“Vinos Sin Maquillaje”: The Natural La Mancha Wines of Ponce

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With an unusual proportion of old vines and new energy devoted to maintaining them, Castille-La Mancha is where some of the most exciting winemaking is happening in Spain today. Earlier this May a colleague and I ventured east of Madrid to go see the vinicultor at the forefront of the movement toward natural, non-interventionist winemaking in the region: Juan Antonio Ponce of Manchuela.  When we arrived, we took a whirlwind tour of his vineyards, which culminated with a great barrel tasting.  What we found was a diligent young man with wine wisdom and know-how well beyond his 28 years. Ponce is a true vinicultor who is not afraid to take chances both in the vineyard and in the cellar, with thrilling results – quite an achievement at such a young age.

Juan Antonio has been working the vines since he was a child and completed an enology program at the tender age of 15.  His family once took their grapes to the cooperative.  Having returned home from numerous internships, including a stint as head of vinification with Telmo Rodriguez, he fell in love with French wine. He also befriended the likes of Maxime Magnon, a leading producer of carbonic maceration, natural wine in the Languedoc, also a former student of Jean Foillard in the Beaujolais.  Ponce saw the opportunity to produce the kind of wines that he liked—in his words: “vinos sin maquillaje” (wines without makeup): unforced wines of freshness, complexity, and balance. 

With the help of his father and grandfather, Ponce works 45 acres of estate vineyards, farming organically and following the biodynamic calendar.  Elevation is roughly 2,000 feet, which means cool nights, aided by the prevailing nighttime wind that blows off the mesa from the west. This freshness is expressed across the entire range of Ponce wines.

The Ponce winery, which is essentially a garage, does not have a stainless steel tank in sight.  Ponce prefers foudres and 500-liter barrels.  Wines are fermented by parcel with whole clusters, and only wild yeasts are used.  Juan Antonio practices some foot pigeage at the top of the barrels, partially covering the barrels to encourage some carbonic maceration (similar to the old-style of carbonic used in Rioja, called Remang).  The wine is aged in used 500-liter barrels until the following spring and then bottled.  Sulfur levels are generally very low: 20-40 mg per liter.  Today we focus on the 3 of Ponce’s wines that I consider to be the higher-toned of the bunch: Buena Pinta, Pino, and Reto. After an importer change, these are being offered at great prices!

P.S. On another, more serious note, there will be a benefit on Monday July 2nd at 6 p.m. at Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen for Lydia Tillman, our friend who a year ago was brutally attacked and has been recovering ever since.  Lydia used to pour Ponce’s wines by the glass at Casa Mono and counts herself as a big fan, so I find it to be appropriate to mention her benefit here.  The address is 35 Downing Street.  Minimum donations are $50.  There will be Blue Ribbon food, as well as a walk around tasting of natural Spanish wines from the Jose Pastor portfolio.  The Guimaro Cuvèe Lydia will be introduced (a Chambers Street Wines exclusive), and Lydia will be in attendance.  So if you are wondering how she is doing, now is your chance to find out.  Best, CB

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Ponce 2011 Manchuela Buena Pinta

From 60% Moravia Agria, a high acid grape that needs a warm climate to fully ripen, and 40% Garnacha, Buena Pinta is one of my favorite Spanish wines vintage after vintage.  In 2011, it shows great freshness to the aromas of cherry, dry cocoa, mint, and dusty rocks.  The palate is round with an energetic core of red fruit, lively acidity, and a youthful tannic structure that makes the tannins seem as though they are melting into the finish while adding grip.  Fascinating and immensely delicious served cool.  12.7% abv. cb

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $17.99

Ponce 2010 Manchuela Pino

Pino is a complex and challenging wine from 30-year-old Bobal vines planted on a temperate limestone parcel that used to be a forest of pine trees (hence the name). Aromas of tart raspberry, brambly mulberries, and bright-fruited coffee ease into a brisk, angular palate that winds tight young tannins around chewy black fruit, licorice root, and orange peel. Juan Antonio calls this his "Atlantic wine" due to its cool, mineral style and balsamic-laced finish. This is the last of the vintage and a special wine for thoughtful drinkers. -CB/AR

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  • red
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  • $34.99

Ponce 2011 Manchuela Reto Albilla

This is my first experience with the grape Albilla.  Juan Antonio loves white wines from the Loire valley and has always wanted to produce a white wine of his own.  Harvested on the 13th of August, this is his second vintage of the Reto and the first to reach New York.  It is a mind-bending white wine with aromas of lemon oil, apricot, green peppercorns, and herbs.  The palate is full-bodied with ample texture, zesty acidity and minty inner-mouth florality.  The finish is laden with salty dry extract with green olives, bitter melon, nuts, and patchouli flavors that coat the palate for minutes.  Backwards in a good way, the wine has more aroma on the finish, and the acid aserts itself up front.  Whoah!  For the adventurous white wine drinker.  40 ppm SO2 total. cb

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  • white
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  • $19.99