Last year I heard Telmo Rodríguez speak at a panel discussion on biodynamic wines at the Return to Terroir Grand Tasting in Melbourne. He was passionate about  biodynamic winemaking, indigenous Spanish grapes and returning to the “18th century vineyard style” of bush training the vines to replace the use of 20th century wire trellising systems.

I was thrilled to hear him speak again at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s masterclass, “Fire in the Belly.” Bordeaux trained Rodríguez is one of Spain’s most innovative winemakers. Along with Alvaro Palacios and Domineo de Pingus’s Peter Sisseck, he has raised the reputation of Spanish wines to new heights by combining modern winemaking techniques with a renewed emphasis on native Spanish wine varieties and traditional vineyard practices.

Determined to make wines that truly reflect their sense of place, Rodríguez has spent the past 15 years scouring the country for the very best sites. Today he works with numerous small growers to make relatively small amounts of approximately twenty different wines across a broad price spectrum from almost every wine growing area in Spain, including Toro, Rueda, Valdeorras, Malaga, Alicante and Cigales.

In his quest to create truly Spanish wines, Rodríguez has revived abandoned vineyards and rediscovered native grapes such as godello, verdejo, moscatel and monastrell (mourvedre). He has also enhanced appreciation for the importance of terroir with regard to classic Spanish varietals like tempranillo, garnacha (grenache) and carignan. Rodríguez explained that he uses grapes to show places, and that grapes like tempranillo, for example, will create different styles of wine depending on where they are planted. Indeed, the slides he showed of his various vineyards revealed landscapes of extraordinary diversity, from the rolling hills of Rioja Alavesa at the edge of the Cantabria Mountain range to the flat high altitude plains of Rueda.

One of the highlights of the first bracket of wines presented was the Telmo Rodríguez ‘El Transistor’ Verdejo, a white wine sourced from the Rueda region. Straw in colour, the wine’s stone fruit aromas were overlayed with minerally and earthy scents. With just the right amount of acidity to balance its voluptuous texture, the wine was unmistakably, well, verdejo!

Another highlight was the full bodied, silky textured and aromatically complex Telmo Rodríguez Pago la Jara 2007, made from Tinta de Toro, a clone of tempranillo adapted to the local Toro terroir. In Toro, where the pre-phylloxera vines are more than 100 years old, the hot and dry climate is tempered by the altitude (approximately 600 to 750 metres above sea level), which helps to preserve acidity and the freshness of the ripe full fruit flavours.

I can’t finish this post without mentioning the exquisite labels of the Compañía de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez range. By all accounts Rodríguez is as passionate about art (and surfing) as he is about wine. His labels are designed by his friend Fernando Gutiérrez, one of Spain’s most highly regarded graphic artists.  Rodríguez explained to wine writer Lettie Teague that the interlocking circles resembling mattress springs on the label for his Rhône-style old-vine Grenache wine, Pegaso, actually resemble the look of the vineyard during harvest time! (Spain’s Brilliant $8 Winemaker | Telmo Rodríguez by Lettie Teague, Food & Wine)

Photo Credit: A bush vine vineyard in Toro, The Wine Colours

Merrill Witt, Editor