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The World's Most Challenging Vineyards

Matt Kramer spotlights Spanish and Portuguese wineries growing grapes on the edge

Augustus Weed
Posted: October 29, 2013

Winegrowers commonly plant vineyards on hillsides, but the wineries Matt Kramer presented in his seminar are pushing the limits, growing grapes on some of the steepest, most daunting slopes in the world. They are also, Kramer contends, making some of the most exciting new wines being produced today.

To showcase the vineyards, Kramer poured three wines from a pair of Old World regions in the midst of forging new identities: Spain’s Ribeira Sacra zone and Portugal’s famous Douro Valley. “These three wines represent a revolution,” he said.

Ribeira Sacra has a long history of growing grapes. Hundreds of years ago, monks carved terraces into the steep hillsides along the local rivers, but many of the vineyards were later abandoned or divided into parcels of a few rows. (Many locals left the remote area and its challenging terrain to become shepherds, but retained a few vines for personal use and would return to farm and harvest them.)

The first wine, Dominio do Bibei Ribeira Sacra Lalama 2009, came from a local couple who pieced together nearly 111 acres of land—which required more than 3,000 deed transactions—and built a modern winery.

While Kramer appreciated Dominio’s wine for its finesse and aromatics, he said his second wine, the Guimaro Ribeira Sacra Finca Meixemán 2010, stood out for its structure. Owner Pedro Rodriguez Perez took over his family’s small vineyard and renovated the property. Both bottlings are predominantly Mencía, a local grape, grown on ancient vines.

While Ribeira is still unknown, the Douro is famous for its Port production and its terraced vineyards—but is now making serious dry red table wines as well to compensate for declining Port consumption. To highlight their increasing sophistication, he poured his favorite Douro red, the Wine & Soul Douro Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas 2010 (92 points, $100), which he said stands out for its density and minerality.

For Kramer, the wines, and their producers, are paving the way for their respective regions. “I’ve never tasted anything like any of these three wines.”

Dominio do Bibei Ribeira Sacra Lalama 2009

Guimaro Ribeira Sacra Finca Meixemán 2010

Wine & Soul Douro Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas 2010 (92 points, $100)

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