Ribeiro Royalty! - Luis Rodriguez

7/7/10 -

(Photo: Luis Rodriguez amongst his vines)

I have sold Luis Rodriguez's “A Torna Dos Pasas” Tinto for a couple of vintages now. It seems that every buyer has a wine or two in their section that they want to stay a little quiet about – just hand sell to friends and keep it their little secret. On Super Bowl Sunday my significant other and I had a couple of our wine-geek friends (both industry professionals) over for some roast pork and accoutrements. I served the A Torna Dos Pasas blind to my two friends, curious as to what they thought it might be. The guy exclaimed "Northern Rhône!" (right soil, Granite). His accompanying lady (and CSW colleague) theorized Piedmontese terroir (I can see the Barbera connections). After some lingering and theorizing of my own, I unveiled the wine, the bottle almost empty. My guy friend, an extreme Franco-phile, immediately called it "the best Spanish wine outside of Rioja that I’ve ever tasted!" At that moment it was apparent his hyperbole was not unwarranted. I had been feeling the same all along… We may have the greatest wine-maker in Galicia on our hands!

I had the opportunity to visit Luis on my most recent trip to Spain. I had no idea what to expect, and knew nothing about him aside from him being the president of the D.O.  His production is tiny. He has no problem selling most all of his wine locally, and we are his only export market.  The grapes grown at the estate are Caino, Brancellao, and Ferrol for the reds and Treixadura, Godello, Albarino, and Loureiro for the whites.  He works 27 mostly prime south-facing plots that amount to just over 2.5 HA.  These tiny plots are located at high elevations on steep granite slopes over-looking the town of Arnoia, a stones throw away from the cult-producer Emilio Rojo.  This is a very green, lush, and humid place with two rivers, the Mino and the Arnoia running through it.  With all of the humidity, the main threats to viticulture are oidium, which, according to Luis, arrived in 1956 (from the U.S.) and Mildew (1848).  Luis is a practical vinicultor. He does not use herbicides, and practices what the French call a lutte raisonnee approach to pesticides; yet fears that totally organic viticulture would further reduce the already extremely low yields. He does not inoculate with yeasts, although he says he would if it felt like he had to, but he has not to this day used cultured yeast.  He makes four wines, the two we sell and then two higher end cuvèes, both red and white, called Escolma. 500 cases are produced of the entry level wines and 50 to 80 of the higher-end cuvèes; all of which are fermented with temperature control in stainless-steel.  The reds are not de-stemmed, and he never blocks malo for the whites.  All of the wines are racked into a mixture of 225 and 500 liter barrels. No new wood is used for the entry level cuvèes and very little for the Escolma.

After a jaunt through the vineyards, and a tasting in the winery, we went to Luis' tasting room.  He had a vertical of wines set up for us - something Jose was not expecting. The lineup was impressive. I had a hunch that these wines aged, but this exposure was my first confirmation. Highlights for me were the 2003, 1999, and 1994 (Barrel-Fermented) Os Pasas Blancos, the 2004 and 2001 Escolma Blancos, the 2003 and 1999 Dos Pasas Tintos and 2004 and 2000 Escolmas Tintos.  The wines evolve and improve with time, and even the tough 2003 vintage showed remarkably well.  Warmer and dryer vintages are more benevolent since sunshine can be hard to come by in this area.  In general, with age the whites become very honey'd and waxy with subtle petrol and pine nut notes, though oxidation is not an issue.  I found the whites, even as far back as the 94's to be lively and delicious.  The reds become more savory with time, more Piedmont-like; the words "meat," "leather," and "violets" were all over my tasting notes. The Escolma Tintos are clearly built for the long haul. Outside wine-growing, Luis distills his own orujo and makes his own charcuterie. We had a lovely night with Luis and his girlfriend which memorably ended at 5:00 in the morning in Ribadavia, a beautiful ancient city that is the center of life for Ribeiro.

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