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Wine talk about La Stoppa

These notes are from another wine talk in the Vinestor-series. (Read my first report here.) Now the time had come to La Stoppa and their Norwegian importer Vinum, represented by Runar Nikolaysen.

I suppose that for many people La Stoppa’s Ageno was the first orange wine they ever tasted. This because of its presence in several markets.

Representing the winery was Nico Sciackitano, who was born in the USA, where he among other things worked as a sommelier in San Francisco. But he wanted to follow another path. Thus he came to Italy, worked for Arianna Occhipinti in Sicily, and through her met Elena of La Stoppa. He is export representative, but he also works in the vineyard and in the cellar.

Nico Sciackitano on the pc screen

La Stoppa, the winery in Emilia-Romagna, can trace its roots back to the 19th century. The farm has now 58 hectares, of which 30 are planted with local varieties barbera, bonarda, malvasia, ortugo and trebbiano. One of the features that distinguish them from the mainstream is long skin-maceration, especially a particularity for white wines. Otherwise good raw material and little intervention are key words.

La Stoppa is found in Rivargaro, south of Piacenca. And Ageno, Giancarlo Ageno, was the founder, who bought the land that they own today. They have three little hills and three valleys around them. He planted some 40 different grape varieties, and was one of the first in the area to bottle his wines. There is a lot old red clay in the area, and rich in iron, not unlike parts of Bordeaux. This Nico tells while showing a picture of a bottle of “bordeaux” that Ageno made himself. It was in 1973 that Elena’s father Raffaele, from Piacenza, bought the farm. It was when her father died in the 90’s that Elena’s mother convinced her to come back, and together with winemaker Giulio they decided only to focus on local varieties and to express the terroir of the farm.

La Stoppa makes basically red wines. Nevertheless, the one white wine, named after the founder, is maybe the most famous one.

Nico tells that its not the climate that differes the most from the more famous neighbours (like Veneto and Piemonte), but the soils. Barbera with its acidity is the most important grape variety, as the cuisine is quite fat. Piacenza is more of a diverse farmland than many of the neighbouring wine regions. Around La Stoppa the vines are mostly on the hills, so when it’s harvest time the animals will rather eat corn and tomatoes in the valleys floors than their grapes, explains Nico.

Interestingly the Ageno that the founder made himself was a müller-thurgau, riesling, sylvaner, moscato and sauvignon blanc, and made without skin-contact as today. The new owners continued that tradition (but mostly with chardonnay and sauvignon), untill the 90’s, when it was changed to the wine that we know now, based on a thick-skinned malvasia. 2002 was the first vintage of today’s Ageno, born as a nod to the history of skin-macerated wines, not only in Emilia-Romagna, but in Europe as a whole. -This is the reason I am here, tells Nico. -I was tasting the wine blind. It smells sweet, then comes the dry taste and the tannic mouthfeel. And the colour, within a year it changes from yellow to amber to dark orange. Ageno kind of plays with your mind, says Nico. In recent vintages 18, 19 and 20 the weather has been different; cooler with more rain. Thus the colour is much paler than in the preceeding vintages. The maceration lasts on skins untill winter, that is 3-4 months.

Historic picture: Giancarlo Ageno on the right

They always macerate everything outside in tanks without temperature control. So it’s important that the temperature stays high, so the fermentation can continue. In 2016-17 there were sudden falls in temperatures, so they had to cover up the tanks.

You have understood that La Stoppa stands for a low-intervention winemaking, “hands-off” in the field, just spray copper and sulphur when necessary. It’s a question of paying attention, prune well, and let time work. -Guilio’s 40 years of experience lets him not needing to do anything.

A feature is also that they don’t necessarily release the vintages chronologically. 2017 was ready before 16, and they also found out that to realease the 19 alongside the 16 could be a way for people to understand and appreciate the differences.

Ageno 2016

The grape composition varies. The 2016 is made from malvasia di candia aromatica 90%, the rest is divided between ortrugo and trebbiano. Here are some more key figures, in short: Quite young vines, 20 years. No fertilizing, no weed-killers. The soil contains clay silt. The trellis system is simple guyot. 4 months maceration on skins in stainless steel and cement tanks. Spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, aged in 40 hectolitre wooden tanks. No filtration, no sulphites added.

Deep golden, amber. Concentrated aroma with both fresh (red apples), dried and pickled fruits (apricots, figs), honey, floral overtones, and some volatile acidity. Full-bodied, fruity, evident tannins, long with good acidity and also here a slight volatile character.

Trebbiolo 2019

This is a rather unpretentious wine from the traditional blend barbera (60%) and bonarda from the lower plots. I like it a lot, and makes for excellent drinking now, with charcuterie, light meat or a variety of antipasti. Some key information: Organic farming with biodiversity. No fertilizing, weed killers or pesticides. Clay Silt. Mostly simple Guyot. Age of vines: 7, 15 and 40 years. 20 days maceration on skins in stainless steel and/or cement tanks. Spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, in stainless steel and cement tanks.

Dark ruby. Dark and red fruits (mature blackberry, freshness cherry), and a smoky tone. Medium weight with a bit firm, but agreeable tannins, adecuate acidity and a nice touch of stony bitterness.

Macchiona and Barbera are more “serious” wines. They have the potential to age for a long time (especially in cooler vintages). Ageno is a newer project, so the producer claims that one doesn’t don’t know yet its ability it has to age.

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Simplesmente… Vinho 2021 – Part 1

Simplesmente …Vinho is the perfect wine fair. Here you find vignerons that really care for their grapes, and cultural aspects around it are also focused. In the cosy atmosphere one can feel that we are a big family of like-minded people. But important, after meeting the same artisans year after year you can really get to know the wines and follow them through storms and sunny days.

João Roseira’s welcome to the opening dinner

Speaking in wine terms, 2021 was a difficult year. The former site, an old port wine lodge by the river Douro, had been sold. So the organizers had to find a new place. This turned out to be the university’s faculty of architecture (Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade do Porto, FAUP). In the magnificent garden the usual barrels were set up. Another notable difference, of course, was the now well-known pandemic. They had done their best to take all the precautions needed; aside of the inevitable face-masks, there were fewer producers (around 60, some forty less than in the latest years), and there were three days instead of two, to avoid too much close contact. So in spite of the difficult conditions (“a crazy project”, according to ‘big chief’ João Roseira) I think that this might have been one of the best fairs so far, and Roseira and his team can be proud of how it all was carried out.

In my reports I have earlier given myself a special theme, mainly according to the regions I have visited before or after the fair itself. This time an extensive visits program was difficult, so I chose mainly to focus on wineries that earlier had been left out because they didn’t fit into my own regional limits. In this first article I will focus on some lesser known wineries from lesser known places.

Ready for the tasting

Quinta da Comenda is not exactly unknown. This producer has a long history, but has maybe found itself in the shadows of the Douro producers lately. The quinta is located in the village of S. Pedro do Sul in DOC Lafões, a granitic region between northwestern Dão and the southern tip of Vinho Verde, thus not far from Douro either. Lafões is mostly noted for white wines, and maybe not far from Verde in style. Comenda was one of the Portuguese pioneers of organic cultivation, back in the 1980’s.

A fabulous red wine, quite unusual for the area, was served at the opening dinner. This was an initiative by organizer João Roseira, but it’s made by Comenda’s Angelo Rocha. Comenda de Ansemil 2020, a blend with 6 varieties known from different parts of the country, was only made in a quantity of 100 bottles. It comes with a dark colour, an aroma of dark and red fruits with some licorice, and with a huge freshness and a vivid energy. Other than this, the tasting the day after showed several wines at a generally very high quality, from the “straight” white Comenda de Ansemil 2019, a blend of arinto, cercial (cerceal/sercial) and dona branca, to a salmon pink Rosé 2020 of the same name and vintage (but classified as Terras de Lafões, as the DOC does not allow rosés), with its raspberry tones and a more generous taste than aroma. One that I liked a lot was the white 1/3 barrel-wine Quinta da Comenda 2019. Light straw colour, quite complex nose with yellow apples, way and a touch of smoke, and with a touch of vanilla in the mouth. An inspiring acidity binds it well together, like in all the other wines.

Angelo Rocha, Q. da Comenda

Távora-Varosa is a small region that lies on on granite or schist between Dão and Douro. With 500 to 800 metres above sea level it has a continental climate and extreme temperatures. Last year I had the opportunity to visit the region and meet Manuel Valente in his village Aldeia de Cima, where the family has a 200 year long history of growing grapes and olives a.o. You can read more about this visit here. His project Protótipo is a highly interesting one. He had brought a few more wines this time, like a dark but fresh 7 grape red aged in very old oak for 18 months and a wonderful Protótipo Branco 2018, a waxy-textured wine with a lovely acidity, golden in colour, with white flowers and stone-fruits on the nose. But the pét nats are for me the top. The white version is perhaps the more tamed. The rosé is based on touriga nacional, tinta roriz, and a complementing field blend. Protótipo Rosé Pét Nat 2019 can be described as red-orange, turbid; fresh red fruits (raspberry, strawberry); with a slight residual sugar (2,3 grams) and an excellent acidity. It’s more to the wild side, and truly inspiring.

Manuel Valente and his visitors follow the rules of the pandemic

Alentejo is not among the unknown regions. But Heredade do Cebolal is not found in the central area where the DOC is located, but on the Alentejo coast, bordering Setúbal. Therefore the wines are much fresher. I met the producer’s British importer in London at the Real Wine fair and tasted their “subterranean” wine (read more here). Since then the winemaking has been moving towards less extraction, more elegance. The family firm is now led by Luís and Isabel Mota Capitão. Santiago de Cacém 2018 Vinha da Casa Branca is a serious wine. Made from encruzado, arinto and antão vaz, with natural malolactic and low-sulphur, this was light golden wine with a typical fresh Atlantic character, and a mineral, saline finish. A bit petrol can be associated with arinto with some age. Palhete is an interesting category. It’s the Portuguese name for a mix of red and white grapes, here in the Palhete 2020 85% aragônez and the rest antão vaz. In this wine I find both red fruits (strawberry) and yellow (tomatoes, and a tropical hint where we agreed that guayaba was a good description). In the mouth it is more concentrated than the light colour would indicate, and a dry finish with a hint of bitterness. In Spain clarete is the name for this style, while in Portugal clarete signifies a lightly coloured wine made only with red grapes. Herdade do Cebolal has a wine of this sort too. Clarete 2019 from castelão on predominantly clay soils, is made with only two days of maceration. It’s a light ruby coloured wine, the aroma had a certain warmth, dominated by forest fruits.

Luís Mota Capitão, Herdade do Cebolal

Lisboa as a wine region (formerly Estremadura) is for many readers not unknown. But some of its nine DOC’s might be, and here come four wineries from there. Generally this region is windy, but sheltered by low mountains inland, and though the landscape is not dramatic there are endless variations.

Quinta Várzea da Pedra is found in the Óbidos denomination, more specifically in the town of Bombarral. The brothers Tomás (winemaker) and Alberto Emídio are fourth generation. These guys have something going on with their reds, but for me the whites were brilliant at this moment. The entry-level Quinta Várzea da Pedra Branco 2019 from arinto and fernão pires is a textbook wine; light straw, quite glyseric on the nose, with yellow apples and flowers, full on the palate, but with a very good acidity. It was followed by an equally good 100% arinto, and a wine made from four clones of sauvignon blanc. The day before at the opening dinner, another wine really caught my attention, a fernão pires. This one like the former is simply called Quinta Várzea da Pedra, and the vintage was 2017. It was a really fresh wine, both unctuous, creamy and with a wonderful acidity. The dominating aromas were citrus, with a hint of tropical fruits and some minerality. This wine was focused last week (read here).

Alberto (left) and Tomás Emídio

Nearby in Cadaval we find Quinta do Olival da Murta. Only 15 km from the sea, by the Montejunto mountain range, Joana Vivas has 20 hectars under vine. The Serra Oca 2019 is a moscatel graúdo (the alexandria family), fermented in 1.000 liter oak vats: Golden colour; floral with a touch of honey; it has some volume, but also a distinctive acidity. An interesting one was a 3 days maceration curtimenta (orange wine) from fernão pires, arinto and moscatel, partly fermented in barrique, the rest in steel. This was golden with a hint of brown; somewhat more aromatic, citric and flowers, and again both full and a bit tannic with a cutting edge acidity. I include one of the reds, also called Serra Oca, now 2015. The grapes are touriga nacional, aragônez and castelão that spent one and a half years in French, used barrels. It’s dark cherry in colour; I noted mint (and it showed that the winery has this plant near the vineyards), together with dark fruits; quite well-structured and dry.

José Vivas, Quinta do Olival da Murta

Alcobaça is a subdivision of Encostas d’Aire. Rodrigo Martins consults for other producers, but here he has his own project Espera. The wines show a strong Atlantic influence, and the acidity is always taking the wines to places. We started with the young Espera 2019, bical and arinto from clay and limestone soils. Arinto brings an uplifting acidity to the waxy, tasty character of the bical. The Espera Rosé was made with whole bunches of touriga nacional and fermented in barriques: Light pink; raspberry and strawberry on the nose, together with a slight toasted note; again some volume and a super acidity. I also liked the Espera Curtimenta 2020. As the name implies it’s an orange wine, with 17 days of skin-contact. But the colour was very light, so the manipulation can not have been particularly rough during that time. It has a wonderful aroma of flowers and lime peel, and in the mouth it’s full with concentrated fruit, again a lovely acidity and a saline finish. The Palhete 2020 from 15% castelão and five white varieties was an appealing wine, with its early harvest acidity, red fruit nose and all. The nose was quite discreet, but on the palate it had more concentration. A super fresh and light wine, Nat Cool 2020, is a castelão that goes into Dirk Niepoort’s nationwide series of glou-glou wines of the same name in 1 liter bottles. It’s made solely in steel, with two days of maceration. It’s light ruby; red fruits (raspberry), with a hint of smoke (from the soil), mellow and easy, but with enough acidity, a saline finish – and as cool as can be.

Rodrigo Martins, flanked by agent Lynn and yours truly

Baías e Enseadas (bays and coves, in English) is found further south, in Codiceira, Sintra. This is the land of the famous Colares wine, and we are approaching the capital city. The soil is essentially clay-limestone, with a predominance of clay in their vineyard Vinha da Ribeirinha, that results in richer wines. In Vinha do Campo there is more limestone, that accounts for more elegant wines. Then it’s possible to combine the two to give more complexity. The white that they brought, Reserva Branco Fernão Pires 2016, was from a low-acidity year, according to Daniel Afonso. He didn’t manage to bring my impression down though, as the wine was very attractive. 6 months in wood, four of them with batonnage, gave a full-bodied wine, but (as indicated) without the acidity that this region can offer. His Baías e Enseadas 2016 from 60% castelão and the rest pinot noir was light ruby with some evolution in the colour; fresh Atlantic aroma, with red fruits, a lactic note (yoghurt?); an attractive acidity and a salty aftertaste. He also brought the red Baías e Enseados 2017, pinot noir 30%, tinta roriz 30, castelão 40, was a light wine with some evolution in appearance; red fruits (plum), some smoke; attractive and mellow with just enough acidity, and a saline finish.

Daniel Afonso, Baías e Enseadas

We will soon meet to talk about wines from more well-known regions, and I promise a cultural element.

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Experiencia Verema, Murcia

I am in Murcia, Spain. And suddenly the opportunity came to visit the third fair held by magazine Verema this summer. The two first ones were held in Palma de Mallorca and Madrid. There will be more tastings later in summer and autumn too. The location in Murcia was the Royal Casino, an emblematic building in the center. It was built from 1847 on, and shows traces of different styles from that period and somewhat later – now declared monument of historic-artistic interest.

I concentrated on the local wineries, that also were best represented here.

I was invited by Parajes del Valle, a winery I hoped to visit, but we didn’t manage to meet at their place this time. They are part of the bigger García Pérez group. In Jumilla they are for me one of the most interesting wineries. The first reason lies in their name, Parajes shows a sense of place. To obtain this I think that their decision to harvest early (first part of September for the monastrell grape, while most pick later that month or even October) and also the light extraction helps.

Gregorio and Gemma of Parajes del Valle

Director Gregorio Ruiz Abellán and export responsible Gemma Morcillo brought three vintages of their Parajes del Valle, an unoaked wine that is both fresh and cool, and at the same time very Mediterranean with its herbal fruitiness of the local supergrape. It starts in stainless steel, and is transfered to concrete after a while. I have highlighted both the 2018 and 19. Here is the latter, maybe most relevant. For me this has been a house wine through the winter (the article also has a link to the first one). At this moment I would say that the 20 is a bit lighter, maybe more to the fruity side, while the two others are more mineral. But they all are red fruit-driven and stand in the crossroads between the coolness and the rosemary/thyme-herbal Med-landscape.

The terraje system is described in the blogpost about the vintage 2019. In short it consists of renting the vineyard to the farmers, who take care of the quality of the vines, and then some wine is given back to the farmer. Terraje is also the name of their most “ambitious” wine (I feel the scraping of the sword when writing this, because the Parajes is in its way also a very ambitious one). Organic and dry-farmed, just like the other, this one is from older, ungrafted (“pie franco”) monastrell from defined places (parajes) called La Fuente de las Perdices and La Cañada de Albatana to the north of Jumilla town. This wine is made in a similar way, but aged in wooden “foudres”. Even this wine has low extraction with a cherry red colour. It’s fuller and more complex, but follows the same line in acidity and minerality.

Viña Elena I have known for a long time, and also visited Elena Pacheco once. This time it was her sister María together with José Marín who presented the wines.

María Pacheco showing the Bruma range

Located in Estrecho de Marín, a valley surrounded by low mountains south of Jumilla, they offer a varied range, from a light salmon-coloured rosé through monastrell-variations with cabernet and syrah, even the dark, spicy paprika-flavoured cabernet sauvignon varietal Cuco. Very interesting is their Bruma del Estrecho de Marín, a series of single vineyard wines, almost all from monastrell, some from the vineyards owned by two brothers over in the Albacete province of Castilla-La Mancha. The Parcela Particiones 2020 is a clarete from sandy soils. In Spain clarete means a blend of red and white grapes (whereas in Portugal this is called palhete, and clarete is a light wine from red grapes). It’s an elegant monastrell and airén blend without malolactic fermentation; smells of cherry and other stone-fruits and has quite a bit of tannins. Paraje Marín 2019 from stony soils was fabulous and fresh, with typical Mediterranean herbs and somewhat warm fruit. Paraje Las Chozas 2018 was a bit darker and with young tannins, but still fresh and cool, iodine and salty. Parcela Navajuelos 2018 from sandy soils was light in colour, fresh, fruity and cool with some spice. While Parcela Vereda 2018 was darker, with forest fruits (like blackberry) and some warmth from the clay soils, while the chalky part gives also this wine some saltiness. These fabulous wines and the parcel/paraje concept contribute to make Jumilla a wine region to watch in the years to come.

Bodegas Carchelo I knew well in the times of founder Agapito Rico, one of the great personalities in Jumilla from the early 1980’s. At that time he was quite a revolutionary with his fresh, concentrated, yet good value wines. It was nice to be able to catch up and meet David Ferraje from the team of new owners that took over a little more than ten years ago.

They are located to the east of Jumilla, at the foot of the mountains Sierra del Carche, hence the name. And most of the vineyards are quite near, north-northeast of the town. Today they are 100% organic. I have enjoyed several of their wines, from the young and fresh rosé via the simple and fun Eya Tinto 2020 and the dark fruit-driven Carchelo Roble 2019 (monastrell with cabernet and tempranillo) – to the more ambitious part of their range. Here you find f.ex Canalizo 2014, a monastrell-syrah-tempranillo aged 20 months in barrel. This one had aged beautifully; mature morellos, tea, dried fruits and a nice bitter tone. Muri Veteres 2016, a pie franco monastrell with dark fruits and balsamic notes, was elegant and attractive.

David Ferraje of Bodegas Carchelo

It’s maybe a bit strange to say that one of the surprises was Juan Gil. But the Gil Family Estates has turned into a conglomerate of bodegas across the country. I don’t know the quality of all of them, but the original (bodega founded by Juan Gil Giménez in 1916) was quite good. They are in transition to organic cultivation, with the majority of vineyards northeast towards Yecla.

In short, the young white and rosé were good, but not with much personality. The new project over in Almansa, named Bodegas Atalaya, has potential, but at this point too much oak for me. Here I chose as a representative Juan Gil‘s own Honoro Vera 2020, a varietal monastrell, organically farmed, unoaked and vegan certified. This was a quite fresh dry-farmed wine from calcareous and rocky soils, with the usual red and dark berries and balsamic notes.

Unoaked red from Juan Gil

From neighbouring Yecla, a one-municipality-denomination, I tasted the wines of its leading winery. Bodegas Castaño had good offerings from the unoaked white and rosé to the dense and rich Casa Cisca, and neither have I forgotten that they have one of the best sweet monastrell wines (not brought to this tasting). Among the most interesting wines is an old favourite, now called Hécula Organic in the 2019 vintage. It shows ripe red berries (morello), aromatic herbs and a hint of coffee. Full and quite fresh in the mouth with mature tannins. I will come back to this one in a while.

Sira Burón Miranda, Castaño
Hall in the Royal Casino
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Wine talk with Filipa Pato

During the CoVid pandemia a lot has changed. As we all know, there is much less travel, and even wine presentations and interviews are done digitally. This is the first time I had the chance to attend the programs of Norwegian importer Vinarius through their partner Vinestor in the program series Vinosus. The programs are presented via their YouTube channel. It’s interactive, in that the audience can post commentaries and questions to the producer. The importer is hosting the program, but it’s the producer that gives the information about the estate, its philosophy and the wines.

Filipa Pato & WIlliam Wouters are found in Óis do Bairro, Bairrada, Portugal. Filipa is daughter of the well-known producer Luís Pato (who lives nearby in this small settlement). Her husband William Wouters from Belgium is a profiled sommelier. I have met them several times, also once during the pandemic. Here is a short write-up from an annual fair that will be held again this summer. I have met Filipa and her father several times. These pictures are from a visit to hers and William’s home and winery 2017.

Filipa was recently appointed winemaker of the year 2020 by the leading wine magazine Revista de Vinhos, so it was maybe natural that she was chosen as the first Portuguese profile in this wine program series.

Filipa and William at the Palace Hotel, Buçaco

Wine is running in Filipa’s veins, as her grandparents were vinegrowers and bottled wine already in the 1950’s. Her father started in the 80’s, when the country was more open, so that export was also possible. Her own studies began in the nearby Coimbra university (the oldest in the country), and she had the opportunity to study wine as different places as Argentina, Australia – and Bordeaux – before coming back to her native village in Portugal. She tells that having travelled som much it was easy to realize the potential for Portugal. As the country had been isolated for such a long time, much of the identity was still kept. This advantage was important for her when she came back in 2001 and started to work with her father. But at the same time they agreed that she should have a small project of her own, starting with some wonderful vineyards that otherwise would have been abandoned. In 2006 she met her husband William in Belgium, who is in a family of restaurateurs, and soon they developed their own winery. They decided to convert to biodynamics ten years ago.

Now 17 hectares, very divided, some very small, and in several municipalities, each with their own characteristics. So both the Atlantic climate and the logistics give challenges. There are no sheltering mountains, nor high altitudes, but the winds from the ocean secure a low temperature. The river Cértima that runs from north to south through the area and the mountains and Buçaco further inland help in their ways to maintain the influence of the Atlantic (foggy mornings). It helps to keep the humidity untill summer, so that they also practise dry farming (no irrigation), and natural growth of humus.

Filipa looking over their vineyards towards the Caramulo and Buçaco

Standing by their house in Óis do Bairro, which is a bit higher in the landscape, gives a nice overview over the plains and lakes and all the way to the inland mountain ranges, as Filipa states in the program. Much of Bairradas vineyard is concentrated where the limestone is found. Limestone is fantastic, says Filipa, because it gives you a lot of mineral character, and at the same time it retains the water.

In the beginning the neighbours were very sceptical about organic growing and biodynamic practises, as there was very little tradition for this in the wetlands of Bairrada. But now that the vineyards (and wines) are showing so well, they come to learn. So the very open and sharing attitude that Filipa and William has showed all the time are in fact starting to create a new tradition, or movement, in the area.

Only indegenious grape varieties are used, especially the red baga. One of the advantages with biodynamic farmin here is a more even maturation of the compact buncehs of the baga grape. You don’s see some green or dry berries within a bunch any more, says Filipa. The result of this is that it is not as tannic as that old stereotypic wine from the area. The fact that their baga is found in several municipalities also makes it easier to manage the harvest, as it matures at different levels. Bical is the dominating white because it is a historic speciality of Óis do Bairro, that was “almost like a grand cru” for bical.

The so-called 500 (the biodynamic preparation) and composts make the soil healthier, with more humus and biodiversity of plants. We see that it reactivates local plants that were growing in the times of her grandparents, like oregano and fennel. She speaks about which plants they use in infusions, and for what: Plants that are normally found near the water, like aloe vera, confrei and horsetail, protect more against humidity and fungus. And plants that are found near the sand, aloe vera again, chamomile, these plants protect the vine leaves against the sun. Strawberry and other bushes act as a natural fence, because they attract insects. Olive trees were planted at the same time as the vines, and also attract insects.

At home in Óis do Bairro

Wines without makeup is one of Filipa’s slogans: The vinification is quite simple, no barrique, only barrels from 500 to 2.500 liters, some amphora. -For us the oak is just a frame, the art comes from the vineyards, says Filipa. Amphora tends to ferment at a lower temperature, so we don’t need a cooling system. We work only with indegenous yeast, as it reflects the terroir and brings a greater complexity to the wine. There is a great tradition of ceramics in Bairrada, but Filipa hasn’t been able to convince them to make any for this purpose here. But after a visit to Stéphane Tissot in Jura she was impressed by the quality, as it had the right thickness and porousity. Some Italian amphoras are used for baga. This year a Georgian friend brought some tinajas from Padilla in Albacete, Spain (you can read about him here), and next year there are also plans for some Georgian clay vessels. They are not coated, like in Alentejo “talhas” in the south of Portugal.

They also get bio-certified corks from a farmer that controls the forests. This is important, as a Bairrada can be in contact with the cork for several decades.

All their wines are recommended. Here are a selection currently on offer:

3B Rosé

Sparkling wine made with traditional method, from varieties baga (80%) and bical. The third B stands for Bairrada. 9 months lees ageing. No dosage, unfined and unfiltered.

Salmon coloured, fine bubbles. Fresh aroma with raspberries, a hint of … Good acidity, but a slight residual sugar that balances well.

Price: Low. Food: Fish, shellfish, vegetables, leitão de Mealhada (suckling pig), and much more…

Nossa Calcário 2019

This is the white version, a varietal bical from a vineyard near their home, limestone with clay. For this wine they use only free-run juice, without batonnage. It’s aged 8 months in big, used barrels. The wine is young and will improve, but if you wish to experience that, the best way is to buy it now.

Yellow. A bit closed at first, better with air, aromas of citrus (lime), fennel, a bit nutty, hint of honey. Concentrated, creamy, with good acidity, salt, good lenght, and with a lot of potential.

Price: Medium. Food: Tasty fish dishes, light meat, cheeses…

Post Quercus Baga 2018

There is also a white version of this one, and it’s good. But the red, I have not tasted anything like it. It’s a varietal baga from old vines, partly destemmed and aged in amphora for 6 months, buried underground (inspired by the Georgian tradition). Careful extraction, no fining nor filtration.

Quite dark cherry red. Aroma of red berries (raspberry, plums), some pepper. Moderate tannin, but a dry mouthfeel (dare I say “bricky”?), fresh acidity, long.

Price: Medium. Food: Most kinds of meat, even some tasty fish, cheeses…

In the cellar where the Quercus wines rest

Nossa Calcário Baga 2018

This is the red Cálcario. Only baga, from limestone with clay. Hand-harvested from vineyards in several municipalities. Partly destemmed, fermented in open lagares, with a careful extraction and aged 18 months in big, used barrels.

Cherry red. Fresh fruits (blackberry, blueberry), flowers, with hints of spice. Young tannins, fresh, good acidity, mineral, long.

Food: Many kinds of meat, excellent with game and beef, hard cheeses, and much more…

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A Emoción III: Stars from outside

Here is the last account in this round from A Emoción dos Viños, 10th edition. There were a number from outside of Galicia, from Portugal, even from France – and Titerok-Akaet from even further away, Lanzarote (in the same country though). Here are some great wines from very reliable producers.

Ismael Gozalo is nothing less than a legend within the natural wine world, and famous far outside the borders of Spain. From Nieva (Segovia), Castilla y León, he disposes of centenary pie franco verdejo vines that has been used for the wines of Viñedos de Nieva, and later Ossian. Now he is “travelling alone”, with two lines, one called MicroBio, and the other bears his own name. Well, centenary is here an understatement: Some vines are no less than 280 years old. I have written about his wines many times, so you can search through this pages, and you will find a lot more information. I didn’t taste all the wines either, because I have done so several times. A short post about one of his lovely Nieva York pét nats was published in late May this year (read here).

Ismael met up with Iría Otero (more from a visit to her place in Ribeiro here)

Ismael is a very hardworking, dedicated bloke. But he also like to play with the rock’n’roll myth. Correcaminos is a lovely unpretentious wine, light, unfiltered, open, “mature grapefruity” and thirstquenching. And naturally enough, because of the name (“roadrunner”), it gave name to his “coronavirus tour”. I guess because of the virus there has not been too much touring, but it’s a cool nod to the rock merchandise business anyway. La Resistencia 2019 (an amphora wine from two different parcels and 4 months on the lees) is also slightly turbid, vibrant, with a lovely acidity. MicroBio 2019 (whole clusters, aged in old barrels): Very light in colour; aroma of green apples, flowers; full, rich, juicy, and tasty with a slight touch of sweetness. Sin Nombre is a favourite, and a house wine by me (when available). The 2017 vintage had some colour, golden with green; aroma of stone-fruit, yellow apples, a touch of cinnamon; it’s creamy, a bit buttery, cidery, juicy, and just lovely. I also tasted a Rufete, (don’t remember if it was the Rufian or a sample), delicious anyway, a light red wine, packed with red fruits, before I moved on.

Ismael with his Coronavirus TourT-shirt

Marc Isart was there, both on behalf of himself and Bernabeleva, where he is co-founder and winemaker. I have followed Bernabeleva for some years. They are located in San Martín de Valdeiglesias in the Madrid part of the Gredos mountains. They work the land according to biodynamic principles, and in the cellar they use whole bunch fermentation and ageing in neutral wood. They generally use low extraction, and I would say their wines are among the most elegant in the area. For the records: They also make white wines, mostly from albillo. Highly recommended. But because I know them well, I chose to concentrate on Marc’s own range this time.

His own project is further east in the DO. Vinos de Madrid, in the subzone Arganda del Rey. Here he grows both tinto fino, or tempranillo, and the white malvar between 700-800 meters of altitude, on calcareous soil that contains gypsum and clay.

In the La Maldición line we tasted the Cinco Legua Malvar 2019 from calcareous soil, with 40-50 days skin-contact, made in neutral barriques. Malvar is related to airén, but is more aromatic and has more acidity. This wine is technically an orange wine, but is light golden in colour, has a flowery nose (roses), also nuts, lightly textured and full in the mouth. I also liked the clarete of the same name and vintage, made with 15% tempranillo. The majority of the rest is divided between malvar, airén and various other white varieties. The wine is light red;, with aromas of raspberry. In the mouth it is lightly textured, with fruit to the end. The red version, again with the same name and vintage, has 85% tempranillo and 15% malvar, and was blended in the cellar. Cherry red; dark fruits (blackberry), some spice; very clean fruit, and good structure. Gleba de Arcilla 2018 is a wine only from this local form of tempranillo, with one year in used oak. It’s dark red; again with blackberry, some spice and coffee; round in the mough, with a touch of wood, that will easily be integrated.

Marc Isart, representing himself and Bernabeleva

Germán Blanco makes wine in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. You can read more about this here, in a report from the Simplesmente Vinho fair in February. Albares de la Ribera, just outside the boundaries of the DO Bierzo to the east. Casa Aurora is a tribute to his great-grandmother who handed down the first vineyard. Albares is in a transition zone between the valley and the Bierzo Alto at 850-900 meters of altitude.

Germán grows three hectares of own vineyards. He also buys grapes from two local farmers. These go into the Clos Pepín, a straightforward red fruits-fruity wine that is pure joy, also in the 2018 version that he presented here. Most wines contain many grape varities, including white ones, and I don’t list all of them here. Poula 2018 is a village wine, a mencía blend from various plots. I found it quite fine and elegant, juicy in the mouth with fine-grained tannins. La Galapana is the vineyard handed down from his great-grandmother, almost 1.000 meters altitude. In the 2018 vintage this was darker, with more menthol, but also red fruits, and in the mouth more structure than the previous wines, with an amount of tannins, though very fine-grained. More structured is also Valle del Río 2018, a 60-65% garnacha tintorera: Deep red, blue tinge; red fruits and forest fruits (blackberry), solid tannins and with a vivacious acidity. The most obvious wine of guard among these.

Germán Blanco, Castilla and Rioja

Alfredo Maestro and his wines I have known for some years now. Originally from Peñafiel in the heart of Ribera del Duero, where he has his bodega, but disposes of magnificent vineyards in both Segovia and Madrid provinces. This time I took the opportunity for an update of some of his wines. There is a lot about him on this blog, but I recommend this article as an introduction. El Marciano is a high altitude (1.150 meters) wine garnacha and albillo land, where Alfredo is doing a great job on behalf of the Gredos community. It’s a fresh red-fruity wine, a bit earthy with some texture, generous in the mouth and lovely, lively acidity, and the 2019 is no exception. El Rey del Glam, now in 2019 vintage also, is his take on carbonic maceration. The grapes come partly from the high Gredos vineyards, partly from Peñafiel. There is no pressing, nor destemming. Carbonic maceration is carried out in steel tanks, then malolactic in the same tanks. This wine is also very fresh, with cool, red fruits, and a touch of carbonics in the mouth. It has just a bit of structure, and can be served slightly chilled.

A Dos Tiempos 2019 is from Navalcarnero, a high altitude village in the province of Madrid and the name refers to the fact that the grapes are harvested twice. Alfredo explains that the idea is that the first harvest gives a lot of acidity and low alcohol, while the harvest one month later gives less acidity and a richer alcohol. Then the two are blended and one gets a fresh wine with balanced, ripe fruit and tannins and just enough structure. It was aged six months in used barrels. Here the garnacha is complemented by tempranillo. By the time I got to his table it had been a long day of tasting and accumulated tannins, so Alfredo recommended a taste of his Brut Rosé to rinse the mouth. A delicious strawberry and red fruit-driven sparkler, by the way. Then I tried his classic ribera del duero Valdecastrillo 2018, from various plots between 750-1.000 meters of altitude. This wine had been ageing in half French oak, half chestnut for one year. A super, classic, yet individual ribera; cherry red, potent aroma of berries with a touch of dried fruit (figs), and a long, fruity finish. After this I had decided to leave, but I couldn’t resist tasting a long-time favourite, the lovely fruity, non-oaked Viña Almate. A really interesting one is the white Consuelo 2018, a full-bodied, citric albillo mayor from more than 100 year old vines in Valladolid and Burgos, with 7 days of skin-maceration and fermentation in French oak.

Alfredo Maestro, Castilla y León

After all these Castilians something from Catalunya: Can Ràfols dels Caus I visited in the Garraf zone of Penedès many years ago, when Carlos Esteva was turning his family estate into one of the most dynamic properties of the region. But they have somehow been neglected by me for many years now, for no particular reason. It’s not that I haven’t tasted any wines, but it was nice to get the chance to meet present manager Rosa Aguado for a real update here. The estate comprises 90 hectares of vines, and other crops in addition. The oldest vineyard is one with xarel.lo from 1948. It was in 2008 that they went organic, and at present biodynamic practises are introduced too.

Here is a brief account of some of the wines: Gran Caus 2018, xarel.lo 50%, chenin blanc 30, chardonnay 20:The colour was light golden, citric on the nose, with yellow apples, and quite fat in the mouth. Xarel.lo Brisat 2019: Brisat is a Catalan name for orange wine, and as the name implies this is deeper gold; it has an aroma of flowers, lemon, wax and honey; full on the palate. El Rocallis 2016, from manzoni bianco: Light golden, greenish; aroma of mature apples, aromatic herbs, lime, mothballs; lightly textured, good acidity, long aftertaste with some nuts. Rosa had brought two vintages of their merlot rosé. Gran Caus Rosat 2019 was very light cherry red; raspberry, some vegetal hints in the aroma; very juicy, with a fresh acidity. The 2018 was more towards peach colour; more forest fruits on the nose; and it showed some evulotuion, some “positive oxidation” we could say. Sumoll 2017: “Fine like pinot, rustic like nebbiolo”, I think this was how Rosa described the sumoll variety. The wine showed cherry red colours; red fruits (raspberry, cherry) on the nose, a little spice too; and surprisingly structured in the mouth. Finally Caus Lubis 2004, 100% merlot, one parcel, oriented towards the mountain: Good colour, a bit brick; good evolution, plums, dried apricot, some cinnamon and tobacco; round, complete, still some fruit and acidity. In good shape. “Pomerol del Mediterráneo”, she called it. Not bad.

Rosa,Aguado, Can Ràfols dels Caus

João Roseira of Quinta do Infantado I met for the first time in the late 1980’s, after he had become the first one to break the monopoly of the Porto/Gaia shippers and exported directly from his estate in the Douro. I started this series with Antonio Portela, organizer of this fair. And I round it all off with João, who runs what we can call a “sister” event in Porto, the Simplesmente VInho, where Antonio also participates. (Look around these pages for many accounts, you can maybe start here with a report from this year’s fair.) João admits that it’s difficult to sell port wine these days. But while you are thinking that port is out of fashion, I assure you: Quinta do Infantado is different. The Roseiras, João and now his nephew Álvaro, who has taken over as chief winemaker, want a dryer style. They ferment longer than usual, so there is less residual sugar and more alcohol. Therefore less addition of alcohol is needed, and it is also added gradually. This makes them more dry, and the alcohol is balanced with the fruit. 

I visited his farm in February, so I just tasted a few wines this time. I simply had to re-taste their fabulous organic Ruby Reserva, that you can read about here. Then I sipped to some of the standard reds and ports (among them the organic tawny) while chatting with João about the times, especially with reference to the coronavirus and the destiny of port in general. Other than that I tasted the wines João had brought from 2010, the year. Quinta do Infantado Colheita 2010, the first ever vintage dated organic port, did not disappoint: Red fruits, figs, dried fruit, a vibrant acidity, balanced alcohol.

João Roseira, Porto and Douro

This was a much too short report over three articles from this initiative in the wonderful Atlantic environment. Watch out for small reports, wines of the week and other stuff. See you again!

And the band played on…
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A Emoción II: New, exciting Galicians

Back in the magnificent Monastery of Oia on the coast of Galicia, I will take a look at some producers that were new to me, or that I didn’t know very well. Here I have only time and space to mention a few.

Adega do Ricón can be found in Arbo, otherwise known for the Galician-Portuguese speciality lamprea, that jawless fish that is not an eel, but swims in the Miño-Minho and is often cooked and served in its own blood, and not only during the festivals in honour of the fish. Albariños and other local wines are perfect with lamprea. We are now in the subzone of Condado do Tea of Rías Baixas, close to the Portuguese border. Adrián Ricón manages 1.6 hectares of vineyards organically. The vineyards are more than 30 years old and planted with many different local grapes, both white and red. Both their Do Ricón Blanco 2018 made from albariño, loureira, treixadura and godello, and the lees-aged Anne do Ricón 2017 (same grapes except for godello) must be good lamprea wines. The first made in steel; young, fresh style, with a good acidity to match, the latter richer, but still more than enough acidity. I also liked the Do Ricón Tinto 2018, made from sousón, mencía, caíño tinto, espadeiro and brancellao and fermented in steel and with a short stay in used French barriques. Light red; strawberry and raspberry; fresh and with a good fruit all the way.

Adrián Ricón

Adega Torgo is found at A Cañiza in the outer limits of Ribeiro, towards Condado do Tea. They offer fascilities for holiday and leisure, in addition to their small wine business based on one hectare of albariño, loureira and treixadura. They are in conversion and will be certified organic from this year. They have an interesting sparkling albariño with 8 months on lees. And then there is the Torgo & Tal 2018, which is a 80% albariño, 20% loureira/treixadura, grown in sandy granitic soil. It’s kept on lees with some bâtonnage: Golden colour; aroma of mature apples; very fresh, with a vivacious acidity.

Javier Barba of Adega Torgo

Antonio Miguez Amil and his Boas Vides may be a name to watch. The only wine I tasted was from the hot and dry 2017, but I liked it. He is located in S. Lourenzo da Pena, near Ribadavia. At present he has only one hectare, and many different local grapes were planted by himself in 2005 on a terrace of loam and sand. He practises organic and biodynamic farming, and average yield is as low as 20 hl/ha. The grapes were de-stemmed but not crushed, and the wine was made in stainless steel and plastic. Only natural yeasts were used, no additives, and only a small dose of sulphites. It was aged in two year old French oak 300L and 500L for 12 months, then another six months in inox. No fining nor filtration. A short tasting note: Quite dark in colour; dark and red fruits on the nose, some coffee; round tannins, some oak yes, but also with a very saline touch.

Antonio of Boas Vides, Ribeiro

Zak Elfman is a man with a mission. He is American, but his mission to make wine started in Stellenbosch, South Africa, where he got training at Keermont Vineyards, then crossed the South Atlantic to Mendoza, Argentina – before he ended in Ribeira Sacra, where he finally set up his small venture called Mission, at present a mere 0.15 hectares. We are talking about low imprint natural wines. The bottles are lightweight. The wines are handmade through every step, from picking to packing. In fact when I lifted up a bottle after the airplane flight when I came home, the label fell off. So they are probably sustainable, and I will not be surprised if there is used a vegan-friendly glue. The grapes are stomped lightly and has had gentle punch downs. They are all aged in neutral French oak, unfined and unfiltered. I chose Mission Cantina Amandi (pink label) 2018: The wine was quite dark, a bit turbid; flowery, cherries, iodine, a bit rustic (earthy); very luscious and delicate in the mouth. I also tasted the 2019, that was less rustic, and a bit darker, as the grapes had matured better. But I liked both. On the third day, and when the temperature was rising, there arrived a slight hint of mousiness too. But don’t worry, this is already lovely, and when these wines are fine-tuned after a couple more years it will be just great. No reason to doubt it!

Zak Elfman has a Mission in Ribeira Sacra

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A Emoción I: Wine fair in coronatimes; Galician classics

A Emoción dos Viños is now in its 10th edition. It is a fair for small artisan vintners held at the magnificent Real Mosteiro de Oia, with splendid views to the Atlantic Sea. This Cistercian monastery -near Baiona, roughly between the big city of Vigo and wine town A Guarda- can trace its history at least back to 1149, when king Alfonso VII of León and Castilla granted parts of today’s complex to the monks of Oia. The fair was held over two days. A novelty this year was not more than 35 wine producers on the first day, and 35 others on the second. And every possible coronavirus times precausion was taken, such as mandatory use of masques for both artisans and visitors.

Antonio Portela, himself wine producer, is head of the fair, together with wine merchant Marina Cruces. In this much too short report we will concentrate on the Galician wines, try to select one wine per producer (at least not all will be mentioned) – and why not start with the organizer. Antonio Portela has always impressed me with his wines, that really tell a story. I visited him last year and saw his beachfront vines, whites albariño, espadeiro blanco and loureiro, and reds tinta femia (caíño tinto), espadeiro, loureiro a.o. They always have a clearcut edge, a long curve, and a wonderful saline finish. The winery is located in Bueu on the Morrazo península, between the rías of Pontevedra and Vigo, just outside the Rías Baixas denomination.

Setting up the fair

His varietal tinta femia (Mar do) Namorado, an all-time favourite, now in its 2018 vintage, must be mentioned. It’s a low-extraction wine, full of red berry aromas (raspberry), herbs like thyme, and as mentioned above, with a long curve, lovely integrated acidity and saline finish. Along the same line was Viña Fazóa 2019, also a tinta femia, this one from three different municipalities, but the taste had close similarities to the more established brand. Aside of this I tasted a tinta femia-espadeiro, in the same vein as the Namorado, and also an interesting loureira tinta, both from 2018. The latter comes with a much darker colour, because of the character of that grape variety.

Antonio Portela welcomes you to the 10th annual feir

It was a nice oportunity for an update of other well-known producers from the region. Among these were Luís Anxo Rodríguez, who has a wide range of wines. I visited him in Ribeiro 7-8 years ago. Some of his wines are meant to last, and among the wines he had brought here were A Teixa 2017 (mainly treixadura with godello and albariño), a citric, creamy and a bit buttery white, still young. Even more so the Viña de Martín Escolma 2015 (treixadura, albariño, torrontés, lado), almost Central Burgundian in its rich citric, powerful, buttery oakiness (12 months in new French oak), 10-15 years before it reaches its prime, according to Luís. And this I can believe, because when I visited him he showed much older editions of the Escolma. For drinking now the Viña de Martín Os Pasás 2018 (80% treixadura, the rest albariño, torrontés and lado) was a better choice. Light yellow with some green, citric, chalky, a bit honeyed. In a way luscious and light, but also concentrated. Appealing.

Luís Anxo Rodríguez

Two other excellent Ribeiro producers were Iria Otero and Cume do Avia. Iria I visited one of the days before the fair and will publish a report. Both ranges were tasted at the Simplesmente Vinho fair in Porto in February this year (here is a summary), so the tasting here was done quickly. From Cume do Avia I tasted a wine in Vigo a couple of days before the fair. (Read about it here.)

Adega Vimbio of O Rosal are now taking steps to be fully organic, and can at the moment be dubbed sustainable. Low sulphur is a characteristic here. I have for long admired their varietal Albariño. It didn’t disappoint in the 2018 vintage either; apples, white flowers and a hint of spice. Splendid was the Baenis 2017 (after an old name for the river Miño), an albariño from a 0.5 ha. plot with poor clay soil. It’s whole-cluster pressed, and spends 6 months with bâtonnage, then another three or four on lees without stirring. There is minimal added sulphur here. It’s rich and tasty, with a slight feeling of sweetness, and with a super integrated acidity. On the nose it’s both herby and saline.

Martín Crusat of Vimbio

More over to the wild side, and well-known after numerous natural wine fairs, is La Pérdida of the village Larouco in Valdeorras. There Nacho González grows 4 hectares of vines on granite and clay at an elevation of 500 meters. The name pérdida (“lost”) derives from the vineyard of old garnacha tintorera that he inherited from his grandmother, and chose to restore in-stead of replant or sell. This marked the start of his winemaking career. He makes extensive use of tinajas (clay vessels) from expert maker Juan Padilla in La Mancha (see here), and very old oak. You will never find any oakiness in his wines, and sulphur is a word you would think he hasn’t heard of. Palomino is another grape that he favours, historically important to the region.

Malas Uvas 2019 was absolutely wonderful. It’s made mostly from palomino, but also doña blanca, two varieties not permitted in Valdeorras (hence the name “bad grapes”). It’s made in steel and tinaja, and got five days skin-maceration, then spent the winter on the lees. No fining, filtration nor addition of SO2. Yellow/greenish and cloudy; very flowery, with pears and minerals; a fine and light tannin, and a lovely cidery acidity. A Chaira 2019 was equally appealing, very natural and juicy, a doña blanca made in tinaja and inox. O Pando Orange is a wine I love, and very much so in the 2019 vintage. From a single vineyard godello, it’s fermented on skins for around 5 months in tinajas before being racked over to steel. This one has more colour, and there is a lot more tannin texture here; aromas of mature citrus (clementine), mature apples, white flowers and salt. It’s a white wine for everything from the grill. OK, I also have to mention the Proscrito 2019. This is made mostly with palomino with some garnacha tintorera, fermented in chestnut and oak, then finished in steel. The grapes are both white and red, thus the category is clarete. Light cherry red; aromas of strawberry, raspberry, orange peel; lightly textured, and a very appealing acidity.

Nacho González of La Pérdida (left), with his friend and collaborator Francesco, that brought his own range

I have had a special relation to Guímaro. Mostly because I have for a long time loved the wines. I visited Pedro Manuel Rodríguez back in 2012, and I was also his importer a couple of years. He is found in Sober in the Ribeira Sacra sub-region of Amandi, where he has 8 hectares of own vineyards at 350-550 meters on slate, granite and sand. He makes both red and white wines, entry-level blends and single plot wines. Just after this fair I had his Finca Meixemán at a restaurant in Madrid, about which you can read here. I have always been a fan of his basic red mencía. In most years, except for some of the hottest, the Guímaro Tinto, is an elegant, red berries fruity wine with some herbs, and with a mineral palate. 2019 is no exception. An interesting feature was Camiño Real, that Pedro brought in two vintages. The grapes are sourced form a 50 year old vineyard, is made with 80% mencía, the rest garnacha tintorera, and pressed with 60% whole bunches. The 2017 was one of the hot years. Here it showed dark, mature fruits, a hint of wood, also a bit vegetal; in the mouth it was quite potent, but also with a stimulating acidity. The 2018 on the other hand, was lighter in colour; it showed more red berries, and more of the saline, sea-breeze characteristics; very juicy in the mouth, and overall a more elegant style. A Ponte is also an “all-time” favourite (since its debut in 2015), now 2017. It’s from an 80 year old vineyard of granite and slate, from the same slope as Meixemán, but on top (while the other is in the middle). The grapes are mencía, sousón, brancellao, merenzao and caiño tinto. It shows plenty of red fruits, also some balsamic, herbs, it’s quite structured, still with a bit oak, and would be perfect in a 3-5 years time, I would guess. Interesting was also Divina Clementia 2015, a wine in its optimum drinking point, according to Pedro. It was a bit developed, cherry coloured, with fine-grained tannins and still good acidity. And it would be unfair to leave without having mentioned the whites. Both the entry-level Guímaro Blanco 2019 and the Cepas Viejas 2018 deliver as expected. The first light, smooth and lovely immediate drinking, the other more yellow, a bit buttery, full, but still with good acidity.

Pedro Rodríguez, Guímaro

Back soon for some (at least for me) lesser-known producers, then some from outside Galicia.

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Certification of natural wines

The Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO), France’s official agricultural organization, has launched the first ever official certification of natural wines. There are also plans to include Spanish and Italian winemakers in a relatively short period. The scheme will run a three year trial period before it is evaluated.

Natural wines have always existed, but the activist movement emerged as a reaction against the industrialized wines that were dominating from the 1960’s on. This movement has been inspired first of all by some Beaujolais producers. For every decade it has become more popular and spread to new countries.

There is no consensus about whether this is a necessary, or wanted, step, or not. It is widely understood that a natural wine comes from organically or biodynamically farmed grapes, and has little or no additives in the cellar. There is however a continuous debate among the natural wine producers as to whether a small amount of sulphur before bottling should be allowed or not.

To evit going into this debate the Syndicat de Defense des Vins Naturels (an independent group originating in Loire some ten years ago but officially founded in 2019, and that has penned the new regualations), has included both views – one category for zero additions, and one for additions up to 30 mg/L of sulphites.

Writer and chemist Jamie Goode asks in the publication Wine Enthusiast 19/5, whether this is a needed, or wanted, step. He also points out that there are weaknesses. He says, “yeasts can produce varying amounts of sulfites during fermentations (…) it’s also not rare for yeasts to produce more than 30 mg/L of sulfur dioxide, which means that the wine cannot be certified”. I think that Goode is right. Here is a possible weakness, or something that can be amended: Although the intention is to allow a maximum of 30 mg, the current edition does not specify 30 mg is maximum or added sulphites.

Other than that Goode sees several positive sides. Accountability is a possible benefit, he points out, as those who use the Syndicat’s natural wine logo have legal obligations.

There are growers that finds the whole natural wine activist movement a bit strange, a bandwagon, a hipster movement of something they have been doing forever. In continuation to this, Goode also cites Doug Wregg, of leading British natural wine importer Les Caves de Pyrene (co-organizer of the Real Wine fair). Wregg says, “the certification could be used by companies simply in search of a commercial opportunity”.

Goode concludes that he “applaudes the effort, but (is) very much not sure of the result”.

One who mounts his stool to speak in favour of the new regulation is Simon J. Woolf in his publication the Morning Claret 2/4. “One of the biggest bugbears in natural wine”, says Woolf, “is the lack of organic certification amongst growers – an honour system is all well and good if one is on first-name terms with the grower, but it doesn’t help the end consumer very much. Your wine might have zero added sulphites and a funky label, but how do I know what goes on in your vineyard during a rainy year, if you decided that getting organic certification was just too much hassle?”

First he points out that it’s too easy for “bandwagon-jumpers, weekend warriors and the organic-when-I-feel-like-it brigade” to join the club only when they feel like it, and he sees this as a means to make it more difficult for those who are not fully determined.

And regarding the differing opinions within the natural wine producers, Woolf sees no problem. “It is important to note that the labelling scheme is entirely voluntary. Winemakers working within the natural wine oeuvre are not under any obligation to apply for the label, or to change the ways that they currently produce or label their wines.”

Woolf points out that, “the biggest clue that a scheme like this is required is that it’s been instigated and hard-fought over by winemakers themselves”. An appropriate example is Sébastien David himself, who had his Coëf 2016 Cabernet Franc confiscated and destroyed (!) by the Bureau d’Invéstigation de Enquêtes Vinocoles (BIEV), because of too high levels of volatile acidity. The laboratory results were also debated by David. As Woolf continues, “the new charter would not necessarily have saved David’s wine, but one can understand him wanting to have at least one system which is on his side”.

Woolf concludes: “The approval of this charter is a massive step towards more general acceptance of natural wines, as a valid segment of French wine. They are no longer just something just to be legislated against, but now have a seat at the table.”

Hannah Fuellenkemper, also in the Morning Claret 21/4, lists some points of what could be considered after this: Water imprints (who are recycling?), the use of plastic (and throwing it away), bottling (is it always necessary?), transport (does a winemaker deserve the karma of an organic winemaker when most of his production is trucked around the globe?),

What do I think? It seems to me that Simon Woolf has put must valid arguments on the table, and I hope this can speed up the process of recognition of natural wines (that I think will come anyway, in the end). Still, like Jamie Goode, I doubt that these regulations will have a great effect. Because the spirit of the natural wine movement is that of freedom, not regulations. They will get acceptance in the end, same as the environment activists, but they will take it further towards a world where a holistic view reigns supreme.

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The Rawfair that never happened

There were several wine fairs that were postponed due to the uncertainties around the coronavirus outbreak. But as far as I know this was the first major fair, and the only one so far that I planned to attend.

Luckily there were many danger-seeking people like me, who decided to go anyway. One of them was Carles Mora Ferrer of Penedès, one of the heroes in this story.

Me and Carles at Elliott’s

As readers of this blog may know, Raw is a fair for natural, artisan producers and seeks to highlight the “poetry” in the wine. And it has become something of a worldwide community, as the fair has expanded to places like Berlin, New York and Toronto.

Sager & Wilde, Ries & Shine, Antidote and Dandy were among the restaurants that were registered in the #rawwineweek program. And Lady of the Grapes was hosting an event on Women’s Day 8th March. I used the opportunity to visit Elliott’s, as you will soon hear more about, but also favourites like Flor, the Spanish tapas place Brindisa, and the Portuguese Bar Douro (read a post from my visit here). I attended two tastings held by several importers. And the first thing I did was making an appointment with a rising star of British wine, the Tillingham winery. (There will be more about this in the next post from the “fair”.)

Elliott’s Café

At Elliott’s Café, Borough Market I had four wines this time, the two from Clot de les Soleres offered in the by the glass-selection. Allow me first a few words on the winery. In Piera, close to Sant Sadurní (the Cava capital) lie Carles Mora’s family vineyards, abandoned since the 1960’s. Many years later Carles planted some cabernet sauvignon there, and the intention was clearly to make natural wine aged in amphora. Today he and his partner Montse hav 5-6 hectares of not only cabernet, but also chardonnay, and the local varieties macabeo and xarel.lo, that they tend organically, and there are zero additivies in the vineyard or cellar, except for a little copper/sulphur in the vineyard when absolutely necessary. The vineyard lies around 300 meters above sea level, on calcareaous soil, with small stone and pebbels. There is a Mediterranean climate with a lot of sun, but also a breeze from the sea that regulates the temperature so the grapes will not be “baked”. They want to express the terroir, but also the grape variety. So for that reason, only varietal wines are made.

Clot de les Soleres Macabeu 2018 was a pale, slightly pétillant wine, pears and flowers scented, with lovely lemony acidity. The red Clot de les Soleres Cabernet Amphora 2018 was deep dark, dominated by black fruits like blackcurrant, but also with a mineral touch, and well-structured and very vibrant in the mouth.

Cabernet Amphora

Aside from this I had the V&S Bacchus 2018, from 2naturkinder of Franken, Germany. This was golden in colour, with orange peel and flowers as dominant aromatics, and full and “orangey” in the mouth. Last this afternoon was Rivera del Notro 2018 (Roberto Henríquez), from Bio Bio of Chile, made from the país variety. The wine was light cherry red, with raspberry and some ethereal note. Quite firm in the mouth, and moderate acidity.

Elliott’s has delicious small dishes to go with the wines too. After recommendations from the sommeliers I chose stratiacella (an eggsoup with cheese and nutmeg) culatella (a cured ham from Parma) and hake ragu with the four mentioned wines.

Outside Weino BIB (Fernando 2nd from right)

Tasting at Weino BIB

Fernando Berry from Elliott’s is involved in the import company Otros Vinos. Together with a couple of other importers they invited some of the visiting producers to the small wine bar Wineo BIB near Dalston Junction.

So let’s go back to Clot de les Soleres. At Weino BIB Carles served both white, rosé and red wines, still and sparkling. Some were samples, as far as I remember. I hope I have got the names and vintages right. All the whites have been pressed before they ferment in steel, spent the winter in tank and bottled in spring. After the same Macabeu as at Elliott’s the other afternoon there was the Chardonnay 2017, a light, clean and citric wine, mellow in the mouth and with a year more it has achieved a good balance between alcohol and acidity.

The Xarel.lo pét nats (Ancestral I think the name is), vintage 2015 and 2017, were fascinating. With 30 grams in the 2015 when it was bottled (less in the finished wine because it continues to ferment) golden yellow in colour, with an aroma of mature apples and lots of bread from the autolysis; rich and mouthfilling, with a sweet touch, but nice acidity to match. The 2017 was made in the same way, but behaved differently. There were muh less bubbles, more green apple character, citrus and pineapple, some ginger and herbs too, and also some toast, and an excellent acidity. The Chardonnay 2018 pét nat came from two tanks. It showd ligh yellow, more fruity and citric; still with an unfulfilled potential, but with time this will also get a good balance between sugar and alcohol.

Carles of Clot de les Soleres

I tasted the Rosé Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, a very pale, peach-coloured wine (pressed less than one hour), flowers and strawberry-scented, quite soft but with good acidity, before turning to the reds. The Cabernet Saugivnon 2014 (from 22 year old vines) had only been in tank. It was dark after six years, with typical cabernet aromas such as blackcurrant and a vegetal component; slender in the mouth with a nice structure. Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 had stayed 13 months, then bottled. Also dark, and very fruity, with blackcurrant, green pepper, sour cherries, and an inspiring acidity. It comes with 14% alcohol, but it’s well integrated. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 were made in the same way, except for a period in three amphoras of 700L (from Extremadura, because of the quality and type of clay): This one was a little more on the “wild” side; more sour cherries, also with more red berries; quite big in the mouth (13% alc.).

Near Clot de les Soleres, in the tasting room but also the Catalan bodega itself, is Ferrán Lacruz. He runs the Bodega Clandestina in the village of Sant Martí Sarroca, not far from Vilafranca del Penedès. The farm has 8 hectares, of which 3 is planted with vines. The bodega name has inspired the titles of the wines too, Blanc Sence Papers, Fugitiu, Censurat and Confiscat. I think there is no need to translate, please tell me if the contrary is true. The first vintage was 2018. It’s an organic and natural project, no additives, not even SO2, and he works outside any appellation.

Ferrán Lacruz of Bodegas Clandestina

All the wines are samples from the 2019 vintage, so I will just go briefly through them. Blanc Sense Papers 2019 comes from a more than 50 years old xarel.lo vineyard. The grapes from the three plots were harvested seperately at different times to ensure perfect ripeness, the different harvests are fermented in steel and aged in demijohns for different periods of time, and the last harvest kept in oak for 4 months, before blending it all and bottling unfined and unfiltered. -I base my wines on acidity, says Ferrán, -and I like Bourgogne Aligoté, he answers to my question what he tries to achieve. And acidity he has managed to retain. It really is acidic. I am not sure if it has the body to match, but time will show. The Blanc Fugitiu is another varietal xarel.lo with three weeks maceration. The skins are always inside the wine, as it is held down with an inox net. It finishes in 500L barrels and amphoras from the French side of Catalunya. This one is much more textured than the former, in the sense of tannins. It’s a bit more funky too, but has nice flowers and citrus peel aromas. Orance Censurat is a carinyena blanc with 4 weeks skin-contact, then aged in amphoras for 5 months. Also a bit on the funky side, but very nice citric notes and quite floral too. The Ancestral Confiscat is a xarel.lo sparkling wines with one year and three months ageing in bottle. The colour is yellow, and there is an abundancy of bubbles; very fruity, appley character with evident autolysis. A promising sparkler.

Le Quais á Raisins is a producer from Aubais in the Languedoc, started in 2015. They are Imogen and Robin, from England and Alsace respectively, who met there while studying. They have also worked abroad, being inspired by and have worked with the Swartland Independent Producers of South Africa, to name just one of the places they have experienced. Imogen was represented here. They only own 1.5 hectares, but use grapes from friends in Languedoc, Roussillon and Rhône. Everything is organic, and some places biodynamic practises are also employed.

Imogen Berry of Le Quais á Raisins

Among the wines were Umami 2019, a pét nat with 9 months on the lees from muscat and grenache with no sugar, and no SO2 added. A very nice wine with aroma, a bit peachy, some brioche; it was mouthfilling, with nice acidity, and a saltiness at the end. Méridional 2018 from rolle, grenache and muscat, was floral, but also mineral, and very fresh, – fermented in tank, and some 15% in neutral wood. Embruns 2018, made from macabeu in alluvial soil, was light, pear-like in aroma, there was a little more oak-influence there, and some smokiness. A really interesting one was Syrault 2018 (from syrah and cinsault) from calcareous loess: Cherry red; aroma of blueberry, flowers, mint, pepper; a little sweet sensation in the mouth, but after all an easy-drinking wine. Then a delicate, yet fleshy amphora-aged cinsault called Lopin 2018. Before we rounded off with the Garmatcha 2018 (a grenache, or garnacha grown on limestone and gneiss): Darker colour (because of small yield, more extraction, more punch-down), 18 months in 400L oak (some young, some neutral): It had a intriguing smell of chalkiness, red fruits and herbs, a fruity and well-structured, concentrated taste with some coffee/lickorice towards the end.

Matthias Hager

Matthias Hager is located in the northern part of the Kamptal, and is known as one of the most creative producers in the area. He produces terroir-driven wines from his 14 hectares of vineyards, from Mollands, his hometown. He has had a biodynamic certification since 2005. He works with different soil types, like loess and clay. He uses different product lines, literally speaking: A label with a blue line represents a fresh and young wine, while a brown line denotes more earthy, flavorful characteristics. Red line stands for no sulphites.

Here are the wines he brought, in brief: Grüner Veltliner Mollands 2018: Light colour; fruity, with pepper and other herbs; smooth, quite concentrated, dry and salty. Grüner Veltliner Urgestein 2018, from schist soil, 10% skin-fermented, made in old oak and steel: This one is more yellow, more mineral, also with peppery tones; good weight in the mouth, and evident acidity. Completely natural. Riesling Alte Reben 2016, 10% skin-fermented for 6 weeks: It’s light yellow; flowery, fruity (but also some mineral); in the mouth it’s textured, rich. A nice take on a riesling.

Red line denoting no additions

Riesling PUR 2015 is a wine with 100% skin-contact for 3 weeks: Golden colour; a bit waxy, appley, with ginger and some honey; full in the mouth, textured and with a good acidity. Lastly the Zweigelt Blauburger 2018, an “Austrian merlot”, as Matthias called this second variety (a cross between blauer portugieser and blaufränkisch, noted for colour, not tannin or acidity). The grapes were grown on clay (the zweigelt), loess and schist soil. The wine is blueish; smells of red berries, some green components (pepper), herbs; it’s clean, soft, luscious and also crispy.

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Simplesmente Vinho 2020: Some highlights

It is always a delight to visit the Simplesmente… Vinho fair of Porto, held in Porto towards the end of February at Cais Novo, a former port wine warehouse by the Douro river. It’s an independent and alternative winefest that unites press, wine lovers and vignerons, most of these small artisan growers that work in a natural and organic way. This edition was number 8th, and showcased 101 producers, most of them Portuguese, some from Spain, only one from France I think, and a specially invited producer from Oregon, USA. There was good food, visual arts, there was music (and this year I was lucky to be able to take part myself), and oh! so many nice people.

There were endless rows of good wines to enjoy, so here I will only present a few of the highlights, and I will try to limit myself to one wine per producer. I have already published three short posts about single wines in the Wine of the Week column, and you can also read about some of the other producers from the previous fairs by doing a quick search yourself. Last year I wrote two articles similar to this one. Here you find recommendations of several Portuguese producers, and here are some of the rest.

Uivo Rabigato (picture taken in the Folias de Baco taberna)

We start locally. Tiago Sampaio is one of the best exponents of the “new wave” of Douro producers, making less “noisy” wines than the region is more known for, with less extraction, lower alcohol, and more focus on freshness of fruit. I have already reported from a visit to the Folias de Baco bar in downtown Porto where he delivers the wine (read here), and there will be a report from a visit to the winery in Alijó. Rabigato is getting more and more attention these days, as it shows its varietal potential. Uivo Rabigato 2019 is a characterful wine, light in colour, with flowery notes, grapefruit, citrus peel, a refreshing, cool acidity, and a saline finish.

Hugo and Ana

A neighbour of Tiago in Alijó is Ana Hespanhol of Quinta do Zimbro. She is also involved in a smaller project called Grau Baumé with her partner Hugo Mateus, and one of her sisters. I had a meal with the three of them in Alijó after a visit to Tiago. I remember some of the wines of Ana’s father Manuel from way back, and the brand Calços de Tanha (a very nice, direct, fruity red wine with a good price, by the way). Now it’s taken a step back to estate wines, to organics and naturally enough to a fresher style adapted to our times. Of the many good wines I here chose the Grau Baumé Undo 2017, a varietal viosinho that was lightly pressed without de-stemming, ageing in tank, and bottled un-fined and un-filtered. It showed a light colour, yet both full-flavoured, with yellow fruits, citrus and careful tropical notes, and a lovely acidity wrapped in a full, almost waxy appearance on the palate, and some saltiness too.

Manuel Sapage of Conceito
(tank sample of the Bastardo 2019 visible in the front)

About Conceito further east, near Vila Nova Foz Côa, I have written several times. Their white wines are stylish, their lighly extracted Bastardo red stunningly delicate, and they even offer ports, like a white port made in collaboration with Madeira producer Ricardo Diogos of Barbeito. This time I chose the white Único 2018, made from different plots in the same vineyard, more than 100 years old. It’s a field blend of around ten varieties, including rabigato, códega do larinho, gouveio, arinto, donzelinho branco and folgazão. It had a temperature controlled fermentation in used French oak barrels and regular bâtonnage up to one month, before it was aged 11 months in the barrels. It’s a light coloured wine with a complex aroma on the mineral side, with white peaches, citrus, ginger and some aromatic herbs; concentrated in the mouth, with a great natural acidity, and the oak is already almost integrated. It has probably a long life ahead.

William and Filipa

It’s always a delight to meet Filipa Pato and William Wouters. I have written about Filipa’s wines several times, and I like them a lot, so I thought I knew their portfolio. This time William presented wines from a range of his own, and I tasted a promising white wine. Other than that they had brought most of the range, both white and rosé sparklers, and I also tasted still whites and reds. Here I chose the Post-Quercus Baga 2018, that is presented as a wine from both of them. This wine is now made only in French and Italian amphoras (since their Portuguese one suddenly broke). These are not coated, and they have the same thickness all over, giving exactly the touch of taste that they search for. This is a wine that really sings: It’s quite dark in coulour, with violet hints; aroma of red and berries (cherries), plums, flowers; it’s juicy and delicious in the mouth, but not without concentration, fine-grained tannins, and with an acidity that’s there, but wonderfully integrated. Truly inspiring!

Luís Manuel Gil, winegrower and surfer from Óbidos
Inspiring, saline wines from breezy Atlantic vineyards

When I saw Luís Gil came into the tasting hall I expected him to take place at the table of his friend and collegue Rodrigo Filipe of Humus (see this article, including pictures of Luís). Well, he is still with Rodrigo, but this time he had come to present his new project. Marinho signifies that we are very close to the ocean, southwest of the Óbidos village. Here Luis works 2 hectares (6 plots) of rented old vines (between 40 and 110 years), where he works closely with the proprietors to ensure that they agree on everything. They work completely naturally, without additions of sulphur. The red varieties are first and foremost castelão, and some cruzado (a crossing with a lot of colour). I tasted the whole range, from whites with more or less skin-contact, rosé and reds. The Marinho Rosé 2018 was fabulous. 18 hours on skins with with stems, predominantly castelão (if I remember right) and some white grapes, like fernão pires, arinto and vital. This gives a light rosé colour, with strawberry and raspberry aromas; very juicy and delicate in the mouth, but also with a certain structure, and a lingering saline finish.

Luís tells that he grew up with wine, with a big wine cellar at his parents’ house. He had spent a lot of time visiting fairs, meeting vignerons and tasting wines that he was “triggered” by. This project started in 2017, when he had been thinking of it long enough, and suddenly realized that the wines he wanted to make were of a kind that was missing in the market.

If there is anything to compare Luís Gil’s wines with, or liken them to, it could be (well, apart of some wines in the Humus range of course) the Atlantic wines in Galicia. Which brings us over the border. I visited Constantina Sotelo in Cambados, Rías Baixas after last year’s edition of the Simplesmente. I tasted a few wines again this year, all from albariño and all from vintage 2018. And there were indeed several intesting wines that I could have chosen, not least the Aquelarre (sparkling from the ancestral method) and Flor de Sotelo (albariño under the ‘flor’ yeast, like in Jerez). I started with Octopus and Volandeira, the former more mineral from ageing in amphora, and the latter more fruity, from wood. All right, Octopus 2018 (2nd from left in the picture) was light coloured; flowery, with apricots and stony minerals; fleshy and grapey in the mouth, concentrated, with a super acidity in the long finish.

When Iria Otero started her own wine adventure it was with the Sacabeira label from the Salnés area of Rías Baixas. She prefers to chill the whites down to prevent malo-lactic fermentation to take place. While these are superb albariños, most the wines she had brought this time were from inland Ribeiro, from the village of Leiro by the river Avia. She normally elaborate entry wines in concrete, while the others are made in chestnut. A Seara Castes Brancas 2018 is, as the name implies, made from white varieties, treixadura, godello, torrontés and albariño to be exact. This one is made in concrete and stayed there for 6 months. It’s light in colour; green apples, yellow plums and flowers on the nose (as she points out herself, it’s more flowery than fruity); it’s mellow in the mouth, with some acidity, and really enjoyable.

Cume do Avia (from left): Álvaro, Diego and Fito

Not far from Iria, in Eira de Mouros, Ribeiro we find Cume do Avia, named after the highest hill in the subregeion of Avia. They have there 13 local varieties on 9 hectares. This area varies between Atlantic and Continental influence. The soil is a mix of clay, schist and granite, and the vineyards are facing east, with optimum sun exposure and ventilation. I really enjoyed both their white and red wines. Under the Dos Canotos label come both a varietal brancellao, and a caíño longo, but I chose another one (not for any specific reason, because they are all very good), Dos Canotos 2017, a blend of brancellao, sousón and caiño longo fermented and aged 6 months in very old big neutral barrels. This is a bit darker than the others; fresh, red fruits, with a lactic note; in the mouth it’s cool and fresh, with a slight tannic grip and a nice salty character.

Vicente Torres represents Puro Rofe and Bien de Altura

Puro Rofe and Bien de Altura are sister companies, the former is the oldest and most “well”-known and stands for Lanzarote wines, and the latter for wines from Gran Canaria. In fact there is a third sister now, as they make wine from El Hierro under the name Bimbache. This is quite sensational, so it’s pretty sure that we will come back to this. Our choice here is a high-quality wine from the maybe unlikely island of Gran Canaria, and the village San Mateo. The grower is Carmelo Peña, native to Gran Canaria, who works with indigenous varieties in an artisan, and organic and biodynamic way; native yeasts, de-stemming by hand, little use of SO2, and long macerations with little extraction. This place is considered to have desert climate due to constant warm temperatures and minimal rainfall. Carmelo and his team climb high, up to more than 1.400 meters.

The word ikewen has its origin in the Berber language Tamaziɣt and means root, or source. The red wine by that name is made from pie franco vineyards facing northeast and southeast, planted in volcanic soils. The grapes were hand-harvested and macerated 40% whole cluster, 60% was destemmed, gently pressed into one 500L used French barrel and the rest into steel tanks to finish fermentation. The finished wine was bottled unfined, unfiltered and with only a tiny amount of sulphur. Ikewen 2018 of Bien de Altura, grapes listán prieto, listán negro and some white varieties: Light red colour; red fruits, white pepper, a smoky touch; bright, fresh acidity and fine-grained tannins. 11,5% alcohol.

Germán Blanco of Milú

Germán Blanco of Quinta Milú is one of those who believes in village wines, and shows that even wines from Ribera del Duero can express a sense of place. And the place in this case is La Aguilera, one of the dominant wine towns of Burgos (Castilla y León), not far from Aranda de Duero. The grapes are grown organically in the traditional way, hand-harvested and with minimal use of sulphur. They use materials such as concrete or clay, and when they do use wood, it’s always big and used barrels. They never clarify nor stabilize and almost never filter.

They have a winery in Rioja and one in Bierzo too, but we concentrate on Duero here. Milú was also the first bodega in their project. To Porto Germán had brought three wines from La Aguilera; La Cometa 2018 from different plots, Viñas Viejas 2018 from limestone soil. I chose Quinta de Milú Bellavista 2018, from a tiny tempranillo vineyard with 80 year old vines at 930 meters on sandy soil. The wine is fermented in open barriques and aged there for 12 months. It’s deep dark purple; the aroma is dominated by forest fruits (blackberry), and aromatic herbs; in the mouth it’s fleshy, fresh, quite structured yes, but it’s elegant and can be drunk relatively short-term. Germán says they prefer imperfection to carefully monitored processes. But the wines are truly beautiful, and Germán hints to Leonard Cohen when he says, “it’s in the cracks that the light comes in”.

The light comes in to José Manuel Benéitez too

Also in Castilla y León, José Manuel Benéitez is found in the small wild, remote region Arribes del Duero close to the Portuguese border. El Hato y el Garabato is family project that started in 2015. Here they manage organically 8 hectares of 70-100 years old vineyards with varieties like the red juan garcía; bruñal, rufete, bastardo and the white doña blanca and puesta en cruz (rabigato in Portugal). And the cellar work is very artisanal.

The white Otro Cuento 2018 is made from doña blanca grown in granite, higher up in the domaine (while there is slate/schist at a lower level in the canyon). Half of it was fermented in small old barrels, and stayed there for 6 months. It’s light yellow wine, a bit reductive at first (a bit fosforic, some graphite), but it looses out to yellow fruits, and a smoky touch is there; quite creamy, or glyseric in the mouth, and integrated acidity. Mineral, intriguing. And then we are ready to cross over the border back to Portugal…

…which is not a long distance at all. Because we come to the northern part of Alentejo, by the Serra de São Mamede mountains, where João Afonso and his family has their Cabeças do Reguengo literally inside the national park. It’s an ambitious project where they seek to live and breathe in harmony with nature and ecosystem. And the wines are made in the most healthy way possible. The Respiro 2018 is made from both red and white grapes. Take a deep breath: Trincadeira, alicante bouschet, castelão, grand noir are the reds, while the white proportion include arinto, assario, fernão pires, roupeiro, alicante branco, rabo de ovelha, tamarez, manteúdo, uva rei, uva formosa, vale grosso, excelsior, salsaparrilha. Ok, come quickly back to the normal colour of your face please: They are grown between 500 and 710 meters, bought from local farmers who shares their ideology. The grapes were fermented in stone lagar with native yeasts and aged one year in old oak. The colour is fresh, clear red; aroma of red fruits, plums, some green pepper (from the whole-bunch treatment maybe), a touch of spice; fruit-driven fresh taste, fine tannins. Both serious and delicious summer-drinking.

Fortunato Garcia

Back to the islands, but this time to Pico of the Açores, where Fortunato Garcia makes his Czar wines in Criação Velha on the western side.

Why the name Czar? After the Russian revolution in 1917, sweet wines from Pico was found in the cellars of the palace of the last Tsar, Nicholas II. This wine was shipped in barrels on the island of Pico and sent to the royal banquets. It even appeared on medical prescriptions as a cure for certain ills and even Tolstoy mentions it in his book “War and Peace”. This is their reason for naming the wine. The Czar 2013 has 19% of natural alcohol, as can happen with these grape varieties (here: verdelho, terrantez, and arinto) in the volcanic soil. This time it stopped by 15-16 degrees, then started again. The colour is deep amber; with a sweet aroma of raisin, but also with some orange peel, hazel-nuts and anise to balance; it’s rich in the mouth, with a long nutty aftertaste.

When talking about the highlights one of them was for me a non-vinous one. This year I was lucky to be asked to perform with André Indiana and the in-house jam band. So for a full two hours we were rocking the house, and it was a wonderful experience to see all the wine producers in the audience diggin’ and dancin’. And Fortunato of Czar joined too, and lead the band masterly in an old Motown hit (I think it was).

A lot of superb wines are not mentioned. I did not have the time to taste everything. Some other producers were given priority last year, and the year before. At the dinners and lunches I remember wines from Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno, Rodrigo Filipe, João Tavares de Pina, with whom I shared table, and many others.

What now, my love? During this fair we got the message that the Cais Novo had been sold. So next year Simplesmente Vinho has to move again. And it’s a common belief that it would be difficult for festival organizer João Roseira to come up with a place as good as the one that we now have become used to. But he has surprised us before, so let’s see…

João Roseira: Is there a place for us somewhere? (picture taken a couple of days later at Quinta do Infantado)

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