Secret gems from Ribeira Sacra, Spain
Little known Spanish varieties impress sommelier Rocco Esposito
By Rocco Esposito
The scene was Comme in Alfred Place, Melbourne, at a large trade tasting. There I was, sharing my impressions with a few colleagues, experienced wine-makers and some highly opinionated wine-writers.
With spring in the air and summer soon to approach, I was trying to dissect the lineup, on the hunt for something that I could just drink with pleasure.
Tasting my way through a few local gems – ranging from pristine Yarra Valley whites, impeccable Macedon pinot noir and the ever-finer Heathcote shiraz – I finally found some wines with more than just balance.
The spotlight was turned towards the Spanish section in the tasting room; the wines I tasted were the ones I was looking for. I was astonished by their lightness and freshness. Apart from tempranillo and albarino, they were not well-known varieties.
The provenance took me by surprise. The wines were from Ribeira Sacra, a small pocket of land located in the north-west of Spain, just above the northern border of Portugal. Ribeira Sacra roughly translates as ‘sacred shore’, although it’s not on the sea, but between the provinces of Lugo and Ourense, on the steep banks of the rivers Sol and Miño).
Before me was an array of varieties, of considerable regional importance but little worldwide recognition, from a Spanish producer that is soon to fill Australia’s best wine lists.
[Ed: Wikipedia notes that the authorised white varieties are: albariño, godello, treixadura, loureira, torrontés and dona branca, though the first three are the most predominant. The authorised red varieties are: mencía, brancellao and merenzao].
The wines from maker Adega Algueira were the ones that widened my eyes. What I tasted were simply amazing, with an incredible depth of character, unique and with great gastronomic charm.
But let’s start with the vineyards. They look absolutely stunning, located on steep hills, planted on amazing-looking terraces built by the Romans more than 2000 years ago on the banks of Rio Sil – awesome in the true sense of the word.
Growing vines in these canyons doesn’t make life easy: no use of tractors, harvesters or other machinery given the steep sites. Everything is hand crafted, with a particular attention to detail.
Unlike other areas in Spain, the Ribeira Sacra enjoys an Atlantic influence giving the wines finer structure, elegant appeal and a unique sense of place, worthy of bearing Spain's yellow and red flag.
Between a chat with other sommeliers marching to the beat of Adega Algueira’s godello, I spent a good quarter of an hour enumerating everything I love about the New Spain: its lightness under all aspects, the inviting texture, the generous depth and the flintiness with moderate acidity and good balance.
I had finally found a Spanish white that isn’t made from a textbook. Yes it is varietal, but it is the pure expression of land of origin with a sub-regional character, which is unique.
The reds were just as inviting as the white, with an amazing allure and delicate sound, yet as powerful and bright as the nation’s football team. The red that I liked the most is – of course – the one that is rarely available!
So the next day I was quick to secure eight dozen (out of only ten allocated for Australia) for Vue de monde for simple reasons: it is the sort of wine I was looking for to be the best companion with the roasted pigeon breast, and confit pigeon leg with smoked hay, hay cream and artichoke puree.
The Pizzara 2009, made from 100% mencia, is a pleasurable wine to drink and I wanted to share that pleasure with our diners. I liked the smell, that wonderful earthy note kissed by a floral freshness; very much like an ancient olive grove right in the middle of deep/warm red soil, covered by a blanket of violets and surrounded by a gentle flow of fresh water.
On the palate it was the complex plot-lines, the glossy tannins and gentle depth that invite you to have a second sip and later a second glass. It’s wonderfully, elegantly, satisfyingly austere.
The first sip was magic, but you will still need to take the wine to the table, give it air and spend some time with it.
I’ve never liked Spanish wines as much as I do today and I will be certainly on the hunt for more.
The hospitality game has been home to Rocco Esposito for more than twenty years, and he has specialized in wine expertise and service from the beginning.
Born and raised in Italy, he moved to Australia in 1998 and chose the path of wine by working in restaurants such as Cecconi’s in Melbourne, and as a consultant and wine buyer for private enterprises. In 2004 he set up his own restaurant/wine bar in Beechworth: Wardens Food & Wine.
In 2009 Rocco was the recipient of ‘The Age Good Food Guide Wine Service Award’ as well as rated by ‘The Age Melbourne Magazine’ as one of the top one hundred influential people.
Rocco is currently at Vue de monde Group working as Wine Director – he ‘extremely enjoys’ working with such a professional and iconic group. He also is the director of his own business, Drink Wine Consultancy.
Being very particular and selective about wine, Rocco also enjoys judging in various wine shows; he recognizes and values the importance of the rigor, which goes into show-judging methodology.
Rocco is particularly excited by his new project in Beechworth where the main aim is to establish and run his own vineyard and make his own wine. Read more about Rocco Esposito in this interiew by Jeni Port here »
We are delighted to welcome Rocco as a contributor to VisitVineyards.com
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