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Natural Wine Ace: 2021 Alfredo Maestro Lovamor
Finding compelling natural wines that equally hit the mark in their soundness and complexity hasn't been easy, but hearing that one of Spain's most exciting natural-minded producers was tapping old vines proved enticing. I'd even argue this is one of Spain's wildest, most thought-provoking wines.
Lovamor comes from 1891 and 1910-planted Albillo vines in Peñafiel, a part of Spain's Basque country. Alfredo excludes any additives in his winemaking, and he also takes an unusual step to vinify these white grapes on their skins for seven days. Whether you're focused on the non-sulfured natural side of wines, or you're curious to taste one of the best executed skin-contact whites, this is your ideal landing spot!
The value here certainly stands out, but the main attraction is what happens in the glass (or decanter). What starts with spicy orchard fruit and slight cider-like tones shifts to mouth-watering salinity, renewed freshness, and lingering minerality. Pear and red apple notes slowly meet with a more nervy kaleidoscope of citrus fruits. Lovamor provides equal amounts of deliciousness and fascination.
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Diamond-Cut Penedés: Celler Pardas Blau Cru
Penedès is known most as the birthplace of Cava, but this Spanish region on the Mediterranean is now the next exciting stop on a tour that's reshaped my thinking on Spanish whites. Since 1996, Celler Pardas has been on a journey to show the serious side of Penedés still wines. Their Blau Cru, comprised of Malvasia de Sitges, captures Catalonia with a dry Riesling-like precision that floored me. Blau Cru continues to make a case for Spain's wine renaissance toward diamond-cut-focused whites.
Malvasia grows in many regions throughout Europe, each with a slightly different genetic makeup, though the wines commonly stand out for rich, oily texture and vivid floral qualities. In the upper Penedès, the limestone, 300-meter elevation, and influences from the Bitlles River bring a more straight-lined Malvasia that conjures Germany's Mosel. Blau Cru has a seamless texture and crystalline quality to the yellow stone fruits that screams mineral spring purity. This unusual juxtaposition in each sip was mesmerizing!
The other wine featured here, Collita Roja, is 100% old-vine Sumoll from the same limestone soils; the fruit is de-stemmed and fermented in stainless steel, then aged in used French barrique. Sumoll brings dark red-black fruits and savory spices wrapped together with a mildly chalky mineral sensation that drives through the long finish. I expected a roasted or jammy quality, but the underpinning salinity keeps everything crisp and vivacious.
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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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Priorat Re-Discovered: Terroir al Límit
In college, when I primarily drank California wines, Priorat was my introduction to the Old World. While my palate has changed a lot since the early 2000s, it's been surprising to see a winemaker here who, in tandem, has changed the profile of the region.
Trends in the 1990s placed nearly every winery here into a camp of high extraction and high oak influence. However, Dominik Huber's lineup centers around Garnacha and Carinyena's explosive violet aromatics, with wild strawberry and an array of blue fruit tones. In the right hands, the black slate (aka llicorella) and clay soils in Priorat instill each wine with a deeply layered and saturating mineral punch.
Huber employs an organic and biodynamic approach. Given the arid climate, one would imagine this a popular regimen, but it's still rare. Infusion and semi-carbonic fermentation, which limits extraction and keeps the beastly tannins more at bay, make Terroir al Límit a complete outlier. Lastly, Huber's aging in Austrian Stockinger foudre is an integral key to preserving terroir.
This is the one destination in Priorat that you must become familiar with if your palate leans toward Burgundy and Northern Rhône. Although the wines here could never be mistaken for the former, their clarity and poise are founded on similar principles.
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New Spain Value: 4 Monos GR10 Tinto
Collaborative efforts between friends have been a common thread within The New Spain wine scene. In the past, we've focused on the high-end, single-vineyard bottlings of Comando-G, but this afternoon's offering is the value play. At $29 per bottle, 4 Monos models how delicacy and transparency can be a Spanish red's leading traits.
GR10 Tinto comes from three villages with granite-dominant vineyards and vines ranging from 30 to 85 years old. The blend is 85% Garnacha, 10% Cariñena, 3% Morenillo, and 2% Syrah. There is certainly a core of energy and an abundance of minerality, but these fresh fruit qualities take me back to tasting grape clusters picked off the vine. It's also 4 Mono's brilliant, non-interventionist approach in the cellar that gives GR10 such sophisticated texture and structure.
The Four Monkeys, as they call themselves, clearly share a passion for lively and fruit-forward wines. Javier Garcia, Laura Robles, David Velasco, and David Moreno met while hiking in the Sierra de Gredos mountain range, located 80 km east of Madrid. All had unique backgrounds related to wine, each bringing a different element of expertise to this project founded in 2009.
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