The vineyards of the past have little to do with the mechanized rows that today dominate most wine regions with relatively flat terrain. The vine occupied poor soils where other crops could not subsist. When planting a vineyard, it was common to mix white and red varieties (including table grapes) with different ripening, acidity or color profiles to ensure a minimum harvest in different climatic conditions.
The personal taste of the winegrower or the custom of each town was imposed (it is fascinating how the way of pruning or the varietal composition can change between neighboring towns) and, when the time came, everything was harvested at the same time and fermented together.
The pests that plagued the European vineyard since the mid-19th century – powdery mildew, mildew and, especially, phylloxera – were the first blow against all this varietal diversity, although the philosophy of the mixture was maintained in many places. But the modernization of the vineyard and the appearance of clonal selection from the seventies of the twentieth century was decisive for the creation of more rational and convenient to manage plantations.
Since then, crossbreeding has been relegated to old vines. Without a doubt, the most “Urasic” Spanish region is the Canary Islands. Thanks to its isolation, it got rid of phylloxera. El Hierro is considered a reservoir of viticultural biodiversity.
In the Peninsula, the highest concentration appears in peripheral areas, somewhat far from the flashes of fashionable regions. Arribes, the denomination of origin that extends through the provinces of Zamora and Salamanca where the Duero marks the border with Portugal, is a notable case. Although Juan García, a delicate grape with fine skin where they exist, is the dominant variety, the old vineyards (which are the majority) are marked by the mixture of a large number of varieties. Producers have to choose between harvesting in different countries if they want to pick each grape at its optimum point of maturity or vinify them all together in what the Anglo-Saxons have baptized as field-blends (field mixes).
North of Valladolid, Cigales is another clear example with just over 3,000 hectares over 70 years old in which Tempranillo rarely occupies more than 70%. The rest is dominated by white varieties, which explains why the traditional wine of the area is claret. On a smaller scale, this philosophy of blending survives in most of the old vineyards of the Peninsula.
Rarer is that the same concept is applied in newly planted vineyards. Telmo Rodríguez and Pablo Eguzkiza, great defenders of artisanal models prior to phylloxera, rebuilt in this way the Laguardia vineyard that is at the base of Las Beatas, their red wine top de Rioja, and, with much greater difficulty due to the rugged orography of the terrain, they did the same in the Bibei valley (Valdeorras) with the La Falcoeira payment. In Rioja, Roberto Oliván, one of the first who dared to make a red with almost 40% white grapes (the wine is El Escondite del Ardacho Las Guillermas), applies this philosophy to his younger plantations with which Custero makes , a tribute to the harvester wines of yesteryear with a blend of eight different grape varieties.
The field-blends They are wines of reduced productions, limited to what each vineyard gives, and their prices are above the average, although they are often quite reasonable considering that they can come from centuries-old plots. Some recent releases range from the Milsetentayseis rosé from the Carraovejas group in Ribera del Duero, with a certain weight of bobal, or the new Museum cigales, the Las Musas rosé and the red La Renacida, to the fascinating Bimbache Grand Cruz de El Hierro. the energetic Psychedelic from Bodegas Frontonio in Valdejalón (Aragón) or the Cénit Tradition of Tierra del Vino de Zamora, which, with a quarter of white grapes, offers an unthinkable style for this region of powerful reds. And we will see more in the future.
Galicia. 2019, red. Ribeira Sacra. Guímaro. Mencía, caíño tinto, merenzao, sousón. 14% vol. 29 euros
This wine is born from a modern vineyard planted in 2010 with the same proportion of caíño, sousón, brancellao, merenzao and mencía. The initial idea was to produce single varietal wines, but due to the low yields of the first vintages they decided to vinify all the grapes together. The result: a fascinating new dimension to the area; a wine with complexity, freshness and elegance that exudes energy and expressiveness. Also proof that varietal mixing vineyards have their place in the 21st century.
Valladolid. 2020, pink. Cigales. Transfers. Tempranillo, albillo, verdejo, garnacha gris. 13.5% vol. 11 euros.
In addition to being a type of wine that is deeply rooted in Cigales, rosé is the most logical option for working a century-old vineyard of almost one hectare in which half of the vines are white. The fermentation in wood and with native yeasts gives it authenticity and seriousness. The palate is very tasty and with refreshing acidity. Thanks to the abundance of white varieties, which naturally give higher yields, 5,000 bottles were made at an incredible price, taking into account the old age of the vineyard.
From Buena Jera
Zamora. 2017, red. Arribes. The Herd and the Garabato. 80% juan garcía plus rufete, merenzao, bastard, jeromo ink, doña blanca, put on the cross. 13.5% vol. 24 euros.
This wine is made from an 80-year-old vineyard planted at an altitude of 750 meters in clay soils at the eastern end of the DO Arribes that barely produces 900 bottles. Although the Juan Garcia grape dominates, the potpourri of varieties that make up the remaining 20% (and where the rufete rules) adds its character. The result is an expressive, balsamic, balanced red, with good acidity and fine tannin, far removed from the rusticity of yesteryear in the area. El Hato y el Garabato is one of the new producers to follow in Arribes.