Juan Antonio Ponce is my trusted guide to the unusual…and the wonderful from Manchuela, Spain.
I first tasted his ’08 La Casilla Bobal last spring and was inspired with both the wonders of his wine and his approach to natural winemaking. I jumped at the chance to try his new offering, Manchuela Buena Pinta, a blend of Moravia Agria and Garnacha Tinta, two grapes that were completely unfamiliar to me.
Juan Ponce at 29 is a rising rock star of the Spanish wine world with his pulse on the natural rhythms of the Bobal grape. Viticulture and Manchuela are in his genes. Born into a grape growing family that has tended their high-altitude vineyards in Manchuela for generations, he returned home at the age of 23 after working with natural winemakers Olivier Riviera in Rioja and Marcel Lapierre in France to start a vineyard with his father on their generational and tiny plots of ancient Bobal vines.
The results of the Ponce family vineyard as I sip from the large goblet on my desk, are surprising, unusual and astounding.
Juan has managed to create clear, bright, layered, rich and very accessible wine from the tannic-ridden and highly acidic Bobal grape. He has been called the ‘prophet of Bobal’ but I prefer to think of him as a “Bobal and Manchuela whisperer”, working with micro-terroirs and grounded in a commitment to the core beliefs of biodynamics.
To Juan, terroir is all about individual microclimates–parcel-by-parcel, not vineyard-by-vineyard. He tends and picks and vinifies the grapes by each individual parcel, searching for the unique taste that starts with the soil and vine and the place itself. Whole clusters of grapes are hand harvested from each individual plot and are fermented separately before being combined to produce the cuvee.
While not certified biodynamic, he has a passionate dedication and a common sense understanding of the approach. When questioned about the logic behind a biodynamics, he stated simply that “If the moon is strong enough to influence the tides of the sea, why wouldn’t it affect something as equally natural as wine.” The superior qualities of his wines are a testament to the logic of his craft.
Only natural yeasts are used and partial carbonic maceration is employed in ancient foudres (open wood casks) to soothe the tannins inherent in these grapes.
I was emphatic about Ponce’s Bobal after I tasted it last year. I’m blown away by the Buena Pinta. This is something different altogether.
The ’09 Manchuela Buena Pinta bottling uncaps the unique characteristic of two obscure indigenous varietals. The bottle is 60% Garnacha Tinta (rumored to be from the last remaining parcel in his area) with 40% Moravia Agria, a local blending grape. This is the marriage of the ripe berries of the Garnacha with the herbal earthiness of the Moravia.
It’s hard to articulate the fingerprint from a non-interventionist winemaker like Ponce but the underlying freshness of this bottle and skeletal acidic structure with rippling fruit ties what he has mastered with Bobal to this Garnacha blend.
My friend and Spanish wine mentor, Christopher Barnes from Chambers Street Wines in New York talks about natural wines being alive in the glass. I agree but this wine is truly effervescent. Sparkling berry flavors, rich minerality and a bright herbaceous palate. Quite remarkable. Quite Delicious. Even more rare in a hot-climate wine with a rich grapes and high alcohol (14%) content. How you combine these elements to create something that is so light and springy and alive from a climate so hot, an altitude so high and from grapes so innately tannic and acidic?
The magic is in the bottle.
Juan Ponce is the native son of Mancheula and the ambassador for a completely new way to look at this region and its indigenous grapes. His wines speak to crisp honest purity that is permeated in a vivacious taste. He has created something that will please the world by discovering how to be uniquely itself.
Great with most all food; perfect with grilled meats and vegetables. Yet self-contained to hold its own as a complement to conversations and snacks. Or just to swirl and wonder and enjoy on its own
One of the pleasures of small producer artisanal wines is that they are each unique. One of the challenges is that the productions are low, thus sell out fast.
At $22 a bottle Ponce’s Buena Pinta is a must buy if you can find it. If you cannot, certainly drink one of his Bobals. All are reasonably priced. All I’ve tried are quite wonderful. Available from Chambers Street Wines online.
Watch this winemaker…and try these wines. If you like a luscious red with character, personality, zest and finesse, this is a winner.