Beyond Albariño: The Remarkable Wines of Manuel Moldes

Beyond Albariño: The Remarkable Wines of Manuel Moldes

Beyond Albariño: The Remarkable Wines of Manuel Moldes

Galician wines that do justice to the lush beauty of "Green Spain"

 Manuel "Chico" Moldes (above) is embracing the challenges of Galicia's climate to make wines full of tension and excitement. They are some of the best Spanish wines we've come across this year, right up there with Envínate.

“It’s time people start taking Galicia seriously.” I feel like I’ve said this too many times to count to guests in the restaurants I’ve worked at over the past decade. Most folks associate the region solely with rushed-to-market Albariños — acidic and often made with commercial yeast — but this region is so much more than that. Lovingly referred to as Green Spain, Galicia is a densely forested area, damp and cool in climate and coastally influenced, a stark contrast to the famously arid grape-growing regions Spain is most known for. Moss-covered trees, steep terraced hillsides, and the scent of brisk Atlantic Ocean water define the region; it truly looks like something out of a storybook. Historically, Galicia was a red wine region. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the area saw its star rise with Albariño. Yet the skyrocketing international success of Albariño led to the erasure of the region’s native red grape varieties and winemaking traditions. Farming in this extreme climate can be incredibly difficult, given the cold temperatures and ever-present humidity, leading most vineyards in the region to work conventionally — i.e. relying on chemical herbicides and fungicides to combat disease pressure — and then selling most of their grapes off to bigger cooperative-style operations. Recently, however, a small group of humble, independent winemakers have set out to make honest, expressive examples of what Galicia has to offer. One of the best is Manuel aka "Chico" Moldes, a real Galego. Through his wines, he is telling a different story of Galicia. His Albariños are stunning. The reds — harkening back to Galicia's history as a red wine region — are a revelation.

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Manuel Moldes is mostly known for his work as the winemaker at Bodegas Fulcro in Rías Baixas, the most famous appellation in Galicia. At Fulcro, Moldes cut his teeth working with organic fruit, mostly from the subzone of Val do Salnés, a terrain unlike anywhere else in Spain. Here, the steep vineyards rest upon ancient Galician Massif soils, a stone's throw from the Atlantic Ocean. In the hands of the right grower and winemaker, Albariño from this area can be otherworldly, transformative, and hold its own next to some of the finest white wines in the world — dare I even say Grand Cru Chablis. The granitic soils, coupled with the coastal proximity of Salnés make for incredible wines, and bottles from Fulcro, along with the wines of Alberto Nanclares, turned me into a complete Albariño freak. These are salty, crystalline and pure wines that speak of terroir loudly.

Moldes began a new label under his own name in 2017, utilizing the tiny parcels he works with across the region as an exclusive import for our friends at The Source (they represent the Credoz wines from the Jura that we offered back in March, which sold out in record time). The Albariño’s are a must: they are some of the most superior examples you will find. The red wines, blends made from indigenous Galician varieties, are frankly some of the most impressive Spanish wines I’ve had all year.

Cheers,

Kirk Sutherland

kirk@vwm.wine

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Manuel Moldes, "Afelio" Albarino 2018

$28.00

"Afelio" is Moldes' entry-level bottling of pure Albariño, and is a wine that speaks of the ocean. Elegantly taunt, with Atlantic influenced aromatics of seashells, kelp and misty ocean air, marked with juicy citrus and delicate white floral tones. The ten months of aging combined with the two years this wine has now had in bottle has tamed the sometimes overly rambunctious nature this grape can have: here we have a high-toned, richly textured expression. Salted lemon, honeydew melon and ripe green apple are expertly matched by the chiseled stoney elements on the long salty finish. Like a wave crashing on the shore. To speak of Albariños such as this without mentioning the intense work that goes into cultivating and harvesting these grapes would be a huge disservice to the region's history. These vines, planted in different micro-parcels throughout the Val do Salnés, are meticulously trained onto overhead pergolas, some reaching more than six feet in height and often supported by massive vertical planks of local granite. This laborious system of training helps to fight against the risk of rot due to areas damp and humid climate, and significantly reduces the amount of copper that is sprayed in the vineyards. The grapes are hand harvested and manually basket pressed right away. The juice is then fermented in stainless steel and aged in a combination of old barrels and steel tanks for ten months before being bottled.

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Manuel Moldes, "Lentura" Vino Tinto 2018

$28.00

This is the only wine in the lineup from outside of Rías Biaxas, with grapes hailing from Bierzo, arguably the most renowned red wine subzone in Galicia. Bierzo, mostly planted to the grape Mencia, is home to some of the oldest vines in all of Spain. I've often shied away from wines from Bierzo, as they can sometimes be a bit heavy for my tastes, but "Lentura" really proved me wrong. Aromatically, there is something almost Northern Rhone here, with its black and red fruit and violet floral tones. The wine is featherweight in comparison to other wines I've had from this regions, but still has wonderfully refined texture and tannin. A fine line of salty mineral flavors tie the Moldes wines together, and this specific wine's briny olive highlights do not disappoint. This bottling is a blend of 60% Garnacha Tintorera (also know as Alicante Bouschet, a red-skinned, red-fleshed grape) and 40% Mencia, grown at high altitude on slate soils with an average vine age of 70 years. The wine is fermented with 20% whole-cluster in a combination of steel and wood vessels and aged 300-liter barrels for 11 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. This is a great wine for fans of Envinate's "Lousas" bottling.

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Manuel Moldes, "A Capela de Aios" Albarino 2018

$39.00

Where the entry level bottling from Moldes, Afelio, is a classic expression of Albariño from Rías Baixas, A Capela de Aios (named for the small church in the town where these vineyards are located), flips the notion of what the grape can do in Val do Salnés on its head. These vines, some up to 80+ years old, are planted on schist, something incredibly rare in this granite dominated region. Just like Afelio, the grapes are hand harvested and basket pressed right. The juice is then slowly fermented in neutral French oak, without temperature control, and is aged for an additional 11 months in the same barrels. The impact the schist soils brings to the wines is profound when tasted next to any other example of Spanish Albariño. Full-bodied, soulful and intensely mineral, almost steely up front, with a punch of zesty citrus. Given to me blind, I would call Chenin Blanc well before Albariño, with a core of wet stone, flint and fleshy nectarine.

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Manuel Moldes, "Acios Mouros" Vino Tinto 2017

$39.00

Red wines from Rías Baixas have been exceedingly rare over the last few decades. After tasting this wine, it's become clear to me that the abandonment of these historic grape varieties is nothing short of a tragedy. "Acios Mouros" is a blend of 60% Caiño Redondo, 20% Loureiro Tinto, 20% Espadeiro, all native to Val do Salnés. Vines are planted on schist and granite, and are on average 40-50 years old. Grapes are destemmed and fermented in open top bins for over a month, then pressed and aged for a year in old 300-liter barrels, then blended and aged an additional 4 months in steel. This wine blew me away. Surprisingly deep and structured at only 11.5% alcohol. Rustic, lively and undoubtedly Atlantic, the three grape varieties create a beautiful choir of unexpected flavors and aromatics. Spicy herbal notes, small red berry fruit and purple flowers on the nose are met by an effusive palate showcasing fresh costal air, freshly cracked black pepper and a slight balsamic finish.

Buy "Acios Mouros" Tinto

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