Emilio Rojo – one of Spain’s most sought after white wines.

Emilio Rojo in his vineyard.  Adapted from an article by Xurxo Lobato/Omayra Lista published by El País on July 1st 2013. I have taken a few liberties with the translation.     

“La crisis no da en el blanco” – this headline, and quite a cryptic one for El País, a Spanish newspaper, can mean two things – that the economic crisis is not hitting the target, whatever the target is, or that the economic hecatomb gripping the country for the last four years or so is not really affecting the sales of white wine, at least not the one that Emilio Rojo makes.
Emilio Rojo’s D.O. Ribeiro wine is extremely sought after around the world. Around 5,000-6,000 bottles are sold long before they’re ready to be launched onto the market. The key to this enviable success is a ‘policy of cutbacks’ wisely applied to his vines: reducing production in order to obtain an optimum quality wine. The scarcity of the wine stimulates the obsession of the high end consumer intent on getting his or her hands on a bottle or two. Loyal customers have included the arch-famous El Bulli, Arzak and the King Juan Carlos I of Spain. Emilio Rojo diehards won’t even be able to taste it this year as the 2012 vintage won’t be available for purchase till next year. Not content with making just a great, great wine, he wants it to ‘grow up’, to ‘purge itself of the sins of youth’ during its time in the cellar.
Freeing oneself from the ‘dictatorship of time’, i.e. the local consumer preference for drinking white wines young, is a serious challenge for Galician winemakers. Casting aside oak barrel ageing, ‘sur lies’ fermentation and ‘bâtonnage’ seems to be the direction Galician white wine making will take in the future. In fact, notable D.O. Rías Baixas wineries such as Pazo de Señoráns, Pazo de Fefiñanes and Martín Codax already apply this process to their wines.
‘Lies’, or lees in English, are the yeasts responsible for alcoholic fermentation. They undergo a decomposition process in the bottom of the fermentation vats. In layman’s terms, these yeast deposits have to be stirred (bâtonnage) from time to time so they release a series of compounds which will improve the characteristics of the wine. According Galician wine guru Luís Paadín, “The yeasts reduce the oxygen level, thereby preventing oxidation so the wine keeps much longer”. The goal is that the wine holds up well in the bottle and can be consumed beyond three years, at the same time improving the bouquet and achieving a wine with more body. Every ten days, Emilio stirs the lees with a chestnut wood stick so that they settle evenly and create an infusion, conveying their rich properties to the wine. “A period of sixteen months sur lies enhances the wine giving it the character of a Vino de Pago or single estate/cru wine”, Emilio Rojo explains.
It’s the finishing touch inside the winery of a ribeiro that has been pampered right from its time on the vine. On an Atlantic climate, east facing slope, Emilio Rojo’s vines are almost as scarcely populated as the nearby deserted village of Ibedo, which is just the way he likes it, low on fruit but high on flavour. With his worn, calloused hands, this former telecommunications engineer, a combination of farmer and delicate wine whisperer, thins out branches, snipping away at bunches to obtain better grapes. He could easily make 10.000 litres of standard quality wine but prefers to sacrifice quantity for quality. “I’m a perfectionist, not an elitist”, he states. The rest is an alchemic blend of native grape varietals: treixadura – around 65% – with loureiro, lado and albariño. It’s a success formula that has this ribeiro rubbing shoulders with the most famous white wines in the world. A wine that’s served not only in the best restaurants in Spain (and that’s saying a hell of a lot), but also in the finest eateries of the USA, Japan, the UK and Denmark.
Paradoxically, the combination of shrewd ‘cutbacks’ in the vineyard and a captive export market have enabled this ingenious winemaker to ride out the storm currently battering many of his compatriots.

Xurxo Lobato from Galicia is one of Spain’s premier photo-journalists. You can view his work here: http://www.xurxolobato.es
                                                                                                                                

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Demencia, Alzeimer and Pyjama

20121127_020Nacho León is a visionary. His Demencia de Autor wine is fast gaining devotees around the world, yet the guy works out of a rented warehouse near Villafranca del Bierzo. People have been making wine here in El Bierzo since Roman times and more or less continually since the 9th century. It’s the last stop before the Camino de Santiago climbs tortuously into the Galician mountains. Ailing, weather beaten, God-fearing pilgrims passed through the 12th century ‘Pardoning Gate’ here in order to receive absolution from the local priest before continuing on the most arduous stage of the journey, conscious of the fact that between Villafranca and Compostela, death, either from exposure to the elements, wolves or brigands, could come tracking them down at any moment.  I’m convinced the telluric energy and power of the land, coupled with its ancient traditions, are transmitted through the earth and into the vines here. I’m digressing. A visit to Demencia de Autor a couple of weeks back fulfilled a dream and this man is a dream seller, a wine whisperer even, according to my friend Shannon. Pyjama, he told me, was the stuff of dreams… the way we walk around the house in our pyjamas and dressing gowns, those intimate family moments, not a care in the world, very typical of the people round here, El Bierzo. An intimate wine you’d love to share with the family, that’s the concept behind it, he mused. Who could possibly disagree? Alzeimer, a solidarity wine launched a month or so ago, is a fabulous gesture. At 20.00EUR a bottle, the proceeds go to the Asociación de Familiares de Alzeimer, a Spanish charity set up to help families cope with this devastating condition. And finally, Demencia de Autor. Why the name? Nacho believes the word Demencia is associated with the improbable, a slight mental disorder, but full of ingenuity and brilliance. That’s what our wine is about, he enthuses.  It’s a young project, created and developed by young people who have one thing in common, they all love wine madly. We’re all demented then. I’ll be going back to El Bierzo in July, with or without my pyjamas and dressing gown.

http://www.debierzo.com/  http://www.demenciawine.com/

Albarín Blanco and heroic winemaking.

Anyone heard of CERVIM? I hadn’t till today. I happened to come across the name whilst googling ‘Albarín Blanco’, an endangered grape variety native to Asturias and León in the north of Spain. The organisation was founded in Italy in 1987 and its noble mission, the research, protection and advancement of mountain viticulture, known in European viticulture as ‘heroic winemaking’. So what qualifies you as a heroic winemaker? Mainly the following: terraced slopes featuring gradients of 30% or more, orographic conditions definitely not condusive to any form of mechanisation, above sea level altitudes of over 1,640 feet and viticulture on small islands. Every year CERVIM organises a three day event in Aosta Italy where a team of twenty four professional tasters and six wine industry journalists taste a total of over 600 entries from 12 European countries, exclusively from mountainous areas. This year, a total of 2 ‘double gold’ medals, 44 gold medals and 135 silver medals were awarded. One of those golds went to a beautiful winery in Asturias, northern Spain. Bodegas Monasterio de Corias is set in a former Benedictine abbey that dates back to the 11th century. Gold medal winner Viña Grandiella is a blend of Albarín Blanco, Small Grain Moscatel and Albillo. Albarín Blanco, the signature grape in this blend, is apparently in grave danger of extinction. It is noted for its intense greenish-yellow colour, strong moscatel flavour, and relatively high alcohol content. Viña Grandiella was the only Spanish wine to be awarded a distinction at the 20th International Mountain Wine Competition, a splendid achievement for this particular appellation, ‘Vinos de Calidad de Cangas’. Well done guys! Tasting notes in Spanish report the following: white fruit, apricot, peach, ‘parma violets’ and fennel on the nose. In the mouth, sparkling acidity, crunchiness, unctuousness and creaminess with stone fruits, ripe bananas, fresh green apple and roast coffee on the long finish. So what would you pair a Viña Grandiella and other Albarín Blancos with? Ideal pairings, I’m told, would be with fish, shellfish, pastas dishes, paellas and risottos. With production limited to only 6,600 bottles, the chances of finding Viña Grandiella in your local wineshop are probably quite remote, but what better excuse do we have for planning our next trip to Asturias? The gorgeous Cangas de Narcea Wine Route awaits us folks. LINKS. http://vinotierracangas.wordpress.com http://www.rutadelvinodecangas.com/index.php http://josepastorselections.com *US importer of wines from Bodegas Monasterio de Corias .

THE SACRED RIVER SHORE


Winemaking in Galicia has long been associated with the tart, fruity white wines from the Ribeiro, Valdeorras and Rias Baixas appellations. Until very recently, Spanish and foreign tourists alike could be seen ordering classic Spanish reds such as Rioja in the region’s bars and restaurants, whilst snootily turning their noses up when recommended a Galician red. Thankfully, situations like this are now being consigned to the past, largely due to the heroic efforts of a number of pioneering individuals from the Ribeira Sacra, a wine producing area situated near the small agricultural town of Chantada, known as the Heart of Galicia.

VERTIGO TO GO

Loosely translated, Ribeira Sacra means something like sacred shore or sacred river bank. The River Miño, as it winds its way east from Ourense, cuts an ever deepening
gorge into the countryside. Oak, pine and chestnut forested slopes, dotted with precariously perched dwellings and the odd Romanesque church, plunge right down to the water line, and it’s on these vertigo-inducing slopes, on tiny granite terraces known as bancadas, that the local grape variety and flagship of the appellation Mencía is grown. In places the vertiente, or slope, is so steep that the only way to ‘evacuate’ the grapes was by boat, traditionally a flat bottomed, rectangular wooden vessel. Today that work is done by conveyor belts.

The area has long been synonymous with the grape. During Roman times, wines from Amandi, today one of the appellation’s five sub-zones, were regularly shipped to Rome to be served at the emperor’s table, along with that other great Miño delicacy, Slamprey. By the middle ages, the upper Miño began to attract monastic communities who carried on the tradition of planting vines and producing wines to be sold to the inns and hospices along the nearby Camino de Santiago.

FISH FARM PUMPS

After breakfast, we were met by the Deputy Mayor of the town of Chantada, Ildefonso Piñeiro, a dead-ringer for Robert de Niro. As our first port of call, he took us to a small vineyard belonging to his father-in-law. This was where we were able to catch the first of many stunning panoramic views of the Ribeira Sacra. Along the route he told us of the friendly rivalry that had always existed between the ribeiraos, vineyard owners, on both sides of the river. Tongue-in-cheek insults would fly between paperos, or papists on the Chantada side and rabudos (rabbis) on the Saviñao side. A typical case of back-breaking work made a little more bearble with a some cross-river verbal jousting, he confided.

ROMAN ROADS

After a few minutes meandering up and down twisting lanes, we pulled up at the gates of Adegas Vía Romana, a beautiful stone building dating back to the 16th century. The owner-director José Luís Méndez Rojo warmly greeted us, ushering us inside for a tour of the grape reception area, fermentation tanks, labelling and bottling facility, and the wonderful salon with its jaw-dropping views of the Miño. Juan Luis’s approach to wine making is firmly rooted in the pursuit of quality
over quantity, a constant of all the wineries I was to visit throughout the trip. This guarantee of quality is achieved by an exhaustive poda en verde, or pruning of the fruit before it reaches maturity, manual selection of the grapes and,
somewhat bizarrely, the use of fish-farm pumps to protect the seeds during fermentation. Damaged or bruised seeds can cause an unwanted, mouth-puckering astringency in the wine, so fish-farm pumps were evidently a wise investment for this innovative wine maker. The rest, he told us, was down to the six months of
absolute peace and tranquility the wine spends in a strictly controlled environment. About 10%of his production of Via Romana Mencía and Via Romana Selección Añada 1999 goes abroad, mainly to the USA, but more recently to Japan and Russia, with new markets being explored all the time.

A RIGHTFUL PLACE

Next on the route was Bodega Pincelo. Though the family has been making wine since the 1840s, in 1985 Bodega Pincelo became the first legally constituted winery in the province of Lugo, a crucial step in the 1993 founding of the appellation D.O. Ribeira Sacra. The owner Alfonso Regal Teijeiro said that there was still some way to go on the road to D.O. Ribeira Sacra earning its rightful place among the prime movers of the Spanish wine scene. Statistics still show that many of his paisanos or countrymen in Galicia, when ordering red wine, order Rioja instead of Ribeira Sacra Mencía. Alfonso specialises in Viño Artesano, or artisanal wine, and Pincelo, Viña Portotide and the oak-aged Pincelo 1985 are three fine examples of the genre. With an ever keen eye on the future, Bodega Pincelo is now dedicating around six hectares of its vines to the experimental production of Viños Ecolóxicos, or organic red and white wines.

QUAFFING AND NIBBLING

It was soon time to move on again and the next stop was Adegas Lareu, another family winery run by the eminently hospitable Primitivo Lareu. To describe his place as lovely would be to do it a gross injustice. The setting for this charming winery is a beautiful 18th century granite farmhouse, surrounded by huge, gnarled chestnut trees and lush fields. Our genial host showed us into the traditional Adega de Garda or storage winery, now a wine-museum, with its trodden earth floor and doors oriented to the east and tiny aperture on the west wall allowing for ventilation and a shaft of light. An ancient wooden estruxadora or wine press sat on one side, and two or three huge cubas or storage casks on the other. A couple of pellexos or animals skins, used centuries ago to transport wine, completed the display. The rest of the evening was spent quaffing his excellent Sabatelius Branco white, Sabatelius Mencía and Sabatelius Carballo , an oak-aged red, whilst nibbling away on some memorable home-made smoked chorizo. Unfortunately, all good things must to come to an end, and after some fond farewells, we set out for our last but definitely not least port of call, Adegas Moure on the enigmatically named Cabo do Mundo or Cape of the World.

THE SACRED RIVER SHORE

Cabo do Mundo means the Edge of the World. The course of the Miño here takes a dramatic 180º turn and Adegas Moure, clearly defying the laws of gravity, surveys all this awe-inspiring beauty, totally confident in the knowledge that there must be very few vineyards on this Earth that can compete with them in terms of the sheer drama of the setting. If that wasn’t enough, they’re also sweeping up award after award on the international wine circuit, with medal-snatching vinos like Abadía da Cova, Mencía Barrica, Fuga and an excellent Albariño that recently scored an impressive 90 points in Wine & Spirit Magazine, putting the wind up Rías Baixas, no doubt.

TIME HONOURED TRADITION AND INNOVATION

Evaristo Rodríguez López, Vice-President of the D.O. Ribeira Sacra and our contact at Adegas Moure echoed the words of the other wine makers we met along this most sacred of river shores. He said, “Our vineyards that descend so steeply along the Ribeira Sacra, are hundreds of years old. We’re absolutely determined to preserve our time-honoured traditions, all the things that make our wine unique, but at the same time we’re looking forward, constantly striving for the highest possible quality, investing in the latest technology and innovation and of course, focusing our efforts exclusively on improving our wine with each new vintage.” If seeing and tasting is believing, then this appellation has every reason to be justifiably proud of its wines, so the next time you’re in Spain, make sure it’s a Ribeira Sacra Mencía, you’ll be instantly smitten.

SPRING 2009

WINE TOURS IN NORTH WEST SPAIN


Highly recommenable tailor-made itineraries in Galicia, visiting Albariño wineries in jaw-dropping locations covering all five sub-zones of the Rías Baixas appellation: Val do Salnés, Val do Ulla, O Rosal, Sotomaior and Condado do Tea. Another excellent wine making region included in this tour is the stunningly beautiful Ribeira Sacra in Lugo, where wine-lovers will have the opportunity to taste wines made from the red Mencía grape and other native to Galicia varieties such Brancellao and Merenzao. For white wine there’s Godello in its mono-varietal form and some innovative blends of Godello, Treixadura, Torrontés, Loureira and Doña Branca. In 2013 GrapeHop Tours plan to make an incursion into the neighbouring Bierzo region, internationally much talked about due to the Parker Guide 90+ ratings for mencías from splendid artisan vineyards such as Tilenus, Descendientes de J. Palacios, Pittacum, Altos de Losada and more. The gastronomy of both regions, seafood in Galicia, botillo, goat’s cheese, roasted red bierzo peppers, empanada de patacas in El Bierzo are good enough reasons for an extended stay in the region, whatever the time of year, though GrapeHop Tours offers you the chance of visiting in late spring or early autumn, when the north-west of the Iberian peninsula is at its most captivating.

Email: bookings@grapehops.com
http://www.grapehops.com/tours/galicia.html

Photo: Californian winemaker Richard Longoria tasting Albariño with winemaker Paula Fandiño at Mar de Frades winery.