Accomplished winemakers with ample experience in Vega Sicilia, Ribera del Duero’s most legendary winery, are clearly capable of producing outstanding wines to rival the area’s top reds, but what’s most interesting for us is the style and the blend behind them.
In the second of a two-part series on the latest developments in Ribera del Duero, we review the new projects of Mariano García and sons (Garmón is their third winery in the Duero valley alongside Mauro in Tudela de Duero and San Román in Toro) and Xavier Ausàs, whose new 2016 Ribera red is set to be released in March at around €35-40. Both are old acquaintances. Mariano García worked as winemaker at Vega Sicilia from 1968 to 1998, whereas Ausàs joined the company in 1999, working closely with Mariano until his departure and overseeing all the group’s wines until the summer of 2015.
There is a third project, Tresmano, developed by La Europea, a leading wine importer and distributor in Mexico, together with Fernando Remírez de Ganuza, a respected producer from Rioja and Aragonese winemaker Pedro Aibar.
Vega Sicilia’s former winemaker works in a small but charming winery in Quintanilla de Onésimo previously occupied by Cruz de Alba, Ramón Bilbao’s project in Ribera del Duero. The place can process 50,000 kg of grapes although his idea for the future is to produce between 100,000 and 150,000 bottles. Some 20,000 bottles were produced in his first 2016 vintage, a figure that has risen in 2018 as Ausàs picked but 42,000 kg of grapes.
Xavier employs the little spare time he has in making this wine —his consultancy work take him across Spain (Ánima Negra in Mallorca, Marqués de Vargas in Rioja, Carraovejas and Conde de San Cristóbal in Ribera del Duero and Prieto Pariente in Castilla y León) and France (Domaine Les Grand Bois in Provence). This is really a family affair with his wife actively involved (on the day of my visit they had planned to move barrels) and their 17-year-old son willing to study Oenology to the delight of his father.
How does Ausàs view Ribera del Duero? He has championed a Tempranillo blend of grapes sourced from some of his favourite villages in the region. In his opinion, grape growers are as relevant as their vineyards: “I’m working with people I have known for 30 years. Only those who know their vineyards well can achieve the best expression out of each one of them,” he says.
Ausàs is aware of his weaknesses (“I don’t own any vineyards”) and strengths: “I have no constraints to express the amazing diversity of Ribera; I can make my choices.”
Moradillo de Roa, a picturesque village with a well-preserved district of subterranean wine cellars on the southern end of Burgos, makes the largest part in the blend (40% to 45%). Grapes are grown on gravelly soils on the left bank of the Duero river at an elevation higher than 900 metres, one the highest vineyards in DO Ribera. I tasted a vibrant 2017 barrel sample with ripe fruit and subtle tannins.
The wine also blends in around 10-15% of Tempranillo grapes from sandy soils in Nava de Roa where Ausàs searches for finesse and floral notes (the 2018 sample tasted fresh and supple, with fragrant blueberries and broom aromas and a long finish with a touch of liquorice) and a similar percentage of grapes from clay soils in Gumiel de Mercado that translates into richer, fuller reds with lush ripe plum flavours. The most structured, powerful batches come from limestone soils in La Horra.
Ausàs considers that the three pillars of his wine are the purity of aromas (including the presence of oak but never in a dominant way), freshness to obtain a vibrant palate with tension and a chalky backbone to add elegance. He also tries to avoid overripeness. “Ribera del Duero has to be massive, but it can be elegant as well,” he says.
The winemaking process does not differ from other quality reds in the area: manual harvest in boxes, sorting table, spontaneous fermentation by plots (he uses a cooling equipment to hold fermentation between two to three days), malolactic fermentation in barrels (40%) and stainless steel tanks, and 14 months of ageing with an increasing presence of 500-litre oak barrels.
The 2016, set to be released in March, is a textbook Ribera: full-bodied with good depth of fruit (plum, blackberry) and minty aromas. Focused rather than rich, this is an elegant, firm red with lovely persistence. An “Atlantic vintage” according to Ausàs, it shows great potential to age. It’s a winning horse.
It is somewhat ironic that a family that has been so influential in Ribera del Duero has taken two generations to make their own wine in the area. But bearing in mind that Mauro, its major operational centre, was outside the limits of the DO, it always seemed easier to be involved in third party initiatives such as Aalto, where Mariano remains at the helm after the departure of his former partner Javier Zaccagnini, or Astrales, where they are no longer consultants.
Presumably, the key to their impeccable and successful expansion through the Duero valley lies in the excellent rapport (and division of jobs) between father and sons. Mariano García is the experienced face representing the family over the world; Alberto is entirely focused on marketing, communication and management; and Eduardo oversees the vineyards and winemaking on a daily basis -in fact, he is rarely seen outside the winery.
Garmón (the abbreviation of García and Montaña, the family surnames) was first released on the 2014 vintage, but it wasn’t produced in the new winery in Olivares de Duero (Valladolid), just across the river from Quintanilla de Onésimo and barely 20 kilometres away from Mauro, until the 2017 vintage. Around 60,000 bottles are produced making this the smallest project in the family.
Grapes are sourced from slow-ripening old vines located at considerable elevation across various villages to the east of the Burgos province on the right bank of the Duero (Baños de Valdearados, Hontoria, Tubilla and La Aguilera) with the exception of Moradillo de Roa south of the river. The Garcías buy most of their grapes from suppliers but they hope to buy a few vineyards in the future. New plantings are also underway in Olivares de Duero and nearby in Valbuena (Valladolid) at elevations ranging from 820 to 850 metres, just below the moors. The future of Ribera del Duero seems to be increasingly linked to high elevation vineyards.
As a cuvée, Garmón tries to blend in the various soils and styles of the villages. Mariano García values the sandy soils of Baños de Valdearado, the mix of clay and gravel in Moradillo and the gentle character of Tubilla, but he warns: “You cannot measure everything. In the end, a good wine has to create emotion.”
The winemaking process does not differ much from Ausàs’s: spontaneous fermentations and malolactic in barrels, including 500-litre vessels. There is a special emphasis on selection: “If the wine is not good enough, it doesn’t enter the barrel,” Mariano explains. There are three separate spaces: one for alcoholic fermentation —which is done in stainless steel tanks—, one for malolactic fermentation and first year-ageing, and one of second-year ageing. The spacious winery has been designed to work comfortably, so that barrels are only stacked at two heights.
Garmón 2016 (€38) was released at the end of last year. Mariano describes the vintage as “moderately warm but with cold nights at the end of August and the beginning of September coinciding with phenolic ripeness.” The wine has the distinctive depth of fruit usually found in the reds produced by the family and is laced with sweet spices over an herbal background. It’s rich and balanced with polished tannins and chocolate notes.
Compared with Xavier Ausàs’s wine, Garmón shows a sexy, savoury, straightforward quality that stands above the area’s distinctive robustness and makes it more approachable. Ausàs Interpretación is firmer and subtler so its later release makes complete sense.
Although the economic downturn slowed foreign investments in Ribera del Duero, this project is proof that the area continues to be of interest for wine heavyweights. Tresmano was developed by La Europea, a powerful importer and wine merchant in Mexico owned by the Ruiz family. They have partnered with Rioja producer Fernando Remírez de Ganuza, who owned vineyards in Ribera and had previously helped several producers from Rioja to buy properties in the appellation and Aragonese winemaker Pedro Aibar who managed Viñas del Vero and was later director of El Coto, one of the largest wine producers in Rioja. The subsequent arrival of a dozen Mexican investors with connections to Spain has helped to redefine and resize the winery.
The name comes from the long-running joke that the winery was "out of hand" (“a desmano” in Spanish, “trasmano” in Latin) because it was hard for all visitors to find. After the incorporation of Remírez de Ganuza and Pedro Aibar as shareholders, the "e" was changed by a "3" (Tr3smano) to refer to the three main partners.
The winery is located in Padilla de Duero (Valladolid), very close to Pintia, a necropolis built by the Vacceos, the ancient inhabitants of the region. The luminous, cutting-edge facilities with terrific views of the valley belonged to Qumram, a winery that went out of business during the financial crisis of the late-2000s.
The first wines were Crianzas sold in Mexico under the Proventus brand, which still is available in export markets but not in Spain. Tresmano was first released in the 2014 vintage.
Despite his ample experience making Tempranillo-based wines in Somontano, Castilla La Mancha and Rioja, Pedro Aibar was surprised by the variety’s different character in Ribera del Duero: “I have this feeling of everything being delayed and then the pace picks up quickly in the summer. Budding occurs later than in Rioja but we are picking grapes almost at the same time.” Aibar had never seen pH levels of 4 before, yet he finds that extraction is easier providing you have the appropriate yields. “The main risk is going too far because it is difficult to stabilize what you have extracted,” he explains. “Our goal is to make an outstanding Ribera favouring finesse over extraction.”
Grapes are sourced from the upper part of the hill next to the winery (30- to 40-year-old vines on gravelly soils), plus a vineyard from Rábano south of Peñafiel formerly owned by Qumram and with the distinctive limestone soils found in the Valladolid area of Ribera. Additionally, they have grapes from 14 hectares of 25- to 35-year-old vines owned by Fernando Remírez de Ganuza in Roa and Olmedillo and other batches from local growers in Pesquera and in Moradillo de Roa, an increasingly popular village for wine producers. Vines are all head-pruned except for the plot in Rábano.
Production stands at 90,000 bottles distributed as follows: 40,000 bottles for Proventus, 50,000 for Tresmano (€38 in Spain) and 2,000-3,000 for Tresmano TM, a single-vineyard red that retails between €120 and €130.
Aibar organized a vertical tasting for us. The inaugural 2014 vintage as well as 2015 showed good fruit and complexity but were slightly overshadowed by the oak. Our favourite was 2016, a cold year with vibrant red fruits and a fragrant, spiced expression. I found good balance as well as well-integrated oak.
Tresmano TM spends more time in barrel. Grapes are sourced from a plot in Olmedillo featuring clay soils on limestone rock. First released on the 2014 vintage, it wasn’t produced in 2015 but will be back in 2016. This is a totally different expression of Ribera del Duero with plenty of elegance, fresh minty notes and an enveloping palate.
All three producers blend grapes from various villages —a practice, on the other hand, that is standard in Ribera del Duero given the area’s extreme climate. More interestingly, the wines compete in the same price range.