Spanish wine writer and wine producer, and deputy editor of El Mundo, Victor de la Serna recently bedazzled us on our members' forum with a list of the 2009 Spanish wines of the year as judged by his paper's wine website www.elmundovino.com. The dozen or so wines cited are eclectic in the extreme, including reds from the north west and such DOs as Binissalem, Méntrida, Ribeiro and Yecla, with a mere two wines from the most famous region Rioja.
At more or less the same time, I also heard from Charlotte Allen, whom I knew some years ago when she worked for UK fine-wine importers Richards Walford. She tells me she is now making her own wine, Pirita, in the tiny Bodega Almaroja 90 miles north of Salamanca in the nascent Arribes DO, strung along the Portuguese border. Her Rufete and Bruñal grapes are grown on granite and aged in French oak. All in all, Spain continues to surprise wine lovers with its variety.
Only a day or two after reading Victor's list and the most recent email from 'Carlota', I was sent a couple of particularly exciting white wines from Costers del Segre, at the suggestion of Agusti Peris, whom I met when he was a sommelier at El Bulli. I never thought I would ever be convinced by a Spanish Riesling, but Castell d'Encus, Ekam 2008 Costers del Segre has won me over.
The seeds of this new outfit were sown in 2001 when Torres' long-serving technical director Raül Bobet set off to look for a site cool enough to see him through what he predicted would be a period of global warming. The vineyards of Castell d'Encus lie in the far north east of Spain between 800 and 1,000 m altitude in the sub-Pyrenees, where winter snow, as you can see, is quite commonplace. Vines were cultivated by monks on the site between the 12th and 18th centuries. Fermentation vats, carefully designed to be fed by gravity, were carved out of the rocks here and are apparently in good condition even today. Backed by a couple of local wine-loving businessmen, Joaquín Molins Gil and Joaquín Pascuas Medel, Bobet now has a modern winery and 23 ha (57 acres) of tightly planted vines: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Albariño, Pinot Noir, Syrah and the four main red bordeaux varieties. In future they plan to bottle a Pinot, a Syrah and a red blend.
The 7,800 bottles of the auspicious debut commercial vintage of Ekam are made up mainly of the Riesling planted on the coolest plots of these south-west-facing vineyards with a little Albariño. The grapes, some of which were affected by noble rot in 2008, were picked by hand into small boxes and aged at low temperatures in large 25 hl casks (although there is no perceptible oak influence). The alcohol level of this dense dry wine is 12.9%, total acidity is 7.6 g/l and pH is 3.13. All in all, very northern.
I tasted it alongside a dry German Riesling 2008 from a very respectable address and found that this Catalan wine had more intensity, without resorting to simple residual sugar. The fruit reminded me of grapefruit (although there is nothing bitter about the wine) but with a very deep minerality to it too. You could drink it without food but it struck me as crying out for something sautéed and creamy. Chicken? I still had some left in my glass when our Cumberland sausage with fried apple was ready to eat, so I finished off my glass of Ekam with that hearty dish. And, do you know what? I am still alive to tell the tale...
From the same producer, Taleia 2008 is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc with some Semillon, some of it aged on the lees. If anything, it seemed almost lighter bodied than the Ekam, although the alcohol level is 13.2%, and reminded me a little of Tomás Cusiné's Auzells white, also from Costers del Segre and with a hearty ration of Sauvignon Blanc, though also quite a bit of Maccabeo, about which I shall be writing on Saturday.
These Castell d'Encus wines' names strike an Anglophone such as myself as anagrams. Ekam is obviously 'make' backwards, and Taleia is an anagram of 'atelia', which I have to assume is Catalan for atelier. No?
Apparently not. I have now been told b y Sr Bobet what you knew all along: that Ekam is Sanskrit for unity, and was chosen because he has been a fan of Zen and oriental philosophy since childhood. Taleia is a Catalan and word meaning 'continuous effort in your work, and also obsession'. Taleia 2009 will not be fined quite so vigorously apparently.
The wines are available in Spain, Germany and Holland at the moment but will surely be snapped up by perspicacious importers elsewhere.