The endeavor of ampelography (the identification and classification of grape vine cultivars) is as fascinating task as it is a slippery one. At its inception, this work was based mainly on readily identifiable physiological characteristics such as leaf shape and size, berry color and shape, bunch structure and form among other characteristics. And until the advent of DNA testing, this sort of taxonomic system served viticulturalists fairly well, but it’s not difficult to imagine how it can and did also lead to false results – the world is full of plants and animals that share many, many physical traits, but turn out to be completely unrelated. And indeed even DNA analysis, though it is far more reliable than traditional ampelography, can lead to inconclusive results depending on which and how many data points are tested.
But let’s refocus down to the level of a singular example of this as yet imperfect system of classification in the form of the grape variety (vareities in reality – sort of…) known as “Albilla” or just as often, “Albillo”. Without getting too deeply into the weeds of ampelographic DNA research, there are at least 7 varieties that carry the name Albilla (usually with some modifier such as “Real”, “Mayor”, “Blanco” etc. stuck on at the end ), that have been determined to be either varieties that are known by other more commonly accepted names, but most of which turn out to be completely unrelated varieties that simply bear the Albilla name, and this evening’s wine falls firmly in the latter category.
Hailing from the southeasternmost region of Castilla-La Mancha in the area around the cities of Albacete and Cuenca ( hence its (un)official name “Albilla de Albacete”), tonight’s wine is made from a white grape variety that is almost certainly unrelated to its other namesake varieties. Further, Albilla de Albacete is perhaps the rarest variety to carry the name. Most of the other “Albillas” can be found under this name (and others as well), in multiple regions of Spain as well as in North Africa, Sardinia and a few other places too. But as far as anyone knows thus far, Albilla de Albacete is a unique cultivar that is absolutely peculiar to the area around Albacete/Cuenca.
So, you might ask, how does all of this pop science apply to the average wine drinker? Well, in a way not at all, and in another, it’s critical. Focusing on the latter distinction, of all of the “Albillas/Albillos”, Albilla de Albacete is likely the rarest as well as the “noblest” and most complete, which unlike most of the others, enables it to be bottled unblended. Albilla de Albacete tends to have a muscular structure that can easily carry the higher alcohol levels that it typically produces, and which can also greatly benefit from some oak aging (this particular wine is fermented in oak barrels and then aged in medium-sized French oak barrels for eight months). In terms of general flavor and aroma profile, Albillo de Albacete is big and mouth-filling but never lacking a sassy acidity, and with rich sweet and sour citrus and green fruit flavors. It’s not the sort of wine that you’d soon forget, and I for one have made a new friend in this southeastern Spaniard, and one for which I’ll keep an eye out for in my oenological travels.
To go with this bold bottle, I served toasts with a spread not too dissimilar from Sicily’s caponata, composed of eggplant, yellow squash, green olives, celery, onions, cilantro and tomatoes followed by grilled chicken tenderloin skewers marinated in a almond, garlic, pimenton, oregano, cumin, ground coriander, oil and sherry vinegar paste with carrot, pea and spinach white rice on the side.
Bodegas y Vinedos Ponce Manchuela Blanco “Reto” 2013
Pale, “white gold” color. Subtle aromas of green melon, peach, tree sap, ground pine nuts, dried ginger, candied fennel, broom and lilac. The palate is quite expansive, well structured and slightly austere with a deep, zippy acidity with flavors of tangerine, gooseberry, white currants and very subtle cream and vanilla flavors, all underpinned by a fine, chalky minerality. The wine finishes with a long, warm and clean bitterish finish.