Envínate, translated to "wine yourself," was created by four friends studying enology at the University of Miguel Hernandez in Alicante in 2005. Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez slowly began consulting with wineries after college to discover forgotten sites with old vines planted on treacherous terrain. The previous generation saw the challenge as insurmountable, but this gang of four knew a treasured opportunity had presented itself.
The reds are very dark in color, which is actually somewhat misleading, as the acid-driven and spicy flavors give a decidedly mid-weight body. Envínate is a great example of how versatile Spanish reds can be when they follow a nice recipe of shorter fermentation, neutral-vessel aging, and most importantly, sourcing from cooler climates with fascinating soils, which all play their part in delivering freshness.
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.
"2018 is the best vintage he has known in Bierzo. Full stop." — Luis Gutiérrez, Wine Advocate
Touring with the team at Bodegas Raúl Perez in Bierzo last summer, I figured there would be more to go around. Our first stop on a full-day tour was to this very special Petra parcel, planted to old vines of only Mencia at 820-meters elevation with north exposure. Combine super-high elevation with old-vine Mencia, and you rapidly pull in Burgundy aficionados.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2018 Raul Perez Ultreia Petra.
Petra's expression of Mencia is one that showcases the more lithe and crystalline qualities of the variety. The complexity here ranges from brambly dark fruits and violets to slate-infused smokiness, with a strikingly energetic and laser-focused finish with bright acidity.
I had never before witnessed such a diverse range of soils and grape varieties under one person's hands. Finishing the day at both of Raul's cellars and tasting each of the parcels we visited was an unbelievable experience. Walking away I was left in total awe of his execution from a vision he had many years ago to work with only the oldest vineyards and immediately shift to the most fastidious organic viticulture.
Perez's natural focus endows his wines with an authenticity that's impossible to miss. As much as he follows the historic path of his ancestors (no herbicides, pesticides, or additives of any kind in the cellar), he's made waves with his 100% whole cluster fermentation and extra-long macerations on skins. Raul completely redefines what Mencia is capable of in Bierzo. And, for his whites, he now owns the mineral-driven category within Spain, showing depth and the nuance I've come to expect from elite Chablis and Côte de Beaune Chardonnay.
Tempering the impact of the heat and sun has always been the area of largest concern in the more continental Spanish zones. Working with high elevation vineyards and old vines is not enough to ensure grace, subtlety, and lift are the overriding characteristics when the wine is finally poured. It's the attentive, thoughtful approach to viticulture and minimal intervention in the cellar that Perez has come to trust as the root of success.
In doing so, he's become recognized as a top winemaker in Bierzo and beyond. In 2014, Raul Perez was named best winemaker in the world by the German publication, Der Feinschmecke. France's Bettane & Desseauve bestowed the same honor the following year. And most recently, Decanter magazine asked, "Is this the world's best winemaker?"
Finding compelling natural wines that equally hit the mark for their soundness and complexity is a mission of mine. When one of Spain's most exciting natural-minded producers tapped 1891 and 1910-planted Albillo vines, I was enticed. I also learned he excluded sulphur additions and had moved Lovamor to age outside during winter, inhibiting malolactic fermentation to highlight its fresh factor. Everything added up to a magical creation.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2019 Alfredo Maestro Lovamor Albillo!
Lovamor comes exclusively from 128-yr-old and 119-yr-old Albillo vines in Peñafiel, located in Spain's Basque country. Alfredo Maestro excludes all additives in his winemaking. And here, he took the unusual step to vinify these white grapes on their skins for seven days, giving a warm golden hue and adding a textural grip and very slight tannin that makes this one of the wildest and most thought-provoking wines in all of Spain.
While the value here is certainly the first thing that pops at $27 from 128-yr-old vines, the main attraction is what happens in glass (or decanter, depending on how you approach Lovamor). Once poured, there's a huge transformation that takes place.
What starts with spicy orchard fruit and slight cider-like tones shifts after time to reveal mouth-watering salinity and renewed freshness from lingering minerality. Pear and red apple notes are slowly met with a more nervy kaleidoscope of citrus fruits. It's a wine that provides equal amounts of deliciousness and fascination.
Whether you're focused intently on the unsulphured natural side of wines, or you're just curious to see the best executed skin-contact whites, Lovamor at $27 per bottle is a natural landing spot.
"This is Volnay meets Cote de Brouilly—super fresh, focused, with red fruits and wild aromatics of flowers and herbs." — José Pastor, Importer
After weeks on the road covering nearly every corner of Spain, I walked away with a lot of epiphanies, but none surpassed the thrill I had during my introduction to Alberto Nanclares. His traditional pergola-trained Albariños from Cambados, the seaside village with vines just meters from the Atlantic, marked a massive shift in my understanding of what descriptors like crystalline and acid-driven can truly mean in the context of Spanish white wine.
Today, I'm happy to offer Alberto Nanclares' 2018 Rias Baixas Albariño.
Legendary Spanish importer, José Pastor, has been the gateway to so many new Spanish discoveries, like Envínate and Luis Rodriguez, to name a couple. Nanclares follows a philosophy in the vines and the cellar that Pastor has used as his foundation in building such a critical and impressive portfolio of ultra-attentive, thoughtful growers-producers.
In 1992, Alberto Nanclares and his wife chose to leave their native Basque country and settle in this extreme Atlantic Ocean setting in the beautifully green and lush northwest Galicia region. Organic viticulture is no easy task in Rias Baixas, as the high humidity and constant rainfall have meant conventional farming with chemicals, and extremely high yields are the overwhelming norm. There was a gradual shift over the years for Nanclares to get his parcels farmed the right way, through painstaking labor.
If you, like me, put Roulot's Meursault at the top of your wish list, you will be pleasantly surprised by what you'll find from this naturalist in the most historic and traditional village of Rias Baixas. Like Roulot's Meursault, "Nanclares" wows the senses with that unmistakable mineral spring-like purity and acid-driven frame that levitates on the palate. This parcel of granite bedrock with sandy topsoil captures the very most ocean-influenced personality of Albariño, with white peach and white flowers melding with faint almond notes on the finish. Aging in a combination of older French tina barrels and stainless steel.
La Tinaja de Aranzazu is sourced from a west-facing parcel of 30-plus-yr-old Albariño vines located in the village of Meaño - here, on sandy granitic soil next to Nanclares' home. Fermented in a single tinaja (amphora) with aging on fine lees for 9 months. A more textural style to pair with the celebrated, rich seafood of Galicia.
Minato da Rana Tinto is sourced from a very steep vineyard of 100-plus-yr-old-vines planted on granite at 600 meters. 60% Mencía, 30% Garnacha Tintorera, with 10% Godello & Palomino. Whole cluster fermented in 600L open-top wood fermenters for 20 days. Then to 500L French barrels for malolactic and 9 months aging.