Northwest Spain is a treasure trove of venerable varietals, most of which are completely unknown to American consumers and their strange fixation on the familiar.
For example, Carrasquín. One of four grapes native to Asturias, it produces a dark, muscular wine of considerable ferocity—both acidic and tannic. The failure to embrace Carrasquín as we have, say, Tannat, may in part be due to a relative scarcity of information—and the quality of the information that exists. Bedi Page Wine, a Spanish website, offers this Google-translated pidgin description, verbatim: “The outbreak is of average density of hairs lying, weak intensity of anthocyanins pigmentation, forming a border around the edge.”
Then there’s Mencía, not to be confused with the mind of Carlos, that Honduran hotdog from Comedy Central—this a fragrant, lighter-weight cultivar that has traditionally made quick-to-consume farmhouse wine, easy to swig, difficult to age. The current crop of winemakers have begun to rediscover the beauty in the grape when yields are limited and innate shortcomings are shored up in blends.
The Tinto Twins, Verdejo Tinto, and Albarín Tinto, are the black sheep of their respective families, and they make up the rest of the Asturias homeboy quartet.
All four make it into Dominio del Urogallo’s ‘Pésico’, 2012 (around $30), an exotic cornucopia of scents and flavors that highlight Nicolás Marcos’ conviction that the soil, microclimate and indigenous grapes of Cangas del Narcea (a quality denomination within Asturias) are capable of delivering a world-class product.
The terroir of Cangas emphasizes the terror part; the Cántabro-Atlántica is essentially marshland punctuated by mountains, and Nico’s parcels are on hillsides so steep they seem better suited for launching hang-gliders than tending vineyards.
But here is where Nico has eked out a biodynamic nirvana; eighteen acres near the magical forest of Muniellos which was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. He walks a difficult ecological walk in his damp surrounds by using holistic farming techniques while eschewing the artificial, both in his vineyard and in his cellar.
Only 700 cases of Pésico were produced.
The wine exudes a remarkable nose—a certain indefinable blend of ripe summery berries. And I say that in all humility, because it is my gig to define aromas, and these were almost other-worldly, like a fruit bush you’d find growing in some H.G. Wells shangri-la where dinosaurs still roam.
In any case, the nose is voluptuous and ripe, displaying magnificent depth and multiple extraordinary, alien flavors. The mouthfeel struck me as a bit harsh, I admit—huge tannins that parches the mouth like one of those suction tubes the dentist jams in your pie hole when you’re bleeding. But, that’s something a little down-time might take care of—the wine sees plenty of oak, including second-year barrels from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which is not for the feint of palate.
This is one of those greater-flavored, lesser-known Spanish reds that blusters without flattening the house; a mighty wine from a mighty tiny lot—you should try a bottle while the wind is blowing in this direction.