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Just what the doctor ordered at Apotekergaarden

I was recently visiting Grimstad, a beautiful small town on the Norwegian southern coastline, where the houses are white, small private boats are moored and the seagulls are part of the scenery. I have a special relationship with the town, because I was born there, and my family has since spent many summers there.

Fresh crabs on offer in the town’s inner harbour

The town could have boasted of its seafaring culture. My late father left from there to work on a ship at the age of 14. And that night I borrowed the house of a friend, the daughter of my father’s captain at that time. But Grimstad is not of that sort, boasting is not part of its personality. It’s just lying there, a southern Norwegian idyll bathed in the summer sun.

These days the small town is home to the restaurant with the most amazing natural wine list on the whole long coastal strip. Founded in 2001 the restaurant has since enjoyed a reputation among the citizens, for its food, its atmosphere, but also as a concert arranger. However the upgrade to the natural wine haven that we know today started after a bankruptcy in 2010. Kjetil Jørgensen, one of the original founders, has a good relation to natural wine importer Non Dos, through his friend Jørgen Ljøstad, also from Grimstad. Sometimes a strong tie to one importer can feel somewhat awkward, or difficult. But here it’s more logic, and has probably helped along the way to success. Having said that, the restaurant also works with other importers. These days they also have their own micro-brewery, led by Mathias S. Skjong.

The food is based on local ingredients. The burgers are made from Hereford cattle grassing only a stone’s throw away, and there is of course delicious fish and shellfish right out of the sea. Pizza or vegetarian options too.

Apotekergaarden translates as the Pharmacist’s Shop, and refers to playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen, who was a pharmacist apprentice in Grimstad before he became famous, and this particular place also formerly housed one of the town’s pharmacies.

Ida Konradsen pulling up a Contadino, her own soft drinks at the table

Ida Konradsen is sommelier and restaurant manager, and strongly contributed to a great evening. She told us with great enthusiasm about her experiences from working at Sebastien Riffault‘s estate in the Loire. She is also involved in a new project creating soft drinks, generally popular in Norway (as everywhere I suppose) with children and non-wine addicts. All have the taste of the basic ingredients intact and come with a lot less sugar than usual for this type of drink. In between our first and second wine she offered us a tasting of three products that are sold locally, a lemon and ginger drink (based on Sicilian lemons), one from orange (and a touch of lemon) – and lastly an interesting take on a soft drink for the Christmas season (“julebrus” in Norwegian), based on biodynamically farmed grape juice of the variety zweigelt from Austrian wine producer Meinklang, well-known for readers of this blog – with some star anise, juniper and cinnamon, and without addition of sugar.

Meinklang is also responsible for some of their house labels, Skolegada 3 (the restaurant’s adress), otherwise known by other names in the market.

But while there are not more than 12-15 wines in their by-the-glass selection, Ida gladly opened three more to us, as she was going to host a special party the next day and could use the rest there. And these were fabulous wines from three natural wine legends.

Robinot’s Fêtembulles, with sourdough bread, olive and truffle oil, and olives

Fêtembulles 2017 (J.-P. Robinot), Loire, France
100% chenin blanc, biodynamically farmed, bottled without added sulphites and unfiltered.
Light yellow, small integrated bubbles. Smells of mature apples, citrus (orange), a bit waxy. Tastes of apples, is creamy with a crisp acidity, and a stony minerality in the finish.

Contadino 2016 (F. Cornelissen), Etna, Sicilia
This is a field blend dominated by some 90% nerello mascalese, biodynamically farmed. No sulphites added, unfiltered.
It’s light cherry red. Aroma of red berries (cranberry), hint of herbs (basil), some spice. The mouth is dominated by red fruit, but with and underlying carbon or smoke taste (from the Etna volcano maybe), and with a solid tannic grip.

Teroldego 2015 (E. Foradori), Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Italy
Another well-known producer for readers of this blog. This wine is from the teroldego grape grown in Trentino, near the Dolomites. It was fermented in cement and aged in cement and old oak.
Dark cherry red. Packed with red berries (cherry), plums, dark fruits (blackberry), with some balsamic notes (menthol). Cool, clean fruit in the mouth, very lively and fruity.

Typical paintings collected in one of the rooms

And on the veranda while the sun goes down we finish the evening with a craft beer from the acclaimed local brewery Nøgne Ø, that takes its name from Ibsen’s poem “Terje Vigen”. And to drink one of their beers in this moment seems more right than ever before.

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Visiting l’Empordà

Before the Vins Nus and Vella Terra wine fairs started in Barcelona I took the opportunity to travel around l’Empordà – together with a good friend, Malena Fabregat, wine writer and distributor.

We visited two producers of natural wine, one well-established classic, and one up-and-coming estate, both in the same vicinity – Carles Alonso and La Gutina.

Carles Alonso is maybe the foremost  pioneer of Catalan natural wines, having started back in the late 1970’s. He is certainly not the most well-known figure, but this is only due to the fact that he has never seeked the limelight, and it has not been necessary either, as he has easily sold everything from his bodega at the entrance of the Els Vilars village.

Carles is self-taught, and he hasn’t felt it necessary to join either fashions or denominations. He owns between 4 and 5 hectares of vineyard, and there he works about 10 varieties, most local, but also some foreign that have adapted well in Catalunya. He does all the work himself. -My daughter helps me a bit though, he admits, -and of course at harvest times there are many people here.

The altitude is never really high in l’Empordà. Here we are about 15 km from the sea and at 230 meters altitude. The Tramontana wind is always noticeable in the area. Carles has a lot of knowledge, and likes a good discussion, and some good jokes. After having joked about bad things in France (politics and weather) he gets more serious: -I am from the Mediterranean, born in Barcelona. So this is my terroir. I make strong, thick wines, full of alcohol. I harvest only 0,5 kg per plant, never prune in green, I never move a leaf… And I harvest late (i.e. September). Many look for acidity, and the only thing they get is acidity.

Carles explains to Malena

The wines ferment in clay amphora, and never see any oak. He makes white and red wine. But it’s the sparkling wines from the ancestral method that are the most prominent.

No chemicals are ever used either in the vineyard or in the cellar. The wines ferment with their own yeasts, without added sulfites, or any other additive of any kind.

We tasted his Blanc Petillant (macabeu, xarel.lo, garnatxa blanca, parellada and chardonnay) both 2009 and 2018. It was quite dark at his desk, but the 09 seemed dark yellow towards orange, smelled of pears, plums and mature apples, was rich and with generous alcohol, but balanced and harmonious. -It is its own category in a way, Carles said, and we could well agree to that. The 18 followed the same line, at 13,8% alc., but was obviously younger. Light straw colour; pear, some citrus (lime); full, with some oxidation (a touch of bitter almonds).

-I used to offer fresh wines, he says. -Like make 4.000 bottles of rosé and sell it to tourists. But in 2001, after I discovered how good a mature wine could be. Then I started to lay some years behind, on purpose.

We also tasted two reds, the Carriel dels Vilars Tinto (garnatxa, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, carinyena) 2018 and 2007. The 18 was dark red with lovely fruit, still some carbonic, and obviously still with an ageing potential. The 07 had no oak, -I am totally against it, he stresses. Ok, I see that old oak can work for micro-breathing, but it’s not for me. It was cherry red with mature nuances; smell of plums, cherry and some compote; drying a little in the mouth, but still full of life.

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At the Vella Terra fair, Barcelona

Vella Terra, now in its 4th edition, is organized by Alejandra Delfino and Stefano Fraternali. In Barcelona’s Estació del Nord there were on 10-11th February gathered more than 100 producers. In addition there were several activities linked to the fair. One of these was an Asian-Catalan fusion kitchen with orange wines, presented by the Casa Xica restaurant and held at the festival’s own Garage Bar, and a tasting of natural sparkling wines at the Toto restaurant. Another was a presentation of aged natural wines from the Catalan pioneers, also at the Garage Bar, where I was lucky to get a seat.

I would say that this event has a more international air to it than the Vins Nus, held in the city at the same time. Here were many winemakers from Catalunya and other Spanish regions, but the features from other countries were much more evident. France, Italy, Portugal and Austria were among the well-represented places. Just like the Vins Nus the objective is to raise people’s awareness of natural and organic wines, and to eat and drink healthier. Like at the other fair, the goal is to present wines made by minimal intervention. But I would say that there is a slight difference in approach, and that the producers here are, well maybe not more open, but could we say: less strict in their view of the use of SO2 (to say it simple, or maybe over-simplified).

Vella Terra at the Estació del Nord

There were so many interesting, personal wines, that I can only present some highlights. And again, I will try to limit myself to one wine from each producer, though I know that again it will not be easy.

Antonio Portela

While the albariños of coastal Galicia should be well-known the reds don’t have the same recognition. Forget the images you may have of dark, sturdy, bubbling, bitter wines from the old days! Now there are several producers who show how fine, elegant and cool the coastal reds can be. Two of them were represented here. I will tell more about Antonio Portela later, whom I visited a couple of weeks after this fair. Although he is not far from Cambados, where the headquarters of the Consejo Regulador of Rías Baixas is located, his farm on the Morrazo peninsula is outside the delimitations of the DO area. So he uses terms as ‘tintos marineiros’ (something like ‘reds from the sea’), he uses grapes like espadeiro branco (related to the loureiro), tinto caiño, and he is a defender of the local grape tinta femia (related to the caiño redondo). His low vineyards in or near the beaches are the most atlantic in the whole of Galicia.

His red wines are from the parish of Cela in the town of Bueu, and the white wines from O Hío in the town of Cangas. They are all fresh and vivid – from the  Quereres de Berobreo 2017 (called ‘viño mareiro’, mainly espadeiro blanco), with its light, green apples, citrussy fruit, via the rounder, more mellow Quereres do Hío 2017 (also viño mareiro, albariño-dominated) to the delicious, grapey Area Donón 2017. Donón is the village where the grapes grow, to the extreme west, just before you reach the island of Cíes outside the Ría de Vigo. These are practically wine from sand, from the beach. The red Namorado 2017 (tinto mareiro), fermented and aged for 12 months in used French oak, has all the virtues that this area can offer: It’s light in colour; pure, with fresh, red fruits on the nose; a vibrant flavour, a good natural acidity and in a long saline finish.

Juan of As Furnias hasn’t learned the tongue-in-cheek trick yet

As Furnias is more inland, in the Rías Baixas subzone Condado do Tea. After his studies in enology Juan González Arjones went to Barbaresco, to work with a small family producer, then also in a wine shop in Torino. Then he went back to his native Crecente to start his own project. He has also been managing a vineyard for the reknowned producer Terras Gauda, nearer to the coast in the subzone O Rosal. In 2010 he planted his own vineyard down there. Pícaro 2015 was a terrific red sparkling wine from a variety of grapes (albariño, treixadura, blanco legítimo, brancellao, sousón, espadeiro), with a lovely red fruits nose (raspberry, strawberry), and some tannin. After this came a vertical of his emblematic wine, the As Furnias, in vintages 15, 16, 17, 18. This too is a multi-varietal where each grape gives its contribution; the espadeiro gives both freshness, some herb and mushroom, and some special flavour characteristics (like cherry), while the balsamic notes come from caiño longo, and the spice from the sousón. They are typically made with 12 days fermentation in steel, and with no sulphite additions. The 16 was an early picking from a hot year, but everything went right in 15. As Furnias 2015 had all the best; quite dark, inky colour; pure yellow fruits, red berries, herbs and some menthol; a good tannin structure and a wonderful acidity.

Ismael Gozalo, MicroBio

In my opinion the small settlement of Nieva has long been and interesting spot on the Rueda map. This small, high altitude settlement in the province of Segovia houses producers like the Viñedos de Nieva with their excellent old pie franco vineyards, the Herrero family’s new project, not to say Ossian. Ismael was born here, and he also was involved in Ossian. But now he goes solo, and his project surpasses it all. I have covered some of his whites here and reds here. And there are several other wines mentioned elsewhere on this blog. The whites are a study in the possibilities of the verdejo grape, mostly very old and un-grafted, combined with the extreme climate of this part of Castilla. The reds include tempranillo, rufete and syrah.

This time I tasted two pét nats, the early-harvested (and reductive wine-making) Nieva York 2018 and the younger vine (and oxidative wine-making) Correcaminos 2018, the fresh and citrussy MicroBio 2018, and the Rack 2018. For this wine Ismael has been looking for a reduction. Some gas was added to the musts fermenting in steel to raise the turbidity. No battonage. All this to keep the reduction and the wine’s selv-protection. Not a beginner’s wine, with the green-greyish colour, the cloudiness, the bubbles, the creaminess, and the acid-structured taste. Flowery, citrussy, stone-fruity too, I should add.

Mariano Tabernero, Bodegas Cueva

I didn’t visit Mariano’s table that day, I just took a couple of snapshots as I went by. But later that night I was taking part in a tasting at the Bar Salvage of the Gràcia neighbourhood. I was then sitting next to Mariano and his wife, and they let me taste some wines. More about this soon.

Eduardo of Azpillaga Urarte

The family has a long history in wine in Lantziego, Rioja Alavesa, but it was not untill the 1970’s that they started to make their own wines. It was when Eduardo Pérez de Azpillaga Urarte started in the family company that the way towards an organic, sustainable farming began. So, in 2001 their vineyards finally got their organic certification. Maybe I liked best of all the white, non-DO Viña el Pago 2016 from garnacha blanca. It was macerated with whole bunches at 7 degrees for 72-100 hours, on stirred lees for 4-5 months. The result is a quite dark yellow wine with mature apples, some citrus, aromatic spices and a touch of dried fruits on the nose. In the mouth it’s medium-bodied with some tannin structure. The reds include a carbonic maceration wine with the same name, and an interesting clay aged wine called Fincas de Aztule 2015.  Under the label Naturostean 2017 they had a dark, rich, sweet and quite alcoholic tempranillo, not from dried grapes, but with added alcohol. They stress that this was an experiment. A winery to watch.

 

Friedrich Schatz: The Acinipo will now have a label representing the nettle, or preparation 504

Friedrich, or Federico, Schatz of Ronda has long since established himself as one of the leading producers of table wine in Andalucía. He has been in the avantgarde of organic and biodynamic farming in the area, and uses both international and local grapes. I have visited him several times, and you can read more about his whole range here. Many will know that his wines carry one special letter that together spells his name, and as such they have become some kind of collector’s items. However, this will now come to an end. Schatz presented this time the first vintages that will come on the market without that one letter. In-stead they will carry a drawing of plants used in biodynamic farming.

Other than that, the wines are the  same, full of taste, with a touch of something exotic, and also with a good level of acidity. When asked I have often picked the Acinipo as a favourite, because it refers to the Roman ruins just down the road, and it’s made from lemberger, a grape from where his family can be found – and because it has been a good wine of course. This time I pick the Pinot Noir 2013 (formerly known as C), is made with 12 months of ageing in French oak on lees that has been moved a few times. It has a dark cherry colour, an aroma full of red fruits with cocoa and some aromatic spices. In the mouth it’s medium-bodied, tasty, with a lovely acidity and also with a slight bitterness in the end. The acidity can be said to come from the cool night temperatures, and it was also an extreme year with a lot of rain and snow in winter, and temperatures down to -12ºC.

Jean-Phillippe Padié

I finally got the chance to meet Jean-Phillippe of Domaine Padié whose wines I have known for some time. From Calce north-northwest of Perpignan, Roussillon, he releases one wonderful wine after another. I tasted some samples and some bottled wines. Quickly through the 2018 samples, there was the limestone-blend Fleur de Cailloux, with its yellow colour, mature apple-scent with flowery tones, full with some tannin, the light and luscious Calice, a carignan from young vines in schist soil, the juicy Gibraltar – and finally the Petit Toureau, from older carignan plants in limestone, with its ruby red colour, and very fresh fruit.

Among the bottled wines I tasted the red Le Tourbillon de la Vie 2017, partly own vineyards, partly chosen from others: quite dark, luscioius, plums, red fruits, light tannin. Unpretentious, I would say, but very good. The Petit Taureau 2017, that originates from limestone marls (carignan) and schist (syrah), made with reduction in mind (both the grape varieties and the concrete vats environment). The wines was cherry red, with expressive fruit (red and dark berries), some flowers and herbs, and soft tannins in the mouth with a super and long, cool acidity. Ciel Liquide 2012, from grenache and carignan in equal proportions, from what Jean-Phillippe calls “a mosaic of terroirs” from Calce (limestone, calcarious clay and schist).  and 5 years in barrels of 600 liters, 2 years in tank after that: Ligh cherry red; on the nose there is some warmth, the citrussy notes appear, also stone fruits (cherries, plums); good balance between the elements, with just enough tannins, and super acidity in a long finish.

There were a couple of French producers that I didn’t know, but are worth mentioning. Les Vins Pirouettes were represented by Vanessa Letort. They are winemakers from Alsace who work in close collaboration with around ten small producers, all working organically, some with biodynamics – each producers with his characteristics. Some of the most interesting wines were made by  Stéphane Bannwarth, who is based in Obermorschwihr, south of Colmar. There was a lovely, appley riesling, with great acidity, and a full rose-scented gewürztraminer. I chose the Tutti Frutti de Stéphane 2016 (gewürztraminer, pinot gris, pinot blanc and auxerrois) was a light coloured wine, with a touch of gas, round and medium full, and with a lovely acidity.

Domaine Balansa has 15 hectares in Corbières. I tasted some clean, fruity wines from grenache blanc and gris, and syrah. A speciality was the Muscat 2018 aged in amphora, very light in colour, aromatic (both fruity and flowery), medium bodied, and with just enough acidity. Domaine Carterole was established in Côte Vermeille (coastal southern Roussillon) by Joachim Roque. The 10-70 years old cooperative plots he had bought were transformed little by little to be able to make natural wines. In 2014 he rented a winery in Banyuls-sur-Mer. I tasted a slighty pétillant white Ton Sec 2018, a well-balanced, but a bit on the “wild” side, apple, tea and ginger-smelling Esta Fête Le Blanc 2018, from 90% grenache blanc and the rest rousanne. An interesting wine was Vermentino Amphorae, that was light yellow, quite open, with apple, pear and citrus tones, and a slight tannin-structure.

Andrea Pendin of Tenuta l’Armonia

I visited Andrea following a London wine fair last year, and you can see my report here. He has a creative approach, and makes several styles of organic wines from volcanic terroir in the small settlement Bernuffi (Montecchio Maggiore, Veneto region). His wines can maybe be characterized as inviting, simple, fresh, and very difficult to stop drinking. In spite of that they have a strong sence of place too. He uses biodynamic techniques, green manure and very little intervention, and of course always spontaneous fermentetion. Repeated from my article about them: ‘Basically there are two different lines. “Pop” consists of high quality “easy” natural wines from volcanic soil at a good price. “Cru” is a premium line from native varieties in clay and limestone.” Should I chose only one wine, let it be the Frizzi 2017, a pét nat, or col fòndo sur lie from the “pop” line. It’s simple, un-oaked, slightly bubbly, light salmon-pink, apple and strawberry-scented wine, not very structured, and oh! so delicious. In addition to a varying content of different grapes, here pinot noir 60%, the constant is the local durella, a grape providing acidic backbone, that the vintners in the area are very proud of.

Catarina and Antonino, Valdibella

Valdibella is a small cooperative operating from Camporeale, on the north side of Sicilia. They encourage biodiversity, and they concentrate on native varieties, both for grapes and other crops such as olives. Enologue Antonino Vilardi work closely with the growers. He says they want the whole chain, from grower to consumer, to share the same values, or visions, and to know about how the products are made. Therefore they can appreciate the quality, and they will understand that the products can not have a very low price.

I tasted a couple of interesting grillos, Ariddu 2017, a light, grassy-citrussy wine, Grillo sulle Bucce 2017, (bucce meaning skins), so the colour was light orange, with aromas of flowers, peel, a touch of white pepper, and some bitterness in the finish. Zi bi Bò 2017 (from zibibbo, a synonym of muscat of Alexandria) is an aromatic, rose-mango-scented wine, slightly off-dry. A wine full of character was Dhyana 2017 from perricone, a light rosé of salmon colour; strawberry and redcurrant aromas; some warmth in the mouth, but also with an acidity that carries on to the end.

Niklas Peltzer representing Meinklang

Werner and Angela Michlits of Meinklang are found in Burgenland, Austria, in the village Pamhagen on the Hungarian border. In fact some vineyards are on the other side, and they also bottle a Hungarian wine from the volcano Somló. Here is a perfect biodiversity, vines and other crops between the natural ponds of the area. They fertilize with compost that they produce themselves, using sheep, cow and horse manure and several other components.

Meinklang has a full range of very reasonably priced high-quality wines, and is mentioned in many posts of this blog. Here is one of the wine-of-the-weekend articles, where you can also see a picture of their Angus cows. Today we concentrate on their Hungarian pét nat Foam Somló 2017. The 35-60 year old vines (6o% harslevelü, 4o% juhfark) are grown on volcanic rock with a light layer of loess. The fermentation started in tank, then it was bottled with 10 grams residual sugar, and finished fermentation in bottle. No additives, no filtering. The result is a fresh, vibrant wine, low in alcohol, high in acidity. The colour is light straw, slightly turbid; aromatic, pears and peaches, some spice (white pepper); a certain warmness (or rather: a component of mature fruits like apple marmelade), but kept alive of a long, cool acidity.

Ondřej Dubas, Krásná Hora

This is, believe it or not, another producer that we have covered more than once on this blog. Read here a report on various Czech wines tasted in England last year. I like their sparkling wines, and the Blanc de Pinot Noir 2018 wasn’t bad at all; light, with a slight blush, aroma of apples and red berries, well-structured. They offered an aromatic Chardonnay 2018, and equally convincing as before was the skin-contact, gooseberry-rhubarb-scented Gewürztraminer, now in the 2018 vintage. Our focus will this time be put on La Blanca 2018, a blend of riesling (40%), sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer from several vineyards (a total of 40%), and the last 20% is pinot blanc. The wine is partially fermented in old barrels and partly in steel. Only a minimum of SO2 is added. It’s a bit cloudy, light golden; apples pear and citrus on the nose; low alcohol, bone dry, with a steely acidity.

It’s maybe unfair, but there is a limit to how much one can do in one day. There were many producers that I should have spent more time with, such as the locals Clot de les Soleres, Casa Pardet, Cosmic, Escoda-Sanahuja, Gratias, Mas Candí, Recaredo, Can Sumoi, Pepe Raventòs, Laureano Serres and Alfredo Arribas, all of whom I know make good to excellent wines. Elsewhere in Spain there are Sistema Vinari, 4 Kilos, and abroad: Carussin, Casa Belfi, Colombaia, Quinta da Palmirinha, La Cave des Nomades, the list goes on…

This was my first Vella Terra, but I really want to go back, to be a part of the positive vibe that are found in the city these days. And, as Alejandra Delfino, co-founder of Vella Terra, states, “natural wines are not a passing fad, but rather a trend that has come to stay, and something that will continue to increase demand among wine lovers”. Amen to that, and we could add that while the natural wine has been something of a punk movement, I think it’s right to say that the mainstream is now moving in that direction.

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Salò de Vins Naturales (Vins Nus), Barcelona

10th and 11th February there were two natural wine fairs in Barcelona. Both days the Saló de Vins Naturales (aka Vins Nus, meaning Naked Wines) was organized by the PVN (Productores de Vinos Naturales in Spain), while Monday 11th there was the Vella Terra, organized by Alejandra Delfino and Stefano Fraternali. Both fairs had guided tastings on the side, and there were parties in addition to the main fairs, and Barcelona was simply the place to be!

The 6th edition of the Vins Nus was held in the Nau Bostik building in the La Sagrera quarter, a place for cultural meetings. What place could better house the Vins Nus, that holds a position as the leading fair nationally for Spanish natural wines.

Most producers were Spanish, but there were also some from abroad, especially from France and Italy.

Here I met old friends and familiar producers. And there were some revelations too, of some I had only known the name or maybe tasted one wine.

In this post I can only mention some highlights. And I will try to limit myself to only one wine from each producer.

Lorenzo Valenzuela, Barranco Oscuro

Barranco Oscuro is a true classic on the Spanish natural wine scene, and has also been one of the founders and driving forces behind the PVN, who organizes this fair. From the high altitude vineyards in the Alpujarras of Granada they bring out one wine more inspiring than the other. One of my favourites has long since been the Garnata, a garnacha from the most elevated vineyards now in the 2014 vintage: Cherry red; very fresh, red fruits, clover, aromatic herbs; fleshy, tasty with a mineral finish.

Samuel Cano, Vinos Patio

This is a producer I have known for a long time. There is something intriguing about all the wines. It would be strange to call them cool, because they reflect the warmth of sunny La Mancha. This is Quijote’s land, near some old-fashioned windmills in the Cuenca province. Most wines have Patio in the name, such as the lovely white airén Aire en el Patio and the dark, raisiny dessert wine Al Sol del Patio. I also tasted four of Samuel’s wines at an arrangement at the bar Salvatge a couple of days before, so I limited myself to four wines at his table. A newcomer, or one I didn’t know before was Mic Mac, a delicious, flowery, super fruity blend of airén and moscatel.

This time I chose the white, or more accurately, rosé Atardecer en el Patio 2017 (from the red tinto velasco grape). It’s quite floral, with apple and peach. In the mouth it’s round and fruity, I reckon it must have some residual sugar, and would be perfect for an afternoon (atardecer) in the patio.

Fabio Bartolomei of Vinos Ambiz

I have met Italo-Scot Fabio, former translator, many times at fairs and visits to Madrid and Gredos. He makes many cuvées with variations in time of skin-contact, ageing (varying time and type of container) and so on. All the wines, how different they may be, carry his personal stamp. The focus has shifted from the the vineyards just outside the capital to the high sites of El Tiemblo (Ávila), Gredos, and we might be seeing the beginning of something great, and his albillo real wines from granite soil can be said to bear the torch here. Doré (a synonym of chasselas) is a grape that he has brought to the fore during the recent years. Now the wine comes under the name Doris. The 2018 is yellow-gold, slightly cloudy; smells of mature apples and is also flowery; quite full on the palate, grapey and sapid.

Ramón Saavedra of Cauzón (left)

Ramón was enthusiastic and happy to show his 2018 vintage; the white Cauzón, a lovely strawberry-scented pinot rosé, the four grape Ira Dei and the Mozuelo, a red fruits luscious garnacha. I chose the Duende 2018, a wonderful syrah through several vintages: Dark cherry; fruity, earthy and slightly spicy; fleshy and tasty with young tannins.(Read more about his bodega and his wines in a post from 2017.)

Nacho González, La Perdida

La Perdida is a splendid producer in Valdeorras (Galicia). Nacho uses the traditional grapes godello, mencía and garnacha tintorera, but also palomino, and more unlikely varieties such as sumoll. I like his range on a general basis, such as the palomino skin-contact MalasUvas, the Proscrito, a reddish white from palomino and a small amount garnacha tintorera. The one that I chose for lunch that day was O Poulo 2018, a garnacha tintorera: Dark, fruity, with red berries, some green pepper, very clean and elegant with fruit all the way.

Joan Carles, La Gutina

I visited La Gutina of Empordà a couple of days before (a brief article from that visit to follow), so there was no need to taste the whole portfolio again. But a wine they didn’t present then was Gluglu 2018, a carbonic maceration garnacha, strawberry scented with good volume in the mouth, but also a fresh acidity. Fun and authentic.

Angélica Amo López and Julien Ben Hamou, Coruña del Conde

Ribera del Duero can not be called a stronghold for natural wines. But Coruña del Conde, a bodega in the settlement of the same name outside Aranda, is among the torchbearers. I came across the following wine at the Cascorrot Bistrot in Madrid (read about it here). The latest edition is Don’t panic I’m only natural 2018 #5: Dark, violet colour; fruity with red berries and blackberry; juicy, with smooth tannins.

Diego Losada, La Senda (picture taken the night before at bar Salvatge)

La Senda of Bierzo is another producer that I have been exposed to at Cascorro, Madrid. In my opinion everything from here is good, and I would be surprised if these wines will not be much more in demand in the future. La Senda white, red, all very clean, pure, the right amount of acidity, and with a sense of place. I chose La Senda “1984” 2017, the latter the vintage and the former a reference to Orwell’s novel. It’s cherry red, super fruity, with cherries, plums, medium body, and a lovely integrated natural acidity.

Torcuato Huertas, Purulio

Purulio is a neighbour of Cauzón in Guadix (Granada), except this is found even higher, at 1.200 meters, in the small settlement of Marchal. Most of the wines are interesting and good, marked both by the sunny south and the high elevation, though sometimes I’d wished the oak treatment had stopped just a little while before. The one I liked best this time was maybe the aromatic Purulio 2018 (sample, 5 months in oak), with its berry aromatics, flowery sensations and a quite cool acidity.

Vinotauro 2016, a pinot with the not-too-well hidden wordplay on the label

Josep Dasca (right), with Ludovic Darblade (co-owner of bar Salvatge in the middle)

Among this years’ revelations Dasca Vives presented some impressive and different wines from l’Alt Camp, Tarragona province. They work well with the maccabeu variety, that is also the one behind their rounded, maturely fruity Llunàtic and the Vi Ranci. Another speciality is the vinyater variety. (Read here about their wine from this interesting grape.)

Now back to the rancio. This is an oxidized wine, most often from the grenache/garnatxa, and it takes some 8-10 years before it’s “rancified”. This particular wine was made from white grapes though. Josep and Alba explain that some ten years ago they put white wine from the grape variety macabeu in a barrel with a some kind of “dense vi ranci”, that Josep’s father has in a very old and broken barrel. They also added a little of alcohol (it’s the only time that they had done so). Now they have started to sell it. Sometimes more white wine is added, but the barrel is never full, so the wine is always in contact with oxygene. The Vi Ranci had a mahogany colour, nutty aroma (almonds, hazelnut), notes of iodine, reminiscent of a relatively young amontillado sherry. In the mouth it was full and glyceric, with some tannin. My notes say nothing about how sweet it was; if my memory doesn’t fail me I think it was kind of off-dry, anyway there was nothing at all disturbing.

Maribel and Juanjo of Alumbro

Alumbro of Zamora, Castilla y León was another discovery, with their wonderfully expressive wines, from the slightly turbid, fruity-grapey orange wine called Blanco 2016 (verdejo-godello-albillo), via the dark orange, perfumed moscatel Maeve 2018 to a couple of reds. Should I pick only one it could be the truly inspiring Berretes 2016 of albillo real/ godello 50/50: Orange, slightly cloudy; plums, apples, yellow tomatoes; some tannins. Linear, fruity.

Iker García of Hontza, Labraza (Rioja Alavesa) showed that he has something interesting going on. Another one to watch is La Zafra, of Monòver, Alicante.

I’m sorry for all the producers from abroad, that I had too little time for this Sunday. But we’ll meet again, I hope.

Greeted by a Brazilian style percussion band by the Arc de Triomf, on my way to the fair

 

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Articles and Wine bars and restaurants

Carlos at Cascorro

If there is one person that comes to mind when talking about natural wines in Madrid, it’s Carlos Campillo. I don’t know about everything he has done, but since I met him he has run Le Petit Bistrot in the old town, Solo de Uva, by the Berlin park north of the city centre, and now this wine bar at Plaza de Cascorro in the centric La Latina district. He has played a central role as regards numerous natural wine fairs in the city, and many of the names familiar for me now I have first been served by Carlos.

While we don’t forget the food, and the small dishes so well elaborated, it’s the wine that we concentrate on here.

Natural wines in Madrid has a name: Carlos Campillo

This particular time I had arrived from Rioja, and I brought a wine from Ojuel (the producer behind the magnificent sweet wine Supurao) that I wanted him to taste. So we opened it. The room was packed, so I was standing by the bar. Next to me an importer (of Champagne and other wines to Spain) heard what we were talking about, and joined both the conversation and the tasting. This is just that kind of bar; nothing complicated, the one next to you is your friend, join the fun!

None of us has yet mastered the art of taking selfies to perfection, but we managed to get both faces and the bottle inside the frame

 

Oxuel Salvaje 1 2016 (Ojuel)

This is a wine from the garnacha variety, grown in Sojuela village between the Najerilla and the Irégua valleys of La Rioja. Biodynamically treated, and fermented in used French oak. Purple colour; redcurrant and strawberry nose, a bit earthy with aromatic spices; sapid, with a refreshing acidity, a vibrant and long finish.

Here are a few of the other wines I tasted this time, and the next.

Bonny Giornata 2017 (Vinos Ambiz)

Bonny means fine, nice or beautiful in Scottish, and giornata is day in Italian. This wine is made by Italo-Scot Fabio Bartolomei and Antonio Sicurezza, his Italian friend. This carbonic maceration wine is made near Albeche river in Sierra de Gredos at 750 meters of altitude. It’s a fresh and vibrant, red fruits dominated, low alcohol garnacha (12%) with medium body.

Torcuato Huertas makes wine in Marchal, municipality of Guadix, in the highlands east of Granada. His wine are marked both by high altitude (up to 1.200 meters) and southern geography. From just 3 hectares he grows more than 20 varieties.

Carlos poured just a sip of both, the multi-varieal Purulio Blanco 2016 was a tasty, robust wine with some skin-contact peel aromas from Torcuato’s lower plot (at “just” 900 meters), while the Jaral (2016 too, I think – my notes are not easy to read here) was made with red grapes from higher up. This was more fresh and elegant, with notes of blueberry, blackberry and just a bit leathery. Purulio Tinto 2016 is a mix between the two, and shows it, both in the fresh fruit and the rich mouthfeel.

Vinos Patio of Castilla-La Mancha is a long time favourite at Carlos’ restaurants. The Aire en el Patio 2016 is a skin-contact airén, very much alive, tasty, with a pure fruit, smooth texture and a round mouthfeel.

As I mentioned, this was not my latest visit to Carlos’ bar at Cascorro. I was there a short time ago, on a Sunday. If you have been a tourist to Madrid you know about the Rastro flee market. While I must admit I had my doubts if the people would be able to find his Solo de Uva, here we are in the midst of the Rastro. -Very good for the business, says Carlos. And let’s really hope that this will thrive and keep its position as the bastion of natural wine in Madrid. Today there are signs that something is on the move, with new bars and restaurants, and plans for more. But in difficult times it’s Carlos who has been holding the fort, almost alone.

From this last busy Sunday visit I will just mention three wines that Carlos poured in a hurry, all from the Castilla y León region. La Senda of Bierzo is a winery I must check out and come back to, because both wines were fabulous.

The Vindemiatrix 2017 was a dark violet, cherry and plums-scented wine with a pure taste, fine-grained tannins, and a really nice natural acidity. The cherry red “1984” 2017 showed super fruit, with cherries, plums, cloves and a lovely acidity. Both are wines to drink, but they are far away from simple.

Coruña del Conde is such a rare thing as a natural wine producer in Ribera del Duero. They are found near Aranda, so I’ll have to check it out next time in the area. The I’m Natural, Don’t Panic 2016 un-oaked tempranillo wine (with a small amount of albillo mayor) was dark violet of colour, with a good fruit, mature red berries and blackberry; fleshy and smooth in the mouth and with an inspiring acidity. Sincere, interesting.

Cascorro Bistrot seen from within the Rastro

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Simplesmente… Vinho 2019: Some Portuguese highlights

The 7th edition of the Simplesmente… Vinho fair is over. This is an arrangement in Porto for individual, artisanal wine producers with a focus on natural and sustainable farming. The venue is Cais Novo, a renovated 18th-century palace only a few meters from the Douro river. This time 101 producers participated, mostly Portuguese, a few visitors from Spain, and some that had travelled longer, in fact all the way from Brazil. There was food, there was music, and among the specially invited were Os Goliardos (Silvia and Nadir), who are very active on the country’s wine scene, especially in Lisboa. The fair is organized by João Roseira, himself an important producer in the Douro region.

There were many producers that I knew from before, but also some revelations. I will be back with more. For a start, here are just a few of the many Portuguese highlights of the fair. I will try to limit myself to one wine per producer (although you will see that this is a difficult task).

António Marques da Cruz

António Marques da Cruz, is 5th generation farmer at Quinta da Serradinha in Leiria, in the DOC Encostas de Aire. The quinta encompasses 6 hectares of vineyard on clay-limestone in an Atlantic climate. António has a good hand on both sparkling, white, rosé and red wines, and he can make wines that last. His 1999 baga is a wine that really stands out. I started the fair with visiting his table (or: barrels, that is what they use here), and what could be better than to start this tour with his Serradinha Castelão 2017. Quite dark, young colour; very fruity with cherry, plums; mellow in the mouth, luscious and fabulous drinking, with a fresh, natural acidity.

João M. Barbosa

João M. Barbosa was formerly with the big Dom Teodosio company. Now he carries on his family’s long tradition. He is located near Rio Maior in Tejo, but he has also vineyards in Portalegre, Alentejo, around 6 hectares in total. He brought a nice sparkling and a red Escolha, and I also fell for the Ninfa Colheita Branco 2016, a barrel-fermented white from sauvignon blanc and fernão pires. But as my one wine here I chose Ninfa Vinhas Velhas 2016, a no-oak, “no-nothing”, natural wine, a field blend dominated by castelão (accompanied by trincadeira, camarate, alicante bouschet and others). The grapes are grown in calcareous clay soils, in a Mediterranean climate with Atlantic influence. The south-facing exposure enjoys a good sun exposure. The yields are low, that result in concentrated grapes and ageworthy wines. The wine shows a good cherry colour; an earthy nose with blackberry, cherry and some balsamic notes too; tasty, with ripe tannins, and a luscious freshness.

Pedro Marques (left), journalist Jamie Goode taking notes (at the opening dinner)

It’s always a pleasure to taste Pedro’s wines. He’s always down to earth, absolutely honest about his wines, and explains in detail the challenges of each wine. The farm is located in Turcifal, in the Torres Vedras municipality of the Lisboa region. It’s only 8 km from the sea, has a clay-limestone soil, Atlantic climate and a couple of his wines are aptly called Fossil.

Among the whites there was a fabulous version of the Fossil 2017 (both rich and tasty, and also lots of acidity), the unctuous arintos – and the Branco Especial, an interesting solera wine (a blend of 4 vintages, now aged in botti, big barrels from Barolo), with its amber colour, yellow fruit, flowers and apricot, and a structured palate. I really liked the Vale da Capucha Palhete 2017 from castelão, a light red wine; yeasty, flowery, with red berries, raspberry, a light CO2 pressure, and fruit all the way. I have written about the reds several times. They are of course good, and a wine like the red Fossil didn’t disappoint in the 2016 vintage either. But the Vale da Capucha Vinha Teimosa 2014 you haven’t read about here. It’s made from touriga nacional and tinta roriz. 2014 was a very cold vintage, with a lot of rain. The wine is dark, with blackcurrant, green pepper, beetroot, and some earthy notes, and a type of balsamic note that Pedro thinks can be caused by a fungus that in a way “belongs to the vintage”.

José Perdigão (right)

José Perdigão of the quinta that bears his name has a rosé that I have enjoyed for many years now. This time he brought a very nice strawberry/peach-coloured pét nat, that I can’t remember to have tasted. But almost as emblematic as his rosé is the white Encruzado, now in its 2017 edition: Light golden; pear and white peach aroma with citrus and elderberry; fresh, vibrant and quite structured in the mouth.

Cabeças do Reguengo was a discovery for me last year, with their lovely orange wine Luminoso (this time in the 2018 vintage), the no SO2 red Felisbela (also 2018), the structured rosé and the “normal” Alentejo blend Courelas da Torre, both in plain and reserva versions – all from the northern, cool end of the region. Let’s just have a look at the basic blend Courelas da Torre 2017 this time, from aragonêz, trincadeira and alicante bouschet: Dark cherry colour; mature berries, a touch of lickorice; full in the mouth, with tobacco, some spice. Very nice, and should be popular among all kinds of audiences. I didn’t taste their Cabeças range this time. (But you can read this piece from last year’s fair.)

Miguel Louro

Also in Alentejo Quinta do Mouro of Estremoz is a more established producers, one of the very best and respected of all. Delicious were the concentrated yet smooth, old barrel-fermented white Zagalos 2016 (from alvarinho 50%, arinto 30%, gouveio and verdelho), the light, somewhat fragile red Zaga Luz 2017 (a typical blend) and all the stylish reds that we have loved since many years. But let’s have a look at something called Erro, from “error”. In this unusual series there are three reds, called 1, 2 and 3, and this white Erro B 2015. It started out the usual way, but here the press broke, and the must was left with the skins. There is always some early picked arinto blended in, thus it’s marked by a tough acidity. The colour is yellow; the nose shows yellow fruits, peel; it’s complex and structured, with a superb acidity in the lingering farewell.

Vitor Claro

Vitor Claro is a former chef who started winemaking after a trip to Portalegre, Alentejo where he fell in love some vineyards, more than 80 years old. These are located at 650 meters of altitude and facing north.

The wines were indeed inspiring, such as the Destino 2018, a good acidity moscatel, and Claro 2018, a light malvasia. I ought to mention the Foxtrot Dominó 2017, made from the white moscato grapes that were not used for the white wine, and alicante bouschet, a “very” red grape (including coloured stems). The result is light red, quite mellow and with fine-grained tannins.

The one wine selection this time would be the Dominó Silvo Frio 2016, made from a field blend of classical Alentejo grapes: grand noir, trincadeira, tinta roriz, castelão, and also a white, arinto. The vineyards is mainly granite with some quartz. Fermentation is 50% whole bunches, and for the rest, whole grapes are macerated in inox for 60 days. The grapes are then pressed, and after fermentation the wines is aged in old Burgundian barrels and lightly filtered before bottling. The wine shows a clear red colour; fresh red fruits, some herbs and spice; good structure, and a fine acidity, but there are also nice fruit behind.

Tiago Sampaio

I tasted through the whole range from Folias de Baco, and Tiago Sampaio presented one wine more creative than the other. Among the best were the Uivo 2018 from alvarinho, with almost no colour at all, but lots of flavours dominated by pears, the Uivo Xpto Branco 2008-2018, a light orang, lemon peel scented, concentrated wine with 10 months of skin-contact and aged under flor – and a 100% botrytis, 5,5% alcohol, amber, honeyed, sweet wine called Uivo LH+. But our selected wine this time is Uivo Renegado 2018. This is a field blend from a centennial vineyard with around 40 different varieties. They were fermented together, mainly in cement. The wine is pinkish in colour; aromas of strawberries, seaweed maybe; smooth and luscious in the mouth, with a long, natural acidity. It’s easy-to-drink kind of wine, but the age of the plants secures a concentration back there too. The best of two worlds.

Vasco Croft of Aphros Wines brought most of his wines. I visited him after the fair (a report to come), so here I will stick to my original intention and talk about only one wine. (Read also about his Palhete in a post from last autumn.) But now: Phaunus Loureiro 2017 was fermented in talhas (clay pots) and aged for 7 months on lees. It’s light, slightly turbid; aromas of green-yellow apple, yeast, minerals; quite full, sappy, and with a good acidity from the variety.

We end our journey on Madeira, but not in the more normal way. Super producer of long-living madeiras Barbeito has made their first white table wine, called Verdelho 2017, with the designation DOP Madeirense. Winemaker Nuno Duarte explains that while verdelho is typically grown on the north side of the island, sercial (who makes up 4% of this wine) is cultivated in the south. The verdelho grapes were foot-trodden in lagares, and 30% aged in new French oak, the rest in steel.

The wine has a golden colour; aroma of apricot and pear, a bit waxy, but also with a nice citrus (lemon) zest; though it’s in a way mellow it’s very fresh with a good acidity too, and a saline finish. You can feel the tension of the Atlantic in this wine.

 

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La Loba, a new voice in Soria

Ana Carazo is La Loba, “The Wolfess”, a passionate wine woman who loves the work in the field and in the cellar. I met her in Matanza de Soria together with Eduardo “Edu” Catalina Chuti, who is responsible for vineyards, and Gabriel Oprea from Romania, who lends a helping hand.

Ana, Eduardo and Gabriel

Ana, trained at the school of oenolody and viticulture in Requena (Valencia), now manages the centuries-old vineyards handed-down from her grand-father. We walked through the icy vineyards a freezing cold April day. A lot of those vineyards are old pre-phylloxera. There is a great variety of soil in small places, mostly sand, clay and loamy soil. It’s more fine in the “north” (the Matanza de Soria area) compared to the area where we find the Dominio de Atauta and the Rudeles wineries (see an overview here). As Ana explains, “the river Duero marks a border between what we call the north and the south”.

The green door in Matanza, featured on the labels

Matanza is a small settlement. The inhabitants are very few, but the extention is large. The name, meaning ‘killing’, comes from a battle during the Moorish times when everyone was killed.

 

From the vineyard Quintanilla de Tres Barrios

 

Sheep’s wool as “manure”, same vineyard

Ana’s family has 1-1,5 hectares of vineyards. Eduardo counts on 7, that he uses for various purposes, both here, and he sells some to Atauta’s Atalayas project too. He delivers wines with different profiles for the different villages.

Even this cold, in Matanza we have more problems with goat’s kid and rabbit than frost, explains Ana.

Ana’s vineyards are marked by green sticks, while Eduardo’s are orange and pink

We climbed uphill for some magnificent views and a tasting.

The La Loba brand comes from old vines, 90 years+, and only pre-phylloxera. They are very structured, potent and rich wines. Ana calls La Lobita (‘the wolf cub’) “a different concept”. Still structured wines from old vines, but also with a small percentage of the white albillo grape. This wine is fermented in lightly-charred American oak barrels with open top, they are de-stemmed by hand, then a light punching of the cap, whole grapes, and a light pressing.

La Lobita 2016, fermented for 5 months with natural yeast and no manipulation of temperature. The French oak was toasted “al punto” (just enough), 20-25% albillo was used, contrary to the normal 5%. “Every year is a different world, with its own expression, and one has to see what needs to be done”, says Ana.

Cherry red with violet tones; aroma of red fruits, and a slight caramel tone; very fresh in the mouth and with good structure.

La Loba 2011: “This was very special for me”, Ana says, “as it was my first vintage”. Here is only new oak (14 months, 2 barrels were bought), but it was a good year for this oak ageing, a year with a lot of structure.

Some development in colour; still some oak, but lots of fruit, rounded tannins, and freshness and warmth side by side. (14% alc.)

La Loba 2014: Brigh cherry colour; red fruits, some blackcurrant, aromatic spices; lots of taste/power, but also finesse, great elegance, fresh – the most elegant of the lot, even if it has the highest alcohol level (14,5). It spent 10 months in the big barrels.

La Loba 2015: Considerably darker, and with a dense colour; darker fruits, blackcurrant and blackberry, but also spices; still it’s lively and vibrant in the mouth (maybe due to the cold winter, even for Soria), and a long lasting finish. All in all very balanced.

These are short notes, but it was a special time and place: Over an old cellar we were sitting on a tiny veranda overlooking wide plains of the Soria province. Ana and her friends prepared a delicious meal while we were there; cutlets with kidneys and vegetables, from ‘cordedo lechal de Soria’, the young lamb that can be so delicious in this part of Castilla.

Ana down in that old cellar, owned by Eduardo’s mother

As you can see on this map we are near the border of the DO Ribera del Duero, in the eastern part. Most of the Soria province is high-altitude. In Matanza we are 900 metres above sea level. The winters are long and cold, the rainfall is moderate, there can be late spring frosts. In this continental climate the summer temperatures are obviously higher. But the summers are short, and even then the nights are quite cool. This gives a long growth cycle, with healthy ripening and high quality.

The majority of the vines are pre-phylloxera, and the pruning system means that all tasks must be carried out manually. Almost everything is tempranillo, or tinta del país, as it’s known here.

“We always wanted to know what essence came from those grapes of century-old vineyards, that tasted so good”, says Ana, “and that also in oenological parameters they reached optimal points. When we in 2011 were given the chance to started this project, a dream had become a reality.”

Edu insisted on a photo shoot in that clayey-icey vineyard, cold not only for a visitor from the north

 

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Articles and Wine of the Week

Sherry monument: A historic PX from Valdespino

Miguel Valdespino gave me this wine. He became the last Valdespino in the centuries-old company. His two children did not want a career in wine, so he chose -quite surprisingly for me and to many others who followed sherry closely at the time- to sell to José Estévez.

Surprisingly, because Estévez had been more known as a business man than a sherry ‘aficionado’, and furthermore he was involved in the infamous RUMASA fraud.

Valdespino is for me the ultimate sherry producer from the old times. They had unbelievable stocks of treasures in their cellars. And a moscatel from three casks was released a few years ago to a 100 points ovation from American media. But Valdespino was also forward-thinking, and the first producer to mention the vineyard and the ‘pago’ (denotes a larger area) on a label, the fino Inocente from the vineyard of the same name in pago Macharnudo Alto.

 

Some fifteen years after the first removal of the cork the bottle looked like this

I know this is personal, but never mind: I had visited Miguel Valdespino several times as a journalist and lover of great sherry, and he gave me this bottle some 20-25 years ago. I don’t know all the details. But he told that it had participated in the Paris 1889 world exhibition (the one that celebrated 100 years since the revolution), “then as an old wine”, to quote the master. At the time I got it the wine was bottled from a big barrel, a ‘tonel’ with the letters ‘NO’, denoting that it must not be touched. It was clearly not meant for sale, and Miguel put on a provisional label with the company name, and with a name Pedro Ximénez Tonel written by a typewriter of that time. At that particular time I was visiting with my now former wife. When we parted around 15 years ago we talked about sharing this wine, so I pulled the cork. Suddenly I (as I would say) came to my senses thinking ‘this is wrong’. So I pushed the cork back into the bottle. And I admit that until today I have been unsure what happened to the wine when it was exposed to air some 15 years ago.

What do we know for sure about the wine then? It’s made from the pedro ximénez grape variety. It participated at in Paris 1889. Before that it might have been born in a solera, but I’m not completely sure. Valdespino was a leading company at that time too, so it’s very unlikely that the wine was less than 30 years old, I would say probably a lot more. I think it must have been born some time between 1820 and 1850.

All right, this wine does not exist commercially, and it probably never did. But I call it:

Pedro Ximénez Tonel (A.R. Valdespino)

Unctous, thickly flowing wine, motor oil consistency, with dense curtains (‘cortinas’ in Spanish), dark raisiny brown/mahogany with evident green notes (like all very old px sherries).

Aroma of toasted hazelnuts, nutmeg, prunes, figs, coffee and dark chocolate, but also flowers and more delicate fruits (in direction of yellow tomatoes, plums, mango).

Very sweet and concentrated, but somehow also fresh with an rich resonance and great length.

In my opinion it’s unfair and devaluating to a wine like this to reduce it to points and punctuations, figures and numbers. A Portuguese writer once likened a wine to a cathedral. In the same tradition we could say that this wine evokes images from the ancient times and the soldier that the pedro ximénez grape took its name from. And it’s easy to imagine the ‘alcázares’ and the basílica churches of Jerez de la Frontera, and the sun rising over the ancient Valdespino bodega in that narrow street of the old gypsy quarter of Santiago, right in the heart of town.

Price: Priceless

Food: A variety of desserts, such as cakes and cookies, puddings, nuts, cheeses, and even a small sip is something of a meal in itself

 

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From the Atauta valley

A few weeks ago I wrote and introduction to the wineries of Soria. Read it here, including a note on one of today’s wines. I will now follow up with two winery profiles.

Dominio de Atauta is undoubtedly the leading quality producer in the Soria part of Ribera del Duero. I visited them again in April this year, and met Jaime Suárez. He is in theory the winemaker, while brother Ismael is viticulturalist. But as he say, they work together and consult each other, to have a greater understanding of the totality. The Suárez brothers and their team draw from the valley’s five hundred years of experience in bringing the best out of the tinto fino (tempranillo) grape. Here are extreme conditions with little rainfall, the wind that blows though the vineyards and large temperature variations. Therefore the winemaking it quite easy, there is no great chance of diseases, so the traditional, sustainable way is good enough. All work is manual. The soil treatment is completely natural, with only animal and plant compost. According to tradition there is only goblet-training in the vineyard.

Soil types (Credit: D. Atauta/ Avante Selecta)

In the cellar there is not much intervention needed either. The vats are of various sizes and from different materials, such as wood, concrete and stainless steel.

Big oak vats in the cellar

Today they also count on the Atalayas de Golbán range. While Atauta is typical of Soria, the Atalayas represent the whole of Ribera del Duero. The distribution is roughly 50% of grapes from Soria, the rest is mostly from the Burgos province. This lets them offer more “typical” Riberas within the styles of joven, crianza, and reserva, that many people are more used to.

A winery neighbourhood, “barrio de bodegas”, beside one of the vineyards. These are underground cellars from the 18th century

The Atauta Valley runs 4 kilometres east-west, and 1 north-south. Here they have identified 25 different terroirs. Jaime points to the bottom of the nearest hill where there are 2 meters of topsoil, and smaller, calcareous rocks. 22 hectares are their own, and they control another 23. This makes a total of 600 plots, all of them really small. Only one of these plots is grafted, the rest is pre-phylloxera.

What is different with Soria then? It’s cooler, in general higher altitude, so the resulting wines have less body and tannin structure, but more acidity and freshness. In Jaime’s opinion this is about it, because the soils vary as much here as they do in the rest of the denomination.

Jaime in the highest vineyard

Atauta’s highest plot is at 990 meters. Here there is 2 meters of clay soil, that gives some structure, but the maturity is low and the acidity high. In contrast sandy soils give higher alcohol and richer wines.

A wine soon to be launched is called La Roza, and will from the 2013 vintage on be sourced from here. That is, from the right part. Note that to the left is another owner, that uses chemicals, hence the light colour, and the “dead” soil

They make three “single terroir” wines. -We can’t say single vineyard, Jaime points out, as there is only made 450-1.200 bottles of each of them. La Mala from calcareous soil (a layer of only 60 cm), just 0,7 of a hectare in total. Still there are 10 plots. From these they first make four wines, age them separately, then taste to find the Mala to be bottled. Then it goes to barrel ageing for 18 months. It takes it name (La Mala = the bad one), because of the extremely low yield that this thin layer gives it was earlier considered unprofitable. Valdegatiles in contrast, has the deepest soil (1.6 metres up to the calcareous rock, and the highest content of clay of all their vineyards. It’s thus a powerful wine, but also with the freshness and the minerality of the area. Llanos del Almendro is made with grapes from sandy soil with cobbles stones on the surface. The temperatures here are higher, because of the cobbles.

-We destem all of it, no pressing, first cool maceration (less than 10 degrees), work them twice a day, pumpover and plunging, then raise the temperature.

A word on fermentations, that are almost always “spontaneous”, but only almost always: -If we can fill a tank from one terroir, we use only natural yeast. If we need to add grapes we use selected yeast. Why? Because we want to control the fermentation. With this operation we don’t want to change anything, we are just interested in completing the fermentation.

The only oak employed is of French origin. -For Parada 40% new, then 3rd and 4th use, for 14 months. For the other wines there are different variations according to what we want to achieve, says Jaime.

A short tasting started with one Atalayas wine, the rest were from the Atauta valley.

La Celestina 2015 Crianza (Atalayas de Golbán) sells for less than 10€ in the shop. The grapes are sourced 60% from Soria, the rest from La Horra, near Roa (Burgos) in central Ribera del Duero. 20-25% is new oak.

Cherry red. Full of fruit; red fruits (from the Soria part), blackberry (from Burgos), a touch of lickorice and pepper. It’s full and smooth on the palate, with integrated wood, the Burgos grapes also give some structure.

Parada de Atauta 2014 is fairly new in the assortment. 50-70.000 bottles were made. It retails for around 18€, and it’s by no means an ordinary entry-level wine. It’s made from minimum 80 year old vines, from sandy/stony soil, in and around Atauta.

Dark purple. Fresh, floral aroma with blueberry and blackberry. Smooth tannins, a cool acidity, and a dark minerality.

Dominio de Atauta 2014 is a tremendous wine from 120-160 year old vines, only pre-phylloxera. This is the final blend of the 25 terroirs, so this is probably Atauta’s most complex wine).

Cherry red (lighter in colour than Parada). Floral aroma, raspberry and blackberry, aromatic herbs, some oak in the back. Good structure with mature tannins, minerals (chalk), a touch of coffee. It’s very long, and you feel the flavours come back in waves.

Valdegatiles 2012 (1,2 ha. 100% clay, fermented in steel with natural yeast): Cherry red, not very developed. Lots of fruit, red and black, tobacco and oak is just a sense or feeling in the background. Powerful structure, intense, and a long, fruity aftertaste.

 

 

 

 

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Articles and Wine bars and restaurants

Plateau still delivers

Plateau has been Brighton’s palace of natural wines for many years now. Since my last visit Jake, from the bar 1909 (see here), has taken over as a manager. His partner Jon has taken over as bar manager after Johan (see another report from Plateau here), who is now at Cincin Hove (more about that later). The kitchen team is led by James Mcilveen, and takes great pride in serving good, organic food from local farms. To jump to the conclusion: Plateau still delivers!

Our waiter Alex led us safely through the menu with its bites and plates. If my memory doesn’t fail me we ended up with cured trout, lobster bisque, beef tartar, bavette steak, everything with a creative twist, and concluded with a board of five English cheeses.

Here are the wines that we enjoyed this dark October evening in Brighton, everything chosen from their by-the-glass offer.

Pétillant Naturel 2017 (Famille de Conti)

A charming, straightforward pet nat from the de Conti family’s château in Bergerac, in the French Sud-Oest. It’s made from varieties sauvignon blanc (90%) and chenin blanc, according to biodynamic principles, unfiltered and with no added sulphur. The colour is light yellow. Smells of red apples and some light tropic fruit (litchis). Appley fruit, and quite high acidity to balance some residual sugar.

Impera 2015 (Dva Duby)

This is a wine grown in stony soil in southern Moravia (Czech Republic), close to the Austrian border. The grapes are well-known in their neighbouring country too: 70% St. Laurent (here called svatovavrinecke) and blaufränkish (here: frankovka). It’s a cherry red (light, I think – it was difficult to see the colour in the room), delicate and fruity (raspberry), and luscious, smooth and fruity in the mouth, with just a slight touch of oak (almost too little to mention).

Continuing with two wines from La Clarine Farm, Sierra Foothills (California), both called jambalaia (sic!), blanc and rouge respectively.

In the sparse light of the bar the picture became as unclear as the wine itself…

La Clarine Farm Jambalaia Blanc 2015 (La Clarine Farm)

The ‘blanc’ was not exactly white, but sorted under orange, as the skin-contact had been quite prolonged. Dominated by Rhône grapes, mostly viognier, but also marsanne, and with small percentages of petit manseng and albariño.

Smells of white flowers, citrus, peach, pineapple. Juicy in the mouth, but also with a high acidity, and a slight bitterness in the finish.

La Clarine Farm Jambalaia Rouge 2015 (La Clarine Farm)

Here all grapes are known as Rhône grapes, although the main grape mourvèdre is of Spanish origin (and known as monastrell).

Cherry red, cloudy. Good fruit, raspberry, cherry, somewhat earthy. A bit tannic, quite high acidity.

3 Barriles “El Objeto Imposible no. 27” 2015 (Bodegas PolOpuesto)

A wine from Valle de Uco inside the bigger region of Mendoza (Argentina). The winemaker is Pol Andsnes. Being Norwegian, for me this name can evoke distinctive classical piano chords, but this Andsnes is a wine punk born in San Francisco, who wants to challenge established ways to make wine, according to his own website. ‘Polos opuestos’ is Spanish for ‘poles apart’, and as I read him, Pol is satisfied if the ideas from the opposition once can be the norm. Something like that. Anyway, this wine is made from three barrels of Chardonnay vinified in three different ways. You can read from the drawing on the label that they are one barrel of direct pressing and reductive ageing on lees, one barrel of one year skin contact, and one barrel of direct pressing aged under flor. They were blended after two years.

The colour is obviously quite dark (a better description is difficult in this -lack of- light). It’s fresh, with flowers, orange peel and yellow apples; quite full-bodied, with a solid backbone, and an oxidative character from the flor. It’s an interesting experiment and a wine with lots of vitality, and the winemaker’s energy shines through.

Plateau has many natural wine classics and many of my personal favourites on their current list. Some are Foillard, Ganevat, Landron, Matassa, Frick, Maule, COS, Alfredo Maestro, Barranco Oscuro, Testalonga, to name only a few. Sniff around these pages, and you will meet all of them. And you have understood by now that this natural wine bar is highly recommended, it never disappoints – and if you get the chance: Go there!

Before going for a stroll on the black Brighton november beach, we rounded it all off with a well-known champagne. It was the Cuvée Réserve Brut, from Pierre Gerbais, whose son Aurélien I met at a London wine fair a couple of years ago (see here). This red and white grape champagne is a lightly coloured, apple and citrus scented wine with a contribution of red fruits (strawberry, raspberry), and bisque, that ends off with an inspiring acidity.

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