Gemma Fernández. Journalist. @gemmafdz
Bodegas Martín Codax, one of Spain's most emblematic wineries at home and abroad, has a new wine: Cuatro Pasos Black. It’s red wine made 100% with Mencia grapes from 80-year-old hillside and mountain vineyards; 24,000 bottles will be sold in this first edition. Wikispanishfood.com interviews Katia Alvarez, the group's oenologist, who talks to us about this wine's special characteristics and tips on how to fully appreciate it.
Gemma Fernández.- El Bierzo is a special wine producing area in Spain. How does that affect Cuatro Pasos Black, Martin Codax's new product?
Katia Alvarez.- We have been working in DO Bierzo since 2003. It's a special area: it's different, it's authentic, and Mencía grapes there have a lot of personality because they grow naturally. Cuatro Pasos Black is a wine with character, thanks to El Bierzo, and it reflects the potential of an area that can produce outstanding wines.
G.F.- How old are the El Bierzo vineyards and how many hectares do you have there?
K.A.- El Bierzo is one of the few areas where a large number of hectares of old vines have been preserved, vines that are more than 80 years old, as they were tended to by an older generation that used traditional growing methods. The yield is currently very low, and can oscillate between 4,000-5,000 kg/ha. Bodegas Martín Codax currently manages grapes on around 40 hectares.
G.F.- What effect does ageing during eight months in new French and American medium-toast oak barrels have?
K.A.- Ageing seeks to increase the wine's complexity and structure. The idea was to provide Cuatro Pasos Black, a potent, concentrated Mencía grape wine, with more complexity, nuances of clean minimally-toasted wood, notes of dairy, a creamy palate and a marked presence of the Mencía grapes. To that end, we used new barrels, most of them French, which respect—and sometimes accentuate—the spiced and mineral nuances. That's how you add a touch of American wood that's more seductive and enveloping.
G.F.- How much does it cost to make a good wine?
K.A.- A lot! It requires many hours of dedication and patience, from the vineyard to bottling and through to ageing in the bottle. There are lots of little things that add up, and in the end you have a great, very complete wine.
G.F.- What sensations and flavors will we find in Cuatro Pasos Black? With which kinds of dishes does it pair best?
K.A.- The first sensation is pleasure, which starts as soon as you see it: it’s an intense cherry red color. It has a seductive, attractive aroma of red fruit, violets, black pepper, chocolate... It's intense, rounded, ample, and long-lasting on the palate... with a well-defined finish. It pairs perfectly with cecina from León (a cured, smoked beef) and botillo (meat-stuffed pork intestine), and with roasted meat, game and cured cheese.
G.F.- With what type of customer and in which markets do you expect it to be most successful?
K.A.- The person who drinks Cuatro Pasos Black is a typical wine drinker who's looking for something special, a more complex wine, one with more body and structure. It's a wine mainly for the hospitality sector, and due to its versatility and profile, it can be consumed anywhere in Spain, but especially in the north.
G.F.- How is it different from other wines by Martín Codax and those from the region?
K.A.- Cuatro Pasos Black's distinguishing feature is in the vineyard: the vines are old and have a low yield, but they produce grapes of extraordinary quality and concentration. Later, at the winery, we make a crianza wine that we call "modern" by giving it nuances of very clean wood, spices and a hint of sweetness. The main difference is the concentration of wine in all of its aspects.
G.F.- What role does the oenologist have in making a wine like this?
K.A.- The oenologist's job is first to understand the grape and then the wine, and to know how to give them what they need. Most of the time you have to watch over the wine, taste it constantly, and analyze the changes so as to make the right decisions; and if there's any doubt, the best strategy is to do nothing, to just wait and see what happens.
G.F.- When does an oenologist's job begin?
K.A.- It starts in the vineyard; without the vines, there would be nothing. A wine like Cuatro Pasos Black only makes sense coming from a special vineyard, with a good balance provided by a concentrated grape. That lets the oenologist start dreaming about making a great wine, harvesting the grapes at just the right time, at their perfect point of maturation.