Germán R. Blanco was born in Gijón (Asturias, northern Spain) but was partly raised by his great-grandmother in Albares de la Ribera (León). Now he produces wine in this village that lies just outside the boundaries of the DO Bierzo, as well as in Ribera del Duero where he studied and started off as a winemaker, and in Rioja. All his wines are gathered under the Lively Wines brand.
Casa Aurora in Bierzo is a tribute to his great-grandmother Aurora Alonso, an extraordinary woman who lived to 104 years and was one of the first female miners in Spain. She owned a vineyard called La Galapana in a remote area surrounded by chestnut trees at an elevation of over 900 metres. Germán began the recovery of this plot in the early 2000s and his first vintage was 2013.
His range in Bierzo now includes eight different cuvées (10,000 bottles) which are produced in a quaint little winery in the centre of the village.
According to Blanco, Albares de la Ribera is a a transition zone between Bierzo’s medium and high mountains with vineyards at 850 to 900 metres above sea level. The village will probably be part of the DO once the expansion of geographical boundaries, currently under study, is approved. Harvest here takes place one month later than in the valley and most vineyards are fenced (“Roe deers love tender shoots,” German says).
Blanco grows three hectares of vines and buys grapes from two local farmers. These “mercenary grapes”, as he likes to call them, are destined to his entry-level red Clos Pepín (€11, 4,000 bottles).
Apart from Mencía, traditional vineyards are planted with Merenzao (aka Trousseau), Alicante Bouschet and white Palomino. Red clay soils with high ferrous content, minerals (Bierzo is quintessentially a mining region) and atomized granite rocks are the norm here. Most of Casa Aurora’s blends include varying quantities of white grapes.
Germán likes to work with foudres, clay vessels and small flextanks. He used to ferment with stems but he is doing away with them because stems, he says, leave a strong mark on the wines when they age.
The range includes two whites made with Palomino grapes bought from purveyors: Biba (€21) and La Bota Biba (€27). The latter sometimes develops a veil of flor; since the 2018 vintage, ageing is done in a cask that previously contained the very sought-after Oloroso La Barajuela, made by Willy Pérez in Jerez. There is also a fun rosé called Pepink Clarete de Porrón (less than 1,000 bottles), a blend of 90% white Palomino with just 10% of Alicante Bouschet that is aged for five months in clay vessels.
Other reds include Poula, a village wine that blends grapes form different plots, and three single-vineyard wines, each of them sold for around €23-25 in Spain. Poula is the local word for abandoned, which could be referred to a house, a place or even a widow. Blanco’s single-vineyard wines usually feature the name of the former owners on the label. La Vendañona comes from a steep hill with full sun exposure; Valle del Río stands on red clay soils at an elevation of 820 metres and includes a considerable amount of Alicante Bouschet resulting in a wine with more structure, acidity and nerve. Finally, La Galapana is the most delicate with a distinctive floral character.
The beautiful labels designed by Marta Botas feature a donkey in memory of the one owned by Aurora. It was a lucky animal who never worked and was treated like a pet.
Quinta Milú in Ribera del Duero is a larger project with a total production of 100,000 bottles. Germán works with José Luis Herrero de Pablo, a school friend from La Aguilera (Burgos) whose family owns 10 hectares in the village and have a long-standing tradition as wine growers. Germán, for his part, has one hectare of his own and has rented an additional nine. All of them are within the boundaries of La Aguilera and no other grapes are bought from local growers.
There are 27 plots altogether. The youngest is a 5Ha trellised vineyard destined to the fresh, entry level Milú (€9.5, 70,000 bottles). Milú is the nickname of Germán’s elder son.
The rest are small plots with old vines, none of which exceed one hectare. In many of these vineyards Albillo, Garnacha and Bobal are grown alongside the dominant Tempranillo.
The range continues with Cometa (€14), another village wine whose depth comes through given the large amount of old vines included in the blend. There are also four single-vineyard reds with a focus on unusual soil types, different to the standard clay-limestone ground of La Aguilera. Viñas Viejas boasts the highest limestone content, Bellavista comes from gravel soils, Valdevicente from sand (there are some ungrafted plants on this plot) and El Malo features pure clay. They retail for €22 except El Malo (€42) which really stands out in cold vintages.
In Rioja, Germán makes a single wine called La Bicicleta Voladora (€8, 70,000 bottles). Grapes are sourced from San Adrián (Navarra) and Calahorra (La Rioja). A generous amount of old Viura is blended in with Tempranillo to add freshness. Part of the style was inspired by the “riojas madurados” (matured riojas) of recent past decades: young wines which were aged in concrete tanks. Now, Germán follows the unoaked mantra and uses a combination of cement, clay vessels and flextanks. He is particularly fond of clay to oxygenate the wines a little prior to bottling. The result in Rioja is an affordable, approachable, easy-to-drink red.