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Martinsancho, the Tradition of Verdejo from Rueda

Updated: Apr 30

On February 2024 my sister Begoña, her husband Alessandro Forforelli, our brother José Manuel, and our friend Charlie Azcutia visited Jesús Prieto, the owner of Bodegas Martinsancho, and his son Eduardo.  I wanted to visit this winery for sentimental reasons because of the following story:

Decades ago, while living in Madrid, I decided to make wine in our apartment bathroom. Sally and I drove to Rueda, just 1.5 hours north, during the harvest, with the purpose of getting some freshly pressed grape juice.  While in the local roads, we saw a tractor loaded with grape bunches.  We followed it though dirt roads until it arrived at the winery in La Seca, 6 kilometers from Rueda.

The driver immediately but slowly set foot on ground and came to see who we were.  When I told him my purpose he answered a plain and short “venid” (come over).  We saw how he downloaded the grape bunches in a funnel and down below a stream of must began to surge. He filled up three glasses and tried it with us. You could see his pride.  We concluded that it was a present from God.  Then, he filled up a demijohn and gave it to us.  Most likely the man was Angel Rodriguez.

During our conversation, Jesus told us that

Angel had been the key actor in preserving

the Verdejo varietal and was awarded the Civil Order of Agricultural Merit by the King of Spain.  He was one of the founders of the Rueda Appellation in 1980. Eduardo explained in the following video how it happened. Angel would provide cuttings to nurseries or local vineyard owners to be grafted in their vines so that they could grow the Verdejo varietal.

Martinsancho is one of the oldest wineries in the Rueda appellation and owns many parcels near La Seca.  They use grapes from some of their best and oldest parcels with vines cultivated as globlets, organically grown, and dry-farmed in this very dry region at elevation of about 500 meters. They make about 2,000 cases of their wine and sell the rest to others including the very large Marqués de Riscal (whose wines can be purchased at the Pennsylvania state stores).

Jesús and Eduardo took us to a couple of their vineyards, including Martinsancho, and we held several very interesting conversations. The following videos describe the terroir and its soil, including the amazing upper layer of rolling stones.

This is how the soil works in this appellation to keep this vines alive and influence their expression:

We could appreciate the rolling stones as well as the sand and clayinsh sand. Depending on the location, such as for example, distance from the present Duero river, one or the other prevail, although it is usual to see them together, mixed or at different depths.

One of the vineyards had pre-phylloxera vines.  See the video below:

These pre-phylloxera are the parents of many of the Rueda wines we drink today since many of the cuttings provided by Angel came from it. The age of these vines is unknown but certainly well over a century since that plague hit Spain in 1907.  It may be older than Begoña’s and my age combined.

Once at old the winery, we visited the old cellars that were built on 1869 by Franciscan monks.  The barrels had a capacity of 6,000 – 7,000 liters but are not used anymore. 

We then listened to Eduardo’s interesting discussion about the Rueda appellation.  I was very happy to learn that the new classification “Gran Vino de Rueda” has been created.  The reason is that in the last two decades there has been an amazing proliferation of Verdejo and Rueda wines but many are in the “cheap” side with price of a few Euros and quality commensurate with that price for every day’s consumption at bars and homes.  Good Rueda wines were at the risk having their well-deserved reputation significantly eroded by those mass-produced wines.

From now on, I will only purchase a Rueda if I can read in the label Gran Vino de Rueda!

And, finally we tasted their wine, a 2021.  They produce only one kind, Verdejo crafted in stainless steel, using natural fermentation by local yeasts, four months over lees, and no oak aging.  See below the label and back label which identifies the American importer in case you want to order some.  1-2 years ago I was able to find it in the Pennsylvania store but it flew away fast.

And we proceeded to the tasting. Begoña, according to one of the finest noses in Spain, and I tried their 2021. José Manuel recorded us. We thought it was very mineral and with remarkable vegetable character, in addition to the typical fennel aroma and slight bitter aftertaste proper of Verdejo from Rueda. Something very different from the varietals we are used to drink in the US, but with some remote resemblance of Sauvignon Blanc. Interesting and delicious!

This is one of the very best examples I have encountered in my wine expeditions of expression of terroir.  An excellent wine.  And very affordable.  Try it before it becomes pricier!

Also, if I may, given the fantastic plots of very old vines that Martinsancho owns, and the near completion of Eduardo’s enology studies, let me suggest a future evolution towards producing some “parcel” wines.  Those would allow further specific terroir expression and provide more value.  I would pay big bucks to taste a bottle of a wine crafted exclusively with grapes from the pre-phylloxera vineyard!

Ricardo Llovet

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