Category Archives: Wine importers

Bosco Falconeria, Sicily

Interview at Bosco Falconeria with Natalia and Tonino Simeti

My wife, Vals, a friend, Bosa Raditsa, and I went to Sicily in February 2015 for a three-week holiday. Vals and I first flew to Naples, where we had an utterly splendid time visiting its great museums and dining exceedingly well before taking the ferry to Palermo, where we met Bosa, who had come from Genoa by ferry with her car. We spent a few days in Palermo visiting extraordinary sites such as its gold-mosaic- encrusted Norman churches before finally departing to drive around the island to see as much as we could in the time that we had left. Our very first stop after leaving the city was the vineyard and winery Bosco Falconeria en route to the medieval hilltop town of Erice.

Prior to our departure for Sicily Vals and I had read several books about the island and one of our favorites was On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal, by Mary Taylor Simeti. Mary Taylor had just graduated from college in 1962 and had decided to spend a year in Sicily before returning to the States to go to graduate school. Manhattan-born, she had gone to Radcliffe, where she majored in medieval history, but was unsure of what to do once she had earned her degree. Instead, after working as an intern for nearly year while there, she fell in love with and married Antonio Simeti, a professor of agronomics in Palermo. She has lived in Sicily ever since, raising two children, Natalia and Francesco, writing several books on food, history, and Sicily, and helping run a farm and vineyard.

By the late 1980s Mary’s On Persephone’s Island (1986) was enjoying good reviews and a receptive readership in the United States. It was on her visits back to New York to visit family and promote her book that she learned about organic agriculture and brought information about it back to the farm. It was decided that organic viniculture would be the path that they would pursue in their quest to make quality wine at a reasonable price. By 1989 the entire farm had been fully converted to organic growing and three years later it became officially certified. It was registered as Bosco Falconeria azienda biologica Simeti-Taylor, and was one of the earliest adopters of organic agriculture in all of Sicily.

Even before the trip I had read online that the farm, Bosco Falconeria, was a producer of organic grapes for wine, a special interest of mine, so I decided to visit them as it was only 60 km. from Palermo, in Partinico, en route to the west coast of the island. I also learned that Bosco Falconeria has also been seeking wider distribution of their wines in the United States. In that case, there was all the more reason to taste the wines and write about them. So I wrote to Mary Taylor Simeti, who responded very graciously to say that we were welcome to come though she would be in the States when we arrived. Besides, she now has little to do with the care of the vineyard or the making of the wine at a nearby azienda. It is her daughter Natalia who, with her husband, now runs the farm and attends to the wine.

Sicily, Bosco Falconeria, 03So, in mid-February we set out for the farm, having punched the address into our Garmin GPS. Alas, the GPS took us very close to the farm, but on the wrong road. GPSs have a flair for doing that from time to time, especially in rural areas that are not well mapped. ( Had we had the farm’s coordinates we’d doubtless have done much better.) We eventually arrived there, an hour late, to our dismay and Natalia’s, for it was terribly close to their lunchtime. Nevertheless, she and her father, called Tonino by his family and friends, gave generously of their time for the interview and the tasting. Indeed, they were very charming and the conversation was most informative.

The farm has been in the Simeti family’s hands since 1933. At that time it was a 25-acre farm mostly dedicated to vineyards and the winery was in the barn. It came into Tonino’s possession in 1966 after his older brother died suddenly. Tonino and Mary then converted the farmhouse into a vacation home, living most of the year in Palermo while spending holidays and weekends there. The devastating Benice earthquake of 1968 in western Sicily, with its epicenter not far from the location of the farm, did considerable damage to the property and required extensive repairs and reconstruction.

At one time there were several palmenti, or stone crushpads where traditionally the grapes were stomped by barefoot workers, the juice running into tubs that were then poured into vats in the barn, where the winery was situated. However, all but one palmento is left, partly because of the difficulty of removing it and partly, perhaps, because it is a chunk of nostalgia good for conversation. It’s in the farmhouse, covered by a desk.

The farm is located in the province of Palermo, near Partinico, in the region of the D.O.C. of Alcamo, which was best known for its white wines when it was created in 1972, but now has a much more diverse range of varieties, including Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia, Grecanino and the non-native Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay among the whites. Nero d’Avola, as well as the non-native Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah are among the reds permitted in the zone. However, it should be pointed out that Bosco’s wines do not bear the Alcamo imprimatur of origin but rather the more general I.G.P. Terre Siciliani, which allows for a much wider range of varieties and styles than that of the D.O.C. It’s a small azienda of 17 hectares (42 acres) and 7 hectares (about 17 acres) are planted to vines.

Sicily, Bosco Falconeria, 08Natalia describes it thus: “ Our soil is red, rich in iron, grass-green in winter, sunburnt in summer. Our hills overlook the sea and the distant mountains: a patchwork of vineyards and olives, of fields and orchards.”

Tonino and Mary’s son Francesco eventually moved to the United States and lives in Brooklyn as a successful artist. Natalia went to university in Rome, where she earned a degree in Art History. Eventually that took her to the United States, where she worked as a museum administrator. However, Natalia returned to Sicily in 2005 and took a museological job in Palermo. She then met the man who would become her husband, Ramo Sali, from Finland, and now they two have children. After a while, as she was not that happy in her new job, and given that they spent every weekend at the farm, the lifelong connection to it proved to be too strong to resist. After three years passed she and Ramo took over running the farm and vineyard. Well before that the winery on the property had been closed down and the grapes were being sent to a small, local winery, Azienda Cossentino, which also makes organic wine of its own.

Natalia’s passion is not only the vineyard but the farm and its other products as well. There are olive groves and orchards with various species of fruit trees. The produce is sold in Palermo along with fresh and dried legumes as well. All are grown organically.

The varietals that they make are two of Catarratto and one of Nero d’Avola. Catarratto is a white grape and it is the most widely planted variety in Sicily and the fourth in all of Italy. While it has been used for the production of sweet, fortified Masala, but it has moved up in the world to offers, at its best, a citrusy nose, nutty taste, or can even, resemble Viognier when fully ripe. The Nero d’Avola is a red-wine grape that is the most planted—at nearly 50,000 acres—on the island. Once used primarily as a tenturier in the making of wines on the mainland that needed more color, it too has found its place, producing varietal wines with black fruit aromas and high acidity. The best will age well. It is sometimes blended with Cabernet Franc, Syrah, or other such varieties, and in Cerasuolo da Vittoria, Sicily’s only DOCG, it is blended with Frappato to make a distinctive light red wine. The important thing is that the two varieties thrive in the black soils of this DOC.

At Bosco, there are two subtypes or clones of the Catarratto grape planted: Comune and Extralucido. The comune is, as the name implies, the more common of the two, and when ripened, has the highest sugar content and lowest acidity, with dusky grape skins, whereas the extralucido has the lowest sugar and highest acidity, with a rather bright skin (i.e., little or no bloom on it). The latter is also the one that has the most aroma. (In between these two subtypes is a third, lucido, but it does not feature in Bosco’s wines.) Today plantings of Catarratto of all three subtypes dominate in the provinces of Palermo, Agrigento, and particularly Trapani, mostly at elevations of 250 m. (820 ft. or more) which is almost exactly the altitude of Bosco Falconeria, located as it is in the hills in the west of Palermo province.

Bosco Catarratto labelBosco’s Catarratto come in two styles. One is designated as a varietal, with the name of the grape on the label. It is steel-fermented and the 2012 version has 13% alcohol. The second is called Falco Peregrino, which is fermented on the skins, using wild yeasts. Also steel-fermented, it has but 11% alcohol. It has more character, with a citrusy aroma and slightly tannic astringency derived from the skins, and a mildly bitter aftertaste that is typical of the variety. No sulphites are added to the second version. Both styles benefit from some age and should be served chilled. At present, only the rather austere Catarratto is available in the United States, the Falco Peregrino not yet, perhaps because it is less stable for travel given the lack of added sulphites.

According to Natalia, Catarratto, as a varietal, “gets better with time.” We tasted both a 2012 and a 2013, and vintage differences aside, the 2012 had the advantage of an additional year which made the wine a bit more rounded and somewhat less austere, but she pointed out that a recently-tasted 2007 was very nicely developed, but we didn’t have that for our tasting. How long these Catarratto will age obviously depends on the vintage, but clearly some age is recommended for the wine to express itself fully and well.

The vines are either pruned to a Guyot trellis or pruned in the Alberello alcamese manner, which is to say, in the form of a small tree kept low to the ground with a short cane carrying three or four buds tied to a spur on another branch, thus forming an arc. This kind of pruning is ideal in areas of strong and persistent winds, so that though the fruit may be splayed on the ground, it is kept dry and free of disease by the breezes. A great advantage of this kind of pruning is that all the fruit is close to the trunk and tends to ripen at the same time. The disadvantage of the Albarello form is that it cannot be harvested mechanically and the labor is backbreaking.

However, when I pointed out to Natalia that harvesting Alberello-trained vines was so difficult, her response was to say that there’s a great deal of work that goes into installing a trellis system like the Guyot, it’s just that much of the work is at the beginning of the season rather than at harvest. Furthermore, she likes the fact that she doesn’t have to walk in a straight line to get to the end of a row and in fact can circle the vine and reach it and work on it easily. Indeed, it occurs to me that those advantages help explain why alberello has been in use since Roman times and until about the 1950s was almost the exclusive form of pruning in all of Sicily. Once modern vinicultural practices began to make headway in Sicily its use began to diminish precipitously. Today only about eight percent of all vines on the island are so trained.

Bosco Nero d'Avola labelNero d’Avola, Bosco’s other variety, is known for its tendency to grow radially rather than upright, which is what most vinifera varieties do. It therefore lends itself well to alberello training. Not long ago it was grown mostly in the southeastern part of the island, but it is more widely distributed now. It is an early ripener and its wine can be quite dark, with dark fruit notes on the nose, especially blackberry. It can be made with medium to high alcohol, depending on the site and so on, but it is typically high in acidity that in a well-made version will help balance the rather soft fruit.

At Bosco the variety is fermented and stored in stainless steel, so it never has contact with wood, for the idea is to have a pure expression of the fruit. Thus the wine is fermented on the skins and aged in steel for nine months and then refined in the bottle for about four months. The 2012 that I tasted offered a medium body with just 12% alcohol, but black fruit was evident on both the nose and palate, and it had a strong acid backbone.

All the wines are made to be sold at affordable price points and in that respect they offer decent value. The Catarratto that I purchased in New York City costs $20 a bottle. The total of all the wines produced is but 8,000 bottles, which is barely 660 cases.

It is only in the last several years that the Simetis have become more aggressive in promoting and selling the wine in new markets in Italy and abroad. Before that the wine produced had been sold locally and in Palermo, but today some of it is imported to the United States by Jenny & François Selections, who specialize in natural wines.

According to Jenny & François, most of the wines are sold to on-premise accounts so there are only a few retailers that carry them in New York State. These are:

  • Back Label Wine Merchants, New York City
  • Foragers City Wines, New York City
  • Grape Expectations in Tarrytown, NY

Bosco is also a B&B as well as a Tai Chi center, as Ramo is an instructor in that art of exercise.

Sicily, Bosco Falconeria LogoAddress: c. da Bosco Falconeria s.n.c. – 90047 Partinico (PA)

Owner: Natalia Simeti

Oenological consultants: Salvatore D’Amico, Vito Lauria
Vineyard managers: Antonio & Natalia Simeti

Sicily, Bosco Falconeria, 06Visits are by appointment only

Certified organic by Codex srl

Useful references:

Camuto, Robert. Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey, 2008

Nesto, Bill and Frances di Savino. The World of Sicilian Wine, 2013

Robinson, Jancis, et al. Wine Grapes. Ecco: NY, 2012

Simeti, Mary Taylor.  On Persephone’s Island, 1986

Interview with Tom Puyaubert of Bodegas Exopto, Rioja

Exopto logo



exopto1 | ,eksõptõ | verb [ with obj. ]

1 from the Latin exopto, are, avi, atum.
To desire eagerly, long for.

2 winery founded in 2003 by Tom Puyaubert in La Rioja.

It is fascinating that more often than one may care to count, a winemaker comes across a way to make a new wine quite by accident. Not all accidents in the vineyard or winery are happy ones, but in Tom’s case two such accidents led to very happy results.

The first such accident happened in the vineyard in 2005, when heavy rains threatened the crop. Fortunately, the Tempranillo was ready to be picked before the rains struck—it is, after all, an early ripener, as its name indicates (temprano means early). There was a significant crop of the variety and not very much of the shy and recalcitrant Graciano, which was then still rather green on the vine. Tom made the obvious and appropriate decision to pick the Tempranillo and leave the Graciano for later. Ten days later, in October, after the rains were over and he finally had time to take a look, he found the Graciano nearly raisined on the vines but chose to pick it nonetheless. The results amazed him, for Graciano is usually picked much earlier to escape the September rains. In this case the resulting wine was exception and this led to his flagship wine, Exopto. (More about Exopto below.)

The second accident occurred in the winery. Viura, the primary Rioja white grape, was already in cask and after a few months was ready to be bottled, but Tom’s wife was about to give birth, so of course the new baby took precedence over the fate of the Viura. By the time that Tom got back to the Viura in barrel, it had already developed further. Tom realized that the additional time in oak had evolved the wine into something much more interesting that he’d expected and decided to give it yet more time on wood. A full year of aging in barrel produced a wine of surprising and exceptional character. That wine became his Horizonte Blanco. (More about Horizonte Blanco below.)

Tom PuyaubertTom, born in Bordeaux, has now lived in Spain for fifteen years, even though his original intent was to complete his studies in international business within six months. In order to support himself while there he engaged with a French oak-barrel maker, Saury, to sell its products in Spain. However, he fell in love with the region and its wine-producing potential and decided to pursue his dream of making his own wine there. He had already had experience working for wineries in the United States and France. In fact, when he was but 20 years old Tom had decided not to go to California, as so many European hopefuls who wanted to become winemakers did, because he felt he’d gain more and learn more by working for a small, family-owned winery than for a California behemoth. He chose Virginia and worked for Rockbridge Vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley for four months where became adept in all aspects of winegrowing and winemaking, picking up Spanish while working in the vineyard with the Mexican workers.

It was while working at Rockbridge that he determined that this was what he wanted to do in life, and he will always remember with gratitude Shepard Rouse, the owner and winemaker, whom he considers his mentor. He learned everything that he needed to know in the vineyard, the winery, the office, and the tasting room. It was, Tom said, “A complete experience technically, culturally, and even linguistically.”

Bodegas Exopto is one of the many new wineries in Rioja that is breaking new ground with new ideas, new attitudes, and new technology. There are still many traditionalist die-hards (and long may they live) such as Marqués de Murrieta, López Herredia, and others that will continue to produce their wines using American oak, aging the wines—both red and white—for long periods, and then delaying their release in bottle until they are deemed ready to consume. Very deep pockets are needed in order to do this. This has long been a recipe for making great wine in Rioja, but it is slowly yielding to the global advances in technology and new ideas. Exopto, founded in 2003, is at the cutting edge of the new in all respects.

An important point to grasp about Rioja is rooted in its history as a wine region. Wine had been made there for many generations and its consumption was largely local. For the most part it was sold in cask and very little of it was bottled. This was radically changed by the arrival of many Bordelaise winemakers who fled to Spain when phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Bordeaux. The French purchased grapes from the growers, established many new wineries or worked for existing ones, and changed the nature of Rioja wine, but they also helped create a divide between the winegrowers and the winemakers. There are now 500 wineries and 15,000 vineyards.

Tom wanted to do things differently, which meant that he would lease his vineyards but also have a winery to make wine from his own fruit. In this way he could control everything. He is a genuine terroirist and garagiste, which is to say vineyard manager and winemaker, as well as part owner. Nonetheless, all of his wines conform to the regulations of the Rioja Consejo de Denominación de Origen Calificada (D.O.Ca.).

The following are Exopto’s vineyards with a full description of the terroir of each (this information comes from the winery’s Website):

Exopto vines, PeriquitaPeriquita

Location: Abalos, altitude of 200 meters.

Surface area: 1,5 Ha. (3.8 acres)

Soil: gravel with sandy subsoil.

Variety: Tempranillo.

Orientation: south.

Special features: due to its orientation and soils this vineyard produces some very mature and fruity Tempranillos.

Wine: Bozeto.

Exopto vines, PortilloEl Portillo

Location: Abalos, altitude of 600 meters.

Surface area: 0,5 Ha. (1.25 acres)

Soil: gravel with sand subsoil.

Variety: Tempranillo, Garnacha.

Orientation: north – south.

Special features: very old vines situated on land in part of the village. An air current often blows through this parcel lying at the foot of the Sierra Cantabria Mountains. However, its stony ground allows the heat of the day to be absorbed. This results in grapes that are well-balanced and complex with great freshness.

Wine: Exopto.

Exopto vines, las abejasLas Abejas

Location: Abalos, altitude of 400 meters.

Surface area: 1,5 Ha. (3.8 acres)

Soil: calcareous clay.

Variety: Tempranillo.

Orientation: south – east.

Special features: vineyard of very old vines (60 years old) with an extremely limited yield (1kg/per vine) producing some highly concentrated wines with excellent structure.

Wine: Horizonte.

Exopto vines, chulatoChulato

Location: Abalos, altitude of 200 meters.

Surface area: 2 Ha. (5 acres)

Soil: calcareous clay.

Variety: Tempranillo.

Orientation: south – west.

Special features: the particular feature of this slope with very good sun exposure is the presence of a subterranean river that borders the vineyard. This cool atmosphere ensures that some very well-balanced, complex grapes are obtained which always maintain very good acidity.

Wine: Horizonte, Exopto / Parte Alta.

Exopto vines, las balsillasLas Balsillas

Location: Alfaro – Monte Yerga, altitude of 500 meters.

Surface area: 0,2 Ha. (0.5 acre)

Soil: pebbles.

Variety: Graciano.

Orientation: east.

Special features: a Graciano “micro-parcel” with very good orientation that allows the grapes to ripen gradually. A river running in the subsoil regulates maturity in extremely hot conditions.

Wine: Exopto.

Exopto vines, el agudoEl Agudo

Location: Alfaro – Monte Yerga, altitude of 500 metres.

Surface area: 3 Ha. (7.6 acres)

Soil: gravel, sandy subsoil.

Variety: Garnacha.

Orientation: east.

Special features: an old Garnacha parcel (60 years old) that enjoys a Mediterranean influence especially favourable for perfect maturity. The altitude allows good acidity to be obtained and vigour on the palate.

Wine: Bozeto

As can be seen from the pictures above, all the vines are gobelet-trained (called en vaso in Spain, and also referred to as bush vines). The vines must be managed manually and hand-harvested.

There is something extremely satisfying about finding a winery Website that provides such complete information about its vineyards, for very few provide it.

Eighty percent of his production is exported abroad. It is difficult, as a newcomer, to break into the highly competitive markets for wine in countries like France, Germany, England, or Spain itself. He’s had much more success selling his wine in Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Singapore, and now in the United States, thanks to Patrick Mata and Olé Imports. In fact, Olé has been importing his wines to the U.S. since 2006, beginning with his 2004 Horizonte. He now sells about half of his total production here.

Etiqueta bozetoHis most popular and affordable wine is the Bozeto (formerly known as “Big Bang”), made of 50% Garnacha, 40% Tempranillo, and 10% Graciano, made from organically and sustainably-grown vines that were planted in 1980. The 2012 is still young but very approachable. It has a nearly opaque purple core in the glass with a very narrow meniscus, and its nose is of medium intensity, redolent of red and black berries, and briefly manifests notes of sardines when first opened, but that vanishes as it breathes and peppery notes come forward. (In fact, I’d give it an hour to air before serving it so that it can really open up.) In the mouth it shows a lifted acidity and medium to full body with nicely-balanced tannins; very fruit-forward—dominated the berry flavors—with notes of licorice, especially in the finish. It has gotten 90+ points from Robert Parker over several vintages. I’d call it a perfect barbecue wine and the price is also right at $15 retail.

Etiqueta horizonte tintoThe Horizonte Tinto is another wine that is exceptionally good and available at a very reasonable price, but there is so little of it that most of it can only be found in restaurants. Still, a wine that earns scores of 90 plus consistently is one to which we should all pay attention. This red wine stands out by being a blend that reflects Rioja tradition, while the growing and making of it is other than traditional.

As with his other wines, Tom’s approach is very rigorous, with an almost fanatical attention to details. When the grapes are brought into the tiny winery 70% are destemmed and the balance is lightly crushed. All are then macerated for four days at 5° Celsius (41° F.) before being transferred to concrete tanks for fermentation with the native yeasts that live on the skins. Post-fermentation the wine then spends another twenty days of maceration in contact with the skins, which impart yet more color, tannin, and flavor. The wine is then placed in highly-toasted barrels, 80% of which are made by Saury, a famous oak cooperage in France for which Tom is the representative in Spain. The other 20% are made of American oak—a nod to another tradition in Rioja, the use of American oak from the Appalachians However, beginning with the 2011 vintage, Tom only uses French oak, which in his opinion seems better suited to Rioja wines as what it imparts lends more elegance and subtlety to the wine. One third of all the barrels are new, another third are one year old, and the balance is two years old. The result is wine that after a year in toasted wood has acquired a smoky aroma and tobacco notes, while the fruit is expressed as black fruit—cherry and berry alike, and a hint of licorice in the finish. This is a wine that can be drunk now but should continue to evolve for a few years. Pretty remarkable for only $32.

For Tom, the use of new oak is akin to using salt to season food. Too much salt and the dish is ruined, too little and it lacks flavor. So it is with new oak; its use must be judicious and balanced. As a matter of fact, one could say that Tom is a master of oak usage, given that he also works for a cooperage.

Exopto 1,5L CUVÉE IBONThe Exopto is made of 60% Graciano, which is almost unique among the wines produced in Rioja. In the first place, there are only 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) planted in all of Rioja; his plot of Graciano is a mere half-acre. Furthermore, it is a wine that is only made in good years, as is the case with the 2010. Graciano is a difficult grape to grow and really needs ideal conditions in order to develop and mature properly with ample exposure to sunlight, else it will be far too acidic and green. As a result, given that most growers are looking for quantity more than quality, Graciano has been pulled and replaced with more productive vines like Tempranillo.

The thing about Graciano, as Tom discovered in 2005 quite by accident, is that it is the variety that must be picked last in the season, so that the acidity is brought more in balance, sugars have time to build up, and over-ripeness is the key. In years that are too cool, like 2008 and 2013, no wine is made as the fruit will not adequately mature in such a condition. In a year like 2010, when the conditions were just right, he bottled the Exopto, producing just a few dozen cases.

This is a very big wine, presenting itself with a purple opacity in the glass that cues you to what lies ahead. At four years this is still a young wine as is apparent from the color and nose, which is pungent with aromas of blackberry, graphite, black coffee, and minerals. In the mouth it feels huge, with its bracing acidity, firm tannins, and black fruit, along with a long, lingering finish. Still youthful, it needs about five years before it will ready to drink, and could be held in a proper cellar for decades more, thanks to its 60% Graciano, blended with 30% Tempranillo and 10% Garnacha. It earned 94 points in Wine Spectator. With only 342 cases produced it is indeed a very rare wine, yet its price for the quality is very reasonable at about $70 retail, but it is mostly sold in restaurants.

Mazuelo, a variety often used in Rioja red blends (usually with Tempranillo and Graciano), is the one traditional variety entirely absent in Tom’s wines.

Etiqueta horizonte blancoViura is another challenging variety. Usually, by itself, it produces a rather neutral and uninteresting wine. A handful of producers make some remarkable white wines dominated by Viura that have been aged in oak barrels for ten years, such as López Heredia’s Viña Tondonia White Grand Reserve 2009. These are very big and rather expensive wines, but then López Heredia is among the greatest and most traditional of wineries and one of the few to own its vineyards. For Tom, the discovery that Viura benefited from long contact with wood was a personal epiphany. One year in mostly neutral oak was all that it took for him to create a Viura-based white that was far from ordinary, though not at all like a Viña Tondonia either.

Tom makes the Horizonte Blanco with great care. Once the Viura is picked it is first fermented in stainless-steel vats so that the temperature can be controlled. As the fermentation begins to slow down the must is transferred to oak barrels to complete the fermentation. The barrels are not racked but rather the wine is kept on its lees, which at the beginning undergo battonage once a week, later every two weeks, and finally once a month. It is done using a system of special rollers that support the barrels and allow them to be rotated rather easily by hand. No baton is used for these lees. The same is done for all his wines.

The resulting wine is bright, with at first a nose offering stone fruit and citrus, but as it evolves in the glass it begins to yield a floral bouquet of considerable intensity. It offered a long, minerally finish that was refreshing and very satisfying. It is certainly ready to drink now but could continue to age in bottle for another several years. Only 1,800 bottles were made. All this for a mere $32.

These are wines that represent an interesting spectrum, from the quaffable, barbecue-friendly Bozeto, to the more refined character of the two Horizontes, to the powerful and elegant Exopto, all the product of a master crafter of wine from one of the great vinicultural and oenological regions of the world. It is not by accident.

Exopto wines come into the U.S. through Olé Imports, about which I wrote in a post back in October 2012 (Patrick Mata of Olé Imports). Their address and phone are:

Olé Imports USA:
Patrick Mata
56 Harrison St. Suite 405
New Rochelle, NY 10801
Ph.: 914-740-4724
Fax: 413-254-8923

Olé Imports Spain:
Alberto Orte
C/ Girasol, 4, Bq.1, 3ºB
11500 El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz
Ph.: +34-91-559-6659
Fax: +34-91-185-0945

Olé Imports

Bodegas Exopto

01.300 Laguardia, Álava, Spain / T +34 650 21 39 93 /

Exopto Web page

The interview with Tom Puyaubert took place on 9 June 2014


Patrick Mata of Olé Imports and a Tasting of Rare Riojas

Olé Imports/Peninsula Wines

Interview with Patrick Mata, 1 May 2012

 Olé, a word heard in the bullrings of Spain and meaning roughly the same as “bravo,” is a shout of approval, and thus an apt name for this young importing firm, founded in 1999, and which has been receiving accolades from critics like Robert Parker and the hard-to-please “Wine Curmudgeon” (see quotations from both, below).  The company was founded by two men then in their twenties, Patrick Mata and Alberto Orte, starting with three bottles of wine.

Patrick’s father was a malagueño, his mother Belgian.  Patrick was born in Málaga in 1978, but his father’s family came originally from the town of La Mata, Soria in N. Spain but his great grandfather moved to Andalucía, taking with him the surname Mata, after the town.  A winery was established by him in Málaga, where in addition to Malaga wine, Rioja, Priorato and Jerez wines were produced, under the name of Compañía Mata. Their wines were sold in Spain and abroad, including Russia, Switzerland, Germany, the U.S., and Cuba.

When José Mata, the grandfather, died in the late 1960’s all the family-owned wineries were sold.  Patrick’s father had worked in the wine trade for six years, but once the wineries were sold he went into the real state development business.  Meanwhile, Patrick remains fascinated by his family history and its involvement in the wine business.  He’s been seeking Mata wines and found an 1816 Málaga sweet wine (rather like Madeira in style), but the owner wanted $32,000 for it.

He studied at the University of Madrid at the Escorial and it was there that he met Alberto, whose family had also been in the business of wine.

Alberto, Patrick’s partner in Olé Imports, is a madrileño and, like Patrick, attended the University of Madrid, where they met.  Alberto studied Law and Patrick business afterwards formed a partnership and started an advertising company by the name Olé Marketing, in Madrid, which would be the foundation later to the wine company Olé Imports. At 19 years of age, Patrick went to Miami to attend the University of St. Thomas, while in college; Patrick audited a wine class at Florida International University (FIU). He ended up taking a one-semester course with Chip Cassidy on the subject of the distribution of wine and spirits in the US.  Patrick called Alberto in Madrid to tell him that he needed some wines for Prof. Cassidy to taste, so he was sent three bottles, including a sweet Montilla.  He met Cassidy—who in addition to being on the faculty of FIU was also a buyer for twenty-five wine shops—on a Saturday at 10:00, along with some of his distributors.  Upon tasting the wines one distributor, Carlos García of Iberia Wines, ordered 400 cases.  He wanted to then place a second order after the first one had sold out, and at this point Alberto had to seek out other wines to export.

After graduating, Patrick moved to New York and, after six months searching for a distributor, Martin Scott Wines was recommended, so he signed a distribution agreement with that firm.  He also traveled to Connecticut, Vermont, Ohio, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, to drum up business for the wines that Olé was offering.

By 2006 Alberto, staying behind in Spain, decided to enrolled in the master program of Oenology and Viticulture at the Politecnic University of Madrid. He then went on to start making wine—not found in the US—in different regions throughout Spain. A Rioja wine priced under $10 and a Priorat wine at $15 are two examples of 25 different wines that Alberto is now handling and distributing throughout Spain and now in the United States.

Olé now has 150 different Spanish wines in its portfolio, including the 25 created and made by Alberto.  The style of wines that they make and sell are of relatively low extraction. Many wines are aged in concrete tanks which, like oak, actually breath, impart no wood characteristics, and are inexpensive by comparison with wood barrels.  Furthermore, Alberto also rescues varieties that have on occasion been on the verge of extinction, such as the mere six hectares (about 15 acres) of Tintilla de Rota in the DO region of Cádiz, in southwestern Andalucía.  He is perhaps the only person to be making dry red wine from this variety.

Olé presently distributes its wines in forty-three States.  In addition, they have also created a new portfolio category, Peninsula, which includes many more boutique wineries than those by Alberto.  It is a more special vehicle for wines that are not known even in Spain, perhaps barely in their own regions.  Furthermore, the demand for the overall range of wines that Olé offers comes from ten countries so far, including Japan, Germany, Italy, as well as other countries, including the USA.

A prize for the best Spanish wine firm was awarded on May 9, 2012 in Madrid:  among the finalists were Torres, the Catalan wine producer that helped revolutionize the production of wine in Spain; Marqués de Cáceres, a Rioja producer that changed the way that Rioja wines are marketed and perceived outside of Spain; and Olé Imports, by far the youngest firm among them.

Wine Tasting at Instituto Cervantes, New York City, 15 October 2012

A wine tasting for the trade was held at the Instituto Cervantes and included not only the regular portfolio of Peninsula Wines but also ten rare Rioja wines that were part of a collection called El Panteón del Vino—The Pantheon of Wine—that came from a renowned restaurant, Los Tamarises, in Getxo, just north of Bilbao.  Four generations of the Lazcano family, owners of the restaurant, have assembled these wines over the years.  The Pantheon wines have been stored in the underground cellar of Los Tamarises since 1930 onwards.  When the restaurant closed earlier this year, its collection was sold at auction.  It included many vintages of the fabulous and legendary Vega Sicilia, in Ribera del Duero, all of which were purchased by the owner of the winery for its library.  The Rioja wines were nearly ignored by comparison, so that Patrick’s partner, Alberto, was able to successfully bid for them.  Among the treasures that were part of the collection of Riojas was a single bottle of 1881 Marqués de Riscal Reserva—it can be had for about $1,440 retail.  Other wines included a 1926 Marqués de Riscal Reserva, a 1928 Reserva Especial de Martínez Lacuesta, and so on, with the latest bottles including a Bodegas Federico Paternina Gran Reserva of 1982.  Following are the ten wines that were selected for the recent tasting (all having been decanted and then poured from carafes):

  1. Bodegas C.V.N.E. “Imperial” Gran Reserva 1935 – the oldest of the rare Riojas in the tasting, it exhibited the typical color of an old red wine:  pale, brownish at the core, not yet oxidized.  On the nose it offered terciary aromas of old leather and tobacco, in the mouth it came across as harmonious, with good acidity, well-knit tannins, and moderate alcohol (12%), showing tobacco, wet leather, and spicy notes.  This wine was originally created for the English market in the 1920s—bottled as an Imperial pint (500ml) and is now C.V.N.E.’s top wine—today made with a blend dominated by Tempranillo, followed by Mazuelo and Graciano.  The blend for the 1935 is not known.  I went back to this wine several times over a period of two hours and it continued to hold up with no hint of fading.  It is interesting to note that this was from the last vintage before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War—a very good vintage, in fact.  A long finish as well for a remarkable wine.  It turned out to be my favorite of the tasting, a sentiment concurred in by several other tasters.  (The grapes come from old vines in the Rioja Alta, the region that produces the most elegant wines.)
  2. Marqués de Riscal Reserva 1945 – its color was a bit deeper than the 1935, mature, giving out terciary aromas with a balsamic character that suggested aged Cabernet Sauvignon, which in fact was the result of the 70% domination of that grape in the blend, which also included Tempranillo, Graciano, and possible even some Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Viura.  That would be a remarkable blend, and it is the 1945 that has the most dominant Cabernet Sauvignon of any vintage of Riscal.  In the mouth it offered aged balsamic, wet leather, and hints of tobacco and cedar, medium-bodied.  It had been aged for 48 months in barrel.  A very fine old wine.  (The Cabernet, by the way, was planted at the time of the founding of Riscal in 1858, as it was then conceived as a winery that would be making Bordeaux-style wines.)
  3. Marqués de Riscal Reserva 1952 – its color has a very pale raspberry hue.  Its nose was, of course, fully developed, and it also offered aromas of balsamic and rather fruity—old leather is not evident in this one.  Like the ’45, it has a large portion of Cabernet (though not as much) in the blend and had the benefit of being of an excellent vintage year in Rioja.  It had very good structure which was reflected in the sensations it produced in the mouth—acidity, alcohol, and tannin all harmoniously integrated, with notes of balsamic, leather, vanilla, spice.  Very nice indeed.
  4. Bodegas C.V.N.E. Viña Real Reserva Especial 1952 – Not as aromatic as the 1935, more subdued, with some fruit and old leather, fully mature.  Medium-bodied, with a good balance of alcohol, acidity, and integrated tannins.Quite lovely.Its grapes come from old vines in the Rioja Alavesa.
  5. Viña Pomal Reserva Especial 1952 – from a winery established in 1908 and renowned for its reserve wines.  A very pale brick color, this Reserva seemed closed and tired after a few hours in carafe, so I was disappointed when I tasted it, thinking that it offered little, but apparently it needed nearly six or seven hours of aeration before it really opened up and showed its stuff, according to Patrick.  I regret not having been able to taste it at that point myself.
  6. Bodegas C.V.N.E. “Imperial” Cosecha 1955 – – this wine was remarkably like the 1935, which is high praise, and it had the benefit of coming from an exceptional year in Rioja.  Pale brick color, with a subdued bouquet, with notes of wet leather, tobacco, spice.  In the mouth, medium-bodied, almost sweet.  Though 20 years younger than the 1935, it actually offered less length and not so long a finish as the older wine.  Still, a really good example of an old vintage.
  7. Viña Pomal Reserva Especial 1955 – Embarrasingly for me, I have no tasting notes for this wine, though I had definitely tried it.
  8. Bodegas C.V.N.E. “Imperial” Cosecha 1956 – its color was a pale, brick red, and on the nose I detected a hint of VA (volatile acidity) which gave it a prick, but it was clearly mature, with leather and tobacco notes.  In the mouth it was acidic, but with well-integrated tannins and the mature notes of leather and tobacco with a hint of vanilla.  Fragile, I’d say.
  9. Marqués de Riscal Reserva 1960 – by this vintage, Riscal had abandoned its Cabernet and in fact produced a wine that was 100% Tempranillo.  A medium-pale reddish-brown, the wine evinced tobacco and vanilla on the nose, but with hints of autumn in the air—a sign that the wine, while still good to drink, was already in decline—not necessarily a bad thing if you like the autumn air.  In the mouth, I found it a trifle tired, a bit acidic, but that the tobacco and leather flavor was still in evidence.  It came from a good vintage, but it seemed even older than the ’45 Riscal or the ’35 Imperial.
  10. Marqués de Riscal Reserva 1969 – this was a pale brick-red color showing brown hues, but the nose was still fresh yet developed; in the mouth it was balanced, exhibiting subdued tobacco-leaf and vanilla flavors; clearly mature, but the finish was somewhat short.

NOTE:  One must always bear in mind that very old wines pose special challenges, such as the condition of the corks, which if not replaced after 15 years or so can turn bad.  In fact, none of these wines had been recorked, so the oldest cork went back 77 years.  All of the corks broke apart upon opening the bottles, so the wines were decanted through a mesh filter to keep the cork from  going into the decanters, but amazingly none of the wines were “corked,” that is, affected by TCA, which spoils the wine.  Ullage, or the amount of the air in the bottles, was mostly at the lower neck, with only one at high shoulder, so, as all the corks were intact before being pulled, none of the wines was already oxidized upon being opened.  That speaks extremely well of the storage conditions of the restaurant cellar.  Old wines can also vary considerably from one bottle to the next.

From the regular portfolio of Peninsula wines that were also available for tasting, the following stood out for me:

  • Pinyolet Garnacha 2010 (DO Montsant; 100% Garnacha from fifty-year-old vines, dry-farmed and organically grown) – with a $16 suggested retail price, this wine has to be considered a bargain, given its deep ruby color, youthful, aromatic nose loaded with minerals and black fruit; in the mouth well-balanced, with good structure, and plenty of flavor.  It was aged for six months in a stainless-steel tank on its lees.  It was made by Carles Escolar.  Quite special.
  • Blanc d’Orto 2011 (Village wine of Masroig; DO Rias Baixas) – this wine, a clear, medium lemon-gold color, proffered aromas of tropical fruit with a citrus edge, and was youthful and fresh in the mouth, with good acidity, a medium body, and flavors redolent with tropical fruit and citrus.  It had spent seven months in a stainless-steel tank.  Made by Joan Arsens for Orto Vins, it is delightful and well worth the suggested price of $43 a bottle.
  • Leirana Albariño 2011 (DO Rias Baixas) – everything that an Albariño should be, this is.  Clear, with a light lime-gold hue, it has a perfumed, racy nose of tropical fruit and lime, and it adumbrates the taste perfectly, with a very tingly finish that is long for a youthful white wine.  Raul Perez made this wine for Forjas del Salnes—which you’ve certainly never heard of (nor I), fermenting it with ambient yeast, no malo, and aged in stainless steel.  No wonder it tingles.  All this for only $37.
  • DSG Phincas 2009 (DOCa Rioja, Biodynamic® without certification—blended from five parcels) – Its youth is attested by its color:  deep ruby with a purple core and narrow pink meniscus; the nose is suffused with primary aromas of black fruit, cedar, and tobacco; in the mouth it has wonderful balance, and flavors mirror aromas, with a rich body and good length.  Made of 70% Tempranillo, with 15% Graciano, 10% Garnacha, and 5% Viura (the white grape of Rioja), this blend reflects the ones made back in the first half of the last century.  With a long maceration and fermentation on indigenous yeast and fourteen months in French oak, this is a wine definitely to lay down—if not for 77 years, then for at least 7 or longer.  David Sampedro Gil (DSG) made this with almost maniacal care.  So treat it with TLC.

These wines are, I think, a good representation of the wines in the Peninsula Portfolio, and attests to the exceptional tasting acuities of Patrick and Alberto, and well as their own fanatical devotion to offering really quality wine at a wide range of prices.  It’s an amazing achievement for a company that’s only been around for thirteen years.  I’m not alone in this assessment, too which I add my own “Olé!”

The Wine Curmudgeon blog, which advocates the Drink Local movement and also makes a point of seeking affordable yet excellent wines has this to say:  “Ole Imports . . . not only brings in quality wines, but quality wines that are terrific values. Ole [sic] products are often candidates for the $10 Hall of Fame, and they get terrific reviews — not only here, but from people like Robert Parker. Most importantly, they’re honest wines, tasting like they’re supposed to taste. Mata’s producers make Spanish wines, not Spanish wines made to appeal to U.S. palates.”

He goes on to say, “There are a couple of importers whose wines are so trustworthy that the Wine Curmudgeon will buy them regardless of what’s in the bottle.  Kermit Lynch, of course, for French wine, and Ole Imports and Patrick Mata for Spanish wine.”  This is exceptionally high praise from the curmudgeonly reviewer (Jeff Siegel), who tends to be a skeptic about many things vinous, particularly when dealing with the mainstream press and mass-market wines.

There are two interviews on this blog of Spanish winemakers whose wines are imported by Olé:  The first is with Pablo de Villar, who specializes in wines made from Verdejo; the second is with Tom Puyaubert, who makes wines with a difference in Rioja.

(For Robert Parker’s evaluation of the Peninsula Portfolio of 2005, for example, please read Parker Press on Ole Imports, July 2005.)

In fact, the Olé Website greets its visitors with the heading that you see below:

1- Very old vines trained ‘en vaso’—from the Olé Website

Below the image Patrick has written a footnote:  “My dear friend and partner Alberto Orte and I have searched the Spanish peninsula for wines that share four fundamental elements: terroir, quality fruit, exceptional winemaking, and last but not least, wines that present an exceptional value.”

At present there are three employees working in Spain, and ten in the United States.

56 Harrison St. Suite 405, New Rochelle, NY 10801, 914-740-4724