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.
Summer's 2019 wine route through Spain and Portugal was all about increasing my familiarity with producers I've been enamored with for a long time. Of course, traversing three weeks through land steeped in such rich history is going to also provide some revelations. In all, there was no single introduction to a wine that made things stand still like they did one night at the must-visit Mesón A Curva restaurant in Galicia when their owner blind-poured a glass. The reveal: a joint project between Rodrigo Mendez & a guy you may have heard of named Raul Perez, their Forjas del Salnes Rias Baixas Albariño.
Less than 1,000 bottles were produced of the 2013 Leirana. Like production numbers may lead you to believe, this is as unique and singular a wine as I've ever had from Galicia. Val do Salnes, the birthplace of Albariño is the coolest of the five subzones of Rias Baixas. With average temperatures here of 60 degrees between April and October, one would expect these Albariños on pure granite to showcase the most heightened sense of tension and salinity. But, the most profound trait in Leirana is centered around multi-layered textures and that ultimate elusive chase to find density without weight.
Rodrigo and Raul approached this micro-production cuvée with an eye on deep experimentation. This particular parcel of 1954-1964-planted Albariño vines comes from an incredibly sandy section over granite. This cuvée is only produced in cool growing seasons. Grapes see partial skin-contact fermentation, with malolactic blocked to preserve the verve that's so indicative of these sandy soils that mirror a beach setting. A single foudre is used for fermentation, and wine is aged in stainless steel for six years prior to bottling.
The orchard fruit tones of Albariño veers heavily into the under-ripe white pear register, with Meyer lemon and orange peel building a greater presence on the mid-palate. The real magic of Leirana comes in the beautifully incisive finish that simultaneously embodies a more rounded frame of acidity that's, at once, mouth-watering in its freshness, but with driving waves of layered complexity that continue to change and linger long after swallowing.
Galician winemakers are more focused than ever before on wines that compel with their levity instead of power. Leirana strikes me as the one project that's found a way to instill both of these virtues with a balance that inhibits any one descriptor from standing front-and-center. If Grand Cru white Burgundy perhaps exemplifies this balancing act the very best, I'd highly suggest you get acquainted with north-west Spain's boldest feat.
This summer's trip to Spain and Portugal was nothing short of epic. The goal was simple: to get ultra-intimate and familiar with the people and places that have awoken me to the new potential here. Select wineries from both countries are emphasizing a greater focus on freshness, site-specificity, and restraint. It truly felt like a small-scale renaissance as I visited my top producers over three weeks in nearly every pocket of the Iberian Peninsula. When it came time to decide where to start with my first offer from the trip, the choice was clear.
It would be unfair in telling you to stop being surprised by Raul Perez releases, as I'm continually left dumbstruck. For the life of me, I don't understand how one producer can redefine the Spanish white wine category across a spectrum of regions and varieties. His most elusive (and monumental) wine is simply known as Sketch - an Albariño sourced from a 0.5 hectare parcel of old vines in Rias Baixas. At $100+ per bottle it's worth its weight in gold, but upon release, rumors swirled in New York that his "other" Albariño was going to be the proverbial mic drop moment for the variety.
At $28 per bottle, I'm happy to offer Raul Perez's new release, the 2018 "Atalier" Rias Baixas Albariño, sourced from un-grafted and pre-phylloxera vines.
No reason to mince words, the 2016 release of Atalier was the most requested wine I've ever offered. Sadly, the majority of requests were not able to be met due to limited availability of the wine in California. Today, I've made sure that does not happen again.
Atalier comes from two parcels of Albariño vines in the Cambados area of the Salnés valley, located in the southern portion on the northwest tip of Spain. As Raul's greatest influence is top white Burgundy he takes every step possible preserve cut and delineation in Albariño while also pushing for maximum ripeness and flavor development. All easier said than done. The key steps are harvesting very late and then blocking malolactic fermentation - this allows for superb ripeness, but eliminates the more viscous and creamy elements of Albariño that don't appeal to him (or us!). Aging is in older French foudre, the large format both working to preserve tension while providing some oxygen exchange to soften texture.
Salinity and white peach are apt descriptors for Albariño from the extreme coastal vineyards of Rias Baixas. In the case of Atelier these tell-tale notes are met with oyster shell, lychee, ginger, almonds, and white flowers. And that driving sense of salinity and sea breeze is captured brilliantly in the long finish.
Raul completely redefines what a mineral-driven Spanish white is capable of, showing depth and the nuance I've come to expect from elite Chablis and Côte de Beaune Chardonnay. In 2014 Raul Perez was named best winemaker in the world from the German publication, Der Feinschmecke. And in 2015 the same honor was bestowed by France's Bettane & Desseauve.
Much like the Bourgogne Blanc cuvées from Roulot, Vincent Dancer, and Pierre Yves Colin-Morey, Raul Perez's Atalier simply over-delivers is a big way. Finding Spanish whites that harness all of the inherent richness of the sun-soaked terrain is no tall task, but revealing them in a frame where harmony and balance steal the show is something entirely unique to this man.