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Month: March 2018

Wine bars and restaurants and Wine of the Week

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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Wine of the Week

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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Wine of the Week

The original Pico Verdelho

António Maçanita is perhaps most known from his Fita Preta project in Alentejo, and maybe some have heard about the partnership with his sister Joana in the Douro.

But now, a few words about his work in the AçoresPreservation of the indigenous grape varieties is a key concept. And showing the grapes’, and the terroir’s potential, especially for white wines, is maybe his most important task there.

 (photo credit: AWC)

I had just become aware of this project through the Verdelho wine before I left for Portugal. But at the Simplesmente Vinho fair in Porto I had the possibility to meet him. In fact his wine showed up already at the opening dinner.

Here it is. Varietal 100% verdelho. Verdelho, “the original”, this to distinguish it from grapes that have been wrongly confused with it (such as gouveio, godello, verdejo and more).

It was harvested manually. Whole bunch pressing was carried out, natural racking
after 24 hours, and fermentation in 600 to 1000 litre steel tanks. Designation: the Pico sub-region (on the west of the island) within the Açores IG area.

Last words: About the possible confusion between Azores – Açores (on the label you can read both), the former is English, the latter Portuguese.

Verdelho o Original 2016 (Azores Wine Company)

Light yellow, hints of green. Aroma with citrus, yellow apples, herbs, slightly nutty. Clean, fresh, quite full, salty mineral, and long.

Price: Medium

Food: Grilled fish, seafood, salads, perfect with oysters

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Wine of the Week

A brilliant South African “Portuguese” in Brighton

I will recommend a place that will close down in a couple of weeks. I can do this because I feel confident that Jon and Jake will find a new place to fulfill their mission. The blues… sorry, wine brothers, also work in the bar and in the kitchen respectively, of Plateau, Brighton’s temple of natural wine.

1909’s mission is quite simply to serve delicious organic and natural wines with bites to match. The cuisine could be called modern European, with influences from other places (Asia not least) and former times (such as fermented ingredients).

Their wine list is a small but fine selection, from a few selected producers, to to five or six references from each.

Jon Grice (left) and Jake Northcole-Green

 

This week’s pick is from their “by the glass” selection.

It’s supposedly the only planting of Portuguese grape fernão pires in South Africa, planted as unirrigated bushvines 40 years ago near Darling town in the Swartland, only 700 bottles made. Pieter H. Walser started his first winery in his friend’s garage during his agriculture studies in Stellenbosch, and his wish to make wines where the content inside should tell it all, lead to the winery with the name BLANKbottles. He has a rather free approach to both styles and grapes.

Kortpad kaaptoe in Afrikaans means something like short-cutting one’s way to Cape Town. As the story goes: In 2011 Walser was visiting a carignan grape vineyard. He received an text message from someone who needed him to be in Cape Town within the next hour. He asked the farmer the quickest way, and was told, the “kortpad Kaaptoe”, drive towards the Carignan, past the Shiraz and Fernão Pires…” He had to ask about the latter, the story about our wine had started, but I don’t know if Walser ever made it to Cape Town in time.

The label is designed by Walser himself with the AC/DC font on Microsoft Word

 

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2016 (Blank Bottle)

Intensely gold yellow in colour. Ripe, concentrated exotic aromas, peaches, apricots, a touch of anise and spices. In the mouth it is full, almost fat, grapey, with a light tannic dryness too, and wonderful acidity. Very pure, with lots of energy.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with 1909’s herb dumpling, with dill and fermented spring onions. But it should go to a variety of fish and seafood, light meat and more…

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Wine of the Week

Authentic Algarve: Monte da Casteleja

At the Simplesmente Vinho fair in Porto one of the biggest surprises came from the touristic southern coast of Algarve. Already at the welcome dinner at Rui Paula’s DOP restaurant, when a 10 days skin-contact white was presented (outside the programme), I decided that this producer’s table was one to visit.

Guillaume Abel Luís Leroux’s father is French, and his mother is from western Algarve. It was his father that introduced him to the world of wine, and when he inherited a piece of land from his mother’s family he decided to leave the Douro (where he had worked with Taylor and Quinta do Côtto a.o.). In 2000 he started to recover the vineyards at Monte da Casteleja near Lagos in order to make organic wines. Here he wants to combine modern technology with ancient methods, such as treading the grapes, macerate with stems – and also ageing in barrels.

 Guillaume Leroux

Monte da Casteleja’s soil is unique to the area, explains Guillaume, good for vine growing, medium depth with a high percentage of clay and limestone. Rainfall is a sparse as 400 mm per year, mainly during the winter months, which naturally limits vine growing. The proximity to the sea ensures less water stress and long maturations, while the nocturnal northerly breezes improve colour and flavour concentration.

This week’s wine is made from bastardo 60% and the rest alfrocheiro. The grapes were partly destemmed, then foottrodden for four hours, before a spontaneous fermentation that lasted for three weeks at up to 26ºC. The wine then stayed in big barrels of Portuguese and French oak for 20 months.

 From the adega (credit: Monte da C.)

Monte da Casteleja Tinto 2015 (Monte da Casteleja)

Dark cherry red. Floral aroma (violets), mint, forest fruits and underwood. Good structure, with evident tannins and an adecuate acidity to match.

Price: Low

Food: Red meat, game, pasta and much more. The producer’ website suggests local fare like bean stews and fig cake

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Articles

Blues & Politics in Rioja

I have recently written a fairly extensive article for the Norwegian paper magazine Vinforum about the village and vineyard issue in Rioja. As the headline goes it is about Rioja’s lack of will to accept villages and vineyards to be mentioned on the labels, just like in other modern wine regions. Then it was announced in La Rioja after my deadline, and quite surprisingly, that a new regulation would be put into practise: Vineyards will be accepted on the labels. Villages will not, however. In-stead a category for sparkling wines will be included.

The blog format does not allow us to go into details. But here is a brief (almost) chronologic overview:

*Rioja has to this day been accepted, even by wine geeks, as a Land from the Past, where wine can be bought-in from the whole region, where exact geografical origin is un-known – and if there is a known birthplace, more often than not obscured by the influence of oak. The Consejo Regulador (CR, the board that regulates the business) is a conservatory/conservative body. In one way it’s easy to understand, because they have been extremely successful in promoting the five letters RIOJA. But today there are many people who want to trace the agricultural products back to their roots, here literally speaking. The new wine law of 2003 did not take the consequences of this, and the vino de pago-category was established as some kind of compromise.

*But on 29th November 2015 well-known producer Artadi left DOC Rioja in protest, mostly against the labelling policy, and started to use the province designation Álava (one of three provinces in the Basque Country) in-stead. This shouldn’t have come as any surprise, as he had announced it loudly and clearly, and over a long time.

*Around the same time several meetings were held. Telmo Rodríguez (of Remelluri and own projects in Rioja and elsewhere) gathered producers and other people in wine in Club Matador, Madrid. Juan Carlos López de Lacalle of Artadi was among the more than 150 who signed a manifest that opposed the current regulations and focused on terroir. The meeting was held on 4th November 2015, but got special significance after Artadi’s departure. The manifest called for a pyramid structure: At the bottom it suggested wines from everywhere in a DO, then village wines, then wines from specific farms, then single plot wines on top. And important: These changes should come from inside of the organization (contrary to what Artadi eventually decided for themselves in the case of Rioja).

*Only a few days later the group Rioja’n’Roll was created by eight young, up-and-coming vintners, Roberto Oliván and Olivier Rivière among them.

*Juan Carlos López de Lacalle organized a conference in Laguardia, where his Artadi bodega is located, just after. Among the guests were several of the people that had taken part in the Club Matador meetings, among others Salustià Álvarez of DOQ Priorat, a Spanish region that is leading the way with their village wines and vineyard wines.

*Rodríguez organized the first “Encuentro de Viticulturas” in May 2016. The message was clear and loud: We want change, and we want it now!

*A couple of months before, on 24th March, the Basque newspaper Noticias de Álava had informed that a new DO Viñedos de Álava (Arabako Mahastiak) was formally approved in the province council and sent to the Basque government.

*National newspaper El Mundo announced 17th April that the Basque Basque government would approve the new DO before summer (“between May and June”), and it would be published in the state’s official channels (Boletín del Estado).

*In July 2016 El Mundo reported that 42 producers among the 126 members of ABRA (the association of producers in Rioja Alavesa) said they were ready to join the new DO, and all of its members had voted for it. ABRA’s leader Inés Baigorri claimed they had been working on this project for three years, and a document was already sent to the Basque government.

*In the aftermath of these incidents CR accused ABRA for being both illoyal and that this was politically motivated. Which was partly true as the dissidents are Basque, but the crucial point was that they were not heard within a Rioja dominated by big players. The Consejo Regulador had also announced in January this year that they were studying possibilities for meeting the critics, by granting the right to mention smaller units.

*ABRA then agreed to put their plans about a new Basque DO on hold for two years

One way to summarize is that there has been a fight between this:

Five letters (Rioja as a brand)

And this:

A focus on vineyards (here represented by Artadi’s Valdegines)

What does this blog think about these changes then?

If you want to build a pyramid, would you start on the bottom or on the top? Right, you will create a system based on principles that you believe in, and building is normally sensibly done on top of a strong foundation. We can only imagine the severe discussions inside the walls of the Consejo. So the Viñedos Singulares obviously can be seen as a “compromise”, and might have been  created to calm the voices of “los indignados” (to borrow an expression from modern Spanish politics). Having said this, it’s much better than status quo.

About the regulations: It can be a vineyard wine even if only 85% of the grapes come from that vineyard. To me this sounds like “the old times”. As for labelling, villages can now be named. That is, the village where the bodega is located, not the vineyards, if this is in another municipality. Strange.

About the idea of a DO Viñedos de Álava: I understand the desire to focus on Basque (viti-) culture. But there are various obstacles, such as the strange “serpent” that is the frontier that you cross several times when driving from Haro to Laguardia, and many producers have vineyards in both provinces. Next is the challenge of incorporating the txakolís of the Álava province (DO Arabako Txakolina) – or not. So considering all possibilities: I think, I think that Rioja should have more or less the same borders as it has by now. Just take a look at the landscape: Once you enter from one of the sides, you’ll see that Rioja is a bowl-shaped area framed by the mountain “sierras” of Cantabria, la Demanda and Yerga. The Basque-Castilian co-existence has been evident since the times of the Yuso monastery, in other words: more than a thousand years ago.

I don’t think a fragmentation in many small DO’s would help much. Having said this, I think that a fragmentation of sub-zones could be good for the region. There has been many thought-experiments around this theme. Ignacio Gil, of Bodegas Mitarte and former mayor of Labastida (member of ABRA but opponent to the new DO, and now member of the CR), has suggested 20-25 zones, 5 in the Cantabria area alone (one consisting of both Labastida of Álava and San Vicente, Ábalos and a part of Samaniego of La Rioja). One could also look upon the 7 tributaries running into the Ebro from the west in Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.

It follows from what I’ve said that there are many “good guys” in the Consejo Regulador. Among these are wine producers Juan Carlos Sancha and Eduardo Hernáiz, both running exemplary château style bodegas in Rioja Alta and both representing the smaller family estates. Even the cooperatives have the right to fight for their interests, of course. (It’s only that in general I don’t subscribe to their ideas.) The Grupo Rioja, that consists of some of the bigger companies, can be suspected to have conservatory interests, but I see there are sensible voices among these too. In any case, it seems obvious that there are conflicting opinions within the body.

As for the inclusion of the sparkling wines: This I support, without doubt. How many times have we discussed this crazy map of the DO Cava? This is a piece of land that doesn’t exist in reality, but which somebody had to “dream up” to be able to put the DO (designation of origin) in-stead of the former DE (special designation).

But in the end I agree with rioja’n-roller Óscar Alegre, who says that a change must start with the vintners themselves, when they do what they believe in, bottle themselves instead of selling to the big houses, and if they need it without the five letter back label.

 

 

 

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