Bernabeleva

Ethereal Grenache and more from the Granite Highlands of the Sierra de Gredos

Located in the mountains northwest of Madrid, at the eastern edge of Spain’s Sierra de Gredos, Bernabeleva produces Garnachas unlike any others—intense yet ethereal wines that give voice to an enchanting region few had heard of even a decade ago.

San Martín de Valdeiglesias is the westernmost sub-region of the DO Vinos de Madrid. The first wines were cast at Bernabeleva in the 1930s, and the estate’s vineyards are still chiefly based on Dr. Vincente Álvarez-Villamil’s original 1923 Garnacha and Albillo bush vines. These old vines eke out an existence at around 800 metres altitude under the commanding peak of the Cerro de Guisando. This sandy and granite-rich highland terroir is a magical country full of rocky peaks and scrubby pine forests, still infused with a strong legacy of its Celtiberian heritage.

The Gredos Valley is place where altitude, aspect and soil type combine with old-vine plantings to produce a beguiling and uniquely savoury style of Grenache capable of blowing your mind.

The challenge in this extreme climate and poor soil has always been to produce wines of finesse. The team here has a passion for place and produces wines of great transparency. Of course, it is the vineyards that determine the potential quality—the high altitude and naturally low yields from poor, sandy soils serve to encourage vivid, balanced raw materials.

At the beginning of the project in 2008, former winemaker-vigneron Marc Isart not only set about restoring the vineyards to their full potential, but he also began working organically and biodynamically. This is a significant challenge in a region where even the most basic work is done by hand. Isart has now left to focus solely on his family estate at the opposite end of the Vinos de Madrid—Cinco Léguas—leaving Miguel Chimeno to take the reins. Chimeno has been with the estate since 2017, and now works alongside Bernabeleva’s passionate owner, Juan Bulnes. The grandson of Dr. Álvarez-Villamil, Bulnes grew up in Madrid and has fond memories of helping in the vineyards during holidays. He is immensely proud of the region and of how far his dream of revitalising his family heritage has progressed.

Bernabeleva’s artisanal approach moulds wines of engaging depth and complexity combined with precision and delicious drinkability. At the core of the offering is a collection of delicately balanced, savoury and flamboyantly perfumed Garnachas, while the tiny old-vine parcels of Viña Bonita and Arroyo del Tórtolas synthesise all the magical qualities of this singular region. These glowing, refreshing wines steer clear of the rustic tannins and high alcohols that often shape this region’s reds. Bernabeleva is also gaining fame for its unique whites, based on the enigmatic Albillo grape, alongside Grenache Blanc, Macabeo and Malvar. These are finely textured, savoury and pure high-country whites that are well worth the effort to track down.

The Range

Bernabeleva Madrid Camino de Navaherreros Blanco 2022
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Bernabeleva Madrid Camino de Navaherreros Blanco 2022

Organic. Bernabeleva’s Camino de Navaherreros wines were created for the US market when their importer requested an entry-level range to wean their clients onto the more up-market bottlings. After being on the waiting list for some time, we now get our own allocation. The white draws heavily on the estate’s old-vine Albillo, which brings textured floral fruit balanced by the freshness from a field blend of Macabeo, Garnacha Blanca and Malvar. And some Godello is coming soon. The grapes are softly pressed and ferment spontaneously in a combination of used oak barrels, large oak vats and stainless steel. The grapes in the open vats include a portion of whole bunches and skin maceration, and depending on the year, some parcels go through malolactic conversion. The wine is bottled after nine months on lees. A great value wine; even at this level, Bernabeleva’s wines overflow with personality. 

“The white 2022 Camino de Navaherreros Blanco is a fruit-driven blend of grapes, mostly Albillo Real, from different old and young vineyards on their property. It fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured in 500-liter oak barrels and concrete. This is the entry-level white, where they seek the expression of fruit in a young and primary wine with only 12% alcohol and good acidity.”
88 points, Luis Gutiérrez, The Wine Advocate
Bernabeleva Madrid Camino de Navaherreros Blanco 2022
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Bernabeleva Madrid Camino de Navaherreros Garnacha 2022
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Bernabeleva Madrid Camino de Navaherreros Garnacha 2022

Camino de Navaherreros is the entry-level Garnacha, drawn from organically grown, estate-owned fruit and some purchased grapes from trusted sources. All the fruit comes from a range of plots within the San Martín de Valdeiglesias region, where the high-altitude vineyards are rooted in the granitic sands of this area of the Gredos Valley.For the winemaking, the grapes undergo a 25-day maceration, including some whole bunches. Fermentation occurs in a combination of stainless steel, concrete and large wood vats. Following blending, the wine was raised in upright. old wooden vats and bottled without filtration. The result is a delicious and balanced high-country Grenache of juicy, red-fruited freshness flecked with sweet spice and hints of garrigue. Try stopping at one glass.

Bernabeleva Madrid Camino de Navaherreros Garnacha 2022
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Bernabeleva Madrid Arroyo del Tortolas Garnacha 2020
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Bernabeleva Madrid Arroyo del Tortolas Garnacha 2020

The stunning Arroyo del Tórtolas vineyard accounts for just 1.2 hectares of 80-year-old vines at 800m above sea level on pure granitic sand. One of three of Bernabeleva’s single vineyard wines, Arroyo del Tórtolas, is the steepest, highest, and the only one that faces north. Juan Bulnes purchased the lower section of the vineyard in 2007 and, three years later, completed the parcel. The spongey granitic sands—known locally as episienita—are ploughed by horse under the control of Miguel Santiago, one of this area’s two remaining specialists in his field. Arroyo is one of the first of Bernabeleva’s vineyards to ripen, yet the shifting geology and the steepness of the site always result in two separate harvests from the top and bottom. The yields are naturally meagre, with each vine producing roughly two bottles of wine.For this wine, the grapes are foot trodden and left to ferment naturally in upright wooden vats—fermentation can last up to two months in some years—with the percentage of stems dependent on the vintage. The yields are naturally meagre, with each vine producing roughly two bottles of wine. The aging takes place in 500 and 600-litre barrels for 12 months, after which the wine is bottled unfiltered. We see this wine as the most ‘Gredos’ Grenache in Bernabeleva’s portfolio. Where the Viña Bonita, from south-facing vines, is a deeper and denser expression, Arroyo del Tórtolas gifts something pure, lacy and limpid, with haunting floral-infused aromas and a gracefully structured palate that flourishes with mineral intrigue.  

“The 2020 Arroyo del Tórtolas is from a plot they consider wilder than the one for the single-vineyard bottlings. It’s a north-facing slope, and the grapes ripen slowly. In 2020, this fermented with 80% full clusters and had over six weeks of maceration, then matured in three 500-liter barrels. The wine finished at a moderate 14% alcohol, with a pale color and a delicate nose, floral and spicy, with hints of rose hip and hibiscus. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins and integrated acidity.”
94 points, Luis Gutiérrez, The Wine Advocate
Bernabeleva Madrid Arroyo del Tortolas Garnacha 2020
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Bernabeleva Madrid Cantocuerdas Albillo 2019
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Bernabeleva Madrid Cantocuerdas Albillo 2019

Organic. The rebooted whites of Madrid have opened our eyes and palates to one of Spanish wines’ best-kept secrets, Albillo. Juan Bulnes is passionate about this re-emerging variety with a history in the region that may date back to the 8th century. Judging by the examples we have tasted, it’s a passion well-founded! Suffering the same fate as just about every other shy-bearing and characterful indigenous grape variety around the globe, the once prized Albillo has found itself side-lined in favour of more profitable, high-yielding varieties. Its comeback is long overdue. It’s worth noting that Albillo once played a role—similar to that of Viognier in Côte Rôtie—in Vega Sicilia’s Unico blend.This wine, however, shows what can be achieved when it stands alone. It comes entirely from three parcels of 85- to 100-year-old vines growing in the granitic sands of the Cantocuerdas vineyard—named after the large granite boulders that are strewn across the landscape. Each parcel is fermented separately and undergoes longish macerations (60 days in the case of one vat), and the wine is matured in used barriques for nine months. Textured, earthy and pure, this wine is often slow to unfurl in the glass, but it is well worth the wait. 

“The dry white 2019 Cantocuerdas Albillo de Bernabeleva is only 11.9% alcohol and has very good freshness and acidity, the kind of Albillo real that feels fresh in a warm vintage. It's deeply mineral and has the granite austerity, a fine thread and grainy texture. It was produced with grapes from old vines from three vineyards that are organically farmed but not certified. The three vineyards fermented separately with indigenous yeasts and longish macerations (one of them for up to 60 days!) and matured in used barriques for nine months. The wine has no orange character, deep color or traces of oak; it comes through as pure and delineated, tasty and long.”
92 points, Luis Gutiérrez, The Wine Advocate
Bernabeleva Madrid Cantocuerdas Albillo 2019
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Bernabeleva Madrid Navaherreros Blanco 2021
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Bernabeleva Madrid Navaherreros Blanco 2021

Organic. The estate white blends 70% Albillo and 30% Viura. The Albillo is drawn from the estate’s original plantings (around 90 years old) in the Cantocuerdas vineyard, a sandy, granite-rich, highland terroir of this magical mountain country. The Macabeo comes from more recently acquired sites with a vine age of around 30 years. Both varieties are harvested by hand, and each sees a measure of skin contact before wild yeast fermentation in a mixture of stainless steel and large French and Austrian oak. Stylistically, it’s a step up in intensity and complexity, with a long, silky palate drenched in fresh stone fruits, wild herbs and a savoury lick of salty minerals. The pricing puts many a white from more fashionable regions to shame!

“The 2021 Navaherreros Blanco de Bernabeleva is a white blend of 70% Albillo Real and 30% Viura/Macabeo from old vines on decomposed granite soils. It fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured in 500-liter oak barrels and a 2,000-liter oak foudre. It has very good ripeness and aromatic complexity, with notes of yellow fruit, pollen and herbs, moderate alcohol (12.5%) and very good freshness.”
91 points, Luis Gutiérrez, The Wine Advocate
Bernabeleva Madrid Navaherreros Blanco 2021
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Bernabeleva Vinos de Madrid Cantocuerdas Moscatel 2012 (500ml)
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Bernabeleva Vinos de Madrid Cantocuerdas Moscatel 2012 (500ml)

Like Albillo, Moscatel de Grano Menudo (a.k.a. Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) was previously one of this area's most popular traditional varieties, yet very few original vineyards remain intact. The old texts apparently point to this region's Moscatel and Albillo as being popular vino precioso (or court wines) during the time of Cervantes.Bernabeleva's Moscatel comes from a small plot of 40-year-old vines in the deep sands of the Cantocuerdas vineyard (also home to the estate's Albillo vines). Isart starts by refrigerating the grapes for a couple of days before allowing the natural fermentation to take off. When the balance that he is looking for is achieved, the wine is pressed off into mature French demi-muids for 10 months.Textured and subtly sweet on entry there are saline notes together with a little phenolic grip on the finish, adding up to a wine with terrific cut and thrust. Amazingly, it’s almost bone dry by the time you have swallowed your first sip! A beautifully balanced and delicious wine that would work with a wide range of food from cheeses (like Comte and Ossau-Iraty) to grilled pork chops, glazed chicken or even Thai coconut curries.

Textured and subtly sweet on entry there are saline notes together with a little phenolic grip on the finish, adding up to a wine with terrific cut and thrust. Amazingly, it’s almost bone dry by the time you have swallowed your first sip! A beautifully balanced and delicious wine that would work with a wide range of food from cheeses (like Comte and Ossau-Iraty) to grilled pork chops, glazed chicken or even Thai coconut curries.

Bernabeleva Vinos de Madrid Cantocuerdas Moscatel 2012 (500ml)
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“This bodega, established in 1923, is today one of Spain’s most dynamic producers. [Bernabeleva] produces a range of complex, highly perfumed wines that smoothly play power off finesse, in a style that’s reminiscent of the best producers of France’s southern Rhône valley. There’s often an intriguing wildness to these wines, but never any sense of rusticity, and their tannic structures are on the delicate side, making them enjoyable soon after release, at the top level as well as at the entry level of the range.” Josh Raynolds, Vinous

Country

Spain

Primary Region

Madrid

People

Winemakers: Juan Bulnes and Miguel Chimeno

Availability

National

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