We go out of our way to taste as many things as we can. But for us Spain is a particular penchant. We taste a lot of remarkable wines in the course of our research, as well as the usual percentage of clunkers and other offerings that are getting a lot of critical attention that we simply don’t ‘get’. Ribera del Duero is seen as a more ‘serious’ appellation with the neighborhood harboring such heavyweights as Vega Sicilia, Hacienda del Monasterio, Pingus, and Pesquera. There are plenty of discussions about ‘old school’ and ‘new school’, but one of the wines that lit our fire from a discovery perspective last year didn’t seem part of any school.
Jorge Monzon and Elizabeth Rodero founded the winery only in 2010 after Jorge spent years selling his produce to ‘several high profile neighbors’. They have definitely separated themselves from the pack in a very good way and we can only marvel at their successful new approach and how Aguila takes such a stylistic diversion and makes you wonder why more people haven’t done this.
The wines are the brainchild of Dominio di Aguila, and he labels them ‘Picaro del Aguila’, the term Picaro making reference to someone as a ‘rascal’ or a ‘rogue’. The playful nature of the program belies how serious these folks are about what they do and the clarity and purpose of their vision. The winemaking is purposeful and innovative, but ultimately all of the serious winemaking goes to produce wines that are, ultimately, ‘fun to drink’
We first profiled Domino del Aguila last year with the tasty and rather eye-opening 2015 version. The ‘recipe’, if you will, relies heavily on the appropriate clone of Tempranillo. But he has chosen some rather unusual bedfellows for this part of the world including Grenache, Bobal, a varietal we associate more with Valencia to the southeast, and Albillo, the rare, indigenous white of the Ribera. Put them all together (del Aguila actually co-ferments them) and what do you get. As we described the 2015, you get a Ribera with its ‘party hat’ on. The 2015 went on to get 92+ points and a small novelette from Advocate’s Luis Guttierrez.
The 2016 walks the same line, scored higher and is clearly an even more complete effort. There’s plenty of richness here, but there is also a lift to the flavors that is unlike anything else we have tasted from the area, probably due to the inclusion of the white grapes in the fermentation a la Cote Roties in the northern Rhone. Gushing mulberry and cassis flavors abound but there’s a streak that is like a marinated black cherry and more expressive floral elements to the aromatics that announce this is no garden variety Ribera.
The viticulture and winemaking here are more than serious. The vines, somewhere north of 50-years-old, are farmed organically/biodynamically, The grapes are trodden by foot before being put in French oak for malo-lactic fermentation and a sojourn in wood (though there is no obvious wood in the flavors). The vineyards here are north-facing, which give the wine a little cooler profile to begin with and affords the grapes a little more hang time. The fruit notes have a certain ‘wild’ character, a more lifted personality that doesn’t sit heavy on the palate, and an effusive spiciness. The Dominio del Aguila Picaro Ribera del Duero Vinas Viejas 2016 is a gregarious, slippery, tasty and, yes, fun beverage.
Advocate’s Gutierrez went off again, “The youngest of the released wines I tasted is a red—the 2016 Pícaro del Águila Tinto. It is from what they consider to be one of the best and freshest vintages in recent times. This is produced with the vines from the warmer parts of La Aguilera, a cold place to start with (and in a cooler year). The old vines are planted with a mix that is dominated by Tempranillo but also contains some 5% other grapes. All the grapes are picked and fermented together with full clusters and natural yeasts in concrete and stainless steel vats. It matured in oak barrels for 13 months.
“This is fragrant, expressive, open, aromatic and really attractive. The palate is really balanced, with great freshness, fine tannins and a very pleasant mouthfeel—supple, balanced and with great depth. This is the best version of this bottling so far…” Juicy, well-meshed (it was quite engaging on day two as well), well-priced and versatile, all done in a style all its own, the eagle (aguila is Spanish for ‘eagle) has landed.