Cellar Tasting in Northwest Spain
By André Tamers
After a long flight, our trip began at a restaurant in Madrid where we had the pleasure of drinking an incredible Galician red wine. Its qualities reminded me of a wine from the Northern Rhône with its incredible balance and deep mineral notes.
Northern Rhône could be thought of as an approximate parallel to what is happening in Northwest Spain today. Forty years ago, the world of French viticulture was dominated by the Bordelais and the Bourgignons. The Northern Rhône was a forgotten area, full of hard to farm sites that, at best, could provide power to other wines. Today all of this has changed, and the Northern Rhône produces some of the most exciting wines in the world. Similarly, Northwest Spain's very difficult terrain is still unknown, but it will one day be recognized as one of the great terruños of Spain.
Las Ermitas nestled in the hills of Valdeorras
There is a new migration of wineries and winemakers to Galicia wanting to realize the potential of this incredible place. This excitement is palpable from the west of Galicia, to the eastern border where there are new projects and continuous experiments to rediscover this ancient and historical place.
This place is particularly suited to grape growing and gained fame for its wines. As time passed, people began migrating to the cities, and little by little Galicia became depopulated. Modernized at the end of the twentieth century, Galicia became more accessible and a few people began to recalibrate and start a new vision for wine from this area. Javier Alén (Viña Mein) and Gerardo Mendez (Do Ferreiro) helped pioneer a rebirth of quality wine in the region. Today, Galicia is making world class wines that easily stand with the great wines of the world.
Jim Stock of Haw River Wine Man enjoying dinner with Gerardo Mendez
Gerardo Mendez with his son Manuel are exploring parcels of different soils in Rias Baixas and vinifying them separately. Last year, the winery acquired a new plot located close to the ocean and with brown slate soils.
The wine from this parcel was completely different in aroma and texture than a classic Albariño. Dense and brooding, it showed some salinity but little other resemblance to the classic wines of the region. Do Ferreiro’s other 2015 wines are amazing. This is an exciting time at the winery, as Manuel has fully taken over the winemaking and is furthering ideas that his father pioneered twenty plus years ago.
Albariño 2015: (Components) Brilliant, saline with great mouthfeel.
Albariño Cepas Vellas 2015: Powerful and dense with classic crushed oyster shell aromas. Palate is long and shows great aging potential.
Emilio Rojo walks toward his vineyards
Our next stop was in Ribeiro to meet the elusive Emilio Rojo at his home. We ate fantastic anchovies out of a can while listening to Tristan and Isolde at full blast…oh yea, there was a bottle of the 2013 on the table. We then strolled the old villages of the mountains, navigating the Roman byways that cut through these ancient ruins until we landed in the vineyard. During this walk, I was reminded of the greatness of this place and its position in the history of viticulture. The wines of Ribeiro were historically famous as long lived white wines of Spain. At the winery, Emilio’s wines showed poise and called out for patience. These wines will take years to develop. These are "vin de garde" Ribeiros.
Emilio Rojo 2014: (Tank) Notes reminiscent of white flowers and spices. The palate is delicate and fine.
Emilio Rojo 2015: (Tank) Light and fresh water aromas. Wine is delineated, focused and excellent.
An old, family vineyard at Viña Mein is being revitalized
The winery and vineyards are being turned upside down by the Commando G group. Parcels have all been separated. Tons of older barrels of many different sizes are being used to elevate the sites and grapes to a new level. Commando G brought out a selection of grapes highlighting the parcels' differences in soil type and exposure. It was remarkable how the uniqueness and complexity of the sites were expressed in each grape. For right now, there are three new single vineyard wines and a rethinking of the "village" wine we all know and love. Two of the single vineyard wines are Treixadura based wines from separate terruños and one is a red wine from a vineyard adjacent to Emilio Rojo planted with Caíño, Souson and Brancellao. All three wines show the diversity of this denomination.
Viña Mein 2015: (Tank) Vibrant and crystalline with great freshness. A cut above the 2014.
Tega do Sal 2015: (Barrel) Denser aromas than the 2014 with great length that is typical of these clay soils.
Eiras Altas 2015: (Barrel) Pretty crunchy, as it is a selection of higher elevation parcels. Good length and breadth showing complexity.
Tinto Atlántico 2015: (Barrel component) Cool saline fruit, crystalline structure with cut. The 2014 is very similar but maybe less intense.
Ramón Losada shows André around his vineyards
From there we moved to Ribeira Sacra, where unbelievable terraces spectacularly overlook the winding rivers that define the denomination. It is hard to describe how heroic the winemaking is here. The wines can have flavor profiles reminiscent of Cru Beaujolais but quickly gain power and become an amalgamation of Burgundy meeting North Rhône. Several new projects are also underway from winemakers that will bring more attention to the region.
Our stop at D. Ventura in Castro Ferreira confirmed that the reds in 2015 are magnificent. Ramón Losada is especially energized by the spectacular vintage. The wines here are the essence of the region in their beautiful fragrances and deceivingly simple profiles. There continues to be no wood at the winery to highlight the wines’ crystalline structure and piercing precision. Today he is expanding and increasing plantings of Brancellao and Merenzao to supplement the Mencía grape.
Viña do Burato 2015: (Tank) Incredible this year, floral with the coolest texture I’ve ever seen in the wines.
Pena do Lobo 2015: (Tank) Again, just stunning aromas and palate feel.
Viña Caneiro 2015: (Tank) Incredibly fresh with typical black Stoney fruit.
Dominio do Bibei
The thing you realize when you come to Ribeira Sacra is that there are five sub-zones, and each has a unique sense of place. You see that the soils and varying exposures and elevations create infinite possibilities. Dominio do Bibei is perched on a mountain plateau, making it one of the most extreme sites in Ribeira Sacra. Arid and wild like some places in Haute-Provence, this region produces wines capable of extended cellaring. Gutier Seijo is at the helm, and the wines have never been better. A believer of precision and elegance as a principal part Ribeira Sacra, Gutier is now focused on blending of grapes as the future path for his reds. We tasted new versions of Lalama as well as barrel samples of single vineyard Brancellaos, Mouratons, and Sousons. All these grapes will have a growing importance in the blends.
Lalama 2012: Very good fruit with great length and in keeping with the style.
Lacima 2012: Quite intense and dried cherry notes complementing a mineral framework.
The cellar at A Coroa
We headed out to Valdeorras after staying the night in a Pazo (these are palaces that are everywhere and some have been converted to hotels). Our GPS lead us through a spectacular valley where we followed the Bibei River bringing us to a village called Las Ermitas. In this valley, we saw more ancient terraces. There is a 18th century chapel located prominently in the town. It was a spectacular sight pointing to an illustrious past. We crossed the Bibei river and headed into the village of Santa Cruz. Ahead of us was the O Bolo site that A Coroa has been recuperating. These steep hillside terraces are made predominantly of decomposed granite as opposed to the sites in A Rua which are based on slate soils. The painfully slow process of recuperating the terraces is being rewarded by wines of spectacular potential. At the winery, the wines brought us to our knees. It is especially difficult to generalize a vintage in Spain, and this is even more complicated in Galicia, but 2015 seems to be one for the ages. The winery continues to invest in new vessels to push the boundaries of the always fascinating Godello. Many new wineries are now coming to Valdeorras. Large concerns from areas such as Ribera del Duero are moving in because they see the potential of this region and its wines. Telmo Rodriguez has been here for a while, and he has expressed a belief that we are at the forefront of the reveling of an amazing place for growing grapes and making wines.
A Coroa 2015: (Tank) Fantastically complex nose showing that the vines are now mature. The palate is crisp and refreshing.
200 Cestos 2015: (1,000L barrel) Although the barrel is new, it did not show in the wine. Crisp granitic aromas. The palate is bigger building on the support of the wood.
In some ways connected to Galicia, Bierzo is located in the western corner of Castilla y León. This DO became famous when some well-known winemakers landed here about ten years ago. There was a boom period where the wines were lauded by the press for their intensity. The financial crisis brought a close to this period and reflection ensued. Raul Perez, the leading voice of the region, has been crafting from different sites that show that it is possible to craft wines that focus on elegance as opposed to power.
Jose Antonio García
Jose Antonio García in his cellar
Last year we were approached by a young winemaker by the name Jose Antonio García. Originally from Valtuille de Abajo, José Antonio came to take over vineyards owned by his family both Valtuille and Corullón. Valtuille is this slightly devastated town of dilapidated old houses. Everything in theses villages revolves around grape growing as this is the largest concentration of contiguous old vines in Spain (800+ hectares). The rolling hills in Valtuille are composed of clay calcareous soils with varying degrees of sand and quartz. The hills have different exposures and are planted with Mencía, which José Antonio vinifies into separate expressions. The blend of some of these sites creates the Unculín. The oldest parcels of Mencía today are blended to create the Aires de Vendimia. In addition to Mencía, José Antonio also produces two white wines. El Chuqueiro comes from a plot of 14 year Godello vines, and Aires de Vendimia Godello Centenario is made from a one-hectare parcel of 120-year-old vines. El Chuqueiro is tank fermented, and Aires de Vendimia Godello Centenario is fermented in an older barrel. The wine is then aged in the same barrel for 16 months and bottled unfiltered. José Antonio works with a natural veil that creates a layer of protection allowing him to work the wines without topping off the barrels. This creates wines of great complexity that show that Bierzo has incredible potential.
Unculín 2015: (Tank components) This reminds me of a great Morgon, but denser. Precise and yummy.
El Chuqueiro 2015: (Tank components) Very complex aromas of onion skin. The palate is sharp and delicious.
Aires de Vendimia, Godello Centenario 2014: (Barrel) Funky ass stuff, almost sherry like due to the flor aging. Savagnin-like.
Aires de Vendimia (Mencía) 2013: Lighter palate than the 2012 as he moves to harvesting earlier. Aromas of black fruits with stone compliments. Rich savory finish with great tension.