Spain’s vineyard revolution

A group of passionate oenologists is transforming the country’s wines and cementing their reputation

Carlos Falcó and his daughter Xandra. / samuel sánchez

Praise from abroad for Spanish wine-making is on the rise, thanks mostly to a handful of experts whose love affair with their vineyards knows no bounds. For these oenologists wine is, above all else, a creative challenge.

TELMO RODRÍGUEZ. Considered the enfant terrible of Spanish wine, Rodríguez is the paradigm of the winemaking explorer. His aim is to create elegant, fresh, personal and reasonably priced wines. After beginning his training in Bordeaux, where he spent three years working in Cos d’Estournel, he moved on to Rhône. For 10 years he worked at the Remelluri family estate, until in 1994 he created the Compañía de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez. Of particular note are his Pegaso Barrancos de Pizarra (VT Castilla y León), Altos de Lanzaga (Rioja), Valderiz and Matallana (Ribera del Duero), Gago and Pago la Jara (Toro).

Álvaro Palacios.

ÁLVARO PALACIOS. With his passionate language and keen commercial sense – he once had a job selling barrels – Palacios is the creator of the prestigious L’Ermita wine (Priorat). He found the ideal place for his latest adventure in El Bierzo, in the northern province of León, in the company of his nephew Ricardo. Palacios fine-tuned his wine-making training in Bordeaux at the Petrus wine estate, where he learned a crucial lesson: soil is all-important. At the age of 29, he left behind the family business, the Rioja winery Palacios Remondo, and moved to the northeastern wine-making area of Priorat, where he created Priorato. Back at the family winery, he has created one of the best Rioja wines in terms of quality and price: a red called La Montesa.

PETER SISSECK. The rosy face and straw-colored hair of Peter Sisseck betray his Nordic origins. An agricultural engineer and oenologist, he is the creator of the most sought-after Spanish wine in the world, Pingus (his childhood nickname), which is made from grapes grown on four plots in a very old vineyard. After a long professional journey, he ended up under the spell of the Ribera del Duero wine region. There he discovered the treasures of the tempranillo grape, and found great success with his wine, despite its high price of €900 a bottle. For Sisseck, this phenomenon shows that Spain, with one of the highest concentrations of old vines in the world, has enormous possibilities.

Peter Sisseck’s wine Pingus.

CARLOS FALCÓ. Originally from Seville, this agricultural engineer – who learned his craft at the universities of Leuven in Belgium and Davis in California – is responsible for the modernization of Spanish vine-growing and the consolidation of the “Vinos de Pago” concept. Among other pioneering work, he is responsible for introducing important grape varieties such as Shiraz and Petit Verdot to Spain, as well as in 1974 implementing a new watering system in his vineyards in Malpica de Tajo (Toledo). In 2003, Dominio de Valdepusa became the first denomination of origin granted to a single estate.

SARA PÉREZ. She has a permanent smile, and is spontaneous, just like her father and teacher, Josep Lluís Pérez Verdú, the whiz of the Priorato wine region. Despite barely having finished her oenology degree, she became known for making immense reds such as Cims de Porrera and Vall-Llach. She works at the family estate, and is also a consultant for other vineyards, but still finds time for her own projects. Of particular note is Venus, a superb combination of Carignan and Shiraz, which boasts – like the goddess – a voluptuous, sensual, Mediterranean body.

PEPE HIDALGO. Few professionals in Spain have the technical capability, the wine-growing understanding and the breadth of vision as Pepe Hidalgo Togores, a doctor in agricultural engineering and oenology. A meticulous planner, he is a consultant for 12 vineyards. Wines such as Condes de Albarei and Pazo Baión (Rías Baixas), Pazo Casanova and Guitián (Ribeiro), Cerrogallina (Utiel-Requena), Itsasmendi (Getariako Txakolina ), Olimpo Privilegio (VT de Castilla), Traslanzas (Cigales) and Cerrado de Cuzcurrita (Rioja) are just a few examples of his versatility and craft.


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