Saturday, 21 December 2013

A tribute to Jose Penin, Mr. Spanish Wine

In our researches into rare Spanish grape varieties we recently came across the name of Jose Penin.

Always ready to put our hand up to ignorance we are absolutely delighted to fill this embarrasing lacuna. Jose Penin is a sort of James Halliday and Robert Parker Jr. rolled into one with the application and resourcefulness of a Jancis Robinson if that can be imagined. He is also the author/editor of the Guia Penin, Penin Guide to Spanish Wine as well as a very nice man who has given us permission to re-produce his fascinating post on Wines made with wild grapes from his blog, El Blog de Jose Penin

el blog de José Peñín

We came across Jose Penin while resarching a bottle we had bought at La Cartuja in Marbella called Payoya Negra from Finca La Melonera, Ronda.

We had been told that this bottle contained wine made from a grape called Melonera. In fact it consists of Garnatcha, Syrah and Tintilla de Rota (aka Graciano) but strangely enough there is a grape called Melonera and it is being grown and trialed at Finca La Melonera.

The following article is one of the most interesting we have encountered. We are sure you will think so too;

Wines made with wild grapes

I went to Ronda a few days ago to taste the first wines made in Spain from “wild vines”, a unique experience given that we are talking about Neolithic species, and the predecessors of the vitis vinifera we use nowadays to make “wine” as we know it.

The ampelographer Simón de Rojas Clemente wrote in 1807 the most formidable anthology on Andalusian vine grapes, counting over a hundred of them, between vinifera species –i.e., those used today in wine production– and the wild ones, the Neolithic living samples and the predecessors of the “domesticated” varieties of modern times. As their own name indicates, the “wild” varieties have grown abundantly in the Mediterranean forest, some of them surviving in the Serranía de Ronda mountain region; in order to avoid pillaging, they have been kept hidden by Miguel Lara, a technician working for the RanchoLa Merced research centre, in Jerez, and one of the authors of the book titled “Las poblaciones españolas de vid silvestre” (“The Spanish wild vines stocks”), published by the INIA (Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria, National Research Institute for Food and Farming Technology). Unfortunately, the RanchoLa Merced research centre, as it happens to be the case of all the other centres of this nature in Spain – directly funded by the different Autonomous Regions, they have to follow strict guidelines that hardly have hedonism as a primary goal–, the research methods follow an analytical pattern rather than a sensory one.

In this sense, the Catalonian company “Thalassa Taller de Vino” –the promoter of FincaLa Melonera, a wine research centre located in Ronda at the head of which we find the ineffable José Luis Pérez Verdú– has put the focus on the sensory possibilities of these “wild” stocks. First and foremost, I have to praise the commitment of this Catalonian vine researcher to promote indigenous Andalusian grape varieties like tintilla de rota, melonera, romé and blasco. But what I could not imagine was that, for the first time in history, someone would dare to make wine from these wild stocks. Thus, modern winemaking techniques have provided us with the chance to discover new flavours to add to the already vast catalogue of Spanish varieties and sensory patterns.

As it happens every time we step into uncharted territory, these new varieties have been named S1, S2, S3 etc., following the k2, k1 etc. model used to name the different peaks in the Himalaya Range. I am not going down into detailing each one of these “wild” wines tasted, but I would point out their common denominator, their strong wild red fruit character with nuances of wild herbs provided by the surrounding flora and vegetation.

It was quite an interesting experience, which opens the sensory realm onto a new catalogue of flavours to add to those afforded by the most common vitis vinifera grape varieties that make up the market nowadays.

Andalusian varieties

The tintilla de Rota is surely the flagship of these less known Andalusian red grapes. Its character somehow resembles that of the graciano from Rioja, probably just a touch less balsamic, and quite an interesting

blending option alongside tempranillo, merlot or cabernet sauvignon. The experiments with tintilla de Rota in FincaLa Merced–located in Jerez, i.e., at sea level– translated into a fairly Mediterranean fruit character, with even some confected black fruit notes, while that cultivated in the climatically cooler region of Ronda, at 800 metres above sea level, resulted into higher acidity levels and therefore and an altogether fresher character.
This bears evidence of the fact that the grape varieties in Spain, except for the late-ripening ones, grow fairly well at altitudes above700 metres. Another interesting variety is the one called melonera –cultivated also in the namesake finca, La Melonera– named after the similarities of its berries to watermelon (“melón” in Spanish). Another variety, cited also by the famous botanist Simón de Rojas Clemente, is romé, which renders light-coloured wines with plenty of fruit expression similar to fresh garnacha with a somewhat wild herbs aftertaste full of charm and singularity.

You may think, do we have to learn about “wild” grape varieties when we already have enough with commercial and indigenous ones? There is just one answer to this question: we do, indeed. When taste globalization has reached every corner of this industry, what we have got here is an amazing opportunity to step into a totally unknown sensory territory.

Some Spanish winemakers are trying to recuperate the indigenous grape varieties, mostly on the verge of extinction, which are affording at the same time a sort of re-emergence for small and nearly forgotten wine regions, given that those professionals are working with quality grapes perfectly adapted to those areas.

Many projects have been undertaken in this direction, from public and also private institutions, as it is the case of La Melonerain the city of Ronda –at the head of which are Jorge Vilademiú and Javier Suqué– an innovative viticultural project with the goal to recuperate Andalusian grape varieties like melonera, tintilla de Rota, romé and blasco. They are also partly supported by the IFAPA (Instituto Andaluz de Investigación y Formación Agraria, Pesquera, Alimentaria y dela Producción Ecológica, i.e., the Andalusian Research Institute for Farming, Fishing and Organic Production) Rancho dela Merced, which has provided the vegetal base material necessary to undertake vine stock reproduction. Some of them, like melonera and blasco, were almost extinct. Of the former, there was just a single vine at the Botanic Gardens in Madrid and up to80 inthe whole of Andalusia (all of them in Rancho dela Merced), but nowadays they are already 1200 in La Melonera, definitely the highest concentration of it in the world. As for romé, it is a little known variety indigenous to the provinceof Málaga.

At FincaLa Melonera they are working shoulder to shoulder with the CRDO Sierras de Málaga (partly supported by the Junta de Andalucía, the Andalusian Government) researching the vine-growing and winemaking quality potential of the different autochthonous red varieties, an I+D project for which new premises will be built in the La Melonera, a7 ha. finca planted with different varieties under the direction of José Luis Pérez, of Mas Martinet fame and one of the founding fathers of the D.O.Ca. Priorat.
Working so far mainly in the vineyards with a clear goal to come up with quality wines full of singularity, the first harvest of these varieties took place and the overall quality, particularly of tintilla de Rota and melonera renderings, has been outstanding. The next step was obviously to make them into wines and, according to José Luis Pérez, “now that the vines have come into production, we want to apply an still experimental winemaking process that provides the artist-cum-winemaker with the most appropriate tools to literally ‘create’ the wines”.

There are also similar projects working towards the recuperation of indigenous grape varieties in different autonomous regions like Castilla-León,Valencia, the Balearic Islands or Castilla-La Mancha.
Traslation: Antonio Casado

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