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Interview – Victor de la Serna

For those that don’t know Victor de la Serna is regarded by many as one of the top three most influential wine experts on Spanish wine, the others being José Peñín of the Guía Penín le los Vinos de España and Andrés Proensa of the Guía Proensa de los Mejores Vinos de España. His fame stems from a prestigious career in Journalism that eventually turned to wine. In his career he helped to found elMundovino and secondly he embarked on every wine lover’s dream and started up his own vineyard: Finca Sandoval. I recently had the chance to taste Finca Sandoval at the Iberwine wine fair here in Madrid and was very impressed. Here are my notes:

2003 Finca Sandoval Manchuela – Spain, Castilla-La Mancha, Manchuela (11/29/2005)
Deep purple in color (intense). Nose of barnyard, and red fruits with a hint of dark spices. Firm tannins and medium acid in the mouth. While flavors of big fruit, plum, cherry, blackberry, and smokey oak all mingle on the palate. Really a fun wine.

This past week I had the pleasure of sending Victor some questions to answer and am pleased have the chance to post them here for all of you to read. To make it clear, I grouped questions together based on similar thoughts and let Victor respond to them as a group. Enjoy the interview!

How did you get your start in wine? When did you first fall in love with it? When did you know you wanted it to be your career?

I’ve been in wine forever, albeit as a side activity – I have been an enthusiastic rank amateur since I was a teenager and until quite recently. My father was, like me, a journalist, and back in the 1960s he was the first Spaniard who wrote seriously about wine. He was a legendary taster who excelled in blind tastings too. We were living in Switzerland when I was a kid, and I was only 13 when my father first drove me to nearby Burgundy to show me “the best vineyard in the world” – the Romanée-Conti. These are the kinds of things that remain vividly in one’s memory, and it’s marked the rest of my life… Although I’ve always worked as a ‘regular’, non-wine journalist, I began writing frequently about food and wine in the 1970s and have been a restaurant critic for Madrid newspapers ever since 1981. But wine is still only my second career, although since 1998 I have been busy planting vineyards and starting a small winery. I have paid my dues with almost 38 years working as a hack, and at some point in the not too distant future wine will naturally flip-flop with journalism and become my main activity.

You’re part of the team at Elmundovino.es, could you tell my readers a little bit about this Spanish publication and what it covers. How long have you been writing for elmundovino.com? What is the mission of elmudovino.com and how have you seen this change? I don’t believe there is an English version yet, and with the rise in popularity of Spanish wines in the world market, has any thought been given to offering an English version?

elmundovino is a collective wine blog that reports on wine and discusses wine seriously in Spanish, but with a keen interest in the world scene. I am the editor in charge and I created this site back in 2000. It is a part of elmundo.es, the web site run by El Mundo newspaper, where I am one of the deputy editors. elmundo.es has the largest audited audience among all the news web sites in Spanish that exist in the world – 7.2 million single users per month. As such, elmundovino is just a small part of the site, and we are not rich. We would like to find a sponsor that would enable us to put out an English version of the blog.

Finca Sandoval is your wine “project”/bodega. Can you tell us a little bit about what prompted you to start your own winery. What were your goals starting out? The DO of Manchuela is not well known outside of Spain therefore, what drew you to make wine in this little known region? What makes it special? Also, considering that Manchuela does not have a well-established track record with its wines, what signs do you see pointing to this region being able to produce long-lived wines? Or do you think that the wines from here will fulfill another need?

Knowing my track record as explained above, it was to be expected that I’d try making wine the moment I saw a financial opportunity, and this came in 1998. I’ve known Manchuela for 35 years, because my father-in-law owned farmland there, and I’ve thus had a long time to study the soils and climate. I knew that it was just one of many top-notch wine terroirs in Spain that are unknown because, for historic and economic reasons, there was never any money locally to attempt any experiments in quality winemaking: there’s very poor clay-limestone soils, there’s the altitude of over 2,500 feet, there’s sunshine, there’s little humidity and there are large day-night temperature differences. So we planted a state-of-the-art syrah vineyard with the lowest-yielding clones, we located several high-quality very old vineyards planted to native varieties like grenache, mourvèdre and bobal, and we installed a modest but efficient winery. It was a given that, if we didn’t foul things up through incompetence, the wine would be good. And its structure and balance obviously foretell that it’ll be a ‘vin de garde’, a long-lived wine, too.

What wines do you make at Sandoval, and are your standards for making these wines? Do you plan to add more wines to your repertoire? For my readers in England and the USA, where can they find your wines? Which importers?

We make three wines. Finca Sandoval is the ‘grand vin’, a blend with about 80% syrah and the rest mourvèdre (monastrell in Spain) and bobal. It’s a seriously structured wine, and we give it about 10 or 11 months in oak barrels, at least 40% of them new. Salia is a slightly lighter, more floral wine made with the syrah from our clay-dominated plots, which has a somewhat silkier texture, and grenache (garnacha in Spain) from two very old plots at the northern end of Manchuela, plus a little bobal in a field blend with this grenache. It gets no new oak and is usually ready to drink earlier than Finca Sandoval. Then we make very small amounts of our Cuvée TNS, based on our two tiny experimental plots of touriga nacional, the great, aromatic Portuguese grape variety, plus one third syrah to give it body and complexity. One day we’ll bottle a little pure bobal and pure grenache to showcase these great native varieties, and I hope to plant one or two acres to an as-yet secret white variety in 2006 or 2007. Fine Estates from Spain (Jorge Ordóñez) are our US agents, and Hanson Haynes & Clark, with offices in London and the Cotswolds, are our UK importers.

As far as Spain goes, it seems to be one of the most exciting “new” wine producing countries right now. What do you see as the reason for its somewhat recent explosion onto the world market? What makes Spain so unique in what seems to be an oversaturated international wine market? What are its strengths? What is Spain’s biggest weakness?

The strength is a huge array of great terroirs that were made for quality wine but never attracted anyone but workmanlike co-operatives devoted to bulk wine. As soon as some serious vinegrowers moved in, everything naturally took off. We make powerful wines, as they do in the New World, that at their best have the complexity and elegance that are the hallmarks of Europe. The biggest weakness is a relative lack if international visibility.

With 63 DOs, Spain seems to have infinite space capable of making great wine. Seeing that you’ve helped to bring fame to a little known DO like Manchuela, what other regions do you think are getting lost in the mix? Where should consumers outside of Spain be looking to in the future to find quality wines from Spain?

Fortunately many regions are starting to rise above anonymity. I’m a great fan of Bierzo, Valdeorras, Rías Baixas, Rueda, Priorat, Montsant, Terra Alta, Jumilla, Yecla, Alicante, Utiel-Requena, Montilla-Moriles, Málaga, and of course the best producers in Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Jerez.


Finally I want to know something about the grapes here in Spain. Since my arrival to Spain, I’ve been amazed by the number of grapes that produce high quality wines here, many of which are little known or sparsely grown. Everyday it seems like I find another “unknown” varietal on the store shelf. What grapes do you think have yet to shine here in Spain? Where would you like to see winemakers begin to experiment with new grapes or old grapes in new regions?

Well, at Finca Sandoval we only make 5,000 cases a year but we make wines from five grape varieties, and more are on their way, so obviously I am all for working with different varieties and I think every producer in Spain should at least experiment with a couple. I look to grape varieties that adapt themselves to every specific terroir, and couldn’t care less if they’re ‘native’ or ‘imported’ – in the end, most grape varieties in the world originated far from where they are grown now. In addition to Spain’s ‘four great’ red varieties (tempranillo, garnacha, monastrell and mencía) I believe that excellent things can be done here (and sometimes are being done already) with graciano, prieto picudo, bobal, trepat, rufete, parraleta, callet, baboso… And some international varieties too, of course – Alicante bouschet (garnacha tintorera), syrah, petit verdot, marselan (a recent cross of cabernet sauvignon and grenache), touriga nacional, cabernet sauvignon are the most promising ones. Then we could go on and on about white varieties!

I’d like to thank Victor for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. Also I’d like to suggest that any of you with a bit of Spanish under your belt make sure to check out elMundovino.

Till soon, Ryan Opaz

  • jens at cincinnati w

    I love the Finca Sandoval! Big Spanish Syrah! Makes me want to go get a bottle right now and it's only 9:30 am here in Ohio! jens at cincinnati wine casa

  • jens at cincinnati wine

    I love the Finca Sandoval! Big Spanish Syrah! Makes me want to go get a bottle right now and it’s only 9:30 am here in Ohio!

    jens at cincinnati wine casa

  • Pingback: Catavino » Grape Profile - Mencía "A site about Spanish and Portuguese wines."

  • http://www.moraswines.com Rich Mora

    We are featuring the 2005 Fincal Sandoval at a wine dinner of 6 wines imported by Jorge Ordonez Nov 13 at a local restaurant here in Long Island. Looking forward to all the wines, the Sandoval should be great!