Rias Baixas, Spain
Zarate is a family-owned estate located in Meaño in the heart of the Salnés Valley in the Rías Baixas appellation. The vineyards in Meaño are contained within the grounds of a Pazo built in the 16th century and totally restored during the 18th. The Zarate tradition began in 1707 in the times of Diego Zárate y Murga, the first Marquis of Montesacro, by a decree of Philip V. Seven generations later, the Zarate family continues tending the family vineyards and making the wines.
Since the 2000 vintage, Eulogio Pomares, Zarate’s viticulturalist and winemaker, has devoted all his time and energies to looking after the estate’s vineyards. The estate’s wine philosophy, which adheres to organic viticultural methods for its century-old vines, is that each plot, with the help of carefully controlled yields, should express the true character of its terroir and grape variety. All their vineyards are planted with genetic material selected via massale selection from the oldest ungrafted vines. The family owns just over 6 hectares planted in 11 different plots all on granite rich soils. Most of these truly unique sites combine very hard granite with a lot of actual salt in the soil giving the wines a fresh, energetic and saline quality.
The Zarate line-up begins with an “entry level” Albarino, made from a blend of multiple parcels varying in age from 15 years to 90+ years old. The crown jewels of the estate though are four single-vineyard wines each with its own unique story and flavor profile. Most of these single-vineyard plots come from old, ungrafted vines (pie franco) including “El Palomar”, planted in 1890, and “El Balado” which dates back to the 1840s, with many of the old, original pergola vines still in production! Tras da Viña is another single-vineyard Albariño bottling from granite with a lot of oxidized iron content called Xabre' which gives the wine more body and weight but with a racy, energetic core. Beyond Albariño, they have some rare local red varieties like Caiño tinto, Loureiro tinto and Espadero.
Eulogio is an avid fan of all things acid-driven when it comes to wine – particularly fond of Champagne - and it shows in the style of these wines. “For me, the acidity is the most important thing”, he says for both the aging and balance of the wines. Most of the wines carry 8+ grams of total acidity! At harvest, the grapes are all harvested by hand and fermented with indigenous yeasts. The regular Albarino sees about 6 months of tank aging, while the single-vineyards wines are all fermented and aged either in tank or large wooded casks. Depending on the cuvee, these wines see 18-36 months élévage on the lees with minimal SO2 prior to bottling, followed by additional time in bottle prior to release.
Tasting through the Zarate wines, it clearly shows that Albarino of the highest pedigree can stand toe-to-toe with other well-known white varietals in terms of complexity and age ability. In fact, the great restaurant Can Roca in Girona, Spain has a bevy of older Zarate wines on their list, and are some of their most prized indigenous Spanish offerings. At the end of the day, Zarate certainly belongs in the pantheon of the world’s singular White Wines (and, by the way, they just so happen to come from Spain!). less