Spanish winery Mar de Frades gives Peter Ranscombe a sneak peak at its next wine as it expands further into the Rias Baixas region.
SALNES has become winemaker Paula Fandino’s playground.
It’s where she’s playing with a giant granite vat in which to make her wine, it’s where she’s pioneering the use of the “Ganimede” stainless steel tanks to keep out air, it’s where she’s even adding bubbles to make sparkling albariño.
Now, Fandino has a new playground.
Mar de Frades, which was founded in 1987, bought the Finca Valinas vineyard in the Salnes valley sub-region in 2004 and built a winery there in 2007, the same year Fandino joined the company.
In 2017, the firm bought Finca Monteveiga, a vineyard in the Ulla valley sub-region.
Monteveiga lies further inland than Valinas and at a relatively-high altitude for flat Galicia at 160 metres above sea level.
It’s also a younger vineyard, having been planted in 2003, compared with Valinas in 1975.
Perhaps the biggest differences come through their climates and soils – Salnes lies on the coast, where the North Atlantic moderates the temperatures, while Ulla is more continental, with a range of hills trapping fogs to cool its vineyards.
While both have sandy soils, Valinas lies on a complex mix of granite rocks, while Monteveiga is perched on schist.
Differences in the vineyard and the glass
There are differences in the way the vines grow too; Salnes uses traditional Rias Baixas pergolas to raise the plants off the ground and encourage air to flow between the vines to ward off mold in the wet climate, while Monteveiga favours more familiar wines along which its vines grow.
As we saw during the Rias Baixas lunch at The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh back in 2019, wines from each of the area’s five sub-regions have distinct personalities.
Last year’s online tasting with Fandino – during which she shared views over her vines live from Spain – also highlighted the role that the weather plays each year in bringing about vintage variation.
Both those factors were swirling through my mind as we tasted wines from Valinas and Monteveiga.
Salnes’ current release set the tone, with the 2016 Mar de Frades Finca Valinas (£31.50, The Great Wine Co) providing all the tell-tale albariño red apple aromas on the nose, with a touch of wood smoke from the part of the blend aged in French oak barrels, and a splash of pineapple from the warm year.
On the palate, the coastal region’s signature salinity came marching through, with tangy green apple and apricot to help balance its high acidity.
Fandino is fastidious when it comes to stirring her wine in its tanks, mixing the liquid with the lees – the dead yeast cells left over from the fermentation that turns sugar in the grape juice into alcohol – to help build up the wine’s body or feeling in the mouth.
That richer mouthfeel was much more obvious for me in the 2017 Mar de Frades Finca Monteveiga, which will go on sale next year.
A tank sample of the 2017 delivered quite sour lemon rind aromas and flavours, but a second sample offered a bit more of the peach note I was expecting.
That peach flavour took centre stage in both the 2018 and 2020 tank samples, with the 2020 already demonstrating some roundness on the palate, while the peach, apricot, and floral aromas on the 2018 made it really exciting.
Wines made to go with local seafood
In comparison, a tank sample of the 2018 Mar de Frades Finca Valinas produced lemon, pear, and a touch of mint on the nose, once my nostrils had ventured past the tanky pear drop note.
It had much more of the salty albariño twang on the palate, plus more green apple and lemon.
Perhaps the most impressive wine on show though was a sample of the 2014 Mar de Frades Finca Valinas, a wine that’s – very sadly – now sold out.
Fandino had likened albariño to riesling in terms of its ageing potential during her slide presentation, drawing comparisons between the chemical composition of her wines and rieslings from Alsace in France.
Nosing the 2014, it was certainly worthy of comparisons with riesling, often hailed as the most noble of white grapes.
Pronounced bruised apple and honey dominated on the nose, while the wine still maintaining an almost aggressive amount of acidity on the palate.
Red apple, pear, and salted almonds offered aid in balancing the acidity on the palate, but it was the texture that was most impressive, with lashings of butter and an almost meaty sensation.
Tasting the single vineyard wines made me really appreciate the skill that Fandino puts into making her 2020 Mar de Frades Albariño Atlantico (£15.55-£22.50, Exel Wines, The Fine Wine Co, The Strong Water Co, Valvona & Crolla).
While both single vineyard wines were very impressive and clearly displayed a sense of the places in which their grapes were grown, the regional blend shone with peach, red apple, cinnamon, and an exciting floral element on the nose.
Made with fruit from both Mar de Frades’ own vineyards and grapes bought from other farmers, its high acidity is expertly balanced by the concentrated fruit flavours, with apricot dominating over red apple on the palate, before leading into more savoury lemon rind and salted almond notes on its long finish.
Read more of Peter’s wine, beer, and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain