When I was 17 years old, I spent most of my time watching MTV and attempting to noodle my way through Jimmy Page guitar solos. When Juan Antonio Ponce was 17 years old, he was already a certified enologist.
After a few years working as Telmo Rodriguez’s right hand man at Remelluri in Rioja, where he learned the ins and outs of biodynamics, Ponce returned to his family’s 22 hectare farm in the Manchuela DO. Manchuela lies a bit inland from the Valencian coast, between La Mancha to the west, Utiel-Requeña to the east, and Jumilla to the south. With the courage of a 23-year-old, Ponce boldly broke his family’s pattern of selling the harvest of their native bobal vines, in favor of bottling estate wine. In relatively few vintages, his work has already earned him recognition as the leader of Manchuela, and the title “King of Bobal”. But can he play “Heartbreaker“?
Monthly Pass holders may already be familiar with “Clos Lojen”, the entry point to Ponce’s wines, and a surprisingly gulpable version of bobal. “La Casilla” is a bottling of 80-year-old vine bobal from the Estrecha area, and might be the most immensely impactful wine in the shop right now, though it somehow maintains structural balance. “Reto” is made from the under-appreciated albilla variety, which carries a graceful honied peach note that reminded us of some young Vouvray. “Buena Pinta” is the only red made without bobal, highlighting instead another local variety, moravia agria, whose inherent freshness and aromatic complexity are bolstered in this case with the addition of around 40% garnacha.
To begin to understand and appreciate the wines of Luís Rodriguez, we first have to talk about Ribeiro, the oldest appellation in Spain, and among the most historic vine-growing regions in Europe. The sun-dried sweet wines of Ribeiro graced the royal tables of England and Spain throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, and it is documented that Ribeiro was the first wine brought to the US, at the hands of Christopher Columbus. The style of wine produced here set formed the basis for subsequent successful wine production and exportation from the Canary Islands and Andalusia. As was the case in all but a few major European wine-producing regions, the deadly combination of war and vine disease in the early 20th century devastated the production of high-quality wine, and brought the volume-minded planting of ill-fitting southern Spanish grapes, like palomino and garnacha tintorera (alicante bouschet).
Rodriguez began his journey of rediscovering the native varieties of the region in 1988, when he took over a vineyard belonging to his uncle Martín. He has slowly accumulated roughly 5 hectares over the last 25 years, replanting the high-yielding varieties with the native treixadura, lado, albariño, and torrontes for the whites, and brançellao, caiño longo, caiño redondo, and ferrol for the reds. It’s worth noting that Rodriguez’s attention to red wine production is particularly unique, as 80% of the region’s production is devoted to white. The majority of his vines are planted along the extremely steep south-facing slopes of the municipality of Arnoia, where the soils consist of decomposed granite and sandy topsoil.
We feel very lucky to have any of these wines in the shop, as the entire state was allocated around 300 bottles, split among five different cuvées:
Viña de Martin Os Pasás $40
From a blend of mostly treixadura with lado, albariño, and torrontes, vine age 10-25 years old, planted on steep granite hillsides in the town of Arnoia. Fermented with native yeasts in steel vat and raised in vat on the lees for 10-12 months. It is a fresh light to medium-bodied vino blanco with beautiful structure and subtle flavors of citrus, honey, and seashell minerality. A lovely wine to pair with roast chicken, fresh seafood, cheeses, and delicate earthy dishes.
Viña de Martin Escolma $70
From the lowest yielding old vines, composed of mostly treixadura, planted on steep granite hillsides. Escolma means “selection” in Gallego. This top cuvée is only produced in excellent vintages, it was wild yeast fermented in a variety of sizes of French oak barrels, raised on the lees for 12 months, and further aged in the bottle for 36 months. Escolma is a very complex and age-worthy medium-bodied white with a lovely balance between structured, lush quince fruit, and vivid mineral flavors. A noble wine to pair with lobster, crab, rich sauces, game, and pork dishes.
A Torna Dos Pasás $40
40% brançellao, and roughly equal parts caiño redondo, caiño longo, and ferrol, vine age 10-20 years old, grown on steep south-facing granite hillsides in the town of Arnoia, Galicia. A Torna dos Pasas was fermented with native yeasts in steel vat, and raised in used 300 liter French oak barrels for 12 months. It is a fresh, aromatic, and medium-bodied red with lush and spicy flavors of red fruits, pepper, and purple flowers. A delicious wine to pair with pork dishes, spicy foods, game, and rich fish dishes, like tuna and swordfish.
A Torna Dos Pasás Escolma $70
From a field blend of the lowest yielding old vines planted on steep south-facing granite hillsides in Arnoia. Escolma means “selection” in Gallego. This top cuvée is only produced in excellent vintages, it was wild yeast fermented in barrel, raised in a mix of new and old 300 liter French oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months, and further aged in the bottle for 36 months. Escolma is a very complex and age-worthy medium-bodied red with a balance between structured, wild red fruit, leather, spices, and earthy mineral flavors. A noble wine to pair with game, roasted meats, rich stews and braises, and pork dishes.