It doesn’t seem all that long ago that albariño was being feted as the unknown great white grape from Galicia. Now that savvy sommeliers have brought it so delightfully to the world’s attention it’s time for a new uva desconocida. Say hello to godello. And while we’re about it, let’s open our arms to a Galician red called mencía. Both introductions were made earlier this week by Luis Nuñez of Losada Vinos de Finca and his agents here, The Wine Coaches, over a seriously delicious dinner at Cava. Chef Chris McDonald is himself a sommelier and his wine-pairing dinners on those long-ago, shining, stimulating nights at Avalon were always revelatory (I remember one occasion built around Oregon pinot noirs that changed the way I thought about food-and-wine matching, not to mention north-western pinot). He and his co-owner and co-chef at Cava, Doug Penfold (who looks more and more like Chris with the passing years) performed brilliantly this time around, much to the delight of the crowd.
Godello turned out to be a total delight. It grows in a single mountain valley in Galicia, about 250 kilometres from the sea, on very slatey soils that contribute a vibrant minerality to the wine. In 1885, the proprietor of Bodegas Valdesil planted a vineyard called Pedrouzos exclusively to godello. His neighbours said it was financial suicide as the variety is notoriously delicate and easily over-ripens but our champion stuck to his intentions. Today, that vineyard still exists and the godello clone that originates there is recognized for its superior structure and complexity.
The first version we tried was 2008 Val de Sil, made from vines that are 20-30 years old. It’s fermented and aged on its lees in steel – clean and concentrated, minerally with a hint of citrus – reminiscent of a Rousanne or a good Chablis. The chefs paired it with two divinely creamy Fanny Bay oysters from Vancouver Island that they had subjected to a mild escabeche treatment for a couple of hours, leaving the oyster flesh slightly denser than normal and with a subtle prickle of vinegar. With them were two pimentos de padron, those pinkie-sized green peppers that let you play Russian roulette – due to a genetic fluke, one in every dozen or so is not mild and sweet like its brethren but searingly hot. Pan-fried in olive oil and scattered with salt, my two were safe. Crunchy cucumber threads and some fresh dill flowers completed the dish, the flavours resonating in several different keys with the wine.
Godello number two was 2007 Pezas de Portela. This wine is fermented and aged for six months in oak barriques before moving into steel where it rests on its lees until bottling. The hint of oak was altogether charming but don’t take my word for it. Robert Parker declared this wine the second best white in all of Spain. McDonald and Penfold’s dish played brilliantly to the smoky oak – a salad of split yellow and green beans with an olive oil dressing, three slices of rare, lightly smoked albacore tuna sashimi and a stunning tonnato sauce made of crushed tuna, egg yolk and olive oil, as smooth as satin.
The third godello 2007 Pedrouzos, was the evening’s star in my opinion, a wine made from vines grown in the original 1885 vineyard. The production is tiny from such ancient plants – only 500 magnums a year, the winemaking method identical to Pezas de Portela. Knowing where it came from added extra concentration to the tasting – as did the understanding that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Again, the accompanying dish was designed to shine a light into the wine’s interior, illuminating all sorts of aromatic echoes. Subtly flavourful quenelles of pike and lobster were set over a slice of fried lion’s mane mushroom, its texture not unlike eggplant, with a vibrant, very pure green pea sauce.
Then it was on to the red wines, three iterations of the mencía grape made by Finca Losada. The project is a new one, started only in 2005, but the vines are ancient – 60 to 70 year-old bush vines growing on clay just to the north of the godello area. We started with 2007 Losada – a big, robust red, rich and dense with dark fruit tannins and as much acidity as a Baco Noir, spiced by 10 to 12 months in French and American oak. The chefs met the acidity head on with a soft crimson piquillo pepper surrounded by a pulpy, tangy, chipotle-spiked tomatillo sauce. There were fried chickpeas for substance and the pepper was stuffed with a gorgeously loose, almost liquid house-made morcilla blood sausage, rich enough to take on the muscular wine.
2006 Altos de Losada was also big and bold though the extra year and a purely French oak regime added a measure of elegance. Lean slices of red deer leg volunteered to dance with the wine’s tannins; crunchy poached Asian greens and a compote of peach and red currant answered the challenge of acidity; a glorious slab of gamay-poached foie gras, soft as butter, quietly stole the show.
The final red, 2007 Altos de Losada, La Bienquerida, is a single vineyard production and one step further along the path to ultimate sophistication. The chefs decided to balance its power with voluptuously tender braised Texel lamb shoulder in a rich gravy with favas, tomato and grilled baby fennel. Another triumph.
In case anyone was still hungry, we finished with a slice of marcona almond cake, some bing cherry ice cream and a sour cherry compote, pleasantly paired with a Spanish sticky, Moscatel Oro Floralis from Torres.
It was a very fine evening, by universal consensus, and a treat to discover two grape varieties and so many wines we had never tasted before.