Journey through the wines from Rueda, Castilla y León and Cigales

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Continuing along the route of the Spanish vineyards, it is time now to visit some hidden spots of Castilla y León, cradle of great wines. We present the results of tasting 160 references from Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla y León, 278 wines from Rueda and 43 from Cigales, showing you the lights and shadows of this region so capable sometimes and weak in others. However, we should start looking over Denominación de Origen (D.O.) Rueda since, only learning about it, it will be possible to understand its real outreach and impact over Vinos de la Tierra Castilla y León.

Rueda and the automation

The phenomenon of D.O. Rueda should be a subject of study at all business schools as surely it is more common than not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Rueda is, at the same time, success and failure. Winegrowers and winemakers successfully continue to make good money (at least the largest wineries) but the profit is based at the expense of quality and guarantee of singularity.

Rueda’s wine style has been focused, for so long, in the duality verdejo - sauvignon blanc, characteristic of tropical excess and the search of varietals by industrial methods, that sadly no one remembers what it was like the primal verdejo. Certainly, qualification tasters must have experienced a similar turmoil when approaching large productions of verdejo and not being able to distinguish the essence of verdejo.

We do not wish to show a crude image of wine from Rueda. We have always said Rueda was right when it discovered how to automate their production process and industrialised it. Because verdejo is the sole variety capable of withstanding this production overload without compromising quality. We cannot think of another white grape competent to display its singularity when being put through major manufacturing pressures and automation. This was how industrialised Rueda’s wine achieved its amazing success, reaching the final consumer with such great quality/price relation. Who can compete?

Moreover, commercial yeasts took part in the mentioned productive development. Their abusive use resulted into an unusual tropical verdejo. Rare given the natural herbal rather than fruity aromas of this variety. However, apparently, someone thought final consumers look for tropical notes when drinking a white, fresh wine, and everyone seemed to follow. The abuse quickly found opponents that went back to the purest verdejo style and started to reproduce, bottle and commercialise it (at affordable prices).

The number of hectares under the D.O. Rueda have experienced an exponential growth and similarly the number of new brands presented to Guía Peñín. During 2017 edition, figures reached nearly 360 references tasted comparing to 230 brands only five years earlier (Guía Peñín 2012). Rueda is the D.O where more “por paras” are being produced since their wines are mainly sold in Spain.

The Consejo Regulador (Regulatory Board) is planning to re-include the classification Rueda Superior, in order to protect their most unique and singular wines. We think it is a wonderful solution to secure the most remarkable brands produced within the D.O.

We could appreciate, in the bulk of the tastings, the mark of dryness and maturity of 2017’s vintage and we found wines that clearly showed the mature character of the vintage. The most homogeneous have been the verdejos due to the mentioned ability to withstand pressure and therefore, the final product showcased the characteristic herbal notes of this variety rather than the tropical hints seen when abusing commercial yeasts.

While verdejos present a uniform character and style, among sauvignon blanc wines rules diversity. Consequently, samples vary from fresher, Atlantic hints to more continental, mature notes. Tasting sessions have granted better ratings to those wines that offer fresher notes.

Amid special elaborations the presence of wood dominates over the whole of the wine, as it happens with the wines fermented in oak. Thus, several winemakers have solved the problem adding a small percentage of either wine aged in lees or wines only fermented in stainless Steel deposits. Oddly, only a few wineries have opted for older vintages. We have tasted one 2014 fermented in barrel against the vast majority that come from 2016 vintage. Few cellars choose bottle ageing since they consider the trace of time like a problem. Are high performances and industrialised productions involved? Would this line be restricted to artisan producers?

The best work with Wood amongst the 270 tasted samples is the one from José Pariente, a well-known winery that maintains its position over the years due to their reliable and consistent work. José Pariente Fermentado en Barrica 2016 (94 points), is a superb, powerful, structured wine, excellently crafted and at 16 euros. It has an outstanding and long finishing and it has achieved its optimal consumption moment despite its youth, but hurry for it seems the 2016 vintage will not last.

Besides, Amador Diez Cuvée Especial 2015 (93 points), it is another example of a noteworthy oak fermented reference. It comes from a selection of aged vineyards previous to phylloxera crisis, over 100 years old and located in the Segovian side of Rueda, namely in Aldeanueva del Codonal. In fact, this area persistently produces great brands such as Blanco Nieva Pie Franco 2016 (92 points) or those from Ossian Vides y Viñedos, labelled as Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León, and Ossian Capitel 2015, both rated with 94 points. However, they might even achieve a higher rank when we retaste the best rated wines in the month of July to compare and confirm finest samples. 

Throughout wines aged over lees, we were impressed by the range V of Javier Sanz (Javier Sanz Viticultor), Javier Sanz Viticultor V1863 cosecha 2014, produced in El Pago de Saltamontes, a municipality of La Seca, a family vineyard of 2,27 hectares that survived phylloxera and is planted on the characteristically boulder.

Meanwhile, Francois Lurton presents a delicious sample of La Seca vineyards in its Campo Eliseo 2016 (93 points), aged over lees and oak. Smart and non-invasive barrel fermented that provides greater presence to the wine and withstands the structure that castellan climate imposes. It is a nice representation of the region’s vineyard with dry stone hints, resulting in an excellent work of translation of the ground. From La Seca, once again excel two wines from Bodega Naia, Naia 2017 and Naiades Fermentado en Barrica 2014 (both 92 points).

The “para…por” are wines produced by some region’s wineries for other companies. They are very common in the area given the commercial success of D.O Rueda all over our country. Yet this year, they have lost quality as it seems winemakers have decided to keep their best grapes for their own labels, committing the less meaningful to those wines. In consequence, global ratings mirror this decision.

The best rate among D.O. Rueda labels was awarded to the “golden” historical Rueda wine, a classic wine reproduced nowadays at Bodega Hijos de Alberto Gutiérrez. De Alberto Dorado (95 points) has impressed us again for its history and great complexity. Currently, more and more “goldens” are being produced and it is very pleasing as they represent the primal region’s wines and not the verdejo’s whites.

Unfortunately, due to the shadows D.O. Rueda has been reflecting over the last five years, many wineries fully involved in the production of fine verdejo white wines have decided to abandon the D.O. and started to label their wines as Vinos de la Tierra, as they consider Rueda damages them. It was already shocking that last year, Marqués de Riscal, one of the founding wineries of the denominación de origen, launched through Guía Peñín 2017 their top range wine, Barón de Chirel Viñas Centenarias Verdejo labelled Vino de la Tierra, following the sad incident originated around the 2013 vintage. Under the label de Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León, besides the mentioned Ossian Vides y Vinos, currently owned by Pago de Carraovejas, we must mention other old Rueda, one of the best known outlaws of the D.O, Bodegas Menade, ran by Sanz brothers, and who generally present some of the best rated verdejos, as for example, La Misión 2015.

In addition, we had a nice surprise at La Seca: Isaac Cantalapiedra Viticultor, who we had heard about and whose wines captivated us in their first tasting. It is a great project labelled off the D.O. Rueda which shows a clear commitment towards winemaking. He is producing straightforward, expressive and well-differentiating wines. We consider Manuel and Isaac Cantalapiedra, father and son, were right when back in 2014 they chose to harvest their own grapes, formerly for other wineries. They offer a small sample of La Seca with a carefully designed craftwork. Majuelo del Chivitero 2016, from the plot El Chivitero, vineyard planted in 1981 and less than one hectare large, it is a sincere and expressive wine, one of those wines we enjoy sharing.

“Red-wise”, the label Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla y León embraces many dissidents from different denominaciones de origen and has become a creative space for many. Spectacular wines have arrived to our glasses and moved us. This was the case of the range Galia from Bodegas el Regajal. It is a Project that combines the concerns of Daniel García Pita, responsible of the winery, and Jerome Bougnaud, leading the winemaking and oenology department that pretends to unify special terroirs in Soria, Burgos and Valladolid. For example, Galia Clos Santuy 2015 (95 points) or Galia La Viña del Dean 2015 (94 points).

The heterogeneity of VT Castilla y León lead us to such scattered places as the one midway Cacabelos y Villafranca, at the top of the peak pico de Pieros. In Bierzo, is located the project Losada Vinos de Finca where oenologist Amancio Fernández Gómez crafts plot wines with well differentiated styles. Altos de Losada La Senda del Diablo 2016 (93 points) captivated us once more, it perfectly reflects not only its grenache tintorera’s origin but also the scenery which saw it grow. It is a wine with nerve but with mineral notes and a balsamic hint that turns it special. 

Every year, new projects see the light in this complex sector and this time Enológica Wamba of Phillippe Cesco and Alfonso Sicilia striked our attention. It is an adventure which “doesn’t intend to revolutinized the wine sector nor does it pretend to protect tradition, but it looks to create new things and they try to trespass and enjoy wine in different ways, affordable to all”. Pursuing this line of work, we tasted Friki de Burgos 2016 (91 points), a blend of tempranillo, syrah, merlot and garnacha, from a vineyard in Pampliega (Burgos), and from which there are only 2,700 bottles.

Cigales, model of quality Spanish rose wine

The mentioned denominación de origen extends throughout the north zone of the Depresión del Duero, a Surface of 574 km2, along both riverbanks of the Pisuerga river. Their vineyards are located at a médium height of 750 meters and extends from part of the city of Valladolid (Pago “El Berrocal”), to Palencia in Dueñas, including Cabezón de Pisuerga, Cigales, Corcos del Valle, Cubillas de Santa Marta, Fuensaldaña, Mucientes, Quintanilla de Trigueros, San Martín de Valvení, Trigueros del Valle and Valoria la Buena.

Cigales is, like Navarra and Utiel, a reference in the production of rose wines. Every rose wine lover recognizes this aspect. We may find true treasures at very low prices which reflects the terrible situation Spanish wine undergoes due to the financial unsustainability many rural families live. Bodegas Salvueros could be unknown for the wider public, one of many winemakers creating very pleasing wines with no ambition. However, they improve every year their resulting products matching those from the best-known wineries. This is the case of their rose wine Salvueros 2017 (92 points), a blend of tempranillo, albillo and verdejo. It is a fruity, savoury, fresh and sweet wine. The winery is lead by brothers Raúl and Rafael Gómez Panedas, in Murcientes (Valladolid) and they also produced a Delicious Salvueros Garnacha Gris Edición Limitada 2017 (91 points), a special wine. It is worthy to visit the products from this third-generation producers that create sincere wines.

At Cigales there are also renowned companies such César Príncipe, nowadays a reference in the area. The crianza César Príncipe 2015 (94 points) shows a great energy and became the best rated wine in the D.O. It is a 100% tempranillo produced out of vineyards 70 or 100 years old, from the plots El Negral, La Parada, La Majada and El Velero, located in the gentle hillside of Fuensaldaña. The result is a serious wine that invites reflection, long and balanced. A masterpiece of Ignacio Príncipe, third generation of winegrowers.

Moro family, on their winemaking path in Rioja and rest of Spain, offers a new edition of their emblematic Finca de Valdehierro 2015 (92 points), the best vintage we have tasted from this reference. Vineyard stands in Cubillas de Santa Marta (Valladolid), in the Duero’s watershed, at 750 meters above sea level, in an area of continental climate and with temperature variations between day and night. It is a serious, structured wine with balanced tannins. It owns roasted oak notes that combines with a Delicious presence of ripped fruit and a subtle and Smart limestone background. The silky tannins finish the circle of a long, savoury and expressive wine.

Traslanzas, Lezcano Lacalle or Bodegas Museum are similarly noteworthy hallmarks within the wine from Cigales. As usual, all tasting notes and ratings are already available under online subscription to Guía Peñín 2019 which you may Access by clicking here.

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