Alta Pavina is a winery located in the Castilla y Léon appellation, which is a pretty broad area in the north of Spain. Ribera del Duero, a slightly more familiar wine region, is located within this region. The vineyards are located near the town of Valladolid and the winery has assembled quite a team to help this project take off. Not only is their general manager Diego Ortega, a fairly successful hotelier, but the consulting winemaker is Claude Bourgignon, whose list of other projects includes, but is not limited to, Daumas Gassac, Chateau Le Puy, Harlan Estate and Domaine la Romanée Conti, all highly regarded--and very expensive--wineries. With quite an impressive background, it’s a wonder that M. Bourgignon would choose to work on a relatively new project in Spain. In my opinion, this only proves that Alta Pavina must be on to something by growing Pinot Noir at high altitudes on the slopes of the Duero River.
Per European Union regulations, each country in Europe has their own government regulated systems of quality control. In Spain, like much of Europe, there are essentially four levels of classification that fall under these guidelines: 1) Vino de Mesa, or table wine. These wines are rarely seen outside the country and have very little restrictions on how they can be produced. 2) Vino de la Tierra, or country wine. These have slightly higher restrictions on production, but are more about ensuring a place of origin than production standards. 3) Denominación de Origen (DO), or Denomination of Origin. This is the first level of “quality wine” because it has regulations in place for controlling wine production. Each DO has a Consejo Regulador, or Regulatory Council, that evaluates and approves all wine produced in the region. And finally 4) Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOC / DOCa), or Denomination of Qualified Origin. This is the highest level of classification and as such, only two regions have yet to earn this status: Priorat and Rioja. More recently Spain has also introduced a certification called Vino de Pago, which is essentially a vineyard designated wine, and stands outside the traditional classification system.
Despite the seemingly ladder-like system of quality, many of Spain’s best wines are not in fact found in the top level. Case in point, Alta Pavina Pinot Noir. Alta Pavina produces wines that fall into the Vino de la Tierra category, and thus are on the lower end of the ladder. The quality, however, easily rivals DOC wine and in many cases far surpasses it. Because these designation are largely based on areas of production and traditional winemaking procedures, there is a lot of wine made that doesn’t qualify for DOC (or even DO) status that is quite exceptional. While this can easily be construed as a flaw in the classification system, I don’t think it is. In my opinion, the way the DO / DOC standards are constructed make them most effective in protecting the traditional way of producing wine in a particular region. The regulations ensure typicity more than quality.
Coincidentally, I also made pulled pork sandwiches from leftover pork tenderloin when I drank this wine. It was an excellent pairing. While pinot noir is typically a lighter, more elegant style of wine, the Alta Pavina is a bit spicier and contains a good amount of fruit character. These traits allowed it to stand up much better to the sweet and tangy pulled pork. Moral of the story? The traditional way of doing things is great, but there are also some incredible innovative producers out there. Don’t be afraid to try something new and unusual.