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These projects are not simply academic pursuits; in some cases, they are more clearly commercial in tone than the more-restrained elegance of his flagship wine. Metzler’s commentary as we sip and spit includes lines such as, “These are wines that are more forward — not so much for aging, but with more commercial acceptance earlier in their lives. It’s a very successful, bigger style. New French oak. He feels obligated to have some wines with French oak because it’s a familiar flavor. Basically, California went to France and copied them, and that’s the flavor that was imported.”

Still, the man who shocked Rioja has not given himself over to courting the market. “When I say that I wouldn’t have guessed that the El Vinculo Riserva was 100 percent Tempranillo,” Metzler asks (rightly), “would you have thought something like Merlot? I think you’ll get it, but in maybe 10, 15, 20 years. It’s really undeveloped.” Through de Llaguno, Fernández says that the Riserva is “‘the best wine ever made in the world.’ I always say that he makes a great wine because he makes it for himself. He believes in it. Fortunately, the rest of the world loves them, too.”

Costa Brava owner Javier Gonzalez turns to me. “This last wine shows what he can do to his maximum — not necessarily for our pleasure. This wine, he loves it — he brought it in his suitcase. This wine is for him to love. A lot of wines, I love them because I understand it is for the winemaker to love, not necessarily for me to judge.”

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