Spain’s Forgotten Grape Varieties

bodegas torresThe most fascinating presentation at last month’s Society of Wine Educator’s Conference was Bodegas Torres’ project of recovering ancient grape varieties that had disappeared, it was thought, without a trace.

Torres is one of the largest wine companies in Spain with 2000 hectares of vineyards (approximately 5000 acres) spread throughout all the major Spanish wine regions and with substantial holdings in Chile and the U.S. as well. Only a wine company with those resources could undertake a project like this.

Since the 1980’s they have been spearheading an attempt to recover ancestral grapes, and that project has finally borne fruit as well as wine. They have revived 40 varieties that had survived phylloxera but had been forgotten or never identified and have made wine from them. The company’s General Manager Miguel Torres Maczassek brought 6 of them along for us to taste as he explained the history of the project and its current status.

The idea that there might be unknown varietals occurred to Miguel A. Torres in 1983 after which he and his staff put ads in local and regional media calling on Catalan farmers to get in touch with Bodegas Torres if they came across vines they could not identify. In 1985 they had identified the first vine that their technical team could not identify. They named it Garro and over a period of ten years the plants were checked for disease by growing cultures in the lab, studied in the greenhouse and vineyard to understand the weather and soil conditions under which they would grow, and then were made into wine in small batches to explore their potential. Because the results were promising they decided to plant the variety and add it to the blend for their Gran Moralles bottling  in 1996. In 1998 a second variety was discovered, named Querol after the village where it was found, and by 2009 that was also included in the Gran Muralles blend.

That early success accelerated the process and the project is now working with 40 varieties of which 7 seem to have potential as wine grapes. Garro and Querol are already included in their production and 5 others are in the experimentation stage and in the process of receiving the necessary approvals before production can begin. Some of these varietals not only make good wine but are more resistant to high temperatures and drought than current varieties thus making them attractive for the future. But since it can sometimes take decades to bring a varietal from initial discovery to wine in a bottle and approved for sale, this is hardly a commercial venture. It is indeed a labor of love.

Here are my tasting notes on the six revived ancient varietals:

Forcada 2015   Named after the village it was discovered in, this is a white wine with pleasing floral, citrus and mineral aromas. It had herbal notes on a textured palate with a chalky finish. It is more expressive than the more traditional white grapes of Catalonia—Maccabeo and Parrelades. It reminded me of the Italian grape Vermentino. All stainless steel fermentation with lees contact.

Pirene 2015  A high altitude red grape, it has a beautiful, rich nose, very spicy with high acidity and powerful minerality on the palate, almost steely. Medium length finish with soft tannins.  A bit like a Pinot Noir, aged in 2nd use oak.

Garro 2014  Sweet flowers on the nose, quite aromatic with some eucalyptus hints. On the palate it’s very fresh with high acidity, a mineral core, and cranberry on the finish. Aged in new French oak. This is the wine that has been used for many years in their Gran Muralles blend.

Moneu 2015   This grape flourishes in the dry, hot continental climate of Costes del Segre. It is round and fruity with plum and blackberry and a very sweet nose. Some tannic grip that was accentuated by high acidity. Aged in 2nd use barrels.

Gonfaus 2015  Perfumed with orange peel notes, a round, full texture and long finish. Aged in 2nd use barrels.

Querol 2015  A strange grape, very small with few seeds and it does not pollinize. Very deep color and high alcohol (15.2%), this is an intense wine with vibrant pomegranate, very high acidity, and prominent tannins. Aged in new oak barrels. This too is being blended into their Gran Murralles.

Finally we tasted two vintages of their flagship Gran Muralles, 2006 and 2010. These are beautiful wines  blends of Garnacha, Monastrell, and several other varietals. The 2006 is showing garrique, floral and mint characteristics, very complex. The 2010 was equally promising with an explosive nose helped along no doubt by the 20% Querol in the blend.

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