The wines of Alba Viticultores, Spring 2016

It has been a really tough week but what a great way to head into the weekend – a really cracking lunch with some fascinating, delicious wines from Alba Viticultores, a group of young  winemakers that are pushing the boundaries in every direction down in Sanlucar.

They are all (with a couple of noted exceptions) palomino fino from vines on albariza soils in Sanlucar and all impeccably “natural” – no additives, the bare minimum of SO2 (if that), indigenous yeasts, little or no filtering or clarification – and some of the wines I have tried in the past have come across as slightly experimental in character. However this latest crop are the best I have tried yet – really good on any level.

We kicked off with the Alba Rojo Pago Miraflores 2015 (without so2, 10.8º) A red wine from tempranillo (which they describe as a type of Listán – I am assuming we are not talking the same tempranillo of Rioja and Ribera del Duero fame but I may be wrong) from 15 year old vines in the Confitero and Coronado vineyards on Pago Miraflores. The wine goes through “semicarbonic” fermentation in stainless steel tanks and then spent another seven months in deposit before being bottled in April, 2016 without filtering, clarifying or any addition of sulphur. The result is aromatic, delicate, light and refreshing – some reduction at first but then tiny strawberries, then the tingle and lightness of the semi-carbonic fermentation. A really good start.

Second we teed up the first of the sparkling wines –  Alba Ancestral 2015 – 11º. Sparkling wine made with palomino fino using the ancestral method. Fermented in plastic containers for 12 days, bottled before the fermentation completed so as to allow the formation of bubbles from the yeasts and sugars that remain. Racked for five months, disgorged by hand and dosed with the same wine (ie no added dosage). This again was delicious  – really light, very nice creamy aromatics and just a hint of sweetness. No  big structure or acidity but a nice, simple and enjoyable wine. You could drink litres and litres of this no bother.

We then accidentally went very large – we had intended to stick with the sparkling and hit the Ancestral Alegrías del Carrascal 2015 but by mistake we were served the (admittedly similar sounding) Alba Pago Carrascal Las Alegrías 2014 (no SO2, 13,3º) which was a fish of an altogether different kidney. From 50 year old vines of “listán sanluqueña” on the “las Alegrías” vineyard in Pago Carrascal (de Sanlucar), this was fermented and aged in a 650 litre chestnut bocoy that had held oloroso for over 80 years. In total 18 months of ageing, of which four  months were under flor. The guys at Alba describe this as a “natural and direct palo cortado” and it is a fascinating, complex wine. The notes of the barrel, and those 80 years of oloroso, were really something.

After the palo cortado we thought it was time for the Alba sobre tabla 2014 (bota 1, 12º). Not the first time I have had one of these Sobre Tabla wines  – fermented in stainless steel, then aged for 14 months in a 500 litre butt that had held manzanilla for over 50 years (they generally make two butts, bottled separately). Flor had not formed, although space was left for oxygen allowing for a “noble” oxidation and the wine gained half a degree of alcohol as a result of the concentration. It was quite magnificent – full of aroma and flavour, with salinity and structure, notes of cheese and herbs in amongst the ripe apples. World class and my wine of the day.

Alba Pago Miraflores Confitero 2015 (no SO2, 11,7º) is a still palomino wine from 35 year old listán vines in the El Confitero vineyard in Pago Miraflores (right next to the legendary Armijo de Gaspar Florido). This fermented in a 5000 litre fibre glass tank and was aged in stainless steel for four months. Indigenous yeasts, no sulphur or other additives, no filtering or clarification. This had a lot of raw yeast on the nose and was hard to get into at first but when it opened up there was a creaminess to it that grew on you. Not a great deal of structure but a nice bit of salinity that kept it fresh and balanced. (Frankly it was a big ask following the Sobre Tabla.)

Then we intended to go back to the bubbles with the Ancestral Alegrías del Carrascal 2015 (sin so2) another ancestral method wine from the Las Alegrías vineyard mentioned above. Fermented in a 1000 litre tank for two weeks before bottling with some residual yeasts and sugars, they disgorge these by hand to order – this one has around 8 months on the rack before disgorging. When it came to writing this account I was surprised not to have any notes or clear recollection until the restaurant called me to tell me we had left if behind (full). A new blogging low? (Have since tasted it – the TN is here if you are interested).

The bubbles we did have started with the Brut Nature 2013, a “traditional method” sparkling wine from a selection of albariza pagos in Sanlúcar. Fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, aged in the tank with some flor (which disappears little by little) for around five months. Then it is put in 16 litre demijons in which each develops different veils of flor for around 6 months (the makers say that each demijon tasted different when they came to putting together the assemblage). They were bottled in August 2014 and spent 15 months on the rack. Now this was a really class bottle of sparkling wine – thecomparisons  mentioned were with classic blancs de blancs – had just a bit more bite to it, crisper and more compact.

Finally, another traditional method sparkling wine but one with added devilment, the Brut Nature Sobre Tabla NV. Here they fermented the wine in the butt itself, it was aged for fifteen months of which some were under flor, then into the demijons for a further 8 months, again under flor. After that 20 months on the rack before disgorging by hand, dosage with the same wine. very, very little of this was made and it is a real pity because it is a really class, characterful, impressive sparkling wine: bite, fruit, cheese, herbs, salinity – really brilliant and right up there with the Sobre Tabla as one of my wines of the day.

Different pagos, vintages, different methods, techniques – lots of imagination and attention to detail and, most importantly, some really brilliant wines. The only problem is that there are so few of them – lots of 400 or 500 bottles or even fewer in some cases. A really uplifting day, no doubt about it – I really feel like I have a better handle on what these guys are doing and I can’t wait to see what comes out next.

A word for our fantastic hosts – Carlos and Elisa at La Buena Vida. They took cracking care of us through a long lunch and the eating was, as always here, exceptional: habitas con morcilla, patatas a la importancia con congrio, (outstanding) colmenillas and raya a la mantequilla negra con alcaparras fritas – really superb stuff – which we finished off with an intriguing little bottle of sweet, sparkling Rioja.

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