Reino de los Mallos (Murillo del Gallego)
This winery is in the village of Murillo del Gallego and takes its name from the huge jutting rock formations of Aguero and Riglos, the “kingdom of the mountains”, the foothills of the Pyrenees. A bold, slightly sweaty, blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Garnacha.
From Carinena, a sub-section of Aragon with its own Official Denomination (D.O), in the foothills of the Pyrenees, we bring you an excellent, characterful red by Manuel Piquer in hot, dry Muel. “Lelia” is an old-vine Grenache without a hint of oak to let the fruit shine through and has become a firm Winery favourite. Our shop was overrun when Manuel visited The Winery with a posse of 14 family members recently.
Christophe Chapillon is the (surprisingly) French man who, while working at Vinicola Real in Rioja, introduced us to our phenomenally popular Spanish red “Lelia”. He recently sourced some old vine Syrah and Merlot, and asked Manuel Piquer, the wine-maker of Lelia, to make it for him. Something of a maverick businessman, Christophe now lives in Zaragoza with his Spanish wife and is very pleased to have named this wine after himself.
Castilla y Leon
The old kingdom of Castilla y Leon provided a fertile hunting ground on our recent trip to Spain. From the green, rainswept hills of Bierzo on the Pilgrims Trail to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia to the much hotter, dustier landscape of Ribera del Duero, the Duero valley 150kms due north of Madrid, made famous by Vega Sicilia and Pesquera and often held to be the source of the finest wines in Spain.
Finca Cardaba (Valtienda)
There is an excellent Asador in Aranda del Duero called El Pastor (The Shepherd). It’s the classic local grill restaurant, where they do just one thing, roast spring lamb with salad and a hunk of bread. Xavier Sancha has two jobs, one as lamb-roaster in the family restaurant, the other overseeing his spanking new winery in the otherwise rustic, cattle village of Valtiendas to the south, where he makes more-ish, fleshy reds from Tempranillo vines by the house he shares with his girlfriend Nurio.
Garmendia (Vizmalo/Burgos) ORGANIC
Patxi Garmendia became the biggest supplier of partridge in Europe and has now built an organic winery (complete with winemaker who looks like a freedom fighter) and started rearing Wagyu beef in the countryside southwest of Burgos. His Blanco is a 50/50 blend of zizzy, grassy Verdejo (a grape best known from nearby Rueda) with the softer, oilier Viura (best known from white Rioja). His reds are beautifully-made Tempranillos with deep saturated fruit.
We are big fans of Nacho Leon and the amazing Demencia from Bierzo. In 2014 he came with an unlabelled bottle. We thought it was delicious. Big, deep and delicious. What is it and can we have some please? It was Taruguin, a brand new wine from around Soria, between the east end of Ribera del Duero and Rioja.
What’s the story Nacho? “I will try to explain more about Taruguin project right now (sorry for my English).” It’s fine Nacho, carry on. “In 2010, I was travelling by car from Barcelona to Bierzo, and I took singular roads because I wanted to visit some villages and towns near Soria. Arriving to ‘Taruguin’ area, I was really surprised about the old vines, and decided to take a walk on them… It was marvelous and exciting… and it was really exciting because I knew this area lots of years ago.
I have visited San Esteban de Gormaz and El Burgo de Osma because a close friend from my childhood has family there, and spend some weekend with him and his friends…Amazing!!!
I was thinking about the wines that I have tasted in Barcelona, and looking for another profile of Ribera del Duero wines… more altitude, more fruity sensations, more acidity… This will be the Terroir that can help us!!!!
I told this idea to my friend (Julio), and we began working on the idea of elaborating a different wine from this land (his parent’s land). We choose some vineyards in the area, and because of his family, we began working on it. We are not the owner of the vines, but we are working there. 2010 was a terrible vintage, we had frost days too late and we missed most of the grapes. We decided not to elaborate the wine. Hard for us!!! But next year, we go on working!!!
About the DO’s… we were trying to study the best way, and we decided that the best way is to be free. We do not pertain to any DO, and to any other classification in Spain” It can certainly be complicated and expensive to get the DO – Denominación de Origen (Spain’s Appellation system). “We are only a ‘Vino de Mesa’, the “worst” classification in Spanish laws, but we believe that this is not important, the most important thing for us is the wine we have in the bottle!!!
Anyway, the vineyards are in the Eastern and higher area from Ribera del Duero.
About the grapes… Tempranillo and some white grapes from Albillo variety. We took the grapes in a van, and brought them here (to Bierzo, where they make their Demencia) where I can work easier…9 months in French barrels… and the result… a pretty wine that we have sold out in 3 weeks!!” We are certainly glad we could get some!
Mencia is the name of the grape. An old, indigenous variety being brought back to life by young winemakers in northwest Spain. A total contrast to many other heavy Spanish reds, Mencia is usually a crisp, fresh red with low tannins (that’s the tea-like mouth coating sensation you experience with heavy, young, red wines). In the right hands it is tipped (by us) to become the Pinot Noir of northern Spain. The right hands belong to Nacho Leon, who continued with his day job as long as he could before it became too much to juggle. The project started as a hobby in 2006 making just 1,924 bottles of this very arty red wine in a garage in the lush, green, rain-soaked and very hilly region of Bierzo on the Pilgrims’ Trail to Santiago de Compostela. Demencia – of Mencia – demented, get it? He knows he’s a bit crazy.
We have worked with Demencia from the very first vintage. Nacho makes a little bit more now. The 2009 vintage yielded 7,326 bottles.
When we visited Nacho in 2009 he showed us pretty much every one of their tiny parcels of beautiful, gnarly, old vines around the neighbouring villages of Matadeprada, Valdelaliebre, Valdemanteiga and Villegas.
In 2011 they added a new bottling – Pyjama. It’s a selection from 50 year-old vines on sandy soil, fermented with wild yeasts in larger tanks before being moved into used barrels for ageing.
Ribera del Duero
Alvides (Villalba de Duero)
Alvides is a family Bodega. Concha’s father founded the Co-op in Aranda del Duero in 1962. They have 15 ha of vines, some between 60-80 years old, others between 15-30. Enter 33 year-old Emmanuel Ivar who studied winemaking in the Loire and moved to Ribera del Duero. Known locally as Manuel, he has been making wine for 10 large estates in the area. Concha has given him free reign at Alvides to do his own thing. Picked in 20kg baskets, some destemming, 2 or 3 days cold maceration, 30-40 days on the skins. Every level of wine from Joven through Crianza up to the Reserva are treated to some time in oak. Crianza and above are fermented in barrique and there is much stirring of the lees. The results are excellent – we find a high dark fruit content in the nose (with a touch of vanilla – from the oak) and a fabulous suppleness in the mouth. Truly a modern expression of Ribera del Duero.
Arco de Curiel (Curiel)
If you ask the Spanish which region makes their finest wine you will often be surprised to hear it’s not Rioja but Ribera del Duero (unless you are actually in La Rioja, of course). Around 150kms north of Madrid, in the old kingdom of Castille y Leon, between Valladolid and Zaragoza, Ribera del Duero combines the deep, gutsy, sweaty tones we associate with Spanish reds with silky elegance. Tempranillo is the grape – known as Tinto del Pais here.
We were delighted to discover Arco de Curiel, made in the shadow of the rather large gateway into the rather small village of Curiel outside Peñafiel. When we visited in June we were given the full tour of every vineyard and a nearby cliff populated by vultures. This beautiful Roble is bold, deep and gutsy. Rich, oaky, plummy and yet elegant and makes the perfect match with the locals’ favourite food – grilled spring lamb with green salad and a hunk of bread. Yum.
Vega Sauco (Morales de Toro)
Wences Gil got into wine by accident. His promising career as a footballer came to an abrupt halt with a serious fracture decades ago. Through what he describes as a “clerical error” he found himself enrolled at a wine college in Madrid. Following stints along the Douro valley; in Rueda, Ribera del Duero and Cigales, he fell in love with Toro, further west along the river valley and set up his own winery there in 1986. His daughter Patricia Luna Gil now shares winemaking responsibilities. The wines of Toro have seen a transformation over the past two decades. They were considered tough, alcoholic and wild. Wences was one of the first to show that the Toro wildness could be ever-so-slightly tamed without losing its sense of place. The grape is Tinta de Toro, a local version of Tempranillo. Those with decade long memories of The Winery’s Spanish selection may remember a bright blue labelled wine by Vega Sauco. The label has changed but the wine within is still butch and wild.
Silvano Garcia (Jumilla)
Final part of our previous trip was through the lunar landscape of Murcia (bottom right of the Iberian Peninsula) to sniff out some Monastrell. Monastrell may or may not be Mourvedre, expert opinion is divided. At its best it has exactly what we were hoping for – recognisably sweaty overtones, like Bandol in Provence.
The small town of Jumilla was where we found it. 36 year-old Silvano Garcia bought an old Co-op six years ago, knocked down everything beyond the concrete tanks just behind the front wall and now he and his three employees rattle around in an oversized Bodega. He makes exciting, deep, blackcurranty reds, with the slightly sweaty thrill of the chase, and the unexpected bonus of two outstanding sweet wines. Moscatel which bowled us over with its complexity and a Monastrell Dulce, monstrous enough to beat any chocolate dessert into submission!
World famous Rioja is 100km south of Bilbao and protected by mountains on either side; the Sierra Cantabria to the East and the Sierra de la Demanda to the West. It is divided into three subzones: Riojas Alta, Alavesa and Baja. Most commercial Rioja is a blend from all three. Rioja Baja, with its hotter continental climate was considered a bit rougher than Alta and Alavesa with their maritime influence, relying more on Garnacha (Grenache) than Tempranillo which was more prevalant in the Alta and Alavesa. This is no longer the case. Many growers in Baja replanted to Tempranillo and the best are making wines to equal their more rarified neighbours to the North West. We also mustn’t forget the other authorised grapes which also have a part to play in the classic Rioja blend: Mazuelo (Carignan) for guts and body, and Graciano for colour and elegance.
Rioja has always been a political hothouse. It was the first region to establish its own Denominacion de Origen, rigorously policed by the Consejo Regulador in Logrono. The current controversy is that the Basques are claiming the Rioja Alavesa for themselves. Such is the power of the Consejo Regulador that they have stated, yes, secede by all means, but you will no longer be able to call your Alavesa wines Rioja. This leaves the Basques in a bit of a quandary!
Bodegas Abeica (Abalos/Rioja Alta)
Coming across Isabel Fernandez’s Longrande almost two decades ago in the brilliant Casa Toni restaurant in San Vicente de la Sonsierra was a revelation. We had to beg to see her, largely to overcome her fear of export.
She is as full of personality as her wines. Fiery, energetic, 50-something Isabel started full time in the family bodega at the age of 25. Both sides of her family had vineyards and she now has 35ha around the village of Abalos in Rioja Alta over the road from the Alavesa. The small bodega, built by her parents, is on three levels to make the best use of gravity. Grapes (always picked by family members) are sorted in the vineyards, arrive in baskets at the top level and placed directly into the tanks where they ferment in whole clusters. Although they have owned three pneumatic presses in the last 13 years, Isabel says they almost invariably end up treading the fermenting must by foot. A cool malolactic fermentation then takes place in tank and is generally over by December. Isabel is at pains to keep the whole process as natural as possible. No filtering, sometimes a little natural fining. She even hermetically seals her subterranean barrel room with masking tape. She uses only American oak, which she thinks suits her wines better, giving them a little longer in barrel to compensate for the lighter effect of American rather than French oak. Finally, she determines the bottling date biodynamically, according to the cycles of the moon.
Her wines are fascinating: perfumed, with a beautiful purity of fruit and surprising body and structure. If you have time, her wines benefit from an hour in a decanter.
Heredad Pangua Sodupe (San Asensio/Rioja Alta)
Cigar-chomping, Che Guevara look-alike Roberto Pangua has 20 hectares around San Asensio and neighbouring Briones in the Rioja Alta. 17.5ha are Tempranillo, 2.5ha are Viura. His family has worked the vines for as long as anyone can remember, always selling to the larger Bodegas. It was finally time to go it alone, so he started his own Bodega in 1998. He uses mainly American oak, but has been experimenting with Spanish, French, Hungarian oak, Acacia and Cherry. He told us that Cherry and Chestnut were widely used in the area in the past.
Our latest encounter with Roberto, his wife and son almost killed us. After a full tasting at his Bodega in San Asensio in the Rioja Alta, the entire contents of the local butcher’s shop were brought in and grilled over vine cuttings in the corner of the tasting room. We were subsequently four hours late for our following meeting and all we really wanted to do at that point was lie down. You only live once – and it almost ended there and then!
Roberto makes Rioja Joven (young wine) in three colours: white, red and rose. Classic Crianza and occasionally Reserva and Gran Reserva. He also makes an excellent barrel-fermented white Rioja and a red Autor. Many growers have been introducing wines that sit outside the strict confines of the D.O. system (Joven, Crianza, Reserva & Gran Reserva). Roberto’s Autor is a selection from vines over 50 years old, fermented with wild yeasts. This selection might usually be kept for Reserva or Gran Reserva but, as an “Autor” wine, spends a shorter time in barrel and bottle before release to keep more fruit and freshness.
He has recently released a spicy, peppery virgin olive oil.
Bodegas Vinicola Real (Albelda de Iregua/Rioja Alta) SOME ORGANIC
Miguel Angel is the energetic, moustachioed owner and winemaker of this brilliant estate in the Rioja Alta. His 200 Monges is an excellent balance of old and new. New, clean, winemaking techniques with old values. The slightly sweaty nose of the Tempranillo grape with a saturated core of dark, red fruit. When we visited him in June, he took us into the hills above the village and showed us his gnarly, old windswept vines. Old vines make good juice. His Vina Los Vallos bottlings are organic.