Tasting the Wines of Envínate

TL;DR – I really, really like Envínate

Wax seals makes everything look better

Easily the hottest name in Spanish wine right now, Envínate has become a poster child of sorts for the ‘new wines of Spain’ and for good reason. Their wines come from Spanish regions that seemed for a while forgotten, with the kind of quality you’d normally find in wines of more prestigious appellations.

The team behind Envínate had met in university where they were all once students of oenology. José Martinez, Laura Ramos, Roberto Santana and Alfonso Torrente founded Envínate in 2005, and originally functioned as just a winemaking consultancy company. Winemaking under the Envínate brand took off with the 2008 vintage and are intriguingly made with indigenous grape varieties, focused on terroir, purity of fruit and balance. Production is tiny, further exacerbating the supply problem for these already, very sought after wines.

My first taste of Envínate was of their Albahra bottling about a year ago. Up until that time I had only read about the group and would enviously watch as their labels showed up frequently on instagram. Then one fine day, quite serendiptously, I had stumbled across the website of a local wine retailer who had snapped up (somewhere/somehow) about 36 bottles of the 2017 Albahra. He agreed to sell them all to me for the restaurant and it was featured on our wine pairing for a while. It was a big hit with our restaurant guests.

The wines are now however exclusively imported into Singapore by Artisan Cellars – a boutique wine importer and distributor with an incredibly exciting portfolio of trailblazing, modern wines and also a healthy selection of some of the greatest classics from Burgundy and Champagne. Big shoutout to Valentin and team for providing the pictures and wines to taste!

The 2018 Albahra from vineyards that fringe the great plains of La Mancha in Central Spain

Probably the wine that Im most familiar with from their range. I remember when first trying the 2017 over a year ago, I approached this wine a skeptic. Skeptical because of what mainstream academic books would tell us about La Mancha and its mostly large scale, commercial vine cultivation and how a large proportion of its grapes actually goes into brandy production in parts of Spain. At the same time, I really wanted to be proven wrong about any prejudice that I might have had – and what better example to do this.

The vineyards are located southeast of La Mancha in the D.O. of Almansa. The appellation itself is about 7,200 hectares and sits in a unique position that gives it a climate that’s both partly continental and mediterranean. Garnacha Tintorera is the most planted variety here (60% of all plantings) with Monastrell a far second. The Almansa vineyards were bought by Envínate in 2012 and about 3,300 cases of these wines were made.

The 2018 Albahra is made with predominantly Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), with Moravia Agria making up the rest of the blend – a lesser known grape variety that would have probably added freshness and tannins to the mix. This wine was immediately riper and more tannic than the rest of the wines of the flight. On the nose, the Albahra had a pleasant stemmy, cherry stalk aromas, as do most of their red wines, the product of 30-40% whole bunch fermentation employed. Overall great power compared to the rest of their reds, well structured and great concentration of spicy and deeper red-fruit driven flavours and aromaticity.

Next on the flight were the 2018 Benje wines from the Tenerife. The wines come from the north-western tip of the island, on some steep and sometimes terraced vineyard areas, falling under the tongue-twisting D.O.: Ycoden-Daute-Isora. The soils here are mostly volcanic, thanks to its local volcano, Mount Teide. So, fun fact: Mount Teide is the world’s third tallest volcanic structure and also the highest peak in all of Spain. The volcano last erupted in 1909.

The fruit which goes into the Benje wines are sourced from vineyards that are at about 900-1200 metres above sea level, planted to old-vine Listán Prieto, a grape that’s also known as the Mission Grape or País in South America, and Listán Blanco, otherwise known as Palomino. The vines are raised untrained, and viticulture is old fashioned and chemical-free.

The fruit is destemmed and vinified separately according to the individual parcels that they come from, with fermentation taking place in both concrete tanks and neutral French oak. Wines then age for about 8 months on its fine lees and the wines are then bottled without filtration. The white wines also observe a small amount of skin-contact for about 6 days.

This maceration on the Benje Blanco must have contributed to its beautiful golden colour, but its nose is where the wine truly shines. Slightly oxidative and savoury on the nose with plenty of olives, chysanthemum and orange flowers that really give this wine a beautiful aomatic lift. The acidity of the wine did feel a little sharp and the alcohol pretty warming, but its savouriness was the theme here, finishing with a pleasant briny minerality.

The Benje Tinto wines do seem a notch more reductive than the rest of their wines and can be much earthier and barnyardy than the rest too. Decanting would come in handy here. The fruit quality is vibrant and tangy, with plenty of fresh raspberries and red cherries on the nose and palate. A touch of black pepper and tomato leaf character also gives the wine a nice herbal quality. It did remind me of some Trousseau wines that I’d had in the past from the Jura, lighter bodied but definitely not lacking in concentration of flavour. Tannins were soft and acidity was fresh.

Incredibly complex and gastronomic, very quickly became a favourite of mine

Also from the Tenerife are the Táganan wines. Where the Benje vineyards are located on the north-western tip of the island, the Táganan wines are farmed on the north-east. Táganan is both the name of a nearby village from this part of the Tenerife (this wine actually comes from another village called Almáciga) and is also a local term for ‘steep slope’. Though I haven’t had the chance to taste the rest of the wines from the Táganan range, this single vineyard Campanario Blanco should have stood for the pinnacle of its expression.

The wine is a field blend of varieties like Forastera Gomera, Boal, Verdelho and Listán Blanco, and come from a vineyard relatively close to the sea. The wines are matured in neutral barrels for about 12 months. This one too had a beautiful golden color, with a slighty coppery tinge. It had a greater floral aromaticity, slight nuttiness, olives and this pale ale character, which I think could be brett? Acidity was round, wine was full bodied and pretty warming, finish was long.

But really, the highlight of this flight for me was this next one.

The highlight of the tasting: the 2018 Lousas Viñas Aldea

The Lousas ‘Vinas Aldea’ is the best wine from the range, in my opinion. It’s comes from the steep slopes of Ribera Sacra, home to Mencía – a variety of grape that I think to have characteristics of both Grenache and Pinot Noir. The wine is fresh with plenty of vibrant red fruits, some meat, and also a pretty fleshy palate. This would even benefit from about another 5-8 years of age, if you can bring yourself not drink it at all and instead have it stashed away.

The wine itself is not made with with just Mencía. There are several other local varieties in the blend like Alicante Bouschet and Merenzao. The fruit comes from 3 different communes within the Ribeira Sacra appellation, but primarily from slate and schistous soils at elevations of between 440 and 600 metres above sea-level. The wines are matured for about 11 months prior to bottling and release.

The wines of Envínate seem to set the tone for the future generation of Spain’s new and rising producers, placing the bar pretty high – very necessary if Spain is set to continue to compete in the international markets with countries associated with generally higher quality winemaking and prestige. Envínate should be the introduction we all needed to the forgotten terroirs of Spain, from the volcanic Canary Islands to the sacred valleys of Ribeira Sacra.

The wines here were tasted a year ago, with the article written, but siesta-ed in my drafts for about the same time. My procrastination in wrapping the story up has brought me full circle as I tasted the latest vintages of the same wines just a few weeks ago, and all I can say is that they continue to impress. It is about time you read what I thought of Envínate a year ago – still very consistent with what I feel about them a year later.

The 2010 Heinrich Blaufränkisch

I had recently picked up a book on German wines by Master of Wine Anne Krebiehl and was pretty intrigued by the fact that the book had an entire chapter for Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). A country previously only known for its white wines has seen a significant increase in Pinot Noir production. Plantings had doubled in the decade between 1990 and 2000, an increase that is primarily attributed to climate change, and the then new generation of winemakers who were more endowed than previous generations with the know-how of red winemaking.

Austria on the other hand, has about a third of its total vineyard area devoted to black grape varieties, of which many are indigenous to the country. In spite of that, it is, not unlike Germany, white wine that still comes to mind when most of us think ‘Austrian wine’. This is all slowly changing with a new generation of winemakers who are intent on elevating the perception of quality of its local red wines. Gernot Heinrich is one of them.

Gernot and Heike Heinrich, husband and wife, established the estate in 1990 in Gols, Burgenland – a town that is at the intersection between Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. The goal was to move away from the simple and bulk wines they were making at the time and to produce instead, high quality red wines with local Austrian black grapes.

Gernot Heinrich was also a founding member of Pannobile, a group that has now 9 total members. Paul Achs, Claus Preisinger and Hans Gsellmann are some of the other members. It does feature a strong lineup of members, all with an unanimous goal: to produce wines that will genuinely express the terroir of Burgenland, through local grape varieties, cultivated organically or biodynamically. Each of the member estates must release a cuvée labelled ‘Pannobile’ adhereing stringently to these principles, which will be are for sale on the Pannobile webshop.

My first taste of the Heinrich wines was of their Pannobile cuvée from the 2012 vintage. An almost equal blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch, it was love. It had this cherry like tangy acidity, quite the velvety texture and was mostly fruity at the start but allowed its deeper and earthier tones to come through after about 10 minutes in the glass. The structure was reminiscent of a central Italian red wine while the savoury aromatic and flavour concentration screamed Hermitage. I would have thought the wine to have another 5-8 years in the bottle till it peaks, but I would not have kept it for any longer. It was drinking beautifully well.

This wine that I have just had however, is an entry-level bottling from the estate but punches about its weight. Compared against the Pannobile cuvée, this wine is not a blend and is made with only Blaufränkisch. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and oak vats. The wine ages for about 18 months in barrel, just a few months shorter than the Pannobile wine, but still as long most high quality Bordeaux wines. Only old Austrian oak vats are used here for maturation, though their premium wines have in the past seen a heavy handed use of new oak.

The bottle sports the Vinolok closure, as do many of their wines. I have only noticed that the 2009 Heinrich Gabarinza magnum from my personal collection uses a standard cork closure, though it could be that the rest of their premium, single-vineyard range uses them too.

I quickly realised that I had probably missed this wine’s peak by 3-4 years. I felt that it was on the verge of decline, and tertiary aromas were a dominant feature. The tannins were soft but the acidity kept fresh and was its redeeming asset. Though it was mostly dried fruit, tobacco and dried leaves all over, I couldn’t help but still relate this wine to an aged Côte-Rôtie or Hermitage. It had that savoury and spicy undertone, that just some years back would have been a lot more vibrant and dominant. Overall, a wine that I think we waited a little too long to drink, but still had great freshness that I enjoyed very much with a big bowl of slipper-lobster pasta.

Although white wine production at the estate is getting a boost with skin contact wines also making an appearance more and more each year, I have associated the estate with modern and complex red wines. I definitely recommend Heinrich’s red wines as the primer to the world of red Austrian wines. The wines combine complexity with easy-drinking that not a lot of wineries can do well. Except, maybe don’t wait 10 years before enjoying their standard Blaufränkisch release.