What was it? We’d become utterly disenchanted with all but a handful of Spanish wines sent to us by struggling national importers, most were overpriced and overrated. Billions of Common Market euros poured into new Spanish plantings, fancy bodegas with circular tasting rooms and surround sound. What was there to show for it? The funny money paid for fancy labels and (too much) American wood, but none of the expensive trimmings could replace the real deal. So when we heard about a pre-Franco vineyard, tasted the exquisite 2004 Partal — we just had to go see for ourselves.
Our lunch with Pepa was a lesson in 20th century Spanish history viewed through the eyes of a winegrower. Over roasted baby goat paired with the 2004 Partal, Pepa told us about his grandmother, “La Balcona”, a tenant farmer who, in 1940, right after the end of the Spanish Civil War, was given the opportunity by one of the local terratenientes to buy one of the prime vineyard sites in Murcia for next to nothing. She immediately ripped out the wheat and saffron and planted Monastrell bush plants. But Murcia would pay a hefty price for its opposition to Franco during the civil war. Franco cut off state funds to the region, and the young people fled, moving to Barcelona and Madrid. The fields were lying fallow, and the few grape growers selling to the local co-op found their Monastrell wines selling for 10 cents a liter in the retail stores of Madrid!
It took almost 35 years for Franco to pass and for Murcia to begin its comeback. And it took still another 30 years for the roots of La Balcona’s Monastrell to spider underground, searching out water and nutrients, infusing these incredibly healthy bush plants with the explosive red fruit intensity that is found in this brilliant, utterly singular Spanish red wine.
Production of Partal is tiny. Today, most is sold in Murcia. But we weren’t making an 8 hour trek just for a history lesson and some roasted goat. The 15 remaining cases of the 2004 Partal have been earmarked for WineAccess members, a sensational tribute to La Balcona. Not to be missed for the wine, its history, and that old-vine Mourvedre.