Combate in the Gredos: Albillo and Garnacha from Maldivinas, plus new arrivals from Vinos Ambiz and Bernabeleva!

11/13/15 -

Through the airplane window on the scenic descent to Madrid, it is possible to view the majestic Sierra de Gredos mountains, part of the 600 kilometer long Sistema Centrale range and home to its highest peaks. Massive, storybook mounds from the sky, they are equally monumental from ground level. This is hardcore Garnacha country, where strong, gnarled grapevines up to 150 years of age drill deep roots into mountains of granite and schist and twist toward the sky en vaso (Spanish for gobelet- or bush- trained) through rocky and sandy topsoils of varying depths. Garnachas from the Gredos are humbling in their depth and strength, and striking in their potential combination of elegance and rusticity. High natural acidity (6-8g/L tartaric acid is normal), electric fuschia hue, ripping tannins, shimmering red and purple berry fruit profiles, and ageability negate commonly held beliefs about the Grenache grape's modest acidity and tendency toward rapid oxidation. Garnachas from the Gredos seem to fire on all cylinders.

A ninety minute drive west from Madrid lands you in San Martin de Valdeiglesias in the Vinos de Madrid D.O., the start of the Sierra de Gredos and home to the prettiest examples of the region’s great white grape: Albillo Real. Another 15 minutes’ drive west into the valley carved out by the Alberche River leads to the marvelously rustic towns of Cerbreros and El Tiemblo in the Avila province. Rising a couple hundred of meters into the sky, the rugged south- and north-exposed vineyard slopes that surround Cebreros and El Tiemblo (respectively) face off atop a sudden stripe of schist that cuts through the granite mountains. (Wines from Cebreros and El Tiemblo are covered by the generic Vinos de la Tierra Castilla y Leon appellation for now, but will soon be distinguished by the new D.O.P. Cerbreros, which is very big news for the excellent producers of this region and their followers.)

Vines on schist/slate soils infuse their wines with darker mineral and earth notes and an added bit of weight, presenting a vivid textural contrast with the granitic expressions of Garnacha and Albillo from neighboring plots. Whether from schist or granite, wines of this region seem bathed in the earth and the air, offering a potent, sometimes even literal, transmission of the fragrant mountain herbs and flowers, craggy Mediterranean scrub and garrigue, and rocky wilderness that is inescapable throughout the Gredos (not that you’d want to escape it, ever…).

A fascinating range of wines has just arrived from Maldivinas and Vinos Ambiz, as well as the top cuvee from customer favorite Bernabeleva - the single vineyard Arroyo del Tortolas - covering granite and schist terroirs spread over San Martin, Cebreros, and El Tiemblo. Within the same general region, It is hard to imagine wines more diverse or expressive than the ones featured today.

Maldivinas is a partnership between childhood friends Juan Carlos Arenas and Guillermo Fernandez Santos from the small but bustling Gredos town of Sotillo. Their organically farmed old vine Garnachas (from vines up to 90 years old) express a diverse range of Cebreros’ granitic and schistous terroirs, full of pure, thundering fruit, exotic florals and herbs, and soaring acidity that characterize Garnacha from the Gredos, as well as the potential for finesse and balance that skeptics of this grape will find surprising. In addition to the last of the spectacular 2011 Laderas, from 70 year-old vines on steep, rocky schist, Guillermo and Carlos were kind enough to share a small amount of their first white wine, Combate Albillo, from 60 year-old vines in San Martin de Valdeiglesias. (“Combate” is a playful reference to the logistical and physical struggles involved in farming the Gredos’ treacherous slopes and managing multiple tiny vinifications with limited space and barrels.)

Fabio Bartolomei of Vinos Ambiz has earned a passionate following among natural wine lovers for his uncompromising stance against additives of any kind and instinctual rapport with his vines and wines (“vibes” is a word that comes up a lot with Fabio). Just across the street from the bullfighting ring in El Tiemblo, the winery that he shares with another of our favorite Gredos producers, Daniel Ramos, is home to dozens of experiments and different sorts of vessels.

Fabio's wines are visceral and expressive; when I first tasted the Albillo, before I visited Albillo country, I found it intensely exotic and deliciously strange... Having tasted and smelled the earth and air of the Gredos, I understand more of what I'm sensing and deeply appreciate this wine. If you're looking for a transportative drinking experience, then these new vintages of Fabio's unique Albillo, Garnacha, and Doré (Chasselas) take you straight to the vineyard. Tasting notes additional details can be found below. Cheers! Ariana Rolich

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