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Last week we were pleased to host a series of tastings with some of Spain's finest natural winemakers. Alfredo Maestro and Goyo Garcia Viadero displayed continued mastery of zero-sulphur winemaking in the Ribera del Duero. We have admired their energetic, supple, and age-worthy wines over many years now, yet they seem to get better and better. In addition to the Duero's dominant Tinto Fino grape, Maestro and Viadero reveal unknown shades of the region through lesser known varieties like Albillo, Garnacha Tintorera, and Graciano. Several of these wines are available today.
Catalan grape varieties and winemaking talent were on vivid display. The wines of Oriol Artigas from Alella (a coastal DO north of Barcelona) were revelations, composed of unique local varieties Pansa Blanca, Pansa Rosada, and Pansa Negra that seem to pack more exotic fruit, herbs, and savory mineral flavor into each consecutive, ethereal sip. Manel Avinyó of Clos Lentiscus delighted us with sparkling and still wines from his family's old vineyards of a rugged Catalan variety called Sumoll, which requires extended elevage to be tamed into long-lived, floral, feral reds and (in Manel's hands) glorious Petillant Naturel and Champagne Method sparklers. (This is a rare chance to taste Sumoll three ways!)
Xurxo Alba of Bodegas Albamar presented a veritable arpeggio of Albariños that highlight the varied terroirs on the extreme coast of Rías Baixas (Galicia), as well as his ability to draw out their subtle expressions through limiting yields and experimenting in the cellar. Xurxo's red wine, a blend of Mencia, Caiño, and Espadeiro, is a palate-rattling rarity from this white wine region and a must-try for lovers of complex, acidic reds.
Daniel Ramos showed his superb Garnachas from the mighty Gredos Mountains, west of Madrid. The Gredos are home to the finest Grenache wines and vines in the world, and Daniel Ramos is responsible for some of their highest expressions. We acquired some particularly reasonably priced bottles of his 2007 Pizarra and 2011 Chorrancos, which are evolving beautifully with lots of life ahead. These wines are fascinating, highly recommended, and will not remain in stock for long.
We do not take for granted the hard work and commitment of these growers who devote themselves to organic farming, preservation of local grapes, historic vineyards, and winemaking traditions, and winemaking without additives (other than minimal sulphur - for some, as noted, there is no added sulphur at all). The large and enthusiastic turnout to engage with these exceptional people and their wines validates their pursuit and is deeply appreciated. For those of you who missed the tastings, you don't have to miss out on the wines - they are listed below. Cheers! Ariana Rolich
El Altar is a singular Garnacha, from old vines planted on granitic sandy soils with large chunks of quartz, north-facing at 800 meters near the town of El Barraco in the Sierra de Gredos. Daniel Ramos is one of a handful of Gredos producers with a formidable understanding of and respect for the profound and varied terroirs of the region. In a region full of brilliant Garnachas, El Altar is particularly purely red-fruited, from one of the coolest parts of the region, with strawberry, cherry, red currant, and raspberry preserves, interwoven with rock rose, bergamot, resinous thyme, wild flower honey, and rainwater.Ariana Rolich
Oriol Artigas' wines weave unique flavors and intense minerality from the distinctive local grapes of Alella, a coastal DO just north of Barcelona. The Rosat is more golden than pink, made of 70% Pansa Rosada and 30% Malvasia from 75-year-old vines growing just one kilometer from the sea. Aromas of spicy citrus oils, waxen florals and herbs wind through the bold mineral palate, which is bone dry and mouth-filling, with vivid sparks of grapefruit and apricot skins, bitter brine, hints of smoke, Mediterranean garrigue, and sea salt. Everything with grill marks will be exalted by a sip of this rose! Ariana Rolich
An eye-opening blend of 70% Pansa Blanca and 30% Pansa Rosada from 75-year-old vines planted on on the granitic "sauló" soils of Alella, north of Barcelona, just one kilometer from the coast. Intense, exotic aromas of coriander, white flowers, aloe, and mint float from the glass, followed by a bold, mineral bolt on the broad, textured palate, with refreshing notes of citrus, sea brine, Asian pear, fruit blossom florals, and salty, savory earth. We are occasionally asked the difference between wines from old vines and wines from young vines. Concentrated, mouth-filling, multi-dimensional, yet defiantly weightless, Peça d'en Blanch demonstrates the difference in every sip. Ariana Rolich
Peça d'e Blanch Tinto is Pansa Negra with a splash of Pansa Blanca, from old vines planted in granitic soils on the shores of Alella. Fluid and cool, with dense brambly fruit, mulberry, fragrant purple florals, ripe red plum, seedy ripe blackberry, matched by dense minerality, fine, gritty tannins, and bright acid, with flecks of soft leather and salty earth. Fresh and unique. Ariana Rolich
With nearly 30 years of experience making sparkling wines, Manel Avinyó is an undisputed master of the craft. And yet he continues to present novel and surprising bubbly from his single vineyards of biodynamically farmed Malvasia de Sitges, Carignan, Xarello, Sumoll, and more. Gentlemant is a Petillant Naturel from a Sumoll vineyard planted in the 1930s on calcareous and clay soils in the the Garraf National Park, just south of Barcelona near the beach town of Sitges. Pale blood orange in color, with funky red berry aromas and cool, inviting froth. Dry and savory on the palate, with tart red currant and apple skins, hints of hibiscus and cayenne, tangy tangerine, gentle Alpine strawberries, and mineral earth. No added sulphur, as always. Cheers to Gentlemant! Ariana Rolich
An ardently autumnal Blanc de Noirs from our friends at Clos Lentiscus, made of 100% Sumoll from a biodynamically-farmed single vineyard planted in the 1930s in the Garraf National Park, just south of Barcelona, on sandy calcareous soils. The second fermentation is spurred by rosemary honey from Clos Lentiscus' estate apiary, which adds a heady, honeyed component (with no sweetness whatsover) to the palate of tart red fruit skins, gently gingery spice, with bold structure and complex umami notes from aging 30 months on the lees before disgorgement with no dosage. Zero added sulphur. Ariana Rolich
Sumoll is enjoying a resurgence in Penedès. Raw and wild in its youth, but rapturously beautiful when given proper time to integrate, the red wine from Sumoll we love to drink the most is Els Jelipins, which Gloria Garriga and her daughter Berta patiently age for several years before bottling. Manel Avinyó's Sumoll is cut in this mold - fluid and floral, with silky ripe red cherry, hibiscus spice, sweet florals, sea salt, a hint of wool, and lingering mineral length. The label on the bottle is a reincarnation of one of his grandfather's designs from the 1920s. The wine has a similar old-fashioned, unhurried feel to it. Linger with a glass of perfectly resolved Sumoll and enjoy. Ariana Rolich
There is a powerful vibration inherent to Amanda Rosado, which is felt by just about everyone who tastes it. The moment I laid eyes upon the organically-farmed, 60-year-old vines of Garnacha Tintorera on an isolated parcel of chunky limestone soils, perched high above the Valle de Botijas at 850m altitude in Segovia, I understood why! Garnacha Tintorera is a deeply pigmented and wildly acidic grape, therefore ideal for rosado. Aromas of spicy, rose florals and strawberry-rhubarb are followed by a bolt of bright acidity on the palate, with tart red and black raspberries, wild strawberry, crunchy salt, and rocky minerality. A thoroughly exciting aperitif, also delicious with grilled fish or squid, tacos, and spicy food. Ariana Rolich
Lovamor is a perennially sought-after white wine of 100% Albillo Mayor, a rare white variety and dwindling commodity in the modern day Ribera del Duero, where red wine rules. With one week on the skins, bright acidity due to naturally-inhibited malolactic fermentation (Alfredo pushes the tank of wine outside into the winter cold!) and no added SO2, Lovamor is pert and peppery, with tart golden fruit and a tickle of tannins from the skins. Light enough for seafood and aperitifs, but delicious with some air alongside poultry or fish and roasted vegetables with herbs. Ariana Rolich
The 2015 vintage of Alfredo Maestro's Almate might be the most delicious yet! 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo), organically farmed, primarily from high altitude vineyards in Valtiendas, near Maestro's home town of Peñafiel (the heart of the Ribera del Duero). Fermented with whole clusters in stainless steel, bottled with no SO2 additions whatsoever; aromas of wild berries, plum, bramble, and herbs open up into sweet and spicy black licorice, and blackberry sap. Juicy, jubilant wild cherry and red berry flesh fill the mouth, with bursting acidity, ripe and rustic tannins, dark earth and tobacco notes, and a very long finish. Outrageously good and unusually complex at this price point, Almate is a perfect pairing with lamb. Ariana Rolich
We don't see much Grenache from the Duero. Neither does Alfredo Maestro! He painstakingly identifies and plucks Garnacha grapes from amidst his dozens of tiny vineyards, most of which are planted to the local Tempranillo with multiple other varieties like Ganrnacha Tintorera, Bobal, Albillo Mayor, Dona Blanca, Moscatel, and more. Alfredo harvests his diverse plantings 3 times: First, for Albillo and Garnacha Tintorera; 2nd, for Tempranillo; and 3rd, for Garnacha. Our favorite Garnachas display aerial and mineral dimensions that create a bond between sky and soil in our glasses, mouths, and minds. This wine is serene and sylvan, with aromas of purple and black berries, graphite, forest floor, and salty black licorice that open into a delicious palate of tart black currants, brambly, bursting wild blueberries and blueberry stems, black cherries and woody cherry pits, wild herbs and flowers, sasaparilla, bitter chocolate, and gunmetal on the end, with breathtaking clarity, fresh and juicy acidity, and a tear-jerking level of quality and pleasure. Pair with venison and mulberries, cookouts, and cheese plates. Ariana Rolich
Goyo Garcia summons the power and elegance of old-fashioned Ribera del Duero. Finca el Peruco is a vineyard of Tinto Fino and Albillo Mayor planted on chalky, calcareous and clay soils at 1000m altitude. After 3 years in old barrels and one year in bottle, this wine is luscious and open, displaying sumptuous, soft leather, deep purple fruits, and sweet tarragon leaves on the nose, with flavors of tart plum, ripe black fruits, soy umami, and a long earthy finish. Roasted lamb and Sunday roasts are the best way to showcase this seethingly beautiful Duero. No added sulphur. Ariana Rolich
Graciano in the Ribera del Duero? Goyo thinks it was planted by accident, after the farmer received Graciano cuttings instead of Tinto Fino. We're all for a happy accident if it leads to a wine this delicious! From 35 year old vines planted on red sands with river stones at 850 meters. A dense and vivid blue/purple hue in the glass, full and fun on the palate with deep, driving acid buffered by ripples of floral black and purple berries, salty plum, black pepper, and purple florals. Cellar with abandon or drink now with venison or lamb. Ariana Rolich
In addition to rapturous Ribera del Duero wines, Goyo Garcia Viadero make s a small amount of wine from his mother's home region of Cantabria. 70% Mencia and 30% Palomino from old vines planted in broken black slate soils, co-fermented in stainless steel and raised in neutral oak for 26 months, Cobero Tinto is lithe and mineral, delicious with braised meat and game or salty pork and cheeses. Ariana Rolich
Xurxo Alba’s entry level cuvée is made from grapes sourced from multiple sites with mainly sandy soil. The fruit from each parcel is vinified separately (some in stainless steel, some in barrels) gaining structure and complexity of flavor from six months spent on the fine lees. This is Albariño the way we love it: crisp, mineral, saline, with great texture and a long finish. Ideal on its own or paired with salty snacks, or better yet, any and all crustaceans and shellfish. Eben Lillie
Xurxo Alba makes some of the most interesting wines in Rías Baixas today. A descendant of a long line of Albariño growers, his instinct and respect for the grape shine through. His elegant, expressive cuvée from his family's Finca O Pereiro Vineyard stands out each year and transmits a sense of unique site. Pereiro's low-yielding Albariño vines were planted in 1984 on clay-heavy, sandy soils just 50 meters from the sea. Subtle aromas of chamomile, salty minerals, and graphite contrast with the steely, acidic palate of grapefruit, lemongrass and a hint of smoky mineral tone. Leaner and longer than ever, 2015 Finca O Pereiro is a supremely elegant and pure example of the Albariño grape. Ariana Rolich.
Pepe Luis is a special wine made from several tiny parcels on the Atlantic coast of Rías Baixas (made in honor of winemaker Xurxo Alba's brother), distinguished from the other Albamar Albariños in that it is fermented and raised for one year in neutral French oak. You will not taste overt oak flavors in this wine, but barrel aging gives this Albariño softer texture and rounder flavors of orchard fruit and golden apple, supplementing the familiar citrus oils and acidic/mineral essence of the grape. Experiment pairing Pepe Luis with hearty seafood, sashimi, carpaccios, pork, Asian noodles, and spicy fare. Ariana Rolich
Xurxo Alba does it all! A miniscule amount of red wine is produced in Rías Baixas (it is hardcore Albariño and crustacean country!) and even less of it comes to our shores. Fans of red wines that taste like acid, rocks, and dirt will be delighted by O Esteiro Tinto, Xurxo's blend of (roughly equal parts) feral and earthy Caiño, austere and mineral Espadeiro, with the brambly bright berries of Mencia. This is an exhilarating wine of a terroir that we rarely experience through red wine. Ariana Rolich
In the Gredos it is said that Garnacha is of the sky and Albillo is of the earth. Daniel Ramos' Viento Zephyros highlights the earthy, rock-driven side of Albillo Real, fermented in stainless stell and blended with 20% Sauvignon Blanc from dry-farmed, head-trained vines planted in decomposed granite sands atop the village of Cebreros (Sierra de Gredos, Avila province). Inviting, golden aromas of apricot and honey, with flavors of earthy chestnuts, dried apricot, wild flower honey, and soil. A soulful white pairing for cheeses, poultry, game, and fish in sauce. Ariana Rolich
Tasting this wine for the first time, I was immediately fascinated (and hooked). The Gredos Mountains, west of Madrid, are home to the most awe-inspiring and balanced Garnachas in the world. Power, perfume, tannin, and acid meet subtle layers and terroir-expression in this unique, high-altitude region that is largely unknown to wine lovers, but will be acknowledged one day soon as the source for the world's highest expressions of the Garnacha grape. Del Tiemblo Los Chorrancos is a fierce and floral cuvée from a north-facing schistous vineyard (with some granite) at upwards of 900m altitude in Avila's Alberche River Valley. Aromas are deep, floral, and botanical, with cherry blossoms, roses, resin, lavender, and sweet clover honey. The palate is anchored by rich tannins, acidic spine, and gripping mineral depth, with shimmering raspberry, rich kirsch, rosemary, and savory forest floor. This wine is sure to change the way you think about Garnacha. Ariana Rolich
Winemaker Daniel Ramos said that when he and his wife drink a bottle of Pizarra, they frequently open it 3-4 days in advance. Only made in exceptional years, Pizarra is 100% Garnacha from 60 to 100+ year old vines on south-facing slate/schist vineyards at 900-975m elevation in the town of Cebreros. It is brawnier and darker than Ramos' Chorrancos cuvée, with sappy wild berries, sandalwood, and musky citrus oils alongside subtle oxidative notes, spicy wild "garrigue" of lavender, and thyme (which coincidentally grow around the vineyard), and a clear core of slatey minerals. An exceptional Garnacha (at an unusually low price) for roasted meats and root vegetables. Please decant and give this wine plenty of time to open. Ariana Rolich