22-10-2018 ~ 2 Comments

What once was lost: Abadal – Mandó 2016

When the spare thought allows, I often wonder how the vinous landscape of Europe would look today were it not for the scourge of Phylloxera in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. The root louse came at the exact time in which wine production was shifting from a small, familiar affair of bottles drank within the village to that of wines which were sent far and wide and produced on a much larger scale.

Once Phylloxera had killed off vine after vine and then imported mildews arrived with another punch, those who replanted realized they had a generational opportunity to remake the faces of their wine regions and select only “the best” varieties. The random field blends that had worked for centuries to produce small quantities of wine wouldn’t do as the Bordeauxs and Riojas of the world came into their own as powerhouses of production raising quality standards but in the name of diminished viticultural diversity.

Various vines managed to hang on through the ensuing decades in some lost corner of small vineyards. It’s thanks to these that we’ve be able to discover that California’s Zinfandel was from Croatia, among many other revalations. But so many other links, minor mutations, and varieties that were simply out of fashion were discarded in favor of those that produced more quantity, higher-alcohol grapes, or less work in the fields.

As odd as it may seem, we’ve been collectively holding our breaths for nigh on a century at this point, worried that wine, which has been with us seemingly as long as taxes and prostitution would have somehow been lost. We were complacent while drinking down our Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays that spread far and often blandly across the globe.

Thankfully, whether it’s through much more thorough understanding of how wine is made or the ability to communicate with the other side of the world as if they were next door, or simply the fact that Climate Change has forced us to reevaluate all grape varieties, this breath held for so long has started to be released. Winemakers are going back to discover these seemingly lost grape varieties in order to cultivate them for the next age in wine drinking.

Mandó you do?

There are admittedly some grapes we will never be able to find again, but for this handful that have hung on, I very much applaud the wineries bold enough to take a chance on something that could indeed never be financially tenable yet feeds the hunger of curiosity such as is the case with the grape, Mandó.

While the grape can be found to a small extent in València there several cellars in Catalunya who have been taking a stab at reintroducing its cultivation. The cooperative, Empordàlia in Empordà has tried it in the past although I’m not sure if they’ve continued with the project. The fine gentlemen, Ramón Jané and Toni Carbó of Mas Candí have also been working with the grape as well as others in Penedès. But of all the work going on with the grape at the moment, it’s what Ramon Roqueta and his winemaker Miguel Palau are doing at Abadal in DO Pla de Bages which has to me, proven to me the most engaging.

To bring an old variety to the modern market is not an overnight process. In case you may have any lingering doubts, let it be known that Abadal has been working on this for nearly two decades having taken the initial plunge back in 2000. Work in the vineyard to propagate the vine eventually led to initial trials of a mere 30 liters. While they lay claim to several hundred liters currently, the production is still very much experimental.

What’s curious about the grape is that it can’t really be compared to any other red grape in the region. The color immediately starts out quite singular, being nearly copper in aspect and not really comparable to any other profile. It has some crispy red fruit of Grenache, but then some of the dark fruit softness of Merlot. On the palate, it’s all red fruit but with marked acidity driving the wine. If you will, it could be best compared to the Pinot Noir profile but not its taste. It’s a very curious, unique grape–all the more reason to bring it into the public eye.

Miguel has worked with various vinification methods to finally arrive at using only clay amphorae to age the wine. Oak was proving too strong and the wine could get blown out very easily if not careful. This is perhaps why it’s taken so long for someone to produce a varietal version of the wine which has required a great deal of trial and error before being ready for the market.

If there’s any down side to this wine, it’s specific to the vintage in that it’s very young like most of what has been seen to date from 2016. A great wealth of wine is packed into this and it will need more time in the bottle to fully flesh out–keep this in mind if you end up tasting it at any point.

But the time is very much right for this wine. Wine drinkers the world over have come around to the fact that acidity in wine is a wondrous thing and fruit bombs offer little long term pleasure. Also, the 12.5% alcohol in a Mediterranean red wine is such a rarity which will be welcome change to those looking to lighten their intake while at the same time enjoying a very properly-made wine.

The moment for Mandó does seem to have arrived and if more wines from this grape can be produced at this quality level, we will all be very much for the better to have this tiny bit of history saved from being lost to the winds of time.

Mandó 2016
Red cherry with a soft, underlying raspberry, light plum and blue fruit notes, bay leaf, cumin, white pepper. Crisp red fruit on the palate, very juicy, medium plus acidity, somewhat soft in the mid palate due to its youth in bottle, but still with good length and definition.
100% Mandó 12% 14€
** 91+