Wine Culture Connection
The Yeast Factor
There has been a fair amount of talk in recent years about indigenous yeasts versus lab created yeasts. Yeasts are critical to the alcoholic fermentation process; turning grape juice into wine. Indigenous yeasts live unseen in and around all vineyards and wineries. Natural yeasts tend to be preferred by quality oriented producers because they help create the unique and distinctive character of the wine, and are considered by some as part of the terroir of the wine.
However, these natural yeast are not necessarily reliable and consistent. They may be slow to act, or require undesirable temperature adjustments to coax fermentation along, or not be very present in a given vintage, or be overtaken by a different strain from one year to the next.
This lack of constancy has led the larger, more commercially and industrially oriented wineries—and even some you might not suspect—to use laboratory-created, commercial yeasts. Such yeasts were developed to allow wineries to maintain precise and consistent control of the fermentation process in a way most conducive to fast, high volume production. This is quite understandable if you need to move millions of gallons of wine through your winery at harvest and don't really have time to wait around for finicky natural yeasts.
Ever notice a "bubble gum" note in some inexpensive, mass market wines? And notice it in more than one wine of that type? You can thank commercial yeast for that, in part. There are of course a myriad of factors involved in what makes a wine smell and taste like it does, but the yeast factor is definitely a notable one—even if not easy to pin down.
Don Manuel Ruiz Hernández, started a microbiological study of yeasts in the vineyards of Rioja in 1964. According to Don Manuel, he found plenty of a specific yeast, C. Pulcherrima, "that today, taxonomically, is called Metschnikowia Pulcherrima, yeast that is characterized as being like a drop of oil. This yeast hardly ever acts during fermentation proper, but gives a flavor profile to the wines in the early stages of alcoholic fermentation (Saccharomyces yeasts act after M. Pulcherrima) but the nature of M. Pulcherrima stamps its character in the wine and is a quality factor."
Don Manuel explained to us that this was a yeast that only tended to appear in great vintages, like some of the greats earlier in the century. He also lamented that the widespread use of pesticide and herbicide chemical agents in the following years had all but wiped this yeast out until it finally re-appeared in 2005.
We don't think its a coincidence that the pull-back on chemical treatments among better producers in the last 10-15 years has coincided with the appearance of the oil drop yeast in the officially excellent 2005 vintage.
This is yet another indicator that 2005 will be a vintage to stock up on, and is perhaps closer to 1964 in lineage than we may have realized at first. The 1964 Castrijo Gran Reserva offers a chance to experience how the oil drop yeast contributed to the greatness of that vintage, and explore possible connections to the 2005 vintage. We look forward to explorations of our own.
1964 Castrijo Gran Reserva
Jump to wine!
One of the great heritages of Spanish Wine Culture is the living legacy of grand old bottles from the past. Older wines that are still vibrantly alive offer a look back in time. They give us insights into the tastes and preferences of the past and how perfection in wine was conceived in those days. The ideal of what makes a wine great evolves over time and varies across cultures, just as conceptions of beauty and ideals of greatness in the arts evolve and vary over time.
The Gran Reservas of Spain represent one such ideal, which traces back to two threads in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries: The Bordeaux tradition of making wine in oak casks and preserving it in glass bottles with nearly airtight cork stoppers, and the symbiotically related British tradition of connoisseurship in which wines are cellared for decades to achieve supremely silky elegance and remarkable complexity--mostly in the form of the grand vins du Bordeaux along with fortified Port, Sherry and Madeira wines.
While this historical background lends nuance to the experience of these wines, they are first and foremost about the sheer and rarified pleasure they offer—in the form of that supremely silky elegance and remarkable complexity that British connoisseurs continue to prize today as they have for centuries. And this is what Castrijo is about.
Castrijo is a triple rarity
Castrijo is also triple good
Truly exclusive stuff
1964: Why a legend?
We contacted Don Manuel Ruiz Hernández, a passionate authority on wine production in Rioja, who was the Técnico de la Estación enológica de Haro from 1960 to 2004. The official position comes down to something like technician in charge of the winemaking laboratory that works with area wineries toward meeting appellation standards.
However that is only half the story. Don Manuel is on of the most knowledgeable and dedicated authorities we know on the technical aspects of winemaking in Rioja over the last 50 years. Not only has he painstakingly recorded climatic, biological, microbiological, soil, production volume, and other data over decades he continues to analyze trends, causes and solutions to the issues of wine production in Rioja. Most recently, his work on the effects of climate change is dramatic and fascinating—but that is another story.
Additionally, Don Manuel consulted for the growers that founded the Bodega Cooperativa Vinicola Labastida, which made Castrijo. He urged them from a technical perspective to create the cooperative "because vineyards are located in calcareous clay soil, the vines face south/south-west, excellent for receiving the sunlight and to well ripen the grapes and it has a precedent for centuries of high quality wines since the Quintano brothers," most notably Don Manuel Quintano, born in 1756, and pioneer in the introduction of Bordeaux elaboration methods in Rioja.
At the time Castrijo was made the winery was named Bodega Cooperativa Vinicola Labastida, and now goes by the name: Unión de Cosecheros de Labastida Sociedad Cooperativa Limitada, de Alava, or Bodegas y Viñedos Labastida for short.
1964 Castrijo Rioja DOCa Gran Reserva $170
Please note: These bottles have been stored in an underground cellar in the north of Spain since release and have good fill levels similar to those in the photo above. We have had three different bottles and all have showed very well, although there will be some bottle variation as is normal for wines of this age. For those not accustomed to drinking fully mature wines this wine may seem on the lighter and faded side in contrast to recent vintages of bold reds. Enjoying this kind of mature wine is a different kind of experience, primarily focussed around subtlety, silkiness and complexity rather that than power and bold fruit flavors. Such mature wines are not everyone's cup of tea, and while we can vouch for the soundness of this lot of wines in general, we cannot guarantee the condition of any specific bottle, or that it will be to your taste. That is the nature of bottles of this age.
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