André's Travel Log

Spring in Spain, 2008

Spain’s great qualitative momentum continues to lead it forward at a dizzying pace. Having spent 2 weeks in Spain touring the northern areas, I see an amazing country that continues to inspire and surprise me in many different ways.

But before I expand on this theme, here are a few notes about the new vintage.

2007 is a very interesting vintage: the winemakers who are at the top of their game scored with very successful wines, but we will certainly not be seeing great wines in all regions. Ribera del Duero, for example, was greatly impacted by frost and hail. In general, there is a bit less alcohol with wines that I would define as more finesse-driven.

After spending a few days tasting extensively at the bi-annual Alimentaria trade show in Barcelona I headed north to the Basque country for a three day visit. As I drove there I thought that three days might seem like a lot to spend in this area that just produces Txakolina, but I was wrong. This little viticultural area is turning out some of today’s most compelling white wines. The varied topography and peoples create very unique and different wines. For example: I went to Ameztoi to taste the new vintage with Ignacio and pay my last regards to the Rubentis site (this pre-phylloxera plot is being torn up to make room for a highway!) and the on the next day I went to our newest project in the region; a winery called Gurrutxaga. If one could travel in a straight line the driving distance between Ameztoi and Gurrutxaga would be 20 miles, but the surrounding mountain ranges prevent any direct route and it took me over an hour to go around the mountains and get there. Even though the vines of Gurrutxaga are also right on the Atlantic Ocean the wines are completely different. The same is true of Doniene, which is also on the Atlantic Ocean but another 40 miles due west. This diversity is reflected in people of this area, who always make a big fuss over their home towns (Bakio, Mendexa, Getaria, etc.). Every village even has their own dialect of the Basque language! As I continued my travels through the Basque country I landed at Xarmant. Again I discovered a completely different landscape with totally different wines. But they all had one thing in common: they reflected the original spirit of this place I stumbled onto fortuitously many years ago.

I continued my travels through the Basque Country and headed into the viticultural region of Rioja. There I visited three more Basque wineries: Arbanta, Luberri and Ostatu. Again I encountered the same individualist spirit and three very different projects. Arbanta, located in the Bargota Mountains, is a truly special site with high altitude vineyards producing wines of great character. The 2007 is fantastic; raw and brutish, it delivers like no other wine at this price range. Luberri was also a great visit; as I toured the vineyards extensively, I discovered the various microclimates surrounding the village of Elciego. Ostatu goes from strength to strength, and the 2005 Crianza is proof. Laderas del Portillo, from a 650 meter elevation plot, is more proof of the great terruño of the town of Samaniego. So again I find the same idea: each village with its own identity producing unique wines.

Then off to Sastre in Ribera del Duero. Jesus is making some of the most amazing and powerful wines of the denomination. Even though I give Jesus a hard time about his high levels of alcohol I come away convinced that these wines are just as they should be: this is the land of blood sausages, baby lamb, and no water on the tables. And to top it off, you inhale the cigar you smoke! But Jesus’ pursuit of excellence blows me away. Who else would spend € 150,000 on a water purification facility for the sole purpose of washing the bottles before they are filled? Every visit yields new innovations as this newest facility attests. Here, in addition to the small individual stainless steel tanks built to the specs of the individual sites, they recently added a very advanced and rare sorting machine – only two such machines exist in Spain – that allows them to examine each individual grape before it enters the winemaking process. All of these measures insure the greatest attention to detail and result in wines that are a beautiful and powerful expression of the noble Tempranillo grape in the heart of Castilla y Leon.

From here I headed of to the land of Meigas (witches and witchcraft). Galicia is incredible with its diverse topography and grape varieties. In this region we are fortunate to represent today’s greatest innovators and the founders of contemporary Galician viticulture. In Valdeorras A Coroa is making incredible wines that represent the knowledge of a family with deep roots in the area. The slate soils sing through the Godello grape and give the wine its unique personality.

I then traveled to Ribeira Sacra, an up and coming region that will soon be known for some of the greatest reds wines of Spain. The intensity of these sites creates wines of character and unsurpassed originality. I tasted the new vintage from D Ventura and found that the 2007 wines are unbelievable, I still can’t get over what we stumbled onto here. We buy the totality of this winery’s production and wish that there was more for us to buy.

Now on to Ribeiro: here I dropped in on the iconoclastic Emilio Rojo. His 2007 is beautiful and possibly his best vintage ever. But if that isn’t exciting enough we are also honored to now represent Javier Alén’s fantastic Ribeiro: Viña Mein. A project I have admired since my discovery of Galician wines, Javier’s wines has always been one of my favorites so when Javier asked us to represent him I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Located across the river from Emilio’s vineyards, but at a slightly higher elevation, these wines are at their apogee today. The 2007 in all its glory will be arriving in time for summer.

Capping off the Galician experience was my visit to Do Ferreiro with Gerardo the magician. The 2007s here are also wonderfully expressive and again at the height of their game. I was here during Semana Santa (Good Friday) and it was a zoo. This once rural area has unfortunately been discovered by tourists. Proof is a beautiful new hotel that looks like it would be at home in the Caribbean and not in the heart of Albariño country. So Galicia’s moves forward lead to it finally being discovered. With this discovery will come the fabrication of new myths, unnecessary in a land already filled with magic and mysticism.

On my way back to Madrid I stop off in Rueda to see Antonio of Garciarevalo and am amazed by his continued, diligent efforts to produce a product of originality in a land where the wine is defined by its price and homogeneity.

It is with great honor that we represent these amazing people who are changing the face of contemporary Spanish viticulture.