André's Travel Log

Part 1, Galicia
Part 3, Rioja and the Basque Country

January 2010: Part 2, Castilla y Leon and Asturias

Continuing on from Galicia...

Bierzo

A stop over here on the way to Asturias has all of us very confused. What is happening with this area? After coming out of Ribeira Sacra the landscape is just no match. But are the wines able to make up for this difference? We visit two estates and I am left with the feeling that there is a lot of work needed to revitalize this denomination.

Many years of abusive oak and extractions because of outside influences (i.e. famous winemaking personalities) has smothered the identity of the wine here. Are these wines really the equivalent of Spain’s Beaujolais? Do they need to aspire for more? That is really the question.

The two properties that we visited both put together good offerings of fairly straight forward fruit driven wines but they lack inspiration right now. Maybe with bottle age one will reach a purity that we found in Ribeira Sacra. On to apple country...

Trabanco

We travel north to the outreaches of the Iberian Peninsula to visit an old traditional sidrereria. Trabanco was an amazing discovery and I have everyone in tow for an experience whose outcome is unknown. Will everyone get into cider and will the landscape, the people, and the tradition live up to my expectations? The answer is a resounding yes.

We meet at the cider house and start the tour. As soon as we go down to the guts of the operation there are loud gasps when the group discovers chestnut barrels that can hold over 40,000 liters and the wooden presses from the turn of last century. This operation hasn’t changed in one hundred years. And the cider is fantastic, juicy and one begs for more. At dinner fresh caught fish and large bone-in steaks (aged a minimum of 4 weeks at the cider house) do the trick. Then the surprise is revealed as Jose Manuel of Trabanco starts pouring Poma Aurea. This méthode champenoise cider is a revelation and as well as revolutionary since no one in the area has ever made something quite like this. As it turns out this will be one of the highlights of the trip. The next day we sightsee, hang out in Gijon eating some tapas and drink more cider. This stuff is delicious and it is time it made it safely to our shores.

Garciarevalo

Antonio greets us warmly as they always do in Castilla y Leon, the birth place of Spain. We immediately hit the Tres Olmos, a bottling of 125 plus year old vines of Verdejo and it is a unique surprise to all because we have yet to introduce this wine outright as we awaited Antonio to investigate the sur lees aging that we both concurred would bring this wine to its rightful place as one of the top Ruedas.

Then the meal arrives: lechazo, and the only way they do it here, month old baby lamb roasted in an old wood-burning oven. This is the best meal for most folks and lucky for all we get to do this all over again the next day at Sastre. In the morning, on the way to Sastre, we go see Antonio’s old vines. They are as spectacular as always. Old, gnarly pre-phylloxera plantings that Antonio is rescuing one parcel at a time

Antonio is doing great stuff in a sea of mediocre commercial wines. He's one of the few winemakers in the region reaching for excellence while everyone else is in a race to the bottom.

Sastre

What can be said about this incredible winery which operates at the highest level with incredible vineyards, the latest technological innovations all the while being down to earth and real. We are greeted by Jesus and his sister-in-law Isabel.

The winery is full of incredible equipment, all gravity fed with a crazy sorting table that only allows grapes to enter the presses if the are between six and eleven mm in diameter. But the little surprise of the trip is a cool little one thousand liter barrel on a frame that allows it to spin around three hundred and sixty five degrees allowing incredible pump overs like never seen before. But the best part of it is that this barrel is destined for the rebirth of the Gran Reserva program that Jesus put on hold after the 2001 vintage. Finally, after arguing over the years for a more classically styled wine aged in older barrels for extended time, Jesus hears me out. Of course we will have to wait until at least 2015 for the release of the wine. But not to worry I’ve made provisions and having bought all the stocks of 1995, 1996, 1999, 2001

At lunch we taste the vertical and the first decanter to empty is the 1995, ok people like this stuff! With lechazo we drink the modern wines which are broad shouldered and unapologetic. Although they are large they have striking acidity and high PH levels that allows them to handle their weight. Probably one of the most amazing wines of the trip is the Pesus 2006. This might sound odd coming from someone who favors a leaner more classically styled wine but this wine is majestic. It is far out, not heavy, and incredibly smooth. Must be what it would be like to ride in a Maybach or a Rolls. The plushest, most delicious ride, this is ridiculously good if almost outside the boundary of normal wine.

A Drink From The Porron

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