Return of the G: Crystalline Garnacha

9/22/12 -

Freshness and delicacy are not your usual Garnacha traits. Called Grenache in France and Cannonau in Italy, it’s a grape more known for producing lusciously fruity wines, generous in style, but often at the expense of definition and balance, qualities many wine lovers are looking for these days. One of the great pleasures of my tenure as a buyer of Spanish wines has been discovering truly exceptional Garnacha wines that genuinely express terroir in articulate ways, especially in the extreme, high-elevation climates of Spain. These are wines that work with hearty meats, but also pair with wider range of tapas, even fresh seafood such as tuna or swordfish.

Nowhere is this notion being expressed better than in the foothills of the Gredos mountain range, 40 minutes west of Madrid, around the town of San Martín de Valdeiglesias.  At roughly 800 meters elevation, Fernando Garcia of Bodegas Marañones has been working with old bush vine Garnacha, grown on sand and granite, to craft beautifully fresh wines with power and elegance.  For me, the wines from here bear a similarity to Etna wines from Sicily.  Like some of the innovators on Etna, Fernando is working well in the vineyard and in the winery to achieve his ends.  All farming is organic with some biodynamic practices.  He uses a portion of whole grape clusters, always wild yeasts for fermentation, minimal extraction, very little new oak, and sparing use of sulfur. His 2010’s are gorgeous.  Most notably the aromatic and high-toned Paraje Marañones is drinking beautifully. The 2010 Labros could use some time, where the 2008 is just starting to enter its drinking window now, with hints of tertiary aromas.  These wines evolve, and given that ’08 was Fernando’s first vintage, so is he!  We still haven’t  seen the best of what this young man can do.

Apparently the name San Martin is a running theme in Garnacha, because around the town of San Martín de Unx, in the province of Navarra, Rioja native David Sampedro has been busily carving a similar niche with his single vineyard called Pasolasmonjas.  This plot of bush vines, planted on limestone and farmed biodynamicaly, lies at 700 meters elevation, one of the highest sites in Navarra.  It produces a Garnacha wine of uncommon fineness.  It helps that David knows what he’s doing in the winery as well, working with stems, wild yeasts for fermentation, and maturing the wines with just a kiss of new oak.  His wines are precise, structured, yet generous without excess fat – a breath of fresh air and definitely not cut from the same cloth as the simple, fruity wines normally produced in Navarra.

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