Do the Garnachas of Sierra de Gredos live up to the hype?

The Garnachas of the Sierra de Gredos, a mountain range in Central Spain, have been getting a lot of love in recent years from wine critics, such as Jancis Robinson, Eric Asimov and Luis Guttiérez. My main encounters with Grenache, as the grape is called in France, are with the wines of the Southern Rhône. And although I have drunk wines from that region that I appreciated, most had the typical heat and alcohol that Grenache is often associated with, and that I don’t like in wine. The Garnachas of the Sierra de Gredos, however, are hailed as “Burgundian”, meaning wines that are light, fresh, and delicate. This description piqued my curiosity very much, so I decided to find out for myself what all the excitement is about.

The Sierra de Gredos is located less than a hour’s drive west of Madrid and the vineyards start from 600m altitude, avoiding excessive heat. The grapes often come from old vines that are planted mostly on granite soil. In fact, while Sierra the Gredos is used as a common denominator for these wine, it is not a Denominación de Origen, the official DOs being Mentrida, Madrid and Cebreros. As the latter only exists since 2017, the wines there were classified before as Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León.

I purchased a selection of Garnachas of some of the top producers in the Sierra de Gredos : Comando G, Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi, and Bernabeleva. I was also able to find some older vintages of Bodega Jiménez-Landi, the family estate where Daniel Jiménez-Landi was working before he decided to start on his own. The wines of that estate are from 2007 and 2008, a period during which Daniel was still working there. So that makes for an interesting comparison.

American wine merchants K&L describe the wines from the Sierra the Gredos as “Garnacha for Grenache haters”. Since I am not a big fan of Grenache, that was basically my starting point for these wines : do they  convince me in terms of freshness? And are they really “Burgundian”?

Comando G

This is probably one of the best known wine projects in Spain nowadays. Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi, Fernando García (who also makes wine for Bodega Marañones), and originally also Marc Isart of Bodegas Bernabeleva, started in 2008 with old vine Garnacha to make wine in a Burgundian way, what for them means focussing on terroir. Their wines have received critical acclaim and their top wines nowadays fetch prices that are also very Burgundian.

La Bruja de Rozas 2017, DO Vinos de Madrid

IMG_5661This is their entry-level wine that can be found around 15€ in European webshops. The nose is really beautiful, starting with earthy aromas that evolve to a more flowery bouquet and raspberries. There is also a touch of iron and green herbs. Nebbiolo comes to mind.

On the palate the wine is somewhat rounder than expected. There is no immediate heat to speak of, but the acidity is not prominent either. The tannins are fine and give aging potential. The wine ends on a slightly bitter note that will not please all palates.

After a glass or two the wine becomes heavier and there is a bit of heat that starts to become noticeable in the end. This wine is definitely not without interest, but I wonder how this wine is in a cooler vintage like 2016.

Rozas 1er Cru 2016, DO Vinos de Madrid

One step higher, this is the self-declared “premier cru” of Comando G, which retails at around 30€. The wine starts very timidly and only opens up modestly after a while with roses, redcurrant, white pepper and rosehip. Despite the fact that the tannins are finely grained, they take up a rather prominent place and make this wine somewhat austere at this point. While the vintage suggests a cooler wine, the acidity is not playing first fiddle, and again there is a slight bitterness in the end.

This is a wine that is lauded by many wine critics, but I had expected more freshness. Maybe I also caught the wine in a difficult moment right now? I would like to try a few other wines of Comando G before making up my mind, but their top wine Rumbo al Norte 2017 sold out at around 250€, having become more than twice as expensive in two years time…

Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi

Las Iruelas 2014, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León

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This is a vino de parcela, or a single vineyard wine. Very reductive just after opening, but luckily this blows off quite quickly. Redcurrant, a green herbal touch, rosehip and a hint of white pepper. While the aromas are rather delicate, this wine is fuller and rounder than the nose suggests. The acidity is good, not prominent, but just right. From the second glass the tannins start to be more obvious, but they are finely grained. The wine ends on a bitter note. 

This is a wine with interest, but it is somewhat shy and fails to really attract. Not unimportant at a 50€+ pricetag. The 2017, by the way, is sold at almost 100€. 

Cantos del Diablo 2015, DO Mentrida 

Also a vino de parcela. Beautiful ethereal aromas of peony, rosehip and redcurrant. The structure of the wine is the main feature here with again a rather round mouthfeel, good supporting acidity and high quality tannins that tickle your tong like black pepper. There is a bitter touch in the end, but it’s refrained and adds to the 3D feel of this wine. 

This Cantos del Diablo is in every aspect the better wine in comparison with the Iruelas. While the latter failed to convince completely, this one hits the bullseye and justifies its 50€+ pricetag. Again a price hike, however, of +50% for the 2017 vintage.

Bodega Jiménez-Landi

This is the winery of the family of Daniel Jiménez-Landi. The wines I was fortunate to lay my hands on are from the 2007 and 2008 vintages. Interestingly enough, Daniel was still working at the winery at that time. He split ways with his family because he wanted to pursue his own vision of wine making, so these wines are very interesting to compare the old-style Daniel with the new-style Daniel.

El Reventón 2008, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León

Nicely integrated bouquet with a subtle touch of liquorice, flowery aromas in the background, well absorbed wood, white pepper and a hint of smoke. Aromas of underbrush start to come through, signalling the evolution in this wine.

The start is very fresh with tart cherries and racy acidity. The fruit is smooth and so are the tannins. The acidity, however, is really quite dominant and defines the wine from beginning until end. After an hour or so the wine starts to come more into its own with more balance and a fruit profile that is somewhat reminiscent of an Italian Sangiovese. 

Interesting wine with a huge fresh-ripe contrast. Very different ballgame than the current wines of Daniel Jiménez-Landi. 

El Reventón 2007, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León

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Smokey nose with ripe cherries and blueberries. Very obvious wood aromas with cocoa butter and chocolate spread. There is a bit of heat noticeable as well. On the palate the style is very similar to the 2008 with loads of silky fruit and again that hefty acidity that races through the wine.

Despite the acidity the heat also comes through on the palate, making this wine less digest. This is by no means a Burgundian Garnacha, but a style that is closer to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. More balance on day two, however, so still quite a few years left for this wine.

Cantos del Diablo 2008, DO Mentrida

Very intense, aromatic nose with black chocolate, ripe cherries and obvious wood. The first impression is reminiscent of modern interpretations of Hermitage, such as the one of Domaine Ferraton. The nose changes quite fast, however, and becomes very evolved with dead leaves, underbrush and a hint of cheese. A bit of red fruit peeps through as well after swirling the glass.

The hallmark acidity is very obvious again, but it is more integrated than in the other wines and it actually carries the finish beautifully. The tannins are an attractive feature in this wine, as they are very ripe and provide great texture.

The 2008s are obviously subtler than the 2007 here. Still, all three wines are a far cry from what Daniel Jiménez-Landi makes today. 

Bodegas Bernabeleva

Another winery that receives much critical acclaim for their Garnachas. Head winemaker Marc Isart was briefly part of the Comando G project, but now also runs his own little side project called La Maldición, funnily enough focused on Tempranillo, not Garnacha.

Navaherreros 2017, DO Madrid

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A little shy just after opening, but the wine opens up quickly and then the aromas start flying out of the glass. The nose is dominated by cotton candy aromas. Luckily there is a more ethereal touch underneath that provides a bit more subtlety. The balance is nice  with an acidic lift that makes the cherry fruit really juicy and fresh. The tannins give just enough structure to avoid that this wine goes down all too easily.

This is a great summer quaffer at less than 15€. Really nice to enjoy slightly chilled on a summer’s day. Nothing Burgundian about it, however. If a comparison needs to be made, Beaujolais would be a much more suitable one. The website of Bernabeleva does not mention anything about carbonic maceration, but the website of American wine merchants K&L mentions partly carbonic maceration for an older vintage of their Arroyo del Tortolas. The cotton candy in this Navaherreros strongly points in the same direction.

Carril del Rey 2016, DO Madrid

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Much lighter in color than the Navaherreros. While there is no cotton candy here, there is strawberry jam, cherries and again that nice ethereal touch. On the palate there is more substance than the nose and color suggest, with red juicy fruit, kept nicely fresh by the acidity. Hardly tannins to speak of and the end is rather short.

That lip-smacking, juicy fruit and freshness again make this wine very attractive and dangerously easy to drink. At double the price of the Navaherreros, however, there was perhaps a little more complexity to be expected. 

Conclusion

It is clear why so many people are excited about these Garnachas from the Sierra de Gredos. They are indeed very different from most other Garnachas/Grenaches I’ve tasted before.

Of the wines in this line-up Comando G and Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi are clearly the ones who pushed things furthest with their very light-colored and delicately fragrant wines. While it is obvious that they search for a very pure expression of Garnacha, not everything I tasted was entirely convincing. In fact, the Cantos del Diablo was the only wine that really made me tick like Burgundy can.

It is not difficult to see why their wines are constantly called “Burgundian”, with their lighter color, lighter body and red fruit here and there. But there are also very clear differences. If Comando G and Daniel Jiménez-Landi make the most “Burgundian” wines, the acidity is moderate rather than lively, and their wines have a relatively round mouthfeel rather than Burgundian tension. Ironically, the wines of Bodega Jiménez-Landi, and to a lesser extent the wines of Bodegas Bernabeleva, had more freshness and  higher acidity, but were not anything like Burgundian Pinot Noir.

Impossible to say whether this selection of wines is representative of all Garnachas in the Sierra de Gredos, so I will not draw binding conclusions. It is clear, however, that there were quite big differences between the four wineries in the selection. A review of wines from the Sierra de Gredos by Ferran Centelles does not immediately change that impression of diversity, with descriptions ranging from floral and toasty/oaky to extremely ripe and port-like aromas.

As is often the case the image of a region is mainly influenced by its frontrunners. In this case Comando G and Daniel Jiménez-Landi are the ones who are covered profusely by the  international wine press and who undoubtedly contribute to the image of “Burgundian” Garnachas. Since their own success is still relatively recent it remains to be seen whether other wineries will be able to surf the same wave and if that will result in similarly styled Garnachas. Fow now the choice outside Spain is relatively limited. More choice, and more competition, would not be a bad thing, as the prices of Comando G and Daniel Jiménez-Landi are skyrocketing. At least that is something that is clearly Burgundian.