An afternoon with winemaker Telmo Rodríguez and Lifford Wines
Telmo Rodríguez the company is a small wine producer fashioning meager quantities from more DOs (and DOCAs) than can fit into a 620 x 400 jpeg. Telmo Rodríguez the man finds himself at the 20th anniversary year crossroads in celebrating the outgrowth of his dream. This critical juncture requires travel, evangelism and conceit, qualities the laser-focused, frank and facund winemaker possesses in spades.
“We created a (not mass market) Spanish category of wines available at a good price,” says Rodríguez, “a human type of category.” Spain, according to the flying oenologist, is a passionate country with gastronomic clubs, where people cook and eat, to foster a crazy love of local ingredients. Within a 100 km radius around Basque country, “you have the best available products anywhere in Europe,” he boasts. But, he complains, wine has gone in the other direction. He laments the overuse of international grapes, monosyllabic styling and a disappearance of regional character. Wine as fast food.
Rodríguez did not want to make wine from international varieties or from recipes. He wanted to make wine from places and their landscapes. After studying in France (Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley) he returned, not wanting to make wine in France, not wanting to emulate France. So began the terroir journey, from Rioja to Galicia, from Ribera to Rueda.
“In Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.” So he makes wines without the suffocating slings and arrows of outrageous, appellative fortune; no Crianza, no Reserva, no Gran Reserva. “No designations to help the bad producer,” he quips. Tell us how you really feel Telmo.
All the Rodríguez vineyards are organic, but this is something matter of fact, not a literature littered calling card. “We prefer to be known as a good producer. We don’t give too much importance on the winemaker, but more on the place, with respect and with respect for the land. We don’t move grapes from one place to the other.” This is the import of the most parochial of winemakers. Here are tasting notes on a selection of eight wines chosen from across the vast Spanish Telmo Rodríguez portfolio.
Verdejo so often reached by walking the flat earth is here circumnavigating a more complex world. Smells a bit like Sauvignon Blanc and Telmo Rodríguez admits “it’s the only mistake I made in my life.” Commercial confessional though it leads the way around a round earth. Cool and full of tang with a heavy emphasis on herbiage and metallurgy. Enticing example full of instant gratification. 88 Tasted February 2014
From Valdeorras, “gold country,” here Godello exhales its perfume in waves of gaseous fumes, rushes, meadow wildflowers, lemon thyme and balm. Viscous and nearly chewy, with a slight oxidative note breathing over dry patina hard candy. Stainless steel imagining itself as green oak and Mediterranean salinity combine to give an aura of Galician warmth. Sea, sun, wood and mineral. 88 Tasted February 2014
Mountain Blanco 2012, Málaga, Spain ($25.95)
“I didn’t want to produce this wine because Malaga was all about sweet, related to the past, to the ancestors, to something very deep. It took 10 years to decide to make this wine.” Sun-baked, trenchant, scorched Muscat. Liquid adobe cake from the brown slate soils, between 600 and 900 metres. Antique of a dry white, tinny, sharp, caramelizing, like the crust on a pork loin. Lengthy mountain jam makes you want to eat a peach. Reminiscent of Auxerrois, though certainly more southerly, Moorish even. Pure sec, 100 per cent Muscatel. 87 Tasted February 2014
The most Atlantic-influenced wine of the tasting, this fluid, medium-rare red. Rodriguez’ base and necessary expression for the “the freshness of Galicia.” Shares an aromatic commonality with Cabernet Franc though its gait is more Northern Rhône Syrah. Anti-serious, easy wine, existing as “a link to the past.” Like going back in time to Valdeorras’ past, into a beautiful home with all its contents having sat untouched and unharmed for 100 years. Fermented in tank so though it may be unprocessed it has that underlay of mineral and grit. Nothing oxy, flashy or large-scale about it. To have wide but not mass appeal. Beneficial length. Increases in approachability as it lays in glass. A taste of chewing crushed granite and plump plum. Honest and humble Mencía. 89 Tasted February 2014
M2 Matallana 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($42.95, WineAlign)
M2 is 100 per cent Tinto Fino 14 months, aged half in new, half in second use barrels. A Tempranillo of dialect specific to place, just as Pinot would be in Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée or Volnay. Telmo not necessarily making Tempranillo, but rather Rodriguez making Ribera, or more specifically, a Tinto Fino gathering from Los Guijarros, Los Hundidos, Carrahoyales, Los Apriscales and La Pirileja. Blatant are the chalk and mineral intertwines, in marbled goodness. Makes quicker work than the Riojas, sheds its skin, peels away its oak and lets the fruit, soil and rock come forth. 92 Tasted February 2014
Tempranillo with Graciano and Garnacha. From Rioja Alavesa, vines water-stressed to survive on shallow soil, digging in to Miocene sandstone strata. Begs for protein and development from an unforgiving, stony, calcareous and silty textured land. Fermented in large cement casks, allowing the fruit, which is nearly unparalleled for Rioja, to shine in all its ripe glory. A wind of perfume, a mistral espléndido. Finishes with chalk and ropy grain. Immense length. 92 Tasted February 2014
Altos de Lanzaga 2010, Rioja, Spain ($103.95, WineAlign)
Composed of Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha, 3,000 bottles are made of this ‘Grand Cru’ of Lanzaga. Rodríguez here wants to “try to go as far as possible in the quality of the wine,” a notion that begins and ends with place. “There has to be a rare, exceptional vineyard or it does not make sense to produce a wine like this.” Fermented and aged in the old cellar, in large Foudres, for two years, “to bring back what once was, a long time ago,” with indigenous (wild) yeasts found in that cellar. Here Telmo reinventing the past, the old Rioja, hinting at something exceptional. There is an elevated sweetness that fades into flowers. Rodríguez feels that Rioja must have been a wine made with many different varieties, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Thus the use of the three grapes. Layer upon layer, thin transparent sheets that become one. 93 Tasted February 2014
Altos de Lanzaga 2004, Rioja, Spain ($103.95, WineAlign)
From 65-80 year old vines, 10 years on showing barely discernible age. This wine was an early step in developing the “field blend” dream, of combining several Riojan varieties, “to present the taste, idea and feel of what Rioja used to be.” This wine chases down Telmo’s dream of being a present day, sophisticated winemaker set in an 18th century vintners mind. Altos sets the bar high, in trying to make an exceptional wine, which they would not have been doing then. First and foremost, does this prove or disprove his theory that wine should never be masked by oak? 94 Tasted February 2014
Good to go!