Late Night with Spanish Winemakers
Out for dinner with a trio of Spanish winemakers last night at Tia Pol—a meal that started late, and then went on way too late, with all three winemakers winding up outside on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, smoking cigarettes and drinking sake from the Izakaya bar next door. Of course, this is the sort of thing that happens when you hang out with Spanish winemakers.
However, before the sake-drinking and cigarette-smoking, we did manage to taste some pretty terrific wines, among them the extremely impressive Albariños being made by Gerardo Mendez at Do Ferreiro. Mendez makes three wines: a basic Albariño; Cepas Vellas, an ancient vine bottling (importer Andre Tamers of De Maison Selections claims that they're over 200 years old, which sounds unimaginable to me, but I have no real reason to doubt him); and Rebisaca, a blend of Treixadura and Albariño. Mendez does everything I like with Albariño—aging on lees in tank, organic viticulture, indigenous yeasts—and avoids the one thing I really don't like with this grape, which is oak.
The result is wines like the 2006 Do Ferreiro Albariño ($22, but not released yet), a model of the form: citrus peel and chalky mineral aromas, then bright, vivid green apple and citrus fruit with an almost smoky undertone; the 2005 Do Ferreiro Albariño ($22) which, coming from a warmer vintage, reveals more pineapple fruit notes (though not the hideous canned pineapple fruit you sometimes get in overripe Chardonnay) and has a denser texture; and the 2005 Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas ($35), appropriately more complex, with saturated green apple and citrus fruit notes, and a kind of mineral-briny lime-candy finish.
If you like Albariño (and you should), keep a watch out for the 2006 wines. Mendez, who looks oddly like the writer Milan Kundera, remarked of the vintage, "I don't have any comparison for this year. It's like a flower—extraordinarily delicate. A great year."
Moreover, if you like Albariño (and you will, or else—got it, pal?), put some of it away. Cellar it. It seems like a bright, direct white to be drunk soon after release, and it is; but it also ages surprisingly well. I discovered that while tasting old vintages of Pazo de Señorans in Galicia a few years ago, and rediscovered it last night while tasting the 2001 Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas, which had an extraordinary bouquet of petrol, lime zest, pineapple and honeysuckle, profound minerality, citrus fruit that wasn't fading in the least, and a lingering honeysuckle note (from botrytis, which is present in the '05 as well, though it's imperceptible as yet). Mendel said of the wine, "When you compare the '01 and '05 you see how long a life that '05 has ahead of it. In two years the '05 will start being ready to drink."
It's worth adding that the pleasure of tasting these wines was undoubtedly heightened by the just absurdly good food at Tia Pol. For the Albariños, this particularly meant an earthy carpaccio of king oyster mushrooms in a citrus vinaigrette with chopped almonds, and sweet, tender langoustines that if I'd been eating them blindfolded would have made me swear I was in Spain (as it turns out, Alex Raij, the chef, buys them directly from a guy in Spain). They aren't like langoustines you get here—they're what langoustines you get here would be in their dreams, that is if langoustines dream. Nor are they cheap. But they're worth every peseta.
We moved on to reds after that, and to a cochinillo (roast suckling pig) whose salty, cracker-crisp skin would be envied by any self-respecting Segovian chef; the meat was tender enough, too, to pass the classic test of being able to be cut apart with the edge of a plate. Co-owner Mani Dawes tells me the cochinillo is usually a Wednesday-night special. I say that if that's the case, then I've got my Wednesday nights planned out for the next five years.