December 2, 2011 Telmo Rodríguez
Telmo Rodríguez El Transistor
You know you have an unusual wine in your hands when the label says “El Transistor.” The story goes that to keep away the wild boar at night a transistor radio is set among the vines.
The man behind the radio is Telmo Rodríguez, a pioneering spirit in Spanish winemaking, in many ways a true original. He produces relatively small amounts of about twenty different wines from ten different regions of Spain, and appears to be equally enthusiastic about the wines that sell for $10 as he is for the ones that sell for $80. Above all he brings a passion to his trade, with the goal of taking indigenous varietals and letting them speak naturally of the place from which they have sprung. He seeks to put superior, terroir-driven wine behind his labels and sell it for a reasonable price. It’s no surprise that his wines are so often singled out as great value for their price tags.
Some 40 years ago Rodríguez’s father, an industrialist from San Sebastián, acquired a Rioja estate, Remelluri. The son studied oenology at Université Bordeaux and followed it up with working stints at Cos d’Estournel and the estate of the great Gérard Chave in the Rhône Valley. His father encouraged him to return to Remelluri, which he did, until he struck out on his own in 2001. Not to follow fashion and set his sights on high-priced bottlings using international varietals steeped in French oak, but instead to aim for what he has called “a democratic, original wine.” The first effort was a garnacha (grenache) from Navarra. It sold for $8.
Telmo Rodríguez wants his wines to exude their Spanish heritage. He is not interested in producing wines that taste as if they could have come from anywhere. He spends a lot of time seeking out abandoned vineyards whose old bush vines still carry the essence of all that is good about traditional Spanish winemaking. Our bottle at hand is a case in point. From the Rueda region (the central town of the same name is 170 km northwest of Madrid), it is made solely from the traditional, often undervalued, white varietal, verdejo.
Rodríguez places as much attention on his white wines as he does his reds, refreshing in the Spanish context. Soundly organic, he is moving all his vineyards toward biodynamics.
I have always been struck by the artistry of his labels. They come from a man keenly interested in visual art and literature and who is a presence on the cultural scene in Madrid. “Life is a lot of things,” he has said. “Not just wine.” My kind of winemaker. I look forward to sampling many more of his wines. Good to know they all lie within a reasonable price range.
So let’s turn down the radio and pour a glass.
Telmo Rodríguez El Transistor 2008
A straw-coloured glow emanating from the wine glass. And from its surface the subtelty of stone fruit laced with smoke and minerals. On the palate a wine to be savoured, showing a textured complexity. Smooth yet with a wry herbaceous note. But much more than that — lemon rind seasoned with a peppery, spice overlay. A salt wash kickback leading to a lingering finish. An intensely interesting wine. Definitely not bo(a)ring! Now turn up the volume and enjoy! $