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Aalto: the new Vega Sicilia?
If you haven't already heard the name Aalto, then the chances are that it's one that will become familiar to you over the next couple of years. This new wine project, founded by winemaker Mariano García (who was sensationally sacked by Vega Sicilia in 1998) and business brains Javier Zaccagnini, was conceived in 1999 and has yet to make any commercial releases, but the signs are that it could be very big indeed. Located in the Ribera del Duero -- the same region as Spain's most prestigious winery, Vega Sicilia, and now a host of other internationally renowned estates -- Aalto owns 32 ha of prime vineyard land. However, until this comes on line they are buying old vine Tempranillo grapes from local growers. For the 2001 vintage they will have the yield of 10 ha of their own old vines, as well as the grapes cultivated under their supervision from four rented vineyards (totalling more than 50 ha). All the wine is made from old vine Tempranillo.

Aalto is taking a no-holds barred approach to wine quality. Two different wines will be made. Aalto, the first wine, will be produced only in very good vintages, and by careful selection of the best wines made that year. They envisage offering this wine 6 or 7 vintages each decade. Altobuey, the second wine (note added later: apparently, there's subsequently been a name change for this second wine), will still be made with great care and to a high standard; if the vintage isn't good enough there's a possibility that neither wine will be made. A new winery is being constructed, completely underground. The fermentation tanks are custom-built and as early as December the wine goes into French barriques, 60% of which are new each year. Some of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation in new American oak barrels. The wine is unfiltered.

The first vintage, 1999, is going to be bottled in June, and will be released in March 2002. Quantities are 15000 bottles of Aalto and 40000 of Altobuey. Javier Zaccagnini, who was pouring the wine, was showing just the Altobuey, but the feeling of most of the people I spoke to was that if this was the second wine, what on earth will the first wine taste like?

Altobuey 1999, Ribera del Duero (cask sample)
A concentrated purple/black colour with a wonderfully exotic nose: rich, ripe and complex, with notes of menthol, herbs, spices and caramel. This is a lovely mouthfilling wine of huge concentration. The palate shows a sweet edge to the powerful fruit, with firm tannins and notes of liquorice and herbs. Despite the power, there is balance here. Quite superb, albeit in quite a modern style. Excellent

Contact details: Aalto, 09300 Roa, Spain Tel: +34 (0)619 710 000

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