Moving Into the Future By Way of the Past: A Trip through Spain - Part I
Bits & Pieces from MWS' Great Spanish Wine Adventure: Days 1-3
I think one of the best feelings on earth is the one that comes from being able to put a checkmark on the list of places you've been dying to visit. Having never been to Spain as an adult before (I vaguely remember looking at some churches and nursing a nasty hangover as an unnappreciative 17 year old in Barcelona), I was excited at the opportunity to finally explore this nation whose culture, history, and wines have so eluded me in the past. Previously, I’d always thought of Spain as pieces of a puzzle that I could never quite fit together. What I discovered during our trip was that this semi-finished puzzle is a magnificent country steeped in tradition, yet eagerly looking towards the future. A beautiful amalgamation of old meets new, the likes of which I have never seen anywhere else.
Day 1: Madrid
Before we ventured into the rustic, vine-soaked Spanish countryside, the gang gathered for lunch in Plaza de la Paja of La Latina district (easily my favorite neighborhood… I’ve already furnished and moved into the imaginary flat I’m never going to own there). What was once the most important square in medieval Madrid is now home to a bustling local scene filled with vegetarian restaurants, hip boutiques, fire-juggling street performers, and wouldn’t you know it, puzzle pieces….
Oh, and there may have been a falling-down-the-stairs incident later that night at the impressive yet unassuming sherry bar Jessica took us to in Madrid, but I won’t name names (um, it was me). Nevertheless, I highly recommend going there if you want to immerse yourself in the multifarious world of DRY sherry. Ask Jessica for the details!
Day 2: Ossian (Rueda) & Numanthia (Toro)
The first official stop on our tour, and old-meets-new poster child, was Ossian in Rueda. Founded in 2005 by partners Javier Zaccagnini and Ismael Gozalo, this traditional yet innovative bodega in the tiny village of Nieva is one of the leading organic wineries in Spain and recipient of numerous wine awards, producing white wine made with the indigenous Verdejo grape. Though they are a relatively young operation, Ossian is home to 160 year old Verdejo vines and still uses many of the traditional methods that abound in this region, such as hand-harvesting and hand-sorting their fruit. Additionally, their wine comes from pre-phylloxera, old bush vines that grow in sandy soils with some slate. This not only allowed for resistance against phylloxera back in the day (and thus, needing to graft) but also gives their wines a characteristic mineral quality. The bodega is not officially biodynamic, but they do use some of the same methods, an approach Ismael calls "Biostatics". In addition to blazing their own trail in the world of organic wine, Ossian isn’t afraid to experiment with their grapes, as evidenced by their German Riesling-inspired Verdejo, or “Verdling” for short. If that doesn’t sound like something straight out of The Hunger Games…. Sci-fi name notwithstanding, Verdling is fantastic with bread pudding and vanilla ice cream.
Later that day, we visited Numanthia, the ever-enthusiastic Manuel Louzada's bodega in Toro and recipient of a 100-point score from Monsieur Bob. Toro is home to centuries-old vineyards (aka “pre-phylloxera”), which lie between 650 and 850 meters above sea level on a rugged landscape that has been sculpted by the Duero River and its tributaries. Though Toro achieved D.O. status in 1987, winemaking is not a new endeavor there. In fact, legend has it Christopher Columbus chose the hardy Tinto de Toro reds from this area to accompany him on his famed journey to the new world, assured they would be able to withstand the long, arduous voyage. I love this quote from Numanthia’s Facebook page, which nicely sums up the essence of Numanthia and Toro wines in general (and if Manuel was reading it aloud, I’m certain he would augment with all kinds of hand gestures, impassioned facial expressions, and cries of victory):
Before we turned in for the night, we walked through the ancient (but not sleepy! Everyone and their grandmother was out and about that night) town of Toro where we were treated to a decadent, multi-course meal at the intimate Restaurante La Fragua - A completely unexpected modern gem embedded in the belly of a medieval building, it serves traditional Castilian cuisine and Toro wines. It even comes complete with an underground “dungeon” where the gang enjoyed a delicious appetite-wetting Tinto de Toro before dinner. Oooh, I don’t even want to think about what they used that place for back in the old times…
Day 3: Aalto & Pesquera (Ribera del Duero)
If I could use one word to sum up this day (in English), it would be: Rockstar. We hit up two incredible bodegas in Ribera del Duero, had an exquisitely prepared, long lunch (by non-Spanish standards anyways), and received a most pleasantly unexpected invitation from a “VIP” (Very Important Pesquera-owner).
Our first stop of the day was Bodega Aalto. Established in 1998, Aalto is a collaboration between former Vega Sicilia winemaker, Mariano Garcia, and Javier Zaccagnini, Ossian co-founder and former head of Consejo Regulador, the regulatory body of the Ribera del Duero appellation. Aalto is situated in the Valladolid sub-region of Ribera del Duero, and naturally, makes red wines from the indigenous Tinto Fino grape. Both its eponymous label and the Aalto PS are made from old vines but the PS more so (60-100 yrs). Aalto’s sustainably farmed vineyards are scattered amongst 7 different villages throughout Ribera del Duero and at altitudes reaching up to 2700 feet – a feature that does not encourage a consistent climate throughout the year, but does grace the bodega’s wines with a distinctive structure, acidity, and longevity (at least, Prince Albert of Monaco thinks so).
Following Aalto, we called upon the renowned Tinto Pesquera where “King of Tempranillo”, Alejandro Fernández, and his 16th century wine press put Ribera del Duero at the forefront of the international wine map in the mid-1970s. At a time when Spanish winemaking was sinking into decline and vines were being replaced with beets, Alejandro was not only planting grapevines, but also employing unfamiliar methods of vineyard management and winemaking, which made early critics write him off as a madman. Nevertheless, Alejandro brought new life and worldwide attention to the wines of Ribera del Duero and now enjoys the fruits of his labor from all four wineries (each one honoring a different daughter) in addition to his AF Pesquera Hotel. It was here that we ate lunch and received a surprise visit from the man behind the Pesquera legend himself.
We’d barely recovered from our mid-day food & wine coma when Alejandro appeared out of nowhere, apologized for not being able to join us for lunch, and invited us to revel in chorizo, cheese, and wine at his hilltop casita later that night. Life Lesson #2493: When Alejandro Fernández invites you to a fiesta, you say YES. It is a guaranteed good time…. or as Alejandro likes to put it, “COJONUDA!!” If you haven’t guessed by now, that would be the other word I’d use to sum up the day.
And the fiesta continues…. “Moving into the Future by Way of the Past: Part II”