Envínate Part I: Viva la Revolución!
Preamble to Revolution
Forget rewriting chapters. Envínate and co. are rewriting the book. Spain needed a new draft. The first wave of commercial enterprise leaned, for the better part, on the fashion of the day – frosted tips and souped-up, soul-deprived reds. Behold a brave compensation - organic farming and wines of place. The ink is hardly dry, but the words are flying off the page.
And so, the million-dollar question: How does a winemaker dial down the volume without losing the melody? A fine line for any producer, let alone a maiden voyage in uncharted waters. Mencía from Ribeira Sacra has all the makings of greatness in the right hands. Following Envínate down the rabbit hole, let’s just say the darling of the Northwest is being pushed to its limits by more than capable stewards…
From Beberechos to Turbot, Restaurante Sal De Allo was en fuego...
Day 1: A Taste of Revolution
Before there were treacherous vineyard walks, there was lunch. Touching down at Aeropuerto Vigo from Madrid, we set up shop in the town of O Grove. For seafood lovers, Galicia is heaven on earth and O Grove is Eden. The forbidden fruit was Restaurante Sal de Allo. Joaquin, our host and enabler, rolled out the red carpet and Viticole met Envínate.
Word to the wise: if a noon lunch ends with the sun going down, you may be dining with Spanish winemakers. It’s safe to say 23 bottles of wine and endless treasures from the sea would be a sufficient ice breaker.
Envínate comprises four friends, all of whom independently met at enology school in 2005 - two of whom tied the knot, Alfonso Torrente and Laura Ramos. Sourcing vineyards in four regions - Ribeira Sacra, The Canary Islands (Tenerife), Extremadura, and Almansa - geography is a bit of a situation to say the least (The Canary Islands are closer to Morocco than mainland Spain). Cue the x’s and o’s... The team mans three facilities, requiring a rather remarkable division of labor – let’s call it a communal version of musical chairs, that enables the quartet to stay connected to their scattered parcels. As Roberto Santana puts it, “Eight eyes are better than two. All four of us make the wine and see things that the others don’t.”
I would be seated next to Roberto for the full 9 hours of our marathon greeting. Unexpectedly, we spent the bulk of the time blind tasting and discussing wines beyond the homeland: France, Austria, Italy, and America. How a Canary Islands native managed to reference cult Cali projects like Arnot Roberts and Sandhi was beyond me - as was the suitcase full of wine I brought, emptied in my first lunch on Iberian soil.
Scale Parcela Camiño Novo at your own risk...
Day 2: Hours awake 45 - asleep 3
This is not an insular bunch. Call them neo-provincial. Change requires an influx of new ideas, and while Envínate is true to their heritage, they are in so many ways outside the box. I came to learn that Roberto and Alfonso blind taste regularly in global competitions. They have amazing palates and the exploration of great wines of the world very much informs their vineyard-centric approach.
Define 'vineyard-centric' - Flashback sequence: When I first tasted the 2015 Envínate lineup with importer José Pastor, he spoke about these vineyards or should I say dared me, “You have to see it to believe it my friend. Old-vine Mencía in ancient vineyards terraced by the Romans.” He was right. I had to see it. Challenge accepted...
Back to present: The gang bounced us around to three parcels across two subzones of Ribeira Sacra: Amandi and Ribeiras do Sil. It’s a tale of two exposures, depending on which side of the river you’re on. Amandi on the north bank faces south and is the riper of the two. The challenge with Amandi is making sure in warmer years the fruit is shaded enough to delay the inevitable. Ribeiras do Sil, by contrast, faces north, residing on the south bank. In cooler vintages, the worry is getting the grapes all the way there.
After viewing Parcelas Camiño Novo, Seaone, and Rosende, I had a feel for the terrain that comprises our ‘Viñas de Aldea’ cuvee (vines of the village). The prevailing soil is a broken-up slate the locals like to call ‘Lousas’. We used those slabs to carve a path down 60-70 degree pitches. It got a little Indiana Jones for a minute there - check your stiletto heels at the top…
Pulpo = Octopus. This Pulpo = Ungodly
In the Throws of Revolution
Before another resounding demo of Galician culinary dominance, the cellar called. We tasted about 25 Mencías from the '16 vintage out of barrel, before assembling a few custom cuvees for next year’s offer. More on that…next year.
The ‘15’s were definitely riper. It’s a rich vintage. But that's not to suggest spineless – nor did the warmth of the season lead to an identity crisis. The wines are structured and pure – a testament to how well Envínate is getting to know their plots. There are currently three cuvees in the Lousas arsenal: Viñas de Aldea and the two single vineyards, Seaone (pronounced-ish ‘say-ow-AH-nay’) and Camiño Novo.
Camiño Novo is the ultramarathoner. Slow and steady wins the race. If you can find some, HOLD... It will defy decades. Seaone is the show horse - exuberant now and good for the long haul. Viñas de Aldea would be the overachiever…superhuman village wine whose life goal is to put $50 bottles to shame.
It's not all about tasting local. But in the cellar, the Mencía was flowing...
How to describe Mencía... According to Alfonso Torrente "There is nothing like it." That doesn't really help does it? But he's right. While the components seem to emulate Syrah from the Northern Rhone (especially Camiño Novo), Mencía is its own animal - and I would preface with Envínate, an alien lifeform. Not in a crop circle, Roswell way - quite the opposite. I've just never seen Mencía so exposed.
Their craft makes you think of Beaujolais - it certainly emulates the playbook: natural yeast, whole cluster fermentation, gentle extractions, low sulfur, all the fun things in life...
So what are we left with? The million dollar question: answered. Picture a family of 12 living in an elegant 1-room cottage. And somehow there's no chaos. Just lots of life. That's Envínate Mencía.
Last supper on the mainland...
Breaking bread: From a winery that overlooks the valley, we enjoyed a simple lunch on a makeshift table. Four crates on their side, long-way up, formed the legs. The surface was a wooden pallet and the tablecloth a sheet of cardboard. The main course? Pulpo drizzled in olive oil, salt, and red pepper. It was the best octopus I've ever had and a revelation with Mencía. The company was equally magical.
Later that evening, we would find ourselves dining in Santiago de Compostela - home of the eponymous Camino de Santiago. From a number of points throughout Northern Spain and France, people from all over the world, walk the 'Camino' to this charming town. Our pilgrimage was about to change course. Tomorrow, the Canary Islands would beckon...
2016 Viñas de Aldea in cement (electric wine). Spit bucket game on point.
Day 3: awake 68, asleep 4
I don't know if it's the jet lag or the booze, but Spain got to me. I’d like to blame it on mind-blowing food and wine but it’s more than that. It’s good people doing great things.
I'm made to think about where Spain started - the generalizations I've made over the years: overripe, powerful reds with too much oak. To see that stereotype turned on its ear, and to follow a new narrative in the opening chapter is a very exciting thing.
But I'm also made to think of how easy it is to bash the old, as if it no longer has a place in our world.
With every crusade, a villain is painted. Robert Parker made me do it… The truth is there is the potential for craft within a house and all its rooms.
Can high-octane wines be made with integrity? Absolutely. It’s always a bonus when the life of the party can hold his liquor. Can wines of minimal intervention be soulless? Absolutely…as tepid as a limp handshake.
Still, I prefer the more humble of the two, or maybe I should say the more vulnerable. It takes courage to walk out the front door without makeup. Better analogy – it takes courage for a person to be all the way real. Open and raw. To believe there's enough there to support being seen. Especially when you’ve lived a little – been battered by the elements – and come out the other side, clinging to transparency.
Real people don’t hide behind smoke and mirrors. Pretense is an off aroma. They don’t homogenize themselves by conforming to the mob. Real people let their freak flag fly. And with soul on display, they risk ridicule. They won’t please everyone. But they stand to be respected if their merits and flaws are acceptable enough. They are enigmatic and complex…delineated and formed. And they have an energy that is undeniable.
I love people like this. It is rare. I love wine like this. It is also rare.
With Envínate, there is no distinction. They are both.
Take it where you can get it. Dreaming of Tenerife...
Dedication to a Friend
This month’s article and charitable outreach is dedicated to Chris Robles. Chris was a legendary sommelier and wine professional who lost his life to pancreatic cancer on October 19th, 2016. As is customary each month, Viticole donates $5 of every case sold to a given charity. The RITA Foundation is an organization that gave us a little more time with a friend, by personalizing cancer diagnosis and therapy. If you want to donate with us, you will find a link to Rita Foundation in the Cheat Sheet below under 'Bigger than Wine'.
Our last night in Madrid, Jimmy Hayes – whose incredible photographs you see on this page – brought up people in the industry who have influenced us. For Jimmy, Chris was an early mentor who inspired his path in wine some 17 years ago at Delmonico in New Orleans. It was in the last years of Chris’ life, in Santa Barbara, that I would come to know him.
You talk about real people - Chris Robles was the genuine article. He could be prickly and harsh at times - savagely funny, but those who knew him knew a heart of pure gold. He fought his illness with braveness and dignity. I never once heard him complain. Chris was as unapologetically human as anyone I’ve met and he is sorely missed.
Tasting Notes: Dark and red fruits, savory earth, and high toned spicy notes. Northern Rhone frame - different interior.
Seasonal Pairing: Octopus drizzled in Spanish olive oil, salt, and red pepper
When to Drink: Best in late 2017 - 2027+
Geeky Things: Viñas de Aldea is Envínate's entry-level offering from multiple Mencía parcels: young vines in Quiroga, and vines ranging from 30-85+ years of age in Amandi and Ribeiras do Sil.
Area Eats: In the town of O Grove: D'Berto, Sal de Allo
Vintage Report: 2015 is ripe but structured, perfect for medium-term aging
Bigger Than Wine: $5 of every case sold of Envínate will be donated to the RITA Foundation, a Houston-based organization that personalizes cancer diagnosis and treatment. You can check them out online.
The Viticole Podcast: Part I of a two-part podcast with Spanish producer Envínate explores the world of Galicia, a winemaking revolution, and Viticole's May 1st wine club shipment 2015 Lousas Mencía from Ribeira Sacra Check it out.