The New Spain Emerging
My previous article on Priorat explained the context of the Spain most of us have come to know, derived from the globalized influence of a limited number of palates seeking a particular style. In contrast, the new globalization has allowed the ‘natural’, ‘biodynamic’, and ‘organic’ movements to flourish faster than one might expect. This is the emerging New Spain – a country ready for reinvigoration of farming, wine-making methodology and youthful experimentation. The early results are exciting, though the changes remain on the small-scale and nascent.
A Sampling of Future Spain
L’anima del Vi, of the El Born neighbourhood in Barcelona, was the first natural wine bar in Spain. It is less than a decade old. It represents the harder side of natural in that they more dogmatically adhere to a 0 sulphur added philosophy. The wines here can be uneven, with some being oxidized, overly filled with brettanomyces, or otherwise infected. However, there are some wonderful finds here too – and the atmosphere is lots of fun, feeling far more Spanish and filled with locals than most of the other wine bars in the central part of Barcelona.
Highlights during my visit were a glass of the Cava Julia Bernet V (0 dosage, linear, chalky and fresh, made with organically farmed Xerello and Chardonnay – Very Good to Very Good+), and a very low-sulphur amphora fermented 2015 syrah called tosut from Celler Jordi Llorens from biodynamically farmed vines in Blancafort, Tarragona (about 100km southwest of Barcelona) (9mg/l) that showed wonderful aromatic complexity, textural supplement and varietal correctness – Very Good+.
In contrast to L’anima del Vi is Bar Brutal, a more worldly English-language friendly place that is less dogmatic but still all natural. More tourists frequent this haunt, many of which do not know what natural wine is, but in a way it’s nice to see people just dropping in for wine, enjoying and not fussing about the ‘natural’ part of it all.
Highlights from Bar Brutal started with a stunning 2013 Canary Islands red from Envinate called Taganan Parcela Margalagna. Envinate is a new project formed in 2005 that focuses on wines from the Atlantic-inluened regions of Ribeira Sacra and the Canary Islands. The winery does not use chemicals in any of its vineyards, picks by hand, crushed by foot and ferments with indigenous yeast. Whole cluster is sometimes used. The wines are aged in old oak barrels and sulfur is only added at bottling if it is needed. The Taganan is a mix of black indigenous varieties (including Listan Negro, Listan Prieto, Baboso, Negramoll, Malvasia Negra, and others) from 100-year old own-rooted vines planted in an old vineyard on the northeast side of Tenerife. It is raised in 500l old oak and then 500l used barrique. This is exceptional wine with incredible complexity – dry salinity, florals and red fruits. Excellent to Excellent+.
One of my most exciting discoveies was a skin contact Xerello called La Bufarrella from Celler La Salada in Penedes. The wine had tons of dried and fresh apricots, honey, minerality and salinity. It was deliciously aromatic and quaffable but with significant and balanced tannic structure. Excellent. If this wine were exported it would need to be in carefully controlled temperature given its very low sulphur.
I tried a few other examples at the wine focused restaurant Monvinic, which honestly had the worst wine service I have ever seen at a serious restaurant. The sommelier literally would not let me look at the wine list for ages, instead insisting I order what he said I should. Shocking, really. That said, there were some very good wines there that represent the new spain.
A 2012 Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava from Mestres Coquet was exceptional and great value at 14 euro retail for a bottle. Made with Macabeu, Xerello and Parellada, the wine is aged 40 months in bottle on its lees before disgorgement and release. This is a no dosage wine and, as such, has a very low 1.5g per litre of residual sugar. Very Good+.
A really fascinating Verdejo from the Rueda winery Ossian called Verdling. It is made in the style of a dry Riesling and was a strong case for that approach to the grape. Ossian, run by Ismael Gozolo, is one of the top white wine makers and spain and also makes brilliant old-vine Verdejo from vines up to 285 years old – that one in a more Burgundian style. All the Verdejo is pre-phylloxera because the winery is located in the sandy soils near the village of Nieva – an oddity for Rueda. This particular wine was a special project in collaboration with the master Rheinhessen wine-maker Klaus Keller. Expect citrus, herbs, and significant mid-palate weight with a dry, flinty finish. While most Ossian bottlings are fairly expensive, this great wine is a mere 20 euros retail. Excellent.
These are exciting times for Spain. It will take time to build the new approach to terroir-driven, light of touch wines but the momentum is now present. And there are some exciting projects that savvy importers should start paying attention to. Virtually none of these wines have yet made it to North America – the time to make a market for the New Spain is now.