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There is a freshness and crisp honesty to the taste of a great natural bottle of wine. At its best… under the care of a talented winemaker, something pure is coaxed from the grape and the wine becomes a signature of a particular place.

This is certainly true for Juan Antonio Ponce and this bottle of Bobal.

Screen shot 2010-06-18 at 10.24.54 AMAfter generations of growing high altitude grapes in the Manchuela region of Spain, east of La Mancha and north of Jumilla, Juan Ponce started making wine from select family plots of ancient Bobal vines in 2005. The results have been remarkable.

Bobal is an obscure grape, high in tannins and acidity, usually low in alcohol and most often blended into house wines. Mostly unknown, this is my first experience with it as it rarely is carried and almost never highlighted in quality wine shops…until Ponce, that is.

Juan Ponce is known locally as the ‘prophet of Bobal’ because almost single-handedly he has found uniqueness in this grape and brought international attention to Manchuela and his wine.

After a formal education in winemaking and time as an apprentice and student of the biodynamic wineries in France, then 5 years as a winemaker in Rioja, he decided to return home, focus on Bobal, the Manchuela terroir and his family vineyards of old vines.

I really like this winemaker and his approach.

Terroir to Juan Ponce, starts with the ground and the vine…not with an idea of a taste or a concept of the finished wine itself. He believes in micro-terroir, in the plot-by-plot uniqueness and addresses each small plot separately…vinified individually, different barrel types for different plots, unique harvest schedules and overall an approach seeking to discover the cycles of the vines where they grow.

Biodynamic in the vineyard. Traditional methods of growing and harvesting. Natural yeast. And natural in the cave as well.

The ’08 La Casilla is made from 30-70 year old vines, grown in chalky soil. It’s challenging to describe the Bobal grape, as it’s a completely new taste to me. But this bottle of rich and complex red wine is quite unique from anything I’ve drunk from Spain…rippled with a mineral character and infused with a gentle touch of fruit.

I found La Casilla dark and strong but still fresh and vivacious. It is great with food…. olives or cheese or a plate of whole wheat pasta. Or with something off the grill.

Organic. Full bodied. Approachable. A meal’s perfect complement.

Available from Chambers Street Wines for $18 a bottle.

Thanks to my wine guide, Chris Barnes @ Chambers Street for nudging me to taste this.