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Garnacha That's Gonna Getcha
Get to know the high-altitude, old-vine reds from Sierra de Gredos.
One of the most popular articles I published this summer was about light red wines from from Castilla-La Mancha, near the historic city of Toledo, a hot place in central Spain. These are exciting wines from a region most Americans aren’t familiar with—which is maybe starting to feel like a common refrain when I write about Spanish wine.
Whether it’s the emergence of xarel·lo as a still wine in Catalonia, or the trend of the island reds of the Canary Islands, or the rise of world-class white wine in Rioja, or the secret of dry Pedro Ximénez from Montilla, Spain is still full of wine discoveries and surprises for many of us. Here in the U.S., we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s happening in the country’s vast wine scene, and that’s why I’m so excited talk about it.
For instance, did you know that some of Spain’s most interesting and delicious red wines are coming from the region surrounding the capital city of Madrid? Specifically, the mountainous area about an hour west of Madrid, called Sierra de Gredos? Particularly, the old-vine garnacha grown at high altitude in granite soil, often at more than 3,000 feet elevation? Sierra de Gredos wines are increasingly sought after in Spain, and we’re seeing them more and more in the U.S.
While you will see Sierra de Gredos on the label, the place name is not official. The D.O. is technically Vinos de Madrid, which was created in 1990 and covers a vast area surrounding the city. Sierra de Gredos places the wine specifically in the mountainous area of San Martín de Valdeiglesias and Cebreros.
Prior to the late 1990s, the rugged, ancient region had fallen onto hard times, with nearly abandoned, hard-to-reach vineyards. This was a sparse, forgotten region. That changed in 1999 when famed winemaker Telmo Rodríguez arrived to find 60-year-old (or older) vines, and started making wine under his Pegaso label.
Several years after Rodríguez, two college friends, Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, came to Sierra de Gredos on a search for old vineyards. Their winery project, Comando G, helped put the region on the map. Though they have a quirky name (which comes from a 1980s Spanish cartoon) Comando G does serious biodynamically farming of 80-plus-year-old vineyards. In Eric Asimov’s excellent 2018 profile of Comando G, Landi tells him, “We have a big, big treasure here. The big heroes are those who worked and maintained these vineyards.”
It was Comando G’s wines, some of the most striking garnacha/grenache I’ve tasted, that first opened my eyes to Sierra de Gredos. I’ve also loved the wines from 4 Monos Viticultores, imported by Jose Pastor. When I was in Madrid a couple of summer ago, I had a chance to visit along with my Madrid-based friend François Monti (whose guide to the city I will publish later this week).
We met with Marc Isart in the San Martín de Valdeiglesias subzone. Isart is the sort of winemaker with his hand in many different projects. From 2008 to 2013, he was one of the original partners in Comando G. Isart now makes wine for Bernabeleva, as well as for Rodríguez’s Pegaso. He also has his own label, La Maldicíon, located in Chinchón, in a different part of the Vinos de Madrid D.O.
Isart drove us up into the mountains, past 300-year-old olive trees, fields of wild thyme and lavender, and scrub land. The sun beat down on us hard as he talked about the challenges of growing garnacha and albillo (the local white grape variety, which is also very good). This is a hot region, and they usually begin harvest in mid-August. I’ve tasted a lot of garnacha from hot regions and they can be big, high in alcohol, and flabby. Not these wines from Sierra de Gredos.
Given the heat, what’s incredible is how fresh and lively the garnacha here can be. But one of the effects of the early harvest is big, edgy tannins, almost like young nebbiolo. “People always say the garnacha here is like Burgundy, but I don’t agree,” Isart said. “For me, it’s more like Barolo.”
To be honest, what Sierra de Gredos represents is something completely new, different from garnacha/grenache anywhere else in the world. As Isart told me: “It’s always easier to introduce a fresh, new-wave style in a lesser-known region, rather than in an established region.”
Wines From Madrid To Try
Old-vine garnacha, blended with a small amount of carignan and syrah, planted in granite soils at over 2,500 feet elevation. Lively and bright, notes of ripe cherry, pretty flowers and fresh herb, with great underlying minerality. Super gulpable.
Everything you want in Comando G’s flagship “village wine.” Grown at 3,000 feet elevation in granite soil, this garnacha is a balance of lightness and power. Light ruby in color, fresh and juicy, bursting with cherry, herbs, and rose. Fruity but still a powerful, intense wine. Nebbiolo-like. Drinking beautifully now.
Illustrates Sierra de Gredos’ fresh, intense style of garnacha, with youthful tannins with notes of fresh cherry, wild herb, rose, and cool clay minerality. Great value for this level of complexity and drinkability.
Hard not to love a garnacha that’s so complex and powerful, and yet also easy-drinking. Lots of juicy red fruit, herbaceous, with elegant tannins. Great value.