Wine Culture Connection
Wine in Granada
During the Period of Muslim occupation Granada was one of the great cities of Europe and a leader in what was then the known world. It was a high point of Muslim culture, governance, learning and arts, as is clearly evident upon visiting that great Alhambra of Granada, the walled royal mini-city of its rulers.
Considering that wine was technically forbidden under Muslim law of the time, it is instructive to see the Wine Gate at the Alhambra. Despite repeated attempts to outlaw wine consumption it was such a deeply embedded local practice that it simply could not be stopped. No doubt American prohibitionists would have been well served to study Granadan history.
Bodegas Horacio Calvente
Wine production in the region goes back to the Bronze Age, through Roman times, and even doggedly persisted through centuries of Muslim occupation to the present. Yet the mountainous countryside here, south of the historically significant city of Granada, was not well developed economically, and wine production here never became commercially important as it did in Sherry country in western Andalucía or elsewhere in Spain.
Horacio was always a wine lover. And that, paired with his love of the land and drive to know and understand the local flora and fauna led him to wonder about the many increasingly neglected high altitude, old vine vineyards in the area. And so more than 20 years ago he began his untiring project to create high quality wines that could be a source of pride for the region.
After he showed us, he moved it to the other side of the road because the relatively small microclimate that supports these very slow moving creatures is split by the road. He has saved many from death in this way.
Horacio began at first identifying and reviving old vine plots in the area. Primarily Moscatel, one of the traditional white varietals of Andalucía. For Horacio nursing the plots back to health was simply a matter of the hard work of pruning, tilling the land and clearing invading brush. Work that takes years to see vigor restored to a whole plots. A look at his vineyards makes it clear they are very well tended.
His first harvests and wines were whites, learning as he went. Trying new things. Learning new techniques. Sustained testing of different barrels. Purchasing new, state of the art equipment, little by little. Dedicated, inventive work with the simple goal, producing great wine and satisfying wine lovers. We saw the careful system he devised to minimize air contact and keep his Moscatel fresh. Very different from the casual open air moments you will see at other wineries during the elaboration process.
The Guindalera dry white has a beautiful floral, fruit and mineral driven nose, and a crisp, fresh quality so very different from the sweet Moscatel's typically commercialized in the south of Spain. It is on the wine list of top restaurants in Spain, including the former El Bulli, and was among the wines in the book, The 1001 Wines You Must Try Before you Die."
Horacio also began experimenting with newly planted red varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Tempranillo. Their Castillejos vineyard is in the Sierra Almijara just off the Mediterranean coast. There the combination of lots of sunshine, southeast exposure, 40° slopes, high altitudes, sea breezes, cool night temperatures and poor calcareous clay and shale soils provide excellent conditions for the cultivation of fresh yet perfectly ripe grapes. His gambit on the potential for these international varietals was to prove a sage one.
The picture started to come into focus with the 2007 vintage, which, though still youthful, displayed similarities to Bordeaux. Yet with its own distinctive personality with a more Mediterranean quality of ripe richness than in Bordeaux, and no doubt the Syrah helping to further distinguish it from Bordeaux. So we asked if there was anything still older to try.
And that is when we were struck by revelation and our understanding of the wine clicked in. The 2000 vintage was simply a great wine, balanced, deep, vibrant and complex, while elegant and very long on the finish. It was unique, fascinating and a delight on the palate. The best analogy we can give again harkens back to a tasting in Bordeaux.
After a long day of barrel tasting Bordeaux, we had the opportunity to blind taste a few mixed older vintages of Bordeaux wines. The revelation that night was a wine some thought was from the Left Bank in a ripe vintage, some thought was from the Right Bank, one thought was Cheval Blanc in a very ripe vintage, but no one could quite nail it down. About the only thing clear was that it was at least 20 years old.
It was a 1973 Penfolds Grange "Hermitage". Like Bordeaux and yet not like Bordeaux. But certainly an elegant, complex wine that aged beautifully. This is what the Castillejos recalls at least going by how the 2000 vintage was showing. Classic, yet different with its own Syrah and Tempranillo lifted character. We can only guess how the 2009 will show in another 25 or 30 years, but at 8 or 10 years out we expect it will be a stunner like the 2000.
Of course the 2009 Castillejos is delicious now in a more youthful vein and benefits from decanting. Our only regret is that we were not able to secure any more bottles of the 2000 to offer our customers. They only have a few left. So we suggest stocking up on the 2009 and patience.
Horacio Calvente 2009 "Castillejos Single Vineyard" DO Protegido Granada red $34
14,500 bottles produced. Blend: 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah, 15% Tempranillo, 10% Merlot.
Harvested by hand in small 12kg boxes during the second half of September. Fermented for 16 days at 25-27ºC. Aged 16 months in new French oak barrels.
Horacio Calvente 2011 "Guindalera Single Vineyard" DO Protegido Dry Moscatel white
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