For a tired old lag like me, it’s quite rare for me to get really excited by a new discovery at a tasting, but this wine, tasted at last week’s showcase of wines by London retailer Lea & Sandeman, was truly exceptional. Fellow wine writers and I were positively burbling with enthusiasm over it. I was moved to email our Spanish specialist Ferran Centelles in the middle of the tasting to check that he had come across this producer (whose name translates as ‘machine and table’).
‘Yes!’ he responded immediately. ‘They are two young people, they rent space in different wineries, they are very well regarded now. Very good up-coming producer!’
I can’t improve on L&S’s own background to M y T:
‘Màquina & Tabla’ is the brainchild of a dynamic duo – Oriol the winemaker and Susana [Illa], who is the creative genius [behind the] marketing and presentation. They are a tiny family business that began in 2012 in Castilla y León. Their focus is in the details, and they believe in a high quality wine that is always respectful of the land and nature. Their project started from scratch, travelling around the region looking for the oldest and most peculiar vineyards. All their grapes are cultivated biodynamically, grown currently in rented vineyards.
‘Oriol the winemaker describes himself as having been an “oenopath” who, slowly but surely, became more and more interested in winemaking, a passion that turned into a profession during the 2000 harvest in Clos Mogador. Since then as a winemaker he has lead, or taken part in, several projects, including with Vinya l’Hereu, Heretat Montrubí, Els Jelipins and Prieto Pariente.
‘Now, with this project he says he is “happier than a kid in a candy shop”. Susana comes from the world of arts and entertainment, having been a creative editor in publishing, audio visual and new media for Prisa, Planeta and RBA, while conceptualising new ideas. She has managed teams and projects, as well as coordinated communication and production for small projects related to art and music. Now she’s bringing all of her experience and energy to Màquina y Tabla.
‘The striking label designs by Joan Josep Bertran perhaps need a tiny bit of explanation, and you can read more about them here.’
The labels are certainly striking and are apparently inspired by the deathly works of Goya but, for once, the wines live up to them. The Illas were showing two whites, a pale red claret and three reds, and I found the rather aggressively natural reds less to my taste than the first three.
Pàramos de Nicasia Blanco 2016, also sold by Lea & Sandeman for just £13.95 a bottle (£12.75 as part of a mixed case), is based on Verdejo with a bit of Malvasia grown in Toro and given a touch of flor. It tastes strongly of green apples but is a bit more mainstream than the white I have chosen as wine of the week.
I did like the clarete, Pàramos de Nicasia Rosado 2016, a very pale Garnacha presumably also grown in Toro and £14.95 full price. A tad 'natural' on the nose, it’s round and floral – very flattering and yet with undertow of seriousness. It seemed the perfect wine-bar wine to me, although its persistence was amazing and perhaps I am doing it (or wine bars) a disservice. It’s stunning value.
But the standout wine was Laderas de Leonila Blanco 2016, a blend of 50% Doña Blanca (Portugal's Síria), 35% Palomino and 15% Godello, barrel fermented and then aged for 14 months in old French barriques under flor. The grapes were grown in Bierzo but the style of the wine is so far outside the Mencía and Godello norms for this denomination that this wine does not have a DO. Palomino Fino, the sherry grape, was widely planted in this far northwestern corner of Spain in the early twentieth century when the vineyards were recovering from phylloxera, so one can easily see why Oriol Illa thought of making a cross between a dry white table wine and a sort of northern fino sherry.
The doughy flor influence is definitely there but doesn’t dominate the wine. There is no mistaking it for a sherry – it’s just a really interesting, distinctive tangy dry white with notes of apples and nuts and impressive persistence and balance. Not aggressively ‘natural’, it reminded me of Navazos-Niepoort, that other Andalucian cross between a table wine and a young fino sherry conceived by Dirk Niepoort of Portugal on a visit to Jerez in 2008 with David Schildknecht, Jesús Barquín and me, described in The world’s least appreciated fine wine. Except that, being grown so much further north, the Màquina y Tabla wine has more freshness and zing. This is a fascinating wine that is too compelling to be sipped as an aperitif; it cries out for food, but I think would be a pretty versatile partner. I would drink this 14.5 per center over the next two or three years. The picture below of a Corullón vineyard in Bierzo is on their attractive website although I suspect it bears little relation to the wine I am recommending.
I asked what inspired the name Máquina y Tabla and the names of these wines and Susana explained:
'The general concept of our winery is the struggle between nature and human. Nature is wild and free and after beautiful cycles it always tends to death. The land, the grapes growing, the fermentation of the must and then the ageing are marked by human intervention at the right moment and in the most gentle way to get the best of it and finally have a wine with the expression of the land, the grapes and the human… Màquina means Machine – the human, and tabla means piece of wood – nature. Human interventions mark nature.
'We call Laderas de Leonila, Páramos de Nicasia and Terrazas de Serapia “the old ladies: the grandmothers”. This is because they´re actually the names of the grandmothers of the vineyards we rent. These women have these old Spanish names that nobody uses anymore, and we found them really meaningful, full of time and tradition of the region (besides, they sound great!). Laderas, Páramos and Terrazas link the ladies to the land; to the type of land in each zone. Laderas means slopes, Páramos means moors and Terrazas terraces (the slopes in Bierzo, the moors in Duero and the terraces in Gredos). In Bierzo we have the old lady Leonila and Laderas, or slopes. The Bierzo landscape is drawn with slopes and on one of those slopes is the Laderas de Leonila vineyard, the first we rented in Bierzo.'
All these wines they describe as a Vino de Pueblo (village wine), a classification they are pushing for, but they formally have to classify them as simple Vino de España, the Spanish equivalent of that burgeoning category for experimental wines, Vin de France.
At the time of writing (Thursday) wine-searcher.com lists Lea & Sandeman as the world’s only stockist of this particular innovative white but there are many stockists of their other wines (including, I see, Chambers Street wines in New York, winners of our independent wine merchant competition a couple of years back). The Illas sent me this list of their importers around the world:
United Kingdom: Lea & Sandeman
United States: European Cellars
Japan: Mottox Inc.
Switzerland: Smith & Smith
Finland: Vinitukku Tampere
Poland: Vini e Affini
Belgium: La Buena Vida
Hong Kong: Bottle Shock
Canada (Quebec): SAQ
Canada (British Columbia and Alberta): Landmark Selections
Denmark: CA Wines
Spain: Vila Viniteca