Friday, 16 September 2016

A Taste of Ronda

Region: Ronda

Have you heard the one about a German, an Argentinian and a Swiss? It’s not the beginning of a pub joke, but the story of how an obscure region is attracting winemakers from around the world. Usually when tasting wines from a region new to me, I look for a degree of commonality, whether it is a grape variety or flavour profile. At this tasting though, put together by online retailer Wines of Ronda, the list of grape varieties included Viognier, Lemberger, and Zweigelt. Hardly commonplace grapes, and one would be hard-pressed to identify a region planted with these varieties as being Spanish. “The new taste of Spanish wine” was the tagline of the tasting, and very apt it is. Even though Spain is part of the Old World, it has shown tremendous courage in challenging the status quo (hello Ferran Adrià). Imagine tasting a wine made from French grapes planted in Spanish soil by a German winemaker.

The town of Ronda is located in the south-western part of Spain in the Andalusia region, a historically-rich area studded by imposing fortress cities. My last visit to Andalusia was over a decade ago and I recall the weather being unforgivingly hot during the day, but the nights were remarkably cool. This diurnal variation helps the grapes preserve acidity, resulting in wines that taste fresh and fruity. Wines from Ronda bear the D.O. (Denominación de Origen) Serranía de Ronda, which is a subzone of the Sierras de Malaga appellation. To obtain the D.O. Serranía de Ronda stamp, the wines must be dry and unfortified.

All the wines we tasted were either classified as organic, biodynamic or ecological. The differences between these three approaches can be very fine, but basically in organic winemaking the producer avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, while in ecological (also known as sustainable viticulture) winemaking the producer attempts to work in a way that does not harm the environment. Biodynamics, which has been around for some time now, aims to work in a holistic fashion that also accounts for planetary movements.

Archaeological artifacts found in Ronda provide evidence of a long history of grape-growing dating back thousands of years, but the current revival is far more recent. “After phylloxera wiped out all the vines here, the locals decided that they would rather go for cultivating olives,” explained Sergei Salov, Director of Wines of Ronda. “It was only in 1982 when a couple of winemakers (German-born Friedrich Schatz and Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe) came to Ronda to try to revive the winemaking.”

There are now around 30 wineries scattered around Ronda, and a significant number of them are listed on the Wines of Ronda website. The local distributor is FDH, known more for its portfolio of affordable French wines. The wines from Ronda are priced significantly more ambitiously, and I wonder if they will find a ready market in this cost-conscious climate. It is still a developing region finding its footing, with the best wines from the tasting showing rich, clean fruit and balanced alcohol.

Tasting notes:

Morosanto Blanco Chardonnay/Viognier 2015 – An equal blend of Chardonnay and Viognier. Medium-bodied with apricot and floral notes with a touch of stone fruit on the finish. Technically sound and refreshing, this makes a pleasant everyday drink.

Joaquin Fernandez Rosado Finca los Frutales 2015 – A blend of Merlot, Garnacha and Syrah clocking in at a very moderate 12.5% alcohol. Organic winemaking. Displays an attractive pink-red hue with notes of strawberry milk candy and a hint of vanilla. Light, refreshing and thirst-quenching. A really good option for a hot and muggy day.

Doña Felisa Chinchilla 6+6 2012 – Family winery founded by Gema Alonso Araico and her husband Jose María Losantos Hernando. The blend is 60% Tempranillo and 40% Syrah. Displays enticing notes of tea leaf, black cherry, plums, dark chocolate and savoury hints. Well-structured and smart with high alcohol and pronounced tannins.

Descalzos Viejos DV+ 2009 – Descalzos being Spanish for barefooted, the name is a tribute to the monks who once lived in the 500 year old monastery that now serves as a winery. Co-founded by Argentinian Flavio Salesi and his business partner Paco Retamero from Málaga. The wine is a blend of Graciano, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Plush, soft and bursting with jammy fruit, spice, and exotic herbs, this is a wine that embraces its warm climate origins. Really intense, yet still balanced and fresh.

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