First Published Costa News Group, Jan 2013

BODEGAS AL ZAGAL

It’s mighty cold in winter at 1,135 meters above sea level in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Vines grown at this altitude have to be hardy, to say the least. Often covered in snow the vineyards slowly begin to melt as Spring gradually arrives (later than for most of us here in Spain).

The ambient temperature, and therefore the land too, start to warm as the wan winter sun gives way to crisply blue skies and bit by bit more intense sunlight and heat. Aided and abetted by warming Mediterranean breezes as Spring morphs into early Summer the vines throw off their overcoats, the sap begins to rise and once again the tender green shoots of a new growing season start to coyly appear.

It’s tough being a vine in the Province of Granada, way above the city that has been home to Muslims, Christians and Jews and is now, thankfully, a far more tolerant society than it has been over various historical epochs.

However such climatic extremes can be good for the wines born of these vineyards. In wine-making terms it’s good for a vine to suffer in its creation of the small berries, we call grapes. Furthermore if, as is certainly the case here, there is a considerable difference in day and night time temperatures, where often a drop of 20ºC is recorded, there will be still greater benefit to the resulting wine.

So, although it’s still early days, it’s clear that wines made by the fledgling Bodegas Al Zagal, whose vineyards are located at such nosebleed-inducing heights, have an advantage! When I received samples from Señor José Olea, co-owner and winemaker, I was keen to try them as soon as possible!

It would be wholly wrong to say that this is a rags to riches story – there aren’t many riches in wine production these days. Indeed the motivation for most bodega owners is first and foremost a passion for wine and if a few riches come along then that’s even better!

It’s really this passion for wine that was the starting point for a group of friends, at the beginning of the new millenium, who decided that they would club together and make wines for their own consumption. Their combined knowledge, finances and desire to make something good were driving forces that stood them in good stead.

Their first efforts were applauded (and not just by themselves!), raising the question – well, how about commercialising the wines? In this way they could at least but something back into the draining coffers whilst simultaneously showing what can be achieved by a group of enthusiastic amateurs.

Although not articulated on the pages of their website, it’s clear also that any success achieved would also reflect well on the wine making possibilities in the DOP Vino de Calidad de Granada. A pleasing example of altruism in such difficult financial times.

I’ve tasted, and am tasting, a number of wines from this area, as readers will, and will have, noticed and I have to say that for me it really is an emerging area of production which I’m sure will even more firmly establish itself on the Spanish wine-making map as time goes on. Watch out for wines from Granada – and keep your eyes peeled for those from Bodegas Al Zagal.

Of course Al Zagal wines are a limited production so they won’t be available everywhere – you could go to www.bodegasalzagal.es for distributor contact details.

And what of the wines? Well I certainly enjoyed them.

The white Rey Zagal Sauvignon Blanc is light in the mouth with only 12·5% abv (these days that is considered quite low as abv figures have been steadily rising since the onset of climate change and global warming). It could thus be considered a lunch wine, where it will be particularly appropriate with salads and fish, of course.

It’s not a big, block-busting Sauvignon as so many can be nowadays. Its aromas are a little closed, even after it’s been in the glass a while. But this is not necessarily a criticism. Some Sauvignons, often from the New World, are over the top in their gooseberry/nettle/asparagus/kiwi perfume, occasionally making them a little sickly.

Rey Zagal Sauvigon 2011 is more subtle, on the nose and on the palate too. There are varietal characteristics, but they won’t leap out of the bottle at you! I’d very much like to try the new vintage, the 2012, when it becomes available. The relatively young vines will be a year more mature, of course, and the 2012 growing season was extremely sunny with very high daytime temperatures ensuring that the grapes will have ripened perfectly. Expect more fruit and a longer finish.

The Rey Zagal Roble 2010 has the influence of oak, of course (roble is the Spanish word for oak), but only 4 months worth of wood ageing (American, Hungarian and French). Nevertheless this has resulted in a young wine but with some depth. It’s made with a catch-all blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

It’s darkly coloured, with a mixture of black and red cherries, plus plums (the Syrah surely contributes here) but there’s also a faint moka/chocolate flavour in there too. The nose is again a little closed on first pour, but give it time to warm a little, and it will develop nicely in your glass.

It also has a hint of one of the common denominators of wines from DO Granada, there is minerality too.

This mineral note is more pronounced in the Silver Medal winning Rey Zagal Reserva 2008 whose back label advises that there may be some sediment in the bottom of the bottle. Don’t be put off by this, it’s a good selling point as the wine has been bottles without excessive filtration allowing it to develop more in bottle after its twelve months in American oak. Pour carefully, and enjoy!

Menthol and Eucalyptus notes join the minerality but the full, mature fruit isn’t lost, not a bit of it! Made with Tempranillo and Merlot, the fruit is more blackberry and blackcurrant than Tempranillo’s characteristic strawberry. There’s a medium to long finish which makes you reach once more for the bottle!

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