It seems like every wine hipster in the Western Hemisphere is writing about, or at the very least drinking, wines from Spain’s, Ribeira Sacra. And, being a wine hipster myself, it seems important that I follow suit. In our contemporary, natty wine culture, it is hard to not fall in love with the Do-It-Yourself ethos that surrounds one of the oldest and most unforgiving wine regions in the world – especially when you get to sneak in the word rediscovered.
Although I cut my teeth slinging Spanish wine, I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the region myself. So, I quote friend and colleague, Jonathan Grey from Uncorked Wines, “I don’t think I understood how dramatic and extreme the viticulture is here until I saw it with my own eyes. It’s on some Mosel/Douro shit. 2-3,000 year old terraces with vineyards at 2,200+ feet. It’s wild.” The wines of Ribeira Sacra feature the same stuff as a Dolly Parton hit: rustic, romantic, fatigued, heart wrenching and wielding narratives that are hard to believe.
Daterra Viticultores, “Erea de Vila”. Godello/Doña Blanca/Colgadeira. Ribeira Sacra, SP. 2014
Drinking Erea de Vila is best compared to the feeling we get when we experience something for the first time: exciting, mysterious, unknown, confusing, possible, romantic. The wine evokes a certain out-of-body sensation in which we watch ourselves moving through a narrative with an unknown future. The initial fruit aromas challenge articulation offering an exotic bouquet, better imagined than documented. There is citrus fruit, but it’s a fucked up franken lime/lemon amalgamation dreamt up by some juice start-up. Our olfactory entanglement seems to set the tone for winemaker Laura Lorenzo’s “one foot in front of the other” Erea de Vila. At first taste fruit juice runs down our hands creating a sticky mess. Concurrently, our mouths are experiencing some kind of back alley lemonade-stand offering. Ultimately, the coexisting flavors develop a confident selfhood; an identity created by and unique to this new terrain.
Daterra Viticultores, “Gavela de Vila”. Palomino. VdT Val do Bibei, SP. 2014
Gavela de Vila is the foodstuff equivalent of tanning injections–imagine biting into a lemon injected with Melanotan II. Except the wine isn’t gonna kill you; to the contrary, it’s possibly the most rejuvenating vacation you have ever taken. The aroma is mineral driven with dried citrus on the back–that Caribbean beach you read about in the magazines provided on your Delta flight to some shit city. The taste transports you someplace far better than the location that you are actually drinking in. It takes a minute to get your bearings from first to last sip. The flavor challenges your palate, defying conventional expectations of white wines. The dominant Palomino varietal can do that–it darts between savory and fruity. As it opens up, Gavela de Vilas salinity settles down with the more obvious citrus fruits, creating a truly idiosyncratic flavor profile.
Dominio do Bibei, “Lalama”. Menica. Ribeira Sacra, SP. 2012
As a fanboy, I find it pretty endearing to describe the winemakers at Dominio do Bibei as “agitators.” These producers earned a reputation as malcontents after employing unconventional viticulture practices in search of a seemingly forgotten natural authenticity from their terroir and wine. The grapes are grown on a once abandoned vineyard, a dozen indigenous yeasts are employed, and lot of biodynamic tricks are in play. However, “authenticity” is kinda bullshit, which is what makes Dominio do Bibei so captivating; their wines are undeniably contemporary despite all of those throwback methods. The Lalama is somewhat tight upon opening–decanting, although not necessary, will help open it up a bit. This wine is a trip from start to finish–each passing second provides flavors that are nearly corporeal, with an almost heroin like charm. It is like being wrapped in crushed velvet and you are starting to sweat. The initial aromas are fresh red fruits and designer leather shoes. The taste is probably the flavor of vintage Gucci cross-bread with Wrangler Denim: soft, smooth and distressed with a stone (wash) for good measure.
Fedellos do Couto, “Lomba dos Ares”. Merenzao/Caiño Tinto/Mouraton. Ribeira Sacra, SP. 2014
Fedellos do Couto roughly translates to “Brats of Couto.” And honestly, I might be more into that moniker than the actual wine. However, FdC does exemplify the crux of this growing region and as such merits discussion. Truth is, these wines are the definition of an area in flux. Almost all viticultural knowledge in the region was lost through the ages; Ribeira Sacra’s current state is a testament to the ability of dedicated winemakers to rediscover, redefine and rebuild. The Lomba dos Ares is good–not great–but on its way and I will continue to drink every vintage I can get my hands on. The aroma offers fall leaves and macerated blackberry. It drinks more tannic than I had hoped–a bit grippy without the fruit to back it up. Imagine horseback riding for the first time: super fun but you are gonna feel it tomorrow… you would do it again… but it’s gonna be a minute… next time you decide to take a trip to Montana…next year.
Disclaimer: Word is that Fedellos do Couto’s “Bastarda” is where it’s at, but everyone keeps fucking drinking all of it so I haven’t had the pleasure. Someone send me some: Gabriel Weinstock. 1629 N. Galvez St. New Orleans, LA. 70119.