The Wines of Bodega Somonte

I’ve always found Spain the most mysterious European country. Don’t ask me why, but it has got something to do with driving alone across seemingly vast and spectacular landscapes to visit wine producers.  The cops can be pretty scary too.  I am not a Spanish wine specialist but I know the mainstream styles and producers well enough.  But sampling two red wines made by Bodega Somonte was a pleasant threefold surprise:  the fact they’re made from an obscure grape variety, in a corner of Spain unknown to most wine lovers in the UK and finally, the knowledge that even Spanish wine experts don’t know much about this producer. I knew nothing. Oh, and there’s another surprise to come. These wines are very good indeed; I recommend them. 

The principal producer is Rafa Somonte who uses both a website with parallel English and plenty of social media such as short videos on YouTube.  It’s clear this producer loves music and I wonder if he plays music to his tanks and barrels in the belief it does them good.  There’s form on those who play music to vines, detailed here by Tim Atkin MW and anyone who has visited Australian or Californian wineries will have met various shades of rock music keeping the wine company. 

The winery is in Asturias in north-central Spain, in my book a region more noted for heroic resistance to Franco than wine and presently resisting the Spanish government’s desperate attempts to impose spending cuts on the regions.  Asturias is clearly self-willed and it’s nice to muse these two confident wines with little pedigree in the area show something of the same spirit.

The bodega is somewhat inland from the coast at Valdesoto, directly south of Gijón.  But the grapes come from much further south and at 900m much higher up on the plateau of the Denominación de Origen (DO) Tierra de Léon away on the Finca La Quemada in Valdevimbre.  These wines do not carry the DO, presumably because the grapes are trucked north and the wine made outside the DO boundary.  In fact the wines carry not even the humblest denominación, except ‘Product of Spain’. These vineyards just south of Léon have cold winters, hot summers and often cool nights keeping fresh acidity in the grapes which become very ripe but not cooked.  Drip irrigation helps in the vine row. 

Both these wines are made completely from old vine Prieto Picudo, a variety peculiar to the Léon area and meaning ‘black pointed one’ after its slightly elongated berries.  It makes a rather aromatic and well-structured wine. 

Esedos S1 is deep coloured, very intense, with dark smoky berry and briar flavours and clearly marked by very classy oak, fermented in large oak vats and aged in new French oak barriques.  Tremendous leather, tar and warm winds build in the mind and there’s an impressive finish.  The tannins are well-extracted, dense but silky.  It needs time to drink at its best, to allow the oak to calm down a little but nothing is overdone.  There are many bottles from Navarra, Ribera del Duero and Rioja that would be put to shame by this impressive wine.  Drink over the next seven years.

Esedos S2 is made in much the same way but from younger vines and aged (as far as I can tell) in the barrels vacated by S1 after 16 months.   It is a slightly lighter style but for immediate drinking I actually preferred it to S1.  It has bright intense fruit but lovely texture and balance.  For all its density the tannins are light and the body lithe and energetic.  Drink over the next two to three years.

These wines are available in the UK only from Cozzi & Boffa, Cambridge and online.

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