If you’ve never heard of Sober, a teeny town carved into the slate and granite cliffs above the River Sil in the Ribeira Sacra DO, in the Spanish province of Galacia, you’re not alone. With a population placed somewhere between nine and 2,900, few people in Galicia are even aware of its existence. But despite its diminutive size, 35-year-old grower, winemaker and Sober-native Pedro Rodríguez Pérez is making a big impact on the wine world. He farms his family’s seven hectares—divided among 15 separate plots tottering on slopes that plunge toward the river like the Hahnenkamm—of Mencía, Godello, Caino Tinto and Treixadura by hand. And he makes wines under the Guímaro label that the New York Times has called, “light-bodied, juicy…with a welcome earthy touch.”
Grapes have been grown in Ribeira Sacra for more than 2,000 years. They were first planted by the Romans as they traipsed across Europe, and were later cultivated by intrepid monks and locals. And it’s no wonder. The region’s hot days, remarkably cool nights and stony soils are ideal for viticulture. But working this land is backbreaking, literally, with growers having to haul their harvest up the steep slopes on their backs, and few young people over the last century felt compelled to continue. Vineyards were abandoned. Terraces crumbled.
Fortunately, the budding interest in Spanish wines beyond Rioja over the past 15 years has led to a surge of interest in the vineyards and wines of Ribeira Sacra. An inspired Rodríguez Pérez returned to Sober after law school to rebuild his family’s terraced vineyards. His mission: to make distinctive wines that spoke of the remote, stony hillsides he calls home.
“There are two kinds of winemakers,” he told Eric Asimov of the New York Times, “those who want to make money and those who want to make wine.” Rodríguez Pérez makes wine. And Guímaro is, without a doubt, a winery to watch.
We currently carry two of the four Guímaro wines. The 2008 Guímaro Mencía Ribeira Sacra ($14.99) is a great place to start if you’ve never had Mencía. It is lighter and softer than the better known iterations grown in Bierzo to the east, with snappy cool-climate acidity, bright red and black fruit and a slate-y mineral vein that runs through from nose to palate. The 2008 is raised entirely in tank, which keeps the wine refreshingly vibrant and food-friendly.
We also have the 2007 Guímaro “B1P” Mencía Ribeira Sacra ($39.99), a sultry yet serious wine that might just woo Rhône wine drinkers away from France. This whole cluster Mencía is fermented in open top foudres, and impresses immediately with its smoky, peppered plum nose. Denser than the the entry level version of the wine, the B1P has hints of herbs and even more concentrated minerality to complement its black fruit.