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Wine Chords Posts

La Setera’s Juan García

No, Juan García is not a footballer in the Spanish second division. It’s a local hero grape variety with some potential for stardom on a national level.

The grape is most likely to be found in western Castilla, towards the border with Portugal, and it’s maybe at its best in Arribes del Duero. There are not many varietals made though. It was traditionally used to strengthen wines from garnacha and other soft-skinned grapes. Arribes is one of the oldest wine growing regions in Spain, with roots back to the Phoenicians. But it wasn’t untill the 1990’s that they started to create a DO region, that today covers only 600 hectares of vineyard.

  

The bodega is located in Fornillos de Fermoselle, between Salamanca and Zamora. From here you can look over the border to the Portuguese side of the Duero/Douro river. La Setera means she who handles muschrooms (after seta = mushroom). But the winery is equally famous for making artisanal cheese from the local goat and cow’s milk. They have also started to make beer. Patxi and his wife Sarah have six hectares of own vineyards in Fermoselle and the neighbouring Pinilla. It’s almost exclusively old vines, with Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties such as tempranillo, touriga nacional, bruñal, rufete, alongside red verdeja (sic!). They also do some experiments with amphora, resulting in a juan garcía-mencía-bruñal-bastardo-rufete wine called Tinaja Crianza, aged first in clay, then oak.

The tinto joven is made as a joven in steel tanks, to accentuate the fruitiness, and it’s 100% juan garcía. This is really small-scale with only 2.000 bottles made of the young entry-level wine.

Francisco José “Patxi” Martínez in his small artisanal bodega

Juan García Tinto Joven 2016 (La Setera)

Dark cherry red with violet rim. Wild berries, elderberry, pepper, stony minerals. It’s very fresh, textural, with evident tannins, carbonic traces and a light bitterness in the finish. You could maybe call it a bit rustic, but I love it.

Price: Medium

Food: A variety of meat, such as game, salads and cheeses

 

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A Jura Chardonnay from Rolet

Here is another tasty Jura playing with oxidation, this time from Domaine Rolet.

Rolet is found in the historic town of Arbois, Louis Pasteur’s homeplace. The domaine was created in 1942, and with 58 hectares it’s now the second largest producer in Jura. The founder’s four children are now running the domaine.

Key words have always been traditional organic farming, ploughing, hand-harvesting (in those steep slopes), ripe grapes, fine-tuned use of wood, and controlled oxidation to obtain what winemaker Guy Rolet calls “a little hazelnut nose”. In fact some have called Jura’s white wines something between a burgundy and a manzanilla sherry.

This wine was fermented and aged in wood barrels for between one and two years.

Côtes du Jura Le Dent de Charnet 2016 (Dom. Rolet)

Deep yellow. Intense aroma, nutty, buttery, with lime and some salty tones. Full and rich with a good tannic grip, and decent acidity.

Normally this oaky character could have been too much, but it’s something with the lightly, controlled oxidized style and the power that makes this work. Furthermore it’s better after some days in the fridge.

Price: Medium

Food: Grilled seafood, cheeses like the local comté, salads, light meat

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Supurao: The sweet Rioja

It took an ethnographer to discover this old tradition of dessert wines in Rioja. In fact it was Miguel Martínez’ interest in this particular wine that brought him into vinegrowing. He first made it in 2012, but it was only after a two year battle against the wine authorities that they accepted it. Thus Miguel’s supurao is the first, and at the moment the only sweet wine that comes under the DOC Rioja.

Soon these shelves will be filled with bunches of grapes

Miguel can be found in the small hamlet of Sojuela, his home village, in the slopes of the Moncalvillo mountain range between the Najerilla and Irégua valleys. Miguel says, before the industrialization, men and women from La Rioja went to the vineyards before harvest, picking the best grapes for their own consumption. They were stored on top of the houses, hung in the most ventilated, safe places, stayed there all winter, ageing, concentrating their juices, drying.

In the old days supurao was drunk at celebrations, a tradition Miguel remembers the old folks in his own family talked about. It could also be made in the community, each neighbour contributing with his or her grapes.

For the actual wine the bunches of garnacha and tempranillo were dried in a small shed, with room for 6.000 bunches to make 600 half bottles of dessert wine. It has typically low alcohol (this one is 12%, the previous vintage 9.5), and is light and fresh. After pressing it fermented in steel with part of the skins, then it underwent a slow fermentation, around fifty days, with several rackings, then a couple of months in barrel.

Ojuel is Miguel’s village without the first and last letter, the x marks his respect of tradition

Oxuel Supurao 2016 (Ojuel)

Strawberry red. Straight-forward, simple and lovely aromas of mature raspberries, cherries, elderberry, with a sweet touch. Smooth texture, not very sweet and with a fresh acidity to match, there is pure fruit all the way. I barely believe it when Miguel tells it has around 150 grams residual sugar per litre.

Price: Medium

Food: Light desserts, pastries, cheeses, patés

 

 

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Caprices in the Douro

Folias de Baco was one of the greatest revelations at the Simplesmente Vinho fair. It started at the dinner in Porto’s Typographia Progresso restaurant, where we were served the Uivo Pet Nat 2017, a joyful start of an inspiring evening.

The word folia evokes something merry and bright, joyful, and capricious maybe. And this can be a first impression of Tiago Sampaio’s wines. But behind this is yearlong studies and hard work.

Tiago Sampaio with the Uivo Renegado

He is based in Alijó in the sub-region of Cima Corgo. This has traditionally been a stronghold for Moscatel wines in the Douro, and his parents delivered to the famous coop in Favaios, maybe the leading producer of wines of that kind in the past. Here Tiago mixes tradition with new ideas and what he learned in his studies. As an example, his love for pinot noir derives from his studies in Oregon.

His Uivo range was created in 2016. With these limited editions he wants to explore alternative vinification techniques, discover the potential of varieties, but never forgetting tradition. The Uivo Renegado Vinhas Velhas 2017 is a field blend of both red and white grapes (around 50/50%). This, and because of the turbidity, makes it impossible for him to bottle it under DOC. It’s made with whole clusters, foot-trodden and with four days of skin-contact.

Uivo Renegado Vinhas Velhas 2017 (Tiago Sampaio, Folias de Baco)

Light red, cloudy. Strawberry, raspberry, some vegetal/herbal elements. Smooth and glyceric, but with some structure and with a hint of grapefruity bitterness in the end.

Price: Medium

Food: Tasty fish and shellfish, and I would believe perfect for a smorgasbord (smörgåsbord in Swedish)

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A Syrah from the Rhône Ranger

Here is a syrah from Randall Grahm, who has called himself a Rhône ranger. Always enthusiastic, Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard never stands still. But his love for the grapes and styles from this French valley never dies.

(Credit: Bonny Doon)

Grahm says this vintage was exceptionally cool and elegant in the Santa María valley of California. He uses more whole clusters than before for this wine, and the stems add to the freshness and herbal character. 25% were not pressed. Natural yeast, 4 days fermentation at controlled temperatures. Then 18 months in French oak.

Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2009 (Bonny Doon Vineyard)

Deep cherry red. Fresh, minty aromatic character, lots of red and dark fruit (blackberry), some smoke and some black pepper too. It’s bold, but not without elegance. Medium tannins, more acidity.

Price: High

Food: Roast, game, a variety of meat

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Exopto: A new star arises in the Rioja Horizon

It’s two years or so since I first met Tom Puyaubert and tasted his range of wines, and I instantly knew that this was something to take notice of. I have tasted some occational wines since then, and they have never disappointed. Now at wine bistró Guardaviñas in Logroño, capital of La Rioja, I tasted the Horizonte again. Read about the visit here.

Tom Puyaubert, Exopto

Tom is one of the so-called Rioja’n’Rollers, a new generation vintners that put their focus on terroir. Exopto comprises 10 ha, divided into 15 micro-plots, of 30-90 years old bush-trained vines. He has chosen the vineyards to be able to blend from different types of soil, orientation, altitude and so on. The winery is in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa), the tempranillo vineyards are found on calcareous soils in Ábalos (Rioja Alta, but near Labastida, San Vicente, Laguardia, i.e. the road that snakes in and out of Alta and Alavesa). For Tom the Atlantic influence of this site is ideal to express the refined fruit and the complexity of the variety. The garnacha and graciano is mostly grown in sandy soil near the Monte Yerga range in the south-east, where maturation especially of the garnacha is easier. The altitude is around 1.000 meters (in Rioja Baja, imagine).

Horizonte is based on tempranillo with around 10% each of garnacha and graciano. The fermentation was in oak vats and concrete tanks at 22-26ºC. It was macerated for 21 days, and aged 12 months in French oak barrels (20% first use).

Horizonte de Exopto 2016 (Exopto)

Dark, dense ruby colour. On the nose blackberry, blackcurrant, a second layer of roast and subtle vanilla in the background. Good concentration, young tannins, very fresh, still in its youth, and will keep for long.

Yes, the wine is young. Yes, it’s maybe too young. But if you don’t grab it now you will never see it, and never taste it again, because the production is so small. The best would obviously be to buy some and put them aside for a few years.

Price: Medium

Food: Roasts, game, stews, other meat dishes

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5 Riojas at Guardaviñas, Logroño

I’m in Rioja visiting some producers on the right bank of Ebro. It’s then only natural to stay in the capital of the La Rioja region. Guardaviñas is a relatively new venture in Logroño’s old quarter. It’s run by Alberto Ruiz, who has lived in London and operates La Cava de Pyrène, a branch of one of the organizers of the Real Wine fair. Guardaviñas is different from most others in Logroño, including the bulk of wine-holes along the tapas trail. Alberto’s place specializes in wines from small artisan producers, mostly local, but also some from other parts of Spain and the world outside.

 Alberto Ruiz

I love these places where you order a couple of wines, tasty small bites to go with them, and after a while a collaboration starts between the sommelier and you. He or she maybe comes up with some more glasses of odd wines, often from un-known producers. Here I opened with Ijalba Maturana Blanca 2016, a light yellow, clean and correct organic certified wine from Viña Ijalba (just outside Logroño), a pioneer in the area. Then my waiter, formerly sommelier at Michelin star restaurant Echaurren, came with a really interesting bottle, Viña el Pago 2014. This is a garnacha blanca from Azpillaga Urarte. The natural wine movement hasn’t taken off in Rioja. But here is a no-nothing added wine with extended skin-contact from Lanciego (Lantziego), Álava. The colour was yellow towards orange, and the aroma showed mature apples, white flowers, some peel, and in the mouth it was full, a bit honeyed, but with decent acidity.

  

The kitchen delivers both small pinchos, somewhat bigger raciones and full dinner. The influences are from several places, some from England (as Alberto’s wife is from there), from Spain, and from a variety of modern cuisine. And there is something for everyone, vegetarians and vegans too. I had croquettes of jamón ibérico, foie with fig marmelade and filet of ecologic pig, from a nearby farmer, served with red peppers and fried potatoes. The first two were smaller and served at approximately the same time. The wines arrived one by one, and I felt at home, made myself comfortable, and tried a new one before the previous glass was finished. So at a time there were two dishes, four glasses and a lot of bottles at the table. There was a great deal of flexibility here, so you could really “keep calm and drink wine”, as a cardboard sign tells you to.
The third wine was kindly offered by my waiter, who has a special interest in it. A carbonic maceration, vintage 2017, the kind of wine that Rioja made a lot of in the past. This wine, from producer De Luís R (also Lanciego), is not organic -yet-, and not very expressive, but well on the fruity side and showed nice violet and blueberry tones, and some tar.
Next wine was a beauty, again from Lanciego municipality, but the small settlement of Viñaspre, further up the road when coming from Laguardia. Some will have guessed that it’s from the new star Roberto Oliván. Xérico Viñaspre 2015 (Tentenublo) from mainly tempranillo, with some 10% of viura, white grapes: Brilliant stuff, dark cherry red, the aroma is very expressive, both flowery and with a lot of berries (blackberry, blackcurrant) and with some earthy notes too. It has a concentrated fruit expression, lots of rounded tannins and lovely fruits all the way in the lingering finish.

The fifth wine was Horizonte de Exopto 2016 (Exopto), one of Frenchman Tom Puyaubert’s contributions to the new wave of terroirdriven Rioja wines. Dark, dense, with blackberry, blackcurrant, a second layer of roast and subtle vanilla in the background. Good concentration, young tannins, very fresh, still in its youth, and will keep for long, but I love it already. Read more in the wine of the week column.

There was in fact a sixth wine, served blind. The waiter revealed that it was the same Xérico as before, but while the former had been opened two weeks ago and served by Coravin (you know that needle and gas system whose aim is to keep the quality of the wines after taking out a tiny quantity), this one was just opened. One could hardly reckognize it as the same wine. While I preferred the fruit in the former, he liked the latter better. I think it has to do with the slow airing in the Coravin version.

There was jazz on the air, from I arrived untill I left: Reed greats like Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman, then Glenn Miller taking over. “My favourite things” in a trombone version when our “improvisations” were over and I was about to leave. All right, I thought as I walked into the cool Logroño spring, now at least I have revealed some of my favourite things. As a joke it was not that funny, but it was absolutely true.

 

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1701, biodynamic Franciacorta

1701 was the first certified biodynamic producer in Franciacorta. I met Rhona and Federico at the Real Wine fair last year, and I tasted the Brut again at a London wine bar recently.

They are located in an old magnificent villa near Cazzago San Martino, Franciacorta, and the property includes around 10 hectares of vineyards.

Rhona Cullinane and Federico Stefieni (London last year)

The production is low-intervention, with no dosage and sulphur only when absolutely needed.

This wine is a blend of Chardonnay 85% and Pinot Nero 15%. Whole bunches are put into stainless steel, and the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, as usual. It stays 30 months on lees before the final bottling. It’s just lightly filtrated.

1701 Franciacorta Brut (Soc. Agr. 1701)

Light yellow with green tones, creamy mousse. Fresh aroma of citrus, mature apples, with some chalky, mineral notes. Appealing, fresh fruit in the mouth, and an acidity that contributes to the lingering finish.

Price: Medium

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Orange at Egget, Stavanger

Mariano Taberner is one of the highest esteemed makers of natural wine near the Spanish eastern coast. Last time in the region I almost managed to make it up to his place, but I didn’t manage due to unpredicted circumstances.

Last Tuesday I was surprisingly able to taste two of his wines at Egget (The Egg) in Stavanger, Norway, close to where I live. This is a unique place in my part of the world, a restaurant with a focus on natural wines, and with well-prepared dishes to go with them. Here is a report from a former visit.

This time we were accompanied by sommelier Mikela Tomine, wine student in the WSET system, and Nikita, from the kitchen. I was accompanied by my daughter, and they easily juggled her vegan options.

Egget’s Mikela preparing a cheeseboard for a customer

The wine is made in the small village  La Portera in DO Utiel-Requena, Valencia. Bodegas Cueva dates back to the 18th century, and still only uses traditional methods. Here is full respect for the environment, biodiversity, and health too, claims Mariano Taberner. The main grapes for reds are the central/northern tempranillo and the more bobal, a more local grape (and the variety behind our other Cueva wine that night).

The average production is only 20.000 bottles. All wines are made in the most natural way, from organically grown grapes, spontaneous fermentation, no chemicals, unfined and unfiltered – nothing added, nothing taken away. The wine in question is based on the varieties tardana and macabeo, The local tardana is so named because of the very late ripening, and still at the end of October the alcohol, or more correctly: the sugar content, is very low. Macabeo is then harvested one month ago, and the finished macabeo is slowly blended with the freshly made tardana. Fermentation for both is largely with skins. The two undergo the secondary, malo-lactic fermentation together.

Mariano Taberner (credit: B. Cueva)

Orange Tardana & Macabeo 2015 (Bodegas Cueva)

Deep orange colour, slightly cloudy. Aroma of orange peel, white flowers, and a touch of tropical fruits and white pepper. Round and luscious in the mouth, grapey, with just enough acidity to keep it together, and an agreeable orange peel-bitterness in the finish.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with skate wing and celeriac, with slices of green apple, and an aïoli with less garlic than usual. But it should go with a variety of fish and seafood, the rice dishes of the region (paella style), vegetarian/vegan dishes, light meat, carpaccio and more

 

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On the Friulian path to Slovenia

Carso, or Kras, is the Friulian region that continues even if the Italian border is crossed. In fact the Slovenians proposed a two-country designation, to showcase all things in common, from soil and climate to political history.

San Michele del Carso is where the Castello di Rubbia is found. Here are reminiscents from the Bronze Age, as well as the First World War, anti-atomic bunkers from the “cold war” and much more.

Here in the hillside over San Michele is the historic Ušje vineyard, covering 13 hectares. The typically Carsic terrain: a rocky terrain composed of limestone and red soil, originated from a specific geological phenomenon, the so-called carsism. The landscape enjoys a Mediterranean climatic influence.

Terrano, or teran, is one of the traditional grape varieties, together with the white vitovska and also Istrian malvasia. Recent research carried out by the Universities of Trieste and the University of Ljubljana shows that terrano wine helps the body to assimilate iron, and that the content of antioxidants such as anthocyanins, polyphenols and resveratrol are higher than in most known red wines.

The winery employs long macerations and fermentations with indigenous yeasts. Depending on the vintage, the macerations will range from ten days to three months. Some times the wine is transfered to used Slavonian oak barriques. This quote says a lot: “Following the example of nature, we also reject standards. We just feel the wine.”

This particular wine is made from 100% terrano vines of an average age of 18 years. They were hand-picked at the end of September, de-stemmed, fermented in steel with indigenous yeasts at controlled temperature (20°), macerated on the skins for up to twenty days. It was then aged for more or less 15 months on lees. Malo-lactic fermentation and stabilization came when it came, and the wine was bottled after 3 years without filtration. Partial maturation took place in used Slavonian oak barrels.

Terrano Carso-Kras 2013 (Castello di Rubbia)

Dark red, young colour. Aroma of violets, red fruits (raspberry, blueberry), hints of pepper and undergrowth. Fresh and vibrant in the mouth, good concentration, with an appealing tannic grip, and an acidity that contributes to the long finish.

Price: Medium

Food: Various meat (the winery suggests carsolina – kraški filet, and how could we contradict?), cold cuts and salami. Another local dish is grilled eel

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