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Portuguese Groundbreaker: Luis Seabra
There's no ragtag band of young winemakers vowing to carry the Douro Valley's wine region into the future, but they do have Luis Seabra. After spearheading port house Niepoort for a decade, in 2013, Seabra started his own winery, using native grape varieties to produce delicate yet powerful still wines.
What truly sets Seabra apart is his exploration of soil and terroir. Most of his vineyards are in the eastern Douro, planted as field blends, but the Granito Cru Alvarinho is sourced further northwest in Vinho Verde, closer to Galicia, Spain. In Portuguese, the word "cru" translates to raw, so this particular bottling refers to the raw, granitic soil on which the vines grow.
This is hands down the most thrilling Vinho Verde in terms of complexity and depth. Words like saline, electric, and light-footed first come to mind, and as the wine unravels, rich, oceanic, almost umami flavors come to the surface. The 2020 bottling is yet again delectable, with more open-knit fruit right out of the gate, making it nearly irresistible upon release.
Producers like Seabra are few and far between in Portugal. If I were to place him in a camp, he would be among changemakers like Raul Perez, Envínate, and Comando G, who produce fresh, mineral-driven wines in a similar vein. Whether or not other Portuguese winemakers seize this moment, Seabra has reconfigured our former perceptions about this region otherwise known for its blustering red wines. This standalone Alvarinho is not to be missed!
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Power & Levity: Forjas del Salnes Albariño
My tour through Spain and Portugal in the summer of 2018 was to better familiarize myself with producers I had been enamored with for a long time. Of course, traversing through this land steeped in rich history was going to provide some new revelations. At one dinner, the owner of Mesón A Curva restaurant in Galicia blind-poured us a stunning glass of wine. The big reveal was: Forjas del Salnes's Rias Baixas "Goliardo" Albariño, a joint project between Rodrigo Mendez and Raul Perez.
Albariño's birthplace, Val do Salnes, is the coolest of the five subzones of Rias Baixas. Galician winemakers are more focused than ever on wines with levity instead of power, though Forjas del Salnes has found a way to instill both of these virtues with a balance.
Goliardo a Telleira comes from a 1973-planted Albariño parcel on sand and granite soils—sourced from the same site as Raúl Perez's famous Sketch bottling. The grapes see partial skin-contact fermentation with malolactic blocked to preserve the wine's verve. A single foudre is used for fermentation, then the wine is transferred to stainless steel for several months before bottling.
The other bottling, Leirana, is as unique and singular a wine as I've had from Galicia. From vines planted between 1952 and 1982, the most profound trait in Leirana is centered around multi-layered textures and that ultimate elusive density without weight. Less than 1,000 bottles produced of both wines!
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Heaven Sent Albariño: 2020 Nanclares y Prieto
Legendary U.S. importer José Pastor has been the gateway to many new Spanish discoveries, including Envínate and Luis Rodriguez. Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto in Cambados marked a massive shift in my understanding of descriptors like "crystalline" and "acid-driven" when it comes to the Spanish white wine category.
Like Dauvissat's La Forest in Chablis, there's an element of clay in the soil here (mixed with decomposed granite) that gives these wines more texture and breadth on the palate. Nanclares y Prieto's Paraje Manzaniña parcel, in particular, produces a powerful and saturating style of Albariño still founded upon a fresh streak and salty, long finish. 2020 Rias Baixas was generally about half a degree less in alcohol, and like Burgundy and Mosel, it was all about balance this vintage.
In 1992, Nanclares and Prieto left Basque country and settled in the beautifully green and lush northwest Galicia region. Organic viticulture is no easy task in Rias Baixas, as high humidity and constant rainfall mean conventional farming with chemicals and high yields are the overwhelming norm. Nanclares gradually shifted over the years to farm his parcels the right way through painstaking labor.
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