It's All Garrigue to Me

"The ability for Garnacha based wines to express themselves in their precocious youth, as well as with bottle age is part of their charm." ~  Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non

Why does one travel? Is it to see new places with new eyes or is it something more we desire?  Perhaps, experiencing new places and connecting with other cultures speaks to a desire in our souls to be part of the larger human tribe, for which we all belong. Some say traveling can make us who we are, but I say traveling helps bring our lives into focus, we see the broader world with new eyes, and we grow stronger from the shared experience. Just like the grapes, which I came to look at, photograph, taste, learn of their nuances and contemplate their place in the greater world of wine, we too as travelers, writers, and humans find we evolve into our better selves.

The Garnacha grapes we experienced on the trip, many still waiting to be harvested (manually) looked and tasted terrific, and sampling the finished wines from previous harvests was eye-opening; the spice, the textures, the tannins and acid to fruit ratios were tantalizing.

Travel was definitely part of this trip, my first press junket in many moons. It was a real-life plane, trains, and automobiles week-long odyssey through both Spain and France. There was also the harrowing moment or two on an what could only be described as an old goat path. I was part of a press pool, traveling with a troupe of intrepid journalists, just last November 2018, where we uncorked Biodynamic and Organic Garnacha and indigenous Albillo Real from a boutique producer Las Moradas, and what we discovered were sandy soils, goblet trained century-old vines, and simply sensational Garnacha based wines built for long-term aging.

After climbing into the steep hills just an hour and a half from Madrid, we arrived at Las Moradas de San Martin. It was early in the morning, and the harvest was still in full swing, we caught up with winemaker Isabel Galindo, who was fussing with her rather mobile press, squeezing the freshly picked Garnacha Grapes, the pressed juice, was deep dark and brooding. Isabel was unfazed by the instability of the situation, obviously not her first rodeo. Steady hands and an ever-present gaze saved any of the precious liquid from falling to the crush pad's deck. 

It's here, an hour and a half outside Madrid we find Bodega Las Moradas de San Martín who's focused on old vine Garnacha in the high hills, averaging 900-1000 meters, which skirt the traffic corridors. Garnacha a native grape to Spain is an extremely versatile vine, with some great tolerances for little water and warm temperatures. It's trained into what is known a  goblet style vine; there's little if any leaf pulling during the growing season. The harvesting season typically starts in September and goes well into the latter parts of October, all harvesting is done by hand and vineyards are dry farmed. The rain we experienced before our arrival, was abnormal for this time of year. As Isabel explains, her approach to winemaking is minimalist, preferring not to place her fingerprint on the wine, thus allowing the vineyard to speak its truths.

There's very little disease pressure, as they have a goodly amount of wind blowing across the vineyards, sandy soils are well-drained and native vegetation, while aplenty, poses no threat to vines for nourishment. Both the young and old vines coexist in the same space, though vines of older than 100 years produce far less fruit, it's mature in way young vines cannot match. The wines produced here are a bit more tannic, plumbed with vibrant acid and an overall spice characteristic many similar Garnacha's from other regions don't express.

"For me, Garnacha is perfect for Spain, because it arrives at harvest with perfect acidity, which is most important for wines of finesse." ~ Isabel Galindo Winemaker Las Moradas

I was fascinated by Isabel Galindo's passion as we peppered her with questions, she reflexively engaged us with witty banter and made substantive points about why this growing region was so unique, and style of Garnacha wines produced here was so different, and unique. She also explained that Garnacha in this region produced by cooperatives had little interest in producing wines of unique terroir, and substance, as they were more interested in bulk sweeter styles of wine. She thought when she first arrived at Las Moradas, from her previous position in Bordeaux, that the hot, dry weather, would produce hot flabby uninteresting wines, but admits she was wrong in that assumption, as the alternative is valid.

When we asked about where Garnacha is predominantly grown, she stated, "it is in the poorer regions of Spain, where you'll find an abundance of Garnacha, and it thrives much better than the most regions planted grape which Tempranillo." When we ask so what is Gredos? She replied "it is the natural border between Madrid and Castile-León, a well-known area for granite, fantastic for growing Garnacha and the recently grafted over Albillo Real," which sadly is not available in the U.S. market at that moment. This wine-growing region in Spain, known as D.O. Vinos de Madrid, Ms. Galindo described as the lungs of Spain, helping to keep the air clean.

When we asked winemaker, Ms. Galindo, about the term garrigue ("bushy, fragrant plants that grow wild there, such as juniper, thyme, rosemary and lavender, and garrigue refers to the sum of them." WS) and its possible influence on their wines, she explained it refers to low to the ground naturally growing native inhabitants which produce a variety of aromatic plants, like juniper, thyme, rosemary, and lavender. Thus the word is used to describe the sum of them all. Because of their abundance, many of the aromatics of the wine were influenced and could be detected on the finished wines. She also broke off many examples of the garrigue, offering us to examine the plants and take note of the various aromas. Garrigue is not unique to Spanish wine, but also other Mediterranean regions and varieties found in Southern France, which is where we headed next after hopping on a train leaving from Madrid.

Now it's time to dive into the tasting notes, up first was their only white wine, Albillo Real, a new grape to me and one indigenous to the region. At present, it has no market in the U.S., but that could change, considering their move to convert (graft) over an entire vineyard block of well developed Syrah for an unproven wine, with no marketable track record. It does have the unique and unknown vote going for it, but beyond that, it's profile is not too dissimilar to other acid-driven white wines from Spain.

2017 Las Moradas Albillo Real: In the glass, the color depth was pale, the hue yellow with a slight haze in the clarity department. The aroma intensity was moderate, even with a few good swirls and the development youthful, having been bottled earlier this year. Aromas escaping from the glass, white flowers, honey, almonds, a subtle brininess. On the palate, the wine was dry, the body was light, the acidity tart, and the tannins low. This wine did have a good sense of balance, and the overall flavor intensity was moderate: flavor profile, citrus, brininess, or salinity, drop of honey on wet stone minerality, with an essence of almond and lemon rind. This wine did see some barrel aging, but its influence was subtle to non-existent. Overall, this a good wine, better with food, than without and more bottle age would result in my opinion to iron out some of its rough spots. The finish is medium in length, and sporting a13.5 percent abv. I scored this wine 87 points.

2014 Las Moradas Senda Garnacha: As you see the labels which are in Spanish, but from what I gather, and I failed to inquire about, but they appear to be quotes from various Spanish based authors, like this one from Oscar Sipán. In the glass, the color depth is medium, the color hue is garnet, and the clarity is deep but not opaque. The aroma intensity is moderate, the development is still youthful, and the aromas of overturned earth, tobacco leaves, bell pepper, mint, lavender and a faint whiff of blackberry dominate the scene. On the palate, it's dry, the body is medium, the acidity is fresh, and the tannins are rough to chewy.

The overall balance is good, and the flavor intensity is moderate. My first impressions on flavors, this wine is rustic, traditional, the fruit restrained, dark plum skins, subtle blackberry and aging tobacco leaves sitting in the hot sun. The finish is medium to medium minus, falling off almost immediately. In conclusion, this wine would benefit from further bottle aging, the rough tannins and vivid acid cry out for a slab of a fatty ribeye to accompany it. This wine scored 88 points and the abv 15 percent. This is not a cocktail wine, it's a 'serious' bottle for those who consider themselves to have a more refined palate.

2011 Las Moradas Initio Garnacha: This time a bit more bottle age, this wine is from a block which to winemaker Isabel Galindo's thinking is the "heart of the winery." In the glass, the color depth was deep, darker than the previous bottle, but still not opaque, a delightful ruby core. The aroma intensity was moderate and the development showing signs of aging, again bell pepper attempts a standup routine and fails, sage, dark plum, blackberry, licorice dance a merry tune with each swirl of the glass. The bell pepper aromas suggest that some of the grapes may have been picked to\\ soon, or 2011 was vintage with uneven ripening.

On the palate, the whole rustic picture continues, think dark cabin in the woods with no modern conveniences, pumping your own water from the well, outdoor plumbing, etc.. The wine is remarkedly dry, considering the abundant 15% abv, the body is medium to full, the acidity is a bit tart, the tannins are chewy and the overall flavor profile is moderate, no plushness here. The flavors dancing on the head of a pin, rustic blackberry and dark plum, more bell pepper, dried old leather, and licorice. The finish is a bit abrupt, medium in intensity. Hold and cellar for maximum enjoyment. I'd recommend this wine with food, something high in fat content, a pulled-pork sandwich perhaps? My Score 88 points. 

2011 Las Moradas La Sabina Garnacha: Another bottle with some aging, but from the less than well developed 2011 vintage. Just my opinion, but overall wines from this vintage in the northern hemisphere require a bit more cellaring to fully suss out their finely tuned qualities, which are more difficult to appreciate with early drinking. In the glass, the La Sabina has a medium to a deep ruby-colored core, with a slight haze, but not opaque clarity. The aromas are moderate, an older bouquet of wild licorice, trail dust, sage, tobacco leaves, dark plum, and cherry. No bell pepper insight.

On the palate, the wine is very dry, the body is a medium-plus, the acidity is bright and vivid keeping the abundant fruit in check, to the rustic side. The tannins are rough and chewy, but the overall balance is good, sporting a moderate flavor intensity.  Flavors of cracked black pepper, summer dark plums, espresso, spices, subtle blackberry and chocolate. The finish is medium to long, decant for an hour so the wine can unwind or at best, hold and enjoy in three more years; again these are finesse wines, not the cocktail variety with plush fruit, tolerable amounts of VA to sweeten their profile. Instead what you find here are serious food-driven wines of substance which take time to understand and appreciate. My score 90 points.

2008 Las Moradas Libro Ocho, Las Luces Garnacha: The oldest wine in the lineup, we tasted last, and the tasting order is as you see it here. In the glass the wine has a deep color depth, the hue is more garnet than ruby, with a bit of bricking becoming evident. The aroma intensity was moderate, needing a good swirl to unlock its full potential. The only pricing described that day was for this wine, and can be found for $30 in the U.S. market. Aromas from the glass, essence of tobacco, bell pepper, blackberry, trail dust, and dark plum skins. On the palate, the wine is dry, the body is medium, the acidity is fresh, the balance is excellent, with taut high-toned tannins in tow.

The overall flavor intensity is moderate to favorable, tobacco, sage, licorice, blackberry, cherry, and lavender. A bottle of wine with rustic charms, in contrast to fat fleshy domestic styles of wine you might experience from Paso Robles, where much Garnacha is grown. The finish is medium to long. Again, plenty of decanting well ahead of preferred time to drink this wine is advised and pair with fatty foods, my best recommendation sheep cheeses, a fresh baguette, olives, and charcuterie. My score for this wine 90 points. 

That's all for today folks, check back here next Sunday for next wines of Garnacha article. Until next time, remember life is short, so sip long and prospers cheers! 

Full Disclosure: Reviewed wines are from medias sample provided (not for sale) for the review process. Also please note, the wines experienced and reviewed here were presented during a press trip sponsored in part by the European Union and the Wines of Garnacha.

All original content: Including text and photographs remain the copyright of the author, (W.R. Eyer) except where otherwise noted.


Wayne Smothers said…
I'm a big fan of Garnacha, thanks for bringing this producer to my attention. Excellent coverage of this lesser-known region. Btw, the photography is quite good also, keep it up.

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