Galicia and its appellations have a long and rich history in viticulture. Since the passing of Francisco Franco and Spain’s emergence into the international wine scene, different appellations within Galicia have caught the attention of the international market. First was of course Riax Baixas with its internationally beloved variety, Albarino. But in the last 10 years or so the serious wine connoisseurs and press have come to get excited about other Galician regions in the so-called Green Spain including Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra and Ribeiro. Each has interesting indigenous varieties, complex soils and fresh climates that can deliver balance and energy to its wines. Add to that the talented and visionary characters who have pushed the quality paradigm in these regions, not to mention the famous and established wineries that have invested in these areas, and it’s a positive equation to establishing a wider audience for these exciting wines.
BUT…there is another appellation in Galicia that is very different from those – it is more continental and mountainous – and that is Monterrei. In this remote corner of Galicia’s southeastern corner, close to the border of Northern Portugal, a quiet and humble man named Jose Luis Mateo Garcia has been striving since the early 1990’s to make the best wines he could from his home region.
Jose Luis established his winery Quinta da Muradella in 1990. At that time, the heart of the project was a single south-facing vineyard his father had planted in 1985 named Gorvia. This parcel served not only as a base of operations in the early years, but also as sort of a “training ground” for learning about the ups and downs of growing grapes in this rugged and mountainous terroir. As the winery developed and progressed, Jose Luis was also able to add other parcels to his roster through some long-term leases throughout the appellation, often in the highest elevations of the mountains. Many of these were very old, heirloom vineyards that hearkened back to another era in Spain’s rich viticultural history, yet at the same time, required enormous hands-on labor to maintain and harness their optimal potential for quality. As the winery achieved some early successes, José-Luis was able to purchase some choice land in 1999 and to plant his namesake vineyard, Muradella.
Geologically, the soils in the appellation are of mixed origin and content. In general, the base subsoil throughout the zone is granite but there are also bands of various sands, schist as well as a very iron-rich red clay. In many of the parcels, this complex tapestry of soils is combined with mixed field blends of local varieties to create interesting, layered and complex wines. Starting in 2005, all the vineyards were converted to organic viticulture. Also, when vines die and need to be replanted, he does so with a massale selection from his oldest vineyards.
For many years, the “professor” in Jose Luis led him to make many different wines, each a study in varieties, vineyards and methods, and all with the goal to gain a better understanding of his terroirs. Today, he has settled on a Burgundian approach to his line-up. The appellation wine is called Candea and the fruit for this wine comes from a very good friend of his. Both the white and red are blends of local varieties with amazing pedigree and complexity for their price points. From here we go to the village wine or Alanda. This wine is mix of sites but is Jose Luis’ representation of the diversity of Monterrei combined with his organic viticulture and higher elevations and older vines. The next level is the single vineyard wine Muradella which Jose Luis planted and organized himself, so these vines are not the oldest but are what he considers of grand cru quality given the top viticultural attention to detail and the optimal site and exposition of the vineyard. The other single vineyard wine he bottles is called Gorvia. This is the walled-in vineyard first worked by his father and then over time re-shaped through Jose Luis’ vision.
Like many super wine geeks for Spain, we have been following Jose Luis’ wines for many years. It is often possible to find very old bottles in restaurants in Spain for very reasonable prices. The wines are always stunners! While Jose Luis is quietly working in his corner of Galicia, we are most definitely not quiet here shouting about his wines!