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Last weekend I gave a masterclass tasting at VinCE Budapest, a big annual wine fair mostly for consumers. The topic was, surprise surprise, uncommon grape varieties, intended to showcase some of the discoveries I made when we were working on Wine Grapes. The first wine in the line up was the fragrant and fresh-faced red wine Quinta da Muradella Albarello 2009 from Monterrei in Galicia, north-west Spain, where the variety is also known as Brancellao. In Portugal, it goes under the name of Alvarelhão and Campolargo in Bairrada have just started producing a varietal wine, which I included in my top 50 Portuguese wines last year.
Much as I would have liked to make the Albarello my wine of the week, it is made in small quantities and quite difficult to get hold of. However, I am delighted to choose another of José Luis Mateo Garcia's wines, the single-vineyard Gorvia Blanco, to exemplify the quality and expressiveness of all his wines, which I first encountered when José Luis came to London with his wife Belen (pictured here) just over a year ago.
His father used to run a bar and tended the vines purely to fill his customers' glasses. José Luis set off for the city to study economics but didn't enjoy it, wanting to be back on the land. He still provides wine for the bar, but his attention to detail and strong desire to 'express the soul of Monterrei' through his wines have resulted in a wonderful range of reds and whites from local varieties such as Sousón (northern Portugal's Vinhão), Bastardo (Trousseau in the Jura) and Caiño Redondo. Among the whites, he has Doña Blanca, which in Spain is found mainly in Galicia but is quite common under the name Síria throughout Portugal, where it is seems to be generally more aromatic.
Monterrei is the hottest valley in Galicia – up to 42 ºC in summer and cold in winter. His 15 or so hectares, some of those rented rather than owned, are farmed organically and comprise more than 20 different plots. They are planted at altitudes ranging from 300 m on the valley floor to up to 900 m on the slopes. He has taken plant material from old mixed vineyards to replant these very local varieties but some of his vines are more than 100 years old. (Incidentally, the A Trabe vineyard, the source – and name – of the wine he makes jointly with Raúl Pérez, is on these higher slopes.)
The Quinta da Muradella Gorvia Blanca 2010 Monterrei is made from a single parcel of 24-year-old Doña Blanca vines grown mid slope on slate soils with a high metal content – these were the first vines he planted, using massal selection to perpetuate the qualities of the best old vines.
It has an enticingly restrained aroma of tart fruit (quince and citrus) and also has notes of cedar/resin and stones. On the palate, there's very gentle grip from the merest hint of tannin, thanks to the fact that one third of the fruit is fermented on the skins. The other two-thirds is fermented in big (1,500-litre) oak casks. It gains in complexity as it warms up a little in the glass – minerally, salty and savoury with a slight mealy creaminess to the texture, finishing on a really refreshing, almost sour edge and lingering long. Although it is already delicious, it is very young and I am quite sure it will age beautifully over the next 5–7 years, probably longer given its fine balance between structure and fruit.
I haven't tasted the Gorvia Blanco 2008, which seems to be the vintage currently available in Spain, but I am convinced it will be equally good and age beautifully. When I asked José Luis how it was tasting now, he says it is perhaps a little less structured than the 2010 but more complex thanks to the longer bottle ageing, showing 'typically salty characteristics in the centre of the mouth that reflects the metallic content in the soil'. The wine is not made in every vintage, only when he feels that the wines really express the terroir. He did not sell the Gorvia Blanca under that label in 2001, 2002, 2004 and may not release the 2009, but I am delighted to say that the 2010 will be launched this April.
Although it is fascinating to taste wines from these relatively obscure varieties, what shines here is 'the soul of Monterrei' and the deft, light-handed winemaking of a skilful and intuitive winemaker.