Jane Anson meets the exciting new generation of Spanish winemakers, who are looking to shake things up...
The Cava in my glass has a rich, deep colour to it, and gently rising bubbles. On the palate it is richer and rounder than I am expecting, with grip, smokiness, depth of flavour. It tastes nothing like standard-issue Cava – no doubt because it has been aged for nine years before bottling, has zero added sugar, the yields are less than half the region’s usual 80 hl/h, the vines are grown biodynamically and come entirely from a single estate.
Not that you’d know it to look at the label. It has a wax stamp on the side of the bottle and the name Recaredo will be reassuring to those who recognise it, but for most drinkers, there is little to suggest just how different this is from the usual Cava fare.
‘The Spanish DO regulations for Cava don’t allow us to indicate that this is a wine made by a single family only from our own vines,’ owner Ton Mata is telling me. ‘There is no equivalent to the grower-bottler status that French winemakers can use. It is still true that 90% of Cava is run by two big companies, and the local rules take their interests into account above all else’.
We are standing in the walled side-garden of Remelluri up in the foothills of the Tolono mountains in Rioja. Behind us is Jonatan Garçia of Suertes del Marqués, a man who has made the wines of Tenerife part of the late night conversation of sommeliers worldwide. To our right is Eduardo Ojeda, co-founder of Equipo Navazos, a small negociant business that is jolting the Xeres region forward one bottle at a time with brilliant ‘rama’ or ‘raw’ wines straight from the cask like La Bote de Florpower. Head through a 15th century cobbled corridor to the back garden, and you find the good-humoured exuberance of Francesc Grimalt and Sergio Caballero from 4 Kilos in Mallorca standing side by side with a few dozen other producers who are all champions of indigenous grape varieties, traditional viticulture, the restoration of rural trades and above all distinctive flavours that have a sense of truth.
This is white hot Spain; pretty much most exciting group of new generation Spanish winemakers that you will find anywhere. They are here – even though the sunshine and the irrepressible natural warmth may make it hard to discern – because they are fed up, and they hope that this might be an answer to their frustrations.
It’s no secret that the wine scene in this country is undergoing a serious period of turbulence. There have been isolated revolts against the status quo all over Spain over the past few years, and it was only a matter of time before those privately-held feelings of unease would collide. This happened back in November 2015, when Remelluri owner Telmo Rodriguez brought a group of like-minded winemakers together in Madrid to talk about the failure of most governing bodies in Spain to recognise the country’s top terroirs.
A few months later, in January, 150 winemakers, writers and retailers signed the Manifesto in Defense of Spanish Terroir. It stated in no uncertain terms that, ‘the Spanish appellation system has been oblivious to soil differentiation and quality levels’ and that entrenched systems such as Rioja’s Consejo Regulador organising its wines by length of barrel and bottle ageing rather than geographic location was no longer working for many producers.
Many of the signatories made it to Remelluri this weekend (although not all – Peter Sisseck of Pingus wasn’t able to attend) for the First Encounter of Viticultures. Topics discussed ranged from ways for viticulture to help reclaim the increasingly empty rural communities across Spain to the responsibility of winemakers to fight environmental destruction. French and German winemakers (Domaine de Trevallon, Domaine Alain Graillot, the Grosses Gewächs) talked through their own experiences of putting lesser known regions and wine styles on the map.
It was a fascinating and inspiring few days. But what struck me was the level of conviction that this is meaningless unless it moves beyond simple conversation.
‘It’s not just about the romance of terroir,’ is how Pepe Raventós put it, as we listened to a panel discussion held by winemakers who were fighting to revitalise forgotten corners of Spain.
Raventós is certainly someone who knows what he is talking about. He is the 21st generation of Raventós I Blanc and a man who, like Ton Mata, is making a quality-focused, terroir-driven sparkling Spanish wine. He has gone even further than Mata by leaving the Cava appellation altogether and creating his own distinctive version on the family farm just outside of Barcelona with a new appellation, Conca del Rui Anoia, that has stricter production rules.
‘This could be the start of something important,’ he says, ‘but only if we can bring about radical change’.
Wines to try
Recaredo Brut de Brut, Finca Serral del Vell, Brut Nature Gran Reserva DO Cava 2006
Smoky, nutty notes melt into a ripe citrus body with an elegant, crystalline finish from the gently insisting mousse. This would pair well with a wide range of foods, and is an enticing reflection of the abundant sunshine of the Cava region while remaining full of energy and finesse. From a blend of local grapes, 53% Xarello and 47% Macabeu, 12.5%abv. 94/100pts
Arizcuren Solo Mazuelo DOCa Rioja Crianza 2013
Javier Arizcuren Carado is an architect from Rioja who has worked on several local winery projects. This is his first vintage since venturing onto the other side of the fence. Made from 100% Mazuelo, this more than proves the worth of this local grape. Made entirely from this capricious variety that is used typically in blending, Carado ensured everything was done by hand through the growing season, with careful deleafing to allow it to reach full ripeness, then kept new oak to a minimum to allow the fruit to come to the fore. Bright berry and plum flavours, this is vivid and fresh, with low tannins, sweet spice and great persistency. Only 1,500 bottles. 13.5%abv. 94/100pts
Suertes del Marqués, La Solana Tinto, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife 2013
I tasted through the range of Suertes del Marqués, and it’s tough to select one. The 7 Fuentes is a brilliant introduction, with juicy aromatic flavours from the Listan Negro grape. This one is a little more focused and powerful, while still having a freshness and clarity to the dark fruit flavours, and clear sense of joy that makes the wines such a discovery. This is 100% ungrafted Listan Negro vines (some up to 200 years old), fermented in concrete then with one year in large-sized 500 litre barrels. Natural yeasts, low sulphur, with an unmistakable minerality from the volcanic slopes of Mount Teide. 13.5%abv. 95/100pts
4 Kilos Vinicola Vino Tinto Crianza Mallorca 2014
Another island wine that is showcasing indigenous varities, this is a blend of Callet (90%) and Mantonegro (10%) grapes from Mallorca. Restrained and savoury, this has smoky herbal notes alongside the summery fruits, all held perfectly together by well-balanced tannins and a lick of salinity on the finish. Aged half in stainless steel, half is large wooden vats. As with all of these wines, there is a sense of place, even if you have never been there in person – you just feel that someone has paced through the vineyards and brought something back. 13%abv. 93/100pts
Remelluri DOCa Rioja Reserva 2010
Telmo Rodridguez shows once again just what heart and soul there is to be found in single-vineyard Rioja, as this is his second vintage made only with estate-grown fruit. From a character-filled blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Viura and Malvasia, made with indigenous yeasts and aged for 17 months in the barrel. Rich, floral character with earthy fig notes, sweet liquorice and white pepper spicing. This is filled with silky precision and has a beautiful contraction of the finish – it’s the essence of what is meant by the term ‘wet stones’ in tasting notes. 13.5%abv. 96/100pts
Equipo Navazos La Bota de Florpower Sanlucar de Barrameda MMXII (2012)
Part of the conversations that are energising the Xérès region right now, this brilliant single vineyard wine has undergone three years ageing under flor but is unfortified. Made exclusively from Palomino Fino, fermented in stainless steel then moved first into the traditional butts and then back into stainless steel. Unfiltered and unfined, on the nose you get the delicately oxidised, dried fruit and acacia honey that makes you expect perhaps a Manzanilla, and then you are struck by the tension on the palate of bright citrus, honeysuckle and clean minerality. Heston Blumenthal couldn’t have done a better sleight of hand. 12%abv. 94/100pts