The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2010

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Page 82 of 116

SPAIN These days, too, the bright lights that led the region to prominence over the past 15 years—Pingus and Vega Sicilia, but also Sissick’s Hacienda Monasterio, Emilio Moro, Pago de los Capellanes, Arzuaga, Matallana, Hermanos Sastre, Aalto and traditionalists Perez Pascuas, Pesquera and ValSoltillo, to list just a few—are now being pushed by a wave of newer wineries. Surprisingly, some of these are making wine in a more restrained style, using less French oak (and less new oak), often vinifying in concrete instead of stainless steel, fermenting whole or partially whole clusters and eschewing the range of permitted grapes in the DO—Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Garnacha—in favor of all Tempranillo, all the time. “All these new wineries, the buildings are modern, the vinifying is modern, but they’re doing very traditional wines,” says Javier Zaccagnini, who ran the area’s governing Consejo Regulador from 1992 to 1999 and now is managing general partner of Aalto. “It’s the traditional style, but done properly—not with dirty cellars, but just genuine Spanish wines.” Several of these new producers are in Soria, the easternmost third of the appellation—and the part with the highest elevation, the coldest nighttime temperatures and the biggest remain- ing percentage of pre-phylloxera vineyards. Dominio de Atauta is the biggest name, and the only one to make an impact on the U.S. market so far. But the rest are coming. that characterized my first visit there in 1995 are a tiny minority now, dwarfed by new plantings that have helped the region grow to nearly 300 producers. But the expected dip in quality never materialzed, a tribute to the area’s rather extreme weather conditions (“Ten months of winter/and two of hell” is the old Spanish couplet), multifarious soils and a core of top-flight viticulturists and enologists that has been able to coax complex flavors out of decade-old vines. 82 / the tasting panel / april 2010 “We’re all still figuring out how to get Tempranillo as good as it can be,” insists Peter Sissick, whose Dominio de Pingus is one of the region’s two producers that would make any worldwide Top 100 list (Vega Sicilia is the other). “But people here are getting better and better at growing grapes, and when you have really good grapes, you tend to get a natural balance that makes wine easier to make. You don’t need all the formulas and recipes.” The wines from Soria are brighter and lighter than those from the heart of the DO, Valladolid and Burgos. They have less density and more acidity. But they’re clearly cousins, and the best of them add a Nebbiolo-like lift to the dark fruits and meaty aromas of Tempranillo. When made with a firm hand, such as at Atauta and Tierras el Guijarral (which produces bottlings under the Rudeles name), they offer a delicious variation on the same classical Spanish flavors. Expect the next Ribera gold rush to be in that direction, with both existing wineries and entrepreneurs off to Soria in search of some of the 150- and 200-year-old vines that currently serve only a handful of producers. It might be enough to make the region fashionable again.

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