Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Magnificent Seven: The Ribeira Sacra Producers of The Spanish Artisan Wine Group

* * * * *
Jorge Carnero and a visitor tasting Viña Cazoga in the winery in Ribeira Sacra.  Carnero (Cazoga in Gallego) means ram, so the symbol of the vinyard and winery is a ram's head, which adorns the end of this old horizontal vat.  Jorge has a bed stashed in a big barrel that was formerly used to make Viña Cazoga.  Sometimes sleeps in the barrel during the harvest. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com

Recently someone asked “Which Ribeira Sacra wine is The Spanish Artisan Wine Group bringing into the U.S.? 

We will be not be bringing in just one winery from La Ribeira Sacra, but SEVEN* (and possibly eight) bodegas! We love La Ribeira Sacra and its small artisan producers.  We believe it is somewhat like Burgundy's mix of small estate producers and somewhat akin to the Loire Valley as well, but the grapesare not Chardonnay or Pinot Noir as in the case of Burgundy,  but the native red Mencía grape is very reminiscent of the Loire's Cabernet Franc.  And Godello? Well, many of the best Godellos can take on the majority of Chardonnays out there these days.

(*Note: Do to the fact that the entire Diego de Lemos production was already bottled with Spanish labels, we were unable to bring the wines from these last vintages and do a mis-communication our reply from Rectoral de Amandi arrived too late to get the labels registered in time to put the wines in this container.)
These wines come from properties and growers that I have following for as many as eight years. We will have Sabatelius from Primitivo Lareu, both a red and white, both of which are truly special wines from the westernmost Chantada subregion. Primitivo is one of the most dedicated viticulturists we know and his dedication to his vineyards shows in his superb terroir-driven wines, a superb blanco that is 60% Godello, 40% Treixadura, a young Mencía tinto and a Mencía Carballo (Gallego for oak) that sees time in barrel.

Primitivo Lareau, owner-viticulturist of Sabetelius, Chantada, La Ribeira Sacra.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com

Also from Chantada we are bringing Diego de Lemos. I especially like their lovely white wine, which is a blend of godello and treixadura (the main grape of neighboring Ribeiro). Diego de Lemos and the mineral-driven Toalde Mencía are both made by the talented young enologist, Roberto Regal. Deigo de Lemos is a stunningly beautiful, bucolic vineyard area overlooking the Minho River. 

Roberto Regal, owner-viticulturist-winemaker, Bodegas Toalde, and winemaker, Diego de Lemos.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com

Diego de Lemos owner, Esther Teijeiro, after seeing the alarming descent of the bilogical quality of the vineyards in her region because of the use of pesticides, became an ecological pioneer who produced the first ecological wine in Galicia from her vineyards in Chantada, Ribeira Sacra.

Diego de Lemos owner, Esther Teijeiro, an ecological pioneer.

Diego de Lemos Tinto on the terrace of the winery overlooking 
the Minho River in the Chantada sub-region of Ribeira Sacra.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com

We are also excited about the young red Mencía, Don Bernadino, from the dramatic Sil River area of Amandi, which has some of the most spectacularly situated vineyards in the world. Don Bernandino Mencía is the wine of Emilio Rodríguez Díaz, the owner of O Grelo, an excellent regional cuisine restaurant in Monforte de Lemos, the main town and capital of La Ribeira Sacra.   Don Bernadino is delicious, beautifully balanced, has just 12.5% alcohol and is very reasonably price for its quality. You may find yourself, like a fellow traveler and I did in June, quaffing a second bottle, when our intention after a long day was to have a glass or two and hit our road warrior hotel beds early.

Emilio Rodríguez Díaz, owner of O Grelo Restaurante in Monforte de Lemos and Don Bernadino winery.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com

Rectoral di Amandi, another delicious, calls-you-back-for-another-glass, red shows that wonderful pomegranate fruit that good Mencía seems to exhibit, again married to a sexy, exotic slate-graphite mineral finish. And speaking of sexy and exotic, the electric pink label looks like it could have been dreamed up in a discotheque. Rectoral di Amandi is owned by Myriam Vásquez.

Myriam Vásquez, owner of Rectoral de Amandi, a larger producer of quality wines in La Ribeira Sacra.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com

One of the stars of this group is a unique wine from a rustic bodega in the back country. It is owned by a young winemaker, Jorge Carnero, who took over his late father’s vineyards and decided to make his own very personal wine, Viña Cazoga. We will bring in both Jorge’s Viña Cazoga Joven 2010 and Viña Cazoga 2008, a wine that spends some time in re-conditioned oak. We don’t expect either of these wines to be for everyone because they are so unique and unlike other red wines you may have tasted before. For this reason, on my fourth visit to the winery when I took Emmanuel I decided not to say anything and just let Emmanuel make up his own mind about the wine without any pre-suggestion from me. Cazoga wines were the ones he liked the best of all from our 2,500 km., 20-winery trip. Cazoga wines show themselves best with food. By the time you get to the last glass in the bottle, you realize you have been drinking something unique and special.  And you don't like that ugly old-fashioned label with the Carnero's (ram's) head you say.  Get over it and concentrate on the wine in the bottle.  We wouldn't change a thing about this place.  Besides, there is not enough wine to fill even the modest demand we think those who really like this wine will create.

Jorge Carnero, Viña Cazoga, Amandi. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com

The unique, rich, pomegranate-like fruit driven Décima Mencia (with 10% garnacha tintorera) from Amandi is underpinned by a graphite-like slate minerality that comes from the preciptiously steep pizarra terraces on which Décima’s vineyards grow. These vineyards, owned and worked by José Manuel Rodríguez, who in addition to farming his own vines, is also the President of the Consello Regulador de La Ribeira Sacra. I have been visiting vineyards and bodegas with José Manuel for nearly a decade and count him among my best friends. He has not only introduced me to the bodegueros and wineries we are bringing in, he has lead me to nearly three dozen other bodegas and tasting of hundreds of wines, which helped me immeasurably in the research for my articles on the region, but also in finding this particular set of unique wines.

José Manuel Rodríguez, President of the Consello Regulador de La Ribeira Sacra,and owner-viticulturist of Décima, and Emmanuel Dupuy D'Angeac of Nancy's Wines, New York City, at Rodríguez's vineyards overlooking the Sil River.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2011 / gerrydawes@aol.com