Cume do Avia Is The Source’s Most Revelatory Producer In The Last Years

July 7, 2020
Cume do Avia
Dos Canotos

If your wine world revolves around natural wines, wines of true terroir identity that are as unaltered as possible by the hand of the grower so as to remain pure, with high-tones, and vigorous, deep textures, then read on and get ready to buy. You won’t want to miss these.

Cume do Avia’s wines are rare. Most of them are limited to just over a hundred bottles of each wine for the entire US market, and it wasn’t anticipated that we’d still have them in our inventory at this point. But Covid-19 has opened the door for you, and I am thrilled to introduce you to these wines if you don’t know them already. This lot that just arrived in California was transferred to us from our New York warehouse, where they barely missed their opportunity to put on a show in the Big Apple for some of the world’s most talented sommeliers running wine programs in the city’s best restaurants. Our California team’s 2018 allocation evaporated in days upon arrival and these wines certainly would’ve been long gone out east, too.

The Wines at a Glance
(A more in-depth write-up is further below)

The Colleita Tinto is simply too good for the price. Its delivery is astounding and profound for those who like high-toned, low octane wines that drink as much like a white as they do a red. Brancellao is a grape that can render a wine as brightly hued as a glass of Campari and is the most seductive and elegant in the range. Caiño Longo, a bright red in its youth that can quickly take on a darker hue with only a little age, has an electrical charge and vigorous energy. The Viño Tinto Sin Sulfuroso is a marriage of red and black grapes and bottled without any added sulfur. It continues to surprise as it matures, and keeps getting better, despite its naked life free of sulfur. Their other red varietal bottlings available on our website, Sousón and Ferrón, are ink-black beasts, tight and trim, gritty and earthy and almost savage when young. Be forewarned, these last two wines must be experienced but they will not be for all takers, only those who don’t discriminate against unbridled energy, because they are that.

All of the Cume do Avia wines are aromatically intense and have a mouthfeel full of tremendous freshness and intensity. Their range of red wines is a unique and exciting addition to the resurgence of the Iberian Peninsula’s many awakening wine giants.

A short story and a deeper dive into the wines
Constant Evolution

On the narrative arc of our lives inside the wine world, some producers come along that redirect our compass. For me, the first was the legendary California Pinot Noir producer, Williams Selyem, whose wines I was able to drink with surprising regularity at a restaurant where I worked in Scottsdale Arizona back in the late 1990s. The chef and owner, Ercolino Crugnale, came out from California and brought his personal wine collection out to the middle of the desert, where he opened his own seafood restaurant. He planned to put his collection on his wine list, but once he got there, he was told that in order to legally do so, he would have to sell it to a distributor first so they could sell it back to him. Lucky for me, Ercolino decided we would drink it all together after dinner services instead. At Restaurant Oceana I was generously treated to so many of California’s best 80s and 90s wines from Ridge and all the names in California Cab, but it was the Williams Selyem Pinot Noirs that really made an impression on me.

What came next was Jean-Marie Fourrier, with his 1999 vintage. I was spoiled by Fourrier’s wines early on thanks to the late Christopher Robles. Chris carved out a massive allocation of Fourrier’s wines for the Wine Cask Restaurant, in Santa Barbara, where I ended up working as a sommelier, back when it had a list of more than two thousand carefully selected wines. There were many life-altering wines on that list during the year and a half I worked there, and we were drinking wines like Fourrier’s famous Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint-Jacques for a mere $57 a bottle after our employee discount, and it seemed we had an endless supply of the stuff. Now his Clos Saint-Jacques runs from three hundred to a thousand dollars a bottle, depending on the vintage. We had about a full mixed pallet of his entire range of wines from that truly great vintage that we soaked up daily, along with tons of the other best wines in the world generously allocated to Wine Cask.

Once I became a wine importer, things changed drastically. I got to know my heroes personally, which upped my game considerably from those years as a wine-country dreamer to the full, daily immersion of someone in the thick of it. There were soon countless producers that few knew about yet that eventually became synonymous with The Source. Austria’s Veyder-Malberg showed up on my radar in 2010 (thanks to Circo Vino, an Austrian wine importer), along with France’s Loire Valley rising star, Arnaud Lambert, and the discovery of his laser beam Chenin Blancs of Brézé, followed by Thierry Richoux and his singular, giant-slaying Pinot Noirs from the unassuming and minuscule ancient village, Irancy, in the far northwestern corner of Burgundy. Poderi Colla, one of the greatest and all too often overlooked families in all of Piedmont, suddenly caught my attention at a Barolo party overflowing with great wines, when I’d never heard of, had or seen their wines among the vast sea of Barolos, a region I thought I knew a fair bit about at the time. And at the same moment I fell head over heels (like so many others worldwide) for Jean-Luis Dutraive’s wines, which he kicked off with his spectacular run from 2012 to 2014, before Beaujolais blew into the mainstream.

Then there was Green Spain…

In northwestern Iberia, just above Portugal is Galicia—a part of Green Spain. Galicia is one of the most obvious places in all of Europe clearly with the ability to achieve so much, but with enormous unmet potential. It has a rich history, a deep well of indigenous noble grape varieties and terroir systems, perfectly suited to produce a broad diversity of deeply complex wines. I only began learning about it in depth about four years ago, shortly after my wife and I took our month-long honeymoon in Spain in an attempt to actually get away from wine for a moment. On our journey in the heat of late September and early October, we found ourselves off the wine path and in the world of the tourist, and it took only a couple nights of the famous bruiser red wines from Spain before we began our retreat to beer and Albariño in an attempt to stay fresh and clear-headed so we could enjoy each oncoming day.

Once we got home, my friends, Rajat Parr and Brian McClintic, who both resided at my house in Santa Barbara at different times (the latter for years), kept pushing me in the direction of Galicia with so many good wines from Envínate, the now famous producer from the Ribeira Sacra with a ubiquitous presence on all serious wine lists, worldwide. Then JD Plotnick joined our Source team and stoked my Galician embers into a full raging fire. He’s freaky about Galician wines (and wine in general, which makes him a particularly effective and respected salesperson) and it has been a major focus for him for many years, long before Envínate nearly single-handedly put Galicia into mainstream wine pop culture.

Enter Cume do Avia

The most beguiling wines give the impression that you’ve never truly fallen in love like you have with the one currently in your glass. My first taste of Cume do Avia was at a restaurant in Sanxenxo, at Bar Berbereco, with Manuel Moldes (known to his friends and family as Chicho) and the owner of the restaurant, José (Salvo) Esperon and all of our better halves. Salvo brought out a bottle of Cume do Avia’s Colleita 5 Tinto. I asked if I could taste another wine from this producer because I loved one I was drinking, but was trying to temper my excitement since one-offs happen a lot. But if they could back it up with another wine, it was on. Brancellao was that second wine, luckily for all of us it was incredible, and the rest is history.

The wines I first tasted out of barrel with Diego Collarte, one of the family partners of Cume do Avia, seemed to carry the full weight of his family’s collective dream—I’ve never been so moved by the energy of a moment as I was the day I met him and heard his unfiltered, brutally honest view of the challenges they needed to overcome to arrive at that moment, and I knew that I had found as true a diamond as I’ve ever found in the rough. The grit and heart-filled determination of this tribe has led to a range of red wines in 2017 that are raw, honest and inspiring. The nature of the spare and intensely focused wines from the 2018 vintage turned what little noise was left in already impressive wines into wines of greater precision and stark clarity. Diego assures me that this is just the beginning. I believe it.

Cume Do Avia Wines In-Depth

Raw and enticingly naked, the Colleita 6 Tinto is the charming starting block for Cume do Avia’s range of honest and sparsely touched wines, made from a blend of indigenous red Galician varietals. Caiño Longo (40%) and Brancellao (26%) bring elegance and taut red fruits, and the balance from Sousón (34%), the dark, agile beast side with a deep, vigorous acidity. It’s angular but still soft and restrained, and drinks as much like a white when its young as it does a red, save its glorious, dainty and fluttery red wine characteristics, and the influence of its three-week fermentation with more than a third from whole bunches. A shade over 11% alcohol, it’s aged in an ancient, restored chestnut foudre, and is replete with mineral and metallic impressions derived from its soil mixture of granite, schist and slate. (No matter the scientific debate on how these characters come to a wine, these soils vividly mark their vinous offspring.) Its freshness is a waterlogged forest with tree bark spices, exotic sweet green pastoral herbs and wild red and black berries never touched by a direct ray of sunshine. It’s refreshingly cool, like fog rising from a slow moving river; like rain; like wet, brisk wind. It’s a wine from the Ribeiro and it tastes like that land looks and feels.

Cume do Avia’s Brancellao is dainty, thin framed, soft spoken, and subtly powerful. It’s equally as compelling as the other wines in their range of reds, but its charm flows ceaselessly from the first sniff and sip. It’s more suave and with far less than one hundred cases produced annually, Brancellao is still the largest production of their single-varietal wines. It’s extremely fresh, bright and beautifully transparent, and reveals many facets in time, all filling out together as it unfolds. One moment it speaks of Italy’s alpine influenced wines such as Premetta and Schiava; or France’s Massif Central red, Saint Pourçain, a Mugnier-like Pinot Noir from Burgundy; Poulsard from the Jura; lightly extracted old school California Russian River Pinot Noirs from the 80s and 90s like Williams Selyem’s coastal vineyard sites after decades of cellar time. In the glass it smells and tastes of the first red berries of the season, sweet green citrus and bay spice. The palate ceaselessly expands in depth and weight, with the start as light as a darker rosé and that evolves like a fresh, cool vintage red Burgundy from a high elevation site on stony soils. That said, I have no illusion about this wine’s pedigree when comparing it to Burgundy because it is not constructed like one in the cellar. It was crafted for a shorter life, but over hours of tasting it finds unexpected heights that show what its potential could be if modifications were made with the intention of aging it longer.

It’s hard to imagine a more compelling prospect in the resurgence of the Spain’s Ribeiro (and perhaps within Galicia) than Caiño Longo. If there were ever an extroverted bright light within all of the noble red grapes of the world, this could be a contender for the top prize. Cume do Avia’s interpretation is almost outrageous and appears to be some kind of mythical legend from a fantasy land. It’s grown on a mix of granite, schist and slate soils, and is a lightning bolt of freshness with an atomic level of expansive energy. In its youth, it bursts with a broad, mouthwatering spectrum of piercing lines, sharp angles, seductive curves and concentrated energy. (My descriptions may seem indulgent, but this wine is like a high-grade stimulant for the nose and mouth.) When I first tasted Cume do Avia’s 2017 Caiño Longo from a restored chestnut barrel of over a hundred years old, it was a hair-raising and somehow illusory experience, and one of the most vivid moments of my entire wine career. Instantly smitten by its flamboyantly profound beauty and depth, I asked if it was made from old vines and was surprised when I was told that they were planted in 2008 and 2009. Its sappy palate and lengthy finish is deceptive and easy to associate with a wine rendered from ancient vines whose energy focuses on fewer but more concentrated grapes.

When compared to the entire range of Cume do Avia’s red wines, the mood of the Viño Tinto Sin Sulfuroso lands squarely between the opposing bright red and ink-black single varietal wines. Nearly half the blend is Sousón (known in Portugal as Souzão, Sousão or Vinhão), which brings darkness to the color and a strong virile sense of spice, animal, iodine and belly to the wine—though not as much of a belly as many other solar-powered red wines grown on heavier soils. The difference, a blend of one-third Caiño Longo, both the backbone and horizontal core of the wine, along with the radiant Brancellao (25%), bestow together ethereal wild red berry nuances, unremitting acidity and pure joy. It’s spare on fat, but rich in character and personality. Once past its coy first fifteen minutes, this elegant but firm wine begins to aromatically blossom with pointed thrust and beautifully long lines.