Monday, November 10, 2008

LeDom's Selection of the Month: November 2008, Bodegas Estefania 2001 "Tilenus" Mencia Bierzo Spain

Despite the fact that this wine has been on the market for quite some times now, I thought that it will be a good idea to talk about it and put it back in your mind. 

2001 Tilenus Pagos de Posada Bierzo

2001 Bodegas Estefania "Tilenus" Pagos de Posada Mencia Bierzo Spain
Suggested retail price $42-46
Distributed / Imported by  Ibanez Pleven in NYC 

The winery Bodegas Estefania is located in Bierzo, between the village of Dehesas and Posada del Bierzo, roughly 6 km west of the main town Ponferrada

Situated west of Rias Biaxas, less than 100 km from the northeastern corner of Portugal (northwestern part of Spain), Bierzo is a wine region, part of the province of Leon (Castilla y Leon), which has been officially recognized as a DO (Denominacion de Origen) in 1989.

Nestled in the middle of a mountainous area, Bierzo benefits from a special climate and diverse micro-climates influenced by three important factors: the high altitude with steep slopes; the proximity with the humid, oceanic climate of Galicia and on the other side the proximity with hot, dry climate of Castilla. These factors complement each other and create an ideal climate with enough rain fall and hours of sunshine per year for growing healthy robust vines and achieve great ripeness.  

The mountain soils consist of a few feet of humid, dark earth on top of layers of quartz, schist and slates of the Licorella type (similar to the Priorat region). It is the perfect soil and climate to enable the indigenous red grape variety "Mencia" to flourish and ripen evenly on these high altitudes, somewhat cool climate, steep slopes planted vineyards. 

Mencia represents 70% of the red grape planted in Bierzo and taste a bit like a Cabernet Franc. It seems to have some of the same aromas and flavors characteristics. Some vineyards are between 50 to 100 years old. Nearly forgotten and practically instinct until the 70's, a few producers revived it and in the same time put Bierzo back on the map. 

Bierzo produces mainly red wines predominantly with the Mencia grape and a bit with Garnacha Tintorera too. It also produces some white made with the Galician grape Dona Blanca, Godello and Palomino, and sold more locally some rose.

Fairly unknown with only a few labels available in the US market, the red wines of Bierzo gained a bit more recognition over the last few years and Tilenus surely helped to convince consumers of the high quality of this appellation. Bierzo wine prices range from low $10 up to $60+, the former tend to be light, smooth, well rounded and the later are complex, rich, earthy, with a good tannic structure and balance which confer them ageing potential. 

Bodegas Estefania produces some of the most sought-after wines in the area, mainly as a result of their spectacular vine holdings that have been in the family for many years. these holdings include 36 hectares of vineyards, the majority of which are over 70 years old, and are planted on pure schist. Despite the richness and the complexity brought by the age of their Mencia vines, they still have to lower the yield and need to harvest at full ripeness to avoid the green notes, hints of bitterness and high acidity (which are some of the particularities of the grape).   

2001 Bodegas Estefania "Tilenus" Pagos de Posada Mencia Bierzo is a medium bodied yet rich and well rounded wine with good acidity and ripe raspberry notes, great for Fall season. It was produced with grapes from 80-100 years old vines. The fermentation occurred partly in stainless steel tanks and partly in oak barrels. It was then aged for 18 months in 70% new French oak barrels, and 30% older barrels. 

On the nose, fragrant aromas of raspberry, cherry fruit and red currant intermingled with hints of black pepper, spice and floral notes. The palate, somewhat rustic and earthy yet enjoyable and balanced, exposes great minerality as well as soft tannins and touches of bitter chocolate and mocha. It combines the structure of a Cabernet Franc, the soft, bright texture of a Pinot Noir and some of the spicy character of a Syrah.  

It will be ideal with a rack of lamb cooked with herbs and garlic and served with wild mushrooms and green beans. 

LeDom (du Vin) 


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Home Drinking: 2004 Bodegas JC Conde "Neo" Ribera del Duero Spain

Hi everybody,

About 2 years ago, I went to Ribera del Duero (like I use to do every year in my previous job) to visit many wineries and taste wines at the barrel from the newest vintage and re-taste some of the newly bottled wines from the previous year and older vintages.

Amongst many other wineries visited over 2 or 3 days, I went to Bodegas J.C. Conde, Delgado y otras. Javier Ajenjo received me and my colleagues and gave us a little tour of what was, at that time, still a work-in-progress winery.

Bodegas J.C. Conde is somewhat a fairly new project founded in the late 90's by Julio Cesar Conde, Javier Ajenjo and Jose Luis Simon.

The vineyard-driven project was started without a vineyard by this small group of friends with 3 goals in mind: respecting the region traditions, aiming for high quality rather than quantity and producing great Ribera del Duero wines by searching the essence of wine.

They aim to produce wines with a balanced harmony between the ripe fruit aromas and flavors for early consumption and the oak influence for good ageing potential and structure.

The first few vintages were made out of purchased grapes and farmed grapes from local 50 years+ old vines. They slowly bought some vineyards and built a winery with the suggestions and winemaking expert knowledge of their winemaker, Isaac Fernandez, former cellar-master of Vega Sicilia.

Isaac's philosophy is:

"I try to make wines of the highest possible quality based on each year and look to be able to offer them to the world with reasonable and competitive prices. I try to respect to the maximum the identity of the vineyards and of the grapes with which I work, despite this is not an impediment to be able to develop my wines and to equip them with an elegance that differentiates them from the rest." Isaac Fernandez

Quite a few months later, Javier Ajenjo gave us a surprise gift for supporting his wines, to each of us, a bottle of Neo 2004 with our name on the label. It was very nice of him and I'm hoping to go back to the winery within the next few years.

2004 Bodegas J.C. Conde "Neo" Ribera del Duero Spain
Suggested retail price $55-$60
Distributed / Imported by Grapes of Spain in NYC (see also Aurelio Cabestrero)

Production: Produced from 50-60 years old vines planted in clay-limestone soils, located near the village of la Horra, this wine is a great example of the quality and the density that can be achieved in Ribera. Coming from vineyards managed with a specific intent to produce low yields of ripe, healthy fruit, the Tinto Fino or Tinto del Pais grapes (a synonym for Tempranillo in Ribera) were sorted and destemmed before being macerated-fermented for 20 days. The wine was then aged for 15 months in 80% French and 20% American new oak barrels (medium-plus toasted). It was finally bottled without fining, clarification or filtration. They produce about 16,000 bottles of this great 2004 vintage.

Tasting Note: I made a terrible mistake, 2004 Neo wasn't meant to be open two years after bottling. It was definitely long enough for this wine to really express itself. I decanted it twice and left it to rest for about 2 hours in the decanter before trying to drink it over the dinner.

The robe was really sombre. At first, the nose was a bit closed and discreetly delivered aromas of "opaque" dark fruit, earth, smokiness and hints of alcohol. The palate was very rich, opulent and dense yet tight and tannic with dark ripe fruit, earth, garrigues and smokiness. Even the finish seemed strong, oaky, and alcoholic. So we left the wine to rest in the closed decanter until the next night. My wife and I found it much better, open and in better condition than the previous day, but still tight.

Time will tell for this wine. It is way too soon to open it and really enjoy it. It needs to settle down and relax. Let's hope that time will tame this dark beast and that within the next 3-5 years, the tannins and the alcohol will be more integrated and in harmony with the fruit.

The wine was a real expressive, powerful and structured fruit bomb at the winery when we visited it. Maybe the wine just entered a sleeping phase and will reopen within the next few months or years. We will see.

Enjoy! (but not now!)
LeDom (du Vin)

Info partly taken from: and

Monday, November 3, 2008

Antic Wine: the wine store of a passionate, travelled wine and food lover (JoJo)

Hi everybody,

Recently, I met more and more French and non-French winemakers, producers, Domaine or Chateau owners or simply customers/travelers that seems to all know the same person. A store owner of the old city of Lyon who goes by the name of JoJo.

To my surprise, I give them the same answer everytime: "You know JoJo. I know JoJo too. We used to work together and I followed his adventures for many years before he settled in Lyon. He is a great guys...etc" and usually what was supposed to be a short meeting become a long discussion about wine, food and JoJo.

JoJo (aka Georges de Santos aka The Flying Sommelier) is in fact one the most knowledgeable guy I know in the wine industry. He is also the owner of a small yet overloaded-with-rare-wines-ports-spirits-and-other-gems-from-all-around-the-world store called: Antic Wine.

Often mistaken for TinTin (due to his somewhat resemblance to the famous little reporter from Herge), Georges is funny, super friendly, curious, stubborn in some ways and his personality mixes craziness with ingenuity. Very generous with a big heart, he has many passions and a life-long entertaining relationship with fine wine and food. He knows every single restaurant in Lyon and beyond and eat out in one of them each day, probably more than 360 days a years.

I met JoJo for the first time in 1997 when I landed my first job as a commis-Sommelier at Monte's Private Club in London. JoJo (at this time) was a waiter carrying the trays from the kitchen to the table under the supervision of his Chef de Rang and Maitre D'. The weird thing about this situation is that JoJo did have surely more knowledge about food and wine than any other staff members. He was also the most energetic person I knew but the management wouldn't give him a higher position.

During his break of a few hours (before going back to the restaurant for the evening service), he used to spend most of his time flirting with the best wine store in town in order to find some rare gems and old vintages of wines, ports and even brandy and spirits (from Colheitas and other vintage ports to Cognac and Armagnac, Jerez Sherry, Tokaji Aszu to TrockenBeeren Auslese, etc..), and anything else that could excite his mind and his palate. He was also reading a lot about wine, food and cultures from around the world.

I must say that Georges often enjoyed cooking for his many friends and we spent great times opening dozens or more bottles and smoking Cuban cigars each time we met with the bunch of food and wine lovers that we were back then (most of us were working in the restaurant business as Sommelier, Waiter, Bartender or Chef). These endless lunches or dinners were always memorable moments.

Somewhat frustrated after working as a Waiter, a Cook, a Bartender and a Sommelier in many places around London, he decided that he was time to travel the world in a quest of meeting with some of the most famous Domaines, Chateaux, winemakers, owners, producers, chefs and more. He took him four years to do it but he did it, alone with his backpack, his friendliness and his insatiable need to learn, discover and share mostly everything with people.

JoJo is the only person that I know that, during his trip, just knocked on the door of some of the most famous wineries and was welcome with open arms (without appointment). He also be-friended the owner and the winemaker in many estates that he visited. And many times, instead of just accepting to have lunch or dinner with them (like most people will do), JoJo had his own way: he offered them to cook for them and to prepare the lunch or the dinner for them...Who will dare do such thing except JoJo?...

JoJo came back from his trip and finally settled in Lyon, the Gastronomic Capital of France. He found a small semi-basement in the old part of the town (Le Vieux Lyon) between the 2 most reputed hotels of Lyon: "La Tour Rose" and "La Cour des Loges", and he transformed this little hole in the wall into one of the most soughtafter wine cellars in France with some of the oldest vintages of port available.

There, in his cellar, he opens bottle after bottle everyday. And I'm not talking about your everyday under $10 bottle of wine, I talking about the real deal, worldly famous labels that even collectors dream of opening but keep jealously in their cellar for unique occasions. For JoJo, everyday is a good occasion to open a few of those rare gems and share them with his customers for a more than modest tasting fee, and trust me, people are lining up at the door.

JoJo de-snob or unsnob the myth of ultra recognized labels and unaffordable wine brands. How he does it? First, he buys as much of these difficult-to-find gems everywhere he can, then bring them back to the store and start to open bottles after bottles for his everyday customers. Why he does it? Because he wants to experience each wine himself and share them with friends, connoisseurs and amateurs and especially all the people would will normally not have any access to these bottles.

It is not a question of money for JoJo, it is a question of sharing and enjoying the opened wines and the moment, that's it. No more than that. No fuss, No bullshit, No manners, No bourgeoisie, No aristocracy, No pretension. It is just about the pleasure of opening a very good bottle of wine, taste it and appreciate it for what it is. Ask him about Domaine de La Romanee Conti La Tache, Domaine Leflaive Monrachet, Petrus, Le Pin, Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Penfolds Grange Hermitage, Vega Sicilia, and much more... Ask him, you will see, he tasted them and drink them all, and share them all.

And in my opinion, there should be more people like JoJo to teach the world that wine is an earthy nectar produced by men and women that spend all of their energy, knowledge, patience and skills to craft the best elixir that they can make from the land and terroir that they love, nurture, observe and respect.

In 2006, I was one of the first fan to write a little note in French in his Livre D'Or on his website and to this day, this is one of my favorites notes that I wrote about someone in the wine industry:

"Georges, dit JoJo, il est de ces fous que l'on adore. Curieux, espliegle, bon-vivant et toujours une bone dose d'humour pour epicer le tout. Il est a l'extreme de l'extraordinaire et ivre de passion pour la bouffe, le bon vin, les voyages, les amis et les plaisirs de la vie en general. Avec un coeur gros comme ca et debordant d'energie, ce petit bonhomme vous accueillera dans sa caverne d'Alibaba pour une voyage autour du monde des vins sans precedent. Il vous contera surement certaines de ses aventures et ouvrira pour vous la porte cachee derrriere chacune des etiquettes de sa collection. Merci pour ta joie de vivre, ta generosite et la curiosite qui t'anime. Pleins de bonnes choses et encore Bravo pour avoir accompli l'un de tes plus beau reves. De la part d'un vieux copain Sommelier de Londres." Le Dom (10/06/2006)

It will be difficult to translate it literally, but I think it resume well the man and his passion.

Two years later, I'm still a big fan of Georges and continue to hear about him weekly via the many people that met him and went to his store to share a tasting session with him and his crew.

I will definitely recommend any wine and food lovers to travel to France, forget about Paris and go to Lyon, book a room at "La Tour Rose" or at "La Cour des Loges" and knock on the door of Antic Wine to meet Georges and his knowledgeable crew. You won't be disappointed, and especially you won't regret it.

The shop, Antic wine, is located at 18 Rue du Boeuf, 69005 Lyon France.

You can find more info on his website at:

If you go to Lyon and see JoJo, say hello from LeDom (du Vin) de New York.

LeDom (du Vin)