Great Scot, he flies! Also, El Puño Garnacha 2013

Sorry, there were just too many options in the title not to take a crack at something “clever”… -ish. The more tame (and probably smarter) option was “When a Master makes a wine”. The reason for all the title puns is to eventually talk about Norrel Robertson, the Master of Wine based in Calatayud making wines under his label, El Escocés Volante. Translating to, “The Flying Scotsman” this would have been a brilliant name for a wine, but works even better for a winery, especially when the owner is Scottish and consults at a number of others wineries.

I’d heard a bit about Norrel for some time but finally met him at a Master of Wine event last May in Rioja. He’s a gregarious, hilarious fellow–no doubt aided to a large extent by his Scottish roots–and he loves wine. I’ve been meaning to get over to his actual winery in Calatayud but at three hours from where I live in Priorat, it’s one of those, “Touch far for a day trip” kind of distances. While schedules didn’t work to meet, I have been through it in the past, having a fine local lunch at Posada San Anton. Beyond tasty, traditional meat, what stood out was the curious landscape of Calatayud, tucked within the crevices of high altitude hills and valleys.

For anyone unfamiliar with DO Calatayud under which Norrel produces most his wines, it’s similar to the other regions in Aragón like Somontano, Campo de Borja, and Cariñena in that there’s a solid swath of old vine Grenache. Some Carignan pops up as well although ironically in Cariñena, it’s an extremely minor grape. These four DOs are quite different climatically and soil-wise but they have some old school large producers that dominate production alongside small, upstart boutique wineries by people who could readily see the potential that was being ignored.

A new story, this most definitely is not, but in this case, back in 2003, Norrel decided to set up shop and for some time was the only Master of Wine actually based in Spain. Pedro Ballesteros is Spanish but is based in Brussels and defrocked Pancho Campo, well, let’s just let that one be. Thankfully, more are on the rise with the recent arrival of Andreas Kubach and Fernando Mora.

So one day recently, I picked up a bottle of Norrel’s wine as it’s interesting to taste what a Master of Wine produces. In theory, any MW should be able to make wine properly as it’s part of the studies. In practice there aren’t that many who do make wine though and those who do vary greatly in style. Some that I’ve tasted from go a more technical route while others use their knowledge to let the wine do whatever it wants as they work to coax it along. It was unsurprising to find that Norrel is the later and the wine in question, El Puño (the fist) presents Grenache in form that I like where it balances rustic with tame–a fine line to walk with a grape that pines for going atomic in terms of alcohol levels.

It needs to be noted that while Norrel is based within DO Calatayud, this wine wasn’t made within its regulatory bounds. He gets the fruit from two villages just to the south of Calatayud proper called Acered and Alarba from old bush vines of 70-100 years of age. This is what Calatayud has shown to do very well. Also done very well is that you get no sensation of oak in the wine as only 40% passes through barrel and they’re used barrels at that. You can see that despite using spontaneous fermentation, the wine has been carefully thought through while at the same, allowed to go where it wants as if you were to take a cheetah for a walk on a long, yet sturdy leash.

Given that’s it a 2013, I feel like this may have been better a little while back and in fact my fellow Catalan-based wine exile, Fintan has tasted it in the past and said it was “very impressive”. Not sure in this case if it’s wine or storage but there’s a lot to praise in it and I’ll simply need to taste more of Norrel’s wine to get a larger idea of his specific picture. Bummer.

El Puño Garnacha 2013
Dark ruby in color. Earthy dark cherry, bit of racy fruit, touch volatile and wild, limestone and clay notes in terms of minerality. A smidge over medium acidity, full brace of dark fruits on the palate, alcohol a bit prevalent, strong tannic structure and all around bassy and animated. Would be interesting to taste again with more time as it feels to be still evolving.
100% Grenache 14.5% 15€
* 89