Sensible haircut and conservative demeanour, Alfredo appears the antithesis of a maverick winemaker, but this self taught winemaker’s ‘natural’ wines tell a different tale. While most Ribera del Duero winemakers are preoccupied with making robust reds from Tinto Fino, he’s sought out neglected parcels of rare old vine varieties, including his ‘Lovamor’ Albillo, a funky and textural, yet refined expression of terroir and winemaker.
Bought up in the winemaking region of the Basque Country, it was natural for Alfredo Maestro Tejero to develop a passion for wine. Alfredo is self taught, beginning by studying oenology textbooks and making his own wine from purchased grapes, literally by-the-book, using cultured yeasts, tannins, acidifiers, and so on, to produce textbook, intense and purple, Ribera del Duero wines. After moving to the winemaking town of Peñafiel in the Ribera del Duero, he soon planted his first vineyard of Tempranillo vines, at the nearby Almate on the Rio Duraton, farming organically from the beginning.
Sensible haircut and conservative demeanour, Alfredo appears the antithesis of a maverick winemaker, but it didn’t take long before he began to question why as an organic farmer, he did not work as naturally in the winery as vineyard. He began eliminating exogenous chemicals and additives, a leap into the unknown for a winemaker in one of Spain’s most conservative regions. By 2003, before the term ‘natural wine’ had been coined, he was fermenting all his wines using their indigenous yeasts and bottling without filtration, and mostly without any added sulphur. The wines are completely natural, quality grapes grown on well maintained vines in healthy soil being the only inputs.
Alfredo has sought out neglected vineyard parcels over the last few years, with old vines, poor limestone or granitic soils, and the altitude of Spain’s Meseta Central that gives his wines their characteristic freshness. He still has only 9 hectares of vineyard, along with two small bodegas, one in his home town Peñafiel, and the other to the south west of Madrid in the Navalcarnero area. Alfredo’s wines are expressions of eleven single vineyards, all within the Ribera del Duero D.O., but bottled as table wines under the Tierra de Leon designation, as he disagrees with the official line on what constitutes ‘typicity’ for the region.
Alfredo first discovered the majuelos, small family owned vineyards, of the Valle del Botijas, when travelling between his vineyards in Valtiendas and the Castrillo de Duero, immediately recognising the promise of these ancient, high altitude vines. The valley is cooler with more rainfall than Valtiendas. Strikingly, his vineyards include parcels of old vine Garnacha, Garnacha Tintorera, Bobal, Albillo Mayor, Palomino, and Moscatel, varieties now a rarity in a region preoccupied with making robust reds from Tinto Fino. Albillo is the only white variety permitted within the appellation, as an earlier ripening variety, a small proportion was traditionally planted amongst the Tinto Fino. Blended together, the Albillo adds sweetness and ripeness to the reds, that were in those days harvested earlier, their higher acidity very different to style of wines made now.
All the vines are planted together and trained ‘en vaso’, Spanish for Gobelet trained, that is to say the trunk is kept short, approximately half a metre high, and is topped with a knarled knot of old wood, resulting from many years spur pruning. Each year’s new growth is pruned away, leaving only the stub of the cane closest to the trunk, shortened to between 1 and 4, usually two nodes. This is called the spur, and each remaining node will provide the next year’s fruiting canes. Gobelet trained vines use no trellising or support, taking the form of a small bush, that supposedly resembles the shape of a wine glass, or goblet. Alfredo carries out up to three harvests per vineyard, depending upon the varieties it contains, with the Albillo Mayor and Garnacha Tintorera harvested first, then the Tinto Fino, and lastly the Garnacha.
Alfredo makes Lovamor from mostly Albillo, and a small proportion of Doña Blanca and Malvasía Riojana, from vines growing in the clay and limestone soils of a hilltop vineyard just outside of Peñafiel. The oldest vines were planted between 1891 and 1910, lying at 800 to 1100 metres altitude. Alfredo destems and crushes the grapes, before fermenting with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks without temperature control, leaving the juice in contact with the skins for 6 days, then racking into untoasted French oak barrels for further ageing. By leaving the wine to clarify naturally outside in the winter cold, he doesn’t need to fine or filter the wine, giving it a slightly hazy appearance. Talking about appearance, the Lovamor’s bottle is no shrinking violet, with an illustration of Red Riding Hood kissing the Big Bad Wolf, closed with natural cork and sealed with wax.
Alfredo Maestro Tejero ‘Lovamor’ Albillo 2016
Slightly pinkish, peachy orange colour. Fairly intense, with a slight haze, and noticeable sediment in bottle.
Pronounced and distinctive on the nose, immediately a striking resemblance to pear drop, slightly softened banana and pear esters. There’s peach and apricot stone fruit, hinting at slightly funky, bruised/rotting stone fruit and baked orchard fruit. Harsher background notes of young farmhouse cider are balanced by beeswax and floral notes of honeysuckle and white lilac blossom. Already some signs of development.
Dry with high acidity on the palate, medium plus bodied with a little bit of grip. There’s a salty and briney character, with a sourness reminiscent of a salted gose beer or fermenting stone fruits. Banana and pear drop notes again, melding with leafy autumn forest floor and some aromatic herbal lavender hints, followed a rusty orange zest quality. Superbly textured, with mineral steeliness, and a lasting finish.
Love At First Sight? Or Long Term Relationship?
Outstanding. A superbly nuanced balance of savoury, sweet, aromatic and steely characteristics, endlessly intriguing and beguiling. Admittedly, it’s temperamental and unpredictable nature makes the relationship challenging at times, but patience rewards the committed.
I’ve enjoyed several bottles of this wine, and would suggest there’s quite a bit of bottle variation, my first bottle was certainly the most aromatic, and it’s been a subtlety different experience each time. Interestingly one of my bottles, which I believe were all from the same case, had an unbranded, reconstituted natural cork, whereas the others all had a high quality looking natural cork, marked with Alfredo Maestro’s branding. The wine was quite closed initially, needing time to open up, improving even overnight, but then declining quite rapidly to become flat and uninteresting. There’s the acidity and structural components to give potential for positive development, however given the volatility it’s shown I think it’s probably safer enjoyed in its youth.