Introducing the Wines of Esteban Celemín: Ancient Vines of the Duero

9/10/20 -

I met Esteban Celemín in Pamplona a year ago. When the wines arrived last week I was inspired to reflect on what a strange year of delays kept these wines from the store until now. First wine tariffs, then COVID-19. They have finally arrived and I’m so excited to share them and to highlight the story behind them. This is the first time that these wines are in the United States, and I think they represent something altogether new in the realm of Spanish wines in New York.

Esteban met me in Pamplona last August, where he waited for me when I missed my train from Barcelona. We tasted his wines at 11pm in the hotel lobby, and I’ve been thinking about them and the story behind them ever since.

The story is rooted in Castronuño, Esteban Celemín’s hometown on the river Duero, in the Spanish province of Valladolid. Viticulturally, the surrounding area is well-known for Tempranillo from Toro and Verdejo from Rueda. But Castronuño has its own wine traditions, and they focus on a single grape: Albillo Real. Esteban related to me that the grape arrived in Castronuño in the 1600s (brought, as was often the case, by monks), and was used partially as a table and raisin grape, due to its sweet must, thin skins, and early ripening. Until recently, it was the village and surrounding area’s dominant grape. However, in the 70s, the arrival of the more vigorous Chasselas and large-scale urban migration led to the abandonment or removal of many Albillo Real plantings.

The remaining vineyards of Albillo around Castronuño are mostly very old and own-rooted, planted in sandy soils. Today, we’re excited to offer a wine from one of these ancient vineyards: Las Avutardas comes from a vineyard planted more than 130 years ago. The vines are ungrafted and own-rooted, protected from phylloxera by sand. This vineyard represents the long and almost forgotten heritage of the region and this is a unique chance to taste wine from these exceedingly rare, very old vines.

Esteban has been working not just to preserve, but also to revive this history. He made his first wine with fruit from around Castronuño in 2007 and planted a new vineyard of massale selection Albillo (selected from the old vineyards mentioned above) in 2014. He named the wine from this new vineyard Señora Vale, in honor of his grandmother, and as homage to her generation. Here, the soils are chalky, and the wine translates this minerality.

Alongside these single-vineyard white wines, Esteban makes two red wines from Tempranillo, one from four vineyards in Toro, named Melquiades for his Grandfather, and another, Ultimas Huellas from a single vineyard in Castronuño, and three other white wines. Tinajas de Albillo is Albillo Real done in Tinaja with long gentle skin-contact, Verdeja le Dicen… is a ripe and powerful wine from a vineyard of old pre-clonal-selection Verdejo, and Monemvasia is an orange wine produced from a somewhat mysterious group of old vines that resemble (and probably are!) Malvasia.

Esteban farms all of these vineyards organically, without pesticides or herbicides, and adds nothing other than (in some cases) a tiny amount of sulfur. These are natural wines of gravity and power, that are simultaneously approachable, interesting, and very well-made. They are also incredibly good values.

-Ben Fletcher

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