With his tinted rectangular glasses and baseball cap hiding what appears to be a thick head of unruly black hair, he could easily pass for the Food Channel’s newest hipster celebrity chef. His effusive passion for the wines he imports from the Iberian Peninsula’s farthest reaches is infectious — so much so, that even when a particular wine might not appeal, it’s easy to understand why he’s intent on championing it to his American customers.
As an importer, Pastor has a definite point of view: He’s all about natural winemaking, minimal manipulation and traditional methods, letting what wine geeks like me call “terroir” — or a sense of place — shine through. He sums it up more succinctly by saying he works with producers who “don’t fuck around with their wines.”
So the products he represents are often made with wild, indigenous yeasts; they’re fermented and aged in oak barrels, stainless steel or cement tanks — as local tradition demands.
They taste like they “should” rather than like they “can.”
His Rioja lineup is illustrative. Made by relative newcomer Bodegas Hermanos Peciña (founded in 1992), the estate is already widely recognized for producing wines that truly show the “character” of Rioja. They’re made primarily from Tempranillo, dry-farmed on arid, windswept plains, conditions that tend to promote complexity and intensity.
Tasting through several of its organically farmed wines, a strong house style emerges. Among the most traditional of Spanish wines, they can be aged in American oak casks for a significant period before release. Yet the oak is wonderfully integrated in these examples. And they’re filled with appealingly dark fruit, earth and mouthwatering minerality, revealing progressively more interesting secondary flavors with age: coffee, leather, tobacco, herbs, subtle spice.
From their un-oaked 2009 Joven ($14) to the 2001 Reserva ($34), these are perfectly balanced “food wines” that would be a welcome addition on any dinner table.
Also look for Jose’s 2008 Benaza Godello ($14). From the northwestern region of Galicia, this uncommon white splits the difference between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Completely un-oaked, it picks up surprising richness from being aged “sur lie” (i.e., on spent yeast cells following fermentation) for several months before bottling. The rounded acidity is so well integrated it’s almost hidden by the fruit, which deliciously tends toward ripe melon, pink grapefruit and lime.
I often recommend that people “buy by importer” because a favorite importer’s logo (e.g., Kermit Lynch or Leonardo LoCascio) indicates the style of wine that’s likely inside the bottle. Now, when I peruse the Spanish section at a retail shop, I’ll know that the “Jose Pastor Imports” mark promises wines that are filled with appropriately interesting, subtle flavors true to the region — because no one fucks around with Jose’s wines.
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