If tasting through a back-vintage vertical of Gran Reserva Riojas from a classic bodega is the vinous equivalent of reading a first edition of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, then drinking the inaugural release wines from Spanish wine producer Lo Nuevo is akin to screening six short films from modernist director Pedro Almodóvar. Though the opposing experiences are representative of a different aesthetic, sensibility and time, both encounters are unmistakably Spanish and reflective of the pride and passion of Spanish culture.
Lo Nuevo translates as ‘The New’ or ‘What’s New.’ Six wines are currently produced, two whites and four reds, together designed to celebrate the ascendance of Spanish winemaking through an exploration of its diverse and unique regions. The vineyard sources, all belonging to iconic Spanish winemaker Juan Gil, range in age from 15 to almost 150 years. “Modern wines from ancient vines” serves as both method and manifesto.
Spain has produced wine for over 3,000 years, making it one of the world’s oldest winemaking countries, but it has transformed itself almost overnight from a provincial producer of bulk wines to the most modern winemaking country in Europe.
While Spain enjoyed various boom periods from the 17th to the 19th centuries, the first part of the 20th century debilitated the Spanish wine industry. The plague of phylloxera, a plant louse, nearly wiped out all of Europe’s vineyards. The onset of World War I, The Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the military regime of Francisco Franco also dealt a series of crippling blows. Some relief came in the 1950s with the nationwide construction of large cooperative wineries. Unfortunately, this led to an industry based on the production of cheap bulk wines. When Franco died in 1975, Spain’s wine industry had little standing on the international stage. Its reputation was mainly for producing wines that were astringent, over-oaked, over-sulphured or overly oxidized.
However, a sea change occurred when the country’s economic fortunes began to turn around, spurred by a return to democracy in 1978. After joining the European Union in 1986, a flood of new investment prompted dramatic changes in the vineyards and wineries. Modern equipment and techniques traveled from region to region on a brand new network of autopistas. In the 1990s, governmental restrictions on irrigation were lifted giving producers greater control over grape growing, particularly in hotter climates. The bulk wine co-ops of the 1950s evolved into limited companies with the former co-op members as shareholders. All of this resulted in a significant leap in quality and efficiency, and garnered an international reputation now built as much on traditional classics as it is on stylish, high-scoring, state-of-the-art sensations.
Approach the wines of Lo Nuevo like a six-volume primer on contemporary Spanish wine. While the revolution in Spanish winemaking will not be televised, all six wines from Lo Nuevo, ranging in price from $10 to $19, can be purchased together and enjoyed for around the cost of a month’s cable subscription. Participate in it for yourself from the comfort of your living room.
2011 Lo Nuevo “Lunares,” Verdejo, Rueda
The Lunares is made from 100% Verdejo, a varietal indigenous to the Rueda region just northwest of Madrid. The grapes come from low-yielding, old vines dating back 75 to 112 years. The wine is vibrant and crisp with refreshing acidity, tropical fruit flavors and tangy minerality.
2011 Lo Nuevo “Covello,” Albariño, Rias Baixas
Rias Baixas is an area in the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula, just north of the border with Portugal. Its cool climate—thanks to its proximity to the Atlantic—provides the wine with brisk acidity and powerful aromatics. With fresh peach and orange blossoms dominating the nose and palate, Covello is a complex and pretty wine.
2009 Lo Nuevo “Tanto Monta,” Tempranillo, Castilla y León
“Tanto Monta” was the alleged motto of the prenuptial agreement between the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It means “equal opposites in balance,” and was meant to acknowledge their marriage as a unification of both crowns under one family, though each ruled independently over their own kingdom. It serves as an appropriate name for this regal Tempranillo, a complex and balanced wine that provides fruit, acidity, elegance and power in equal amounts. Vineyards sourced include parcels as old as 140 years. Rich black and red fruits are intertwined with roasted coffee and cocoa leading to a lengthy, persistent finish.
2011 Lo Nuevo “Cruzada,” Merlot, Jumilla
The Cruzada vineyards in the Jumilla region in the southeast of the country were originally intended as experimental plantings of non-native varietals. The hope was to use some fruit for blending with the native Monastrell to soften its firm and powerful tannins. The fruit coming off of those blocks proved exceptional and eventually the decision was made to bottle a straight Merlot. Cruzada is smooth yet powerful with silky tannins, ripe fruit and baking spices—an imminently fashionable Merlot.
2011 Lo Nuevo “Sorbo a Sorbo,” Garnacha, Calatayud
Sorbo a Sorbo means “Sip to Sip,” and this aptly named wine will have you returning to the glass for more of its powerful, ripe berry and currant flavors. Calatayud is a high-elevation wine region northeast of Madrid with vineyards reaching 4,000 feet above sea level. The altitude moderates summer temperatures, giving the wine ripeness and power built on a firm structure.
2011 Lo Nuevo “Vilata,” Monastrell/Syrah Blend, Jumilla
The Monastrell grape has, over time, become the favored variety of Jumilla, in part because it grows successfully in rocky, barren soils where other grapes fail. The vines are trained in the baso system, resembling small baskets set in rows on white stony soil. Each vine produces only a few clusters each year. Here, it’s blended with 15% Syrah to add character and structure to the wine. The young wine is remarkably soft and buoyant with layers of spices, lavender and thyme, and drips like a Dali painting with ripe, rich dark and red fruits.