That Old Vine Magic

It really is the most unprepossessing vineyard one could imagine. Scraggly rows of stumpy, knurled bush vines struggle to survive high in the arid, rocky Pyrenean foothills. The slopes are precipitous, and despite the dazzling early summer sun, I can see the snow-capped Pyrenees in the distance. The old Garnacha/Grenache vines look prehistoric, leathery and crinkled like some ancient Galapagos reptile. Except, that is, for the proliferation of verdant green leaves and tiny, embryonic grapes.

And here lies the secret. Come September, those grapes will produce my newest Wine of the Week, the wonderfully complex, earthy Secastilla ($30) from the Viñas del Vero winery in Barbastro, Spain, now owned by the Spanish wine and spirits giant Gonzalez Byass.

Gonzalez Byass has been making Sherry for 176 years—think Tio Pepe, the world’s bestselling brand—but starting in the 1980s they began to diversify into table wine, buying, or more recently launching, new winery operations in Sumomontero (Viñas del Vero), Rioja, Penedès, La Mancha, and even Jerez itself.

When I visited Spain recently, the two properties that most impressed me were Viñas del Vero and Finca Constancia, just south of Toledo. So this week and next I’ll be taking a look at one wine from each.


Vineyards like the one that produces Secastilla barely exist anymore. The vines are so old, and the soil so arid and barren, that yields are pitifully low, and when you are making peasant wine, low yields don’t put paella on the table. Consequently the vines are either replanted or just abandoned.

These old vines, however, represent a gold mine for producers of quality wine. About 10 years ago an employee of the winery, an avid cyclist, was peddling his way through these remote hills when he came across this abandoned vineyard far from any paved road. Inquiries were made, the owner thought Christmas had come early when he realized someone was actually prepared to pay real money for this “useless” vineyard, and soon Viñas del Vero was making its Secastilla.

The first commercial vintage was 2001, so the winemaking team is still figuring out how to get the most out of this highly unusual terroir, but a tasting through several vintages revealed that the wines are distinctive and improving, and they age splendidly.

The 2007 is a great wine, redolent of violets on the nose, rich and pungent, packed with glorious dark stone fruits, licorice, and spice. The wonder of wine like this from old vines is how it shows a compelling intensity without in any way being dense or ponderous.

It’s fun and fresh and can be drunk with great pleasure now, but don’t be deceived; this youthful vivacity hints at a far more substantial future. Surprising secrets are locked inside this wine, great depths of complexity that only time will reveal.

Such is the magic of very old vines.

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When to Drink: Now and for the next 10 years

Breathing/Decanting: One hour breathing is essential

Food Pairing: Any red meat, paella, cheese

Grapes: 100 percent Garnacha

Appellation: Somontano

Region: Aragon

Country: Spain

Price: $30

Availability: Limited