Pulchrum Crespiello 2003
wine pixies

Pulchrum Crespiello 2003

All good wines have something unique about them, but in any quest for uniqueness it would be difficult to match the Pulchrum 2003, a product of Bodegas y Viñedos Pablo in the Cariñena area of the Aragón region of Spain. The grape is the Vidadillo de Almonacid, known over the centuries as Crespiello. The source grapes for this wine were planted in 1900 in limestone soils and see some harsh dry conditions. Only two vineyards in Spain produce this nearly extinct grape. The grapes hang low to the ground in bush vines, grow rapidly and need a great deal of pruning and care. These vineyards are situated on two hectares at an altitude of 1500 feet. Fewer than 5000 bottles of the wine are produced.

The name of this wine has Latin antecedents. Pulchrum is a form of the adjective pulcher, meaning beautiful; it would be the related pulcro in present day Spanish, hence readily understood in its own market. In English, the noun pulchritude is a synonym for beauty; the adjective is pulchritudinous. These are what I call “lawyer” words, but I am originally a lawyer, and hence I feel I have the right to call the Pulchrum wine pulchritudinous in every sense of the word (in Latin the figurative meaning is “fine” or “noble”).

Giving the vine the benefit of the doubt, we should hope to find a clone in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian Arctic Island of Spitsbergen, where agricultural seeds are kept in isolated circumstances for the benefit of posterity. Saving a plant is not sufficient reason to put money and sweat into viticulture, however; you do that to produce a fine and unique wine. The effort and risk were worth it in this case.

The 2003 Pulchrum, $52, ages for 16 months in French and American oak before bottling. A medium ruby in color, the nose has grassy elements, herb and dill pickle, characteristic of the American oak, and baking spice and dried fruit from the French oak. The wine has medium plus acid, medium body with notes of red fruit, violet, licorice, vanilla and mocha. Tannins are fine grained, soft and yet persistent through the finish, which is ripe tangy fruit with a floral coating. The exact flavor configuration is satisfying in its newness, and so is the mouthfeel.

I realize fully that the Vidadillo de Almonacid will not be economically viable as an international variety, even if we give it the more accessible name of Crespiello, but if it were less difficult to grow, it would certainly appeal to a wide audience on the grounds of sheer aromatic wealth, flavor and texture. This is structured wine with excellent balance, sophisticated and yet easy to drink, food friendly in every respect and yet bringing its own quality of boldness. It would be convenient to have another wine with which to make an analogy to the Pulchrum, but some wines, like this, are simply beyond category.


Verdict: Unique and well worth getting to know


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The unique and endangered grape varieties of the world are certainly worth saving, but they only have meaning if we make them into wine.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

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