A sense of place, grape, winemaker and culture are the magic of what we taste in a great wine.
The photo above is of a tiny plot of 80-year old Mencia grapes on this almost vertical slate cliff hanging just above the River Sil in Amandi in the Ribiera Sacra region of Northwestern Spain.
This vineyard was hand-terraced over 2000 years ago by the Romans to produce wine for their armies and for scores of generations, has produced wine for Ramon Losada’s family.
Ramon, the winemaker, with his assistant Gerardo Mendez, scramble over these steep terraces, moving grapes around in dumbwaiters. Sweltering in the sun, cooled by the roar of the river at their feet, they are making this wine to share with us.
This story is what I taste in this remarkable glass of 100% organic Mencia that I’m swirling in a huge goblet, evoking aromatic scents of the Galician landscape as I jot down these notes.
I’m a big fan of Ribeira Sacra (map of wine region). There is something about this isolated, obscure, landlocked region that is unique unto itself. Geographically and culturally with a common thread of passion toward these ancient vines and hillsides that permeates many of the wines I’ve tasted.
There’s historical gravity that has drawn winemakers like Ramon back to his ancestral vineyards to make wine naturally, by hand, with techniques that are not dissimilar to how they produced wine a thousand years ago on that very grouping of terraces.
Ramon Losado is one of my favorite winemakers. He is a veterinarian by profession; winemaker by birthright. The D. Ventura brand is named after his grandfather who taught him winemaking and includes three small vineyards in Ribiera Sacra.
I reviewed his D. Ventura ’07 Pena Do Lobo Mencia last year and talked at length about the area, his family and his approach to winemaking in that post.
The Vina Caneiro Mencia is distinct, even though both vineyards are on the hillside above the River Sil. The Viña Caneiro vineyard (pictured at the top of this post) is seriously steeper and hangs on top of the river. This keeps it cooler and makes for a different microclimate than Pena Do Lobo. As well, Caneiro is Losa (pure slate) while Do Lobo is slate and granite.
Both sites are planted in 100% Mencia, grown organically and hand harvested to insure that each cluster is fully mature when harvested. Only indigenous yeast is used to start fermentation. None of the wines are filtered or cold stabilized.
The ’09 Vina Caneiro Ribeira Sacra Mencia is a bold wine with lots of zest.
Bright fruit, lively acidity and strong but silky tanins. The bouquet is layered and pervasive even through the lingering finish.
I tasted a few bottles of this over a week. I decanted it, and got more from the bottle in large goblets with a lot of air. Mencia is an intense grape. This wine with 14% alcohol has deep fruit flavors but remarkably, with graceful balance. It’s riper and more full bodied than the Pena Do Lobo, but still distinctly Burgundian in style.
This is a satisfying red wine, great with grilled food or with nibbles of cheese. I spent the week tasting raw sheep and goat’s cheese from Spain with it and it seemed a natural fit.
At $23 a bottle, this is a steal. A taste that satiates and intrigues. A complexity that is smooth yet firm. And organic and made by hand just for you.
I bought mine from Chambers Street Wines. If they are out of this one and you can’t find it online, the Pena Do Lobo is a bit simpler to source.
A huge thanks to Christopher Barnes, Spanish wine maven at Chambers Street and a good friend, who has brought these wondrous wines to lower Manhattan. It’s a labor of love for him. We are the beneficiary of his passion.
This year, I decided to forget about pairing with food and bring just great and interesting Organic wines to share. More tasting and information exchange than dinner planning.
I’m a big fan of natural wines. At their best, they each taste unique, are alive in the glass and speak to the story of place and grape and winemaker. I shortlisted wines from mostly old vines that oozed a sense of place with deep minerality and berried fruit. And are readily available for under $20!
Then I threw them in a very large sack and schlepped them to the assembled Waldstein clan on subway and bus from downtown NYC to Central Jersey.
In tasting order.
Cote-de-Beaune Rapet ’09 Bourgogne En Bully
Something easy and almost familiar to start with. A lite high-elevation French Pinot Noir with pure fruit to open up the palate and lighten up the atmosphere. Perfect opener. Lovely little aromatic fun Pinot. A crowd pleaser.
Olivier Cousin Le Cousin’09 Rouge Vielles Vignes Grolleau
Completely new to this group and to most of us. A really terrific Grolleau. And biodynamic as well. Tastes pure and rural and is reminiscent strangely of some Trousseau from Arbois. Unique. Almost effervescent.
Rich earthy dark berry taste from these 80 year-old Grolleau vines from the Loire Valley. A winner. The taste favorite.
Try this. It’s wonderful. I can guarantee that this one is being purchased this morning for holiday gifts.
Coudert (Clos de la Roilette) ’09 Fleurie Clos de la Roilette
Exceptional Beaujolais. From Fleurie and richer, deeper more layered than other Beujolais I’m familiar with. Mineral complexity that will get better as it ages although luscious today.
A great pairing with the meal even though that was not the overt intent. For $20, I put a case away for the holidays and ski vacations.
D. Ventura ’09 Viña do Burato
I’m a tireless fan of Ribeira Sacra and a follower of wine maker Ramon Losada. I brought this deep, concentrated and complex Mencia from 80 year-old wines from the terraces above the River Mino to satisfy the big red drinkers in the room.
Ramon is a rock star. He gets how to let the wine inherit the slate soils of Ribeira Sacra and portray a fresh honest vibrancy in a bold, medium bodied red. Great stuff with Turkey or just hanging around.
All the wines are available from Chambers Street Wines in TriBeCa in the store or online.
For my personal view on “Why drink organic wine?” you might check out this post.
Happy holidays to everyone and a special thanks to the team at Chambers Street Wines for introducing me to these and many more incredible organic wines.
Ribeira Sacra is an adventure in terroir…varied and unique and surprising from one hillside to another.
This northwestern corner of Spain is a landscape of remote extremes. Too steep for modern machinery and too harsh for modern varietals, it has been abandoned for generations but unchanged since the Romans terraced and planted it some 2000 years ago to make wines for their armies marching to the sea.
Today, a new generation of winemakers have taken over tending the hillsides and cliffs and are making remarkable wine, as individual and spectacular as the landscape itself.
The Dominio do Bibei vineyard is my first experience with the Quiroga-Bibei subregion, the most southern of the five wine growing regions in Ribeira Sacra. The Bibei hillsides are impossibly steep, from 55 to 100% grades, arid and hot and challenging to farm. The earth is clay and slate and rock hard and a microclimate considerably different from the other areas of Ribeira Sacra. Many, if not most of the ancient vineyards here were abandoned for a generation or more.
Javier Dominguez, armed with vision, patience and funding, is the force behind the Dominio do Bibei vineyard. With his wife, he set out to rebuild an ancient vineyard on this mountain side in the Bibei Valley that had been deserted for a decade but had scattered plantings of ancient vines, many of them over 100 years old.
Dominguez wanted to create wine that spoke of the hillside and valley he built his vineyard on. His approach to discovering terroir was to interfere with the vines to the most minimal amount possible. Everything in the winery is done naturally with gravity fed processes, natural yeasts, and fermentation in carved stone or cement ‘foudres’ or tanks. He was looking for a subtler, mineral taste from the Mencia grape that let the fruit sink to the background and the mineral and acidity carry the lighter tannin flavors.
Congratulations Javier….this is a great bottle of wine. An aficionado’s dream!
The Lalama ’06 Ribiera Sacra is a blend of 85% Mencia and equal parts of Garnacha, Brancellao, and Mouraton made from a mixture of vines as young as 15 years and as old as 100. This is a traditional blend for Ribiera Sacra but Javier added one modern touch, fermenting the grapes separately then blending them all together. In the past, the vines were grown and harvested and fermented together.
This Mencia blend is spicy and light, remarkably medium bodied, savory with a gentle balance between the spice and citrus. Even with a high alcohol content, it tastes fresh and aerated and ready to drink.
This bottle is quite luscious…weightless and aromatic and fulfilling. Really a great wine with food and cheese. Certain to surprise and satisfy at any dinner party.
Available at $36 a bottle from Chambers Street Wines in TriBeCa NYC and online wine merchants.
Check out posts on other wines from Ribeira Sacra here and here and here.
Ribeira Sacra never ceases to amaze and satisfy.
I’ve blogged on the Roman roots of this ancient region. The impossible terrain and biodynamic vineyards. The new generation of winemakers returning to their deserted family vineyards to make shatteringly unique wine.
But the real testament to this obscure region is that with every new vineyard and bottle I drink, the wine continues to amaze and excite me.
This bottle of Mencia from Enologica Temera is no exception. Made organically, from 30+ year old vines climbing steeply from the River Sil (in the photo) and aged in Cherry casks, this is a seriously great bottle.
100% Mencia, I find this bottle more fruit forward and intense than Pena do Lobo from D. Ventura but still balanced, refined and with a lingering finish. There is an unmistakable aroma of cherry, subtle tannins and a dark ruby color.
Don’t rush this wine. Let it hang in the glass or open bottle for a bit. Almost gets stronger and more interesting as it opens. And as usual, the acidity, juicy in this Mencia carries the flavor.
I love this bottle. Bright fruit. Transparent flavor. Fascinating wine.
Available from Chambers Street Wines in TriBeCa for $34 or online for $40. Not easy to find. More than worth the effort.
Riberia Sacra is my new obsession and the Shangri La for great yet-to-be-discovered winemakers.
It is an ancient winemaking location in northwestern Spain that just oozes place and terroir and produces spectacularly unique wines that evaporate all preconceptions of Spanish varietals.
Ramón Losada, like Louis Rodriguez, is an example of a new generation of Galician winemakers who are putting Riberia Sacra on the world’s stage through simple and natural methods and passionate attention to the craft of making great wine that allows the place to shine through the grape.
Mr. Losada’s family farmed the terraces of this precipitous geography for generations, made wine for their own use and shipped the excess to sell by barrel on the river. Raised in Venezuela, he returned with this grandfather in the 1950s and took over the vineyard in the 1990s, naming his vineyard D. Ventura after his mentor and grandfather. Winemaking is his hobby. He works as a veterinarian during the week; winemaker on the weekends.
Pena do Lobo is 100% Mencia and will shatter any lingering mental notes on what Mencia tastes like. Made from grapes grown on steep terraces close to the shores of the River Sil, the wine is hand harvested and organically grown. This area has never known industrialized farming and is too steep for machinery. The grapes are harvested by a dumb waiter and pulley system. In fact, the land here is tended in ways that are not dissimilar to how the Roman’s did, some two centuries earlier with vineyards carved out of cliffs and vines grown in granite and slate soil.
Mencia is an intense grape but this bottling is the intersection of rich and lush and deep fruit with the balance of a great Burgundian Pinot Noir. There is a natural structure and character to this wonderful bottle, yet it is ripe and full bodied. This is a satisfying wine with approachable complexity that lingers.
At $23 a bottle, the value to the pocket and the thrill to the palate and the intellectual stimulation of learning how to taste this far off place are irresistible.
Find this wine and follow this winemaker and this region. This is one of the oldest wine regions that is the newest new thing that will last for this wine blogger for a long time.