on the road Somontano spanish wine wine review

Northern Spain’s “Small California” (Spotlight On Somontano)

Alquézar
[ Editor’s note: Following is a piece that a wrote for a magazine, but after waiting over a year for them to publish it and pay me, I’m giving up and putting it here so that it can see the light of day and you can get some insight into a region that doesn’t see a lot of media play. Enjoy! ]

Northern Spain’s “Small California”

Why your subsequent favourite Cab, Merlot, or Gewürztraminer may simply be coming from Somontano

Take a second or two, and take into consideration your favourite Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, your go-to Chardonnay, even your final Gewürztraminer.

What area was emblazoned on the labels of these tasty wine? Paso Robles? Washington? Chile?

Likelihood is excellent that the phrase “Somontano” was not the world printed on the label. And but, likelihood is additionally excellent that this comparatively small northern Spanish Denominación de Origen has been rising those self same fantastic wine grapes longer than the extra well-known areas that produce your favourite variations of those self same wines.

Somontano’s historic Alquézar

Like a lot of the wine areas in Western Europe, viticulture in Somontano was in all probability established by the Romans, and in addition possible predates dependable written historical past, extending again to the second century BC. That it took the area till 1984 to develop into an formally acknowledged  Denominación de Origen (DO) is, in a approach, indicative of the minor id disaster that defines the fashionable Somontano. At a time when “uniqueness” is the advertising battle cry of most luxurious effective wine areas, Somontano is the odd man out.

Of the grapes formally permitted within the DO, solely three (the white Alcañón, and reds Moristel and Parraleta) are indigenous. A number of others (akin to Garnacha and Tempranillo) are Spanish in origin however not native to Somontano. The remaining are a hodgepodge of a number of the wine world’s most well-known – and decidedly not Spanish – grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot noir, Chardonnay, and Gewürztraminer.

What makes Somontano such an awkwardly troublesome matter in advertising conferences is identical factor that makes lots of its wines so good: the place has an awesome local weather rising well-known worldwide grape varieties. As winemaker Jesús Artajona Serrano, from Enate (one of many founders of the Somontano DO) places it, “we are in a small California…”

Cellars of Pirieneos

Cellars of Pirieneos

Roughly translated, Somontano means “foot of the mountains.” Protected by the Pyrenees, the world sits on the fringe of the European plate, on soils that have been a part of an historic ocean, topped with runoff from the close by mountains. Whereas the local weather is usually continental, the proximity to the mountains permits for giant diurnal temperature shifts, which superb wine grapes occur to like. The Pyrenees additionally assist to maintain the world comparatively dry and sunny. Bodega Pirineos winemaker Jesús Astrain Losilla summarizes Somontano’s favorable climatic state of affairs fairly eloquently: “it’s like a theatre at the foot of the mountains.”

With lovely historic cities similar to Alquézar (which, together with close by Barbastro, is an UNESCO World Heritage Website), and beautiful pure caverns that appeal to canyoning aficionados and journey seekers, Somontano wine publicity isn’t struggling when it comes to the vacationer perspective. Sitting on a terrace and taking within the view of Alquézar after a hike whereas sipping a relaxing wine created from grapes that you simply already know has acquired to be one of many extra nice issues that one can do in all of Europe, in any case. There’s additionally a well-liked wine, artwork, and music pageant, held yearly in August. The Somontano DO headquarters (situated in a constructing that dates again to the sixteenth century) is renovating to maintain up with the vacationer demand, updating their restaurant, wine store, tasting room, and small museum.

Modern artwork at Enate's gallery

Trendy paintings at Enate’s gallery

However past the medieval partitions and the slender stone roads of its historic cities, Somontano’s worldwide wine selection focus is a a lot harder promote. That the area can achieve this many issues properly is definitely its strong-suit, however that additionally signifies that its merchandise face an inordinate quantity of competitors on the world’s wine cabinets, even when you think about that the worldwide wine market is arguably on the best level it has ever seen in its centuries-long historical past. So, how did all of this occur within the first place?

Through the Center Ages, the world that may turn into Somontano noticed a continuation within the winemaking traditions established by the Romans, within the type of Catholic monasteries that noticed wine as each an important beverage and a requirement for spiritual providers (their affect, each historic and trendy, is on ample picturesque show in Somontano, drawing giant numbers of vacationers annually to websites such because the Torreciudad Shrine). Nevertheless it was the nineteenth century that might set the course of Somontano’s winemaking future. Within the 1800s, the early levels of the phylloxera louse epidemic (which might decimate a lot of the established vineyards in Europe) first swept by means of France. Throughout that point, determined wine and grape-growing companies seemed to different areas for financial salvation, main a few of them to Northern Spain. The outcome was an exponential improve in winemaking, gross sales, and exports for the Somontano space, and plantings of a few of France’s most well-known wine grape varieties.

That explains what grapes like Gewürztraminer are doing in Somontano. In that exact case, the variability was transplanted from Alsace, which is sensible when you consider it; the areas are comparatively shut to at least one one other, and share some necessary climatic influences, like close by mountain ranges. The place they differ are in issues like solar publicity – there’s extra of that in Somontano, so its Gewürztraminer wines are typically riper and extra highly effective than their Alsatian cousins. The grape has accomplished so nicely right here, actually, that Somontano now has about 400 hectares of Gewürztraminer plantings.

Pirineos’ Losilla has a compelling tackle each the advertising power and problem that Somontano faces on the worldwide wine market: “The philosophy is diversity.” Right here’s an introduction to a handful of Somontano’s most compelling examples of that variety.

Somontano view

Bodega Pirieneos 2010 Señorio de Lazán Reserva

Bodega Pirieneos 2010 Señorio de Lazán ReservaPirieneos advanced from a pioneering co-operative within the area, going personal within the early 1990s, and now represents about twenty-five % of all the Somontano DO. Most of their vineyards are dry-farmed, with naturally low grape yields which are harvested at night time to guard the grapes from the warmth. The identify of their Reserva is a tribute to the Lazán mountain within the Sierra de la Candelera, and the previous marquis who was a lord of the world. This mix additionally pays tribute to the triple-threat id of Somontano, utilizing the worldwide Cabernet Sauvignon, Spanish Tempranillo, and native Moristel. Their Reserva may additionally be the forerunner of oak-aged pink wines within the area. It’s floral, peppery, and beneficiant with blackcurrant fruit flavors and notes of tobacco and occasional.

 

Enate 2016 Chardonnay-234

Enate, celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2017, is likely one of the founders of the Somontano DO, producing about 2.5 million bottles per yr. The model might be most well-known regionally for the paintings that it commissions for its labels, a lot of which then goes on show in its spectacular museum. Its Chardonnay is vigorous and fairly, with aromas of white flowers, citrus, and peach, and flavors of apricots and pears. It’s pithy, persistent, and a flexible match with meals.

Enate 2016 Chardonnay-234

Enate 2012 Cabernet-Cabernet

So good that they needed to identify it twice? Properly, as soon as might definitely make an argument for that. The thought of this wine is to mix two totally different types of Cabernet Sauvignon – a leaner, critical European take and a riper, beneficiant Mediterranean aspect. It really works; the result’s a contemporary, juicy, plummy pink with energy and construction, but in addition with good stability and intriguing notes of toast, dried herbs, spice, and cigar.

 

Batán de Salas DeBeroz 2016 Essencia de Gewürztraminer

Batán de Salas de Beroz is headed up by present Somontano DO president Mariano Beroz Bandrés. In distinction to the area’s different positive wine producers, who in lots of instances have both giant, ultra-modern amenities or lengthy, storied histories, Batán de Salas is  small operator, housed unassumingly in an industrial space. They’ve metal tanks to at least one aspect, bottle storage to the opposite, and barrels and concrete in between. As Beroz places it, “we make garage wine, in a bigger garage.” Their Gewürztraminer is a textural, targeted, and critical effort that belies their small measurement. The white has intense rose petal notes, with ample stone fruits, apples, and citrus flavors.

Batán de Salas

A humorousness at Batán de Salas’ tasting room

Viñas del Vero 2014 La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha

Viñas del Vero, and its sister vineyard Blecua Property, are high-end, boutique operations owned by the González Byass group, who function over twenty wine manufacturers worldwide. That company possession appears to have little trickle-down impression on the Somontano wines overseen by the gifted José Ferrer, who has a winemaking contact equally as spectacular because the renovated Blecua Property through which he works. The Secastilla purple is produced primarily from previous vine Garnacha planted in natural vineyards which are over 700 meters above sea degree. The mixture of distinctive website and a spotlight to element within the cellar leads to a stunning, fleshy, refined, and sophisticated wine. Notes of violets, black pepper, spices, and dried herbs mix with recent blue, black, and purple plum flavors, and sufficient construction to recommend that some cellaring endurance can pay dividends later. [ Editor’s note: for more on this stellar producer, check out the feature that ran here earlier. ]

Lalanne bullet holes

Bullet holes from the Spanish Civil Struggle are nonetheless seen on a few of Lalanne’s barrels.

Lalanne 2011 Lataste Gran Vino

The historical past of Lalanne parallels the historical past of recent Somontano wine, and their roots within the space run as deep as any of the area’s oldest vines. This family-run outfit was established by an offshoot of a Bordelais household that determined to maneuver to the world through the phylloxera epidemic within the late 1890s. The household has run an area lodge, regional trains and boats (guess what these have been used to move…), and owned a hydroelectric plant that when offered nearly all of Somontano’s electrical energy. Not surprisingly, Lalanne is likely one of the oldest business wineries within the area, and one of many founding DO members. A few of their giant oak casks nonetheless bear bullet holes from the Spanish civil struggle. Their Lataste (named after their founder’s spouse) is an fascinating instance of Somontano’s potential, mixing all the DO’s purple worldwide varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir (with a little bit of Tempranillo, as properly). Every winery plot is chosen, fermented, and aged individually earlier than mixing. It’s an “old school” darkish and earthy pink, with notes of chalk, leather-based, prunes, and licorice.

 

Sommos 2016 Glárima Variatales Blanco

Sommos is an architectural marvel. Designed by Jesus Marino Pascual, the vineyard has twenty-seven meters above floor, and extends the identical distance underground, as nicely. Its ultra-modern facade homes an antiseptically clear, mechanized, cavernous inside the place nearly each stage of the winemaking course of is carried out by giant, spectacular equipment. Virtually as spectacular are the experimental vineyards surrounding Sommos, through which twenty totally different vine coaching methods are getting used. The calling card of the vineyard is their Glárima white, a mix of Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Aromas of hay, roses, and apples give method to pear and citrus flavors, with a texture that’s each mental and scrumptious.

SOMMOS

Sommos 2014 Merlot

In case you like your Merlot on the darkish and toasty aspect, you then’ll love this purple. Darkish and plummy, with ample tannic construction and full physique, Sommos’ Merlot is a posh beast of a wine, with aromas of oak, vanilla, tobacco, and even smoked meat.

 

Laus 2016 Rosado

Throughout the road from Somos sits Laus, a vineyard in transition (with redesigned labels, and a restaurant and spa in improvement) whose clear, stylized exterior would look ultra-modern if not for its barely ultra-modern neighbor. The identify means “grace,” and positively its mixture of 100 hectares of well-tended vineyards and calming water swimming pools (used to assist cool the vineyard areas beneath) may have a relaxing impact on nearly any customer. Winemaker Jesús Mur has crafted an immediately accessible rosé from Laus’ Syrah and Garnacha. It has a wonderful watermelon colour, with strawberry flavors and a tasty, vibrant mouthfeel.

Laus

Trendy styling marks the development at Laus

Laus 2013 Tinto Crianza

A 50/50 mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with eight months of French oak growing older, this pink is a testomony to the Bordeaux heritage of Somontano’s trendy wine scene. Pure flavors of cassis and plum mingle with clove, violet, toast, and cigar aromas on this targeted and recent wine. If its construction is any indication, Laus have an overachiever on their palms right here that may mellow out and get much more scrumptious with a little bit of bottle getting old.

Cheers!

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