Jun 12, 2015
An Inspiring Renaissance in the "Land of Vines"
Leaving Jerez and my first days at Valdespino and Finca Moncloa behind, I was driven east to Malaga, the Sierra de Las Nieves and the historical and visually stunning town of Ronda.
Cortijo Los Aguilares (the place where eagles live) is a truly exceptional 800-hectare estate in the Serrania de Ronda and rests at 900 meters above sea level.
Many people don’t know that Spain (as a country) has the second highest altitudes in Europe.
It is five kilometers from Ronda and next to the estate is Unesco protected natural park and biosphere reserve.
Of the 800-hectares, less than 20 are planted to vines, which are now 15 years old. Another five hectares have been recently planted on the highest point of the estate.
The estate is an ancient one - Roman ruins have been found here. Ronda (photos right) itself was a Roman town called Acinipo and was known as the "land of vines” for centuries.
Those vineyards thrived around Ronda until phylloxera in the late 1800s.
Production halted afterward.
Since Cortijo Los Aguilares (below right) and others began to replant there are now 35 wineries in the region - although some have struggled with varietal suitability.
Additionally the estate is home to about 100 black pigs.
They feed off the plentiful acorns, which fall from the estate's forests of trees. The pigs are purchased from a nursery and left to roam the estate freely foraging, eating and becoming strong. They are harvested after a year and are resold as the famous jamon Iberico.
In order to qualify for the status, each pig must have a minimum one-hectare to roam. They are quite friendly with humans as I witnessed while sitting under a 300-year-old oak tree (below right) in the middle of the vineyard.
José Antonio Itarte (photo below) owned Tesa (security locks and developer of the card key), which allowed him the freedom to purchase this estate (in the late 80s) and plant vines at the recommendation of friend Carlos Falco.
Falco established Grandes Pagos de Espana and recognized this land suited to more than just cereals and crops.
Itarte and his wife Victoria joined us for lunch at the estate that day, both wine lovers, they were able to begin this epic journey just before he retired and sold Tesa.
Itarte was able to start the vineyard from scratch from the preliminary study of the estate to vine selection and exposition. Despite modernity, there is a lot of tradition here too. Not only hand harvesting into small baskets and hands on winemaking but the estate itself, complete with bell tower, harkens back to another era.
The soils here are clay, limestone and fossil. The hot summer daytime temperatures drop quickly at night at this altitude, which means very ripe grapes but with good acidity. The winter sees snow. The estate sits in a rain shadow, which means plentiful moisture in the winter.
Winemaker Bibi Garcia (right with Victoria Itarte) is the key to what was poured in my glass that day.
Originally from Seville, she has worked in Chile (where she met her husband, a winemaker at Santa Rita) and in the north of Spain, in Priorat.
When her husband took a job at a winery in Ronda in 2007 she followed suit.
She’s doing a fantastic job of respecting the varieties she makes wine from: Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot (Bibi thinks this has great potential) and Syrah.
Garnacha, Graciano and Viognier were part of the new five hectares planted last year so it will be some time until they will make wine.
A new addition to Grandes Pagos de Espana, Bibi says, “We were very honoured to be awarded Grandes Pagos as we are such small production. It's a team. Today the team is in the vineyard and I am here with you drinking wine.” It took Cortijo Los Aguilares two years to get approved. As per membership (approval) requirements, a winery must have five years of production and acclaim/recognition within the country.
Read more here.
**Rosé 2014: Made from Tempranillo and Syrah it has an attractive nose of floral and spice with juicy red berries.
Good structure and acidity, a cranberry pink with backbone.
Dry and chic with a tangy finish with orange zest and sweet berries.
A perfect snacking wine with local goat cheese called Payoyo and Jamon Iberico.
**Tinto 2014: This "young wine” is a blend of (mostly) Tempranillo with Merlot and Syrah. It boasts a very clean character with lively spicy cherry and berries, tobacco and cocoa. A very good daily table wine – nice with a slight chill-down.
**Pinot Noir 2013:
Expect an earthy nose, dusty red plums and juicy cherry, with cedar, pipe tobacco and a peppery finish. Nicely integrated, this award winning wine shows good freshness and correct pinosity. Very uncommon variety in Spain. Aged 8 month in French oak barrels.
***Pago el Espino 2011: A blend of Petit Verdot, Tempranillo and Merlot that was aged 15 months in larger French oak casks.
Rich chocolate and damson plum, some dried cherry notes with spice, floral and has a sweet intensity.
Stylish and elegant with a potent chocolaty character and attractive supple weight.
Hands down my favourite wine of the lineup.
***Tadeo 2012: Tasted bottle No 4434/4611.
Made entirely from Petit Verdot this wine is made with care, to express the variety but not to let the intrinsic Petit Verdot tannins to overwhelm. Bibi is careful to partially mature the wine in larger French oak barrels. It presents vanilla and purple berries, layered with blackberry and plenty of spice. A pretty but also a very powerful wine with plenty of sweet smooth tannins.
~Daenna Van Mulligen
Grandes Pagos de Espana estates visited on this trip:
►Valdespino - Inefficient, Crazy and Romantic: Sherry
►Finca Moncloa - Tradition + Creation
►Cortijo Los Aguilares - The Place Where Eagles Live
►Manuel Manzaneque - Risk & Reward
►Finca Sandoval - Wines of Influence
►Bodega Mustiguillo - The Prophet of Bobal
►Learn about Grandes Pagos de Espana here