Monday, July 13, 2020

The Genesis of The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group - Gerry Dawes Selections

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 by Gerry Dawes, Founder & President
 The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group

Our Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group of artisan producers are a result of a long-time painstaking effort to find authentic and original wines that truly represent the unique places from which they come. Our producers are not making wines that "the market is asking for," nor wines that are made to please the palate of any critic in particular and certainly not the Parkerista-style overoaked, high alcohol palate. 

The wines of The Spanish Artisan Wine and Spirits Group – Gerry Dawes Selections are made by people trying to reflect the own terruño (the French call it terroir), a sense of place: the unique combination of native grape varieties, soil (minerals) and climate transmitted through the grapes and the prism of each winemaker's palate. Before wines began to be fabricated or fashioned to fit that supposed "what the market is asking for" profile, the wines of France and Italy, but also in some parts of Spain, were made primarily by artisan winemakers working with their own vines.  Obviously, in every region more commercial, negociant-style wines were made to hit a price point and fulfill a market need for cheaper Burgundy, Chianti, Rioja, Mosel, etc., but the reputation of the wines was made originally from the wines of quality artisan producers.

In the early days of the modern post-Prohibition wine importing era, Frank Schoonmaker set standards for selecting wines that would become the model for the next several decades.  
 Frank Schoomaker.

"It was obvious to Schoonmaker that prohibition would someday be repealed; the question was when.  First, he needed a network of suppliers. In France, by the late 1920s he had made a valuable ally in Raymond Baudoin, editor of La Revue du Vin de France in Paris.  Baudoin had shaped this scholarly publication into an influential review, which eventually played a major role in creating the appellation contrôlée laws of 1935-36. 

Schoonmaker traveled around France with Baudoin several times, and visited many winegrowers, particularly in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. Baudoin introduced him to some of the best, and Schoonmaker soon followed Baudoin’s lead in selecting only certain lots, or casks, of a particular cru in a given vintage – writing everything down methodically in a little black notebook. 

In addition, Baudoin was emphatic in getting the growers to bottle their wine themselves and sell it under their own label, as opposed to the traditional method of selling it in cask to the shippers in Beaune for blending, under their label." -- Frank Schoonmaker, A Visionary Wine Man by Frank E. Johnson, Frank Johnson Selections.

Schoonmaker's style would prove to be the model followed by other French wine specialists such as Alexis Lichine (who began selling wine for Schoonmaker), Colonel Frederick Wildman, Robert Haas, Gerald Asher (an Englishman who began importing his wines into the U. S. and like Schoonmaker and Lichine became well-known as a wine writer) and Henry Cavalier (another transplanted Englishman, who was one of Asher's star disciples).  Asher's well-crafted and beautifully written Gourmet magazine articles were a benchmark for more than a decade for serious wine writers and for wine aficionados. 

Gerald Asher

"Inevitably I came to associate any wine I met with a specific place and a particular slant of history. I learned to perceive more than could be deduced from an analysis of the physical elements in the glass. For me, an important part of the pleasure of wine is its reflection of the total environment that produced it. If I find in a wine no hint of where it was grown, no mark of the summer when the fruit ripened, and no indication of the usages common among those who made it, I am frustrated and disappointed. Because that is what a good, honest wine should offer." - - Gerald Asher

The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections was founded on the principles of the aforementioned pioneer wine importers.  I never knew Frank Schoonmaker, but I always admired the fact that he greatly appreciated the wines of Spain (he spent several years in Spain during WWII as an undercover O. S. S. officer; ironically decades later I would be assigned to Rota, Spain as a Russian linguist with a Top Secret security clearance [tracking the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean]).  

Schoonmaker died in January 1976 at his home at 14 E. 69th St. in New York City, shortly after I arrived in New York City after having lived in Spain for the previous eight years.  Another irony, a few months after Schoonmaker died, I went to work for another of the giants of wine importing in America, Frederick Wildman & Sons at 21 E. 69th St., just down the street from Schoonmaker’s home.  And at Wildman, I worked with Henry Cavalier, the exceptionally knowledgeable Gerald Asher disciple who soon became a friend and taught me a lot about fine wine. 

Colonel Frederick Wildman
Frederick Wildman & Sons

My employment at Frederick Wildman & Sons ended when I left to join the former President of that firm, Anthony J. Sargeant, and Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards in launching Havelock Gordon.  That company was short-lived, so I moved on to Mosswood, whose president was Gerald Asher, then I did a decade long stint as a restaurant wine specialist at the then fledgling company, Winebow, one of whose partners was Vineyard Brands owner Robert Haas, who was originally a Frank Schoonmaker disciple himself.   While I was at Winebow, Haas made me a Vineyard Brands Vice President, his representative inside that company.
Robert Haas and his son Jason, GM at Tablas Creek Winery, Paso Robles, CA

For more than 10 years, I also worked with Leonardo LoCascio, who founded Winebow with Peter Matt and became one of the best-known names for quality Italian wines.  I helped establish Winebow as a force in top New York restaurants.  I was Winebow's top restaurant sales consultant, selling $1,500,000 per year to sixty top restaurant accounts, at a time when wines sold for about 25% of their current prices. After Winebow, I spent a brief period with another New York distributor, then left that position to pursue my career as a writer on Spanish gastronomy, wine and travel.
Leonardo LoCascio, Co-Founder, Winebow, Inc.

During my time at Winebow, in 1989, I founded The Chefs From Hell Acrobatic Unicyclists & Winetasters Club, whose members included Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio, Michael Lomonaco, Rick Moonen, David Burke, Bobby Flay, Martha Stewart, Andy Pforzheimer, Mario Batali, Tom Valenti and a number of other talented and now well-known chefs.

Chefs Quint Smith, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay at a Chefs From Hell Luncheon at Martha Stewart's home in Westport, CT.

Like Schoonmaker, Asher (and my friend Frank Johnson), I am a wine writer. Using my intimate knowledge of Spain, I specialized in writing about Spanish wines.  During the course of traveling for material for articles, also discovered more that a score of small wine producers who were not only not being imported into the U. S., they were not even known in MadridIn 2012, quite by chance, I found an interested party with an import license and I decided to bring some of these jewels to the United States.  I brought in two containers of selected wine to unprecedented critical acclaim.  Unfortunately, the partner proved unsuited to growing a fine wine company, so we parted ways after a year.
The style as defined by Frank Schoonmaker, Frederick Wildman, Robert Haas, Gerald Asher and Henry Cavalier (and subsequently by importers such as Kermit Lynch and Neal Rosenthal) over decades was to go to a wine producing region, seek out the best producers available from that region, many of which were small production jewels, bring them to market in the United States and tell their customers why each wine producer and wine was special.  

Except for a few wines that they imported for volume sales (very dignified wines such as Robert Haas Vineyard Brands La Vielle Ferme Rhône Valley wines from the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel fame and even then the interventionism was minimal), they did not encourage their producers to make the the hyper-commercial types of wines "that the market is asking for." 
Instead, they represented unique producers making the best wines that their grapes, their land, their wine cellars and their palates could produce and those discerning importers brought the producers' wines and their stories to market.  Those ideals are what The Spanish Artisan Wine and Spirits Group - Gerry Dawes Selections hopes to carry forward with these exceptional artisan producer wines from Spain. 

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Spirits & Licores

And, given the interest in all things Spanish in the culinary world these days, we are using the same sourcing principles for our unique artisan spirits collection, we are planning to introduce in September 2016.  I have been steadily developing a stellar lineup of suppliers of unique Spanish spirits for more than two years now.  

This spirits and licores include a Vermouth from Burgos made from a 1912 recipe, a stellar gin made in Galicia and distilled from albariño grapes; from the same albariño grape distillations, some stellar aguardientes (grappa), a crema de café licor, chocolate with cherry licor and a superb cilantro-flavored liqueur; a cream licor from Catalunya that  could be the Spanish equivalent of Bailey’s Irish Cream; exceptional licor de naranja and a licor de limón, plus an orange cream licor from a producer in Valenciaa selection of high quality eau-de-vie type spirits from the top producer of cherries and other top quality fruit such as plums, raspberries, etc. in Extremadura; Patxarán (sloe-berry infused anís) de Navarra is one of the most famous and sought after spirits in Spain; aguardiente de manzana (apple grappa) and the Calvados-like Aguardiente Viejo de Sidra from Asturias; a Sherry Brandy de Jerez from Sanlúcar de Barrameda; and a line of artisan licores from one of the top chocolatiers and desserts chefs in Spain.

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Gerry Dawes is President-Jefe & Chairman of the Board of The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group - Gerry Dawes Selections

Gerry Dawes at The James Beard Foundation Awards 2014, New York City

  Gerry Dawes with owner-producer Eugenio Merino on a cold January morning in the old vines Cigales vineyards that produce one of Spain's finest rosados, Viña Catajarros Elite Rosado.  Photo by John Sconzo.

Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés. ". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 

Pilot for a reality television series
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Spanish Artisan Wine Group Stars from Ribeira Sacra: The most awesomely beautiful wine region on earth. "Tasted the new Holy Grail of Ribeira Sacra producers yesterday - Decima, Sabatelius, Toalde, Cazoga - just insanely good, low octane fireworks." - - John B. Gilman, Publisher of View From The Cellar

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Tourist boat on the Sil River in the Amandi subzone of la Ribeira Sacra. 
Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2010. Contact

Ribeira Sacra: A Renewed Obsession 
by Chris Barnes, Chambers Street Wines, New York City

“The Mencia grape is to Ribeira Sacra as Gamay is to Morgon or Syrah is to Cote Rôtie – a grape perfectly matched to its terroir. One doesn’t have to be a viticultural historian to know that it takes inspired people in addition to great grapes and great terroir to spell success. Today we’re celebrating a superb vintage in Ribeira Sacra, the burgeoning career of a new importer, and one young winemaker’s outstanding work with a special three-pack selected to renew your obsession with Ribeira Sacra. 

Gerry Dawes has been travelling in Spain for over 30 years. He has been to Ribeira Sacra many times and considers himself a true Galicia-phile.

Tired of passing his discoveries off to other importers, Gerry has taken the plunge and started importing his favorite Spanish wines to the States, with a focus on the northwest of Spain.  This has been a breath of fresh air; the wines are delicious, and show the best of what Ribeira Sacra has to offer: vibrancy of aroma and flavor, layers of red fruits, juicy acidity, minerals, and flowers with a lingering saveur, “red wines with the soul of white wines”, to use a colleague’s words. 

Esteemed critic John Gilman, upon tasting Gerry’s group of wines, proclaimed on his Twitter-feed that he had tasted “the new Holy Grail of Ribeira Sacra producers”, calling them, “low-octane fireworks.”

John Gilman at a tasting lunch for The Spanish Artisan Wine Group -Gerry Dawes Selections 
at Barcelona Wine Bar, Greenwich, CT.
Photo: Gerry Dawes©2012 /

(John Gilman, the great wine palate who publishes the best wine newsletter in the United States, View From the Cellar, loved the wines of The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections: @JohnBGilman on Twitter ,  "Tasted the new Holy Grail of Ribeira Sacra producers yesterday - Don Bernardino, Decima, Sabatelius, Toalde,  Cazoga - just  insanely good, low octane fireworks."- - GD)

As Gerry’s first customer here in NYC, I concur;  Sabatelius, Decima, and Cazoga are delicious and authentic to their respective places.  I am especially fond of the Sabatelius from the Chantada sub-zone on the western side of the Minho.  This is a project led by sculptor/painter turned vigneron, Primitivo Lareu.  Chantada is the coolest and most Atlantic influenced Ribera Sacra sub-zone and Lareu produces wines with beautiful freshness.  Thanks to Gerry for bringing these wines our way!”

We brought not just the three afore-mentioned wineries from La Ribeira Sacra, but FIVE* (and possibly 7 or 8) bodegas! We love La Ribeira Sacra and its small artisan producers.  We believe it is somewhat like Burgundy's mix of small estate producers and reminiscent of the Loire Valley as well, but the grapes are not Pinot Noir or Chardonnay as in the case of Burgundy, but the native red Mencía grape is very reminiscent of the Loire's Cabernet Franc and the white grape Godello can be on a par with Chardonnay.   Look for pomegranate-cranberry fruit and graphite (lead pencil) minerality in these great value wines."

Décima, José Manuel Rodríguez, Vilacha (Lugo)

José Manuel Rodríguez, President of the D.O. Ribeira Sacra and producer of  Décima, showing 
California chef Michael Chiarello around his precipitously steep Ribeira Sacra vineyards on the Sil River.
Photo: Gerry Dawes©2012 /

Décima Amandi Mencia Tinto 2011 Ribeira Sacra 12.5% 12/750ML $21.99   

“My favorite tinto (red wine) was the sophisticated 2010 Décima made from the mencía grape in the Ribeira Sacra region.  Beautifully structured,  quietly scintillating, almost poetic, it requires a patient, careful reading.” - - Howard G. Goldberg

Thomas Carter, Wine Director of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, pours Décima Ribeira Sacra Mencia 2011,
Manuel Formigo Finca Teira Ribeiro 2011 and Viña Catajarros Cigales Rosado 2011 by the glass. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2012 /

The unique, rich, pomegranate-like fruit-driven Décima Mencia (with 10% garnacha tintorera) from Amandi is underpinned by a graphite-like slate minerality that comes from the preciptiously steep pizarra terraces on which Décima’s vineyards grow. The vineyards are owned and farmed by José Manuel Rodríguez, who in addition to farming his own vines, is also the President of the Consello Regulador de La Ribeira Sacra.  This wine is a masterpiece, reminiscent in style and quality, if not in Pinot Noir flavors, of a wine from Burgundy’s northern Cótes de Nuits. 

I have been visiting vineyards and bodegas with José Manuel for nearly a decade and count him among my best friends.  He has not only introduced me to the bodegueros and wineries we are bringing in, he has lead me to nearly three dozen other bodegas and tasting of hundreds of wines, which helped me immeasurably in the research for my articles on the region, but also in finding this particular set of unique wines.

Sabatelivs, Primitivo Lareu, Chantada (Lugo)

Primitivo Lareu, owner of Sabatelivs, Chantada, Ribeira Sacra.
 Photo by Gerry Dawes©2012 /

Sabatelius from Primitivo Lareu, both a Godello-and-Treixadura white and a Mencía-based red, are both truly special wines from the westernmost Chantada subregion. Primitivo, who is a painter-sculptor, is one of the most dedicated viticulturists we know and his attention to his vineyards shows in his superb terroir-driven wines.

Sabatelivs Godello/Treixadura 2010 Ribeira Sacra 12.5% $21.996/750ML $21.99

Exotic, white peach and stone fruit flavors, with a mineral-laced finish.  A superb white wine that is 60% Godello, 40% Treixadura.

Chantada, Ribeira Sacra, Primitivo Lareu makes Sabatelivs Godello/Treixadura, 
 Sabatelivs Mencía Tinto Joven & Sabatelivs Mencía Carballo, which is aged in oak.
  Photo by Gerry Dawes©2012 /

Sabatelivs Mencía Tinto Joven 2011 12.5% 6/750ML $21.99

Medium deep pomegranate color.  Pomegranate and graphite nose.  An intriguing, compelling wine reminiscent of a great Cabernet Franc-based wine from the Loire Valley, but distintive because of the difference in soils (the Loire is calcareous, here it is granite and slate.  Excellent, clean, sharp fruit flavors reminiscent of pomegranate, laced with cranberry and lead pencil, with an intriguing, complex finish from the stony vineyards on which these grapes grow.  This young Mencía-based tinto will benefit from decanting to allow the aromas and flavors to fully develop.  

Primitivo Lareu, owner of Sabatelivs, Chantada, Ribeira Sacra.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2012 /

“From old vines on the Sil River, this is "back-country" wine as described to me by the importer Gerry Dawes.  I am not sure if he is referring to the rustic qualities of the wine or the people that make it.  Either way, "the ram's head" is all rustic beauty - cherry, raspberry, smoky, spicy, meaty with lifted aromas of lavender and rosemary. Cazoga is serious business.  Although drinking now, I would hold onto this; there is enough density, concentration and balance to age at least for a few years.” - - Chris Barnes, Chambers Street Wines    

Toalde, Roberto Regal, Ribeiras do Miño (Lugo)


Roberto Regal, artisan producer of Toalde Mencía, in Ribeira Sacra vineyards 
overlooking a bridge over the Miño River in Belesar near Chantada.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2012 / 


Toalde Mencía Tinto 2010 Ribeira Sacra 13.0% 6/750ML $24.99

From Ribeiras do Miño, one of the five sub-regions of La Ribeira Sacra, the mineral-driven, but soft and voluptous Toalde Mencía is made by the talented young enologist, Roberto Regal from stunningly beautiful, bucolic vineyards overlooking the Minho River. A silky, pomegranate & mineral-driven jewel. One of the best wine in our portfolio.

Mencía grapes, with traces of other old vines indigenous varieties, grow here on steep rock (the majority granitic, some slate) terraces with a 66% incline.  The soil is poor and shallow, which drives the vines deep in search of nutrients.  The orientation of the vineyards is from northeast to southeast.  The altitude of the vineyards is 820 to 1150 feet above sea level, which allows a progressive harvesting the grapes, beginning with the grapes from the warmer lower vineyards, which ripen first, and finishing with the higher vineyards, which ripen last.

The Atlantic climate helps provides aroma and freshness to the wines and the Iberian sun provides the necessary heat in the summer and moderate temperatures in autumn and the Minho river, over which the vineyards perch, provides a moderating influence.  Average rainfall is 750mm in Winter; 250 mm in summer.

Viña Cazoga, Jorge Carnero, Amandi (Lugo)

Even the most expensive wine in Dawes's porfolio, "Viña Cazoga Don Diego Crianza from Ribera Sacra, an exotic, chocolate- and tobacco-flavored wine with some of the "wild" character the French call animal, retails for only $50." - - Colman Andrews, The Daily Meal.

Jorge Carnero, Viña Cazoga, La Ribeira Sacra (Lugo province), Galicia.
Photo: Gerry Dawes©2011 /

Viña Cazoga Tinto 2010 Ribeira Sacra 13.5% 12/750ML $26.99

Viña Cazoga Tinto 2010 ($27). Another Ribeira Sacra mencia, surprisingly soft, with a generous bouquet, a blackberry-and-black-pepper tang on the palate, and a long, satisfying finish. - - Colman Andrews, The Daily Meal.  Read more: Spanish Wines — A Seductive New Crop: Godello, mencia, and other less-than-famous Iberian grapes shine in a new selection from Spanish wine expert Gerry Dawes
Viña Cazoga Don Diego Tinto 2008 Ribeira Sacra 13.5% $49.99

"Oh, and he doesn't have much patience with excessive pricing, either, and all but one of the 30-plus selections in his portfolio (he is adding more) have a suggested retail price of less than $30 a bottle, and some are less than $20. (Even the exception, Viña Cazoga Don Diego Crianza from Ribera Sacra, an exotic, chocolate- and tobacco-flavored wine with some of the "wild" character the French call animal, retails for only $50.)"- - Colman Andrews, The Daily Meal.  Read more: Spanish Wines — A Seductive New Crop: Godello, mencia, and other less-than-famous Iberian grapes shine in a new selection from Spanish wine expert Gerry Dawes

One of the stars of this group is a unique wine from a rustic bodega in the back country. It is owned by a young winemaker, Jorge Carnero, who took over his late father’s vineyards and decided to make his own very personal wine, Viña Cazoga. We import both Jorge’s Viña Cazoga Tinto 2010 and Viña Cazoga Don Diego 2008, a wine that spends some several months time in 4-year old, 500L re-conditioned Allier oak.

We don’t expect either of these wines to be for everyone because they are so unique and unlike other red wines you may have tasted before.  For this reason, on my fourth visit to the winery when I took a guest l I decided not to say anything and just let him make up his own mind about the wine without any pre-suggestion from me. Cazoga wines were the ones the guest liked the best of all from our 2,500 km., 20-winery trip.

Viña Cazoga Don Diego 2008, a wine that spends some several months in 4-year old, 500L re-conditioned Allier oak, is one of the top wines in The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections.
 Photo: Gerry Dawes©2011 /

Cazoga wines show themselves best with food. By the time you get to the last glass in the bottle, you realize you have been drinking something unique and special.  And you don't like that old-fashioned label with the Cazoga (ram) head you say.  Cazoga is Gallego for Carnero, or ram, the owner’s name.  Get over it and concentrate on the wine in the bottle.  We wouldn't change a thing about this place.  Besides, there is not enough wine to fill even the modest demand we think those who really like this wine will create.  The Spanish Artisan Wine Group’s wild child; if you don't like it, I will drink it.

Viña Cazoga consists of 3.9-acres in a single plot bordering on a slope just above the water line of the Sil River.  The site wine was traditionally recognized as the best for growing wine grapes in the parish of Amandi.  The grapes are 95% Mencia, the rest Merenzao and Tempranillo.
The history of the winery is very old.  Jorge Carnero’s grandfather Raimundo Vidal owned the largest winery  in Amandi, which he inherited from his father. Carnero’s grandmother remembered from her childhood bringing down to the fair in Monforte 37 carts each with a cask of new wine.

But at the beginning of the 20th century the cultivation of those steep river banks was not profitable, so there was much emigration and many descendants inheriting their portion of a vineyard )under the Galician mini-fundia iherititance rules, so the old family vineyard was divided into dozens of plots among the cousins, some of whom kept making wine for themselves for home consumption, but other vineyards were abandoned. 
It was not until the late 70's when Jorge Carnero’s father, Diego Carnero Vidal, set out to re-unite the former vineyards of the Vidal family, re-open the old winery and recuperate the denominaciónde origin claim for Amandi, for which he always acted as ambassador, when, at a time, it was considered insane to try to cultivate those precipitous river banks.

While the Carneros were in the process of reconstructing the old winery, they  used a cuba (a large horizontal wine vat, a huge barrel) from the epoque of Jorge’s great grandfather to sleep in.  They cut a door in one end of the barrrel and put a bed, lights and a television inside, making a bedroom out of the ancient barrel.  They called my father “el tolo de Cazoga,” the crazy Cazoga, slept in a barrel and was going to bury los cuartos, the money from the vines.  The barrel now has a taxidermist-prepared head of a ram mounted on the front of the barrel, the image of which is on Cazoga’s wine labels.

Jorge Carnero (Carnero is Cazoga, or “ram,” in Galego, thus the ram’s head,  the symbol of the winery), tasting his wines with a visitor.  Jorge Carnero is inside a large barrel formerly used to make wine, now with door installed and a bed and television inside. Carnero sometimes spends the night in the barrel during the long hours of the grape harvest.  Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2011.

Cazoga was the first important winery in what would later become the Ribeira Sacra D.O.  Cazoga is a pago, a single vineyard cru, in the most rocky location with the best orientation.  Among those who know the Amandi subregion, the wine was always considered the best.  The production is very low and most of  the vines are a century old. 

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Albariños from Bodegas Artesanas, Rías Baixas, Galicia: Avó Roxo, Cabaliero do Val, Lagar de Broullón, Lagar de Candes, O’Forollo & Rozas

“When Gerry discusses his albariños his voices rises and his enthusiasm goes into high gear, as does the prose in his tasting sheet on albariños from members of the Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas.
 Back label in Spain for the Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas, Autores do Vinho.

The association, he relates, is “A group of small grower-producers who rebelled against commercial wine styles in Rías Baixas and produce their own unique wines using native yeasts.” He continues: “Each wine is distinctly different from the others.  There are 14 members of this association.  I have six of them, with probably four more to come. Why? These wines are among the greatest white wines of Spain, that’s why.”
I am not knowledgeable enough to say whether they are the greatest or not, but I loved the scintillating, complex Albariño from O’Forollo ($23.99); enjoyed the lush, flavorful  Avó Roxo ($24.99); and admired the lithe, fresh Cabaliero do Val ($24.99).
I wish I had drunk these wines with seafood, as Gerry did, in Rías Baixas, a marine paradise. They would have been accompanied by ostras (oysters), almejas (clams), cigalas (langoustines), nécoras (small hard-shell crabs), vieiras (sea scallops) and zamburiñas (bay scallops, sort of).” - - Howard G. Goldberg, writer for The New York Times, Decanter and others.

  Back label in the U.S. for Avó Roxo, member of the  
Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas, Autores do Viño.

Among these artisan Albariños are some unique and stunning examples of how great Spanish white wines can be.  The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections  imports six Albariños from the Asociación of Bodegas Artesanas, which has 14 small grower-producer members, most of which produces 1,000 cases or less and use indigenous yeasts to ferment their wines.  Though each producer's wine is distinctly different from the others, each is a jewel in its right and several of them are amongst the greatest Albariños I have ever drunk.  There are at least four more producers that The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections may bring in.

Gerry Dawes with some of the Bodegueros Artesanos 
at Lagar de Broullón, owned by José Pintos Pintos (third from left).

The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections imports six Albariños from same municipio, Dena-Meaño, in the Val do Salnés, all from a group of independent grower producers who are members of the Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas (the Association of Artesan Wineries). 

Each member farms his own-clone grapes and makes unique, individual terruño-laced, spoofulation-free Albariños of character, style, grace, balance, charm and breed in his (or her) own adega (bodega) using wild native yeasts to ferment the wines.  These producers do not believe, as many commercial wineries do, that they should bottle early in the year after the previous vintage.  Most bottle their wines in early July, in time for the group’s Festa do Albariño held each year in Meaño at the end of July.

Albariño, Val do Salnés Rías Baixas (Galicia). 

Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2012.

With the Bodegueros Artesanos, the taste of their unique wines is driven by what tastes best to each of them, not what "the market is asking for."  They make some of the most intriguing and best white wines of Spain.

The Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas stages their Festa del Encontro do Viño de Autor the fourth weekend in July in La Praza de Feria en the center of Meaño each year.   All the bodegas in the group pour their wines for several days and there is great Galician food–fabulous bread (including pan de milla, corn bread), steamed octopus, Galicia stews, percebes (goose barnacles), chorizo, grilled food, filloas (crêpes), etc.–which can be purchased.  This year, 2016, the Vino de Autor wine fair is July 22-25.

Gerry Dawes with Francisco (“Paco”) Dovalo López, owner of Cabaleiro do Val, is the founder and president of the Asociación of Bodegas Artesanas, Rías Baixas, Galicia. The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections and Sober, Llc. imports six different artisan albariños from the Bodegas Artesanas.

Adega Cabaliero Do Val, Meaño (Pontevedra)
Bodeguero Artesano Francisco Dovalo
Cabaleiro do Val Albariño 2013 13.5% 12/750ML $25.99


Cabaliero do Val, Paco Dovalo's great Albariño, Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas.

Cabaleiro do Val was officially incorporated as a bodega in 1989, although Paco Dovalo López has been producing his vino de autor signature wine all his life in an old granite stone farmhouse that he inherited from his ancestors and dates from 1834.  A section of the house is the old bodega, where the Dovalo family has been making wine for more than 100 years.  In the garden of the house is a huge old grapevine, estimated to be at least 150 years old, that measures more than three feet in circumference and has branches 30 feet long (vines are trained on the trellised parral system here).

Chefs Michael Chiarello and Ryan Mcilwaith (Bottega, Napa Valley) with the 200-year old vine 
at Cabaliero do Val in the garden of Paco Dovalo's home.
All Photos by Gerry Dawes©2012.

In the early 70's, there were numerous little known grape varieties such as Espadeiro, Tinta Hembra, Catalán, Hoja Redonda and even some unknown grapes growing in his vineyards and though he kept a some of these varieties to study their characteristics, he decided to use only Albariño in his wines.  At the time, there were also strains of Albariño estimated to be more than 150 years old.  Dovalo took cuttings these old vines for re-planting sections of his vineyards–he calls them the mothers of all his Albariño vines. 

Paco Dovalo says the grapes obtained from the original Albariño vines made wine that is the model for what he tries to achieve in what he calls “my indigenous artisan wine,” Cabaliero do Val.  Dovalo, wine our ancestors. Dovalo has kept some of these old vines, which he says are unique among Albariño vineyards in Rías Baixas. 

Dovalo says that his wine very much reflects his personal taste, which is rooted in tradition and in his memory of wines from a by-gone era.  Though, he and his fellow artisan grower-producers respect that tradition and still work their own vineyards, some of which have been in the family for generations, they have evolved by incorporating modern vineyard management and winemaking equipment.  But, though they have “modernized” to a certain degree, many of the winery maintain rustic touches and they continue to produce exceptionally high quality artisan wines that their ancestors would have been proud of.

Paco Dovalo, grower-producer of Cabaliero Do Val.

Paco Dovalo says, "In my group of small artisan grower-producers, we make a very personalized style of wine, whose individual roots reside in the tradition and memory. Although we have incorporated some of the lessons learned from modern winemaking, we still continue the artisanal work that we learned from our fathers.”

“For those who continue our style of artisan winemaking,” Dovalo says, “we hope that our new generations will maintain this tradition and endure, but for them to do that we also know that we have to build a following and an appreciation of these pure and noble limited production wines.”

It was because of Paco Dovalo’s wine that I discovered this incredible group of artisan producers.  One day a decade ago, I was on my way from Rías Baixas to Ribeira Sacra.  I was driving through an area known more for cheeses than wine when I reached the small town of Melide.  It was nearly four o’clock and I still had not had lunch, so when I saw a hotel-restaurant, I stopped. 

At first taciturn, as Gallegos sometimes are, the son of the chef-owner (a damned good cook trained in France) opened up as lunch service was wearing down and made some recommendations to this American stranger.  First, he offered a couple of excellent Galician cows’ milk cheeses–slices of Arzua-Ulloa and of the breast-shaped classic Tetilla–and he suggested that I might like to try a glass of Cabaleiro do Val Albariño to accompany the cheeses.       

The wine was stunning.  He told me that it was from the jefe who had organized a group of artisan producers, who were rebelling against making Albariños like most of the larger wineries were producing.  I wrote down the name of the winery and vowed to check out these producers, but it was nearly three years later when I finally tracked them down and it would be another five years before I founded The Spanish Artisan Wine Company and began to import Cabaliero do Val and five more of these splendid artisan wines. 

Dovalo may see his dreams for the artisan wines of his group come true.  Although the wines have hardly seen the light of day in Spain outside of Galicia, the wines of the Asociación of Bodegas Artesanas have been on the wine lists of such great American restaurants and wine bars as Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Blue Hill (New York City), Crabtree’s Kittle House, Picholine, Petrossian, Terroir Tribeca, Tertulia, Barcelona Wine Bars (Connecticut) and Solera.

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Adegas Avó Roxo, Meaño (Pontevedra)
Bodeguero Artesano Antonio Gondar Moldes
Avó Roxo Albariño 2013 13.0% 12/750ML $25.99

Video of Adegas Avò Roxo Albariño - Artisan Bodeguero Antonio Gondar  

 (Paco Dovalo singing)

Avó Roxo joined the Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas in 2010 and is one of the group’s newest members. 

Avó Roxo is a traditional family winery and all their wine production comes from their own 1.5 hectares of vineyards are located in the heart of O Salnes, a privileged environment for the growing and harvesting of the Albariño grape.

The winery began producing wines in the 1930’s under the management of Serafín Gondar.  In 1975 Serafin passed the vineyards and winery to his son Antonio Gondar, who continued the wine’s development.  Avó Roxo won several awards in the 70’s, including 1st place at the XXII Albariño Wine Festival in Cambados in 1974. 

Antonio Gondar Moldes, Avo Roxo, Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas. 
All Photos by Gerry Dawes©2012.

The winery was named after the founder Serafín, whose nickname was Avó Roxo, Red Grandfather (because of his hair color apparently) in Gallego.    

In 2007 his grandson Antonio Gondar Moldes took over ownership and management.  He renovated and re-energized the bodega and winemaking.   In 2007, the year he took over, Avó Roxo produced only 7,000 bottles, under 600 cases.

Gondar, whose day job is doing electrical installations, says, "My dream is to live only from the winery and expand production to 12,000 bottles, doing all the vineyard work my grandfather used to do because our grapes give exceptional aromas and taste to our wines.”

Practically all the wines of Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas are only sold locally to individuals and a few restaurants.  Few of these marvelously original, high quality wines have ever been sold in Madrid or anywhere else in Spain, but now wines like Avó Roxo are on the lists of such American restaurants as the great New York (State) restaurants as James Beard Outstanding Chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns and at Crabtree’s Kittle House, which has one of the best wine cellars in the United States. 

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Lagar de BroullónMeaño (Pontevedra)
(Click for video.)
Bodeguero Artesano José Pintos Pintos
Lagar de Broullon Albariño 2013 12.5% 12/750ML $25.99

"Lagar de Broullon Albariño ($24). An albariño to banish all memory of those banal examples of the wine that now flood U.S. wine shop shelves — bright and well-rounded, with juicy fruit and a long, complex finish." - - Colman Andrews, The Daily Meal.  Read more: Spanish Wines — A Seductive New Crop: Godello, mencia, and other less-than-famous Iberian grapes shine in a new selection from Spanish wine expert Gerry Dawes
Lagar de Broullón is made by Xosé Pintos Pinto. Beautifully balanced, Pintos's wine is full-flavored and quite complex with lychee and green apple flavors braced by a long, clean, mineral-laced finish, but has just 12.5% alcohol, which helps make it very easy to drink.   It is ideal with many different dishes, but especially with grilled fish, shellfish (for which Galicia is famous), octopus, rice dishes and cheeses. 

Xosé Pintos, artesan grower-winemaker of Lagar de Broullón, sings during a lunch break at the Festa del Encontro do Viño de Autor at Meaño (Pontevedra).

Located in the heart of the Val de Salnés, in an area known as the home of Albariño grape, Lagar de Broullón bodega is surrounded by its 2.5 acre south-southwest facing vineyard that produces its signature wine.  Akin to wineries in Burgundy, the bodega is a 19th Century house, where several generations of the Pintos family have made wine with intelligence and care and have developed a family tradition for authentic artisan wines on a small scale. 

Only about 600 cases of fine Albariño are made each year and only 100 of those will reach the U.S. market.  Lagar de Broullón’s dedication to quality focuses on the vineyard and the grapes, which José Pintos believes is the most important element in wine.  Although the winery has modern a vinification system, Pintos tries to make his wines with as little intervention as possible.  He believes that his signature wine is steeped in tradition and through meticulous vineyard work, he tries to achieve the highest quality in his wine.

We believe that Pintos has achieved his goal.  His Lagar de Broullón is one of the finest wines in our portfolio.

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Bodega Meis Otero, O’ Forrollo, Dena-Meaño (Pontevedra)
Bodeguero Artesano Fernando Meis Otero
O’ Forrollo Albariño Rías Baixas 13% 12/750ML $23.99 

O'Forrollo, one of the six Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas de Rías Baixas Albariños 
 brought in by The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group - Gerry Dawes Selections.

Color & appearance: Deep green-gold, correct for Albariño.

Nose: Pears, lime, apricots, spices, minerals.

Palate: Lots of delicious fruit, including hints of pear, apricot, lime and spices, with a bracing acidity that balances the fruit.  The wine finishes long, compelling sense of minerality.

Bodeguero artesano Fernando Meis Otero is one of the younger members of the Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas, a group of 14 independent artisan wineries from the same area of Val do Salnés, the top subregion for Albariños from Rías Baixas.  Fernando Meis farms his own vineyards of 100% Albariño grapes and ferments his must using native yeasts.  

Fernando Meis Otero, O'Forrollo.
All Photos by Gerry Dawes©2012.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Fernando Meis Álvarez, the current Fernando’s father, a vineyard owner in Dena (Meaño) decided to begin changing the mixed varieties of indigenous grapes growing in his vineyards for Albariño vines, a tough task, but with a single objective: to create the vineyard to provide grapes for his own estate-bottled Albariño.

Fernando Meis Álvarez thus took his first steps into the world of making Albariño and in 1990 he registered his bodega and his wine O Forrollo with the D.O. Rías Baixas.  His first harvest as an officially registered Rías Baixas bodega produced just over 250 cases of O Forrollo Albariño.

His son, Fernando Meis Otero, took over the direction of the winery in 2001.  During the past decade, Meis has adapted new technology, in viticulture as well as in the production in the winery, but never forgetting his roots and with one objective: to produce a Rías Baixas Albariño of excellent quality.

O Forrollo’s 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres) of vineyards are in the heart of the Val del Salnés (Dena –Meaño), an area which produces some of the best wines of the D.O. Rias Baixas.  85% of O Forrollo’s vines are in a single vineyard divided into four sub-parcels, the remaining 15% is in smaller plots.   

Albariño grapes, Meaño, Val do Salnés Rías Baixas (Galicia). 
Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2012.

The vines are trained on the typical Galician “parral” trellising system, supported on wires attached to granite posts that keep the vines and grapes horizontally suspended several feet above the ground, which allows circulation of air and helps prevent mildew and other related vine and grape diseases in this sometimes rainy climate.  The soil in the vineyards is sandy, shallow and low in acidity.

Albariño grapes growing on trellises, Val do Salnés, Rías Baixas (Galicia). 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2012.

The region enjoys an Atlantic climate, which gets abundant rainfall, but enjoys many hours of sun as well.  Because of the proximity of the vineyards to the Atlantic Ocean, the mean temperature is temperature, though in summer temperatures often reach 86-90 degrees.

The vines are 100% Albariño, a sweet, small berry, native Galician grape.  All of O’ Forrollo’s grapes come from their own vineyards, so the harvests are limited and can vary, depending on the year, from 7000 liters (9000 bottles, 750 cases) to 10000 liters (14,000 bottles; 1166 cases). 

Meis says, “The harvesting of our grapes depends upon several factors that we consider indispensible for producing a wine of excellent quality:  The climate, taking into account all the environmental factors that can affect the maturation of the grapes; the degree of ripeness, taking very much into account the acid balance, which will dictate when we pick the grapes and is a vital element in the quality of the future wine.” 

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Bodegas Rozas, Meaño (Pontevedra)

Bodeguero Artesano Manolo Dovalo

 Rozas Albariño 13.5% 12/750ML $25.99

@JohnBGilman of View From the Cellar on Twitter: "Rozas Albariño.  Maybe the greatest Albariño I have ever tasted - - kaleidoscopic minerality, blazing purity."

“Gerry’s Albariños, from Rías Baixas, were notable, especially Manolo Doval’s Rozas: a great floral aroma, feather-light, grace, a swirl of subtleties.” - - Howard G. Goldberg

"Rozas Albariño ($26).  If I'd tasted this blind, I might have thought it was a particularly lean and stylish viognier. It has a wonderful, intense aroma and real complexity of flavor, with plenty of acidity and a beguiling finish that is part mineral, part floral. I don't think I've had a better albariño."  - - Colman Andrews, The Daily Meal.  Read more: Spanish Wines — A Seductive New Crop: Godello, mencia, and other less-than-famous Iberian grapes shine in a new selection from Spanish wine expert Gerry Dawes

Manolo Doval, Producer of Rozas, Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas.
 All Photos by Gerry Dawes©2012.

Manolo Dovalo farms just over 6.3 acres of well-drained vineyards that get ample sunlight enabling him to produce one of the greatest Albariños of Rías Baixas.  Dovalo says the secret of the quality of his wines is that the majority of the vines are very old.  Some of these vines have been producing grapes for generations. 

The bodega was founded by Dovalo’s ancestors, who made wine for the family’s own consumption.  Over the years, the winemaking gradually evolved into the modern era, where Dovalo says that his family has succeeded in integrating tradition with modern elements such as stainless steel and including the latest techniques for thermic stablization. 

The winery has limited production, which allows Dovalo to carefully monitor his vineyards during the growing season.   The albariño grapes are picked at what Dovalo assesses as the optimum point of ripeness–never overripe–for making a great white wine.  

“The first time I tasted the Rozas I was stunned.  This is serious Albariño - chocked full of minerals, not too fruity, dense but not in a spoofy way.  Just pure with insane length.  This shows similar old vine intensity to a top Do Ferreiro or Pazo de Señorans Albariño.  Highly recommended!” - - Chris Barnes, formerly at Chambers Street Wines, New York City.

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Lagar de Candes, Bodegas y Viñedos Eulogio Gondar Galiñanes, Meaño (Pontevedra)
Bodeguero Artesano Eulogio Gondar Galiñanes 

Hazards of being an artisan grower-producer. Eulogio Gondar, Lagar de Candes, wearing a eye patch after being injured when a grapevine he was pruning poked him in the eye.

Lagar de Candes Albariño 12.0% 12/750ML $23.99 

In the glass this Albariño is a light golden color. The nose offers aromatic complexity with floral notes of orange blossoms, green pears and lime, supported by racy Alsatian Reisling-like acidity and a traces of minerality in the finish.

Lagar de Candes winery and vineyards are located in the village of Meaño in the heart of the Rías Baixas Val de Salnés, which has excellent growing conditions for the Albariño grape.  In and around the town of Meaño some of the greatest Albariños of Galicia are made.   

Eulogio Gondar represents the fourth generation making wine here.  Eulogio took over the winery just over a decade ago and, following the footsteps of his ancestors who believed that the best Albariños were made from the best grapes married to the soil and climate of the Val do Salnés, an area long known for its small family vineyards.  The Meaño area has its own microclimate suitable for the cultivation of the vine and its own unique granitic-laced soil, resulting in grapes with excellent balance of acids and sugars, with an optimum ripeness that over the years has given albariño from this area a special identity.

Eulogio Gondar, Lagar de Candes. 
All Photos by Gerry Dawes©2012.

Eulogio uses modern winemaking coupled with artisanal techniques to make excellent wines.   Dedicated to making his grapes and his wines as natural as possible, Gondar had dedicated a portion of the family’s vineyards to NATURA, which designated an ecologically protected space that falls within the NATUR AGRO project dedicated to protecting the agricultural environment. 

About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes is President, Founder & Jefe of The Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group - Gerry Dawes Selections

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts.