Friday, 22 April 2011

Spain: hot regions to watch

Arribes & Tierra de León

Two incredibly new and exciting DOs that sprung up in 2007 are Arribes and Tierra de León. The former lies on the westernmost tip of the country, where Spain meets Portugal along the banks of the Duero river, while the latter can be found to the south of the Cordillera Cantábrica mountain range in the southern part of León. Both are gaining international recognition for their indigenous grape varieties: Juan García in Arribes and Prieto Picudo in Tierra de León, which has been tipped as Spain’s answer to Pinot Noir.

Keen to unleash the untapped potential of Arribes, which is still in its winemaking infancy with just 750ha under vine, a small group of producers have invested in the region and are championing Juan García, bringing out its varietal character through a combination of low yields and modern winemaking techniques. Indigenous to Arribes, Juan García produces terroir-driven wines with notes of cherry, raspberry and spice. Super-premium producer Ribera de Pelazas is making interesting reds from old vine Juan García and the extremely rare Bruñal, currently selling for £88 a bottle in the UK.

With just under 1,500ha under vine, Tierra de León’s 33 producers are doing interesting things with up-and-coming aromatic variety Prieto Picudo, one of the most promising of Spain’s indigenous grapes. Meaning “dark pointed” and often partnered with Mencía in blends, Prieto Picudo accounts for 50% of the region’s red grape plantings. The grape’s style seems to fit its name, producing wines with an earthy, red fruit character mixed with crisp acidity. Names to watch include Bodegas Gordonzello and Bodegas Fernandez Llamazares.


Formerly part of La Mancha, Manchuela lies in south-east Spain between the central sprawl of La Mancha and the coastal city of Valencia, with Utiel-Requena sitting to the east and Jumilla to the south. With co-operatives accounting for over half of the production in the region, Manchuela is still very much a work in progress, but progress is being made. While Syrah is showing great promise, indigenous variety Bobal has been singled out as the region’s flagship grape, and now makes up half of the region’s red wine production.

Cultivated in low-yielding bush vines, the tricky Bobal is proving rewarding in the right hands. “Bobal can be a very tannic and over-extracted, high-alcohol variety, but in the right hands it can sing,” says Indigo Wine’s Olly Bartlett. Renowned Spanish wine writer Victor de la Serna is the best-known name in the region. His presence at Finca Sandoval has cemented Bobal’s status as a grape to watch, and put Manchuela firmly on the wine map. “My wife is from Manchuela, and I saw the untapped viticultural potential in the region,” says de la Serna.

“I wanted to make wine in an undiscovered region, and I wanted to do something completely new there, so we broke the ice 10 years ago. I was sceptical about Bobal in the beginning – it’s an extremely difficult variety to work with, as it doesn’t ripen easily, so I had to learn how to work with it, and make it work for me. I consider Bobal one of the three most important red varieties of south-eastern Spain, along with Garnacha and Monastrell. It has a rustic, spicy, black fruit character and lovely freshness, which is hard to find in a central region.

"Now I’ve gotten to grips with it, I’m planting a lot more Bobal. It’s great to see Manchuela coming up, and small, quality wine producers emerging – I don’t feel so alone any more." Antonio Ponce, of Bodegas Ponce, is taking a natural approach with his biodynamic, foot-trodden Bobal, made in an almost Beaujolais style – watch this space. Pago Altolandon is another front-runner, while Cien y Pico, run by larger-than-life Australian Zar Brooks and his Bulgarian winemaking wife Elena, is doing exciting things with Garnacha Tintorera from vines that are more than 100 years old.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post.

    I'm a big fan of natural wines from Spain ( ).

    I found your blog while looking for info on Juan Ponce's Asada Pino.

    You might enjoy these posts on his wine. I'm a huge fan of hisl

    -Ponce ’09 Manchuela Buena Pinta

    -Ponce ‘08 Manchuela La Casilla (Bobal)

    Thanks and enjoy.