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Author: Vidar Kenneth Johansen

Back in time: Viña Tondonia

It was in the evening of the Haro Station Wine Experience. Lunch was over and I was walking around in the streets of the Barrio de la Estación, where many of the leading bodegas establish themselves after the railroad came to town and a new area started, with Rioja as a leading brand and Haro as its capital.

I decided to step into the mythical bodega and there stood María José López de Heredia opening a mysterious bottle. I didn’t know exactly what it was when she poured it. But indeed I understood that it was a white Tondonia and that I had stepped back in time.

María José opens the white ’64

López de Heredia’s wines must be one of the most legendary in Spain, and well-known for being made the same way since the winery’s foundation 130 years ago.

Only grapes from their own vineyards are used, for this wine one from their most emblematic Viña Tondonia, a 100 hectares pago not far from the bodega. The soil is clay with a high limestone content. It’s a large vineyard with varying plantings and grape varieties, but average age is around 50 years. The cultivation is organic.

To get the fermentation going they simply wait. And if it looks like it’s going to be difficult one can only open the windows, as in Haro there are often big differences in night and day temperatures.

Art nouveau, a building style in fashion at the turn of the century

The wine is made from 85% viura, 15% malvasía and has 12% alc. It stayed 6 months in wooden deposits, then 9 years in old barriques of American oak, treated in the bodega’s own cooperage. It was racked manually 18 times, then clarified with egg whites. It was then bottled from the barrels in July 1973 without filtering.

Viña Tondonia Blanco 1964 (R. López de Heredia)

Golden colour towards amber. Notes of dried fruits, toasted almonds, citrus and a touch of honey (without the sweetness, if that makes sense). It’s almost like walking in an old sherry bodega. Glyceric and rich, with a smooth texture. Low alcohol, high natural acidity, and a salty finish. But even if there are other barrel-aged whites this is almost in a category of its own.

Price: High (if you can find it at an auction)

Lastly, the bodega is always referred to as a very traditionalist bodega, and rightly so. Here is how they define their form of traditionalism:

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Orange Zamora at Angelita Madrid

I’m in the Spanish capital again, and a visit to the Angelita Madrid seems very appropriate. Having not booked a table on a weekend’s night will most often mean that the only option is a place in the bar. Which is nice. This time I was sitting next to Federico, a young Argentinian who runs the splendid Acid Café coffeeshop in the museums area (Prado).

I will come back to Angelita and their extensive list of artisan and natural wines by both glass and bottle. This week’s wine is an orange wine from Zamora, that I hadn’t tasted before. The winery is found in Villamor de los Escuderos, south of Zamora town, not far from Salamanca.

The wine is made from godello 50% from centenary vineyards, and albillo real from new plantings. The soils are stones and sand over clay. Height above sea level is 800-900 m.

The producer says that this is a modern variant of the ancestral “embabujado” technique, that is, wine made with all its components. The grapes were partially destemmed before fermentation that finished it in oak barrels. It has not been clarified and it has been bottled after a light filtering to remove turbid. Total So2 is less than 6 mg/l.

Berretes 2014 (Microbodega Rodríguez Morán)

Light orange. Aroma of white flowers, orange peel, a touch of honey, chalk. Lightly structured with good natural acidity.

Price: Medium

Best served at around 16ºC

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A Burgenland CF at Sentralen, Oslo

This week’s wine was served at Sentralen wine bar and restaurant in Oslo’s city centre. The huge building used to be a bank, but is now containing cultural scenes and various meeting places, such as Sentralen, with its two chambers. It’s an informal place, but several well-established chefs are in the management, so the quality is high – and the prices very cempetitive too. The wine list has focus on artisan producers and organic and natural wine.

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Avocado with jalapeño mayonnaise, smoked tomato and almonds

Christian Tschida is fourth generation and cultivates 10 hectares of old vines in Burgenland, near the Neusiedler See. The vineyards have sandy gravel, schist and limestone, and the big lake is securing a moderating influence. The wines are generally in contact with oxygen for a long time, up to 5 years in old  wood. He uses a vertical basket press that he likens to an old manual screw press, with its very light pressure. The grapes are foot-trodden, and the fermentations done outside in the shade, then moved inside to age in barrels. They are never racked, and bottled by hand to leave a little redisual carbon dioxide.

While the previous vintage of red “Heaven on Earth” was made with cabernet sauvignon and zweigelt, the 2014 is a pure cabernet franc. The grapes were destemmed, and the juice fermented with indigenous yeasts, as usual. This wine spend one year in 500 to 1.500 liter barrels, and was bottled without additions of sulfur, and according to Tschida’s principles, not fined or filtered.

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Himmel auf Erden 2014 (Christian Tschida)

Cherry red colour. Pure cherry fruit, some green pepper. Luscious, juicy, slightly carbonic, and with a good, natural acidity.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with quite difficult ingredients (smoked and spicy), as you can see above. It should also tackle a wide variety of food, from light meat and bacalao, to salads and cheeses

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Reconsider Albariño

Eulogio Pomares has been the winemaker at Bodegas Zárate since the 2000 harvest. He has started to make some wines for himself too, in tiny quantities under the label Grandes Vinos Desiguales, and some are quite sensational.

The soils are granitic, and the grapes for this wine come from parcels that Eulogio has replanted and using biodynamic principles and without rootstocks. Only native yeasts are used, the wine stays in 1,200 litre chestnut foudres and stayed 8 months, where it also undergoes malo-lactic fermentation.

This one was fermented and aged in big 1200 liters vats of chestnut. The vines are seventy year old, and they are located in Castrelo-Cambados, in the central part of Salnés, probably the most important sub-region of DO Rías Baixas.

An informative back label

We have seen several styles of albariño over the years. Some of us are a bit tired of the commercial, aromatic versions. Too heavily oaked wines were plentiful at a time, and always out of question. Later there were many lees-aged wines; a good idea, but this too can make the wines more similar to each other. I like the ones on the wild side, made without corrections. Here is yet another interpretation, a chestnut and lees aged single vineyard wine from old vines.

Carralcoba Albariño 2016 (Eulogio Pomares/ Grandes Vinos Desiguales)

Straw yellow. Apple, lemon, pear and white flowers on the nose. It has a fantastic concentration, is full, with a lemony acidity and with an extraordinary length. It has a touch of oxidative character, but it’s held in check, and is balanced incredibly. Close to perfection.

Price: Medium

Food: The best seafood you can think of, creatively elaborated

 

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Italian-Slovenian borderline wine

Our wine of the week 25th March was an Italian wine from the border zone of Carso. Here is a neighbour, from a Friuli-Slovenia tasting earlier this week. In fact Marjan Simčič’s winery is no more than 100 meters from the border. Another producer from our tasting was Radikon, only 11 km away, surprisingly enough to the east, because the borderline does a bend.

Furthermore Simčič’s vineyards are found in the Brda hills, on both sides of the border.

We are in a crossroads between the Mediterranean and the Alps. The Goriška Brda soil was under water in ancient times, and it’s today a soil rich in minerals.

Here the Simčič family cultivates the grapes the most natural way possible. They respect the vine’s natural capacity and are satisfied with a low crop, with the grapes on the vine as long as possible. The cellar practices are also deeply respectful of what comes in from nature.

Jožef Simčič was a pioneer in Brda. He bought his first pieces of land in 1860. Mirjan is now fifth generation.

They follow tradition and allow their grapes to mature, to produce a balanced aroma and a richer taste. No chemical fertilizers or insecticides are used.

The Selekcija is the second range of wines (the most expensive wines are called Opoka, only produced in special harvests). The Selekcija wines are selected from the oldest vines and matured slowly (2 to 4 years) in casks and wooden barrels of different sizes. None of these undergo filtration.

The ribolla grape is in Italian mostly called ribolla gialla, and in Slovenia also rebula, and other similar spellings. Typically it gives deep coloured but light bodied wines with high acidity and floral notes. It’s not unusual that it develops nutty flavours with some ageing.

We tasted three interesting wines from the winery this wine club evening. Here I chose the “selected” ribolla.

Ribolla Selecktija 2014 (Marjan Simčič)

Yellow colour. Aroma of mature apples, bread, herbs and white pepper. Rich and full on the palate, evident but rounded tannins from skin-contact, and a natural and integrated acidity.

Price: Medium

Food: Tasty fish and shellfish, foie, light meat

 

 

 

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Rodrigo Filipe at Humus, Lisboa region

Finally I got the chance to visit Rodrigo Filipe, who makes the wonderful Humus wines. He can be found at his farm Quinta do Paço in the village Alvorninha. This is in the Óbidos part in the far north of the big Lisboa region. Here he makes cool Atlantic wines, guided by nature, experience and intuition, more than school oenology.

Before this day I had enjoyed a few of his wines at wine bars and cafés, such as this one. So I felt that I visit was overdue, and I am very glad that I finally made it to the quinta to meet the sympathetic man behind the work.

Quinta do Paço is a family propriety of a total of 20 hectares, of which around 10 are planted with vines. We are about 150 meters above sea level, between the Atlantic and the Serra dos Candeeiros range that enjoys a special soil and climate. The soil is calcareous/limestone with clay. The valley lies in a north-west direction, that secures longer maturation, and more acidity in the wines. Having said that, the wind was also shifting while we were there, so at one point there came a warmer breeze from the east (-from Spain, he joked). But as a whole the cool Atlantic breeze and high humidity contribute to a slow ripening and a high natural acidity.

Coming from a job as an engineer, Rodrigo took over the farm from his father in 2000, and it was from then that the project became more serious. It has been learning by doing, sometimes wrong, but always in a clear direction towards tasty and healthy wines. In other words, Rodrigo had no formal training in wine at the time. And even if he has taken a few courses, to this day he takes many decisions by experience and intuition, such as determing when to harvest.

The grapes are mainly local, or at least of Portuguese origin. -We use the grapes that are best adapted to our place, and the yields are kept lower than normal for the area, says Rodrigo. -We give special treat to the soil, because it must be alive to bring out the best of the varieties.

The beans give nitrogene to the soil

As we walk around the property it becomes clear that Rodrigo is in harmony with his farm and the land, and the farming is just very simple. He fertilizes with natural compost, and of additives there is only occational use of small quantities of copper and sulphur. Fermentation starts by itself after 5-6  days. The white wines are fermented in used barrels, and the reds are destemmed, pressed, fermented in steel and aged in used oak. The wines are never fined or filtered. We believe him easily when he tells that he has great pleasure to make, and share, authentic wines made in a very natural way.

The vigorous touriga nacional grape, here with eucalyptus to the left and cork trees in the middle

As we went along we tasted a few samples. A castelão 2017 was full of red fruits, still a little reduced (like some of the other wines, but it’s fixed with airing), mellow in the mouth, and the 16 (less maceration, 5 days) was lighter with lovely fruit and a wonderful natural acidity.

A touriga nacional rosé 17 (an “acidity year”, as Rodrigo puts it) had a wonderful salmon pink colour, strawberry and floral aromas, quite full in the mouthh, and yes, a refreshing acidity. Among the other 17’s a fernão pires was delighful, quite full and glyceric, with aromas of flowers, herbs and some wax. An arinto had the typical lemony acidity, and both apple and some herbs on the nose.

The barrels used are 10 years old. Chestnut was tradition here, just like clay

A white touriga nacional, a “blanc de noirs” 2017  matured 6 months over arinto skins (how did he come up with that idea anyway?): Yellow with trace of red; appley and grapey with some pharmacy notes. What is more: There is one over fernão pires skins too. Salmon pink colour, this was more fruity, still with apple notes, but flowers and menthol, and with a dry texture. Rodrigo explains, -Chestnut and clay give dryness, the wine “oxidizes” more because of a longer distance between the fibres, while oak can give a reductive tone. Then these two can balance each other.

We tried more touriga samples. Not to bore my readers too much I can say that the samples follow the line of the bottled wines; they are cool, natural with a fresh Atlantic feel.

Rodrigo together with Luis Gil after a long day in the vineyard

Among the bottled wines we tasted the cool and fruity Espumante 2010 and a Rosé (a blend of 2014-15-16, mostly castelão). Then on to the Humus range:

Humus Branco (no added sulfites) 2016 from fernão pires and arinto: Light yellow; it smells of matura apples, it’s also waxy in the aroma (from fernão pires); it’s full on the palate, a bit buttery, and with a good acidity (for which arinto is often a guarantist, but here also the climate). It has in fact more arinto, but the fernão pires shows a lot of influence.

Humus Curtimenta 2016: This is a creative take. The wine has also arinto and sauvignon blanc, that are fermented with skins for three months. This is added to freshly pressed touriga nacional (“blanc de noirs”). The colour thus becomes orange, and with a certain structure. But it’s still in a way soft and mellow, I would say elegant. It has a lovely fruit, on the tropical side, but also flowers, citrus and a nutty touch. This is very pure and lively, full of taste, just delicious.

Humus 2012, a 100% castelão, was ruby red with aromas of red berries (cherry, raspberry) and some darker tones behind it. Likewise the fruit was forward, but there was also a slight tannin bite, and a fresh acidity. Very drinkable, very appealing.

Humus (no added sulfites) 2013: This wine, from touriga nacional and syrah, showed really nice, fresh fruit, violets, dark berries (blackcurrant), a balsamic touch. The tannins were round, the fruit ripe and with a slighly sweet spicy note, and with a long aftertaste.

Humus (no added sulfites) 2011 from touriga nacional and syrah: This is the second year without additions, not even SO2. It was a warm vintage, and the wine showed wild and meaty, on the nose dark berries, flowers and an earthy tone. Rich, with marmelade and spices.

A lovely bunch of wines, all lively, fresh, natural, and with the outstanding creative invention Curtimenta in the middle

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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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