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Vicenza province II: Siemàn

Coming from Tenuta l’Armonia, crossing the A4 motorway I arrive in the small settlement of Villaga after three quarter of an hour. We are now in the Colli Berici area. Siemàn has nine hectares, but only four is planted with vines, since it’s important to maintain the biodiversity of animals and plants. We went to the top of the hill, where we got a magnificent view of the slopes with the naturally ventilated vineyards and we could see as far as the Apennines. The ground is limestone, some clay, and where the tai rosso (aka tokai rosso, aka grenache) is one of the most prominent grapes.

Siemàn means “six hands” in the local dialect. I am welcomed by four of them, Daniele and Marco Filippini, who share the duties in wine. Siemàn also makes beer, from grapes! – and it’s the third brother Andrea who takes care of that part.

Daniele (left) and Marco Filippini

The owl in the logo must be explained by Italian terms: Owl is gufo in Italian, and gufare means to be lucky. -We all have other professional backgrounds, explains Daniele and Marco. So the people said, you can’t succeed. So the owl has become a symbol for being a bearer of luck, and so far it seems that it was a lucky choice of logo.

Vini di Sieman - Sieman's wines

The brothers have a low-intervention attitude, and there is meticulous cleaning at all stages. They don’t use pesticides or any chemicals in the vineyards. The grapes are almost exclusively autochthonous. In the cellar, fermentations takes place spontaneously with native yeasts, and nothing is added (except for a small quantity of sulphites, when necessary). The wines are kept in barrels, concrete and steel, according to what the consider best to express grape variety and land.

There is a high proportion of limestone in the vineyards, compared to the volcanic of the north side of the main road. There are two illnesses in the vineyards that need to be watched, oïdium and downy mildew. Oïdium is treated with sulphur. When it smells of mushroom you cut it off and throw it away. Mildew is normally treated with copper (mixed with water and sprayed onto the leaves). When the leaf looks as if it has oil on it, this part is burnt off. It is important to say though, that the amounts of both copper and sulphur are kept much lower than the legal maximum. This because they use fungus as a natural treatment to minimize addition of copper.

The first harvest was in 2013 (without label). –Angiolino Maule helped us in the beginning, say the brothers. (Read about his estate and wines here and in the article about Gambellara.) 2014, a very rainy year, was the first vintage on sale. The plantings are young also, only 4-6 years old. But all the wines have something to them. They are luscious, tasty and with a mineral character. And they will only get better in the coming vintages. -We are improving every year, says Daniele. And it’s easy to believe.

Camaleonte 2017 is a pét nat with second fermentation in bottle, from the grape varieties tai rosso, garganega and incrocio manzoni, the two latter (the white grapes) with two days skin-contact. The colour is deep yellow; on the nose some bread and citrus notes. an easy-drinking wine. In 2017 there were hailstorms that caused a 30% loss of grapes, says Daniele.

For the white and red wines, half is fermented in concrete, half in wood, then put together in stainless steel before bottling. Occhio al Bianco 2017, a still wine from that vintage -grapes garganega, tai bianco, and in some vintages incrocio manzoni- had shorter skin-contact and was subsequently lighter yellow, and also somewhat cloudy; white flowers and herbs on the nose; tasty with a salty mineral character in the finish. not very different was the 2016 version of the same wine: tai bianco and garganega, golden colour; white flowers like chamomile, and a slight touch of peel after 3 days of skin-contact. Mosca Bianca 2016, from 90% garganega and 10% moscato, stayed 2 days with skins. It’s yellow golden, aromatic with flowers (the small amount of moscato shines through), and a round body.  The 2017 had only 1 day skin-contact, and another difference was the grape composition, 50/50 garganega/moscato. This one had some peel character, but only a little. For me it was still more aromatic, in the moscato way. This wine come from a rented vineyard in Colli Euganei (to the east, in the Padova province), and has volcanic soil. It has 5,5-6 g/L acidity, like all the wines. All wines also come with less than 15 mg total SO2 (the current selection between 2-14).

Occhio al Rosso is their only red wine, from tai rosso. The 2017 was the lightest of the lot (bright ruby), and maybe not as expressive; as the others; nice and juicy with some fresh cherry fruit though. 2016 was a hot summer. This wine was the darkest of the three; red fruits, cherry, blackberry; and fruit all the way. In the 2015 no sulphur was added, and I think there was some brett in the aftertaste. To me it doesn’t matter at these low levels. Furthermore, it was very fruitdriven, with red berries in the front. The colour was light cherry, and the appearance clear too.

Both beers are in a sour ale style. Le Bucce is spontaneously fermented with yeasts of grapes (tai rosso, red grapes). The other is the Incocio, from the white grape incrocio manzoni. The grapes are the main reason for the difference in colour.

 
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Vicenza province I: Tenuta l’Armonia

Veneto has so much to offer. It’s enough to mention Valpolicella (with its ripasso and amarone), Soave, and we have now learned about Gambellara – each of these with their own sweet recioto. Then there is of course Prosecco, that the Veneto region must share with neighbouring Friuli.

Remembering that Gambellara is also Vicenza, now we shall talk about three more wineries located across the province. To try and keep it inside the blog format we will divide it into three parts. And we start with, freely after Tennessee Williams: An Estate called Harmony.

Andrea Pendin’s Tenuta l’Armonia is found in the small settlement of Bernuffi, municipality of Montecchio Maggiore. That means if you can find it after the narrow, long and winding roads. Arriving there you can experience the perfect harmony, and see for yourself the co-exsistence of people, land, chicken, turkies, and all the small creatures found in the vineyards.

It’s Lorenzo Fiorin who meets me. He’s working in export, but also a little bit of everything else, as it is useful to have an overview over the whole situation.

The estate has 10 hectares of vineyards planted with both indigenous and international varieties. It’s quite new, from 2008, but some vines are more than 60 years old. The vines are planted in the slopes and on top of a hill, in various exposures. Around 40.000 bottles are made per year, from own and rented plots (7 more hectares).

 

Lorenzo shows the pergola system

The soil here is volcanic with some schist and chalk. There is an amphitheater with white soil (chalk), shells and other fossils. Towards Verona in the west there is volcanic soil, and also tufa towards the south of Verona.

Both indigenous and international varieties are used. We walk past a planting done three years ago; merlot, syrah, cabernet franc etc. -The varieties are not the most important, says Lorenzo. -It’s the terroir, and also see how the grapes react together with it.

-A grape we really believe in is durella, especially for its acidity, but also for its history. It is really one of the traditional grapes here in Vicenza.

 

One has already understood that the cultivation is organic and biodynamic, so it’s about maintaining and stimulating biodiversity. Mint grows naturally in the vineyard, oat too. Green manure (based on plants and flowers) is employed.

The idea of harmony, the balance in nature, is also a message that winemaker David Xodo has preached from the very beginning. -In the long run we don’t need to work as much as with “chemical agriculture”, because the biodiversity we have created is holding itself up, says Lorenzo. -Furthermore, Veneto is a cool place, always windy. It’s then easier to work the vineyards organically. A light breeze is also welcome walking around the estate on a hot summer day like this.

Andrea Pendin

Andrea is a trained chef, so the chickens and the turkeys in his Garden of Eden shouldn’t feel too safe… He has also a stove with a pizza oven that can do magical things. There had been a party, with a lot of leftovers, and some other wines that had been opened up to 13 days before. so we had a lot to sample.

Bruno, Andrea’s father who started it all

Basically there are two different lines. “Pop” consists of high quality “easy” natural wines at a good price. “Cru” is a premium line from native varieties in clay and limestone. Here are some very brief notes.

Frizzi 2015 is a pét nat, or col fòndo sur lie at 12%. it’s a simple, easy, un-oaked, appley, not very structured, lightly bubbly wine. Pinot noir had a bad year, so pinot bianco and chardonnay were used together with the usual durella, the acidic grape that made Vicenza special in the past.

Frizzi 2017: Here was pinot noir fully ripe, so there is 60% and the rest durella. No maceration, no filtration. The only problem with our bottle was that there were no bubbles, as the re-fermentation had apparently not started yet. Another bottle of the same wine as better: Light salmon red, a touch sweeter; strawberry, apple, and a crisp acidity.

Pop is a series with more volcanic soil than the Cru, and doesn’t ripe that much.

Bianco “Pop” comes from a relatively high altitude vineyard at 500 meters. 2017 is light yellow with appley aroma and fresh acidity. The 2016 I find a little more ripe. This has some incrocio manzoni (or: manzoni bianco), a cross between riesling and madeleine royal. We also tried the 2012: Lightly browning, orange peel (from longer maturation on skins), ginger notes (from a proportion of garganega). For that vintage some carbonic maceration was used. -Acidity is what binds them together, Lorenzo points out. And rightly so.

Perla 2016. This is a “Cru”, which means smaller area, lower yield, older garganega plants (60-80 years). This is a varietal garganega, both early harvest and late harvest (with some botrytis), then blended. Andrea is a good friend of Sébastien Riffault of Loire, and it was Sébastien who gave him the inspiration for different harvest times. The wine shows a complex aroma of mature apples, nuts, flowers, apricot, towards honey; medium full on the palate, and a salty, mineral aftertaste. The acidity is there, but it’snot pungent.

Bolla 2013. This is their traditional method sparkler. The 2013 has 75% durella, pinot nero, got a light maceration and stayed 14 months on the lees. This gave a pink blush, some yeast and also some oxidative notes, like yellow or mature apples.

What followed now was like a “Capriccio Italiano”, a joyous ride over creeks and hills, with wines in a seemingly random order. Love it! On came a fresh and inspiring, waxy, appley, and a little smoky vespaiolo 2017. A teroldego-CS-garganega with light pink colour, flowers, pyrazine (sauvignon-like), with super fruit all the way. Brio 2017, in the Pop line and predominantly from cabernet franc, is a luscious, peppery carbonic maceration wine, made in cement tank. There was a fruity, partly carbonic maceration Barbera in both 2017 and 16 editions, the latter a bit more structured than the former.

And what about this!

G-Ray is from something called the “Lab” line, where Andrea works with another Andrea, namely Marchetti, among other activities founder of the Vinessum fair. This wine is from pinot grigio on volcanic soil, it has been in contact with skins 8 days, no sulphites and no filtration. As you can see: Turbid light red or rosé; aromas of strawberry, apple; quite good concentration actually, and not that simple as you maybe might think.

Lastly there was the Gioia of the Cru line. 2016 is from cabernet franc, hand-destemmed, no sulphites added, and no filtration. Pure, loads of red fruits, some pepper, and a promising tannin structure. 2012 (the first vintage of the wine), made from 100% carmenère, stayed in big oak tonneaux for 8 months: Some cigar box and pencil/carbon notes (graphite soil), with red fruits, and a good structure.

Epilogue:

Lorenzo tells that they are a sort of incubator that helps young vignerons from Vicenza area to develop their own projects. These are: MaterVi (Alberto Rigon), Yeasteria (Jacopo and Esmeralda) and Do-line (Nicola Rigo). Small production (less than 10.000 bottles) and sharing the same philosophy (no interventions in wine-making and respect for the living environment) are requirements to participate.

I think ‘s an honorable act supporting others in the same area and tradition, without seeing them as competitors. In the long run this will help the whole province, or region.

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Gambellara: Maule and the two Davides

Gambellara is a small village at the foot of Monti Lessini in the western corner of the Vicenza province. To the west it borders Soave (Verona). It has a DOC for the whole area, a “classico” designation for wines with lower yields and higher alcohol, and a DOCG Recioto di Gambellara. The DOC is comprised of 4 municipalities, most important are Gambellara and Montebello.

When the prosecco boom took off, many of the grapes in the flatlands were replaced with the glera grape (formerly called prosecco). One of the results is that the general quality of Gambellara wine is extremely high, and as much as 60% of the grapes are grown in the hillsides.

Gambellara village

In one day I visited three of the best, in or around Gambellara village, and maximum 5 minutes drive from each others.

Angiolino Maule – La Biancara

The most important of these is La Biancara, run by Angiolino Maule, who has been in the avant-garde of local and national natural wine movement and inspired many younger vintners. He founded the VinNatur organization in 2000 and leads the Villa Favorita natural wine fair held in Vicenza. The objective is to establish contact between collegues, to be able to support and learn from each others.  They are currently looking at the possibility of replacing copper and sulfur, widely used in organic farming, with plants and extracts that help vines build up resistance. Maule is now also studying the possibility to certify natural wines.

Most of Maule’s wines though, come under the IgT Veneto designation, as Angiolino can be said to have a general mistrust in the Consorzio, and the wines are not regarded “typical” by the them either.

It’s Francesco Maule, one of Angiolino’s sons, who meets me on this warm summer morning. First we take a stroll through the vineyards and the estate, to get an overview. The soil of Gambellara is volcanic, with just a little limestone in the heights. This is easy to see from here.

Maule has approximately 12 hectares own vineyards on south facing slopes in these hills, about 150m to 250m above sea level. They are managed in a strictly organically way. They use naturally produced plant compost and control fungal diseases with herbal teas and other natural products. Contrary to tradition, here the predominant binding technique is the Guyot, but also some pergola.

Guyot up-binding

Here around the winery there are 5,5 ha. garganega grapes, many of them used in the Sassaia wine. Higher up, as the name implies, the grapes for the Pico are grown. There is also some trebbiano and durella, and merlot and others for the reds.

-At La Biancara we use modern technology, as we want to have control, at least “enough” control. To oxygenate we add air to the must. Fermentation starts by ifself, because of the hot weather. We may use the pied de cuve technique, 2 or 3 different ones, to see which one is best. It’s important to have a fresh pied de cuve.[A short note: Pied de cuve is a technique that is often used for white wines. Some grapes are collected a week or so before the grapes are ready to be harvested. A small amount of this “stock” is then used to “kick-start” the fermentation, and helps to avoid any possibility of early oxidation.]

-After some years of “strange things” (high volatile, extreme skin-contact), some 10 years ago we decided to do some adjustments in the cellar, says Francesco. -We were lucky, as my father knew Josko Gravner (top Friuli producer with long experience in orange wines). He had also been making extremes wines, and then changed slightly. We also got some help from a retired enologist from Zonin (the region’s big player, just down the road).

-Normally we don’t add sulfites, only in the cheapest wines, that can have quite high volatile acidity.

We tasted a few wines together. And Francesco has nothing to hide, a sympathetic approach, as we start with their pét nat:

Garg’n’go 2017: In 2017 we have problems with re-fermentation, so here are practically no bubbles. That’s the way it is with pét nat (natural pétillance/bubbles), when there is no nat pét, there is just one way to fix it: we have to wait. The colour is quite dark, with flavours of yellow apples, yeast, and good acidity from the durella grape (20%). We can imagine how it will be in good condition. -We have no tradition for bubbles, says Francesco. -My father never thought about it, but I love it, and it’s easy to sell. Francesco fetches another bottle, that has a little more bubbles. OK, so there is hope.

Over to the still wines, the first one all garganega: Sassaia 2016, as we said from the vineyard close to the house. 70% were directly pressed, the rest skin-macerated for 2-3 days, then barrelfermented. Because we don’t use SO2 tannin and polyphenol from the skin-contact help the wine to stay healthy and live longer. It shows a light golden colour; mature apples, white flowers, ginger (from garganega) and some toast on the nose; it’s quite full and very tasty.

The relatively high altitude Pico has for me been a favourite, if I were to pick only one wine. Selected grapes from three relatively high vineyards, Pico 2016 was 50% directly pressed, an equal part had 2-3 days skin-contact. In fact there was also a tiny amount (one barrel, maybe 2%) that had extended skin-contact for 2 1/2 months. -’16 was a good harvest, and it rained at the right moments. The wine showed dark, almost amber; with mature apples, white pepper, ginger, a touch of honey; rich and glyceric in the mouth, with an integrated acidity and an extreme length.

Rosso Masieri 2017 is a young and luscious, fruity and herb-scented red wine from merlot, tokai rosso (grenache) and cabernet sauvignon. See link #1 at the bottom of this post for more.

Passito Monte Sorio 2015 is a recioto style, IgT (though they have a DOCG Recioto too). The garganega was harvested before the other grapes. They were all hung in vertical nets, for 4-5 months to dry. Then there was one week skin-maceration, and fermentation for 2-3 months. More normal is 14% and 150 grams residual sugar, but in this vintage the alcohol is 16% and sugar 76 grams. Some sulfites are added, simply because the wine gets cloudy after 2-3 years because of some protein bindings. Amber colour; on the nose: nuts, some raisin, iodene, lightly oxidezed style; on the palate: long and with a good acidity.

Let’s close this chapter with a recommendation from Francesco Maule: Recioto and parmesan cheese: a fantastic combination! (Parmesan, or parmiggiano, is “almost local”, as Parma is only  one and a half hours from Verona.)

 

Davide Vignato

Climbing downhill to the center of the village we find both our next wine people, the two Davides. Vignato is not an uncommon name in Gambellara, and in the short street I ring the doorbell at two other Vignato’s houses before the right one stands before me.

Davide is third generation vigneron, so he’s born and raised in the village. But he is the first to have organic wines certified as DOC Gambellara. He has 14 hectares of vineyards that are characterized by these mineral soils. He works them organically, with techniques like green manure. Grape varieties are mainly garganega, but also durella, glera, chardonnay and merlot.

 

In the ancient amphitheater of Monte San Marco

He takes me to the biggest of the two amphitheaters formed by the ancient volcanoes. It’s the one in Gambellara, close to his home, the other is in the aforementioned Montebello to the east.

-I want to make organic wine, but I also want clean wine, for me this is important, Davide says. He also believes that the volcanic soil gives a salty, mineral character to the wines. Both these opinions can be backed by the tasting.

Balaltic dark rocks of volcanic origin

Primo Incontro 2016, IgT Veneto: The “first meeting” is a garganega frizzante (light pressure), where the second fermention is catalyzed by some of the dried grapes. The yeasts remain in the bottle, so the “sur lie” technique is employed, with batonnage once a week. -The final bottling was done after 15 months, no SO2, so I prefer to do malo-lactic fermentation, says Davide.

The wine shows a light yellow colour, slightly cloudy; aromas of apples, white flowers and citrus; there is a balanced acidity, a slightly salty, simple, good summer drink.

Cuvée dei Vignato 2013: A spumante metodo classico (high pressure) from 90% durella, and the rest chardonnay, with 40 months on the lees.

Somewhat lighter; green apples, citrus, bread crust; more evident, pungent acidity, long and mineral aftertaste.

Then follow two still whites, both 100% garganega.

El Gian 2016, Gambellara Classico, a tribute to his father Gian Domenico: This wine is from 25 year old vines in the hills. As usual: Natural yeast and only a small quantity SO2. It stayed on the lees in steel tanks for 5 months before bottling.

Light straw colour; green apples, white flowrs, citrus, clean (no tropics); quite mellow in the mouth, but the acidity shines through, and typical for the garganega grape it has a nice bitterness towards the end.

Col Moenia 2016 , Gambellara Classico: This is from 40 years old vines, and the grape selection is stricter. No de-stemming. It stays on the lees for 7 months, and batonnage is carried out once in a while.

Light straw, clear; yellow apple, ginger; full on the palate, more concentration than the previous wine, and more integrated acidity (the harvest was 20 days later), slightly bitter aftertaste.

A general observation can be added here: Garganega has a long cycle, and late picking is normal. Durella is approximately one month earlier, around mid-september.

Regarding the wine styles, at this point it should also be clear that  Vignato’s wines are clean, the fruit is a bit more acid and the apple notes are greener. La Biancara is more turbid, obviously unfiltered, plays with oxidation, and the fruit is more yellow and mature.

1950 Merlot 2016, IgT Veneto: -1950 was the year when my father planted the merlot vineyard for this wine, because he realized that he was tired of drinking only white gambellara, says Davide. The pressing is light, and the wine matures in steel tank with occational batonnage.

The colour is ruby with some violet; with aroma of red fruits and some herbs; medium body, soft tannins, quite easy drinking really.

The “picai” technique is still used, bunches hung from the roof to dry

Cal d’Oro 2009: This is a passito wine with mahogany (or dark amber) colour; iodine notes, umami, dried fruits and dates; some tannins, medium sweet (120-30 g), a bit raisiny, and also salt in the finish.

Ca’ Ronchi 2007, Passito Rosso: Dark red, a little browning; red berries and forestfruits (morelloes, blackberries), nuts; quite slender, good tannin structure, medium sweet (same as the former), wonderfully balanced by acidity.

Davide Vignato

 

Davide Spillare

After a sandwich and a coffee in the bar on Gambellara’s central square, I climb the labyrinths of the neighbourhood where Davide Spillare has his house and winery, and several of the vineyards are there too. I meet Davide together with Lanfranco Fossà, who helps him with various tasks in the office.

Davide and Lanfranco

A little background: Davide Spillare (his last name should have a stress on the first syllable) was born in 1987.  He went to agronomy school, then worked 4 years for Angiolino Maule, to learn and to gain experience. In 2007 he started on his own. He is third generation. Antonio, his grandfather, worked in real estate, and made wine in the weekends.  Mariano, his father, worked with machines and repair, he made more wine than his father, but he only sold it to the cooperative.

So Davide’s project is in a way still young. He owns 4 hectares of vineyards, and has 6 on rent (the latter will come into production from the 2019 vintage). In fact 50% of Davide’s production is today sold to Japan. The wines are also found in a handful more countries. I tasted them in London’s 40 Maltby Street wine bar.

The annual production is now 20.000 bottles, and will increase to 30.000. Not very much. From Davide’s house there is a nice view over the village, and you can easily see the big Zonin winery.

Davide has 5 labels, mostly garganega, except for some durella for sparkling (up to 70 years old), and also some merlot for the red. He employs biodynamic viticulture, and there is almost no technology in the cellar. The old vines are bound up in the pergola system, but for the newer plantings he uses Guyot.

In the plains, at around 200 meters above sea level, there are clayey soils. The rest is mostly volcanic.

In general we could say that after Vignato’s clean and clear wines we are now, not surprisingly maybe, back towards the style of Maule’s La Biancara. In a way the wines are elegant, with their crisp acidity. But they clearly take place in the natural wine category, without added sulfur, and no filtration or fining, so they also come with a rich mouthfeel and loads of taste.

Here are some short notes from the tasting.

L1 (named after Lumber 1, the lowest rib in the back, that Davide once broke in a tractor accident): It’s made from 90% garganega, and 10% durella (only for acidity). The second fermentation was in the bottle. -We don’t use yeast, but the moist from the sweet wine. (It rings a bell now from both visits earlier that day.)

The colour is yellow; aromas of yellow apples, light bread; very good acidity

Bianco Crestan 2016: 100% garganega, from the flat area (with less mineral soil).

Straw yellow, aromas of green apples, citrus (lime); quite glyceric, mellow, a nice and simple wine for everyday drinking.

Bianco Rugoli 2016 (12,5%): From the 80 old vineyard that gives name to the next wine, the bushes trained in pergola. Spontaneous fermentation, like all his wines, here in used oak barrels. The first bottle is bretty. Davide says it’s from the cork. When the water isn’t changed often enough this can happen. The water should be changed for every 100.000 corks.

The nose is more complex than the previous, but maintaining a good acidity and a strong minerality.

Straw yellow; more mature apples, wax, aromatic herbs; smooth yet fresh, fruit all the way (4-5 g/L acidity), slightly bitter aftertaste.

Vecchie Vigne 2016: It had 100% skin-contact for 5 days, then fermented in barrel 7-8 days. 13,5% alcohol.

Golden; more mature apples on the nose, together with pear, honey and nuts (it was a very late harvest); concentrated on the palate, a warmer, richer style, with a salty mineral aftertaste. This wine is still young though, and will open more.

Rosso Giaroni 2016: Merlot at 13,5%.

Dark cherry, me green pepper, red fruits; fruity, bit tannic.

#3 – Gambellara: Maule and the two Davides

 

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Dão after the fires of 2017

In the days leading up to the Simplesmente Vinho fair we drove around in the Dão region, and it was no doubt that the fires of 2017 had left its mark on the region. And not only among those directly hit.

Here is an article from our Dão visits, recently published in Norway’s Vinforum magazine. It’s in the Norwegian language, but here I chose one wine from each featured producer, and supply a few pictures from the article.

Here is a link to the page where you find the article.

Casa de Mouraz (Mouraz outside Tondela): Well-made wines, clean and direct, fruity and balanced. Wine from all categories, also Vinho Verde. 25 ha. own vineyards, more clay than usual in Dão, but some granite too. Sara and António were probably the most severely hit by the fires, and guests of honour at the fair.

Here I chose their Elfa 2014, from 80% baga and around 30 other varieties, that went into the fermentation tanks with whole bunches. It’s a great wine, fresh and quite direct, with red berries, green pepper, medium structure and a balanced natural acidity.

Quinta do Perdigão, Silgueiros: 7 ha., granitic, mostly quartz. Biodynamic prictise. The fires stopped right outside the quinta gate, and José and Vanessa went through some terrifying hours that night. The late-released rosé is an all time favourite, and aside from that one the white and the youngest reds are the best wines for me. Good varietals from jaen, and the one I chose here:

Alfrocheiro 2011 has kept the dark colour well, and shows aromas of blackcurrant, pepper and some balsamic, and with good support from tannins and acidity.

João Tavares da Pina (Quinta da Boavista), Penalva do Castelo: Cooler, higher (around 500 meters), clay and schist (from maritime sediments), 13 ha. planted (50 in total). João has a passion for the jaen grape, well-suited here, with its long cycle. His entry-level wines Rufía! are direct, fruity, acidic, turbid and easy to put in the “natural wine bag”. But the reds also demonstrate their ability to age. João searches for both freshness, but also the decadent mushroom and underwood aromas. The jaen grape and high fermentation temperatures (up to 32°C) are tools to achieve this. João is also a passionate horse-breeder, a creative chef, and maker of Serra da Estrela cheese until recently.

While waiting for the lamb chutlets to be finished we tasted some 20 wines that João had placed on the stove. A white Rufia! 2016 was opened 13 days earlier, had one week skin-contact in a small steel lagar. Light orange and turbid, flowery aromas, citrus peel, and a wonderful, stimulating acidity. He plays with oxidation, but balances masterfully.

António Madeira, making wine from 6 ha. spread over 6 villages, most near -or in- the Estrela: He is French, from Portuguese descendant. His project is to identify and categorize the great vineyards of Dão. He started to make wine in 2011 from a 50 year old vineyard, while still living in Paris. His wines all have freshness and energy. To say that they are promising is an understatement.

2017 will be remembered by the fires, but the vintage itself is promising, dry (not surprisingly) and very early harvests. Liberdade Branco 2017, his first almost-no-sulphites wine: Complex, still a bit reductive, but fine spicy notes, pear and citrus. Good acidity, with a salty minerality (oysters, according to himself) in the finish. Wait until this really opens!

 

 

  

 

Here is a collection of articles from the fair:

A brief report

Monte da Casteleja, Algarve

Azores Wine Company

Folias de Baco, Douro

Tavares da Pina, Dão

There will also come short articles about the Douro and Vinho Verde producers of the fair.

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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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The Wine Office II and III

Since my previous visit to Vinkontoret (the Wine Office, see here), a nice place to sample wines in Stavanger, Norway, one of the sommeliers has left. Christoffer Ingebretsen, formerly in charge of the restaurant at the town’ concert hall, is now alone. And he is busy, but he handles the crowd, and even remembers most of the wines I ordered two months ago.

Among them were Alsace Pinot Gris 2013 (J & A Ganevat): A Jura producer, but also with some negociant activities, like here, where they control the vineyards. A light yellow wine with aroma of yellow tomatoes, a little raisiny, waxy, and a touch of flor. Full, smooth and quite long.

Yesterday another Ganevat, Champs Poids Chardonnay 2014, a Côtes du Jura, was tested:

Back to my March visit, a Grand Cru Sommerberg Riesling 2009 (Albert Boxler), was fabulous: Deep yellow. Honeyed, waxy, and herbs on the nose. Full, smooth, and a great acidity contributes to the long finish.

This one was uncomplicated, yeasty and fresh, with a touch of peel and a limey acidity. Côme Isambert 2015 is a quaffable Saumur chenin blanc grown organically chalky, schisty soil and aged on the lees in big barrels. Côme doesn’t own the vineyards, but buys the grapes from four different growers and does the rest himself. Pure joy!

Next order: -It would have been nice with some red wine now. Christoffer: -OK, I’ll bring you some!

Asking for some red wine I was given this selection 

Clos Mogador of René Barbier is a wine I have followed through many years, here in the 2013 vintage. René here means both father and son. Taken the lead now has junior, who is married to Sara Pérez, that has exactly the same position in Mas Martinet, also in the municipality of Gratallops. Dark, slightly violet; dark fruits, blackberry, rosemary, and a cool freshness; full and warm in the mouth, lots of tannins and a nice minerality.

The rest in brief: Barolo Riserva “7 anni” 2008 (Franco Conterno): Some developed tones; red fruits, lickorice, underwood, mushroom; fresh acidity, evident tannins, but not aggressive. La Guiraude 2015 (Alain Graillot), Crozes-Hermitage. Red, violet hint; fresh aroma, still with youthful charm, red fruits, flowery; in the mouth young tannins, inspiring acidity. Côte Rotie 2010 (E. Guigal): Ruby red with developed tones; meaty aroma, forest berries, some sweet tones (toffee); round, full, well-balanced, maybe at its peak now, but I’m not sure if this is for me.

Worth mentioning from the last visit was also a barbera, La Scarpa La Bogliona 2008, a richly flavoured wine in good balance, with cherry and nuts, and a sweet & sour-like touch.

With the wines I ordered a cheese and charcuterie plate. The cheeses were Swiss, from Burgundy, La Mancha, and Lombardia, and of various styles.

Ok, the visits may seen as a bit of an of an impromptu character, but so what, this is a fascinating place with enough wine to follow your instincts, and many whites can go after a red. Each time at this office is a well worth, rewarding safari – and there’s not too much paperwork involved.

 

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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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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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A Victory for the Vinho

I am on my way home from the 6th Simplesmente Vinho in Porto, an event for individual, artisanal wine producers. This time 101 producers participated, mostly Portuguese, a few visitors from Spain, and one single winery from France. And having followed Portuguese wine over the years it’s so exiting to be around now to witness the steps that are being taken in the country.

João Roseira, organizer of the event 

João Roseira (of Quinta do Infantado, Douro) one of the founders of this two day fair, said in his opening speech that the idea came from off-springs of bigger festivals in France and Italy, and they thought, this we can do at home. So Simplesmente Vinho was created in 2013 as an alternative to the Essência do Vinho, also in Porto. It’s held in Cais Novo, a former port warehouse near the Port Wine Museum, and in addition to wine presentations the fair includes concerts and dinners, one of them this time in reknowned chef Rui Paula’s DOP restaurant.

There’s Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno in the crowd

I will come back to details about the wines I tasted. Here I will limit myself to say that there were both well-known producers like the aforementioned Quinta do Infantado (Douro), Álvaro Castro and Quinta do Perdigão (Dão), Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno, Quinta das Bágeiras (who recently received a prestigious award from the Grande Escolha magazine), Casa de Saima, Luís and Filipa Pato (all Bairrada), Adega Regional de Colares, Quinta do Mouro (Alentejo) and Barbeito (Madeira).

The ever popular Filipa Pato spotted at a distance

There were many less famous producers. Well, less known to the “masses”, but many have already made a name for themselves among those who are interested in what’s going on the authentic, organic, natural wine scene. Maybe some should rather be in the first category, anyway here are just a few more names: Aphros and Quinta da Palmirinha (Vinho Verde), Conceito, Quinta de Romeu and Folias de Baco (Douro), António Madeira and João Tavares da Pina (Dão), Vale da Capucha, Humus and Quinta do Montalto (Lisboa), Cabeças do Reguengo (Alentejo), and Monte da Casteleja (Algarve).

Sonia and Pedro of Vale da Capucha takes a well-deserved break

Special guests were Sara and António of Casa de Mouraz (Dão) that lost both buildings, vineyards and a lot more in the devastating fires of last autumn. I met them before the fair, and will report from my visit.

Sara Dionísio, tirelessly presenting the Casa de Mouraz range

Lastly there were some intriguing producers from Spain. Sandra Bravo of Sierra de Toloño (Rioja) are among those who I know best. I will come back to her and the others. Here Sandra gives her opinion about the event: V for Victory, for Vinho, and I take the opportunity to add a heartfelt Bravo! to all.

Sandra Bravo sums it all up

 

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24 hours in Rioja

This is a belated article from the Castilla-Rioja trip last autumn, that I organized and guided. The trip (labelled RRR) went through Rueda and Ribera del Duero and ended with more or less 24 hours in Rioja. So what do you show people in just one day, when the area is so vast and there are so many producers to chose from?

One had obviously to chose a theme, and not surprisingly the criteria were in accordance with this blog. Therefore a big Sorry to all the historic bodegas, the ones from the station neighbourhood in Haro, the ones with noble names, architect designed buildings, big public relation departments and so on. The producers we visited were focused on vineyards, organic farming, expressing terroir through their wines, they were small, and they had their unique personal style.

*Telmo Rodríguez (Remelluri), Labastida: Remelluri was one of the first estate wines in Rioja, and Telmo himself has also done a tremendous job driving across Spain to find in finding and communicate terroirs, fighted in an unselfish way for understanding of diversity, and most lately he was the driving force behind the so-called Manifesto meetings, that in turn led to change in Rioja classification

*Sandra Bravo (Sierra de Toloño), Rivas de Tereso and Villabuena de Álava: A new voice, first amphora aged wine in Rioja, member of the “activist” group Rioja’n’Roll who has a strong focus on landscape

*Juan Carlos Sancha: University professor of enology, recovers traditional grape varieties, and as representative of small family-wineries in the Consejo Regulador, and has there advocated for a structural change from within

*In addition to the three we visited Lauren Rosillo (Finca Valpiedra), not in Rioja, but in Martínez Bujanda’s bodega in Rueda. Here you can read about it.

Arriving at La Granja de Nuestra Señora de Remelluri there were Telmo Rodríguez, his collegue and companion Óscar Alegre and Ainara Martínez from the administration to welcome us. The first thing we do is to go for a walk in the lovely landscape amidst the vineyards around the farm, chat about Remelluri’s place in the scenery and in history, about Rioja politics and many other things. So relaxed, so much in harmony.

We are in Labastida (or: Bastida in Basque, as this is Rioja Alavesa), looking up on the Sierra de Toloño, part of the Cantabria range. The farm was bought by the Rodríguez family in 1967. It’s however an old property, having been created by the Hieronymite monks some 600 years ago. -That time around 1970 was Middle Age, recalls Telmo. -There were mules, no tractors… And we ran the farm for 9 years without electricity.

When the first vintage was released in 1971 it was Rioja’s first modern estate wine. After his project of recovering vineyards and reviving traditions all over Spain for many years, Telmo Rodríguez took over the family property in 2009. Telmo, with his sister Amaia, cut production of Remelluri down 30-40% to maximise quality. Today Remelluri spans over 160 hectares, 100 under vine, divided in around 150 plots. All organic, certified in 2013. Production is now 270.000 bottles, which make them a medium-size Rioja producer.

 Telmo by an “amphiteathre” near the winery

The vineyards are at 6-800 meters altitude, the highest destined for a white wine. Telmo is an advocate for field blends, as he sees terroirs more important than varieties. Therefore the terroirs are not blended.

So the decision was taken that from the 2010 vintage the wine they had made for their good neighbours, Lindes (meaning something like ‘common borders’), should be divided between the two municipalities where their suppliers come from. By making two wines it was also possible to show the differences in terroir between the two villages; Lindes de San Vicente is a riper, more structured wine, while the higher altitude Labastida counterpart is slow-ripening, fresher, more floral, and the grapes are typically picked ten days later. There is also an up-grade of the quality of this wine. -We want to pay them higher, says Telmo, -although the pay is already high by Rioja standards.

-Other than this we don’t buy grapes, says Telmo, -not even in 2017 when the crop was low. The bigger houses asked us where we would buy grapes to maintain production. We said ‘nowhere’ of course. For us this is a simple question. You don’t add grapes from Navarra in a Ch. Lafite only because the crop is smaller, do you? This is a question of mentality. Some people buy grapes to maintain the number of bottles, we don’t. “This vineyard in a bottle is a beauty.”

 Óscar and Ainara

Note: One of the reasons for visiting Remelluri at this moment was the special circumstances, in the aftermath of the aforementioned Manifesto. The Basque producers (the ABRE organization where Remelluri is not a member) had threatened to leave Rioja and set up their own DO, and Artadi had already left. Meanwhile most of the Manifesto meeting thought that the best was to change the system from within. What we now know is that the Consejo all of a sudden and quite surprisingly announced the new ‘viñedos singulares’ category, and ABRE put the leaving plans on hold for two years.

Back in the bodega house we had a tasting of the two Lindes wines in the 2013 edition, plus the two more famous references, the reserva and gran reserva, both in the 2010 vintage. All were fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured in a combination of stainless steel, concrete, big oak vats and small barrels.

2013 was a generally rainy year, declared “good” by the officials (which means not so good). For us it only means different, a bit lighter than usual, maybe more elegant. Lindes de Labastida 2013 from limestone and clay soils, was quite direct and linear; light red in colour, with a floral aroma, red berries. Lightweight, but refreshing, wonderfully integrated wood, with a good acidity, and overall really nice drinking. Lindes de San Vicente 2013 (these are often slightly bigger, and harvest takes place some 10 days ealier): Ruby red, slightly darker fruit (blackberry, some blackcurrant), a hint of tobacco. In the mouth it’s rounder, a bit bigger than the Labastida wine, but this one too on the elegant side, though not very complex.

2010 on the other hand, was top rated, with healthy grapes and high values in most parametres, and a good start in Telmo’s comeback. Remelluri Reserva 2010 was aged 17 months in French barrels. It’s definitely darker than the previous wines, more complex with red and dark berries, cherries, plums, some lickorice and some earthy notes. In the mouth it’s fresh, mineral, with already almost integrated oak, good acidity, and very long. Refined. Granja Remelluri Gran Reserva 2010: Here is more garnacha, 25%. It’s a lighter wine, with nuts and a slight touch of vanilla, but with a lot of red berries underneath. Full-bodied, fresh and with good grape tannin structure. There is a timeless subtlety over this one.

Goodbye to the people at Remelluri, a short drive up the same road towards the Sierra, and Sandra Bravo is waiting for us in Rivas de Tereso, a hamlet so small that a special meeting place is not needed. It’s here she has her vineyards, while she is renting an old bodega down in Villabuena de Álava, where she has both steel, amphoras and wood of various sizes and ages.

She belongs to the activist group Rioja’n’Roll, but in private Sandra is not noisy, as she appears calm and balanced. The group wants to put the focus on the vineyards, and let the wines speak about them. Like Remelluri and many others around here she one foot in La Rioja and one in Álava. -I describe my wines as Alavesa, says Sandra, cool wines from mainly calcareous soil, small plots, and there is always the north wind that brings freshness to the wines. In addition to the freshness from the climate, Sandra is almost always the first in the area to harvest.

 

 (photo: A. Sjurseike)

She makes a total of 42.000 bottles a year, quite small by Rioja standards. Down in the Villabuena cellar we tasted through some of the wines, and I go through them only briefly. Sierra de Toloño Blanco 2016 is a viura 100%, biodynamic farming (like in most of the vineyards), the grapes are de-stemmed and 90% is made in steel, the rest in French oak, all kept on the lees. It’s light in colour, fresh aroma with white flowers hay. In the mouth it’s round, with well-integrated acidity and a salty touch.
Nahi 2016 (nahi is a Basque word meaning ‘desire’): This very special, lovely white comes from more than 80 years old vineyards around Villabuena. It’s a field blend of recovered plants of various varieties, mostly viura and malvasía, but also some calagraño and rojal. They were fermented together in a big barrel (500L), and has a gentle ageing in wood too. It has an aroma of white flowers too, but also a tough of fennel and smoke. It’s rich, soft, concentrated and long, but the acidity is not of the sharp type.  

Now for the reds: Sierra de Toloño 2016, a 100% tempranillo from 600-750m altitude. All destemmed, spontaneous fermentation in steel, then a year in old, neutral barrique, no fining or filtering. Cherry red, aromas of violets, blackberry and some balsamic notes, a slight touch of chocolate. In the mouth it’s very, fresh, young but rounded tannins, the fruit is there all the way. La Dula 2016: This is a 90% garnacha, the rest tempranillo from the vineyard La Dula planted in 1944 at 700m in Rivas de Tereso. It’s fermented in 300L amphoras, aged there for 12 months, before bottling, unfined and unfiltered. Quite dark, very floral, with herbs, laurels… Luscious, juicy in the mouth, but also with a delicate structure. Rivas de Tereso 2015: This is a single vineyard tempranillo from 650m altitude. It fermented very slowly in amphora for one year, then aged in a second-use barrel for one year. Deep red colour, aroma of red fruits, blackberry, some coffee. It’s more full-bodied and contentrated than the other wines, more calcareous, mineral, deep. The tannin structure is evident, it’s mineral, and the acidity gives it freshness. Both powerful and elegant. One for the shelf, but one you still can’t hardly resist.

It is a lovely next morning with all the colours that the Riojan autumn has to offer when we head south to the Najerilla valley from our hotel in Labastida. We reach the small settlement of Baños de Río Tobia in the Najerilla valley, southwest of Logroño, close to the Sierra de la Demanda mountains. This is one of the coldest areas in Rioja (competing with the area we just came from, Sierra de Toloño).

View over the Najerilla valley. The yellow trees in the background is where the Rioja area ends (in the direction towards Soria)

Juan Carlos Sancha’s work as a vintner is based on the results from his work at the University of La Rioja, Logroño, where he is a manager of the Master of Oenonology studies and has a special interest in nearly extinct local grape varieties. He had already started to experiment with these varieties when he was a winemaker for Viña Ijalba, known as the first Rioja producer of certified organic wine, just outside Logroño.

He makes 45.000 bottles per year. Juan Carlos sees his vineyards as being of two types: 1. young vineyards of autoctonous grape varieties, 27 different (1.200 bottles of monastel, see below, belongs to this group), and 2. singular vineyards (centennial vines of garnacha), that are going to be submitted to that group once the new regulation is put into practise. He plans to launch up to 8 wines as “viñedos singulares” according to the new regulations.

The professor lectures about the autoctonous varieties in the garage

Juan Carlos sees three important dates in the regulations since Rioja delimitation as a protected area in 1925:

*1991: the DOC regulations

*2008: new grape varieties allowed

*2017: the new viñedos singulares category

-Rioja had 44 varieties in 1912, says Juan Carlos. In 2000 there was “practically” no more than 7 (ok, save for some “projects”). Among the grapes he works are red and white maturana, white tempranillo and monastel. The name of this last one resembles several other grapes, but it’s another. Juan Carlos claims that to make the only wine in the world from this variety. What we are also about to taste are wines from old garnacha plots that he recovered. Some of them were planted by his grandfather in 1917 at Peña el Gato, 750m above sea level.

He makes a no-sulphite added garnacha and the Peña El Gato Garnacha Viñas Centenarias from his own vineyard. The rest are from local vinegrowers. The wines are bottled separately, and the name of each grower is featured on a neckhanger. These last wines are quite exclusive, as none of them reach 1.000 bottles.

There is also the Ad Libitum range. The name is Latin, used in music and denotes something that is free, or improvised. This is a good name for a creative winemaker as Juan Carlos Sancha. The range includes a white tempranillo, a mutation of red tempranillo discovered a few years ago in a Rioja vineyard. According to Juan Carlos all white varieties are mutuations of red ones.

  

Monastel, the one and only

 (photo: A. Sjurseike)

Up on the peña with these magnificent views and the autumn sun chasing the morning mist away, we had a pieceful tasting. Four wines were brought up there. Ad Libitum Monastel 2016: Not the other varieties with almost the same names, no: monastel, monastel de Rioja. The wine was fermented in big 500L barrel (new French). It’s clear red, clean. A meaty and spicy aroma, but also red berries, like cherry and some strawberry. A serious wine with firm tannins, and a nice acidic touch. Peña el Gato 2016: Garnacha planted in 1917. Juan Carlos claims it is impossible to find a 100 year old tempranillo. Light red colour, raspberry, blackberry and aromatic herbs on the nose, firm structure, very fresh acidity (7g), and some coffee too. Peña el Gato 2016 Terroir Rubén Olarte (the original, 160 year old vines, clay/calcareous soil facing south and west). Raspberry, blackberry, caramel, lickorice. Maybe more complex, but somewhat less fresh, lots of rounded tannins, rich, and more evident alcohol (at 14%). Peña el Gato Natural 2016: Garnacha again, no added sulphur (total 8 mg). Cherry red, blackberry, red fruits. Has a certain “sweetness” (from elaboration in wood), but good acidity too, good structure (more tannin than the others, that comes from a really low production because of the steep vineyard where the water escapes).

 

This trip started in Rueda, continued through Ribera del Duero, and this was the last visit. Back in Madrid we said goodbye with a meal at the Gastroteca Santiago. And the circle was completed when our promising 18 year old “apprentice” got the Rueda that we started out with, and then the Monastel de Rioja. It might be some time until next time.

 

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