Bright, zippy and saline Albariño from a very traditionally-minded producer. They farm lots of (tiny) old-vine parcels in Rias Baixas with an aim for sustainability and transparency of terroir. Rodrigo Mendes is a 5th generation farmer with a goal of protecting and preserving the region’s historic vineyards (and his own familial inheritance). He allows his grapes to hang on the vine longer than is the norm, imbuing his wines with clarity, concentration and an increased minerality.
Great wines can come from surprising places. And as wine professionals, sometimes we fall victim to our preconceived notions. Having been a wine buyer for many years and having visited Spain a number of times our esteemed colleague, Floribeth Kennedy, thought she had Spanish wines pegged.Spain was the land of immutable tempranillos, powerful garnachas and brothy sherries. Wines of great depth and beauty, but not necessarily wines that would be called “pure” or “graceful”. Following her cravings for the freshest of the fresh seafood to the rocky shores of Galicia, Flori found something she never expected: the world class wines of Forjas del Salnes.Forjas del Salnes is not a typical winery in Rias Baixas. While most producers in the region hang their hat on Albariño, the crisp and lightly fruity flagship white grape of the region, Forjas del Salnes goes further. Winemaker Rodrigo Mendez, along with famous compatriot Raul Perez, decided to make wine that celebrates the indigenous grapes of the region and showcases purity Gallego terroir. These include varieties like Bastardo and Caiño Tinto as well as more recognizable ones like the universally loved Albariño. In 2005, having secured incredibly rare 100+ year old parcels of vines in the Val do Salnes, he started this nobel venture. The purity begins in the vineyards. The Val do Salnes is an incredibly cool and wet growing region. Just under 6km looks like from the Atlantic, Mendez’s vineyards get blasted by oceanic winds and rains, which average 63 inches annually. If tricky weather was difficult enough to deal with, the soils are nothing more than a thin layer of hummus overlying granitic sands and bedrock.But despite how poor the soils are, the hidden benefit is that phylloxera cannot thrive in ground like this and thus is a haven for vines well over a century old. It is ancient vines like these that create the most expressive wines.To say these wines are special is an understatement. For the reds, they combine the immaculate clarity experienced in top Burgundies with depth and finesse found in the best Barolos and Cote-Roties. The whites can achieve similar heights echoing the minerality of Chablis and salinity of Sancerre.