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In the world of Albarino, there are many producers who stand out for being a cut above the rest. From my brief but ongoing love affair with Spanish wines, I can name several without any technological assistance. My first experiences were with Do Ferreiro, then came memorable experiences with Pedralonga, and the single vineyard wines from Benito Santos, along with the one Albarino produced by Raúl Pérez, which left an impression. In more recent years, it has been the wines from Vimbio, and the affable Xurxo from Bodegas Albamar. Lastly, and the most lasting would be Nanclares y Prieto. Though saying something is "one of the best" can be diminishing (out of how many?), I can say that aside from the single vineyard Albamar wines, Nanclares y Prieto are the best Albarinos I've ever had. They consistently remind of good Chablis, or the best single parcel Muscadets that I've tasted over the years. The mineral core, the subtle density, and the length! The tautness in youth that tells a story of a beautifully aged wine that is yet to emerge. At some times, they are just right for the moment, and at others they are breathtaking and hiding layers that only time will reveal.
Just to be clear, we are talking about Albarino here. Yes, Albarino. To some extent, a beginner's understanding of Albarino might be like that of Muscadet, another region from the Atlantic coast. In both cases, there are basic wines from these regions that make ideal pairing for seafood or summer days - a means to an end if you will. We learn that these wines have stony, fresh profile that will "do the trick." With both Albarino and Muscadet, there are also some very special wines, that transcend the typical descriptors and that can age beautifully for decades.
The wines from Nanclares y Prieto are ALL very special. I have never had a "basic" Albarino from them. Every bottle speaks volumes and reveals layers of mineral precision, and every time I drink their wines I am thoroughly impressed.
Today we have a small offering from the 2020 vintage, another in a line of difficult and low-yielding vintages. Rias Baixas saw warm weather all year long, with a rainy and warm winter, which continued into April and May. There were some losses due to mildew in June, and heat and dryness in July caused a fair amount of concern. Luckily some rain came in August, so harvest was not too early, but the losses from the mildew left Alberto and Silvia with a bit less material than in a "normal" year. That said, the wines they did produce are really special!
We'll let you get to the bottles, but if anyone feels curious to read more about the project, please read on. Ben Fletcher, our former Spanish buyer and colleague at Chambers (who now works with the stellar José Pastor Selections team) left us with some fantastic and well-researched info that will follow here:
"Alberto Nanclares and his wife moved to Castrelo, near Cambados, in Rias Baixas in 1992. The retired economist loves the sea and sailing, and wanted to spend more time on and near the ocean. There was a bit of vineyard land near their new home, and eventually Alberto started farming the grapevines and set up a little winery in the garage. Initially farming conventionally (like the vast majority of his neighbors in the wet climate of Rias Baixas), he began to explore organic farming. While he orignally worked with an oenologist to make the wines, in 2007 he took over the winemaking entirely, moving towards a low-intervention approach in the cellar. In 2015 Silvia Prieto came on board, assisting Alberto in the cellar and the vineyard.
From a few vines by Alberto Nanclares's house by the sea, the pair now diligently farm two-and-a-half hectares of scattered plots of pergola trained Albariño around Cambados to produce a range of wines, including serious single vineyard wines from very old vineyards. Yields are kept low, seaweed from the nearby Atlantic is used as fertilizer, and there is no plowing. The same care and attention is taken in the cellar, where Alberto and Silvia avoid additives (other than small amounts of SO2), ferment with indigenous yeasts, and neither fine nor filter the wines. Their approach has always been concerned with emphasizing the character of the Val do Salnes and their unique terroir. In particular, they celebrate the acidic structure of Albariño, eschewing any attempt to deacidify the wines. In their cellar, malolactic fermentation is a rarity, so the wines are defined by their racy, vibrant acidity.
In addition to their Albariños, Alberto and Silvia have been working with Roberto Regal in Ribeira Sacra to produce a fascinating and Atlantic-influenced red wine from a single very steep parcel above the Minho. Miñato da Raña is as electric as their Albariños, and as focused in its expression of place." - Ben Fletcher
(Thanks to Ben Fletcher, Liz Fayad, and the José Pastor Selections team!)
Tempus Vivendi comes from vineyards near Sanxenxo, south of Cambados. The grapes are crushed, fermented with indigenous yeasts, blended, and aged for 7 months on the lees, 75% in stainless steel and 25% in used barrels. A wine from many tiny parcels, from grapes that Alberto and Silvia purchase from organic growers. Salty-savory, lean, with herbal and dried herb notes. Super long finish, seashells and beach vibe.
From 3 plots of 25-95 year old vines in Combados, planted on granitic sands. Alberto has a long relationship with these vineyards. The grapes are foot pressed, whole cluster into big old chestnut barrels, with some lees stirring in the first month. Typically aging is for about 9 months. A broader, denser, and more powerful wine, chiseled and a bit shy at the moment, so a few years aging or a proper decant would be best.
The Albariño de Alberto Nanclares bottling hails from 8 plots of Albariño in and around Cambados, near Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto’s cellar. Vines range in age from 15-45 years, and are planted on decomposed granitic sands. Like the Soverribas, the grapes are pressed whole-cluster and fermented with native yeasts then rest on the lees for 9 months, with weekly batonnage for the first month. In 2020, everything was aged in barrel. One went through malolactic fermentation, and two didn't. With less malic acid being converted to lactic acid, it means the wine will seem more acidic and crisp. Indeed, this is salty and fresh, but there is pleasant, medium weight and a long finish, with notes of lime blossom.
The vineyard for A Graña is on sandy granitic soils and faces to the northeast. Alberto and Silvia harvest the grapes by hand, then press them whole cluster into a used 800L chestnut cask and small stainless steel tank to age on the lees for 11 months with some batonnage before bottling without fining or filtering. These are poor, sandy soils on granitic clays, with fair amounts of calcium carbonate. Let's break this down. Poor soils mean more direct contact with the bedrock which is granite, and granite gives a very special structure to wines. Calcium carbonate is the "main component of eggshells, snail shells, seashells and pearls," (according to Wikipedia) and there is clearly an influence on this longtime organic vineyard, which Alberto has a very special connection with. There is a tiny amount of residual sugar here, around 5g, but it is impossible to taste over the intense acidity. A truly special wine.
Paraje Mina is the first vineyard that Alberto Nanclares acquired, and this single vineyard Albariño is an exceedingly serious and ageworthy expression of Alberto Nanclares and Sylvia Prieto's winemaking, organic agriculture, and the terroir of the Val do Salnés. // This is the sole Albarino I have not tasted from the 2020 vintage, but I have always loved it. - Eben
From a single southwest-facing vineyard (called Paraje Manzaniña), with more clay than their other parcels, and hence more ripeness and roundness. The grapes are harvested in September, pressed whole cluster and fermented with native yeasts then rested on the lees in a very large old oak barrel with bâtonnage in the early stages. This is a rounder, and more approachable wine, thanks to the higher content of clay, and the lees aging and occasional stirring. Almost creamy, but with persistent acidity, it should pair very well with cheese courses.
In addition to their vines in the Val do Salnes, Alberto and Silvia are making wine along the Minho river in Ribeira Sacra with Roberto Regal. Miñato de Raña comes from a very steep, south-facing parcel of 100-year old vines in the Laderas do Minho region, where the soils are mainly granitic. Grapes here are mostly Mencía and Garnacha Tintorera, with Godello, and Palomino Fino, and were crushed whole-cluster before fermenting in two 200L open-top barrels and then finally pressed into used 500L French oak barrels for nine months of resting without racking. A wildly aromatic and charming red, one that you want to spend time with. Notes of spice, tobacco, dried leaves, and a very long and evolving finish.