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Tasting the new arrivals from Nacho Gonzalez in Valdeorras is always exciting for me. The wines are invariably intense: youthful, coltish, and sometimes even odd. But there's such a lively quality to all of them, a shared exuberance that I find totally inspiring. Each wine is memorable and so itself, if that makes any sense.
Nacho Gonzalez is a biologist by training. He has been making wine in Valdeorras since 2012. He inherited a vineyard ('O Trancado') from his grandmother. Planted with old vines of Garnacha Tintorera and Mencia, it was in poor shape. He set out to revive it. In doing so, and in continuing to seek out and revive old vineyards in the area, he created one of the most unique wine projects in Spain.
The wine region of Valdeorras is increasingly commercialized and industrialized, as large conglomerates move in to produce inexpensive bulk wines. This has led Nacho Gonzalez to search out remote, isolated, difficult to work sites of neglected vines. La Perdida (the lost) is a fitting name for his work. He brings life to these ancient vineyards with careful organic and biodynamic farming. And from these ancient, low-yielding vines, he is producing vivacious, fascinating natural wines that are unlike anything that I've ever encountered.
In the cellar and in the vineyard, Nacho is a traditionalist. He employs the Tinaja (a specially-shaped clay amphora) and continues to work and vinify wine from vineyards co-planted with red and white grapes. He often coferments the grapes from these sites, and all of his wines made from white grapes see skin-contact. All vinification and bottling is done without additives and by hand.
2019 was a warm, wet, and difficult vintage in Galicia. But you would be hard-pressed to find any indication of that in these expressive, vivacious wines. United by their liveliness, they're all extremely special, and I'm pleased that we are able to offer them in a bit more volume than we have in the past.
I'd like to note, also, that these wines have just arrived. Their travel from Valdeorras has left them a bit shaken and a bit wilder than normal. Past vintages have shown us that this condition doesn't last much more than a few months: I think all of these wines will definitely be even better in March than they are now.
O Poulo is the biggest and boldest of Nacho Gonzalez's red wines. 95% Garnacha Tintorera, with 5% Palomino, this is a dark and brooding natural wine. The grapes come from a small, old vineyard near Larouco, the grapes were destemmed, then cofermented in a single 400L open-top tinaja, before pressing into an old 400L French oak barrel to rest for a year. Production is tiny. In the glass, the wine is nearly ink-black, but the nose shows great promise: smoke, pork fat, blackcurrants and granitic spice. The palate is structured with tannins and acidity wrapped around a cooling, granite minerality. The fruit here is a bit restrained at the moment, but my experience with the wine in other vintages suggests that this will change: 2018 O Poulo opened in November showed macerated blackberries, plum skin, black pepper and salt. I adore this wine, but I'd wait to open it until those very special aromatics start to emerge: probably about 9 months to a year from now. And don't be afraid to decant.
O Pando is a mountain vineyard of mixed grapes, including Godello. This is one of two wines that Nacho Gonzalez produces from the vineyard's Godello vines. This, the white which sees less time on the skins, is hand harvested, destemmed, macerated for 4-5 days, and fermented in open-top tinaja. The 2019 O Pando shows notes of citrus, salt and orchard fruit on the nose, counterposed to a bright palate with crunchy tannins and notes of lime and savory earth. This is a really texturally interesting wine, that I think will surely improve in bottle. A recently opened bottle of 2015 O Pando showed extremely well, so I wouldn't hesitate to hold onto this wine for year or considerably more, but this was also one of the more approachable and appealing wines to drink now or in a few months at a recent tasting.
Malas Uvas is a blend of 20% Dona Branca and 80% Palomino - the two least appreciated grape varieties in Valdeorras. The grapes come from Nacho Gonzalez's old 'O Chao' vineyard, where they are hand-harvested, fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel, and macerate on their skins for about five days. This is a mountain white wine, showing notes of melon, pear, citrus, and salt on the nose, while the palate leans more toward savory earth, herbs, and salty stone. While somewhat austere and acid-driven at the moment, I am confident that this wine will relax and harmonize over the next few months to yield a bold, structured, alpine white wine.
A Chaira is entirely Doña Blanca from the old O Chao vineyard that Nacho Gonzalez has been working since 2013. The vines are old and low-yielding, planted on steep slopes. The Doña Blanca grapes for A Chaira are harvested separately, ferment with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks, then age in tinaja, the traditional local amphora. This year's A Chaira has a deeply mineral cast. The nose shows granitic spice and citrus fruits, while the palate has abundant bright mineral texture and notes of lime, apple, mountain herbs, and salt. This is probably the leanest and brightest of the white or orange wines from Nacho Gonzalez this year, and may, as a result, need the most time to harmonize and flesh itself out in bottle. I'd like to check on it in 6 months: my guess is that this wine will fill out with some resting time and show more white fruit and spice.
A Seara is this year's new wine from Nacho Gonzalez, the first (as far as I'm aware) from outside Valdeorras. A Seara hails from a coplanted plot of red and white grapes in the Val do Bibei, in Ribeira Sacra. Although the vinification is basically identical to Nacho Gonzalez's other wines (100% destemmed, fermentation in stainless steel, aging in tinaja) the change in terroir is fascinatingly clear. The nose is spicy, with black pepper, mint, and smoke balanced by ripe cherries, raspberries, and red plum skin. The palate echoes, with ripe red fruits and a long, smooth, cooling granitic minerality. Compared to the other 2019 wines from La Perdida, there's less salt here and more spicy, smoky character, and the palte is long, sapid, and integrated. With a few months of rest, I think this will grow to be an exceedingly elegant natural wine.
O Trancado is the wine from the vineyard of the same name that Nacho Gonzalez inherited from his grandmother. These are the very old, low-yielding (less than 1kg of fruit per plant!) vines that set Nacho on the viticultural path. The Garnacha Tintorera and the Mencía are harvested by hand, destemmed, and ferment with wild yeasts in very large, open topped tinaja. The wine is raised for six months before bottling, then held for another six months in bottle before release. O Trancado is a fascinating wine. A bottle of 2018 opened in November 2020 was one of the best wines I drank this year, with spectacular notes of blossoming violets, kirsch, alpine, herbs, and granitic spice overlaid on a supple, long, mineral palate. Tasting the young 2019, I feel confident that it is headed for similar, if not greater, heights. The nose is somehow simultaneously elegant and explosive, full of crushed blackberries and white peppercorns backed with delicate violet florals. The palate is vividly alive with citrus, raspberry and blackberry wrapped in finely tuned tannins and coursing acid structure. A joy right now (perhaps the most approachable ofthe red wines at the moment) this will only improve over the next 5 years, I am confident. Lovely - the sort of wine that compels poetic language. Ben Fletcher
The O Chao vineyard is planted with Godello, and Nacho makes two wines from the grapes of this old-vine, low yielding mountain plot. This, the orange, spends much longer on the skins than the white. Nacho harvests the grapes by hand, fully destems, then ferments with native yeasts in open-top Tinaja and macerates the grapes with the skins for 5-6 months. The maceration is gentle, providing texture and density without overwhelming tannin. In fact, the O Pando 'Orange' is perhaps softer and more immediately appealing than the O Pando 'White' in this vintage. The remarkable, herbal nose shows basil, pine, jasmine, and ginger alonside quince and apricot. The palate is less herbal, instead emphasizing lime, white apple flesh, and granitic spice framed by pretty, soft tannins.
2018 was the first vintage for Meu, which comes from an old and neglected vineyard site that Nacho Gonzalez has recently acquired and begun to rehabilitate. The site is planted with the local white and red varieties, the vines are very old, and production is very low. Like last year, this is clearly a very special wine. It shows intense floral and berry notes on the nose, and the palate is lively and well-structured with red fruit, blueberries, earth, and stone. Very pretty now, but certainly destined to improve.