Telmo Rodriguez – A query on how well we know Spanish wines

Telmo Rodriguez is considered as one of the great Spanish winemakers, one filled with ambition that brings innovation with the likes of Alvaro Palacios and others. From his home of La Rioja, he traveled around Spain, mostly in the North eastern part, to research winemaking and find ancient, distinguished vineyards to resuscitate.

Telmo, with his love of story-telling, brought up an important point. When we think of Spanish wines, what comes to your mind first? Often, at least from a consumer point of view, Spain’s associated with big brands, making robust, heavy wines, focused on wood and development. So much that wood is often used to hide the original flavors of the wine. Hopefully, this represent only part of Spain’s production, yet it’s often the very image or representation of the country. It may be time to approach Spanish wines with more of an open mind. It’s a whole country that encompasses many styles, expressions, varietals, climate, and soils. It might be time to switch our focus to more specific image and comprehensions, like we do with the different regions of France or Italy. French wines are not just characterized by Bordeaux; Italian wines are not limited to Tuscans; Spanish wines are not bonded to aged Rioja. Wine lovers and enthusiasts can easily name and differentiate the different villages of Beaune, yet they can’t name a single Lieux-dits within Rioja, any sub-regions of Galicia nor any grape varieties beside Tempranillo and maybe Garnacha.

For Telmo Rodriguez: “The future of Spain is in its past. “There’s an important heritage that have been forgotten and replaced by ‘Enhancing Varietals’ like Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot in the 1980s. 70 years ago, you could find as much as 50 different local grape varieties, often mixed and co-planted.” Without necessarily wanting to follow the new ‘forgotten varietals’ trend, it’s still part of vineyards history and many regions historical marks and personality. He’s taken an interest especially in the region of Galicia for its unique climate, far from the warm idea of continental Spain. Galicia has a mix of Atlantic and continental and a much cooler climate. In some vintages, harvest has even been done under a snowing sky. It’s mostly known for its white wine production, especially Albariño in Rias Baixas, but there are some lovely red surprises, with a tart and fresh approach that may be found too!

Ladeiras do Xil is the Galician vineyards of Telmo Rodriguez, located in the Valdeorras area in between Ribeira Sacra to the west and Bierzo to the east. They’ve been working since 2002 with well-established families of winegrowers who has been working impossible and complicated vineyards for generations. From soft and delicate  white wines based on the local Godello grape to incredibly complex and aromatic field blend reds. Ladeira do Xil was in a way, a rebirth of the Valdeorras and Santa cruz potential as well as original co-plantation tendencies including varieties such as Mencia, Merenzao, Sousón, Treixadura, Godello, Brencellao, Doña Blanca, Palomino, etc.

The specific parcels of the vineyards have been developed in very different ways for unique expressions. The ‘As Caborcas’ Parcel is the oldest one and hasn’t been replanted at all. It’s an old field blend that has remained the same forever. It shows an incredible complexity of spices and deep fruits. It’s aromatic, delicious with a lingering freshness embellished by tarter notes on the palate.

O Diviso shows darker and riper than As Caborcas. It’s a mix of old vines and new ones since some of them had to be replanted including some of the Alicante that was on the parcel. A burst of fruits & spices that felt like Espelette pepper dark bitter chocolate.

Falcoeira was an esteemed parcel in Santa Cruz. All the elders of the village would praise its merits. It was in such a desperate state that it took 6 years to replant and rebuilt it. “It was a Nightmare!” Telmo says. It may have taken some time, but the wine is showing splendidly: balanced, bright, tasteful with a mouth filling, coating aspect which gives length. The spices of the other parcels are replaced by earthy tones with dark roasted coffee, black beans and roasted nuts.