Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Spanish Artisan Wine Reviews from John Gilman ,Publishe-Editor of View From The Cellar

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Recently-Tasted Spanish and Portuguese Wines
Part Two- December 2018

October’s gold and russet tones in one of Ribeira Sacra’s sub-regions, Quiroga-Bibei.

            Part Two of my annual coverage of the beautiful wines of Spain has been delayed a bit more than I anticipated when I first finished up Part One back in June of last year. I had imagined working on the second installment of my coverage of Spain in September and October of last year, but the sheer volume of samples piling up in my cellar over the last quarter of 2018 had me falling behind on my tasting and this article kept getting shuffled to the “next issue” as my pace of writing up samples could not keep up with the number of bottles coming in. On one hand, this was unfortunate, as some of the superb wines featured below have now been in the market for a few months and may have already sold through the pipeline, but the delay also allowed for new vintages of many old favorites from around the Iberian peninsula to arrive here in the US and this article is that much deeper and richer for its inadvertent delay in getting written. Tasting through the new releases from many of my favorite producers in Spain is always a happy time for me, as there is so much good wine being produced today in this country that it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Spanish wine is undergoing a renaissance that is every bit as exciting as that of Spanish haute cuisine a decade ago. There are so many young and energetic winegrowers scattered across Spain today with great vision for their wines and regions, coupled to deep respect for the traditions and unique terroirs that have made Spanish wines so beautiful for so long. These, of course, are not generally the well-funded modernists of Spanish wine, who swept across the high plains and mountains of the peninsula in the 1990s and early years of the new millennium preaching the stale creed of “international” wines to parrot the industrially-inspired and expensive plonk that was being churned out in other well-established wine regions at the same time. Rather, these are the talented (and often quite young) visionaries who wish to champion the unique grape varieties and terroirs of Spain’s incredibly complex quilt of wine-producing regions and produce wines of beautiful elegance and bold individuality which pay homage to the deep cultural roots of traditional Spanish wine.

            Many of these talented new breed of winegrowers in Spain have harkened back to regions that were on the verge of historical irrelevance a generation ago, when vineyards were going abandoned and many young people in their respective locales were looking to other career opportunities and leaving their regions of birth to seek better economic prospects far from their childhood homes. A perfect case in this regard is Galicia, which was on winemaking life support in the 1980s, but now is one of the most exciting and dynamic winegrowing regions to be found anywhere in the world. Happily, the new generation has found opportunity in places such as Galicia, reclaiming old vines that had been overgrown by the countryside during their period of abandonment, nursing them back to health and striking out to discover new heights of quality and complexity for the wines of their regions. It is indeed a very, very exciting time to be following the new course of Spanish wine. 

         One has to wonder if all of this dynamism in classically-inspired Spanish wine today would be possible at all, if there had not been a few holdouts back in the 1980s and 1990s who rejected the notion of internationally-inspired, “modern” Spanish wines and had clung tightly to the old school traditions of their wine-producing regions and steered clear of the modern tides sweeping through Spanish winemaking at that time. One of these old school holdouts was certain Albariño maestro, Francisco “Paco” Dovalo López, who helped found the artisanal growers’ association, the Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas, in Rías Biaxas back in 1989 and continued making his superb wines from his winery of Adega Cabaleiro do Val.

            As I was getting ready to put the finishing touches on this article, I heard the sad news that Paco Dovalo had passed away in his hometown of Meaño, located in the Val do Salnés. Paco Dovalo was a great man during his lifetime and I had the pleasure to spend some time with him and other talented members of his growers’ association during my last trip to Galicia a few years back. He was instrumental in rejecting the push to make Albariño a simple, industrial wine produced from huge yields, commercial yeasts and safe, boring winemaking recipes. 

           Though he only officially started to commercialize his own wines on a full-time basis in 1989, the year he founded the region’s artisanal growers’ association, Paco’s family had been grape growers and wine producers in the region for many centuries, though they long sold off most of their grape and wine production and only bottled wine for family and friends prior to Paco starting to sell everything from his small estate in 1989.  Paco Dovalo was clearly the inspiration for many of the younger vignerons in the region, and his role in the renaissance that has quietly swept through the vineayrds of Val do Salnés and other parts of the Albariño wine-producing horizon will deserve a prominent role when the history of the region is written a few decades down the road. 

             I am sure that other Spanish wine regions where this move back to traditionally-inspired wines is in full swing also have or have had their own early pioneers such as Paco Dovalo, and it is these older generation producers who eschewed the easier financial path and critical praise that was lavished on the modernists of Spanish wine in the 1990s (and which continues on in some circles even to this day) to which all of us who love classically styled Spanish wines owe a debt of appreciation. Their early sacrifices made it possible for today’s younger generation to follow in their footsteps and lead Spain on into the brightest wine future of any wine-producing country in the world. Thank you Paco!

Paco Dovalo (right) and his US importer, Gerry Dawes, standing next to one of Paco’s 150 year-old Albariño vines.

            This new issue is loaded with tasting notes from many of this newer generation of Spanish winegrowers “classicists” that have appeared in these pages previously, such as the very talented team of winemakers at Envínate and 4 Monos Viticultores, as well as the gifted Laura Lorenzo of Daterra Viticultores and Pedro Rodríguez of Guímaro, both in Ribeira Sacra. Also appearing here are many of Paco Dovalo’s Albariño brothers in arms from the Asociación de Bodegas Artesanas, in Rías Biaxas, including Eulogio Gondar of Lagar de Candes, Manolo Dovalo of Adega Rozas and Fernando Meis Otero, not to mention the extremely talented husband and wife team of Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto in Cambados. And, of course, we have notes on a few of the deceased maestro’s beautiful Albariños as well, which age as long and gracefully as any in the region. There are also notes on all of the superb current releases, both red and white, from Luis Rodríguez’s Viña de Martin winery in Ribeiro and a huge lineup of great new (primarily) Mencía-based bottlings from Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Bierzo. Included in Part Two of my coverage from Spain are also the new releases from Goyo García in Ribera del Duero, as fine and deep a range of both red and white stars from the Canary Islands and a wide array of new releases (often of nicely aged wines) from several of Portugal’s top wine-producing regions. These include a new producer in the Douro named Luis Seabra, who is making simply the finest and most classically-styled dry wines I have tasted from the Port region, as well as new releases from the great old Bairrada and Dão producer of Caves São João. So, there is a very good reason this feature is long and nicely delayed in its release, as I have been working through a small mountain of truly exceptional bottles of wine in the last few months!

            The article is organized as I have done in the past, starting in the northwestern corner of Spain in Galicia and working across the north of the peninsula towards the east in a swath of neighboring wine regions, and then descending south to the next band of D.O.s and again working from west to east, repeating this until we finally reach the south of the country and Jerez. Prior to the geographical strata of regions, I have listed all the recent Cava releases and all of the Rosado bottlings I have tasted for this report in their own distinct sections, rather than including each in its proper geographical subset. After working through all of the D.O.s in Spain that I have tasted for this report, you will find the sections on the Canary Islands and then the recently-tasted wines from Portugal. Though I did taste a few still wines from the Jerez region, there are not notes on the most famous wines from Jerez, Sherry. A few Spanish wine importers have asked me to start writing about Sherry as well, but I have so far resisted, as I simply do not know anywhere near enough about Sherry, or have sufficient experience, to be qualified to write about those wines with proper insight that they deserve, and I leave Sherry for those with the requisite knowledge to handicap those wines. 


2016 Rioja Rosado- Bodegas Lecea  (Rioja Alta)

            I really like all of the wines from Bodegas Lecea, and I find their Rosado quite ageworthy. The 2016 is still on the youngish side, but is drinking quite nicely, offering up scents of white cherries, orange peel, salty soil tones and a nice touch of upper register spice. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, crisp and nicely mineral in profile, with a good core, fine focus and grip and plenty of bouncy acidity adding vibrancy on the long and blossoming finish. Good juice. 2018-2030. 90.   

2016 Rosado “Lagrima de Garnacha”- Bodegas Aliaga (Navarra)

            Bodegas Aliaga makes two distinct bottlings of Rosado, with their Lagrima de Garnacha cuvée their deeper-colored and more vinous example. This is made by the saignée method, with the juice run off from the tanks of the oldest vine Garnacha they have in their vineyards. The color is a pretty deep Rosé and the nose is pure and complex, wafting from the glass in a blend of cherries, blood orange, salty soil tones and a topnote of dried flowers. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied, crisp and complex, with a fine core, quite the vinous personality and a long, balanced and zesty finish. This is clearly the gastronomic bottling of Rosado from Aliaga and the wine is very well made. 2018-2025+. 90.

2015 Rosado “Lagrima de Luna”- Bodegas Aliaga (Navarra)

            The Lagrima de Luna bottling of Rosado from Bodegas Aliaga is designed to be their more forward, lighter aperitif cuvée, with a shorter skin contact prior to the saignée made for the rosé. But, this does not mean that the wine does not age gracefully and the 2015 version is really at a lovely point right now, offering up a bright bouquet of strawberries, tangerine, salty soil tones and a floral topnote. On the palate the wine is crisp, full-bodied and nicely round and generous now on the attack, with a good juicy core, sound acids and fine focus and grip on the long finish. Very pretty Rosado, albeit, not as complex as their Lagrima de Garnacha bottling. 2018-2023. 88.

2014 Rosado “Lagrima de Garnacha”- Bodegas Aliaga (Navarra)

            The 2014 vintage of Lagrima de Garnacha from Bodegas Aliaga shows just how beautifully these Navarra Rosados can age from a top estate. At age four, the wine is wide open and at its apogee of peak drinkability, offering up scents of blood orange, cherry, a touch of citrus peel, dried rose petals and a complex base of soil tones. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied, complex and rock solid at the core, with bright acids, excellent focus and balance and lovely grip on the long and zesty finish. This is superb Rosado. 2018-2025+. 92.

2014 Rosado “Viña Catajarros” Bodegas Hermanos Merino (Cigales)

            Bodegas Hermanos Merino is one of my favorite Rosado producers in Cigales, and in fact, ninety percent of what they produce is actually Rosado. The vineyards here look like one is walking in Châteauneuf du Pape, with all of the gnarled bush vines and the soil covered with large, round stones. The estate’s 2014 Rosado is also right in its peak window of drinkability and showing beautifully today, wafting from the glass in a fine aromatic constellation of orange peel, blood orange, stony minerality, a touch of garrigue and a potpourri of other spice tones in the upper register. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied, zesty and complex, with a fine core, good backend mineral drive, bright acids and a long, complex and classy finish. Fine juice. 2018-2025. 92.

The great old Garnacha vines and stony soils of Bodegas Catajarros in Cigales.

Albariño Rías Biaxas

2015 Albariño Lagar de Broullón (Meaño, Rías Biaxas)

            The granitic soils of the Lagar de Broullón Albariño always make for a racy and nicely structured example of this underrated varietal, and the 2015 is no exception. The nose here wafts from the glass in a fine mix of yellow fruit, powdered stone, ocean breeze, lemongrass, a touch of leesiness and a gently smoky topnote. On the palate the wine is crisp, full-bodied, complex and quite long on the backend, with a good core, fine stony soil signature and lovely cut and grip on the classy finish. Good juice. 2018-2025. 92.

2015 Albariño Lagar de Candes (Meaño, Rías Biaxas)

            The 2015 Albariño from Eulogio Gondar’s Lagar de Candes is an excellent example of this vintage and is now drinking beautifully, offering up a bright and nicely citric nose of lime, lemon, ocean breeze, complex, salty minerality, dried flowers and a bit of candied citrus peel in the upper register. On the palate the wine is crisp, full-bodied, focused and mineral-driven, with a good core, fine bounce and grip and a long, zesty and complex finish. This is still a pretty young wine at three years of age and will be even better with a bit more bottle age. Fine juice. 2018-2030+. 92+.

2015 Albariño “O’Forrollo” Bodega Meis Otero (Meaño, Rías Biaxas)

            The 2015 Albariño from Fernando Meis Otero is a gorgeous wine that is really just starting to hit its peak at three years of age. The bouquet offers up a gorgeous blend of apple, lemon, white flowers, ocean breeze, lime zest and a superb base of minerality. On the palate the wine is full-bodied, crisp and quite elegant, with a good core, superb backend mineral drive and a long, complex and beautifully balanced finish. This is outstanding Albariño! 2018-2035+. 94.

2013 Albariño Cabaleiro do Val (Meaño, Rías Biaxas)

            I first tasted a bottle of the 2013 Albariño from Cabaleiro do Val during my visit to the region back in the autumn of 2014, when this was the upcoming release from Paco Dovalo. I have followed the wine closely ever since and it continues to age gracefully and drink with vibrant complexity and lovely mineral undertow. Today, the wine is at its apogee, offering up a fresh as a daisy bouquet of lime, green apple, wet stone, lovely lees elements and a briny topnote of ocean breeze. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and still quite racy, with a fine core, impressive backend mineral drive and excellent length and grip on the zesty and perfectly balanced finish. Truly stellar Albariño. 2018-2035+. 94+.

2013 Albariño Lagar de Broullón (Meaño, Rías Biaxas)

            The 2013 Albariño from Lagar de Broullón is another wine that I first tasted when in Galicia in October of 2014, and it has also been a lovely wine to drink ever since it was first released. Today, the wine is still at the top of its game and has plenty of life still ahead of it, as it wafts from the glass in a complex aromatic constellation of bread fruit, leesy tones, plenty of smokiness, a fine base of minerality, orange peel and a topnote of lemongrass. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied, complex and beautifully focused, with fine cut and grip, impeccable balance and a long, vibrant and classy finish. Fine juice. 2018-2030. 94.

2013 Albariño Adega Rozas (Meaño, Rías Biaxas)

            Manolo Dovalo has very old vines, with a great many well over one hundred years of age, and these add mid-palate depth to all of his Albariños. His 2013 Albariño is drinking beautifully at five years of age and is really coming into its apogee of peak maturity. The bouquet is pure, complex and quite refined, offering up scents of tart orange, bread fruit, lime peel, briny ocean breeze, very complex minerality, gentle smokiness and a blossoming note of leesy sweet nuttiness in the upper register. On the palate the wine is bright, full-bodied, complex and rock solid at the core, with good acids, fine focus and grip and a long, complex and now nicely tertiary finish. This is not going to realize quite the same longevity of the Cabaleiro do Val bottling from 2013, but it is aging nicely and is now at a lovely plateau of peak maturity and drinking very well indeed. 2018-2023. 92.     


2015 Godello- Adegas Triay

            Antonio Triay makes beautiful Godello, with his bottling including five percent each of Albariño and Treixadura in the cépages for added complexity. The 2015 version is drinking beautifully today, offering up a pure and complex nose of desiccated apples and pears, a touch of honeycomb, lovely, stony minerality and a topnote of lime peel. On the palate the wine is crisp, full-bodied, complex and beautifully balanced, with fine mid-palate depth, bright acids and focus, cut and grip on the long and vibrant finish. This is a very good bottle of Godello and an absolute bargain! 2018-2023+. 92.

Ribeiro (Blanco)

2014 Finca Teira Blanco Adegas Manuel Formigo (Ribeiro)

            The 2014 Finca Teira Blanco from Manuel Formigo is drinking beautifully at age four and is just now entering its plateau of peak drinkability. The wine is a blend of seventy percent Treixadura, twenty percent Godello and ten percent Torrentés, raised in stainless steel. The 2014 offers up a complex and beautifully expressive nose of pear, citrus peel, smoky overtones, a hint of new leather, stony minerality and a whisper of honeycomb just starting to peak out in the upper register. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied, complex and absolutely à point, with a lovely core, still excellent acidity and superb length and grip on the poised and well-balanced finish. This is at its peak today, but still has at least another decade of life in it! 2018-2028. 92.

2014 Teira X Adegas Manuel Formigo (Ribeiro)

            The Teira X bottling from Manuel Formigo is his older vine cuvée, with some of the vineyards used for this an old-fashioned field blend, so the cépages here is sixty percent Treixadura (from thirty year-old vines), fifteen percent each of Alvilla and Albariño and ten percent Loureira. The 2014 is again right into its sweet spot in its evolution, offering up a fine bouquet of pear, apple, wet stone minerality, citrus zest and a topnote of dried flowers. On the palate the wine is deep, full, complex and still rock solid at the core, with great cut and grip, lovely focus and a long, complex and vibrant finish. Fine juice. 2018-2025+. 92.

Ribeira Sacra (Blanco)

2014 Godello Cividade (Adegas Brais Verao, Amandi)

            The 2014 Godello from Cividade is drinking beautifully and has opened up to reveal an additional layer of complexity since I last tried a bottle early in 2017. The wine is still fairly youthful on both the nose and palate, as this is made for the long haul, but it is drinking with distinction today and is lovely on the nose, which offers up scents of pear, lime zest, smoky overtones, wet stone minerality, lemongrass and a touch of salinity in the upper register. On the palate the wine is pure, full-bodied and rock solid at the core, with a fine girdle of acidity, superb focus and grip and a very long, complex and vibrant finish. This is stellar Godello and really showing well today. 2018-2035. 94+.

2014 Sabatelius Blanco (Chantada)

            Primitivo Lareu’s beautiful Sabatelius winery lies in the heart of the Miño River section of Ribeira Sacra, in the superb sub-region of Chantada. This is prime real estate, with steep, terraced slate vineyards overlooking the river and it is home to some of the region’s greatest terroir. Primitivo’s white wine is composed of a blend of sixty percent Godello and forty percent Treixadura, and unlike many of his neighbors, Señor Lareu barrel-ferments this wine. His 2014 is now into its apogee and drinking splendidly, offering up a bright and complex nose of lime, quince, dried pear, a touch of green olive, superb minerality and a lovely, smoky topnote. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied, complex and still very racy in personality, with a fine core, excellent focus and grip and a long, vibrant and perfectly balanced finish. This wine is drinking very well today, but still has plenty of life ahead of it. 2018-2028. 93.  

Valdeorras Blanco

2014 Godello Hacienda Ucediños

            The 2014 Godello from the Santalla brothers’ Hacienda Ucediños winery is a superb wine, which at four years of age has blossomed beautifully and is right in its prime. The superb nose jumps from the glass in a blend of pear, honey, salty soil tones, orange zest and a nice touch of green olive in the upper register. On the palate the wine is crisp, full-bodied and focused, with a great core of fruit, fine soil signature and a long, zesty and complex finish of impeccable balance and grip. Fine, fine Godello that is ready to drink, but still has plenty of life ahead of it. 2018-2025+. 92+.