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In the village of Albares de la Ribera, high in the mountains of the Bierzo Alto in Northwestern Spain, winegrower Germán Blanco (familiar to Chambers Street regulars through his very popular Quinta Milú wines) recuperates and farms old-vine piezas (small family vineyards) planted by his great-grandmother and her neighbors. Feral and fragrant, planted on oak- and chestnut-covered slopes rising as high as 1000 meters above the valley of the beautiful Boeza River, festooned with wild flowers and mountain herbs, these vineyards are the source for some of the most energetic and memorable Mencia-based wines in Spain.
When Germán Blanco describes his great-grandmother, Aurora Garcia (affectionately referred to as "La Señora Aurora" on his labels), and La Galapana vineyard, which she planted to Mencia in a chestnut grove on a 980 meter mountain top, his delight and inspiration are infectious. He is mesmerized by the promise of this place and fueled by the legacy of Señora Aurora, perpetuated through his own unique vision and wines. The first female in the area to work in the coal mines, following the early death of her husband, Aurora raised her daughter's children, planted La Galapana all by herself, and vinified her grapes at the priest's house, which was essentially the town's communal wine press; at the age of 100, she enrolled in classes to learn how to read and write, with the goal of writing letters to her adoring protege, Germán. Casa Aurora's logo is a donkey, in tribute to Aurora's favorite pet and constant companion around town, following the death of her husband.
The vineyards of Aurora's village are located just 50 meters outside of the official Bierzo D.O. limit, planted on iron-rich red clay soils with decomposed granite sands and gold-flecked granite rocks. Germán notes that Albares is the easternmost village in the mountains where wine grapes are able to reach full maturity. Since founding Casa Aurora 5 years ago, he has recuperated 12 piezas (and counting) for a grand total of 2.5 hectares. He farms La Galapana as Aurora would, using sulfur and cola de caballo (horsetail plant). He also works closely with the growers and vineyard owners of Albares (and is diligent about listing their names on his labels), many of whom have begun to offer Germán their vines as they grow too old to farm. He converts the vineyards to organic viticulture, simultaneously elevating the quality of farming in the region and saving its precious old-vine piezas from going fallow. This is an important contribution to the village, which is starting to be recognized. When flowers begin to thrive in a vineyard, he vinifies it as a single parcel. "From little things, big things grow," Germán says. "If I blend these special things into each other, you can't taste it. And you may not like it... But it's special!"
In the wines and old vines of Albares, Mencia is never alone: Garnacha Tintorera, Garnacha, and local white grapes Palomino (referred to as "Jerez" in this region), Doña Blanca, and Godello constitute a significant percentage of Casa Aurora (a minimum of 25% white grapes and 25% Garnacha Tintorera are standard). Vineyard altitudes in this part of the Bierzo Alto are extreme: 800-1000 meters, compared to the approximately 400-700 meter range in the more famous vineyard areas of Bierzo Bajo to the west. The resulting wines transmit each vineyard's unique ensemble of varieties in a beautiful and unusual way. They are texturally complex and shape-shifting, sometimes appearing dense, deep and silky, and on other days more sheer, taut and lifted. Natural acidity levels are high, a revelation next to many Mencia-based wines from Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra, which are frequently acidified. This unfettered freshness is enhanced by moderate alcohol levels, generally between 12.5 and 13 degrees.
Germán makes all of his wines naturally and simply, as Aurora would have done: foot-trodden, nothing destemmed, fermented in amphora and/or open top barrel, then aged for one year in 4-8 year-old french barrels of varying size (depending on the parcel). A pinch of sulfur is added at bottling.
Today we are pleased to offer three of Germán's four vinos de parcela: the aforementioned La Galapana, which has the highest Mencia content at 90% as well as the lowest yields (we received just 8 bottles of this wine); Valle del Rio, a dark, savory, and exotic expression dominated by Garnacha Tintorera and Palomino; La Vendañona rounds out the offer - the most generous and floral blend in this lineup, with 60% Mencia plus Garnacha Tintorera, Garnacha, Palomino, Doña Blanca, and Godello from 100+ year-old vines. At recent tastings of these wines with our customers, many reacted with awe: "I have never tasted anything like this..." It is gratifying to know that wines this special are perceived as such. The great Señora Aurora would be very proud! Ariana Rolich
Señora Aurora herself planted La Galapana vineyard 110 years ago to Mencía (with a tiny amount of Garnacha Tintorera) high in the mountains of Albares de la Ribera in the Bierzo Alto. Peaceful and secluded at 980 meters altitude, facing west on soils of red clay and granite. Surrounded by chestnut groves and flowering broom, La Galapana was recuperated ten years ago by Aurora's grandson, Germán Blanco, who re-grafted onto surviving rootstocks and replanted entirely where necessary in order to nurse the vineyard back to production. There is vital force to the wine that mirrors the efforts of the resolute woman who worked in the local coal mines and single-handedly planted her vines and farmed her land. Aromas of black currants, savory herbs, and mountain air inflect the complex palate of blackberries, resin, black olives, licorice, and ferrous soil. More open than the 2014, though equally complex. Ariana Rolich
Germán Blanco spent three years restoring this .5 hectare site, planted mainly to 40-100 year-old Garnacha Tintorera and Palomino (with small amounts of Mencia, Garnacha, and Godello) on iron-rich red clay and stony soils situated at 820 meters on a south-facing slope rising above the valley floor. With a sumptuous mouth feel of cool, damp clay and bursting with sappy dark fruit and intense minerality, Valle del Rio 2014 is a luxurious single vineyard expression calling forth the image of fresh mountain herbs growing in a thick patch of ripe blackberries. When tasting this wine with Germán, he pointed out subtle notes of ink, characteristic of his Garnacha Tintorera. It sounds strange, but it's accurate, and very pleasing. See for yourself! Sydney Snyder
The wines of Casa Aurora seem to live and breathe as we drink them; they expand and retreat, sparking revelations as we follow along. La Vendañona is generous and inviting, made from two adjacent piezas totalling one-third hectare (belonging to Amor Fernandez and farmed by Germán Blanco). The 100+ year-old vines are planted on south-facing slopes of iron-rich red clay soils with gold-inflected granite rocks at 890 meters altitude. 60-70% Mencia and 15% Garnacha Tintorera with Garnacha and white varieties Palomino, Godello, and Doña Blanca, co-fermented in amphora and open-top barrel (no destemming) then aged for one year in a single 400 liter used french barrel. Heady floral and herbal aromas recall the wild lavender, thyme, flowering hara, and cardoons that line the vines of La Vendañona; on the palate there is grip and length, with brambly purple berries and sweet chewy plum skins, ripe tannins, loads of lavender, tea leaves and subtle spicy incense, anchored by startling acidity that makes for a perfect pairing with seared duck breast. Ariana Rolich