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Wine of the Week

An Escoda red at Bar Brutal

I am in Barcelona for two natural wine fairs (Vins Nus and Vella Terra). And I have just finished a well-prepared meal at the city’s perhaps most iconic natural wine bar Brutal. And what could be more appropriate than to have one of Joan Ramón Escoda’s wines as this week’s pick?

Joan Ramón is one of the owners, and he was the one who brought my attention to this fabulous bar a few years ago, though he has no active role in it.

Waiter Lorenzo Gonelli entertaining the guests

Small plates like tuna tataki and ‘sweetbreads’ (here: pig’s cheeks) and cecina de vaca, lightly smoked ham from cow, were accompanied by several wines: An inspiring, fresh, yellow, barrel-aged xarel.lo Essencial 2017 (J. Rubió) from Penedès, Qvevri, a full thick, earthy, sauvignon blanc from Loire, with some residual sugar (made by a distributor of Georgian wines in France), a terret-dominated blend called Rouge fruit 16/ Rouge de Causse 15  (Petit Gimios), a dark, green herb-scented Minervois. To round off it all I had the floral, yellow and rosa-hued Súpertock Ancestral (Bodegas Cueva), a fresh valencian pét nat from the tardana grape.

But in-between: A timely reunion with the following wine.

The owners have grown their grapes organically in the Conca de Barberà since 1996, biodynamic since 2003 and without additions of sulphur (or anything else) since the 2007 harvest.

This wine is made from the varieties cabernet franc, cariñena, garnacha tinta and merlot. It stays 10 months on the lees in inox, and clocks in at a relatively low 13% alcohol.

Nas del Gegant 2017 (Escoda-Sanahuja)
Dark red. Cherry and blackberry aromas, with flowers and a mineral touch. Lively in the mouth, with a fresh acidity.

Price: Medium

Food: Very versatile; aromatic and light meat, cured ham, cheeses, rice dishes, tasty salads, and much more…

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Articles

La Loba, a new voice in Soria

Ana Carazo is La Loba, “The Wolfess”, a passionate wine woman who loves the work in the field and in the cellar. I met her in Matanza de Soria together with Eduardo “Edu” Catalina Chuti, who is responsible for vineyards, and Gabriel Oprea from Romania, who lends a helping hand.

Ana, Eduardo and Gabriel

Ana, trained at the school of oenolody and viticulture in Requena (Valencia), now manages the centuries-old vineyards handed-down from her grand-father. We walked through the icy vineyards a freezing cold April day. A lot of those vineyards are old pre-phylloxera. There is a great variety of soil in small places, mostly sand, clay and loamy soil. It’s more fine in the “north” (the Matanza de Soria area) compared to the area where we find the Dominio de Atauta and the Rudeles wineries (see an overview here). As Ana explains, “the river Duero marks a border between what we call the north and the south”.

The green door in Matanza, featured on the labels

Matanza is a small settlement. The inhabitants are very few, but the extention is large. The name, meaning ‘killing’, comes from a battle during the Moorish times when everyone was killed.

 

From the vineyard Quintanilla de Tres Barrios

 

Sheep’s wool as “manure”, same vineyard

Ana’s family has 1-1,5 hectares of vineyards. Eduardo counts on 7, that he uses for various purposes, both here, and he sells some to Atauta’s Atalayas project too. He delivers wines with different profiles for the different villages.

Even this cold, in Matanza we have more problems with goat’s kid and rabbit than frost, explains Ana.

Ana’s vineyards are marked by green sticks, while Eduardo’s are orange and pink

We climbed uphill for some magnificent views and a tasting.

The La Loba brand comes from old vines, 90 years+, and only pre-phylloxera. They are very structured, potent and rich wines. Ana calls La Lobita (‘the wolf cub’) “a different concept”. Still structured wines from old vines, but also with a small percentage of the white albillo grape. This wine is fermented in lightly-charred American oak barrels with open top, they are de-stemmed by hand, then a light punching of the cap, whole grapes, and a light pressing.

La Lobita 2016, fermented for 5 months with natural yeast and no manipulation of temperature. The French oak was toasted “al punto” (just enough), 20-25% albillo was used, contrary to the normal 5%. “Every year is a different world, with its own expression, and one has to see what needs to be done”, says Ana.

Cherry red with violet tones; aroma of red fruits, and a slight caramel tone; very fresh in the mouth and with good structure.

La Loba 2011: “This was very special for me”, Ana says, “as it was my first vintage”. Here is only new oak (14 months, 2 barrels were bought), but it was a good year for this oak ageing, a year with a lot of structure.

Some development in colour; still some oak, but lots of fruit, rounded tannins, and freshness and warmth side by side. (14% alc.)

La Loba 2014: Brigh cherry colour; red fruits, some blackcurrant, aromatic spices; lots of taste/power, but also finesse, great elegance, fresh – the most elegant of the lot, even if it has the highest alcohol level (14,5). It spent 10 months in the big barrels.

La Loba 2015: Considerably darker, and with a dense colour; darker fruits, blackcurrant and blackberry, but also spices; still it’s lively and vibrant in the mouth (maybe due to the cold winter, even for Soria), and a long lasting finish. All in all very balanced.

These are short notes, but it was a special time and place: Over an old cellar we were sitting on a tiny veranda overlooking wide plains of the Soria province. Ana and her friends prepared a delicious meal while we were there; cutlets with kidneys and vegetables, from ‘cordedo lechal de Soria’, the young lamb that can be so delicious in this part of Castilla.

Ana down in that old cellar, owned by Eduardo’s mother

As you can see on this map we are near the border of the DO Ribera del Duero, in the eastern part. Most of the Soria province is high-altitude. In Matanza we are 900 metres above sea level. The winters are long and cold, the rainfall is moderate, there can be late spring frosts. In this continental climate the summer temperatures are obviously higher. But the summers are short, and even then the nights are quite cool. This gives a long growth cycle, with healthy ripening and high quality.

The majority of the vines are pre-phylloxera, and the pruning system means that all tasks must be carried out manually. Almost everything is tempranillo, or tinta del país, as it’s known here.

“We always wanted to know what essence came from those grapes of century-old vineyards, that tasted so good”, says Ana, “and that also in oenological parameters they reached optimal points. When we in 2011 were given the chance to started this project, a dream had become a reality.”

Edu insisted on a photo shoot in that clayey-icey vineyard, cold not only for a visitor from the north

 

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Wine of the Week

Texier’s crazy cat

Éric Texier’s Chat Fou (‘Crazy Cat’) is a long time favourite. (Here is the 14 vintage, and here is another wine-of-the-week entry by Mr. Texier.)

Texier has a natural approach, and his wines are always clean and pure expressions of grapes and terroirs.
This vintage was tasted at London’s RAW fair in March 2018. It’s made from a typical Rhône blend, mainly grenache, but with some 10-15% of white grapes, that add to the elegance. Destemmed, spontaneously fermented in steel, matured in used barrel for 10 months. No sulphites added.

Éric and Laurence Texier at the RAW fair last year

Chat Fou 2016 (É. Texier)

Dark cherry red. Aromas of red fruits, raspberry, cherry, chalk, and slightly spicy. Juicy, luscious on the palate, with a touch of fine tannins, just enough acidity, and in fact quite long.

Price: Low

 

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Wine of the Week

Maestro’s Lovamor

Alfredo Maestro puts out one delicious natural wine after another. (Read about a visit to his Peñafiel winery here.) This week’s pick is his skin-contact albillo, here in the 2016 vintage.

The wine stayed 6 days with skin-contact, then on lees for 4 months.

The white Lovamor 2016 is a high altitude albillo real (770-1.000m) from more 100-120 year old vines in Olmos de Peñafiel with one week skin-contact, and due to the cold Castilian winter it didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation.

Alfredo refuses to use any DO, so his wines are labelled VT Castilla y León, whether they originate from the Ribera del Duero/ Valtiendas area, Gredos, or occasionally Cigales or other places.

Lovamor 2016 (Alfredo Maestro)

Gold to orange colour. Apple and melon in the aroma, flowery, and also lovely, light citrus. Quite rich and complex in the mouth, slightly pétillant, and a lovely, lively citrusy acidity.

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Wine of the Week

Chablis, naturally

Château de Béru is located in the small village Béru, to the east of Chablis town. It has been a property of the family of the same name since the 15th century. Athénaïs de Béru has been in charge since 2004, and now cultivates 15 hectares according to biodynamic principles.

Montserre is made from a single vineyard on the flatlands of the valley, where the soils contain mainly limestone with fragments of rock.

This wine was spontaneously fermented, then spent 3 months in steel and 3 months in old oak vats. There was no fining nor filtering, and no sulphur was added.

Montserre 2015 (Château de Béru)

Dark yellow, orange tones. Developed aromas of mature yellow fruits (mandarins, yellow tomatoes, mango), and a slightly bitter peel tone. Round and tasteful, quite powerful, and with a balancing acidity. A cool wine from a warm Chablis vintage.

Price: Medium

Food: A variety of fish (both red and white) and seafood, salads, tasteful cheeses, try with lightly spiced food too

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Wine of the Week

Sabre’s Burgundy

Fanny Sabre was thrown into the vineyard, so to speak. Studying law at the university, her father suddenly died, and she took over the estate. Soon she discovered she actually liked the work. In the beginning she got help from Philippe Pacalet, natural wine guru in the area. It was adieu to conventional farming for good, and soon Fanny was ready to walk the path alone, carrying out most of the tasks herself.

Once here stood a local fort, and you see that here is too much history to dive into in a short note like this. So we come back to it in a later post.

Manual ploughing is employed, and no herbicides are used. Red wines, like this one, undergo whole-bunch maceration in concrete vats. Indigenous yeasts work, before the wines are aged for at least a year, without racking or fining and with only one very light stirring. Then they are transferred to stainless steel vats for three to four months, and lightly filtrated.

Monthélie 2016 (Fanny Sabre)

Light, brilliant red. Floral nose, with red berries (raspberry, strawberry), dark cherry and a dark minerality. Quite juicy in the mouth, yet concentrated, with supple berry notes, young and firm tannins, and a fresh acidity.

Price: Medium

Food: Light and read meat, game, tasty salads

 

 

 

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Wine of the Week

Valdibella Àgape Nerello Mascalese

Valdibella is a small cooperative in Camporeale, in the Palermo province of Sicilia. Their cultivation is carried out in respect of nature, and they value native grape varieties.

This delicious DOC Sicilia wine from the nerello mascalese is made in stainless steel. It’s spontaneously fermented and has a low sulphite content (between 45-50 mg).

Àgape 2015 (Valdibella)

Cherry red. Fruit-driven, red berries, lightly spicy, herbs. Light tannin, fresh acidity, mineral finish.

Price: Low

Food: Light meat, lamb, salads, hard cheeses

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Articles and Wine of the Week

Sherry monument: A historic PX from Valdespino

Miguel Valdespino gave me this wine. He became the last Valdespino in the centuries-old company. His two children did not want a career in wine, so he chose -quite surprisingly for me and to many others who followed sherry closely at the time- to sell to José Estévez.

Surprisingly, because Estévez had been more known as a business man than a sherry ‘aficionado’, and furthermore he was involved in the infamous RUMASA fraud.

Valdespino is for me the ultimate sherry producer from the old times. They had unbelievable stocks of treasures in their cellars. And a moscatel from three casks was released a few years ago to a 100 points ovation from American media. But Valdespino was also forward-thinking, and the first producer to mention the vineyard and the ‘pago’ (denotes a larger area) on a label, the fino Inocente from the vineyard of the same name in pago Macharnudo Alto.

 

Some fifteen years after the first removal of the cork the bottle looked like this

I know this is personal, but never mind: I had visited Miguel Valdespino several times as a journalist and lover of great sherry, and he gave me this bottle some 20-25 years ago. I don’t know all the details. But he told that it had participated in the Paris 1889 world exhibition (the one that celebrated 100 years since the revolution), “then as an old wine”, to quote the master. At the time I got it the wine was bottled from a big barrel, a ‘tonel’ with the letters ‘NO’, denoting that it must not be touched. It was clearly not meant for sale, and Miguel put on a provisional label with the company name, and with a name Pedro Ximénez Tonel written by a typewriter of that time. At that particular time I was visiting with my now former wife. When we parted around 15 years ago we talked about sharing this wine, so I pulled the cork. Suddenly I (as I would say) came to my senses thinking ‘this is wrong’. So I pushed the cork back into the bottle. And I admit that until today I have been unsure what happened to the wine when it was exposed to air some 15 years ago.

What do we know for sure about the wine then? It’s made from the pedro ximénez grape variety. It participated at in Paris 1889. Before that it might have been born in a solera, but I’m not completely sure. Valdespino was a leading company at that time too, so it’s very unlikely that the wine was less than 30 years old, I would say probably a lot more. I think it must have been born some time between 1820 and 1850.

All right, this wine does not exist commercially, and it probably never did. But I call it:

Pedro Ximénez Tonel (A.R. Valdespino)

Unctous, thickly flowing wine, motor oil consistency, with dense curtains (‘cortinas’ in Spanish), dark raisiny brown/mahogany with evident green notes (like all very old px sherries).

Aroma of toasted hazelnuts, nutmeg, prunes, figs, coffee and dark chocolate, but also flowers and more delicate fruits (in direction of yellow tomatoes, plums, mango).

Very sweet and concentrated, but somehow also fresh with an rich resonance and great length.

In my opinion it’s unfair and devaluating to a wine like this to reduce it to points and punctuations, figures and numbers. A Portuguese writer once likened a wine to a cathedral. In the same tradition we could say that this wine evokes images from the ancient times and the soldier that the pedro ximénez grape took its name from. And it’s easy to imagine the ‘alcázares’ and the basílica churches of Jerez de la Frontera, and the sun rising over the ancient Valdespino bodega in that narrow street of the old gypsy quarter of Santiago, right in the heart of town.

Price: Priceless

Food: A variety of desserts, such as cakes and cookies, puddings, nuts, cheeses, and even a small sip is something of a meal in itself

 

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Wine of the Week

A Rioja Mazuelo

Mazuelo is the local name for cariñena. And I have a feeling when I talk to vintners that it is a grape on the way up. I don’t have scientific proof that it is a fact, but during my trips to Rioja this year I have myself seen more varietal mazuelos than ever before.

A good example I found in the Irégua valley on Ebro’s right bank when I visited producer Gregorio Martínez and winemaker Ricardo Cantera.

The grape has a thick skin and will often be vinified to a dark colour. Here it’s lighter, due to a very light maceration and the coolness of the place (the La Dehesilla parcel, north-facing at 700 meters).

 

Ricardo Cantera

The grapes were destemmed, the juice cold-macerated in steel for one week at 8°C, fermented with indigenous yeast at up to 16°C. We also ought to mention the partial malolactic fermentation in tank and oak. Total time in used French oak was 8 months.

Finca Mazuelo 2014 (Gregorio Martínez)

Cherry red, a touch of development towards rim. Cherry, plums, herbs. Full on the palate, hint of vanilla, good acidity.

Price: Low

Food: Red meat, game, poultry, hard cheeses

 

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Articles

From the Atauta valley

A few weeks ago I wrote and introduction to the wineries of Soria. Read it here, including a note on one of today’s wines. I will now follow up with two winery profiles.

Dominio de Atauta is undoubtedly the leading quality producer in the Soria part of Ribera del Duero. I visited them again in April this year, and met Jaime Suárez. He is in theory the winemaker, while brother Ismael is viticulturalist. But as he say, they work together and consult each other, to have a greater understanding of the totality. The Suárez brothers and their team draw from the valley’s five hundred years of experience in bringing the best out of the tinto fino (tempranillo) grape. Here are extreme conditions with little rainfall, the wind that blows though the vineyards and large temperature variations. Therefore the winemaking it quite easy, there is no great chance of diseases, so the traditional, sustainable way is good enough. All work is manual. The soil treatment is completely natural, with only animal and plant compost. According to tradition there is only goblet-training in the vineyard.

Soil types (Credit: D. Atauta/ Avante Selecta)

In the cellar there is not much intervention needed either. The vats are of various sizes and from different materials, such as wood, concrete and stainless steel.

Big oak vats in the cellar

Today they also count on the Atalayas de Golbán range. While Atauta is typical of Soria, the Atalayas represent the whole of Ribera del Duero. The distribution is roughly 50% of grapes from Soria, the rest is mostly from the Burgos province. This lets them offer more “typical” Riberas within the styles of joven, crianza, and reserva, that many people are more used to.

A winery neighbourhood, “barrio de bodegas”, beside one of the vineyards. These are underground cellars from the 18th century

The Atauta Valley runs 4 kilometres east-west, and 1 north-south. Here they have identified 25 different terroirs. Jaime points to the bottom of the nearest hill where there are 2 meters of topsoil, and smaller, calcareous rocks. 22 hectares are their own, and they control another 23. This makes a total of 600 plots, all of them really small. Only one of these plots is grafted, the rest is pre-phylloxera.

What is different with Soria then? It’s cooler, in general higher altitude, so the resulting wines have less body and tannin structure, but more acidity and freshness. In Jaime’s opinion this is about it, because the soils vary as much here as they do in the rest of the denomination.

Jaime in the highest vineyard

Atauta’s highest plot is at 990 meters. Here there is 2 meters of clay soil, that gives some structure, but the maturity is low and the acidity high. In contrast sandy soils give higher alcohol and richer wines.

A wine soon to be launched is called La Roza, and will from the 2013 vintage on be sourced from here. That is, from the right part. Note that to the left is another owner, that uses chemicals, hence the light colour, and the “dead” soil

They make three “single terroir” wines. -We can’t say single vineyard, Jaime points out, as there is only made 450-1.200 bottles of each of them. La Mala from calcareous soil (a layer of only 60 cm), just 0,7 of a hectare in total. Still there are 10 plots. From these they first make four wines, age them separately, then taste to find the Mala to be bottled. Then it goes to barrel ageing for 18 months. It takes it name (La Mala = the bad one), because of the extremely low yield that this thin layer gives it was earlier considered unprofitable. Valdegatiles in contrast, has the deepest soil (1.6 metres up to the calcareous rock, and the highest content of clay of all their vineyards. It’s thus a powerful wine, but also with the freshness and the minerality of the area. Llanos del Almendro is made with grapes from sandy soil with cobbles stones on the surface. The temperatures here are higher, because of the cobbles.

-We destem all of it, no pressing, first cool maceration (less than 10 degrees), work them twice a day, pumpover and plunging, then raise the temperature.

A word on fermentations, that are almost always “spontaneous”, but only almost always: -If we can fill a tank from one terroir, we use only natural yeast. If we need to add grapes we use selected yeast. Why? Because we want to control the fermentation. With this operation we don’t want to change anything, we are just interested in completing the fermentation.

The only oak employed is of French origin. -For Parada 40% new, then 3rd and 4th use, for 14 months. For the other wines there are different variations according to what we want to achieve, says Jaime.

A short tasting started with one Atalayas wine, the rest were from the Atauta valley.

La Celestina 2015 Crianza (Atalayas de Golbán) sells for less than 10€ in the shop. The grapes are sourced 60% from Soria, the rest from La Horra, near Roa (Burgos) in central Ribera del Duero. 20-25% is new oak.

Cherry red. Full of fruit; red fruits (from the Soria part), blackberry (from Burgos), a touch of lickorice and pepper. It’s full and smooth on the palate, with integrated wood, the Burgos grapes also give some structure.

Parada de Atauta 2014 is fairly new in the assortment. 50-70.000 bottles were made. It retails for around 18€, and it’s by no means an ordinary entry-level wine. It’s made from minimum 80 year old vines, from sandy/stony soil, in and around Atauta.

Dark purple. Fresh, floral aroma with blueberry and blackberry. Smooth tannins, a cool acidity, and a dark minerality.

Dominio de Atauta 2014 is a tremendous wine from 120-160 year old vines, only pre-phylloxera. This is the final blend of the 25 terroirs, so this is probably Atauta’s most complex wine).

Cherry red (lighter in colour than Parada). Floral aroma, raspberry and blackberry, aromatic herbs, some oak in the back. Good structure with mature tannins, minerals (chalk), a touch of coffee. It’s very long, and you feel the flavours come back in waves.

Valdegatiles 2012 (1,2 ha. 100% clay, fermented in steel with natural yeast): Cherry red, not very developed. Lots of fruit, red and black, tobacco and oak is just a sense or feeling in the background. Powerful structure, intense, and a long, fruity aftertaste.

 

 

 

 

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