Sometimes, the first thing I want to write about is the flavour of a wine, sometimes it’s the personality of the winemaker, but when it comes to Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, northwest Spain, there’s only one thing to talk about first: the vineyards. Having just returned from an extraordinary trip there last week, I can safely say that it is the most breath-taking wine region I have ever visited or am ever likely to visit. Imagine the terraced vineyards of the Douro in Portugal, but fold the two sides of the valley up by another 30 degrees and that goes some way to describing this dramatic and magical place. Over hundreds of years, slate terraces have been built to allow agriculture to sustain here and everything still has to be done by hand, because machinery can’t get anywhere close. The terraces are so steep that the only way to bring the fruit up to the collection point is by a hoist that pulls the laden buckets up on rail tracks resembling something from the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s hard, labour-intensive work, to which the lactic acid build-up in my thighs can attest, having climbed only a fraction of the way up!
The soil here is brutal, made up of large slabs of broken slate (‘Lousas’ means broken slate), so the roots have to show great tenacity if they are to find water and minerals. No wonder people refer to it as ‘heroic viticulture’. Winemaking isn’t new to the area, the Romans were here over 2,000 years ago, but inaccessibility and the lack of modernisation (electricity only arrived in the 1970s) meant that the region languished, until the world rediscovered its extraordinary natural resources. Grapes. Incredible grapes attached to incredible old vines. Given the amount of work involved at every stage of this wine’s production, I’m actually quite surprised that it isn’t more expensive.
The buzz about the Ribeira Sacra region is only going to get louder when people taste wines like this. The region seems to be spearheading a new direction in Spanish wine towards lighter, fresher, silkier reds with lower alcohol and an appetising dryness that makes them so versatile with food, showing more of an affinity with the textural fragility of Pinot Noir, for example, than the ‘oak soups’ that you often find in modern Rioja or the Ribera del Duero. This is a fantastic introduction to Spain’s new bearing, which is really gathering pace in the ‘Atlantic’ appellations around Galicia, and I can't recommend it highly enough. The Lousas ‘Vinas de Aldea’ 2014 is Envinate's equivalent of a ‘village’ wine, in the Burgundian sense, sourced from 12 different parcels in various sub-regions of the Ribeira Sacra ranging from 15 to 60 years of age and located between 400 and 600 metres altitude on varied soils of slate and granite depending on the location (NB On my visit, I was lucky enough to taste all 12 components of the 2015 vintage, which are still in barrel, and, in a year’s time, you will certainly be hearing from me again!).
Anyway, back to the 2014 vintage, which is predominantly made from Mencia, with a few local varieties thrown in for good measure (Brancellao, Merenzao, Mouraton, Bastardo, Garnacha Tintorera), and the grapes were foot-trodden and fermented with 40% whole-clusters (i.e. with the stems) in small open vats. It’s oh so fine and elegant and beautifully tailored to fit its shape. The aromas are pure and wild, suggestive of shiny cherry skins, fraises des bois and purple flowers, while the flavours glide across the palate, evoking dark cherry, juicy red grapes, blood orange, a hint of white pepper (typical of Mencia) and a suggestion of cool minerals. I find it tastes best if you drink it slightly below room temperature. It’s an utterly beguiling Spanish red and you shouldn’t hesitate in snapping some up while stocks last, which they won't, because their total production is just 330 cases! 12.5% alc. Drink now-2020.
The Wine Advocate (Luis Gutierrez): “Their regional wine, the 2014 Lousas Viñas de Aldea is from their third vintage in Ribeira Sacra, and the third cool vintage in a row, with some rain but with healthy grapes. These are wines of freshness and elegance, their best to date. This is mostly Mencía with some 10% other reds (Merenzao, Brancellao, Caíño, Sousón, Mouratón, Alicante Bouschet/Garnacha Tintorera...) from a diversity of vineyards ranging from 15 to 60 years of age, at 400 to 600 meters altitude in different subzones of Ribeira Sacra. The different vineyards had different ways of fermenting, sometimes with full clusters, some not, but always in small open top containers. The wine matured in a collection of well-seasoned 225- , 228-, 350-, 400- and 500-liter oak barrels with the lees for some 11 months without racking. The nose is really open and floral, with notes of acid berries denoting great freshness. The nose unfurls and shows more complexity, dry rose petals, wet stones, and spices. They have also added some new plots that have contributed to the freshness of the wine. They have achieved their aim at producing fresh and light wines, easy to drink, especially in this 'volume' cuvée. There is a big jump in quality in this vintage, and they have achieved an elegance and balance never seen before; they have polished the rusticity of previous vintages. This is a superb example of approachable, drinkable Ribeira Sacra. None of these wines have any oak or edges, but with the acidity and balance they show, they should age nicely in bottle; however, there's no need to wait, and the profile is so attractive that it's difficult to keep your hands off it. A bargain. In 2015 they have added some new vineyards from the Quiroga zone and they have bought new concrete vats. This is a wine to follow in coming years. 7,000 bottles.” 93 points
Jancis Robinson: "Cherry candy, dry and fibrous palate with a fairly light body yet fulsome flavour." 17 points
Envinate (stress on the second syllable if you please) translates as ‘wine yourself!’ and is the brainchild of Laura Ramos, Jose Martinez, Roberto Santana and Alfonso Torrente, who all met while studying oenology at the University of Alicante. Their work centres on exploring the ancient, Atlantic-influenced terroirs of Ribeira Sacra, Tenerife, Extremadura and Almansa. Their philosophy is simple: let each parcel fully express itself through old-fashioned farming and wine-making methods including foot-treading the grapes, whole bunch fermentation and bottling straight from the barrel! Right now there are four different projects under the Envínate umbrella: Lousas by Alfonso Torrente in Ribeira Sacra, Taganan by Roberto Santana in Tenerife, T. Amarela in Extremadura and Albahra in Almansa both by Laura Ramos and José Martinez.