Spain, Gredos: Garnacha Tangled by the Appellations

You won’t find Gredos, Sierra de Gredos or anything like that on any official appellation seals for the wines produced in that geographical area, which is located close to Madrid but split in three provinces: Madrid, Ávila and Toledo. It is also part of three autonomous communities of Madrid, Castilla-León and Castilla-La Mancha and, therefore, three political, rather than geographical, appellations known as Vinos de Madrid, Vino de la Tierra Castilla-León and Méntrida.

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/7c46a6b2f0074da1b6bbe30dcae29bc4_orchid+%281%29.jpgWild orchid, as I also saw in some vineyards in Navarra. We all think it’s a rare flower, but there are more than 28,000 different species of orchid! You just have to look for them carefully, otherwise you miss them!
For us terroirists, it is absolute nonsense that Gredos isn't officially recognized, as that appellation seal would indicate the mountains that mark the character with its granite and slate-like soils, the altitude and the Garnacha and white Albillo grapes. And then you could get into further divisions to give a more accurate origin for wines that deserve it. But we don’t have that. That was the aim of a small group of quality producers: to create a true terroir-driven appellation. It was a good opportunity. But it seems like it has been wasted. And it’s a shame when the name is already recognized globally and the international press is talking about Gredos.
 
The Procrastination of Political Appellations
To complicate things further, some growers in the province of Ávila, which didn’t have its own specific appellation and was included in the wider one—Castilla-León, which covers a huge territory—have promoted the creation of a new appellation called Cebreros. This appellation would cover the Gredos subzone within the province of Ávila, yet it would be another political appellation delimited by provincial boundaries rather than terroir.
https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/e1a0dd7e8c0a441b95c1d4bb56886886_rancio+%281%29.jpgSome families in Cebreros (and elsewhere in Gredos) have kept small soleras of very old rancio wines.

I’m not against appellation of origin per se, on the contrary, but they have to reflect true origin. I have no especial aversion towards Cebreros, but I think it makes things even more confusing and tangled to understand when it comes to Gredos wines.

And that’s how things are. I doubt the situation is going to change any time soon and go for the solution that would give appellations and politicians some credibility, because they usually look after their own interests, which are rarely terroir driven. So I will continue to add Gredos as a sub-appellation of Vinos de Madrid, Méntrida and Castilla-León, or Cebreros, when it starts showing on bottles—when, in reality, it should be Gredos as the general appellation and possibly the different valleys or even villages that produce wines of different character.

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/d81c8af9c0c341b5bdb5440a3357f690_door.jpgVineyards in Gredos are often closed with old mattresses or the mattress base box spring. Recycle to the limit!

This is my third article on the wines from the Gredos Mountains, so background information about the region can be found in the first article, Mountain Garnacha on Granite, and further details about the appellation are available in a second article I wrote called Gredos: The Appellation that Could Have Been. Unfortunately, my fears about the system have been confirmed. May they change in the future?

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/76c7acf0340b4052b01458934147134b_vineyardwork.jpg
Vintage Character
The bulk of what I tasted this time is wines from 2014 and 2015, with only some entry-level bottlings from 2016. 
 
2016 looks like a very high-potential year from what I saw in some unoaked reds already in bottle or tasting wines in barrel at some wineries. It’s a cool year, producing wines with very good freshness and balance that should develop nicely in barrel. A vintage to look forward to. 
https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/1235138847c94e31b06af62c1f5095e7_rockrose.jpgRockrose and the rockrose flower are ubiquitous to the region, and in the spring, these beautiful white flowers dot the landscape of the Gredos Mountains. Not surprisingly, many wines from there show aromas reminiscent of the flower's sticky leaves!
When it comes to 2015, it was a lot riper, a warm, dry year that resulted in an early harvest. The crop was quite large and healthy, so growers were happy, but the wines do not have the vibrant characters that the best years have, and I believe many of the wines from 2015 are to be drunk before the 2014s. There were some rains during the harvest, and it seems like there are two styles of 2015s—those harvested before the rain: heavier and, at the same time, with less perfect ripeness, and those fresher and more balanced when they were picked after.
 
2014 was not an easy year, and problems with hail and frost prevented the production of some wines, like Comando G’s Rumbo al Norte, which was not bottled that year. The wines, more heterogeneous, can be fresh and vibrant, with good acidity and fine-grained tannins. Bernabeleva produced its finest wines in 2014.
https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/47dcca6d166d4214b8f45ab5a38f130e_bernabeleva.jpgBernabeleva produced its best wines ever in 2014.
Now that I mention them, it’s worth mentioning one interesting move. Bernabeleva’s winemaker, Marc Isart, is now also helping Telmo Rodríguez with his Pegaso range, while he remains in charge of Bernabeleva. There is a new entry-level Pegaso Zeta from 2015, the first wine that shows Isart’s hand in the project. I’m curious to see how things are going to develop and what changes we can expect in the wines in the future.
 
Cooperate, My Friends
As is the case in many places, the old people who deliver their grapes to the local cooperatives own many of the old vineyards. So, in many cases, cooperatives manage some of the best vineyards, especially in regions that were not very developed in quality wine production, such as here or in Aragón. I’m very happy to see quality wines coming out of the cooperatives from Cadalso de los Vidrios and Cebreros.
https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/fb8346aba485455395752ff4650400cc_alive.jpgGreat to see soils and vineyards that are full of life and biodiversity.

In both cases, the wines are produced with the help of local entrepreneurs. In the case of Cadalso de los Vidrios, who are releasing different bottlings for customers like Vila Viniteca in Barcelona or Eric Solomon, they were advised by Comando G and have their winery in the village. In this case, Daniel G Jiménez-Landi and Fernando García saw the opportunity to help preserve the patrimony of old vines by helping the cooperative to produce a fresh and unoaked wine that could be sold at a very competitive price, while still representing the typicity of the village. They are also helping the cooperative to find customers for the wine. And all that without charging them for anything!

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/214f0bce29d643b69c7fb009959617ff_plowing.jpg

In the case of Cebreros, an old-timer of the wine trade in Spain, Jesús ‘Chuchi’ Soto is the name behind the wine called La Viña De Ayer, which is the result of an agreement with the cooperative. But this is a wine sold directly by Soto, who already produced a range in Rueda. It’s also a young, unoaked Garnacha from what they selected in 2016 for the first time. But they are now working to classify and study the different vineyards, so work has just begun.

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/2a6ca56dd7644eb39bd042c2148a06d5_lavi%C3%B1adeayer.jpgLa Viña de Ayer, the first Gredos wine by Jesús ‘Chuchi’ Soto in Cebreros.
I consider both initiatives very positive for the region; they are going to help preserve the old vines and add value to the region and wines that were before sold in bulk. They are certainly giving the growers more margin and incentive to keep up the hard work of continuing to work on the steep slopes or terraces than the creation of (yet another political) appellation. Well done, guys!

Monkey on Your Back
This time I visited the vineyards of a small winery that has shown a consistent progression toward quality as well as regional and vineyard character in their wines. The producer is 4 Monos, as well as the ones from leading winemaker Raúl Pérez in conjunction with Madrid’s wine shop called La Tintorería
 
4 Monos, literally four monkeys, is an expression in Spanish that means "nobody" or "not important people" and was the moniker chosen by four friends: Javier García Alonso, Laura García Robles, David Moreno Calvo and David Velasco Esgueva. They started producing a handful of bottles (3,500) in the village of Cadalso de los Vidrios in the province of Madrid in 2011. They progressed to 4,800 bottles in 2012, 7,200 in 2013, 8,500 in 2014 and around 17,000 in 2015. They work mostly with Garnacha and white Albillo Real from 5.1 hectares of their own vineyards plus 10.5 hectares from local growers with whom they work hand in hand. But what’s more interesting is their progression in terms of quality. 
 
Javier García is, of course, the brother of Fernando García of Comando G and Marañones fame, and his wines are surely influenced by the style of his brother’s wines; they follow a path of transparency, elegance and character. They work from a small, simple cellar where one of the most prominent features is an old oak vat they bought from a grower in Beaujolais and it somehow seems like everything they put inside it turns to gold. Large volume oak containers work wonders with Garnacha from Gredos!
https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/2e2e3fcbe5234ab6802fcdeb672d2992_4monos.jpgThe 4 Monos cellar in Cadalso de los Vidrios and their "magic" Beaujolais cask.
They have a new village red from Cenicientos, a village that has not been explored much by many producers yet. But I want to single out one of their single-vineyard bottlings, La Isilla. It’s a small plot in the village of Cadalso de los Vidrios and was put into 399 bottles of the 2014 vintage. The vineyard was abandoned and they started recovering it in 2012, so hopefully they will get some more grapes in future vintages. It's located at some 860 meters altitude on very fine sand and shallow, granite soils. The vines are believed to be over 90 years of age, and they only get 730 kilos of grapes per hectare. 
 
Even if the vineyard doesn’t look exceptional and seems like many others in the zone, it produces a wine of unusual finesse and elegance. The single-vineyard wines are sold under the generic brand, La Danza del Viento, which might be a bit confusing, and now adds the vineyard name to it. There are currently two on offer from 2014: the one mentioned, La Isilla, and another one called Molino Quemado, which was labeled only La Danza del Viento in the past.
https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/536a9d4c7c564711a02edc8632ce03ce_laisilla.jpgLa Isilla vineyard in Cadalso de los Vidrios. This landscape is captured in bottle by 4 Monos.

As far as Bierzo and Galicia’s superstar Raúl Pérez and his joint venture with his madrileño distributors La Tintorería are concerned, they now own the vineyard in Cebreros from where they produce their two bottlings: Vino de Familia and Le Bâtard. The latter is a subtler and more feminine expression of the village. They bought this old, terraced vineyard on sandy, textured soils that produces a very elegant wine within the natural power of Cebreros. It’s a 2.5-hectare plot, unusually large for the zone, from where they have the idea of producing maybe three or four wines from the different parts of the terraced, sloped vineyard that has different soils—some whiter, some with pink granite—and the character of the wines produced is different. 

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/5b1b6713eecf4117a9cf8d7aab8bae63_vineyard.jpg
I was able to taste all the vintages from their top wine, Vino de Familia, from 2011 to 2015. There is a change in 2013 toward more precision and freshness, and more transparency for the character of each growing season. The wines are sold without appellation, and the vintage has to be found as a lot number on the back label. 

Navatalgordo and More
But they are also exploring new zones and have discovered a very old plot in the village of Navatalgordo, also in the province of Ávila, where my GPS showed an altitude of 966 meters on very sandy soils. Navatalgordo is a village opposite Navarrevisca, and it’s a name we are going to hear more and more about in the coming years as it has a great combination of altitude, exposure and old vines. This is where Comando G is already producing their gobsmacking El Tamboril white from the rare Garnacha Blanca grape, but where they also have red Garnacha. They are now focusing their soil study, with the help of Chilean terroir authority Pedro Parra, on the Navarrevisca zone. They are even thinking of planting new vineyards for the future there, and they already have small experimental lots of red from the same vineyard as El Tamboril, which sooner or later will see the light.
https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/55e32988f3a8438b9f777dd2cca98299_mountaingarnacha.jpgOld Garnacha on sandy soils close to 1,000 meters altitude in Navatalgordo.

I don’t want to bore you by talking about the wines from Comando G yet again, but they are clearly at the helm of the quality hierarchy in Gredos. They lead the path when it comes not only to wines and their meticulous work in the cellar but also to vineyard work, where everything is organic and handmade. For example, there are three horses working in the vineyards of Gredos and two of them belong to Comando G!

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/a19875cc5e734e329cb681cbd38f4151_2horses.jpgTwo of the three working horses in Gredos are owned by Comando G. Here they are working together in their Las Umbrías vineyard.

They have a superb, even if short, collection of 2014s. But they were especially excited about the quality of their 2016s, which they consider their best to date. The wines have to complete their élevage now, and again, they are something to look forward to in my next report, hopefully some 16 months from now. 

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/c6ade1010b644a438fe70144051920c9_comandog.jpgComando G produces their own labels as well as those from Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi and the ones for their Barcelona distributor, Vila Viniteca (Uvas Felices).

The wines by Canopy, who work from within the Méntrida appellation, have also shown a consistent progression throughout the years, and their current offering might very well be their best to date. Daniel Ramos seems to have taken the path towards elegance rather than ripeness and concentration, and Miguel Santiago’s wines showed better typicity and more elegance than the previous vintage. There is some rusticity to be polished in the tannins, but the new Manazas was particularly remarkable.

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/e57fcfa508694f3dbc3a1d60a21f3f34_granite.jpg

To close the name-dropping section, many of which I had already singled out last time, the one new exciting name that popped up in my tastings is that of Carlos Sánchez. He is a small grower from Comando G’s circle who has launched his personal project, Carlos Sánchez Vitivinicultor, with one red called Las Bacantes that is produced in the 4 Monos facilities. It started as a micro-cuvée of Albillo and Garnacha from the village of Cadalso de los Vidrios in 2014, and it’s one of the new names to follow.

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/138e699a5703437698c342ffd5d2876f_asparagus+%281%29.jpgThere is a lot of wild fennel, as well as other Mediterranean aromatic herbs, and you can harvest lots of wild green asparagus, some right next to the vines!
I’m coming back to something I mentioned last time, the recovery of a varietal that is gaining traction, mostly in Chile and also in Argentina. And it’s also happening in Spain but very slowly. Same as Bernabeleva, Comando G have also identified some Listán Prieto (aka País, Criolla Chica or Mission) in some of their old vineyards. They are studying the individual plants and are experimenting and doing micro-vinifications with the idea of trying to recover this old Castilian red variety. But, that will take some time.
 
Where to Eat? 
I always like to include some gastronomy references in my articles, but I tend to neglect Gredos because, being so close to home, I can do day trips and come back for dinner with the family. But it could very well be the moment to recommend some places in Madrid, which is an hour from the region. One of the classical chefs in the city is Iñaki Camba, who for decades has been feeding cuisine from his restaurant Arce that is known for game and mushrooms in the autumn. Going there is always an experience, and he will have a conversation with you about how hungry you are and what your preferences are to create a unique menu for every guest. What few people know is that he is an absolute master in smoking fish and meat, including game, of course, as well as unusual animals like woodcock or octopus. Make sure you ask for an XXL portion of them, because it always feels like too little!
https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/634d9aafb2414699b518d14a5673e230_arce.jpgThe genius Iñaki Camba in his Arce restaurant in Madrid.

And on a future occasion, I will let you know about my favorite addresses in town: Laredo, Cuenllas, García de la Navarra, La Fisna, Viridiana and Angelita Madrid. But if you want to start exploring on your own when visiting Madrid, you already have the names here. 

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/67c80a02afee41d3b19d9248143292fd_friedeggs.jpgFried eggs with a view!

Back to the Roots

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/bf741521d2874659831888fd68bb1453_florpower.jpgRubén Díaz bottles a flor-aged white from Cebreros now.

Rancio-style wines from Cebreros, produced in a solera in an oxidative way. Only Rubén Díaz, who has roots, vineyards and family wines from there is selling bottled wines made in that style, and they are very much worth diving into, as they offer character. There’s even a new flor-aged white à la Jura or Jerez.

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/f5007cf49a434e66abcfca026af5489e_cebrerostradition.jpgTraditional solera wines in an old cellar in Cebreros.

I had the chance to visit a private cellar where the owners keep soleras going back to 1850! There were red, white, sweet and dry, and some of them showed unusual finesse and balance when they are not even fed with particularly chosen wines, which gives you an idea of the potential of this kind of wine. These are wines with a strong personality that I’d be very happy to drink with a wide range of foods. And they are something traditional, especially in Cebreros, and they deserve to be preserved and resumed. Once again, the future seems to lie in the past!

https://robert-parker-content-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/06/07/3860612457ba4b3a96493ce83d8ebb06_work.jpg

More articles from this author

Spain, Navarra: Garnacha is (Mostly) Back!

From The Wine Advocate30th Jun 2017

I hadn’t been to Navarra since 2014 and back then, I mentioned how the appellation—together with others like Somontano and Penedès—had placed a firm bet on French varieties in the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, it seemed like that was the way to go and Spain still didn’t believe in their local grape varieties, like Garnacha, Cariñena and Monastrell; and others, like Caíño Tinto, Listán Negro and Mandó, hadn’t really come to the surface yet.

Spain, Aragón: Mondo Garnacha

From The Wine Advocate30th Jun 2017

It’s almost certain that Garnacha originated in Aragón, and although you can find all sorts of other grapes and wines there, Garnacha tends to dominate—even more so now that the grape is somewhat fashionable!