With Black Friday behind us – phew! – and Christmas now just around the corner, Ben and I have been sniffing out some new wines to add to our collection in time for your festive celebrations.
Our first stop was DO Somontano in north-east Spain. The deliciously fresh and elegant Las Pilas 2020 is made by roving Aragonese winemaker Luis Oliván. We’ve been friends with Luis now for some time and he comes from an Aragonese family which has been farming, tending vineyards and making wine in the parishes of Abadiado and La Hoya de Huesca for many generations. Luis himself has a long pedigree working alongside some of Spain’s top winemakers in regions like Aragón, Bierzo, Galicia or Madrid, where he really discovered his passion for finely made Garnacha wines in the Sierra de Gredos.
Now he’s back home in native Huesca and dedicated 100% to his own winemaking project, Luis Oliván Vinos y Viñedos. Luis’s credo centres on the idea that older vineyards where grapes have been grown for decades, or sometimes centuries, is the best indicator of quality fruit.
With that in mind, Luis seeks out historic sites and revives them. His first stop was a parcel of Garnacha outside the village of Bespén in the province of Huesca, which locally goes by the name "Las Pilas". Historical accounts record Garnacha being made and enjoyed in Bespén from as far back as the mid-12th century, and Luis’s approach tries to respect that centuries old winemaking tradition.
Taking its name from the the aforementioned plot, Las Pilas is low yield, dry-farmed (ie no irrigation) 100% old vine Garnacha and just 2,000 bottles were made of the 2020 vintage. Once harvested by hand, half of the grapes were destemmed while the other half were left as whole bunches to lock a bit more freshness into the wine. Fermentation was spontaneous – ie with no artificial temperature control - with wild yeasts in stainless steel tanks, and once complete the wine was quickly racked off, or separated from all the sediment to limit the extraction of tannins, and was then left to age slowly for 7 months in 600 litre French oak barrels.
The result is an elegant, silky-smooth red wine, medium ruby red in colour, which exudes wonderful aromas of red fruit, blueberries, and scrub herbs against a background of subtle toasted notes from the time in barrel. Fresh, light and mineral on the palate, the wine has gentle tannins, bags of fruit and a long finish. Las Pilas is a small vineyard plot and production of the 2020 vintage was limited to just 2,000 bottles, so we’re lucky to have got hold of a small cupo or quota of the wine for you in time for Christmas.
The Arroyo family
A 350km drive west from Bespén, we’ve also been chatting to the Arroyo family who have been making wine now at Bodegas Valsotillo in Ribera del Duero for generations. In fact, alongside famous names like Vega Sicilia or Pérez Pascuas, they were one of the seven "founding fathers" of the DO Ribera del Duero back in 1982. Their hugely impressive range of wines showcases the quality and diversity of styles which Ribera has become famous for, and they’re also terrific value!
Finally, continuing our journey westwards we’ve been in Toro, that slightly wild and rugged bit of Castilla y León which spans the Duero river between Valladolid and Zamora. It’s an historic wine-growing region, with vines grown here since Medieval times but it’s only had DO status since the late 1980s. Landscape and climate is famously harsh here, and the Tempranillo - or Tinta de Toro as it’s known locally - were traditionally famous for producing big, powerful reds.
That image has become more refined in recent years. New producers like Hacienda Terra d’Uro are building on the fantastic wealth of pre-phylloxera vinestock to be found in Toro, and producing elegant, approachable red wines with great depth of fruit enhanced by just the right touch of oak ageing. Their Finca la Rana wine is a perfect example – 100% Tinta de Toro with 12 months ageing in French oak barrels, it makes the perfect accompaniment to some of those slightly richer Christmas dishes we’re all going to be enjoying over the coming weeks.
So there we are, three outstanding red wines added to our list just in time for Christmas. We'll continue to expand our selection next year. If you've tried a wine of ours that you like, why not give it a review. You'll find a review form on every product page and your feedback helps us to better understand your preferences and bring in new wines we think you'll enjoy.