Ribeira Sacra: A Renewed Obsession

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The Mencia grape is to Ribeira Sacra as Gamay is to Morgon or Syrah is to Cote Rôtie – a grape perfectly matched to its terroir. One doesn’t have to be a viticultural historian to know that it takes inspired people in addition to great grapes and great terroir to spell success. Today we’re celebrating a superb vintage in Ribeira Sacra, the burgeoning career of a new importer, and one young winemaker’s outstanding work with a special three-pack selected to renew your obsession with Ribeira Sacra. Read more below…   

Gerry Dawes has been travelling in Spain for over 30 years. He has been to Ribeira Sacra many times and considers himself a true Galicia-phile. Tired of passing his discoveries off to other importers, Gerry has taken the plunge and started importing his favorite Spanish wines to the States, with a focus on the northwest of Spain.  This has been a breath of fresh air; the wines are delicious, and show the best of what Ribeira Sacra has to offer: vibrancy of aroma and flavor, layers of red fruits, juicy acidity, minerals, and flowers with a lingering saveur, “red wines with the soul of white wines”, to use a colleague’s words.  Esteemed critic John Gilman, upon tasting Gerry’s group of wines, proclaimed on his Twitter-feed that he had tasted “the new Holy Grail of Ribeira Sacra producers”, calling them, “low-octane fireworks.”  As Gerry’s first customer here in NYC, I concur;  Sabatelius, Decima, and Cazoga are delicious and authentic to their respective places.  I am especially fond of the Sabatelius from the Chantada sub-zone on the western side of the Minho.  This is a project led by sculptor/painter turned vigneron, Primitivo Lareu. Chantada is the coolest and most Atlantic influenced Ribera Sacra sub-zone and Lareu produces wines with beautiful freshness.  Thanks to Gerry for bringing these wines our way!

The next chapter to my renewed obsession takes shape with a visit to the Guimaro winery back in late April.  At 38 years old, Pedro Rodriguez Perez, who runs the Guimaro bodega is the youngest vigneron working in the Amandi sub-zone.  One of my favorite people in Spain, he always has a smile on his face and is full of vitality as well as thoughts about how to move his family-owned bodega forward. Perez does some of the best work in the region.  With prime vineyard sites in the Amandi sub-zone, steep, south facing, with broken slate and schist soils, the family is farming organically with the goal of becoming certified.  With the help of one of Pedro’s closest friends, enologist extraordinaire Raul Perez, Guimaro has turned out an impressive line-up of wines, wines as breathtaking as the landscape.

An e-mail about Ribeira Sacra is not complete without mention of the brilliant D. Ventura wines.  The 2010 Vina Caneiro, from the Amandi sub-zone and one of the best vineyard sites in the region, may be the best Ribeira Sacra for the money.  This vintage has unusual clarity and finesse on the palate, as well as unrivaled aromatic appeal.  The 2011 Do Burato, a long-time store favorite, has come down in price to just $15.  That is $13.49, with a case discount, for a Mencia-based wine that rivals many Morgons at twice the price for its insatiable drinkability and complexity.

These recent developments make wines from Ribeira Sacra some of the most exciting to chill down and drink over the summer.  In the 3-Pack we have D. Ventura's Do Burato, Guimaro's Joven, and the Sabatelius.  Please consider some of my favorite Mencia pairings for these wines:  Argentinian-style grilled meats with chimichurri, shredded pork tacos, or a mixed grill of sausages. Buen Provecho!

No Longer Available

Ribeira Sacra 3 Pack

D. Ventura 2011 Ribeira Sacra 'Do Burato' $14.99

Guimaro 2010 Ribeira Sacra Joven $15.99

Sabatelius 2011 Ribeira Sacra $19.99

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Sabatelius 2011 Ribeira Sacra Chantada

From the Chantada subzone in the northwestern part of Ribeira Sacra on the Minho river.  Somewhat primary right now and a tad reductive, it shows an interesting mix of curry spices, black cherry, marjoram, thyme, and tarred roses.  The palate is medium-bodied at most and direct, with a savory, bitter, salty, olive-like finish.  This would be great with something fatty, like a pork chop. cb

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Decima (Jose Manuel Rodriguez) 2010 Ribeira Sacra Amandi

Jose Manuel is the head of Consejo Regulador of Ribeira Sacra. He also makes this tiny production wine on the side. From all Amandi fruit, it is a drop dead lovely Mencia with aromas of pomegranate, strawberry, dried black and red pepper, and a strong underpinning of smoky minerals. At 12.5% abv. this is light and quaffable but not lacking in density, sweetness of fruit, and serious length. Highly recommended to pair with pan roasted Chorizo with caramelized onions. cb

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Cazoga, Viña 2010 Ribeira Sacra Amandi

From old vines on the Sil River, this is "back-country" wine as described to me by the importer Gerry Dawes.  I am not sure if he is referring to the rustic qualities of the wine or the people that make it.  Either way, "the ram's head" is all rustic beauty — cherry, raspberry, smoky, spicy, meaty with lifted aromas of lavender and rosemary. Cazoga is serious business.  Although drinking now, I would hold onto this; there is enough density, concentration and balance to age at least for a few years. cb

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Guímaro 2010 Ribeira Sacra

This is my favorite vintage of Guimaro's Joven yet. The fruit used for this cuvee is all from the Amandi sub-zone located along the Sil river in Galicia. The vineyards here are very steep, made of slate and schiste, and nearly impossible to work. Fermented with wild yeasts and aged in tank, it shows intense aromatics of rose petals, black pepper, and black raspberry fruit; medium-bodied, pure and focused on the palate with excellent depth of flavor, and an interesting meaty edge which makes me want food.  Absolutely delicious. cb

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Guimaro 2009 Ribeira Sacra B2M

B2M is 100% Mencia from a single vineyard in the Amandi subzone.  This is the first vintage where the wine was fermented with whole-clusters and is made in a combination of foudre and older barriques.  After a long decant, about 2 hours, this showed so lovely recently, incredibly floral, in the rose petal vain, with a delicate spicy quality.  The fruit is meaty and decidedly red — both fresh and dried cherry.  Spicy black pepper and strong mineral notes finish silky and long in the finish.  A very special bottle and, given the whole cluster treatment, a real turning point for this estate.  Reminds me of Cornas meets Burgundy. cb

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D. Ventura 2011 Ribeira Sacra Do Burato

The Do Burato is a beautiful example of the Mencia grape.  Luscious red fruits and deeply pitched minerals wrap around silky tannins and juicy acidity.  A longtime store favorite and a superb  value! cb

2012: Tangy berry fruit of every color -- tart red cherry to deep blackberry, with raspberries, boysenberries, and mulberries in between. Do Burato comes from 80+ year old vines, grown on the steep slate soils of Galicia's Ribeira Sacra. Vinified entirely in stainless steel, its juicy acidity, easy young tannnins, and mineral depth (not to mention excellent value) make it a staple on the Spanish shelf. A light and joyful red on its own or paired with Mexican food, tapas, charcuterie and roasted fowl. -AR

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D. Ventura 2010 Ribeira Sacra Viña Caneiro

Viña Caneiro is from a single vineyard of 80 year old vines, planted on slate, located in the impossibly steep Amandi sub-zone of Ribeira Sacra.  Although listed at 14% abv. on the front label, this is not ripe or hot at all.  In fact, this is medium bodied at most and shows the clarity and pedigree of this great vintage.  Aromatically this reminds me of Pinot Noir with high-toned cranberry/raspberry red fruit, touches of cassis, and a wonderful lifting spicy floral quality.  The palate is silky and pure with excellent length. Beautiful wine! cb

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