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First Look: 2011 El Nido Clio

Thursday, December 5, 2013

One of the most fascinating things about wine is the connections you make as you explore. You taste something you like, then you look for something similar. Same region, same grape, same winery, or same winemaker... Always looking to take what you liked about one wine and raise it up to the next level with another experience.

This past year, I've been fascinated with the value proposition wines from Spain present to someone like me who loves juicy high-quality California wines but is looking to keep costs down while still enjoying a tremendous bottle of wine. When you try that move in some regions - it just doesn't work out so well. But with Spain I've been blown away by what I've found. However, you can't just throw darts.

You've got to follow a path.

See also: Is this the next Clio/Alto Moncayo?

Earlier in the year I was introduced to a tremendous wine at The Capital Grille that sells for as little as $12 retail: Juan Gil Monastrell. When I was invited to Spain this past summer I was thrilled to learn I'd be visiting the region where Juan Gil comes from: The D.O. of Jumilla. I was looking forward to experiencing what happens when you take that same style of wine and spend $30 or $40. Would the value equation still hold?

Our first day tasting in Spain was the longest with four winery visits scheduled. My luggage didn't make the connection so in addition to being in a new time zone I'm tromping around in the heat with the same jeans I'd worn on the plane overnight. Although spirits started off high, after lunch at the third winery I was ready to head back to the hotel to sleep. But we had one more winery to visit!

I'm glad we continued on though because the wines we'd taste at the last winery were the best wines we'd taste the entire trip.
Tasting room at Bodegas El Nido in Jumilla, Spain
The itinerary said the fourth winery visit was "Hijos de Juan Gil (Jumilla)". I didn't know at the time that Juan Gil is produced by Gil Family Estates which is also behind Bodegas El Nido - the winery that makes Clio. The El Nido winery is just a short walk up the hill from the Juan Gil winery in a separate facility.

Like I said - I wasn't familiar with the back story of El Nido and I'd never tasted it before. I'd walked right past it being poured at past Wine Spectator Grand Tour events. What a mistake. When I found out we were going to, essentially, a fifth winery I was like "Seriously? What is this - a death march?"

But I'm so glad we visited because the wines of Bodegas El Nido set the standard for the region. They're priced at $45 to $140 which makes them by far the most expensive in the region - and you know what? They're worth it. Clio (the $45 option) tastes like Caymus Special Selection at a fraction of the cost.

Bodegas El Nido was formed in 2002 through a unique collaboration between Gil Family Estates, Jorge Ordonez, and Australian winemaker Chris Ringland. The idea (summarizing, and with a bit of my own perception mixed in here) was to take outstanding fruit, produce it at the highest levels possible, craft it in a rich modern style, and tailor it for the American market. 90% of the El Nido wines are exported.

So El Nido is the winery and they make three wines:
  • El Nido - 70% Cab/30% Monastrell ($140)
  • Corteo - Syrah ($90, don't see this one around much)
  • Clio - 70% Monastrell/30% Cab ($45)
We tasted all three of these from the 2010 vintage, after tasting a half dozen other wines from Gil Family Estates, and I wish I could turn back time and pay closer attention to the El Nido wines. I remember tasting them after being impressed with the Juan Gil and other wines and thinking: Wow - I could sit here and drink this all day. This takes it to a whole new level.

Clio is produced from these old vine Monastrell grapes at very low yields. Amazingly given the blistering summer temperatures no irrigation is needed. The roots go deep and the vines are stressed to produce wines of intense concentration. The grapes are hand harvested in small baskets to prevent bruising then hand sorted on triage tables where the best grapes are selected.

The El Nido winemaking facility looks like a typical winery - nothing particularly fancy. The money is spent on the highest quality equipment with a focus on the end product rather than glamour. El Nido and Clio are aged for 24 months in a combination of mostly French and some American oak barrels. The results are spectacular.

Since returning from Spain I've tracked down wines from many of the producers we visited. When visiting a wine producing region it's easy to "fall under the ether" and think everything is amazing. I think there's some of that going on but you're also tasting wines with impeccable provenance served (hopefully) in ideal conditions. I've tasted the 2010 Clio a half dozen times now and every time, every sip has been spectacular. The wine is just insanely good.

Is the $45 Clio as good as the $140 El Nido?

Like I said I wish I could go back and retaste them. They're both tremendous. But I think it's one of those things were you get 90% of the quality of El Nido for a third of the cost with Clio. I'd love to try El Nido again on a splurge but Clio is where the action is.

But is the 2011 as good as the 2010? Absolutely.

I can't recommend a wine more enthusiastically than this. This is is truly special.

2011 El Nido Clio
15.5% Alcohol
$45 Release Price
70% Monastrell/30% Cabernet Sauvignon

I was anxious to try this after adoring the 2010 across a bunch of bottles, but the 2011 comes through in a big way. The 2011 is perhaps a bit smoother and softer around the edges than the 2010, which can get a little rough at times. The alcohol (15.5%) is incredibly well concealed. The wine is just so utterly enjoyable to consume. Huge, gorgeous aromatics of rich fruit, vanilla, and a supporting touch of herbs. Coats the glass but amazingly doesn't feel heavy. A remarkable achievement. I can't think of a better wine in the $35-$40 price range. A great alternative to overpriced Napa Cabs.

95/100 WWP: Classic

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Purchased at The Wine Cellar of Stoneham

Jorge Ordonez is no longer involved with El Nido. But he is involved in a very similar collaboration with Bodegas Borsao called Alto Moncayo. More here...

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