I had been hearing in recent times about the awakening of wines in Madrid province’s Westernmost corner-an unexpectedly pristine area for being so close to the capital. A couple of years ago, during one of my visits, my brother Juancho had me taste a bottle of Bernabeleva’s Navaherreros. I remember that it had some intriguing aroma, very particular, that I had not perceived before in other wines. It reminded me of the small violet candies that my grandmother used to give us from a little store in the heart of Madrid, La Violetera. But the most salient characteristic was its minerality. The other surprise was that the wine looked and tasted like a Burgundy, with aromas of red fruits and red licorice, but it was a 100% Garnacha from San Martín de Valdeiglesias.
I could find the wine in the state store in Pittsburgh, and was able to confirm my prior impressions. Later, in 2018, through my friend Allen Baum, I tasted the 30,000 Maravedies from Bodega Marañones. It was very similar. Again, rather original. With such a light body that is was borderline with a rose type wine. Definitively, these holidays, taking advantage of my trip to Madrid I was going to visit this place. I called Bernabeleva and the owner, Juan Diez Bulnes kindly offered a tour. I told my brother, Juancho, and our good friend, Jesus Benito, and there we went!
We departed from El Escorial and drove on the south side of the Sierra de Guadarrama down to the valley of San Martín, where these mountains end and the next mountain chain begins, the Sierra de Gredos.
We passed the Fresnedillas NASA Deep Space Network Station which, with the ones in Canberra and in the Mohave desert continuously cover space communications. It played an important role in the Apollo program and the landing on the Moon. The reasons why NASA located it here were the equidistance with California and Australia, the clear skies from a high elevation and low humidity, and, indeed, its proximity to my home town.
We met Juan at his bodega and he took us in his 4 wheel drive for a tour of his parcels. A parcel (“parcela” in Spanish) is a small contiguous land plot.
The place was so remote that vultures made circles in the sky. When Juancho asked, Juan said that there was all kind of wild life including wild boar.
Parcel Panaderos (Bakers)
Yes, can you believe it? Look at how thick the stems were. And notice the distance between vines. What a tremendously low productivity! 800 vines per acre Juan said. In addition, notice the grape bunches still on the vines. I asked Juan about that and he explained that they only collected the primary bunches. Bunches that grow from secondary branches are left in place for the wild bores and birds. Given these practices, the yield is minimal, I said. But Juan looked for quality, not quantity. Plus without any irrigation in such a dry landscape, higher densities are not really possible.
We continued through each parcel, some oriented South, some North, some with olive trees. The parcels are worked with the help of mules and agriculture in a biodynamic approach with minimal use of chemicals. Each parcel is harvested individually and the wine from each parcel is elaborated separately.
The voids in this vineyard are from vines that have passed away. When Jesus asked why weren’t new vines planted in their place, Juan explained that the parcel would lose its character.
This parcel was not worked this year. The grapes were there though.
Each parcel had different characteristics. Some were planted with Garnacha while some others with the white varietal Albillo Real. Some had vines 80 years old and some 60 while others were in their 40s. Some had minimal top soil while some, specially in the lower end of the slopes had deeper soils. All were a mix of disintegrated granite rock with clay.
Juan explained that a parcel facing South was the latest to be harvested. I thought I had heard wrong and made him repeat it. Then I asked, but the parcel facing North would have less light exposure and take more to mature!!! Well, Juan explained, the parcel facing North had almost no top soil. The granite rock was inches away from the surface. It gets hotter during the day, releasing the heat at night time and helping the grapes mature faster. Well, I guess there are more complexities than one would think! Yes, said Juan, and when we go to the cellar and taste the wines from each parcel to appreciate the differences.
The granite keeps the heat and reflects the light, helping the grapes mature, while it creates a layer that protects the scarce humidity in the soil from evaporation.
Juan, like some other winemakers in this area, vinifies each parcel separately and produces different bottlings from the best parcels. The Garnacha parcel wines are Arroyo de Tórtolas, Carril del Rey and Viña Bonita. The rest are blended under its brand Navaherreros. The Albillo Real is blended under the brand Cantocuerdas.
Juan’s vines are 40, 60 and even 8 years old. The one on the left is 120 years-old.
As Juan is an architect, he designed his very functional cellar:
Juan explained that the grapes are de-stemmed and pressed very lightly. Most are fermented in oak vats.
We began to taste the wine from each parcel from the 2018 harvest. It was quite busy 2 months ago with the fermentation going on, but now, the time had arrived for the long and silent aging in the oak barrels.
Juan took his pipette and his bucket, and we began the pilgrimage through the barrels containing the wines for the year from each parcel.
Jesus quickly found the one he liked which Juan and I discussed the wine from the parcel Bonita. If you are interested in my conversation with Juan, you may find it in: facebook.com/ricardo.llovet.56
WINE TASTING BERNABELEVA’S 2018 VINTAGE
December 19th, 2018
And, FINALLY, I know you were waiting for this, let me offer here below my personal tasting notes of the unique Bernabeleva’s 2018 parcel wines:
Now, please take into account this important factor: The wines had been aging in the barrels only for a couple of months. They all will evolve. Therefore, these notes merely reflect a point in time in the wine evolution. If after reading this article you decide to visit Juan to taste them, you may come up with different notes.
La Leona (Albillo Real - white) 2018:
White flower aromas. Cider-ish flavor of green apples. Light body. Very light in color with golden hue.
Kung-fu (Albillo Real - white) 2018:
More complex and deeper aromas still of white flowers, but adding notes in nose and mouth of vanilla, kiwi, ripe pears and fig. Mineral, a bit salty and more buttery. Definitely better in my opinion.
Panaderos (Albillo Real – White) 2018:
Also White flowers. This one was very refined, mineral and very acidic.
Blend of Moscatel (Muscat) and Albillo Real from several parcels, 2017:
My first impression was “Dry Asti”. Herbal and leaf feeling. Fresh and acidic which help it avoid the cloying qualities of most muscatel wines. A bit bitter in mouth. Juan told us that two German customers wanted it all. He gave them 100 of the 400 bottles he had.
La Camacha (Garnacha – Red) 2018:
Light color, almost of a rose, with purple reflexes. Buttery. Surprisingly tannic for the light color. It tasted to me as a low complexity Pinot Noir. Good acidity and minerality. Juan detected acorn notes but I could not perceive them.
Taxista (Garnacha – Red) 2018:
Very similar color to the prior one but with more fuchsia tones. Cherries, acidity and minerality. More savory.
Jesus (Garnacha – Red) 2018:
Immediate smell of sulphide. I commented it to Juan who also notices and began to think what would have happen. It fades out with aeration. Wine elaboration is technology but also an art, and every detail matters. Similar to Taxista.
Arroyo de Tórtolas (Garnacha – Red) 2018:
Contiguous to Jesus. When Juan bought Jesus he was expecting a quality almost identical to Arroyo de Tórtolas, but wine often defies logic. So many variables at play!
Tannic like La Camacha. Cherries like Taxista, but also red licorice. Also plenty of acid and minerality, which is a constant characteristic of these wines. But this was more savory and complex. Flavors exploded after 1-2 seconds in mouth.
Our favorite parcel.
Carril del Rey (Garnacha – Red) 2018:
More complex and a bit less tannic than the rest. Aromas and flavors add to the above red plum, strawberry and raspberry. I noticed certain dryness immediately after swallowing it.
I felt an immediate blow of anise. Juan said fennel, which is very abundant in the area. Also white flowers. In mouth the wine tastes a bit like Cointreau. But quickly the anise flavors come back. I commented to Juancho that it brought images of the baker that would come every day in his mule cart to our humble summer place in Sanchidrián from the village of Velayos and the large oval anise and sugar torts.
Juan lets these grapes age in the vine 1 more month that the rest. When the rest of the harvest is collected and fermenting, they go and collect these ones. They ferment up to 15 or 15.5 % alcohol, but in the following summer, with the high temperatures, the fermentation picks up again and it reaches 16 and up to 20 %.
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To finalize, I have permitted myself to insert below two images from Bernabeleva’s Website to show how it looks in the growing season when the vines have leaves and to show the beautiful Bernabeleva symbol with Juan’s grandmother on a bear holding a glass of wine.
The bear resembles the nearby “Toros de Guisando” the most famous pre-Roman monument in the peninsula. Sculptured by a Celtic-Iberian tribe. They are also the place where Isabella was named heiress of the kingdom of Castille.
Juan’s grandmother on a toro and the less graceful Jesus and Juancho with another toro.
We ended the usual way, eating hearty food in an authentic restaurant called Valleyglesias, in the center of town. Just looking at Juancho’s and Jesus’ expressions you will believe me if I say that we recommend it.
Soupy arboreum rice with quail legs
Juan has opted for a style of very light-colored Garnacha red wines that resemble Burgundy’s Pinot Noir and showcase some of its characteristics. The whites are elevating the Albillo Real standing well above its more common consumption as table grape.
All of Juan’s wines showed common characteristics (all with minerality and acidity, whites with aromas of white flowers and reds of cherry). However, it was very interesting to also perceive the differences. Each wine from each parcel showed its own special features. That showcases the complexity of wine. Same varietal, same location, same weather, but each small land plot conferred the wine its differentiation.
It was a privilege to be able to see on the ground the parcel wine concept and the extremely old vines, all with Juan’s detailed explanations. Thank you, Juan, and keep it up!