La Movida Laderas (Cebreros, Spain): 70 year-old Garnacha vines on rocky schist soils at 958m.

Combate in the Gredos: Albillo and Garnacha from Maldivinas, plus new arrivals from Vinos Ambiz and Bernabeleva!

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Through the airplane window on the scenic descent to Madrid, it is possible to view the majestic Sierra de Gredos mountains, part of the 600 kilometer long Sistema Centrale range and home to its highest peaks. Massive, storybook mounds from the sky, they are equally monumental from ground level. This is hardcore Garnacha country, where strong, gnarled grapevines up to 150 years of age drill deep roots into mountains of granite and schist and twist toward the sky en vaso (Spanish for gobelet- or bush- trained) through rocky and sandy topsoils of varying depths. Garnachas from the Gredos are humbling in their depth and strength, and striking in their potential combination of elegance and rusticity. High natural acidity (6-8g/L tartaric acid is normal), electric fuschia hue, ripping tannins, shimmering red and purple berry fruit profiles, and ageability negate commonly held beliefs about the Grenache grape's modest acidity and tendency toward rapid oxidation. Garnachas from the Gredos seem to fire on all cylinders.

A ninety minute drive west from Madrid lands you in San Martin de Valdeiglesias in the Vinos de Madrid D.O., the start of the Sierra de Gredos and home to the prettiest examples of the region’s great white grape: Albillo Real. Another 15 minutes’ drive west into the valley carved out by the Alberche River leads to the marvelously rustic towns of Cerbreros and El Tiemblo in the Avila province. Rising a couple hundred of meters into the sky, the rugged south- and north-exposed vineyard slopes that surround Cebreros and El Tiemblo (respectively) face off atop a sudden stripe of schist that cuts through the granite mountains. (Wines from Cebreros and El Tiemblo are covered by the generic Vinos de la Tierra Castilla y Leon appellation for now, but will soon be distinguished by the new D.O.P. Cerbreros, which is very big news for the excellent producers of this region and their followers.)

Vines on schist/slate soils infuse their wines with darker mineral and earth notes and an added bit of weight, presenting a vivid textural contrast with the granitic expressions of Garnacha and Albillo from neighboring plots. Whether from schist or granite, wines of this region seem bathed in the earth and the air, offering a potent, sometimes even literal, transmission of the fragrant mountain herbs and flowers, craggy Mediterranean scrub and garrigue, and rocky wilderness that is inescapable throughout the Gredos (not that you’d want to escape it, ever…).

Bernabeleva's Arroyo del Tortolas Vineyard: 65 year old Garnacha vines in granitic sandy soil at 800m altitude.

A fascinating range of wines has just arrived from Maldivinas and Vinos Ambiz, as well as the top cuvee from customer favorite Bernabeleva - the single vineyard Arroyo del Tortolas - covering granite and schist terroirs spread over San Martin, Cebreros, and El Tiemblo. Within the same general region, It is hard to imagine wines more diverse or expressive than the ones featured today. 

Left to right: Carlos and Guillermo (Maldivinas), Fabio Bartolomei (Vinos Ambiz), and Marc Isart (Bernabeleva).

Maldivinas is a partnership between childhood friends Juan Carlos Arenas and Guillermo Fernandez Santos from the small but bustling Gredos town of Sotillo. Their organically farmed old vine Garnachas (from vines up to 90 years old) express a diverse range of Cebreros’ granitic and schistous terroirs, full of pure, thundering fruit, exotic florals and herbs, and soaring acidity that characterize Garnacha from the Gredos, as well as the potential for finesse and balance that skeptics of this grape will find surprising. In addition to the last of the spectacular 2011 Laderas, from 70 year-old vines on steep, rocky schist, Guillermo and Carlos were kind enough to share a small amount of their first white wine, Combate Albillo, from 60 year-old vines in San Martin de Valdeiglesias. (“Combate” is a playful reference to the logistical and physical struggles involved in farming the Gredos’ treacherous slopes and managing multiple tiny vinifications with limited space and barrels.)

Left: the Ambiz Albillo stash, "super cloudy" bottles on the right! Right: 60 year-old Albillo vines in El Tiemblo.

Fabio Bartolomei of Vinos Ambiz has earned a passionate following among natural wine lovers for his uncompromising stance against additives of any kind and instinctual rapport with his vines and wines (“vibes” is a word that comes up a lot with Fabio). Just across the street from the bullfighting ring in El Tiemblo, the winery that he shares with another of our favorite Gredos producers, Daniel Ramos, is home to dozens of experiments and different sorts of vessels.

The 30 year-old "young" vines that become Vinos Ambiz' Garnacha, 700m in El Tiemblo.

Fabio's wines are visceral and expressive; when I first tasted the Albillo, before I visited Albillo country, I found it intensely exotic and deliciously strange... Having tasted and smelled the earth and air of the Gredos, I understand more of what I'm sensing and deeply appreciate this wine. If you're looking for a transportative drinking experience, then these new vintages of Fabio's unique Albillo, Garnacha, and Doré (Chasselas) take you straight to the vineyard. Tasting notes additional details can be found below. Cheers! Ariana Rolich

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Maldivinas 2014 Combate Albillo

Albillo Real is the great white grape of the Sierra de Gredos mountain range, west of Madrid. Floral and big-boned, with moderate acidity, Albillo is often compared to Rhone whites like Viognier or Marsanne. The comparison is useful, since lovers of Rhone whites are sure to enjoy Albillo. In most cases, however, Albillo is more aromatic than Marsanne or Roussanne, the fruit and florals less cloying than Viognier's. Albillo wines are also more consistently complex across price points, grounded by savory earthen/mineral properties that provide balance and gravity. On to Combate! Guillermo and Carlos, the team behind Maldivinas, harvest their Albillo in mid-August, from 60 year-old vines on granitic sandy soils at 650m in San Martin de Valdeiglesias. Aromas of spicy pear, rosy peach, white pepper, tea leaves, lavender, and yellow flowers soothe the senses, while the palate delivers lush but energetic flavors of golden plum and crisp yellow apples, chewy pear skins, rich and crunchy minerals, stones and soils, wild flowers, fennel, and flecks of honey and lime peel. This is a glorious white wine to build a meal around, perfect for holiday feasts and rich poultry, pork, cheeses. Ariana Rolich

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  • white
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  • $32.99

Maldivinas 2011 Castilla y Leon Sierra de Gredos Laderas

La Movida Laderas is a steep plot of 70-year old Garnacha vines planted on rocky schist soils, 958 meters above sea level on the mystical south-facing slopes of Cebreros in the Gredos Mountains. Too dangerous, steep and jagged to be plowed either by animals or machines, the vineyard is fragrant and wild, full of fennel, lavender, clover, poppies, and roses, with rows of quartz rocks ringing the vines, crickets chirping, and vultures soaring in wide circles in the sky above. With miniscule yields of .5kg of fruit per vine, it takes two plants to produce one bottle of wine. This Garnacha is stern, structured, yet incredibly pretty, rippling with dense mineral earth and garrigue aromas and pure, mouth-soaking raspberry fruit, with delicate wild strawberries and the swirl of savory herbs and sweet florals on the tannic, deeply mineral, and vibrantly acidic palate. This is the last of the delicious 2011 vintage, offered at an excellent price. A fabulous match for roasted meat or (on a weeknight) salty pork products and cheese. (If you're intrigued by this region, do yourself a favor and open Laderas next to Daniel Ramos' Los Chorrancos Garnacha from across the river in El Tiemblo.) Ariana Rolich

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  • red
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  • $29.99

Ambiz, Vinos 2014 Albillo

Dense, gutsy, and wildly delicious, from 60 year-old vines, 750 meters high on the banks of a lake called El Charco del Curo in El Tiemblo. Raised in clay amphora, with a cloudy, buttery-gold hue, warm, lightly smoky aromas and a gritty, savory palate of golden plum, grated clove, grilled pineapple, walnut skins, and crunchy minerals with a hint of butterscotch and clay on the finish. Winemaker Fabio Bartolomei says, "I found the the Albillo vineyard the first year I moved to El Tiemblo, and came to an agreement with the owner almost immediately. It's right on the shore of the River Alberche and is just beautiful, I got 'good vibes' from it the first time I set foot in it. It's a messy, quirky vineyard and is full of trees, stone walls, and huge rocks scattered all over. Geologically/technically its sandy soil over granite, but frankly, the 'vibes' are more important to me than the geology!" Pair this full, flavorful wine with pork dishes, root vegetables, fresh cheeses, and nutty desserts. Zero added SO2. Ariana Rolich

 

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  • white
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  • $21.99

Ambiz, Vinos 2014 Dore

100% Doré (aka Chasselas) from a south/southeast-facing plot of 40 year-old vines at approximately 800m altitude, half way down the road between El Tiemblo and Cebreros, on granite with sandy topsoil. Chasselas has been grown in the Gredos for a very long time, generally sold to the cooperative wineries for blending, but Fabio of Vinos Ambiz persuaded the vineyard's owner to sell the grapes to him instead. We are glad he prevailed, because this Doré was the standout white from my tasting at the winery last Spring. Absolutely nothing is added to Fabio's wines (no SO2, yeasts, enzymes, colorants, etc.) so the region's immense air and earth plus 48 hours on the skins adds all the character necessary for an excellent wine: peaches, marmalade, and stones on the nose, leading to a bright palate of sweet apricot flesh and tart apricot skins, with musky citrus pith and salty, rocky soil. Raised in stainless steel with zero added SO2. Ariana Rolich

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  • white
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Ambiz, Vinos 2014 Garnacha

100% Garnacha from 30 year-old vines (this is considered young in the Gredos) planted on granitic sandy soils along with "two olive trees, one fig tree, and one pine tree" at 700 meters altitude in El Tiemblo. The grapes are manually crushed then soaked for about 15 days with daily punchdown until the wine is racked into four old 225L barrels and one old 500L barrel. Crushed black and purple berry flavors mingle with rich herbal licorice and cracked black pepper, laced with cola. With a relatively easy structure and casual price, this is a wildly delicious introduction to the charms of both Vinos Ambiz and the Gredos! Zero added SO2. Ariana Rolich

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  • red
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  • $24.99

Bernabeleva 2014 Vinos de Madrid Sierra de Gredos Camino de Navaherreros

The vineyards around the town of San Martin de Valdeiglesias (the eastern edge of the Gredos Mountains, just west of Madrid) boast very old Garnacha and Albillo vines in granitic sandy soils, interspersed with intensely fragrant lavender, thyme, and exotic local wild flowers that smell like curry, peaches, and honey. Bernabeleva's Camino de Navaherreros is a fresh and perfumed Garnacha from a blend of organically farmed vineyards at 500-1000 meters. Medium-full with vivacious acidity, and substantial tannins (the 2014 has 60% stem inclusion), herbal raspberry seeds, strawberry, and tea leaves on the nose, and flavors of bold raspberry and blueberry fruit, rosey florals, and abundant minerality. What a wine! Ariana Rolich 2015 Note:

The vineyards around the town of San Martin de Valdeiglesias (the eastern edge of the Gredos Mountains, just west of Madrid) boast very old Garnacha and Albillo vines in granitic sandy soils, interspersed with intensely fragrant lavender, thyme, and exotic local wild flowers that smell like curry, peaches, and honey. Bernabeleva's Camino de Navaherreros is a fresh and perfumed Garnacha from a blend of organically farmed vineyards at 500-1000 meters. Clear and floral, much lighter on the palate than the alcohol suggests, with vivacious acidity, substantial tannins, and flavors of bold raspberry and blueberry fruit, rosey florals, rosemary and mint with telltale granitic length and minerality. What a wine! Ariana Rolich

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  • red
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  • $14.99

Bernabeleva 2013 Vinos de Madrid Arroyo Del Tortolas

From 1.25 hectares of 65 year-old north-facing Garnacha vines on shallow, poor granitic soils, Arroyo del Tortolas is Bernabeleva's highest and steepest plot (800m), worked entirely by mule. Winemaker Marc Isart describes himself as a practical-minded agronomist, but his wines reveal an inspired vigneron who works hard to highlight the fresh side of Garnacha. Light ruby in the glass, 2013 Arroyo has juicy, sweet, powdery red fruit flavors with fantastic energy and vivacious mineral qualities. Slightly introverted but lovely, intricate and long, with delicate dried florals, black tea, crushed berry seeds and floral blossoms, tissue papery tannins, mineral earth, and acidity for long-aging. (A recently-opened bottle of the 2009 Arroyo del Tortolas still tasted very young.) I reject the use of "Burgundian" for things that are not French, but this is a Spanish wine that always seems to force my hand. Ariana Rolich

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  • red
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  • $41.99