Welcome to our newest series, The Somm Set. Each month we’ll be sitting down with a guest sommelier and uncovering their guilty pleasures, cellar staples, and everything in between! Follow as they hand-select their favorites from our warehouse, giving you the inside scoop on cellar must-haves!
This month on The Somm Set, we’re excited to feature Doug Frost, Master Sommelier & Master of Wine. Join us as we explore everything from his love of Spanish wines and his current endevours in the Walla Walla Valley.
Diving Deep In A Wine List
Read Our Interview With Doug Frost
The Somm Set Home
This week from Doug Frost:
A friend of mine told me some time ago that I shouldn't put bottles in the basement that weren't great. He wasn't badmouthing everyday wines, far from it. He opens more bottles daily than most bistros, and 100% of them are interesting. I'm not calling out any particular bistro, but you get the idea.
Another quick story: the late great winemaker Greg Upton once castigated me for pulling a ten-year-old Franciscan Merlot from my cellar. "But it was really frickin delicious when it came out," and he replied (with a look of sad pity), "I didn't make it to age." Some wines don't, and that doesn't make them less than. It makes them who they are. But, as my friend would say, don't invest your money and, even more, your time laying a bottle down that doesn't have a better than even chance of turning into something wonderful.
With a list as long and as rich as the wines Benchmark Wine Group has on offer, there are plenty of options. So, when you're ready to purchase something, you should go where your heart leads you; to the wines that make your palate purr. That's still a sizable list for me, but it helps to have a history with some of these producers. For instance, Bodegas Aalto in Spain's Ribera del Duero – my first visit was around the winery's founding in 1999. I met Javier Zaccagnini, the future owner of Aalto, and we hit it off immediately.
Aalto was a bit under the radar for a time, but when people finally tasted Aalto PS (it's on the Benchmark Wine Group list, don't you know?), things got rather busy for Javier and his partner, the legendary Mariano Garcia, only recently departed from Vega Sicilia. Mariano brought not only his space pod like stainless steel fermenters (he believes they improve Tempranillo's tannic character) but his considerable experience from decades at Spain's most lauded winery.
But there are other Spanish riches I could recommend: Artadi is one of the most modern of Rioja producers, and that's not a criticism. I love Rioja, both modern and ancient. Artadi occupies a chunk of my cellar, alongside my bottles of Aalto. I have a bit more Lopez de Heredia, where the ancient style is ensconced and protected as the historical monument it is. And probably equal amounts of Bodegas Muga where both styles freakishly coexist. Torre Muga is likely the pinnacle of modern expression.
Spain's most widely planted red grape, Tempranillo, has at least one more critically acclaimed DO to its credit, Toro. On that elevated, ideal plateau lies Numanthia and its beating heart of a vineyard, Teso de los Carriles. While it was scooped up by luxury house LVMH a bit more than a decade ago, nobody knows precisely what the cost was, and nobody's talking. I'm guessing it was a lot. These are powerful, demanding wines.
Yet, as great as each of these estates are, if we were to name Spain's greatest winemakers, we would probably focus most upon Peter Sisseck (Ribera del Duero's Pingus should require no asterisk) and Alvaro Palacios of Priorat. Both have made so many great wines that it's practically unfair to the rest of the industry. But prices on Spanish wines lag behind their peers from other countries, in my view, so while you will have to cough up some serious bread for Pingus or L'Ermita, both winemakers offer less expensive bottles. Flor de Pingus is only a half-step behind its older sibling.
Alvaro's nephew Ricardo runs their jointly owned project in Galicia (northwestern Spain) on some of Spain's most challenging terrain (well, of course, aside from Priorat). The two of them have exalted the ancient Mencia grape to heights that even a couple of decades ago seemed not just unlikely but absurd. Villa Corullon is a collection of old vines; Las Lamas, La Faraona, and Moncerbal are ancient, single vineyards. Each sits on vertiginous soils, and all are farmed biodynamically – Ricardo is considered Spain's resident expert in the practices.
Just a few suggestions today for the cellar, and more to follow in the next few days.
Check out all the wines mentioned below!