There’s something slightly mystical about Galicia. As we headed west to meet Eulogio Pomares and his wife Rebeca at Bodegas Zarate we passed rolling valleys, with wisps of cloud trapped in the granite hollows like watchful ghosts.
There are five subzone D.O.s in Rias Baixas. Zarate are located in the Val do Salnes, named after the ‘sal’ (salt) the Romans used to harvest there, and home to around 70% of the regional production. Albariño is dominant here, but across Rias Baixas you can also find Treixadura, Loureiro, Caiño (tinto and blanco) and Torrontes (not the Argentine varietal). Eulogio also makes a wine called Liebre y Tortuga from Condado do Tea which is further south tucked around a peninsula, it has a more Mediterranean climate and they tend to harvest there two weeks earlier.
We started our tour in the Palomar vineyard, named after the large granite dovecote that overlooks it, and the oldest of the 40 small parcels which they farm. The vines date from circa 1850, and grow on their own rootstocks. Phylloxera can’t survive in the very well drained sandy/granite soils. The challenge here explained Eulogio is mildew, “in the late 1890’s, mildew arrived and killed 99% of the vines, the area went from 25,000 hectares to 250”.
Eulogio and Rebeca next to the dovecote which gives Palomar vineyard its name. Flowering in the Balado vineyard.
The reason for the distinctive tall granite posted pergolas, called emparrados in Gallego, is to keep the vines off the damp ground and dry them in the Atlantic winds – a bit like hanging them on a washing line. Plus Albariño has thick skins, which makes it more resistant to the moulds and fungus that thrive in this cool damp climate.
Since 2000, when Eulogio took over his family vineyards, he has been focused on improving them. He started to work organically, abandoning mineral fertilisers, which he describes as ‘dead minerals’. Instead he uses shells from the surrounding coastline which provide the calcium and magnesium the vines need and don’t get from the acidic soils, but come from living animals. He also uses seaweed as compost. Albariño is a vigorous variety, I asked if he green harvests.
He said: “Green harvesting is a result of poor vineyard work, if you seek balance in the vineyard using natural composts the vines won’t overproduce and you won’t need to do that extra work”.
Next we walked a couple of minutes along the road to the Balado vineyard, Eulogio’s favourite parcel. The 1.5 hectare plot is surrounded by a low granite wall, like a French clos. All the Zarate vineyards are around the family home near Cambados. Eulogio’s grandfather was pivotal in promoting Albariño in the area, which was in danger of being replaced by hybrid varietals which are mildew resistant and higher yielding. In 1954 Ernesto Zarate joined together with three friends to found the Cambados Albariño Festival. In those days white wines were seen as for the rich, workers drank reds. Ernesto’s wines won for the first three years, he didn’t enter after that. The festival now attracts hundreds of people and Albariño is well regarded within Spain and abroad.
As we walked back to bodega Eulogio explained that there are two types of soil. Most of his parcels are on white granite, flecked with black and silver mica. This sits in a layer around 30 centimetres below the topsoil and is impenetrable for the vine roots. The other is red/yellow granitic soil flecked with iron and other metals, it breaks down much more easily than the white granite, and vine roots can penetrate deep into it.
Eulogio tasting from barrel in the cellar. Shells from the surrounding coastline which provide the calcium and magnesium the vines don’t get from the acidic soils
We tasted the 2017s from tank and barrel. Balado 2017 is fermented in stainless steel and ages for 9 months on fine lees with no batonnage. Bursting with green fruit, and with a lovely tension and long finish. Tras da Viña 2017 is more floral with a riper softer feel, it spends longer of the lees than Balado and is normally only bottled after two years. El Palomar 2017 is the only Albariño that spends time in (old) wood, the 2017 was quite lactic on the nose, fresh and textured in the mouth. Zarate have some of the only remaining plantings of Caiño Tinto, Loureiro Tinto and Espadeiro, and in 2009 Eulogio started to recover some vineyards. Espadeiro has a long growing cycle, the 2017 smells of bay leaves and has a fresh, earthy, smoky flavours. Perfumed peppery Caiño Tinto 2017 is fermented 30% with stems as the variety is low in polyphenols. Eulogio says it needs 5-6 years in bottle to soften.
The Consejo Regulador in Rías Baixas hailed 2017 as a textbook vintage. Spring was warm and dry with rainfall 15% below the average, which led to healthy flowering. June was warm, July brought erratic temperatures, and despite big variations in the weather in August conditions remained relatively dry. September was mild and low rainfall continued leading to a good accumulation of sugar in the berries, medium acidity and good balance. Healthy grapes were harvested in the first quarter of September, two weeks earlier than average.
Eulogio says that despite the warm dry conditions, the 2017 wines are fresh with a vibrant acidity which he predicts will evolve well in bottle and can be kept for 5-10 years.
Eulogio and Rebeca will be visiting us in London on 25-27 March, showing his 2017s including the new bottling of his delicious single-vineyard Albariño Carralcoba. Drop us a line if you’d like to meet Eulogio when he’s over.