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Welcome to Cigales

Between Ribera del Duero and the northern borders of Portugal is a small enclave in the middle of the high desert. It is hard to believe that this area used to be a Roman winemaking center, but indeed, rosé wine from the tempranillo and garnacha grapes has long reigned. The hearty, rustic wine was transported long distances through the Middle Ages and there are even indications it was brought on ships to the New World. Read on…

Today the vineyard area surrounding the small medieval village of the same name includes cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and merlot, which are usually mixed in some proportion with verdejo, albillo, and sauvignon blanc to make rose and claret. Sandy topsoils and marl make for fresh, fruit-driven wines. The clay bits absorb water during the spring to retain for the deep-rooted vines during the scorching, dry summer months. The area is often buried under snow in the winter and frost in the spring is a risk. Curiously, the locals burrow underground to make their wine, having carved out mile after mile in a subterranean winemaking network. Partly to protect the new wine from extreme day-to-night temperatures, and partly because it looks cool, the labyrinth only shows its expanse via the iceberg-like chimneys that dot the landscape. The chimneys of course being necessary to carry away the noxious carbon dioxide otherwise trapped below. Here the wines were pressed, stored and bottled. Now modern facilities with their fanciful temperature-controlled machines and precision winemaking have taken over. The network has mostly been turned into a series of meriendas, or snack shacks, now used mostly on social occasions where the townsmen take aperitif or digestif away from the townswomen.

Because of how dark the local rose, called claret, is the locals call it el ojo de pajaro, which means the bird’s eye. Rose usually rolls out by Christmas, or at least in time for the Three Kings celebration in early January. But claret is a different beast. It is fermented like red wine, but is left on the skins for a few more days than regular rose and relies on indigenous yeasts to kick start fermentation. At the end of the sugar converting to alcohol, the wine sits in a quiet cool place while gravity does its business and sediment gathers. There is often some filtration, but it relies mostly on settling. Because of this longer process, the wines aren’t debuted until Holy Week in April the following spring after the previous year’s harvest. Clarete is full-bodied, with a dark cherry red color, bright acidity, and high alcohol (14%+). The bush vines planted near the Pisuerga river, a tributary of the grand Duero river lend weight, tannin, and structure to the wines.







Cigales: Rosé, Majuelos and the Secret Beneath the Street

The streets are completely deserted and the only sound is the rustling of plastic, fluorescent bead ropes hanging from door frames of the bars along the perimeter of the town square. In the background there is a soft clanking of dishes being hustled through soapy water on their way to a drying rack. Under calcified, shingled rooftops, children engage in verbal sparring before their flan de huevo sugar high disintegrates into tears and tantrums. La siesta is not far behind. The bead strands part and out walk two men preparing to smoke, clarete in hand.

Cigales is a small farming community of 5,000 in western Spain. They've been making wine since before Ferdinand of Aragon disguised himself as a mule driver in an attempt to get close to Isabel the Catholic (he did, they married in 1469, and together conquered the world).