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Wine Culture Connection

Wine in Granada
A Culture that Wouldn't Quit

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.

The Wine Gate of the Alhambra of Granada, one of the oldest remaining constructions of the Alhambra. While it's not clear how it got its name, one theory suggests it is because of the fact that later inhabitants brought wine through this gate tax free, st
The Wine Gate of the Alhambra of Granada, one of the oldest remaining constructions of the Alhambra. While it's not clear how it got its name, one theory suggests it is because of the fact that later inhabitants brought wine through this gate tax free, starting in 1556.
Photo: Justin Berlin © 2012 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives.



   
Wines & Wineries

Bodegas Horacio Calvente
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Horacio Calvente explains the quality of the very old vines in this Guindalera plot at 1073 meters. Note the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background.  Photo: Justin Berlin © 2012 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives
Horacio Calvente explains the quality of the very old vines in this Guindalera plot at 1073 meters. Note the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background.
Photo: Justin Berlin © 2012 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives

Bodegas Horatio Calvente is an improbable winery built out of the grit, ingenuity and unadulterated passion of Horacio Calvente for the vines of his native region in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Granada, Andalucía. Based in the small town of Jete from a farming family he built a successful fruit business that has served as the financial platform for his quality driven winery.

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.

A true chameleon, nearly victim to road traffic cutting across its natural habitat. Photo: Justin Berlin © 2012 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives
A true chameleon, nearly victim to road traffic cutting across its natural habitat. Photo: Justin Berlin © 2012 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives

As an example of Horacio in his element, at one point on our winery visit as he sped us between winery and vineyard plots he stopped short in the road, barely halfway to the shoulder. And in a flash he was out of his truck and before we knew what happened he had in his hand a true chameleon that had strayed into the roadway.

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.

A Guindalera vineyard plot overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: Justin Berlin © 2012 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives
A Guindalera vineyard plot overlooking the Mediterranean Sea
Photo: Justin Berlin © 2012 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives

The heart and soul of their dry white Moscatel is the Guindalera vineyard which gives the wine its name. The vineyard centerpiece of the vineyard are the old vine plots of Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria) from 50 to 90 years old. From 700 to 1000 meters with poor clay-limestone and shale soils, steep slopes at 30 to 50° and sea breezes the grapes the conditions are excellent. There are also plots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Merlot form 20-40 years old.

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 Castillejos vineyard, a veritable bed of shale and calcareous clay. Photo: © 2012 Bodegas H. Calvente
The Castillejos vineyard, a veritable bed of shale and calcareous clay. Photo: © 2012 Bodegas H. Calvente
Upon tasting their top, single vineyard red, Castillejos 2009, I was struck with the feeling I've had tasting barrel samples in Bordeaux, specifically when the wine is unknown or a new bottling. That is, the feeling of grasping the quality of the fruit, the structure and balance, but not quite understanding the wine without reference to the finished wine after some years of bottle age. Especially considering this wine is 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, two key Bordeaux varieties, blended unusually with 40% Syrah and 15% Tempranillo. So we asked if it was possible to taste any older vintages.

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.

WINE FROM HORACIO CALVENTE

Horacio Calvente 2009 "Castillejos Single Vineyard" DO Protegido Granada red SRP $34
Order Now from our retail partner Despaña Vinos y Mas
This exotic, full-bodied red blend, is deep purple-ruby colored and offers a bouquet replete with bright black currants, earthy spice and chocolate vanilla tones.The attack is big and juicy, still showing its youth, but as it opens it begins to smooth, projecting it future. Tarry blackberry, cranberry and raspberry undertones appear with a fine dusting of smoke and bittersweet chocolate. Harmonious on the back end, fine tobacco, black pepper and licorice notes merge into the long, youthful finish. Built for aging; decant 1 hour prior to serving at this point.

Perfect with a pit roasted lamb, but barring that a great match with a well peppered, char grilled steak, a Tuscan style steak marinated in olive oil and rosemary or meaty lamb chops. Will also elevate onion laced sirloin burgers or a fatty Mediterranean, herb crusted pork roast.

Tech Details:
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 SRP $25 Order Now from retail Merchant Vintry Fine Wines
This remarkably fragrant and floral dry Moscatel is made from a beautifully restored and back-breakingly tended, high altitude, old vine plot. The scents in the glass are like a lush bouquet of white flowers mixed with fresh wild herb tones. On the palate it's crisp, refreshing and deeply mineral. Delicate honeydew melon, white peach and lemon zest flavors mingle with a touch of anise and deeply stoney undercurrents that ride into a long, fresh finish. Very elegant and sophisticated.

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