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Ángel Rodríguez

Everything Old is New Again: Touchstone Rueda from ‘The Man Who Saved Verdejo’

Tucked away in the backstreets of La Seca (population 1,000) a visit to Bodegas Martínsancho feels like a step back in time. There is only a single wine produced here, less than 2500 cases of an inimitable Verdejo that takes its name from a 17th-century vineyard called El Pago de Martínsancho. Some bush vines in this vineyard are pushing 200 years of age and represent the oldest Verdejo vines in the world. The original one-acre Martínsancho plot was expanded in the 1970s using massale cuttings from the ancient plot, yet those original vines persist, producing tiny volumes of fruit.

Although this Estate boasts a winemaking tradition that dates back centuries, it was not until 1981 that Ángel Rodríguez began to bottle his own wine. Rodríguez was known as ‘The Man Who Saved Verdejo’, the indigenous grape grown in the area since the 11th century. The variety almost became extinct in the 1970s when many vineyards were being pulled up to plant Sauvignon Blanc and Viura. Rodríguez persisted, and shortly before passing away in 2018, his work was honoured with the Cross of the Civil Order of Agricultural Merit by King Juan Carlos I of Spain.

Each of the estate’s 5000-litre casks has a feather sticking out of it. If you asked for a taste, Ángel Rodríguez would hold up a glass and pluck out the feather, which had a little cork on the other end. This cork stopped a tiny hole in the cask, which would proceed to shoot a jet of Rueda that he expertly caught in the glass.

Sauvignon Blanc was not the only innovation unwelcome at chez Rodríguez. There remains no packaged yeast, stainless steel, refrigeration or filtration equipment—each now commonplace on the Rueda scene. Untouched by modern techniques, the wine is made entirely by hand, naturally fermented and raised in century-old 5,000-litre oak botas housed in a naturally cold warren of cellars—unusual in a country where most cellars sit above the ground.

Ángel’s daughter Concepción and grandson Eduardo continue the legacy here. Luckily for us, the Estate’s wine culture isn’t the only thing here untouched by time; Señor Rodríguez’s tariff has barely budged in the ten-plus years we have been shipping the wine. On the one hand, all this living history would seem to personify the opposite of what the authorities like to call ‘progress’. On the other, organic viticulture, old vines, hand harvesting and minimalist winemaking offer a shining, idealistic example for Spain’s forward-thinking producers. The racy, rocky purity of this authentic old vine Rueda brings it all home. Everything old is new again.

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Angel Rodríguez Rueda Verdejo Martínsancho 2022

Angel Rodríguez Rueda Verdejo Martínsancho 2022

This benchmark Verdejo takes its name from a 17th-century vineyard, or majuelo, called El Pago de Martínsancho. In the 1970’s, massale cuttings from these venerable vines were used to expand the original plot, and it is from these 40-plus-year-old youngsters (all bush-grown and rooted in ancient alluvial gravels, some 30 metres deep) that this wine is now crafted. The grapes were slowly pressed into two huge glass-lined tanks where the juice fermented naturally before being transferred, via gravity, to the cellars for undisturbed aging in century-old 5,000-litre oak casks (or cubas). Importantly, the barrel cellar here is underground—unusual for Spain. It holds at close to 10ºC year-round, enabling the Rodríguez clan to avoid sulphur additions during winemaking, and to leave the wine to mature slowly, only on its fine lees. This wine is always juicy and textural, with a fresh racy mouthfeel and the kind of palate-awakening precision that belies its modest price tag. There's a lovely juicy texture leading to a sappy, stony close. Totally unique and 100% authentic, this is for us, benchmark Rueda—at a price almost too good to be true.

Angel Rodríguez Rueda Verdejo Martínsancho 2022

“The quality of [Ángel Rodríguez’s] wine is legendary.” John Radford, The New Spain

Country

Spain

Primary Region

Rueda, Castilla y Leon

People

Winemakers: Concepción & Eduardo Rodriguez

Availability

National