I cheated a bit for this, the resurrection of Wine Blogging Wednesday, led by Catavino, on a request from WBW founder Lenn Thompson. As a relatively regular participant in WBW, and even host of a pretty successful edition, I’m happy to jump back in and rejoin this custom that was, for a while, honored more in the breach than the observance.
But no, I didn’t open a chosen bottle of Spanish wine on February 16, as the instructions given out by Ryan and Gabriella Opaz requested. I just went back to some discoveries I made at Millésime Bio, the organic wine fair I attended, from a producer called Ad Libitum, a personal project of Rioja oenologist Juan Carlos Sancha. Completely by chance – because a neighboring vigneron had momentarily walked away from his table, I stumbled on this producer and its unique wine made of tempranillo blanco.
Yes, you read right: white tempranillo.
Tempranillo blanco is a natural mutation of tempranillo that occured in a Rioja vineyard, twenty years ago, and was propagated to produce a varietal wine, starting in 2008, thanks to Juan Carlos Sancha’s perseverance (read a little more about this story here). I liked the crisp, mineral, unusual 2009, an intense wine with something like yellow apple and floral aromas – or something like that, it was really a thing of its own.
I also liked the 2009 Maturana Tinta from Ad Libitum, a well-rounded red with smooth tannins and nice cherry-spicy touches, made from one of the many rioja varieties that have been fading away, over the years, as producers concentrate, as they have in many other regions, on the handful of varieties that seem to be the most attractive – and probably are, also, the easiest to manage. Sancha has been fighting this, in his way, by trying to keep some of these varieties planted and active, and demonstrating their worth. More maturana for me, please?
This story of disappearing diversity – and the grapes’ lack of a sex life – has been told elsewhere in the wine growing world, but I have enjoyed some chapters of its sequel: the fight to bring back more of these varieties to the forefront. In Switzerland, such efforts have allowed the rebirth of some fantastic grapes like petite arvine, amigne, humagne rouge and cornalin, which have become a source of local pride and a way for Swiss winemakers to distinguish themselves and provide something unique.
In Spain, that type of outlook has allowed us to discover some wonderful, honey-filled macabeo from Terra Alta and other Catalan appellations, or mencia and godello from Bierzo or Valdeorras, among others. It is also seen in projects like the replanting and identification of old Catalan grape varieties by the country’s largest producer, Torres, which has allowed the recovery of 35 varieties so far – an almost ironic turn of events for a winery that partly made its mark by importing international varieties to Spain.
I enjoy tempranillo (red tempranillo, that is) as much as the next guy, and one of my favorite cellaring wines is Mas La Plana, the single vineyard cabernet sauvignon from Torres, remarkably age worthy and always solid for the price. But I really hope that we will see more of the great diversity that is potentially there in Spanish vineyards, whether from historical varieties or from recent mood swings of nature, as in the case of the tempranillo blanco.