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The Atlantic-inflected white and red wines of the Spanish northwest are special and unique. In all of the wines we are offering today, there's a lift and sense of freshness that distinguishes them from wines of other regions, and a seam of minerality that connects them to the hills, valleys, riverbanks, and Atlantic coasts of this cool, wet, and very green corner of Iberia. From Albariño to Godello to Mencía (not to mention Mouraton, Sousón, and other lesser-known varieties) these wines highlight the indigenous viticultural heritage of the area, a heritage that dates back to the Romans but was for a long time at risk of being forgotten. Thanks to the tireless efforts of farmers and winemakers in the region, the local grape varieties and traditional styles have returned and are now in full bloom and the quality of wines from these artisan winemakers seems to just improve every year. I'm also pleased that these wines, I think, continue to offer incredible value for their cost. As American wine drinkers face down the 25% tariffs on most Spanish wines, these deeply satisfying wines are still available at fair prices that make them a good choice for drinking with friends and family.
The wines below are chosen to reflect the traditional character of the region: they are not acidified, deacidified, or otherwise manipulated to alter the character of these Atlantic-influenced whites and reds. Acidification is lamentably common in the production of Mencía-based wines, and has perhaps contributed to the perception that the grape yields wines that are light in body or more suited to quaffing before dinner than pairing with the region's hearty, savory, and pig-centric cuisine. While these wines are not typically full-bodied or tannic, they are good matches to rich foods, with acid and herbal qualities to contrast with large meals and rich foods. Simultaneously, the whites of the region, in particular Albariño, are already known for their food-friendly qualities and affinity for seafood. Godello, perhaps somewhat lesser known, shares this gastronomic character and the Godello from Viña Somoza is a great pairing for chicken, richer fish, and charcuterie.
Over the past few months I've been particularly interested in the diverse wines coming out of Bierzo, which sits across the border from Galicia, in the province of Léon. The wines on offer today from Casa Aurora express this diversity. Both are produced in tiny quantities, from a set of miniscule vineyards in Bierzo. Despite proximity, the three vineyards (Poula is a blend of two plots) yield two wines of starkly different character. Germán Blanco works fastidiously and with a light hand to produce these beautiful wines that, together, highlight the diversity of expressions possible in Bierzo. Diego Losada's 2017 "1984" shows another side of Bierzo Mencía: darkly-fruited, mineral, and savory. Beyond Bierzo, the wines on offer today highlight the regions of Ribeira Sacra, Monterrei, Rías Baixas, and Valdeorras, which are all worth exploring in their own right.
Viña Somoza is a pioneering winery working to revive Godello, the indigenous white grape of Valdeorras. Javier Garcia works a number of vineyards throughout Valdeorras, all planted to Godello, which has been reestablished as the region's premier white grape after years of dominance by relatively neutral Palomino. Godello has nice texture and weight (especially when raised on the lees, as Neno is), but balanced by a fine and bright acidity. Neno shows the fullness characteristic of Godello with some leesy texture and notes of pear and apple, but also fine acidity (especially in the 2016 vintage) and cooling minerality. Ben Fletcher
Saiar is a certified organic vineyard of Albariño grown on granitic soils, named for the ancient church next to the vineyard. This wine is fermented with wild yeasts in stainless steel tank and rests on the lees for a few months before bottling. Saiar shows intense aromas of citrus zest, jasmine tea, and orange blossoms and a dry, focused, mineral-driven palate. A classic with oysters and a stellar apéritif!
Xurxo Alba is making a number of expressions of Albariño and other local Galician grapes in Cambados, in the Rías Baixas DOC in Galicia. His farming and winemaking are innovative and experimental, as he pursues organics and biodynamics in this challenging climate, ferments his wines exclusively with native yeasts, and adds little to no sulfur during production. This is an extremely Atlantic-influenced area, and the wines show that influence clearly. The O Sebal comes from two vineyards, both outside the Rías Baixas appellation, on granite soils with a mix of old and young vines. This wine is unoaked, and uniquely among the Albamar wines, sees no addition of sulfur. A beautiful, vibrant Albariño with texture and delicate citrus fruit character. Ben Fletcher
Pedro Rodriguez is one of my favorite winemakers in Northwest Spain, and the wines from Guímaro are consistently interesting and exciting. This is the most approachable and affordable red wine from the estate, made with hand harvested grapes from precariously steep vineyards of mainly Mencía within the Ribeira Sacra appellation. Fermented and aged without exposure to oak, this wine is red fruited and almost juicy, balanced by bright, clean acidity and a deep mineral core. This is an appealing expression of Mencía, approachable and friendly to food. Ben Fletcher
This is a funky red from Bierzo native, Diego Losada. 100% Mencía, sourced from three small vineyards around the village of Hervededo, in Galicia. The parcels for this wine come from the mountains in Bierzo, where the soils are iron rich, littered with quartz and other minerals (a contrast with the mostly clay/limestone terroir in the area). Three days of maceration without punch down, and 8 months in five to six year-old barrels. Losada harvests fully ripe fruit, and does not interfere with the natural fermentation or acid levels. A delicious Mencía, with a bit of a dark side. -EL
Candea is Jose Luis Mateo's entry-level blend of local red grape varieties in Monterrei (roughly equal parts Mencía, Bastardo, Garnacha Tintorera, and Arauxa), a lesser-known appellation in Galicia. Mateo is one of the appellation's leading winemakers, who has carefully catalogued the variety of terroirs within Monterrei, which range from warmer and flatter regions on the valley floor upwards to high altitude, steeper sites that recall the terraced vineyards of Ribeira Sacra. The Tinto is fermented with native yeasts and raised in stainless steel, and the result is a fresh red wine, with pretty minerality and delicate violet and herbal tones. The palate shows notes of tart cherry and pomegranate. A great introduction to the wines of Monterrei - a region which I am looking forward to exploring further! Ben Fletcher
La Vendañona comes from a single, formerly abandoned high altitude plot of 100 to 110 year-old Mencía on iron-rich clay soils. I wasn't able to get information about the fermentation or aging method of this wine, beyond that it is fermented only with native yeasts, and rests for a year in large oak barrels. Quite clearly, however, there is a touch of delicate oak spice here, which complements the dark, savory, character of this expression of Mencía very well. The texture is silky and dense, but medium-bodied, with integrated, dusty tannins that frame the notes of game, blackberry, and plum nicely. I think that this would be a good candidate for medium-term aging, but it's so appealing and gastronomic now it may be very hard to wait! Ben Fletcher
Poula Tinto comes from seventy to one hundred year-old vines, in two old, formerly abandoned, high altitude vineyards on granitic, iron-rich clay soils that Germán Blanco has rehabilitated and works organically. There is a mix of local grape varieties (red and white) in these vineyards, but the main grape is Mencía. Germán harvests the vineyards together, foot trods and co-ferments the grapes in a mix of anfora and old barrels, before raising the wine in large, old French oak barrels for 12 months. The result is a high-toned, floral wine of distinctly Bierzo character with racy acidity and bright cherry and pomegranate notes - an interesting contrast to the darker and broodier Vendañona. Ben Fletcher