bodega naranjuez: the natural wines of antonio vílchez
Last Thursday (practically Friday, with the delay of our final flight), we returned from our two-week honeymoon in Andalucía, the southernmost province in Spain. I hardly know where to start, but over the next few weeks Marvin and I will be posting some stories and highlights from our trip (photos in this post were taken by him). For our first post, I want to share with you a natural winemaker that we discovered in the most serendipitous way.
Wandering Granada’s Albaicín neighborhood on a rainy afternoon, we decided to take shelter in a tiny place called Bar Kiki. We were leery that it would be a tourist trap, as we were adjacent to the mirador San Nicolas (a popular vantage point from which to view the city and Alhambra), but we entered anyway to warm up with a glass of wine and some rabo de toro (oxtail stew). It turned out to be a great little spot, with a friendly bartender who was happy to answer our questions about different drinks and menu items. So when a local winemaker came into the bar to make a delivery, the bartender offered to sell us a bottle at their cost. We started talking to the winemaker, Antonio Vílchez, and before we knew it he had invited us to come to his bodega, about 45 minutes away, for a tasting and tour of his vineyards.
The next day we were heading for Córdoba, but decided to take a detour to the east to visit Antonio’s winery. After all, when would we get another chance to have a personal guided tour with a Spanish winemaker? We drove towards Guadix and found our way toward the tiny (300 inhabitants) town of Marchal. On the way into town, we spotted a gypsy caravan on the side of the road, as well as cave dwellings in the surrounding cliff side. After pulling up in front of the tiny ayuntamiento (town hall) and getting some curious looks from the townspeople, we located Antonio and he showed us into his place. The operation was small and unglamorous- he produces a mere 8,000 bottles per year- but it was great to get an inside look at how a small winery operates.
Antonio reminded me a little of my grandfather (a Midwestern farmer), with his John Deere sweatshirt, wire-frame glasses and constant cigarette smoking. We struggled by in limited Spanish and English, respectively, until we somehow figured out that we both spoke French- Antonio had actually spent most of his childhood in the same region where I lived in France, so after that point we chatted fairly seamlessly, with me translating for Marvin. After touring the upper room where he kept the grape press and stainless steel tanks, he showed us the aging room with wooden barrels, which used to be a stable in his grandfather’s day. Then it was time to taste the wines.
We started with Antonio’s most unusual wine, his white. Lovers of the offbeat and funky would be delighted with this golden-hued wine, which had a yeasty quality that reminded me of beer. Next up was a pinot negra, which Antonio says grows well there because of the altitude and being on a riverbank. It was young and needed more bottle time but showed good potential. As we chatted and drank, we told Antonio that we were fans of natural wine back home as well, and that we often buy Jose Pastor’s offerings in the States. “Oh, you just missed him, he was here last week!”, Antonio replied. We hope this means his wines will be available soon here, but with the limited production we’re not holding our breath.
The third and fourth wines we tried were blends (unfortunately I didn’t write down of what, and it’s not on the bottles), one named Más P’Acá and the other Más P’Allá. The way Antonio explained the translation was that the first was “more over here” and the second “more over there”, referring to the fact that the former is to be drunk sooner and the latter with a year or so of bottle time. The Mas P’Aca was one of my favorites, reminiscent of the bright, juicy flavors of Le Telquel and similar Loire Valley biodynamic wines. The Mas P’Alla was its more serious older sibling; I’m looking forward to trying the bottle we purchased, maybe around our anniversary in September.
As we drank the rather hefty pours (for a tasting, anyway), Marvin commented that the wine was going to his head. Antonio replied by claiming that one could drink natural wine without feeling the effects as much as “normal” wine, because with most wines the liver would process the sulfites first and leave the alcohol in your system, whereas with natural wine the liver would process out more of the alcohol more quickly. I’m somewhat skeptical- I think it’s more likely that he just has a much higher tolerance than us for drinking before noon! Another comment that produced skepticism was when Marvin asked whether smoking the unfiltered dark tobacco he was so fond of interfered with his taste buds for wine tasting. “On the contrary,” he said- “it’s a palate cleanser!” Hmm.
The final wine we tried was his Prisa Mata, which translates as “haste kills”. This “everything but the kitchen sink” blend contains Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Pinot Noir. We sampled two vintages, the 2007 and, I believe, 2009 or 2010-I wasn’t taking notes and things were starting to get fuzzy by then. In addition to a year of barrel aging, Antonio bottle-ages these wines an additional two years before releasing them. I wish I could give more specific tasting notes, but I recall it being a full, earthy wine that I would gladly drink more of.
We capped off the tasting with a quick visit to Antonio’s vineyards on our way out of town, situated just off the main road with views of the surrounding cliffs and mountains, and then he was off to go have lunch with his family and we were off to Córdoba. We were able to bring home three bottles, though, so we’ll relive our little adventure and think fondly of Antonio as we drink them.