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Rodrigo Filipe at Humus, Lisboa region

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

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

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

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

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

The beans give nitrogene to the soil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Riojas at Guardaviñas, Logroño

I’m in Rioja visiting some producers on the right bank of Ebro. It’s then only natural to stay in the capital of the La Rioja region. Guardaviñas is a relatively new venture in Logroño’s old quarter. It’s run by Alberto Ruiz, who has lived in London and operates La Cava de Pyrène, a branch of one of the organizers of the Real Wine fair. Guardaviñas is different from most others in Logroño, including the bulk of wine-holes along the tapas trail. Alberto’s place specializes in wines from small artisan producers, mostly local, but also some from other parts of Spain and the world outside.

 Alberto Ruiz

I love these places where you order a couple of wines, tasty small bites to go with them, and after a while a collaboration starts between the sommelier and you. He or she maybe comes up with some more glasses of odd wines, often from un-known producers. Here I opened with Ijalba Maturana Blanca 2016, a light yellow, clean and correct organic certified wine from Viña Ijalba (just outside Logroño), a pioneer in the area. Then my waiter, formerly sommelier at Michelin star restaurant Echaurren, came with a really interesting bottle, Viña el Pago 2014. This is a garnacha blanca from Azpillaga Urarte. The natural wine movement hasn’t taken off in Rioja. But here is a no-nothing added wine with extended skin-contact from Lanciego (Lantziego), Álava. The colour was yellow towards orange, and the aroma showed mature apples, white flowers, some peel, and in the mouth it was full, a bit honeyed, but with decent acidity.

  

The kitchen delivers both small pinchos, somewhat bigger raciones and full dinner. The influences are from several places, some from England (as Alberto’s wife is from there), from Spain, and from a variety of modern cuisine. And there is something for everyone, vegetarians and vegans too. I had croquettes of jamón ibérico, foie with fig marmelade and filet of ecologic pig, from a nearby farmer, served with red peppers and fried potatoes. The first two were smaller and served at approximately the same time. The wines arrived one by one, and I felt at home, made myself comfortable, and tried a new one before the previous glass was finished. So at a time there were two dishes, four glasses and a lot of bottles at the table. There was a great deal of flexibility here, so you could really “keep calm and drink wine”, as a cardboard sign tells you to.
The third wine was kindly offered by my waiter, who has a special interest in it. A carbonic maceration, vintage 2017, the kind of wine that Rioja made a lot of in the past. This wine, from producer De Luís R (also Lanciego), is not organic -yet-, and not very expressive, but well on the fruity side and showed nice violet and blueberry tones, and some tar.
Next wine was a beauty, again from Lanciego municipality, but the small settlement of Viñaspre, further up the road when coming from Laguardia. Some will have guessed that it’s from the new star Roberto Oliván. Xérico Viñaspre 2015 (Tentenublo) from mainly tempranillo, with some 10% of viura, white grapes: Brilliant stuff, dark cherry red, the aroma is very expressive, both flowery and with a lot of berries (blackberry, blackcurrant) and with some earthy notes too. It has a concentrated fruit expression, lots of rounded tannins and lovely fruits all the way in the lingering finish.

The fifth wine was Horizonte de Exopto 2016 (Exopto), one of Frenchman Tom Puyaubert’s contributions to the new wave of terroirdriven Rioja wines. Dark, dense, with blackberry, blackcurrant, a second layer of roast and subtle vanilla in the background. Good concentration, young tannins, very fresh, still in its youth, and will keep for long, but I love it already. Read more in the wine of the week column.

There was in fact a sixth wine, served blind. The waiter revealed that it was the same Xérico as before, but while the former had been opened two weeks ago and served by Coravin (you know that needle and gas system whose aim is to keep the quality of the wines after taking out a tiny quantity), this one was just opened. One could hardly reckognize it as the same wine. While I preferred the fruit in the former, he liked the latter better. I think it has to do with the slow airing in the Coravin version.

There was jazz on the air, from I arrived untill I left: Reed greats like Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman, then Glenn Miller taking over. “My favourite things” in a trombone version when our “improvisations” were over and I was about to leave. All right, I thought as I walked into the cool Logroño spring, now at least I have revealed some of my favourite things. As a joke it was not that funny, but it was absolutely true.

 

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A Victory for the Vinho

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

João Roseira, organizer of the event 

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

There’s Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno in the crowd

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

The ever popular Filipa Pato spotted at a distance

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

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

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

Sara Dionísio, tirelessly presenting the Casa de Mouraz range

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

Sandra Bravo sums it all up

 

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24 hours in Rioja

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Telmo by an “amphiteathre” near the winery

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

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

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

 Óscar and Ainara

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 (photo: A. Sjurseike)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The professor lectures about the autoctonous varieties in the garage

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

*1991: the DOC regulations

*2008: new grape varieties allowed

*2017: the new viñedos singulares category

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

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

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

  

Monastel, the one and only

 (photo: A. Sjurseike)

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

 

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

 

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Ismael Gozalo II: Some reds

Ismael Gozalo makes stunning verdejo wines and some reds from his native village Nieva in the Segovia province. (See here.)

In addition, Ismael works with red varieties from various places, such as mencía from Bierzo, garnacha from Gredos, and rufete from Sierra de Salamanca. All are in the MicroBio line, they come under the designation Castilla y León, the name of the region. Here are some of them.

Livre 2016

Mencía from the Corullón village in Bierzo. Ungrafted vines planted in 1926 on slate. Northern exposure gives freshness. 75% destemming. 22 days fermentation. Around one year in old barrels.

Deep, dark, almost opaque core, violet rim. Dark fruits, blackcurrant, blackberry, lickorice, tar. Luscious in the mouth, fresh acidity. A slight touch of “bretty” barnyard in the aftertaste, but only for the good.

Sietejuntos Tempranillo 2015

The name means “Seven together”. Originally Ismael made 7 small deposits, 7 varietals, and he points out that 7 is a cabbalistic number.

Tempranillo 95%, the rest syrah. Grown in Nieva at 900 meters, ungrafted, from 1946. Natural yeasts. Lightly pressed and extracted. The end of alcoholic fermentation in oak. Around one year in old barrels. Unfiltered.

 

Cherry red. Fruity aroma, blackberries, cherry, green peppers, spices. Luscious and fruity, with just a touch of tannin and carbonic, good acidity.

 Livre and Sietejuntos front labels

Sietejuntos Merlot 2015

From a vineyard in Nieva (silt, black clay, subsoil of grey slate) planted as late as 1999. Destemmed. Lightly pressed (with hands and feet) not to extract vegetal notes. Natural yeasts, aged in old barrels, unfiltered.

Cherry red. Fruity aroma, mature blackberries, cherry, herbs, spices. Luscious and fruity, with just a touch of tannin, good acidity and a touch of bitterness in finish.

Sietejuntos Syrah 2015

Syrah planted in 1999 in Nieva (on decomposed grey slate), grafting wood from Crozes-Hermitage. Partly destemmed, and lightly pressed (hands and feet). Aged in oak used for white Burgundy to round off the tannins.

 

Dark red. Blackcurrant, blackberries, pepper, spices, and a minty new oak aroma, with a cool component too (reminiscent of After Eight mint chocolate). Full, meaty, lot of round tannins, good acidity.

 Livre and Sietejuntos back labels

Other than the nine wines there are several reviews of his wines on these pages. For example: Here is an story of the modern Nieva, a great little village on the Spanish wine scene, where one more wine is in focus.

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Ismael Gozalo I: In the Verdejo Respublic

Ismael Gozalo is one of the rising stars on Spain’s natural wine heaven.

He founded Ossian, in the high altitude village Nieva in the Segovia province in 2004, together with Javier Zaccagnini (read about his Ribera del Duero adventures here). Ismael soon went on to work on a smaller scale with his project MicroBio, to make use of his family’s best vineyards the way he wanted. Some of these are between 100 and 200 years old, pre-phylloxera, at between 800 and 900 meters. These vines have always been grown in an organic way.

Ismael works in a medieval underground cellar in his native Nieva using barrels of different sizes, amphorae, glass demijohns, and stainless steel. He works in a very natural way. His most important goal though, is to let the land speak directly through his wines.

They come in two lines. The whites are in the Ismael Gozalo line, except for Issé and Sin Rumbo, which are MicroBio. I collected some wines for tasting. Ismael has said that his wines expresses themselves best after more than a week in an open bottle. Ok, I gave them 7-12 days, tasting them occasionally and leaving them with their original cork.

La Banda del Argílico 2016

Verdejo from two Nieva vineyards, both ungrafted. The first has sandy soils, the other sand with gravel. The grapes are harvested twice, the first for freshness and low alcohol (all wines at 13,5%), the second for maturation, fruitiness, structure and length. Spontaneous fermentation, no added SO2. On lees for 5-6 months. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Light yellow, somewhat cloudy. White flowers in the aroma, citrus (orange peel), mature apples. Light but with a good concentration, good acidity.

Sin Nombre 2015

Verdejo from one of five parcels, Pago de Navales (acid soil, sand, 20% clay and low fertility). Natural fermentation in old oak (12 hl), remains in oak for 9-10 months on the lees (no batonnage). 10 months in steel, also on lees.

Clear yellow with a brownish hue. Mature apples, citrus (blood orange), hay, “breathes well” (meaning that the oak treatment is evident, without any sweetness). Quite full, good acidity, a touch of alcohol in finish.

ISSÉ Viñador Soñador 2016

Verdejo. From a 0,58 ha. vineyard planted at 915 meters in 1868, ungrafted. Spontaneous fermentation (that lasts for several months) in clay amphora, that is sealed for the one year ageing, then som time in steel before bottling. Unfiltered, no added SO2.

Light yellow with some green, somewhat cloudy. White flowers, citrus (grapefruit). Lovely fruit in the mouth, good acidity, elegant finish.

After ten days it’s maybe a little less focused, but still full of life.

Sin Rumbo Viñas Viejas Vendimia Tardía 2016

Verdejo, from a 0,42 ha. pre-phylloxera vineyard planted in 1872 in Nieva at 910 meters (one of the “Navales” vineyards). Poor soil; sand, gravel, pebbles. Whole cluster pressing, first a slow fermentation, then very quick (thus the volatile touch, according to Ismael). Spontaneous fermentation in clay amphora, no added SO2, unfiltered.

Light yellow, just a little bit cloudy. White flowers, apples, citrus, wax, and a slight touch of volatile acidity. Good concentration, fresh acidity, long.

The fruit is more vibrant after ten days than the previous amphora wine.

Respública Verdejo 2015

Verdejo from one plot (that he calls Crand Cru). Whole cluster pressing, spontaneous fermentation in old 228L barrels where it remains around 10 months. Bottled unfiltered.

Straw yellow, clear. Complex nose of citrus (lemon), yellow apples, chalky minerals, vanilla and a touch of honey. Rich, creamy, some oak, and good acidity in a long and intense finish.

Twelve days after (with low standing and just the original cork) am not able to detect any vanilla, and no oxidation. The wine is creamy, mineral, full of mature apples, and the balance is just perfect.

 

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Four different takes on Ribera del Duero

Squeezed in between our Rueda and Rioja days we had a short stay in Ribera del Duero. Indeed we had two very interesting visits on Spain’s national holiday. Summed up very briefly the four producers can be said to represent big variations on the theme:

*Aalto: An intriguing story, a glimpse of glory and meaty red wines for ageing

*Valtravieso: Organic high-altitude wines; the great discovery of the trip

*Alfredo Maestro: Natural small-scale wine, as pure and fruity as they come

*Pingus: Legendary, but rooted in reality; biodynamics; ageworthy wines, but already possible to predict what will come

What their creators have in common: A deep passion, knowledge and respect for the land and for the tempranillo fruit, or tinto fino, as it is often referred to here, and a desire to express it in the wines. Always with an eco-friendly approach in mind.

 

Bodegas Aalto

After a drive up the narrow, rugged path we knew when we saw the stately, stylish new bodega that we had come to the right place. And Javier Zaccagnini was welcoming us.

Javier started the company in 1999 together with Mariano García. -At that time I was the president of the DO Ribera del Duero, explains Javier. -I had been thinking about opening my own wine business. Mariano had for long been pursuaded by his employer Vega Sicilia to end his own project Mauro in the outskirts of Ribera, as they wanted an exclusive winemaker. After 16 years of conflict enough was enough, and Mariano left. It’s worth noting that friends of Spanish wine would be familiar with Mariano’s Maurodos in Toro, and maybe also a brand new one, Garmón. Javier has also embarked on his own project, Sei Solo, with much less fuss. (We will taste and review these wines at another occasion.)

So no doubt, with Javier from the DO and Mariano of Vega Sicilia fame, Aalto got a flying start and was a success in the market from the first day. Aalto’s style is fruity, powerful reds, good young with a hearty beef, but showing more elegance through careful ageing.

Mariano knows the area in great detail, and they own plots of tempranillo many places in the D.O., 110 hectars and 200 plots in all, none bigger than 1 hectar. The complexity and balance is a result of myriads of soil types, altitude, exposition and so on, according to Javier.

Most grapes are sourced from La Horra, a small village in the Burgos province, quite far from the bodega, but there are always varying percentages from places near La Horra like Roa and La Aguilera, then Moradillo to the south, Fresnillo or Baños more to the east – or Quintanilla, in the west where the bodega is.

 

Javier Zaccagnini, music lover, puts together notes from all over the D.O. to form his chords

Javier tells about how he brought his son Michael into the company. -Michael was studying oenology, and insisted on receiving the lowest possible pay according to Spanish law, Javier says. -Being near and learning from ‘the master’ was enough for him. I had to accept, for a year, but then I had to rise his salary because he was so good, and he worked hard and independently. The thing was that I couldn’t treat him different because he was my son, in this case: I couldn’t treat him worse than others!

 

Javier and his son Michael, now oenologist together with Mariano García

Two wines are produced, Aalto and Aalto PS (that stands for ‘pagos seleccionados’, selection of plots), that retails for around 30 and 60€ respectively. The grapes are exclusively tinto fino (or tempranillo), as cabernet and merlot have too long cycles for maturing here. And all vines are at least 60 years old. PS is basically from La Horra. The alcohol fermentation lasts 5-10 days. The temperatures are raised from 10 to 14˚C when they want the fermentation to start.

When asked “how organic” the farming is, Javier says that they don’t want to damage the planet. Thus the farming is organic, not certified though, but it might be that something would be used to prevent mildew. Only natural yeasts are used.

We tasted the wines in the 15 vintage.

Aalto 2015: Dark with violet rim. Dark fruits, blackberry, herbs, toast, coffee. Rich, big in the mouth, strong tannins after medium plus roasted barrels. (14,8% alcohol)

Aalto PS 2015: Deep purple, still darker. Blackberry and blueberry, toast, while lickorice and anis adds to the freshness on the nose. Rich and heavy, this one too with ‘demanding’ texture, and  big in the mouth. It’s somewhat more oaky, but it’s made for a long life.

 

Valtravieso

High up in Piñel de Arriba in the Valladolid province some 920-950 meters above sea level we found Valtravieso, the journey’s biggest surprise. Here I will report only briefly from the visit, as the long story has already been published here.

 Ricardo Velasco (left)

Ricardo Velasco works very naturally, the farming is dry and if all is well nothing is added.

High up in Piñel is a long ripening processes, which is good for the aromas and flavours and improves the acidity in the wines. The long sun exposure gives good colour to the grapes. The great differences between day and night, especially in summer, when temperature can drop 18º C, brings more polyphenols, and with it higher antioxidant content.

At Valtravieso they believe in launching the wines on the market when they are approaching their peak for consumption. This is how it used to be all over the country, but in today’s market it’s rather unusual.

Some wines from the tasting:

Crianza 2015: Cherry red. Very fruity, some coffee, spice, herbs, pine. Rich, but with a fresh acidity, long, and the high alcohol (14,5%) is no problem.

Tinta Fina 2015: Dark. Very fruity, with blackberry, pine, truffles, and a flinty mineral character. A lot of structure, rich, somewhat heavy at 15% alcohol, but still the fine acidity shines through. (Tinta fina is yet another variation on the name tempranillo.)

Gran Valtravieso 2014:
Dark cherry red. Very fruity, cool aroma, with red berries, a balsamic note, hints of vanilla and toffee. It’s rich, yet luscious, with high acidity that contributes to the long aftertaste. I would call it elegant, but due to the alcohol content it’s advisable to cool it down a bit.

Alfredo Maestro Tejero
I had met Alfredo several times, around in Spain, and once in London. (You can look at the pictures from Gredos here, and here is a report from London’s Real Wine fair.) He is always fun to be with, very unselfish, and always ready to help. When I first met him I contacted him to see if I could visit him in Gredos. But as a leader of the Garnachas de Gredo group he proposed to organize the trip, and finally we drove around all the area together and met around ten producers. He also deserves the credit for our “discovery” of Valtravieso, that came in as a substitute after an appointment in the Soria province was cancelled.
This was the first time I had the opportunity to visit his bodega. The humble winery with no doorsign is located by the main road in Peñafiel, close to our hotel (the Ribera del Duero), and looking up against the majestic castle that is now the “parador” (in the chain of stately run tourist hotels).
His bodega is located, I would say, in the heart of Ribera del Duero, at least in the middle of the major town of the western part, not far from Protos, Vega Sicilia, Villacreces – or Aalto – to name just a few. He refuses to use the DO Ribera del Duero though. This is for two reasons, because he wants to have freedom, and also because he makes wines from several places within the Castilla y León region. His native Peñafiel is in the Valladolid province, where he has some 25-27 hectares, but he also operates in Valtiendas (Segovia), Cigales (another D.O. in Valladolid) and Navarredondilla in the Gredos mountains of Ávila, where he has 5-7 hectares own vineyards. That is why he rather wants to bottle everything under the broader Castilla y León designation.
 
All of his wines are very pure, with a clear-cut fruit. We tasted a few through the tour in his cellar, first a skin-contact albillo mayor (the Ribera variety, as opposed to the more aromatic albillo real from Gredos) called Consuelo, a tasty wine with some mature apple and apricot. The 46 Cepas is a merlot from Peñafiel made with stems; dark, aromas of green pepper and herbs, quite warm. An all time favourite is Almate, now in the 2016 vintage, a tempranillo from both sides of the Ribera del Duero border, which means partly from Valtiendas, Segovia: Dark, grapey, juicy and with a cool freshness.
Alfredo has been given several vineyards from old people, that rather will see them in good hands than abandon them. A really interesting wine is a rosé from Cigales, aged partly in chestnut, made from 75% tempranillo (the rest is “de toda la vida”, which means it could be practically anything, red or white). This is the old style from a former stronghold of delightful rosés, in contrast to the many “well-made but utterly boring” rosé wines nowadays, and he calls it Rosado Clásico de Valladolid. It has very little skin-contact, but the colour is light red-orange, delightful raspberry and citric aromas, and it’s tasty as few rosés on the market. Very, very good!
We also tasted the Marciano 2016, a Gredos wine, high altitude (1.200 meters). This is a garnacha grown in granite, made with 100% stems. It’s very fresh with a high acidity. His most typical Ribera wine is Castrillo de Duero, now in the 2016 vintage. It’s mad from grapes grown in Castrillo at 960 meters. This is a red fruit-driven wine, a bit balsamic and with very fresh acidity. It has stayed some months in rather neutral French oak, and it’s not at all oaky.
Dominio de Pingus
Parking the car outside another humble bodega building. Best to have the notebook ready…
The last visit before we leave Ribera del Duero is no less than the emblematic Dominio de Pingus. Already something of a legend even though it didn’t start untill 1995. This is Danish oenologist Peter Sisseck’s project. Today is another busy day for Peter, but he has the time to say hello and good-bye.
 
It was Julia Zhdanova, assistant to the winemaker, who welcomed us and guided us through the facilities and the history behind Pingus. There are many people working to ensure that everything is right. Among them are 6 people in analysis, who are helping other producers in the area too. They also work in collaboration with universities, such as the one in Cádiz for yeast environments and Valencia for bacteria. The winemaking at Pingus is very natural, and biodynamic principles are used. But in case something goes wrong, you can be sure that there is a back-up plan.
Many people has wondered why is the wine that expensive (selling at 800-900€ per bottle in Europe, 10 times more than Aalto PS). Speculation is of course an element in this highly regarded and limited quantity wine. Julia says that it was not the intention to push the price through the roof. But it was obviously of a high quality, and when the first vintage was shipped to the USA, the boat sank and the highly valued bottles went down with it. This raised the price significantly, and it has been kept high since then.
Peter Sisseck (from my previous visit in 2009, photo K. Karlsson)
It’s mabye convenient to give a brief background here, since we have now already travelled back in time. Peter Sisseck came to Spain from Bordeaux in the late 1980’s, and it was almost by coincidence that he became involved in wine. He was appointed to direct the new Hacienda Monasterio, now another big name in this area with a huge concentration of important wineries. While at Monasterio Peter discovered some plots of old tinto fino vines – wild, but of outstanding potential – and decided to make a wine of his own. This was the start of Pingus, his nick-name from his childhood. He was himself amazed about the quality of that first vintage, the 1995. So was American critic Robert Parker, who scored it higher than any Spanish wine so far. So when Peter went back to Bordeaux and presented it at the “en primeur” tastings it was already the talk of the town. But, as we have heard, the first shipment to America (from a total production of 12 barrels) went down, and the prices went accordingly up. And as we shall see, although the production is always less than 500 cases the income has given Peter the opportunity to embark on projects that will benefit other winegrowers in the region, and possibly also the DO as a whole.
 
Peter and Dominio de Pingus is now further exploring the map of Ribera del Duero, a work that has been generously offered to the Consejo Regulador (the regulating body in the wine industry), who has welcomed it. This will be important for a new classification of vineyards in Ribera del Duero.
I remember from an earlier occation that he spoke about how well he was received in Castilla, the openness of the people, ready to help and shared willingly of their knowledge. PSI, a project and a wine named after a letter in the greek alphatet that resembles a vine root, is a project that Peter has created to help local farmers to fulfill the potential of their vineyards. He loves the region that has given him so much, nature both rough and graceful and with lots of character.
 
Pingus was originally sourced from a plot in La Horra (over in the Burgos province) called “Barroso”, with old vines planted in pebbles over clay-limestone with good drainage. Later other adjoining vinyards with similar characteristics, like the “Parrando”, were added. Today 5.000 bottles are made annually from 4,5 hectars, and the yield is only 9 hl/ha. “2nd wine” Flor de Pingus (a tenth of the price, ten times the production) were initially sourced from the vineyards of Villacreces near today’s Pingus winery, but now it comes from La Horra too.
The main wine ferments in 1800 liter barrels, while Flor ferments in tank. The vinification has been altered a bit through the times, towards less new oak and less extraction. Flor now spends 18-22 months in 30-40% new oak, while Pingus sees mostly 2nd year oak for 24 months. Fermentation starts when the must is heated. There is not much extraction these days, and almost no pumping-over: For the current vintage nothing. Psi is fermented in cement tanks and large old wooden casks, and in general little oak is used. For the time being it’s made in rented fascilities.
There is in fact a forth wine called Amelia. This is from a very old plot in La Horra. The grapes from here used to go into Flor, and cuttings were used to replace old vines in the Pingus vineyards. Since 2003 however it has been separately bottled, and the whole tiny production is sold to the USA. 
Everything is sold “en primeur”. To be precise, there are allocations between the regular customers.
2016 was a good year, easy to work and without complications. The samples show a good freshness. The three wines were clearly in the same direction, so here follow only some brief notes. Psi (mainly tempranillo, but also around 10% garnacha) was dark, with a flowery nose with cherry, herbs and a touch of coffee. Young tannins, high acidity and will not need much time to integrate the oak. Flor de Pingus: In the same vein, more aromatic, the same roasted notes, a touch more structured. Pingus: Again obviously in the same family. Deep, dark, with a violet rim. Already complex, more balsamic, blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry waiting to come out, some nutmeg and other spices, but also roasted elements, a tough structure and high acidity. It’s worth repeating though, that these wines are not ready. They will smoothen with time and will keep very long.
 Impeccable cleanness, as expected
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Valtravieso: High altitude Ribera del Duero

Valtravieso was a new find on our journey over the Castilian meseta.

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Located in Piñel de Arriba in the Valladolid province some 920-950 meters above sea level it is one of the highest in the DO Ribera del Duero (except for some parts in the eastern Soria province).

The treatments are natural, the land is worked carefully, the farming is dry, and nothing is done that doesn’t need to be done.

-Here is a long ripening processes, which is good for the aromas and flavours and improves the acidity in the wines, explains winemaker Ricardo Velasco. -The long sun exposure gives good colour to the grapes. There are great differences between day and night, especially in summer, when temperature can drop 18º C. This brings more polyphenols, and with it higher antioxidant content.

The soils are poor. Some parts are more calcareous, others have more clay, which also contributes to more polyphenols. In addition some grapes are bought in from Gumiel (over in the Burgos province) and from Soria. The estate now consists of 54 hectares, that count for half of the wine production, but there will be planted at least 20 more.

The farming is organic, not certified though. -But it’s very easy here, with healthy soils and with the wind sweeping through the vineyards, says Ricardo. They will soon make their own compost too.

 

Cabernet franc is preferred to CS, as it is easier to work because of its shorter growth cycle

Ricardo thinks that ideally a malolactic fermentation should be done in barrel, as it’s easier to integrate it. But Valtravieso is a new and relatively small winery, and he choses to be pragmatic, as it’s much easier to do one tank than -say- 44 barrels. But on the other hand, after the wine has stayed one year in barrel the result is practically the same.

Like many Ribera producers, a rueda wine is also made. Ricardo choses to do this in Miguel Arroyo’s bodega in the southern part of Valladolid. This we will come back to at a later occation.

   

The bodega building is air-conditioned at 16 and 18°C.

Ricardo told us about one special barrel, where he kept a favourite wine of his, that he calls “Listilla”. It’s a natural wine, nothing added nothing taken away. -I hope the boss will like it, he says. We tasted it, and we can promise a very pure, fruity, grapey wine, a high acidity tempranillo.

 The Listilla barrel

At Valtravieso they believe in launching the wines on the market when they are approaching their peak for consumption. This is how it used to be all over the country, but in today’s market it’s rather unusual.

Among the wines we tasted were the Crianza 2015 and a tinta fina, also from 2015.

The Crianza is from 60% own grapes, the rest from Burgos and Soria. It’s a mix between tinta fina (tempranillo), cabernet (franc rather than sauvignon) and merlot, aged in French oak for a little more than a year.
Crianza 2015: Cherry red. Very fruity, some coffee, spice, herbs, pine. Rich, but with a fresh acidity, long, and the high alcohol (14,5%) is no problem.

The Tinta Fina is so called because it is from only tinta fina, and 100% from the estate. It’s a single vineyard, which here means from a single parcel of old vines, and with very low yields.

Tinta fina 2015: Dark. Very fruity, with blackberry, pine, truffles, and a flinty mineral character. A lot of structure, rich, somewhat heavy at 15% alcohol, but still the fine acidity shines through.

After a tour in the cellar, with samples, we had a wonderful tasting of some bottled wines in this room. Here is a view of a typical Castilian landscape, a high plain, seemingly not especially welcoming, but of the type that Dutch writer Cees Noteboom said “you have to conquer”. Here we eventually sat down, contemplated to a sip of the Gran Valtravieso.
The best grapes from more than 80 years old vines go into this wine. The fermentation is carried out at a controlled temperature, followed by 35 days of maceration. For this wine the malolactic fermentation takes place in French oak barrels. It used to be aged for three years in wood from three different French forests, but nowadays it stays 12-15 months in concrete.

Gran Valtravieso 2014:
Dark cherry red. Very fruity, cool aroma, with red berries, a balsamic note, hints of vanilla and toffee. It’s rich, yet luscious, with high acidity that contributes to the long aftertaste. I would call it elegant, but due to the alcohol content it’s advisable to cool it down a bit.

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Los Patios de Beatas, Málaga

Los Patios de Beatas is a favourite in Málaga, and whenever I arrive in the city it will never take long untill I head for a table in that culinary palace, hotel and cultural oasis.

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Speaking of tables, please allow me a short sidestep before we get back to the restaurant. My wife had since she first saw the tables in the street and in the restaurant been an admirer of the work. So she took a picture of the signature, and looked up a facebook site. We soon found out that the artist lived in Mijas village. So we went to Mijas. There were no signs, no directions. But we didn’t give up: We talked to some locals, knocked on some doors, and suddenly we found ourselves in the artist’s living-room.

Joshua Van Den Eeden is of American and Flemish descendant; his parents met in Torremolinos in the 1960’s, and you have already realized that there is a romantic story that could be told. But we must make a short-cut: Joshua is now established with his home-workshop and gallery in Mijas. His tables are made of concrete, and the plates of copper and calcium. The turquoise colour comes from a reaction with air. Finally a glacier is put on top of it, to keep it from further development.

2017-07-01 15.35.42 Joshua Joshua Van Den Eeden

2017-07-01 15.32.50 Joshua_Rioja 2017-07-01 15.47.33

Among other projects are benches for the Mijas municipality. So remember, next time you are there you will maybe sit on the artwork that you see here. The wine map to the left is for a friend. Take a closer look, and you will see a more detailed map of Rioja than the current official one. (You can find more info here.)

Back in the old town of Málaga, Beatas is a small street where the people behind the restaurant have rehabilitated two houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, both architectural pearls of historic importance, and both with beautiful patios. This is the background to the restaurant’s name.

2017-01-13 22.17.59 Julián Sanjuán

The driving force behind the project is Julián Sanjuán, who has studied oenology in Málaga and got his sommelier degree from Barcelona, and had already opened málaga wine museums both Ojén and Mijas, small towns in the Málaga province. He established Los Patios in 2012, and last year he also created a professional sommelier association in Málaga. With his network it’s then easy to understand why the restaurant is full of dedicated sommeliers that know how to describe a wine, and has the knowledge to pair wine and food successfully.

In the main floor there are three rooms with open doors between them, two are more normal restaurants, and one cosy bar where you sit on high stools at van den Erden’s tables. You can also buy the bottles that you see around you in the room and bring them home with you. In the next floor there are two dining rooms, a tasting room with natural light from an inside patio, and in the other jazz and flamenco concerts are held once in a while. The familiy also runs a small hotel in the other building.

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Key words are varied wines from all over Spain (and some from outside), and creative dishes based on seasonal products. Worth mentioning, this is snob-free zone, and all the wines are for drinking, more than 500 references in total. Some restaurants with a much shorter wine-list have some show-wines like Vega Sicilias in old vintages that noone has the wallet to buy. Here there are a few really expensive wines, but the difference is -and while we are talking about Ribera del Duero- that the most expensive Vegas and Sastres are a logical continuation of an extensive list of wines from the Ribera. For Andalusian wines I can only think of one contender, Armando Guerras place in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. (Read about him here.) But for wines from the Málaga province you simply go to Los Patios.

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After so many visits it’s difficult to pick just a few wines. I have tasted many local and regional wines, such as Sedella and Schatz from the Málaga province, the sherries of Ramiro Ibañez and Equipo Navazos from Cádiz. Sparklers from Recaredo (Cava), whites from Lagar de Pintos (Rías Baixas)and Avanthia (Valdeorras) and developed reds from Álvaro Palacios (Priorat), Ánima Negra (Mallorca) and Dominio de Atauta (Ribera del Duero) will rarely disappoint.

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My last visit was earlier this year. I will always discuss with the sommeliers, of course, but this is the kind of place that I can let them get the last word, and I can easily trust that the wine will be good and the pairings successful. This time the first wine was Igualado 2014 a red blend from nearby Ronda bodega Joaquín Fernández. Dark, young colour; balsamic aroma (mint), peppery and spicy, with mature tannins, that went well with “ternera con foie” (veal with foie gras), even if I would suspect the wine to be too dominant. Next was “texturas de panceta”, different textures of pork belly, served with green puré and fennel. the different ingredients blended superbly, and the wine that Julián suggested, Vetus 2011 from Toro (dark, red berries, blackcurrant, morello and a touch of minty oak, mature and integrated tannins, a very elegant Toro) was interesting to see with the varying textures of the food.

2017-03-04 14.55.49 Veal with fois, and a glass of Igualado

2017-03-04 15.19.06 The Vetus bottle, and Julián talking to the next table

After numerous visits to central Spain I have learned to know Daniel Jiménez-Landi (now of Comando G fame and a great ambassador of the light extraction garnacha style). Here we could savour one of his earlier offerings, the Piélago 2010. This Méntrida garnacha was quite hard in its younger years, but after some time in Los Patios’ cellar it had mellowed, and it was perfect with the lamb and quinoa dish.

2017-03-04 21.15.13 Piélago with lamb and quinoa

This was a unusual night in that we had only red wines. But you don’t always need to start with a champagne and end with a dessert wine and a grappa, do you? This particular night we ended with the fabulous Acinipo 2006 from a good friend, Ronda wine producer Friedrich Schatz. And this because the party had already wanted to order a plate of cheeses, a selection with predominantly hard cheeses, so I thought why not. Schatz is originally from Süd-Tirol, and the wine is made from the variety lemberger, a synonym for blaufränkisch. It’s quite different from the more northern-eastern wines though. Named after the Roman ruins further down the road, this wine is quite full-bodied with the dryness in the aftertaste that can be found in this producer’s wines, a feature that makes them go well with a variety of dishes.

On your first visit to Málaga, go to El Pimpi and the Antigua Casa de Guardia, because they are picturesque places and important for the city’s culinary history, and you will get decent tapas there. But once familiar with Málaga they are maybe not the places you will keep coming back to. Los Patios is a place that you never get tired of.

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Visiting Finca Montepedroso, Rueda

At Finca Montepedroso we met winemaker Lauren Rosillo and Marta Martínez Bujanda (of the family that owns the winery).

Montepedroso is a beautiful farm on a plateau overlooking the Rueda village. It was bought in 2008, and a functional winery built in the typical materials of the area opened four years later.

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They manage 25 hectares of vineyards with an average of 20 years, at an altitude of 750 meters. This is a one wine farm, dedicated to one single variety, the verdejo, and only 120.000 bottles are made annually.

Here are three types of soils: alluvial soil on top of the plateau accounts for 70%, clay soil in the gorge where the oldest vineyards are planted, and a soil with a large quantity of lime and clay sediments.

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We are on the central Castilian meseta, with cold and long winters, short springs with late frosts and hot and dry summers. The vines find water and nutrients deep down the  subsoil, and the wide temperature gives freshness and acidity to the wine.

The fermentation starts without addition of yeasts. Lauren says that for him this is the only way. And worth mentioning here is that the typical features for the verdejo are green apple and grass, and that the tropical aromas found in many verdejos are from added yeasts, according to the winemaker. The fermentation at Montepedroso lasts typically for 19 days at 16ºC. Then the must rests over its fine lees for five months with weekly stirring. The wine is completely dry, but the lees add a sensation of sweetness. Lauren says that he aims for acidity, varietal character – and a low alcohol (here typically 12-12,5).

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Marta and Lauren, with Rueda village in the background

We first tasted the most recent vintage, Finca Montepedroso 2016. This is light yellow with a greenish hint, aromatic with notes of green apple, apricot, fennel, white flowers and hay. It has both volume and structure in the mouth, and a fresh balancing acidity. In sum a personal verdejo, but in a traditional line.

We also tasted the 2010, the first vintage of the wine, to see the development. 2010 had frost during spring, and the production was low. This wine was more golden, still flowery, but with mature sensations of honey and a touch of petrol. Very fresh and appealing.

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We also tasted a few wines from Martínez Bujanda‘s other projects. Their single estate in Rioja is Finca Valpiedra, 80 hectares between Fuenmayor and Cenicero at an altitude of just over 400 meters, where we find alternating Atlantic and Mediterranean influences. This is the only Rioja estate to be included in the organization Grandes Pagos de España. Both wines are predominantly tempranillo, but with presence of other Rioja varieties, such as graciano.

Cantos de Valpiedra 2013 had a cherry red colour, an aroma of dark fruits, blackberry, fennel with slight hints of vanilla. In the mouth it was quite full, and a decent level of acidity gives freshness and contributes to the balance. The Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2010 had a slightly darker, intense black cherry colour. The aroma was complex with red and dark fruits, balsamic, a touch of smoke, and some vanilla, spices and tobacco from the oak-ageing. The tannins are still there, but they are rounded off by age, it’s fresh and delicate, and with a good balance between fruit and wood.

20171015_105231 Lauren and Marta with some of the visitors

During the travels through the many great vineyards of Spain Finca Antigua was a “love at first sight” experience, according to both Marta and Lauren. This is close to where the winemaker lives, in the Cuenca province towards the border of Toledo. We find scrubland, vineyards and forest, and it’s easy to maintain the eco-diversity. It’s a vast farm in Castilla-La Mancha with an altitude over 900 meters, one of the coldest part of the meseta, and extreme variations between day and night. They decided that varieties well-apted for this land were merlot, syrah, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon, together with tempranillo (formerly known in Central Spain as cencibel) and other national grapes.

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The wines have cool elegance and freshness, and the wines improve with age. But even with full phenolic maturity the alcohol levels rarely exceeds 14, not even in the hottest years. The Finca Antigua 2012 (a crianza of 50% tempranillo, and the rest merlot, syrah and cabernet) was a dark, cool wine, with aromas of chalky minerals, almost milky (from the malolactic, I guess), fresh berries, and in the mouth it had a creamy structure and then a wonderful acidity. The Reserva 2010 (70% merlot, complementet with cabernet and syrah) was also a dark and cool wine, with cherries and berries from the woods, balsamic (mint, eucalyptus), herbal (thyme), with a slightly tougher structure than the crianza.

Sidestepping: Please read here about Lauren’s solo project in Málaga, where I met him for the first time.

Coming back: These days when we speak a lot about the changes of Rioja (Norwegian readers can read a couple of articles on these pages), it’s no doubt that the Martínez Bujanda family is in the vanguard. And it’s no better place to experience this than the tasting table where are sitting right now, with a view of the picturesque village of Rueda.

 

 

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