A busy year is coming to an end. I could write about how busy it was, but the very slow trickle of posts on the Wine Rambler makes that obvious enough. Instead I feel like leaning back, pouring myself a comforting wine and relax. A wine with substance and soothing qualities, something with a personal connection but less intellectual challenge than the Rieslings I love so much. It is time to open a special red wine that had been sitting in my cellar waiting for a moment like this. Or maybe his is just a pretentious way of saying: after maybe five years stored in a wardrobe I feared the Mauro really needed drinking.
Castile and León
When we first launched the Wine Rambler, we anticipated, rather optimistically, that wineries might at some point in the future might send us samples to review. But we also always insisted, a touch self-defeatingly perhaps, that we would be very strict about ethics and transparency in doing this. And we are. But the good people of the Terras Gauda winery of Spain, which makes and markets a range of wines from different regions of northwestern Spain did not let themselves be deterred by this, much to their credit, and were kind enough to send us a six bottle sample to review. And it fell to the Munich branch of the blog to do it.
How to go about such a task? I decided on the following course of action: I would not research anyone else's reviews, ratings or scores beforehand. I would not research prices either, which means I could not comment on value, but I wouldn't be influenced by it either. I would also not set up a single tasting where I would compare them in a professional setting. Instead, we would drink the wines at Munich HQ, one at the time, over a couple of weeks, like almost anyone who buys them would: On the kitchen table, after a day's work, with food.
As far as red wine is concerned, Julian and myself have some kind of informal, never-spoken-of division of labour: he does France, I do Spain. Now, as you know we usually do Germany here on the Wine Rambler, but our world would be much less diverse and exciting if we only did Germany. So, when it comes to the more substantial reds Julian does France and I do Spain. How that happened I don't know - and certainly for Burgundy I should make an exception, but there is still some Tempranillo in my magic wardrobe.
And let's face it, when you have a good Tempranillo, who needs the Rhone or Bordeaux? So it's a good thing that they do really nice Tempranillo at Bodegas Aalto...
I have been a fan of the Mauro wines since my dad casually handed me a bottle several years ago, remarking that I may like this. Well, he was right. Every other year since I had one of those Spanish beauties, and the most recent one we enjoyed at a Wine Rambler meeting in Munich.
Our regular readers may have noticed that Julian is more likely than me to go for the more substantial red wines, but the beautiful and deep Tempranillos from Mauro are just too pleasing to ignore.
Wine rambling-wise, Spain has not been among my preferred hunting grounds. As with Italy, I've not yet figured out what makes it tick as a wine country, and some of the more stream-lined reds I've tried have not encouraged me to invest more energy. Which is my loss, as afficionados and Spain experts will be quick - and correct - to point out. A notable exception over the last few years has been this red that Alvaro Palacios (of Priorato fame) makes from the Mencia grape in the little known northern Spanish region of Bierzo. This was the last of three bottles, and none of them failed to satisfy. So here's making it up to Spain:
If it comes to really powerful red wines, I have come to love what the Spanish do with the Tempranillo variety. At their best these wines are powerful yet not overpowering, bringing the thunder without forgetting the elegance. Bodegas Aalto is one of the wineries that got a lot of praise over the past few years - which is remarkable seeing as the only got into business around 1998. On the other hand, it may not be so remarkable after all as the people behind Bodegas Aalto are well respected wine professionals: winemaker Mariano Garcia (who came to fame at Ribera del Duero's Vega Sicilia) and Javier Zaccagnini (formerly head of the 'Consejo Regulador', the regulatory body of the Ribera del Duero appellation).
With financial backing from investors such as the Sherry company Osborne, they bought vineyards in the Ribera del Duero, some of them with 60 year old Tinto Fino vines (a Tempranillo clone), and started restoring them. The first wine, the 1998 vintage, was not as good as hoped and was never commercialised, but the later vintages put the winery into the premier league of Spanish winemakers.
Incredibly intense dark red colour, almost bordering on black. A nose full of fruit that, after a little time with our friend the decanter, opened up to combine redcurrant, cherry, plum, woodland herbs, leather, manure (just a hint) and oak - the latter is already very pleasantly integrated.
In the mouth it is intense yet smooth, a little spicy oak, mellow fruit, grainy tannins (quite enjoyable) - it is strong but you don't notice (in the sense of taste) the alcohol at all.
It felt as if this wine would gain from a few more years in the bottle, but it is already quite a presence!