Viñatero profile: Bodega Vinifícate
Welcome to San Fernando, Cádiz. A land where the winemaking tradition underlies the unsurpassed dimension of Sherry. A tradition that, however, goes much further than fortified & biologically aged wines. A tradition that is being put back in value thanks, in large part, to the work that young oenologists are doing, determined to place their wines and Cádiz' terroir among the most prestigious wine regions in the world.
Winemakers like Jose, with whom we had the pleasure of scheduling our last Zoom tasting of 2020, who took us for a "ride", just for a little while, to discover the winery that he leads together with his brother Miguel (Bodega Vinifícate, also known as the Mahara viticultores) and a very special grape variety called Tintilla de Rota.
Mahara means "crazy, nuts" in slang. And it kind of translates the "fresh air" of change that they have brought to the area. Truth is that Jose and Miguel come from a family that was not dedicated to viticulture. They did not grew within any of the great winemaking lineages of Jerez. The brothers' winemaking adventure begins shortly after graduating in oenology. After spending several years working in both national and international wineries, in 2011, Miguel called Jose to tell him that they had the opportunity to get hold of some old vineyards of Tintilla (40+ years old). And so the project was born, with the acquisition of the Pago de Balbaína. They did not have their own winery, so they had no choice but to rent the space and the barrels from several neighboring wineries to make their wine.
It is very likely that many of you have not even heard of the Tintilla de Rota, however, for the Mahara brothers it was the ideal grape through which to reflect the values of their project: Representing Cádiz in a glass of wine. Tintilla has always been there, traditionally used to make sweet wines or to give a bit of rock and roll to the color of other local red wines (Tintilla literally means "the one that stains").
Tintilla is one of those varieties whose identity is still being rediscovered, which is why, since that first vintage in 2011, the Mahara brothers have made various adjustments to the way it is vinified. The most important is surely having stopped using barriques. The wood "maderiza" the final wine; meaning that the wood is a layer of make up for the wine, covering its true essence. Thing soon changed when they met Juan Padilla, a "tinajero" artisan who makes amphoras baked in a wood oven in Villarrobledo (Albacete, Spain). In 2013 they were amused after tasting the first wine aged in them as the amphorae allowed the wine to continue evolving and to remain naked, being able to show what they really want to show: Varietal identity, soil, climate & vintage.
They try to work with a very lively soil, because that way the plant will be much better fed with nutrients. The aim is to create a complete ecosystem where the plants feel comfortable, because it will give a healthier grape with higher quality. For that reason they do not use any type of systemic treatments, herbicides or any other type of poison. Due to the local weather conditions they do have to use some copper and sulfur.
It seems quite a long time has passed now since that very first vintage when they vinified only 2,000 kilos of grapes, aging the resulting wine in 4 barriques, renting the space to local wineries since they did not have a building of their own. It was back in 2017 when they could finally buy a warehouse in the island of San Fernando, thus creating their own winery. Nowadays they count with 20 amphorae and they have acquired more vineyards in Chiclana, Jerez & San Lúcar; where they plant not only Tintilla but the queen of the region: Palomino Fino.
And a Palomino was the very first wine that opened our tasting. Wines sent to us by César Espinosa, sommelier and Director of Vinos360, to whom we delegated the arduous task of sending us a good representation of what Mahara's project is. 1 Palomino and 4 different Tintillas it was what we tasted, such a great introduction to a variety almost unknown to many of the members of the association.
1) Palomino, Aguja Colipinta, Espumoso, Mahara '19:
Palomino is a grape faithful to the soil in which it grows, transmitting in a very transparent way what it wants to tell us. This vineyard (+ 40 years old) is located in the Pago de Miraflores (San Lúcar), settled on a soil that is not Albariza, but Lustrillo (a sandy layer lies 30cm on top of the Albariza, giving lighter soils) giving as general result Palominos where freshness and an aromatic profile loaded with more stone and tropical fruits will predominate. This Palomino, in particular, is made as an ancestral method. Fermentation starts in 1500l tanks to later be bottled before finishing fermentation at a pressure of 1005. It will spend 18 months in contact with its own lees before being released to the market. The result is a wine with a super fine and balanced bubble, which gradually manifests itself as a slight tingling on the palate. Do not expect the explosiveness of a Cava or a Champagne because the pressure in these wines is always much lower. Bigger mouthfeel than we expected, almost creamy with a well integrated, refreshing maritime acidity. The fresh yeasty notes are not overwhelming, highlighting nuances of quince, piña colada and canned peaches.
2) Amorro '19:
100% Tintilla. In 2018 the Mahara brothers took a radical turn by bottling a monovarietal since, in previous vintages, there was a small percentage of Tempranillo on it. "A Morro" means to drink straight from the bottle. And that's all what this wine is: a fresh wine, where what is sought is not an evolution by oxidation, but to preserve the primary fruit as much as possible. We have to bear in mind that Tintilla is a grape that doesn't give high levels of acidity, so there are two factors that will help enhancing it: the first one is the salinity of the area and, the second, to vinify it involving 100% of the stem (which has to be phosphor green, so as not to lose the freshness of the grape). Vinification with stems is always very risky because we can find unwanted vegetable aromas and bitterness. However, these guys know how to handle it very well so that those greenery nuances are not predominating. Here the grapes continue to be crushed by foot, precisely so that the grapes break, not the stem. A very delicate job indeed. Amorro is really cool. A wine that is not pretentious at all and that could be summarized as follows: Forget about Beaujolais! Crack onto Amorro, spectacular glu-glu wine! The red currant and strawberry aromatics dominate, with some super fun hints of apricot. It is a wine that is not chewy but is very greedy. It is fresh & savory; with a salty component and a very interesting herbaceous character. The aftertaste is pleasantly bitter, inviting you to bring the glass to your lips quite frequently.
3) Mahara '16:
Here we are talking about another monovarietal of Tintilla. This time the wine is left to macerate longer in order to be able to age it in amphora (500l and 1000l) for 9 months.
Mahara is a wine were the brothers want to extract something more from the stalk, maintaining freshness, gaining delicate green nuances and increasing its salinity.
The wine is deadly good! Filled with aromas of prunes, mulberries & pickled blackberries coated with an interesting salinity and stable notes that add complexity (nope, there's no excess of brett).
I personally had also the chance to taste 2015 vintage and the difference is brutal. I like it when the wines are not standardized and the vintages are allowed to shine for being the way they are. 2015 was a year in which the Levante winds (from the west) dominated bringing the humidity and the freshness from the Atlantic Ocean to the vineyard. In this way, I was able to experience a wine with the same fruit character as a conductor thread but without being so warm, showing some notes of brine, dry meat and a livelier sensation in the mouth.
4) Mahara, Lirio, Tinto Macerado, '15:
The favorite of the night without hesitation. What an astonishing work!
Only 796 bottles were produced, tiny tiny production. The Mahara brothers call this wine "the origin of everything". And they have their reasons for doing so since the wine undergoes much longer maceration. And when we talk about longer macerations, I mean that the Tintilla spends 9 months macerating in an amphora and then aging in the same container for 9 more months. Those macerations are a clear influence from having worked with Elisabetta Foradori in the past. What that maceration gives is a much deeper wine in the glass, more mineral, with hints of sea rock and dry seaweed. It is a wine, therefore, that digs much more into its roots; very fine, elegant, tenacious and mineral.
5) Mahara, Tinto Bajo Velo, '15:
I have no choice but to thank César again for sending us this label. Even Jose was surprised as soon as he realized that we had a bottle of the just only 285 that were released on the market in 2015! Yes, 285, and that's it! This wine was not bottled again, and it is not because they didn't try again. This wine is a piece of "fricada" (nerd stuff). A Tintilla under a veil of flor. This veil arose completely spontaneously in a barrel that they had in the rented space of a specific winery (very close to Ronda). From 2016 until now they have tried to repeat without good results. The problem is that, with red wines, not all veils of flor are good ones (most tend to give aromas of leek, overcooked vegetables ... which are not attractive at all for red wines). The truth is that when they saw the veil for the first time they wanted to take it off and send the wine to the vinegar, but before doing so (and thanks to the divine providence) they decided to taste it and they immediately loved how that Tintilla was behaving under the veil of flor. They let the wine rest for 8 months under the veil before bottling it. The result is a wine with a nose reminiscent of strawberries with cream, rose petals, wild blackberries ... Very beautiful and unique indeed.
As you can see, this is a wine project that deserves attention. It is true that what we have tasted are not all their wines and we are already looking forward to organizing another tasting to taste their work with Palomino Fino and the sparkling wines based on Tintilla. Stay tuned as we are generating the 2021 tastings, but in the meantime, we will be publishing articles about the Spanish wine scene in the UK. Ah! If you have not understood a damn of what I have explained, do not worry at all! After each article we will upload another post shortly after to decode the tough terms that you may have come across!
Founder of the Spanish Sommelier Association