Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Trailblazer and Evangelist: Marco Caprai and Sagrantino di Montefalco

The Sagrantino grape has a history in its native Montefalco that stretches back 400 years but that extended history did not translate to renown. That is, until Marco Caprai appeared and, by dint of his industry and collaborative efforts, propelled the wine and the region into the foreground in Umbria and Italy, and into the minds and hearts of consumers worldwide. Caprai came to West Palm Wines (WPW) in Tampa recently to share his journey and a selection of his wines.

Marco Caprai

Marco is currently the Managing Director of Armando Caprai, wine venture of the industrial group of the same name. His father, Armando, bought a 2-ha property in Umbria  in 1971 and began making wine. Marco studied Political Science in school but, at the age of 21, it was time for him to join the family business. As he said, rather than go into the fashion or textile arms of the business, he opted to manage the winery, beginning that effort in 1988.

Soon after taking charge of the estate, Marco set his sights on establishing the flailing Sagrantino as the foundational wine of the region. He collaborated with the University of Milan to launch the Sagrantino Project in 1989 and, after intensive studies and experimentation, and gaining the support and cooperation of other regional players, he attained the successes manifested in the wine and the region of today.

The Sagrantino grape was introduced into the area in the 15th century by Franciscan monks who used it for liturgical purposes. The grape is famously rich in polyphenols, resulting in a wine with a deep purple color, full body, structure, and with a capacity for long life.

The Region
The grape can be found in both DOC and DOCG wines. The map below shows the location of the DOC region (granted in 1979 and covering parts of the municipalities of Bevagna, Giano dell'Umbria, Gualdo Cattaneo, Castel Ritaldi, and all of the municipality of Montefalco) and the DOCG region (granted in 1992 and with similar distribution as the DOC region). The DOC and DOCG regions are shown in the heart of the map, within the broader Colli Martani region.


The area has a continental climate with average annual rainfall of 700 mm. The gently sloping hills that are a feature of the growing area support vineyards at elevations ranging between 220 m and 472 m a.s.l. Aspects are varied, resulting in a range of micro-climates.

The DOC wines are a Blanco (Grechetto -- min 50%; Trebbiano Toscano -- 20 - 35%; and Trebbiano Spoletino -- 0 - 30%) and a Rosso (Sagrantino -- 10 - 15%; Sangiovese -- 60 - 70%; and other red grapes -- 15 - 30%).The DOCG wines are made from 100% Sagrantino grapes  and can be either dry or Passito. The grapes for these wines have a limited production and are characterized by small bunches, thick skins, and high polyphenol content.

The characteristics of the grape allows for partial drying (as in the case of the passito wine) and long aging. In the case of the passito wine, the grapes are carefully selected and left out to dry for approximately two months after which they are pressed and the must fermented with the skins.

As regards the DOCG wines, yields for the dry wine are 52 hl/ha and 28 hl/ha for the passito. Both wines must be aged for a minimum of 33 months, with a further requirement of minimum 4 months bottle aging. The dry wine must be resident in oak for a minimum of 12 months. The DOC wine requires 12 months aging.

The Vineyards
Marco had by this time increased the family's vineyard holdings from the original 2 ha to 149.7 ha, 89 of which was planted to vine. The farm is cultivated sustainably with grass planted between rows, limitations on the use of pesticides, CO2-emission monitoring, vineyard biodiversity, and adherence to sustainable social and environmental practices.

The Wines
The chart below shows the wines we tasted at the WPW event, the sources of the grapes, and the aging method for each.

We tasted the 2018 Grechetto Grecante as we milled around the bar. The wine was perfumed, floral, waxy and with yellow fruit on the nose. Herbs, a bitterness, textured and mineral on the palate. The minerality and texture combined to restrain the fruit flavors. Interesting mix of acidity, bitterness, and minerality. Textural intensity diminished with time.

The 2015 Montefalco Rosso showed herbs and violets on the nose, along with a slight nuttiness. Red fruits, medium body, and a peppery finish. The Riserva version of this wine had more of an obvious barrel note on the nose as well as shoe polish, spice, and sweet red fruit. Bright on the palate. Rich red fruit. Medium-bodied. Spicy, long, herby, mineral finish.

Sweet dark fruit and spice were the characteristics that I noted for the nose of the 2013 Sagrantino Collepiano. Smooth and round on the palate. Not as intense and structured as the 2008 we had sampled offline at the bar. Pleasant, rich, and open.

The final wine in the lineup was the 2013 Sagrantino 25 Anni. The initial bottling of this wine -- 1993 -- was a commemoration of the winery's 25th anniversary. The wine was the result of "in-depth research and careful clonal selection of Sagrantino's best grapes" and was awarded Gambero Rosso's Tre Biccheri upon release. The version that we tasted showed deep red fruit and a beautiful bouquet on the nose. Concentrated, with a hint of match flint, vanilla, baking spices, and mango. Structured dark fruit on the palate along with pepper, herbs, and good acid levels. Persistence of pepper gives way to texture. Long, spicy, bitter finish.

I have visited the Paolo Bea estate in Montefalco and am a fan of his wines. Caprai wines stand in stark contrast to the Paolo Bea wines in that they have a more modern feel. The key here is the difference in winemaking between the two estates.The Caprai wines are aged for up to two years in French oak barriques and then up to an additional 6 months in bottle. Paolo Bea red wines, on the other hand, are aged for 1 year in stainless steel, 2 years in 20- to 30-hl oaken barrels, and then an additional 2 to 4 years in bottle.

Both wines are reflective of their winemakers' visions.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Mapping the sparkling wines of Le Marche (Italy)

The rugged environment of Le Marche provides a landscape that is less suitable for agricultural pursuits than is the case in neighboring Tuscany, Umbria, and Abruzzo, for example. The Apennine range forms the internal border of the region and descends almost to the Adriatic Sea, with arable land and living spaces confined to the river valleys and the coastline. The climate in the region is temperate, with a continental feel inland and Mediterranean along the coast.

At 878,000 hl of wine produced in 2018, Le Marche ranked 13th among Italian regions. Its calcareous soils provide optimal residence for Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Verdicchio, and Montelpuciano, among other varieties.

Given the length of its coastline, seafood is a key part of the Marchian diet. And the diet elevates the importance of white wine in the region, with the Verdecchios from Castelli di Jesi and Matelica having pride of place. Wine from the Pecorino grape is also growing in stature.

Below is a map of the sparkling wines of Le Marche.

Some observations:
  • Most of these wines are, given their 85% minimums, in effect, varietal sparkling wines
  • Most of the wines are made from indigenous rather than international varieties. The varieties of note are Aleatico, Biancame, Verdicchio, Maceratino, Passerina, and Vernaccia Nera
  • Most DOCs allow both Metodo Classico and Charmat production
  • A total of three red sparkling wines are produced in the region: Pergola DOC Spumante; San Ginesio DOC Spumante; and Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOC Spumante.
Now let us turn to some of the most noteworthy sparkling wines from the region.

Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOCG
This wine has been described as an "idiosyncratic sparkling red wine produced from the local Vernaccia Nera." This territory was granted DOC status in 1971 and elevated to DOCG in 2003. It is one of the smallest classified zones in Italy with only 20 ha of vineyards and 5000 cases produced. Vineyards must be sited between 450 and 600 m elevation.

Other than the fact that it is a sparkling red wine, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona is also unique in its production method: three fermentations. The first fermentation involves up to 60% of the handpicked grapes. The remaining 40% is dried on straw mats and added to the wine in the following January for the second fermentation. After resting for a few months, the wine is placed into pressurized containers where it is fermented using the Charmat method.

The result of this process is "an intensely aromatic wine displaying a raspberry red color, aromas of strawberries and cranberries, a hint of spice, firm tannins and bright acidity,"

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC and Verdecchio di Matelica DOC
These are the two DOCs that are the temples to Verdicchio, with the former being more revered than the latter. The sparkling wines from both regions require a minimum of 85% of the Verdicchio grape and can be made using either the Metodo Classico or Charmat methods.

The grapes for Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi are grown in the hilly areas around the town of Jesi, an area endowed with calcareous clay and limestone-rich soils. The area is blessed with a relatively dry maritime climate with persistent gentle onshore (morning) and offshore (afternoon) winds providing defenses against fungal diseases such as grey rot and mildew.

The Verdicchio di Matelica vineyards are located further inland in more of a continental climate but with soils akin to its compatriot. Vineyard orientation in Matelica is east-to-west, a situation unique to that DOC. A total of 740 ha of vineyards are planted at 400m - 500m elevation.

In his Forbes article on Italian sparkling wines, Tom Hyland identified the Colonnara Tradition Brut as one of the best examples of Verdicchio sparkling wine that he has tasted. The wine, he says, "... offers subdued herbal notes in the finish, along with bright pear and melon fruit."

In that same article, Hyland spoke favorably of a number of Verdicchio/Chardonnay cuvées:
  • Poderi Mattioli Dosaggio Zero -- vintage-dated blend that is aged 48 months on its lees
  • Umani-Ronchi Extra Brut millesimato -- 65% Verdicchio, 35% Chardonnay
  • Umani-Ronchi La Hoz -- 80% Verdicchio, 20% Chardonnay. The Verdicchio is aged in steel while the Chardonnay is aged in mid-sized oak barrels. The wines are aged on lees for 48 months.
Sparkling wines are produced in nine of the 20 Le Marche DOC(G) regions but, given its ubiquity and regional importance, the one that you encounter in the wild will most probably be Verdicchio-based.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Count me in as a Timorasso (white wine from Piemonte's Colli Tortonesi DOC) believer

The recently revived Timorasso cultivar has been described by Kerin O' Keefe (one of the leading Italian wine experts) as "one of the most exciting wines coming out of Italy right now" and "boasts more depth, body and complexity than many Italian whites." Berry Bros and Rudd, a historical UK wine retailer, tags the wine as "one of the most exciting autochthonous grape varieties to surface in recent years." I have seen these and many other laudatory comments regarding the Timorasso wine so I purchased a bottle of Vigne Marina Coppi Fausto 2011 in order to conduct an independent evaluation.

According to, the Timorasso variety is a part of the ampelographic heritage of Liguria, Piemonte, Lombardia, and Emilia Romagna and is assumed to have originated somewhere between Liguria and Piemonte. The characteristics of the variety are shown in the chart below.

In addition to the above, it is known that the variety thrives in poor soils and sites with good ventilation and exposure. It prefers altitudes above 350 m. The thick skin protects it against disease and weather.

The grape was on the verge of extinction in the 1980s when Walter Massa, of Vigneti Massa, encountered a few vines in his vineyard and began experimenting with them. He was so pleased with the initial results that he begun searching out vines in neighboring vineyards. As time went by, neighboring producers noted his success and began producing the wines also. Today there are 20 producers bringing Timorasso wines to market and associated vineyards have grown from 3 ha in 2000 to 150 hectares today.

Timorasso wine is certified for production in the 40 communes around Tortona Hill that comprise the Colli Tortonesi DOC.

Timorasso can be deployed in Colli Tortonesi DOC as follows:
  • Bianco -- any proportion; min 10% alcohol
  • Bianco from subzone Terra di Libarna -- minimum 60% Timorasso plus OANWG (other authorized nonaromatic white grape); min 11% alcohol
  • Varietal Timorasso -- mimimum 95% Timorasso plus OANWG; 12% alcohol; minimum 10 months aging
  • Riserva -- 12% alcohol; min 21 months aging
  • Spumante from subzone Terra di Libarna -- minimum 60% Timorasso plus OANWG; min 11.5% alcohol; can range from extra brut to extra dry; made via Charmat method.
The wine I selected for my Timorasso exploration was the 2011 Fausto from Vigne Marina Coppi. The winery is shown in the map above as being located in the town of Castellania. Climate in this area is continental, with significant diurnal temperature variation (positive for acidity retention) and very low precipitation.

The vineyards are located in a natural amphitheater halfway up the hillside, protecting the vines from the harsh north winds. The soils underlying the vineyards are lime-rich sedimentary marls with strata of grey-blue Sant'Agata marls that are 30% sand, 50% clay, and 15% lime.

Fruit for this particular wine are drawn from the Gabetto and Montagnina vineyards. These vineyards are trained Guyot at 5000 vines/ha density. The estate is farmed organically and follows integrated pest management principles.

As regards winemaking, the grapes are soft-pressed and then partially cold-strained off the must. After alcoholic fermentation the wine is transferred to steel tanks for 10 months of maturation inclusive of manual battonage. The wine is aged in-cellar for an additional 6 months after bottling.

This was an exceedingly complex wine, showing different facets based on temperature and residence in the glass. I poured a little into the glass before the wine got to optimal drinking temperature and was assailed with notes of turpentine, pine, sweet white fruit, and minerality, all coming at me in waves. On the palate, salinity, hint of rubber, a piney-mentholated character, and a late-arriving hot-pepper/blackpepper finish. A weighty wine.

As the second pouring, after further chilling, sweet pine, honey dew melon, and white flowers on the nose. A palate-coating character which yields to a mineral blackpepper finish. Lime skin acidity, with acidity intensifying with residence in glass. I paired the wine with a hard cheese and it was a good coupling.

Overall, a sweet floral nose wrapped in a herb overcoat. With passage of time, a metallic, cupric note appears on the palate. Settles in as a weighty Carricante. Closest wine that I have had to this character is an aged Benanti Pietra Marina (Not saying that it is a Pietra Marina. Nothing is. Just saying that it brings it to mind).

Excellent wine. I cant wait to examine other producer offerings.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, February 14, 2020

Aaron Pott (Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley) and his wines show why they are the talk of the town

I recently had the pleasure of tasting a selection of Aaron Pott wines at an Alfond-Inn event organized and hosted by his Florida Distributor, Terroir Selections. Pott, numbered among the most respected American winemakers, and a winemaking consultant of some repute, easily and effectively led us through the highlights of his career, grapegrowing and winemaking philosophies and practices, and a tasting of the wines. I report on that tasting in this post.

Pott, proprietor, along with his wife Claire, of Pott Wine, possesses one of the most well-balanced resumes of any US winemaker alive today. He holds to a strong conviction that the best Napa wines made were those produced during the 1970s and early 1980s and that winemakers have lost their way since. His goal is to make wines akin to those wines of yore.

The charts below show the wealth of experience, expertise, and customers that Pott has accumulated over the years and that have served to inform his venture at Pott Wine.

Table 1. Partial list of Huis Clos former and current consulting clients
Fisher Vineyards Seven Stones Perliss
Krupp Brothers St Helena Winery Somnium
Quixote Winery Adler Deutsch Vineyard AErena Wines
Blackbird Winery Greer Wine Resolute Wines
Bello Family Vineyard Martin Estate
¿Como No?

Pott bottles a total of eight wines, sourcing grapes from the estate (three labels) and purchased fruit from Napa Valley vineyards that meet his specific requirements. The various fruit sources are shown in the figure below.

In his presentation Pott was lighthearted, informative, and comfortable in his own skin. In responding to a question on farming practices, he described himself as a defrocked biodynamic farmer in that the vineyards are farmed organically but he also uses a number of biodynamic techniques. He loves Cabernet Franc -- thinks it is one of the most alluring of the Bordeaux varietals -- but it is tough to find good sites for Cabernet Franc in Napa. His property is on the flank of a volcano: buds out earlier than most and is much cooler in the summertime.

As regards winemaking, the Viognier, the estate's only white wine, is hand-picked and whole-cluster pressed. The grapes are fermented (using indigenous yeasts) and aged in Italian terra cotta amphorae which were hand-crafted in Tuscany by the Manetti family.

All of the red wines are treated similarly except for the duration of the post-fermentation maceration.Grapes are hand-picked and placed into small baskets for transport to the cellar. Once there, they are de-stemmed, selected, optical-sorted, selected and then placed into small bins which are transported by fork lift to open-top fermenters. The grapes are gravity-fed into those containers. Fermentation is facilitated by indigenous yeasts, with manual punchdowns of the caps during the process. After a 30- to 45-day post-fermentation maceration, the wine is gravity-drained to French oak barrels for aging.

And now, the wines.

The 2018 Pott 20 m3 Viognier Estate Chateauneuf du Pott shows apricot, green herbs, and restrained Viognier florals on the nose. Rich and creamy on the palate with yellow fruit and a heavy, lingering minerality. Good acid level and a bitter finish.

The 2017 Pott Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was constructed from the wine remaining after all of the estate and single-vineyard wines have been made. There is a lot of Cabernet Franc and Merlot in this wine. In 2017 they experienced single-digit humidity in the vineyards and the Merlot became dehydrated and minty so was placed into this wine. Red fruit, chocolate, and mint on the nose and lean red fruit on the palate. Smooth tannins.

The 2017 Pott Kaliholmanok Kicu'me/Ballard Vineyard Spring Mountain Napa Valley showed plum, blackcurrant, herbs, bell pepper, chocolate, mint, cedar, and fudge on the nose. Lean, but not austere, on the palate with blueberries, and mint chocolate. Lenghty, balanced finish.

The site in Stags Leap from whence the 2017 Pott Actaeon Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced is unusual in that AVA in that it is from an east-facing, hillside vineyard. In addition, the diurnal temperature variation can be as much as 70 degrees. These two factors combine to ensure good acid retention in the finished wine. This wine was elegant. Black and red fruit and tobacco on the nose. Balanced on the palate with a hint of iron. Round, full, and creamy with good acidity.

The 2017 Pott Space and Time is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon which is aged in 50% new and 50% 2-year-old French oak and is only racked once during the 18 - 20-month aging period. Violets, jasmine, and dark fruit on the nose. Medium-bodied with silky tannins. Balanced.

The final wine in the lineup was the 2017 Pott Incubo Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is 98% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remainder Cabernet Franc. Rust, intense dark fruit, violets and herbs on the nose. Creamy, with palate-coating richness. Lengthy finish.

This was an excellent tasting with the wines showing well and the winemaker more than living up to expectations in terms of expertise and knowledge-dissemination.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, February 7, 2020

David Ramey and Aaron Pott: A brief comparison of the career trajectories of these American winemakers

David Ramey and Aaron Pott are numbered among the most respected American winemakers and both craft some of the most sought-after domestic wines (primarily Chardonnays for Ramey and Cabernet Sauvignons for Aaron). I recently wrote a post based on a tasting of Ramey wines here in Orlando and, in that document, presented a timeline of developments in his career. I recently had the pleasure of attending a tasting of Aaron Pott wines -- led by him -- and constructed a similar timeline as part of my reporting.
Author with David Ramey (left block) and Aaron Pott

A few common threads caught my attention, leading to me stacking the two timelines up for comparison purposes. The result is shown below.

Some observations:
  • Both men did collegiate work at UC Davis, David gained a graduate degree in Enology in 1979 and Aaron an undergraduate degree in 1990
  • Aaron did eventually gain a graduate degree, circa 1997, but in Viticulture and from a University in Burgundy
  • Early experience to French powerhouse winemakers: Moueix in the case of Ramey and Rolland and Lafon for Pott while he was Assistant Winemaker at Newton Vineyard
  • They both did stints on the Right Bank of Bordeaux: Ramey two short spells with Moueix in 1979 and 1989; Pott six years as the winemaker at Tropolong-Mondot and then La Tour Figeac.
  • Ramey has much more domestic winemaking experience in the part of his career that preceded ownership of his own shop while Pott added to his international experience (France, Italy, Chile) by becoming Beringer's "Flying Winemaker."
  • Ramey has now owned his own business for 24 years. He primarily uses purchased fruit. Pott has been crafting his own wines for 13 years and uses a mix of estate and purchased fruit. In addition, Aaron helms a flourishing and well respected consulting business (Huis Clos; see below).
  • Both of their winemaking philosophies and practices draw heavily on their French experience.

Table 1. Partial list of Huis Clos former and current consulting clients
Fisher VineyardsSeven StonesPerliss
Krupp BrothersSt Helena WinerySomnium
Quixote WineryAdler Deutsch VineyardAErena Wines
Blackbird WineryGreer WineResolute Wines
Bello Family VineyardMartin Estate
¿Como No?

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Sparkling wines of Umbria, Italy

Umbria, one of the smallest of the Italian regions, lies almost dead center on the peninsula and is the only region that does not border on a body of water or a country.

Italian regions map with Umbria as the beating heart of the boot

Umbria lies in the cultural and vinous shadows of its northwestern neighbor Tuscany but is renowned in its own right for its lush, rolling hills, its hilltop villages (Assisi, Perugia, Orvieto, Spoleto, Todi, Spello, Gubbio), and unique historic towns.


Author and spouse in Umbria

Grapegrowing at Carmine Estate

Looking down on the great Umbrian Valley from the hills 
above Cannara

Umbria's main business activity is agriculture, with olive oil, truffles, sunflowers, and wine grapes as the primary offerings.

The Umbrian climate is continental; cold, rainy winters and dry summers. This climate is modified by the waters of Lake Trasimeno in the area west of Perugia.

Geologic processes through the ages have resulted in the following soils distribution in Umbria:
  • Alluvial sediments and debris along major river valleys
  • Gravels, sands, and clays deposited during the Pliocene and early Pleistocene
  • Marly deposits during the Oligocene - Miocene
  • Stratigraphic Umbria-Marche deposits from the Jurassic-Miocene
  • In the southwest, volcanic deposits from the eruptions of the Vulsino volcano.
This distribution is illustrated graphically in the figure below.

Schematic geologic map of Umbria.
Blue = Limestone; Gold = Sandstone rocks;
 Yellow = Inter-mountain basins; and
Purple = Volcanic complexes (Source:
Andrea Moti,
Between 600,000 and 800,000 hl of wine is produced annually, a total that is 1/3 of Tuscany's production and places the region 14th or 15th of the 20 Italian regions. The region is known for its white wines (18% of its wines are from the Orvieto DOC) from the Trebbiano and Grechetto varieties but its only two DOCGs (Sagrantino di Montefalco and Torgianno Rosso Riserva) are red wines made from the Sagrantino and Sangoiovese varieties, respectively. Sangiovese represents 22% of the vine plantings while Trebbiano and Grechetto come in at 17% and 13%, respectively. Most of the vineyards are planted on terraces that have been cut into the hillsides.

As shown in the chart below, Umbria has six sparkling wine DOCs distributed over its surface area.

A few observations:
  • None of the major Umbria DOC/DOCGs (Sagrantino de Montefalco DOCG, Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG, and Orvieto DOC) produce any sparkling wine
  • A small number of varieties (six) have been formally designated by name for the production of sparkling wine. Only Valle d'Aosta (one) and Liguria (three) have fewer identified sparkling-wine-designated varieties
  • A preponderance of the international varieties have been designated as raw material for sparkling wine production in Umbria. Only Spoleto DOC -- of the six sparkling wine DOCs identified in the chart above -- does not specify, by name, one of the international varieties for use in the production of its sparkling wine.
  • Three of the sparkling wine DOCs are located in the north of the region, one in the middle, and two in the south.
  • Two Metodo-Classico-only DOCs and one Charmat-only DOC. The remaining four DOCs allow a mix of both production methods
  • The Spoleto DOC wine could have been designated a varietal sparkling wine.
In this post I have continued on my path to identify and map each sparkling wine DOC/DOCG in Italy. To date I have completed the mapping of Northern Italy as well as Toscana and Umbria (herein) of Central Italy. My next effort will identify the sparkling wines of Marche.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Spanish wines on the cutting edge: Ribeira Sacra's Guímaro Finca Meixemán 2017

What is the new face of Spanish wines as the modernist movement retreats? According to panelists in a seminar titled Wines on the Cutting Edge, a part of Wines from Spain's Great Match Miami (November 5, 2019), it is a movement to different and unusual wines and areas.

I have covered the cutting-edge whites (Tajinaste BlancoMuradella BlancoEdetària Selecció Blanc Vinyes Velles, and Conde de los Andes Rioja Blanco) in prior posts and will now turn to the reds, beginning with Guímaro Finca Meixemán 2017. In this post I will discuss the wine region, the producer, the variety, the vineyard, the wine, and the tasting.

The Region
The subject wine is produced in Amandi, one of the five sub-regions of the Galician DO Ribeira Sacra. While Galicia is primarily know for its white wines, Ribeira Sacra is known for its reds; and, especially, its Mencia.

Winemaking in Galicia originated with the ancient Romans and those traditions were upheld during the Middle Ages by the monks who resided in the still-evident monasteries. This religious history is captured in the DO name -- Ribeira Sacra -- which translates to Sacred Shore. But this winemaking tradition collapsed with the Italy-wide movement from farms to cities in the last century, resulting in the loss of know-how and varieties.

Riberia Sacra attained its DO in 1996. Its approximately 1200 ha (2965 acres) hugs the the contours of the Miño and Sil rivers prior to their convergence and the transit of the surviving Miño into Portugal,. The landscape is dominated by steep slopes and river canyons with some vineyards resident on 50-degree slopes. The steepness of these slopes require "heroic" farming a la Mosel and Liguria.

While the Galician climate is considered Atlantic, Riberia Sacra's remove from the coast renders it continental: long, warm summers and cold, wet winters. Soils here are well-drained slate and granite. observes that: "... Ribeira Sacra seems to have ticked off all the boxes to become a top player: breathtaking landscapes with dizzying vineyards; a great array of local grape varieties in the process of being recovered; the complexity derived from the diversity of soils, exposure, and elevations; and a generation of terroir-driven, quality-focused producers determined to leave behind the attitudes and short-sighted views of yesteryear."

There are some challenges, however:
  • Removing a single ha of traditional vineyard, including stone walls and a railing system to transport harvest cases uphill, costs between 80,000 and 100,000 euros. Solution is potentially to replace stone walls with soil terraces
  • Villages are empty
  • Difficult to hire people; once hired, they need to be trained.
The Producer
The Guímaro farm, 8 ha in size, is located in the village of Sober in Ribeira Sacra's Amandi sub-region. The farm has been in the family for ages and has historically operated a mixed agricultural regime. Grapes were sold in bulk until Luis Buitrón signed on as winemaker and encouraged the family to bottle some of the wine on the estate. Luis was also instrumental in the wine education of young Pedro Rodriguez, family scion, taking him to visit wineries in other regions in Spain as well as in France and Italy.

Pedro is the grower today but his parents still work in the vineyards. The vineyards are south-facing  and resident on the slate soils just above the River Sil.

Pedro was introduced to Raúl Pérez, the famed Bierzo winemaker, in the early 2000s. The advice that he imparted resulted in Pedro:
  • Reducing Mencia yields
  • Eliminating the use of chemicals in the vineyard
  • Paying closer attention to plot-exposition
  • Re-claiming old-fashioned winemaking methods
    • Wild yeast fermentation
    • Foot-treading in open-top vessels
    • Stem inclusion
    • Working with low sulfur
    • Aging in used barrels.
Pedro's stewardship has yielded "some of the most distinctive and age-worthy wines being produced today on the Sacred Banks."

Pedro is currently moving towards organic certification and is also planting heirloom grape varieties at high elevations in Amandi.

The Variety -- Mencía
The Mencía grape variety is principally found in the northwest of Spain in the DOs of Bierzo (where it has the greatest renown), Ribeira Sacra, Monterrei, and Valdeorras. A total of 9000 ha of vines across those regions are devoted to the variety.

Mencía had historically been dismissed as an indifferent local table wine -- "astringent, pale, and forgettable" -- planted as it was on unsuitable soils. The true capability of the variety was brought to the fore by Alvaro Palacios's successful revitalization efforts in Bierzo and Galicia in the 1990s. Replanting the grape on more suitable hillside schist soils yielded a more concentrated, profound, and elegant wine.

Mencía is a thick-skinned blue grape which ripens early. It is susceptible to botrytis and mildew and will lose its acidity if picked outside of its ripeness window. Picking late also results in increased alcohol levels in the finished wine.

In a discussion on one of the Guildsomm Discussion Boards, James Vercoe spoke to change in Mencía tannin structure as you move inland in Spain.
The wines of Ribeira Sacra are the lightest and most elegant with a gentle schist like (sic) minerality of cold rocks with a gentle tannin but still shows the classic soy character of Mencía (but perhaps more toned down than the more continental regions). The Valdeorras wines are a touch fuller and more deeply marked with amaro-astringency -- I always think of a whole rose bush; the pretty red florals  with the sapid astringent stems. In Bierzo the tannin is nutty and ripe and the most pronounced. Here it is the most continentally influenced region and the wines can handle a touch more oaking ... think fuller wines with more plum fruit and less floral ...
The Wine
The grapes for the Guímaro Finca Meixemán 2017 were grown on a 1.2 ha namesake plot which sits between 400 and 450 m on southeast-facing slopes. The vines here are 70 years old.

The grapes were subjected to partial whole cluster fermentation with foot treading. After a lengthy maceration, the wines were aged for 13 months in used 225 liter French oak barrels.

Notes: One of the panelists indicated that 2017 was a hot, concentrated year. Deep red fruit on the nose with a hint of tomato and talcum powder. Elegant. Not overbearing on the attack but seems to form a comfortable, soothing resting place on the palate. Strawberries and cherries with a mineral texture. Young and tight but filled with promise.

Another panelist indicated that this wine would cost $30 at retail.

Mencía wines are gaining critical acclaim as "... one of the country's most exciting and original red wines ... rapidly making a name for itself with wine lovers across the world ..." And high on the list of recommended producers and wines is Guímaro Finca Meixemán.

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