Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Exploring Guímaro and Ribeira Sacra

The inhabitants of the tiny village of Sober — all nine of them if the latest census reports are correct — must count themselves as lucky souls. That is assuming that young wine grower Pedro Rodríguez Pérez shares some of his tiny production of Ribeira Sacra with his neighbors.

Sober is located in the Amandi sub-zone of Ribeira Sacra, a D.O. area of modest proportion located in Galicia, not far from the northern border of Portugal in the northwest corner of Spain. Here, the 35-year-old Rodríguez has no choice but to farm his seven hectares of vineyards completely by hand, as those vines are perched on precipitous slopes above the River Sil.

Pedro Rodríguez Pérez overlooks his vines in Ribeira Sacra (photo courtesy of Triage Wines, Guimaro's distributor in the Pacific Northwest).

Pedro works fifteen separate vineyard plots, planted primarily to Mencia, along with small quantities of Caino tinto and other native black grape varieties, plus small parcels of Godello and Treixadura, from which he produces a single white wine. His vines average 40-years in age. There are three reds in his cadre, all of which, along with the one white, are bottled under his label Guímaro (which means "nonconformist").

Aside from Pedro's inclusion in Eric Asimov's excellent New York Times profile of Ribeira Sacra and other random tidbits around the Web, there's surprisingly little information available about the wines of Señor Rodriguez. So, ever in search of knowledge, I contacted Guímaro's importer, Jose Pastor, who shared with me the following details. (I've edited Jose's words for context and style but will still attribute them as a quote, as I would not have had access to such information without his help.) Says Jose,

"As far as I know Pedro makes four diferent cuvées:
  • A barrel fermented white, mainly from Godello, naturally fermented with some batonage, bottled on the early side with no filtration. He makes 2 barrels every year.
  • Then he does a basic red cuvée, fermented/aged in tank and also bottled on the early side, which goes by the name of Guimaro Joven (which means "young"). Since '08, this comes in a Burgundy bottle. (The '07 and some early bottles of the '08 were shipped in a Bordeaux bottle with a blue label, which may have caused some confusion out there; this is the same cuvée.) Starting in 2009, the Joven is going to be raised half in foudre and the other half in tank. Also, a small part of the cuvée will be whole-cluster fermented.
Lastly he produces two old vine cuvées:
  • 'B1P' is made from old vine Mencia grown in Pedro's highest elevation vineyard; this one is fermented in open-top foudres with whole clusters.
  • 'B2M' is also old vine Mencia but from a lower elevation plot. It is 100% de-stemmed, fermented in tank and then raised in used barrels.
Pedro told me that in 2009 both of these cuvées will be whole-cluster fermented as he likes how the B1P is developing. Current releases for the old vine cuvées are '07 and, as far as I know, are only available in California."
Given that only only 25 cases of "B1P" make it into the US, I was lucky to have started out my experiences with Guímaro right at the top of the range while in San Francisco last fall. More recently, I've had the chance to go back to step one.

Ribeira Sacra Summum, Guímaro (Pedro M. Rodríguez Pérez) 2008
$15. 13.5% alcohol. Diam. Importer: Jose Pastor Selections (Vinos & Gourmet), Richmond, CA.

This is the "Joven" bottling referred to by Jose in the technical notes above. The word "Amandi," which appeared on the front label of the old Bordeaux-shaped bottles but now appears only on the bottle's rear label, is a reference to the wine's place of origin. "Summum," in turn, is the highest designation for Ribeira Sacra; red wines thus labeled contain a minimum of 85 per cent preferred red varieties, 60 per cent of which must be Mencía. Summum wines can be labeled varietally (which Guimaro's is, as Mencia, again solely on the rear label) only if the wine contains 85% or more of that variety.

Enough with the regulatory stuff... The wine leads off with a fresh, very lively nose of blueberry, black cherry and wild plum fruit, spiced up with whiffs of bay leaves and tobacco. Very coolly textured, round and smooth in the mouth, with a fine acid/tannin balance and a distinctly mineral finish. It's both firm and taut yet not at all hard. And it cries out for food. I paired it with a pasta dressed with a sauce of crushed tomatoes, a pinch of coarsely chopped garlic and a small tin of anchovies, all of which I sauteed in a little olive oil. I don't think that's an even remotely Galician dish but it was a pretty freakin' delicious combo, nonetheless. Riding solidly into day two, there was still plenty of bright red fruit, a slight leaning-out in the textural department, and the emergence of enticing aromas of cured meat and salami spices.

On the surface, this is juicy, pleasurable, hard-not-to-drink-the-whole-bottle vino, but there's the kind of meaningful substance to it — structure, length and penetrating flavors, a real sense of individuality — that delivers far beyond the overwhelming majority of wines at its $15 price point.

Addendum: Caught up in the rigor of writing, I nearly forgot to add that today's post also provides the answer-in-full to last weekend's episode of Name That Wine.


Jamie said...

Thanks for sharing this info! It sure is great to know that someone as young as Senor Pedro has actually made it to the wine business producing naturally fermented wines. It is inspiring and will surely help me in my business.

Joe Manekin said...

Very well written post, DMcD. I had the opportunity to taste the B1P alongside the B2M. While both were good, the B1P had the extra structure and complexity that one might expect given the difference in vinification.

David McDuff said...

Thanks, Joe. I've not had the chance to taste the B2M yet. I know there's not much to go around but I do hope Pedro's wines will become more widely available in the near future.

Ian said...

It is very good to see the wines from the Ribeira Sacrá getting some recognition.
I have not seen this wine for sale loclally..Is it only for export to the USA?

David McDuff said...

@Ian - I'd be surprised if that were the case but I can't answer with certainty. Another question for José, perhaps. I'll let you know what/if I find out.

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