Confusing title perhaps, but I want to give tasting notes on one of my favourite Bierzo wines in very different vintages and also describe how that same wine is being altered for export to the US.
Bierzo is producing many outstanding red wines from the excellent indigenous grape Mencía. The region is very hot…producers from all over Spain are buying vineyards there. The top end wines are winning recognition from national and international wine critics. The prices, though still reasonable, are rising quickly. There are still a few great bargains…one of them is Cepas Viejas from the winery Dominio de Tares.
I have a soft spot for this wine...it was one of the wines at our wedding last September. The wine in the wedding was the 2003…now the 2004 is on the market.
Cepas Viejas is 100% Mencía and is aged about 9 months in American and French oak. It costs about 10€ here in Spain. 2003 was a very hot year…quite difficult in many parts of Spain. 2004 was generally a better year, dry but with less heat.
We only have a few bottles of the 2003 left and I like to put it in tastings against the 2004. The other day, the 2003 won again…it seems to be in its perfect moment for drinking now. It is at its peak and will not improve significantly, but it is holding on very well. The 2004 is still a brute, powerful and intense, but with some rough edges. I have already seen it improve in bottle since its release in fall 2006, but it still has a ways to go. The 2003 vintage made a lot of smooth, fruity, easily approachable wines, but many are not aging well. The Cepas Viejas 2003 is following that pathway, extremely pleasurable now, but definitely with a shorter lifespan than the 2004. The 2003 was far more approachable 8 months after release than the 2004 is today.
Cepas Viejas 2003: Vanilla cherry yogurt nose. Smooth mouth with cherry-vanilla, a hint of celery, clove. Tannins provide just a touch of grip but are very rounded. Very long fruit finish, like a cherry pie. Not a sharp edge. Still holding up well after 2 hours in glass.
Cepas Viejas 2004: milky, closed nose. Mineral with some cherry notes as it opens. Intense mouth, impressive structure, with very present tannins that are good quality, but need some polishing. Fresh cherry fruit in mouth. All angles still, but has lots of potential. With some time in glass…opened a lot.
The winery, Dominio de Tares, was one of the trendsetters in Bierzo, and has received acclaim form many international critics. Some of their other wines include:
Entry level wine with a few months of oak: Baltos (5€)
Reserva level wine: Bembimbre (20€)
Alta Expresion or Designer wine: P3 (45€)
All are very good.
The Cepas Viejas has been exported for some time to the US, but since 2003, the winery has done a separate label for the export wine….see the picture to the right! What a difference!
Even the name is changed: Exaltos instead of Cepas Viejas! Since 2004 the wine inside the Exaltos is actually different. Many wineries in Spain are now tweaking their export wines to better suit American palates. The Exaltos has 9 months in 100% French oak while the Cepas Viejas has 9 months in a mixture of American and French oak. Studies have shown that, ironically, the American palate much prefers the flavour French oak!!! If only those "Freedom Fry" people knew that!
When I get my hands on the 2004 Exaltos…I'll contrast it with the 2004 Cepas Viejas!
So remember when you taste some of those great Spanish wines arriving on American shores, you may be getting a different wine than what we are tasting here!