Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Spain Pt. II: Morning with the Master of Verdejo

Bodega Martinsancho has been in Angel Rodriguez' family for multiple generations, dating back to 1780. Located in the tiny village of La Seca, within the Rueda D.O., Martinsancho makes what I consider to be the most authentic, tastiest, most honest Verdejo around form their own 60 hectares of vines. Given the huge amount of thirst quenching, but simple, verdejo in the market (often blended with viura or sauvignon blanc and produced with innoculated yeast), the real deal is a breath of fresh air. I would not include the fancy verdejos aged in barrique and bottled in heavy bottles with large punts amongst the real deal, by the way. Angel Rodriguez eschews stainless steal and barrique maturation, instead favoring large cubas of old oak (not sure of the size, at least 2000 liters from the looks of them, maybe bigger). His vineyard is the stoniest in the entire region, the average vine age is 44 years, and these two factors, according to Angel, are what make his wines so special. I would agree, and add that he lets the raw material do the talking, not messing around with artificial yeasts, excessively cool fermentations, or any other such techniques currently in vogue with white wine production. As a result his wines age beautifully. One of my favorites of what we tasted was his 2002, which was lively, full of yellow stone fruit and some emerging quince notes, a bit similar to dry Loire Chenin with a touch of bottle age. Beautiful wine. Try saving a bottle of any other rueda for 5+ years and let me know how it works out. Another older bottle, the 1981, was phenomenal. More mineral, greater intensity and tropicality, and still that vibrant acidity. As for the current release, the 2007, it shows verdejo's trademark gentle peach and honeydew melon flavors, with a mineral backbone and loads of freshness. It is a bit compact and should flesh out nicely with another several months in bottle.

Angel was exceedingly generous, inviting us to pick any bottles which we wanted to try from his cellar. When I asked him about the old style, solera-made, sherry-like wine the region used to produce, he had his assistant fetch an example from the cellar. 76 year-old verdejo from cask (unfortified, mind you) and it was incredibly interesting. Near palo cortado type flavors, with a little less power and weight, and a slight rancio character that brought vinsanto to mind. Delicious and as it is one of two such examples left in Rueda (Angel thought another family might have some, but was not sure), on the verge of extinction.

Below is a visual documentation of the experience, photography by Natalie Luney.