Imanol Garay, the emotions of a wine

Imanol Garay
Imanol Garay

We recently talked about Alfredo Egia, a Basque artisan vigneron who makes Txakolis that delight those who try them. I remember that I finished the article by saying that one of their wines, Hegan Egin, seems to me not only one of the best Txakolis I have ever tasted but also one of the best white wines I know. Alfredo makes this wine in collaboration with Gile Iturri and Imanol Garay.

Today I want to talk about the latter. Who is Imanol Garay? This is a difficult question to answer. Not because saying who he is becomes a complicated task, but rather because describing Imanol is another matter. You don’t describe Imanol with words, be they adjectives or nouns. You have to describe Imanol with emotions, with sensations, with feelings. Actually, Imanol is a man from San Sebastian who produces natural wines in France whose philosophy is based on letting the wines lead their lives. Before I met him, I had read that one of his white wines, Ixilune, had been released on the market in its last vintage as an ancestral wine. The reason for this is that Imanol does not do anything with his wines, but rather, as I have said, he lets them go their own way. Ixilune did not finish the fermentation that year, so far from starting the fermentation again, he decided to release it just as the wine had decided to be. Imanol’s philosophy is that and no other: let his wines move along the path they choose without him intervening in their development.

But Imanol is not just another natural winemaker. We have profusely talked about natural wines and about the different approaches to them, both here in writing and in person on countless occasions. Imanol Garay has nothing to do with all that, quite the opposite. To begin with, Imanol has the gift of expressing himself with words. This is a gift that he has highly developed and that consists above all in the fact that when he starts talking, be it about his wines, be it music or something else, he dazzles you from the first moment. Then he has another much more special gift: Imanol is one of those few producers who expresses himself through his wines. A painter can talk to you about colors and then show you a canvas in which those shades are reflected. A pianist tells you about codas and then captures them on a piano. Imanol speaks to you first of sensations, of emotions, of feelings, of his inner self. Then he gives you a taste of his wine. Then you realize that in the glass there are no primary or secondary aromas, malolactic, fruity, floral scents. In the glass there is passion, there is childhood, there is adolescence, there is maturity, you perceive the last rays of the sun at sunset, there is the freshness of the dawn mist, the caress of the wind through the trees, the clouds surrounding the top of a mountain, memories of your childhood when you went out to play in the fields and the aromas of summer intoxicated you. All this is in their wines, and to capture it Imanol guides you and helps you do it.

For meeting Imanol and his project we went to France, which is where he lives and makes his wines. To be more exact, in the Bearn region, very close to Orthez. There is a town there called Maslacq, a very small town but with its own roundabout and where you would never suspect that there is a winery. Not even standing in the car in front of it, which is as far as the GPS took us. Still, we had to confirm with him that we had arrived.

As I have mentioned, Imanol works in an artisanal and natural way. And he works in an exceptional way. You have to try their wines and let them take over you. Because that’s what they do. I really like their whites. I’ve already talked about Hegan Egin. His Ixilune is a wine that had been on my to-do list for a long time and I was finally able to taste it. It is a wine made with Raffiat de Moncade 50%, Petit Manseng 25% and Petit Courbu 25%, which is aged for about six months in barrels. All this depends on the year and the wine, of course. There are no written rules to do it. And the truth is that I was very excited to be able to taste it with him. It is a very personal wine, not in the sense that Imanol makes it according to his criteria, but rather it is a wine that must be tasted and known because it is not like another. We tasted a vintage in which the wine was still and we also tried the ancestral.

Before continuing, I have to repeat that Imanol wines are pure emotion. You may think that I let myself be influenced by him and by the visit and I am not going to deny that you may be right. It is that you see Imanol climbed to the second row of barrels to get some wine and sitting there he begins to talk to you about wine, like preaching to you from the top. While we taste it, he does not tell you about the percentage of each variety or how long it has been in the barrel. It explains the emotions that wine transmits. What do you want me to say? Their wines excite me. And him too, what the hell.

We tasted more things. Imanol has another white made only with Raffiat de Moncade that was wonderful. So you can see that I am not blinded, a bottled vintage was very closed, with aromas that I did not like, but the vintage that was in a barrel was pure magic. That was another story.

We also tasted his red wines. Imanol makes a wine with Garnacha de Aragón. Then you also have Cabernet Sauvignon and Trapat. Among its reds I am going to stick with Abiatu: Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat. Abiatu is a wine that captivated me from the first moment I picked up the glass. Do not ask me why. I do not know. I only know that while Imanol was talking about wine, I felt what the wine was transmitting to me: emotions. The wine embraced me. I still remember it now and I continue with that emotion I felt in the glass. An extrenmely appealing nose and so personal that I couldn’t stop smelling it and tasting it over and over again. I also liked his Tannat still in the barrel very much.

We had lunch in the cellar surrounded by the barrels and then Imanol began to play a piano that he had there. And time stood still. Also when it comes to playing the piano, Imanol is self-taught. And just like with wines, it makes you enjoy.

In the end I can not say what was the best of that special day. It can be the white wines, it can be the red wines. It can even be listening to him play Txori Txoria by Mikel Laboa. But I think that the best thing was everything, it was having the luck to share a day with Imanol Garay.