to big sales, with the proceeds invested wisely in improved viticulture (two agronomy PhDs work full time) and enology (a vast, totally modern cellar).
Our first vintage of Las Valles was 2009, a toasty year that gave us a white of decent crispness and an indecently rich red that was a sensational value. Victoriano, a winemaker I respect, preferred the light, aromatic 2010 reds but the American market loves the opulence of riper vintages. Lucky for us, 2011 qualifies.
The Las Valles white has been 90% Viura, 10% Chardonnay. Chardonnay is more expensive, so I was pleased when Paniza offered to up the % of Chard for a few pennies more. We selected a blend of 70/30. For other private label offerings, we also have available a blend of 85/15 and an unusual blend of 85% Viura, 10% Chardonnay and 5% Parellada. The aromatic, flowery Parellada is noticeable even at 5%. This is usually a Cava varietal but can be notable as a still white.
Las Valles red has been 50% Tempranillo, 40% Garnacha and 10% Syrah. Again, for a few pennies, we were allowed to up the Syrah to 20% and the 2011 will be 40/40/20. It is available for private label and we came up with 3 additional red blends for that purpose. #1 is 50/50 Tempranillo/Grenache. #2 is 45/45/10. #3 takes advantage of the excellent 2011 Grenache at 65%, with 35% Tempranillo.
In southern France, Grenache is thought of as an opulent varietal, yielding lightish-colored, broad, soft wines from riverstone soils just a few hundred feet above sea level. In North-central Spain, at over 2000 feet and grown on schist and granite, the wines are dark and firm. Tempranillo on its own can be too soft and here Grenache is added for color, intensity and backbone.
Good as these Grenache components are, they pale next to the 2011 ia Garnacha. The Garnacha for Las Valles is grown at 2000 feet and the vines average 15 years old. The grapes for ia Garnacha come from 2500 feet and of more importance are 60 years old. This year for the first time we blended in a small % of Syrah… to soften it! Toto, I don’t think we’re in the Southern Rhone any more.
Last year the Señorio del Águila wines were introduced to astonished acclaim and great sales. These are incredible values, with a 2009 Crianza available for not much over $10 and 2001 and 2004 Gran Reservas at $15+. The ’04 Reserva at <$15 is a great value from a great vintage, but for me the sleeper is the ’02 (same price), a silky, fully mature beauty. Unlike many Reservas and Gran Reservas from lesser-known D.O.s, these retain color, freshness and power at 10+ years of age.
The Paniza vineyards of the Virgen del Águila Cooperative are an impeccable resource for very good wines at completely improbable prices.