Becoming a Master of Wine is fiendishly difficult and very few of those who try – a mere 10% – succeed. Currently, there are, across the globe, only 312 people who have successfully marshalled their resources, diligence and intelligence to make it through the costly three year course and achieve the coveted Master of Wine (MW) qualification. To put that in perspective, there are more qualified rocket scientists worldwide than there are MWs.
According to the Masters of Wine website, “A Master of Wine (MW) is someone who has demonstrated, by way of rigorous examination, a thorough knowledge of all aspects of wine and an ability to communicate clearly.”
Surprisingly, given such deep vinous knowledge, very few MWs actually make wine, and those that do, tend to gravitate towards the traditional, well established wine regions. Not so, ‘El Escoces Volante’ or – as his mother knows him – Norrel Robertson. Hailing from Aberdeen, Norrel produces honest, authentic wines in the ‘wild-west’ landscape of Calatayud in the deep heart of Spain. Based in the area since 2003, Norrel was immediately, and perhaps inevitably, christened ‘El Escoces Volante’ – The Flying Scotsman – by the locals and over time this has become the de facto name of his winery.
Seeing the Calatayud landscape dotted with ancient bush vines, it’s almost impossible not to be swept away by the romanticism of an exile from Scotland’s ‘granite city’ making cutting-edge wines in this central region of Aragón. This is the heartland of red grape variety, Garnacha, and Norrel, a self-confessed ‘Garnachista’ has fully realised the tremendous potential of this varietal in the region.
Norrel’s singular determination to achieve Garnacha greatness reaches its apogee in his, never more aptly named, wine, El Puno (The Fist) Garnacha. This, much fêted and feisty, wine has intense flavours of blackberries, wild raspberries, cedar and peppery undertones. It’s a great wine to drink with classic game dishes but it also, no surprises given its name, pairs perfectly with punchy dishes such as ragout and spicy tomato based recipes.
El Puno needs to age for a few years to give of its best but those seeking instant gratification need not be disheartened as Norrel’s entry level wine, La Multa Old Vine Garnacha, delivers real, ready to drink, complexity at a great price. It’s a huge, rich wine imbued with ripe berry fruit, lots of spice, sweet oak and a long rich finish. Try it with tapas, barbecued beef, lamb or duck.
However, Norrel’s story isn’t simply all about the reds. In recent years, he’s reconnected with his Celtic roots in the most unlikely way. Whilst visiting the vineyards of Rías Baixas in the north-west Spanish region of Galicia, he was astonished to see, carved into the rocks overlooking the vineyards, ancient prehistoric designs identical to those found in Scotland. Seemingly, the Celts took these ancient designs from Galicia to the British Isles thousands of years ago as an act of worship to the elements.
Inspired both by the designs themselves and the striking similarities between the landscapes of Galicia and Scotland, Norrel was moved to make a wine from the white grape that’s indigenous to the region – Albariño. Unsurprisingly, for a man more used to working with the heft and spice of Garnacha, his Albariño is gutsier than most. It has varietal aromas of peach, honeysuckle and stone fruits with creamy mineral notes and is the natural partner to grilled fish or oysters.
The wine, The Cup and Rings Albarino, is named after the ancient prehistoric drawings carved into the rocky outcrops of Galicia and Scotland and exists as Norrel’s homage to the Celts. Cheers – or as I believe Scottish Celts would say – Slàinte mhath.