Wine sales gal Gwenn Goichman from Noble House Wines was in the restaurant on Thursday showing some new stuff from their portfolio. Gwen’s been selling wine for awhile and for a number of different distributors. I met her in 1997, I think, when I was managing Alison by the Beach restaurant in Sagaponack. The restaurant is now a barbecue joint and Alison is now running the restaurant in the Maidstone Arms in East Hampton. Gwen would show up on Saturday nights to serve as the wine waiter.
The first from Arzuaga was the 2006 La Planta from Ribera del Duero. It’s 100 tempranillo and it is so different from the tempranillo I had open the other day. This is old-school Spanish wine. It was herbal and funky on the nose. Dennis smelled it and took off his shoe, saying they smelled the same. And I can see what he meant. The wine smells dusty, like a vineyard in the middle of a dry hot summer, in the middle of dry hot Spain. The tannins were soft and dusty, with vanilla flavors. It wasn’t about the fruit, but then again it was. I’m not sure I have that many customers who would dive right into this wine. The second wine, the 2005 Pago Florentino is made from grapes from the hotter drier and more southern Spanish region of La Mancha.
Europe’s largest single demarcated wine region in the heart of Spain. By the mid 2000s, the vineyards of the DO La Mancha had reached a total of 192,000 ha/474,000 acres of arid table land from the satellite towns south of Madrid to the hills beyond Valdepeñas nearly 200 km/125 miles to the south. Vineyards not registered for the DO brought the total area of La Mancha devoted to the vine to 400,000 ha/990,000 acres in the late 1990s. The Moors christened it Manxa, meaning ‘parched earth’, and that is an apt description of the growing conditions in southern Castile, Castilla-La Mancha. Rainfall is unreliable, with annual totals averaging between 300 and 400 mm/16 in. Summers are hot with temperatures rising to over 40 °C/104 °F, while winters are bitterly cold with prolonged frosts.
The doughty airén vine seems to be well suited to these extreme conditions and is therefore popular among La Mancha’s 18,000 smallholders. It was planted on a grand total of about 280,000 ha of La Mancha, and about 70 per cent of all land dedicated to the DO. It is planted at the remarkably low vine density of between 1,200 and 1,600 vines per hectare (485–650 per acre) because of the very dry climate. Fungal diseases are almost unknown in La Mancha’s dry growing season and cultivation is therefore relatively easy. Yields of between 20 and 25 hl/ha (1.4 tons/acre) seem puny by international standards, and, despite limited mechanization, production costs remain low. Labour costs were low in central Spain, but vineyard workers began to be recruited from Morocco in the early 1990s. The flat, brown, alcoholic white wines, poorly made without temperature control in earthenware tinajas, commonplace even in the 1970s, have now completely vanished.
Technological development has given La Mancha a new lease of life and opened new and more discerning markets for the region’s fresh, inexpensive, if rather neutral dry white wines. Red wines, made increasingly from Cencibel (tempranillo) grapes, have also improved enormously and a number of enterprising growers are experimenting with other grape varieties, including cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, now admitted and even encouraged by do regulations. Of the 2 million hl/53 million gal produced annually, a large part is still distilled into industrial alcohol or sent to jerez to make brandy de Jerez.
The wine had so much going on. It was rich and raspberry-colored with a spicy black licorice nose, kinda minty. It had a great mouthfeel with a glassy start, medium grainy tannins and then a finish that tasted just like molasses cookies. But it was still really juicy. Again 100 percent tempranillo, which the Spanish call cencibel in this part of the country. Should retail for around $20.
Barrel 27 will be covered in a follow up post.