No. Es increible… No lo puedo creer. (No. It’s incredible… I can’t believe it.” Right in the middle of a flowing conversation on a completely different topic, third-generation winemaker Jose Moro turned abruptly to me shaking his head in disbelief. “How can someone do that?” he exclaimed. “It’s the older vines that make exceptional wine, why would you uproot them? It’s something I cannot comprehend.”
Earlier in the evening we had been talking about different vineyards and practices and I had shared about how a prestigious Napa Valley winery would uproot its vines every 25 years so that they could keep on producing more grapes. That although quality was of the utmost importance, in the end the vineyard was still a business and the vines didn’t produce enough grapes past a certain age. It was a concept that was so foreign and borderline blasphemous to this man, who hails from a hands-to-the-ground, work-the-soil heritage of winemakers. “Our most exceptional wine comes from vines that are nearing a hundred years old, the aromas and textures are so unique. Why would you want to destroy that?”
Here, Jose Moro speaks about their most prized plot of land, Resalso, planted by his grandfather in 1932 in Spain’s Ribera del Duero region; it is now the prime resource for all of Bodegas Emilio Moro’s winemaking. Founder and namesake Don Emilio was a skilled winegrower and would pinpoint the vines that stood out and would graft them onto the newer vineyards to create a grape that had an exceptional personality. It’s these years of agricultural coaxing and nurturing that has made their wines a remarkable example of just how astonishing and elegant the Tempranillo grape can be.
I have said it once and I’ll say it again: years of living in France have spoiled me and naturally upturned my nose over the years to find Bordeaux-style blends and varietals more appealing. However, the world of wine is so rich and diverse I am literally thirsty for knowledge. And there could be no learning experience more enjoyable than discovering new wines, varietals and styles through firsthand experience. Spain has always been a question mark for me. I have had more horrendous experiences with Spanish wines than good ones; nonetheless I have been fortunate enough that when it was good, it was spectacular. Vega Sicilia Unico anyone?
That evening, in the presence of the winemaker, it was a true revelation. That time I first experienced the lush beauty of Tempranillo, it was more sensory than anything else. A stunning wine appreciated in the most sensual and hedonistic way, pure pleasure by the sip. Today, a little bit more schooled in the art of winemaking, with a bit more experience through in-depth interviews and passionate conversations with winemakers, my appreciation for the varietal has reached a deeper, more soulful level. You see, grapes, just like people, need that perfect balance between nature and nurture. To take the most advantage of your genetic makeup and natural environment and then be encouraged, schooled, urged and coaxed gently to flourish and bloom. It’s that most distinguishable je ne sais quoi that remarkable people have as a result of their unique upbringing and life experiences. The same can be said of wine.
Emilio Moro’s offspring are wines that are rich, deep and sophisticated. Malleolus 2011 is a spectacular expression of their specific Tinto Fino varietal — a more ancestral and pure version of the Tempranillo grape. Cultivated using grapes from vineyards that are between 25 to 75 years old (no wonder Jose Moro was so aghast at the 25-year uprooting) and matured for 18 months in French oak, it has a sensual, distinctly masculine appeal — black fruit mingling with tobacco and spice. A robust man in his prime with dark, handsome features, with set convictions and more likely to welcome middle age with open arms rather than childishly act out — absolutely delicious to drink now with no need for excessive aging.
Now here comes a tale of twin brothers — distinctly fraternal. The Malleolus de Valderramiro 2009 and Malleolus de Sanchomartin 2009 are both made of 100 percent Tinto Fino from single vineyards that have very different characteristics. The former is made from grapes that come exclusively from their Valderramiro plot that is home to vines planted as early as 1924 resulting in an opulent, intense wine of dark fruit and a touch of elegant minerality. It has beautiful tannins that are velvety on the palate. Much like Malleolus, this brother is a prime example of their bloodline, knowing exactly who he is: masculine, a touch of appealing ruggedness but with all the elegance of a country gentleman raised in the most noble of manners. Sanchomartin is the softer, more poetic brother. His features are even lighter, perhaps sandy blond with gentle yet soulful eyes. The wines from the Sanchomartin plot are tannic with a marked acidity, complex and subtle aromas on the nose with some floral note. Unlike his brother, who can be enjoyed upfront straight from the bottle, this poetic fellow needs a few hours to warm up and truly reveal his beauty.
The highlight of the dinner was the Clon de la Familia 2009, the winery’s best expression of its values and heritage: tradition, character and passion. A wine, I presume, that was made either intentionally or unintentionally in the likeness of its founder, Don Emilio. Made from the very best grapes from three plots of land that best represent the soil of the Ribera del Duero region: clayey, chalky and rocky. The wine is aged in special barrels that were designed to respect the aroma of the fruit. It is an exceptional wine, one that, despite its less-than-a-decade vintage, shows full character and maturity. There is substance with finesse, class with a hint of rakish charm. When asked to describe his wine as someone famous, Moro declares, “Robert de Niro! Serious character, a great personality… definitely De Niro.”
Their wines in general not only have character and personality but soulful substance. The wine dinner was no ordinary wine dinner meant for pure pleasure but, in fact, a fundraising hosted by the Antique Wine Company and Emilio Moro for the benefit of the Aboitiz Foundation’s efforts to rehabilitate six classrooms of Taguig National High School. Special large-format bottles of their Clon de la Familia were auctioned off for this purpose. Giving back to the community is not something that is unfamiliar territory for Bodegas Emilio Moro. In fact, their Emilio Moro Foundation is focused on “wine giving water” — on projects that improve access to clean, safe water in impoverished areas around the world. The exclusive Clon de la Familia is limited to 1,000 bottles a year whose proceeds go to supporting their foundation. Wine that tastes wonderfully good while doing good. Socially responsible sipping.
Going back to Clon de la Familia being Robert de Niro, while to some extent I do agree, I have to say, however, that this wine is very much like Jose Moro himself: charming, witty, elegant, with a lot of character. Someone whose enjoyable presence is felt without being obnoxious nor aggressive. He is much like the wine, charismatic yet when drawn deeper into conversation about topics that he is passionate about, a seriousness and intensity takes hold. What I found rather spectacular about Emilio Moro wines is that each glass not only holds heritage and tradition — as many other old-world vineyards do — but really reflect and personify the character and people behind it. Like taking a sip is, in fact, really seeing what it’s like to be them, to take a walk in their soil-clad shoes and work with their wine-soaked hands, to truly imbibe what makes their heart beat: a dedication to quality and to soulfulness.