September 11, 2016

Moravia Agria

One of the most welcome trends in the world of wine has been the sudden interest on local, indigenous varieties throughout the wine-producing world. Only in these first decade and a half of this millennia the market has been flooded with interesting varietal wines giving an abundance of alternatives to the Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays, Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs produced throughout the world.

Countries like Croatia, Georgia, Greece and Turkey are full of varieties practically no-one has ever heard of, which is why I am not surprised whenever I come across a new varietal wine from these countries. However, whenever you think you're familiar with practically all of the commercial wine grape varieties from France or Italy or Spain, somewhere appears a varietal wine made from a variety I've never heard before! These three most important wine-producing countries in the world seem to be endless cornucopias of different varieties where producers can make varietal wines from old, obscure and forgotten grape varieties whenever markets demand a new one. Every now and then you can see how these varieties were forgotten for a perfectly good reason – they can't produce wine of any interesting varietal character – but more often than not, these varieties have been just "poorly understood". This means that in the past, when people didn't know how to cultivate grapevines that they could produce fruit of high quality, these varieties were deemed lower-class ones, capable of producing only fruit for blending purposes. Now, with modern cultivation techniques and better understanding of these plants, producers can actually produce wines of immense character out of these varieties overlooked for centuries.

Moravia Agria, a Spanish variety from Castilla-La Mancha is a perfect example of a case in point. This is a variety that never produces high sugar levels, even in the high temperatures of Castilla-La Mancha, the hot central region of Spain. Instead, this variety tends to retain rather high acidity, even when very ripe – hence the name Moravia Agria, "sour Moravia", to differentiate the variety from Moravia Dulce, "sweet Moravia", which is the local synonym for Marufo (also known as Mourisco Tinto). As the local wine style has been always a heft wine with lots of body, high alcohol and modest acidity, a variety capable of making thin, tannic, low-alcohol red wines with high acidity has never been a popular choice amongst the growers. However, this variety was kept alive because it could moderate the alcohol levels and bring some sense of freshness and structure to the wines when blended with the local favorite, Garnacha.

Moravia Agria is a variety very rarely seen these days; it is cultivated here and there, but often it just gets lost in the wine blends. However, young Juan Antonio Ponce has been the biggest proponent of this forgotten variety – among some other local varieties as well – with his family winery located in Manchuela, "the smaller Mancha", the region located next to Valencia in the eastern extreme of Castilla-La Mancha. Ponce started his wine career at the famous Rioja winery Remelluri, tasked with winemaking and vineyard management. After five years at Remelluri he set up Bodegas y Vinedos Ponce with his father, aiming to highlight local, forgotten or overlooked grape varieties, like Albillo, Bobal and Moravia Agria, with very terroir-driven approach. The vineyards, that have been in their family for generations, are farmed biodynamically and the winemaking follows hands-off-approach with very minimum interventions.

Ponce Buena Pinta 2015
DO Manchuela
  • Bodegas y Vinedos Ponce
  • Country: Spain
  • Region: Castilla-La Mancha, Manchuela
  • Grape(s): Moravia Agria (85–90%), Garnacha (15–10%)
  • Price: 12,60€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: September 10th, 2016

Buena Pinta originally started out as a Moravia Agria-Garnacha blend, with almost equal proportions (60/40), but if I have understood correctly, the 2015 vintage is very Moravia Agria-dominant, having only a 10% addition of Garnacha to give some fruit and body to the wine. The grapes are biodynamically farmed and the grapes undergo a partial carbonic maceration and fermentation with natural yeasts as whole bunches (with stems and all that jazz), after which the wine is left to age in old, neutral French oak barrels of 600 liters. After 7 months of aging the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered and released shortly thereafter. The annual production is some 7,000 bottles.

The wine's color is quite dark but thoroughly translucent ruby red with youthful highlights of pale purple.

Upon opening the wine exhibits a lovely, bright and pure berry-driven nose with almost exuberant, juicy aromas of cherry, strawberry, some ripe damson, a little lingonberry tartness, floral hints of rose nuances and a touch of very Rhône-like garrigue nuances of thyme and rosemary. After letting the wine breathe for an hour or two, the nose has gained a lot of weight and gravitas in more rustic tones of saddle leather, dirty stable floor and even faint hints of manure – but only in the most lovely sense. It doesn't take me long to draw some kind of parallels between this wine and the most attractive natural Cru Beaujolais wines.

In the mouth the wine is remarkably light, fresh and vibrant for a Castile-La Mancha red with real crunchy, red fruit-driven flavors of ripe raspberry, strawberry, very pronounced stony minerality and even chalky earthiness, with nuances of some red cherry, smoke and hints of peppery spice lingering underneath. Upon opening there was the slightest sense of carbonic prickle on the tongue, but that blew off almost intantly. With some time, those rustic animal, leather and manure characteristics that were introduced in the nose also join the lineup, only giving the wine even more depth and complexity. The acidity is high, and whereas the tannins have some good, grippy texture to them, they are rather modest and easy on the palate, becoming more pronounced only after several glasses.

The finish is really lively and crunchy with lovely precision and true sense of freshness – even with those lingering leather and stable nuances. Flavors of fresh raspberry, wild strawberry, somewhat tart cranberry, peppery spice and stony minerality linger on for a long time in the aftertaste.

This little Spanish red from an obscure, almost-forgotten variety really took my by a surprise; I had no big expectations of it, but it turned out to be really lovely and interesting an example how these overlooked varieties can sometimes produce really marvelous stuff in the right hands. Not only was this a positive surprise, but also one of the greatest red wines I have had in a while. Enormously attractive an effort!

Summary: Though often considered as an inferior variety with its low sugar levels, high acidity and pale color, Moravia Agria can also produce really stunning wines exactly because of these qualities. Bodegas Ponce's Buena Pinta is an excellent example how a "poor" grape variety can turn out to be a spectacular one once you start focusing on quality and yield reduction instead of quantity. I truly hope that this wine marks a turning point for this unknown variety.

And if you are interested, I sourced this wine from Decantalo, my favorite online shop for Spanish wines. I recommend you to take a peek.

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