Press "Enter" to skip to content

Wine Chords Posts

A Syrah from the Rhône Ranger

Here is a syrah from Randall Grahm, who has called himself a Rhône ranger. Always enthusiastic, Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard never stands still. But his love for the grapes and styles from this French valley never dies.

(Credit: Bonny Doon)

Grahm says this vintage was exceptionally cool and elegant in the Santa María valley of California. He uses more whole clusters than before for this wine, and the stems add to the freshness and herbal character. 25% were not pressed. Natural yeast, 4 days fermentation at controlled temperatures. Then 18 months in French oak.

Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2009 (Bonny Doon Vineyard)

Deep cherry red. Fresh, minty aromatic character, lots of red and dark fruit (blackberry), some smoke and some black pepper too. It’s bold, but not without elegance. Medium tannins, more acidity.

Price: High

Food: Roast, game, a variety of meat

Leave a Comment

Exopto: A new star arises in the Rioja Horizon

It’s two years or so since I first met Tom Puyaubert and tasted his range of wines, and I instantly knew that this was something to take notice of. I have tasted some occational wines since then, and they have never disappointed. Now at wine bistró Guardaviñas in Logroño, capital of La Rioja, I tasted the Horizonte again. Read about the visit here.

Tom Puyaubert, Exopto

Tom is one of the so-called Rioja’n’Rollers, a new generation vintners that put their focus on terroir. Exopto comprises 10 ha, divided into 15 micro-plots, of 30-90 years old bush-trained vines. He has chosen the vineyards to be able to blend from different types of soil, orientation, altitude and so on. The winery is in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa), the tempranillo vineyards are found on calcareous soils in Ábalos (Rioja Alta, but near Labastida, San Vicente, Laguardia, i.e. the road that snakes in and out of Alta and Alavesa). For Tom the Atlantic influence of this site is ideal to express the refined fruit and the complexity of the variety. The garnacha and graciano is mostly grown in sandy soil near the Monte Yerga range in the south-east, where maturation especially of the garnacha is easier. The altitude is around 1.000 meters (in Rioja Baja, imagine).

Horizonte is based on tempranillo with around 10% each of garnacha and graciano. The fermentation was in oak vats and concrete tanks at 22-26ºC. It was macerated for 21 days, and aged 12 months in French oak barrels (20% first use).

Horizonte de Exopto 2016 (Exopto)

Dark, dense ruby colour. On the nose 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.

Yes, the wine is young. Yes, it’s maybe too young. But if you don’t grab it now you will never see it, and never taste it again, because the production is so small. The best would obviously be to buy some and put them aside for a few years.

Price: Medium

Food: Roasts, game, stews, other meat dishes

Leave a Comment

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.

 

Leave a Comment

1701, biodynamic Franciacorta

1701 was the first certified biodynamic producer in Franciacorta. I met Rhona and Federico at the Real Wine fair last year, and I tasted the Brut again at a London wine bar recently.

They are located in an old magnificent villa near Cazzago San Martino, Franciacorta, and the property includes around 10 hectares of vineyards.

Rhona Cullinane and Federico Stefieni (London last year)

The production is low-intervention, with no dosage and sulphur only when absolutely needed.

This wine is a blend of Chardonnay 85% and Pinot Nero 15%. Whole bunches are put into stainless steel, and the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, as usual. It stays 30 months on lees before the final bottling. It’s just lightly filtrated.

1701 Franciacorta Brut (Soc. Agr. 1701)

Light yellow with green tones, creamy mousse. Fresh aroma of citrus, mature apples, with some chalky, mineral notes. Appealing, fresh fruit in the mouth, and an acidity that contributes to the lingering finish.

Price: Medium

Leave a Comment

Orange at Egget, Stavanger

Mariano Taberner is one of the highest esteemed makers of natural wine near the Spanish eastern coast. Last time in the region I almost managed to make it up to his place, but I didn’t manage due to unpredicted circumstances.

Last Tuesday I was surprisingly able to taste two of his wines at Egget (The Egg) in Stavanger, Norway, close to where I live. This is a unique place in my part of the world, a restaurant with a focus on natural wines, and with well-prepared dishes to go with them. Here is a report from a former visit.

This time we were accompanied by sommelier Mikela Tomine, wine student in the WSET system, and Nikita, from the kitchen. I was accompanied by my daughter, and they easily juggled her vegan options.

Egget’s Mikela preparing a cheeseboard for a customer

The wine is made in the small village  La Portera in DO Utiel-Requena, Valencia. Bodegas Cueva dates back to the 18th century, and still only uses traditional methods. Here is full respect for the environment, biodiversity, and health too, claims Mariano Taberner. The main grapes for reds are the central/northern tempranillo and the more bobal, a more local grape (and the variety behind our other Cueva wine that night).

The average production is only 20.000 bottles. All wines are made in the most natural way, from organically grown grapes, spontaneous fermentation, no chemicals, unfined and unfiltered – nothing added, nothing taken away. The wine in question is based on the varieties tardana and macabeo, The local tardana is so named because of the very late ripening, and still at the end of October the alcohol, or more correctly: the sugar content, is very low. Macabeo is then harvested one month ago, and the finished macabeo is slowly blended with the freshly made tardana. Fermentation for both is largely with skins. The two undergo the secondary, malo-lactic fermentation together.

Mariano Taberner (credit: B. Cueva)

Orange Tardana & Macabeo 2015 (Bodegas Cueva)

Deep orange colour, slightly cloudy. Aroma of orange peel, white flowers, and a touch of tropical fruits and white pepper. Round and luscious in the mouth, grapey, with just enough acidity to keep it together, and an agreeable orange peel-bitterness in the finish.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with skate wing and celeriac, with slices of green apple, and an aïoli with less garlic than usual. But it should go with a variety of fish and seafood, the rice dishes of the region (paella style), vegetarian/vegan dishes, light meat, carpaccio and more

 

Leave a Comment

On the Friulian path to Slovenia

Carso, or Kras, is the Friulian region that continues even if the Italian border is crossed. In fact the Slovenians proposed a two-country designation, to showcase all things in common, from soil and climate to political history.

San Michele del Carso is where the Castello di Rubbia is found. Here are reminiscents from the Bronze Age, as well as the First World War, anti-atomic bunkers from the “cold war” and much more.

Here in the hillside over San Michele is the historic Ušje vineyard, covering 13 hectares. The typically Carsic terrain: a rocky terrain composed of limestone and red soil, originated from a specific geological phenomenon, the so-called carsism. The landscape enjoys a Mediterranean climatic influence.

Terrano, or teran, is one of the traditional grape varieties, together with the white vitovska and also Istrian malvasia. Recent research carried out by the Universities of Trieste and the University of Ljubljana shows that terrano wine helps the body to assimilate iron, and that the content of antioxidants such as anthocyanins, polyphenols and resveratrol are higher than in most known red wines.

The winery employs long macerations and fermentations with indigenous yeasts. Depending on the vintage, the macerations will range from ten days to three months. Some times the wine is transfered to used Slavonian oak barriques. This quote says a lot: “Following the example of nature, we also reject standards. We just feel the wine.”

This particular wine is made from 100% terrano vines of an average age of 18 years. They were hand-picked at the end of September, de-stemmed, fermented in steel with indigenous yeasts at controlled temperature (20°), macerated on the skins for up to twenty days. It was then aged for more or less 15 months on lees. Malo-lactic fermentation and stabilization came when it came, and the wine was bottled after 3 years without filtration. Partial maturation took place in used Slavonian oak barrels.

Terrano Carso-Kras 2013 (Castello di Rubbia)

Dark red, young colour. Aroma of violets, red fruits (raspberry, blueberry), hints of pepper and undergrowth. Fresh and vibrant in the mouth, good concentration, with an appealing tannic grip, and an acidity that contributes to the long finish.

Price: Medium

Food: Various meat (the winery suggests carsolina – kraški filet, and how could we contradict?), cold cuts and salami. Another local dish is grilled eel

Leave a Comment

The original Pico Verdelho

António Maçanita is perhaps most known from his Fita Preta project in Alentejo, and maybe some have heard about the partnership with his sister Joana in the Douro.

But now, a few words about his work in the AçoresPreservation of the indigenous grape varieties is a key concept. And showing the grapes’, and the terroir’s potential, especially for white wines, is maybe his most important task there.

 (photo credit: AWC)

I had just become aware of this project through the Verdelho wine before I left for Portugal. But at the Simplesmente Vinho fair in Porto I had the possibility to meet him. In fact his wine showed up already at the opening dinner.

Here it is. Varietal 100% verdelho. Verdelho, “the original”, this to distinguish it from grapes that have been wrongly confused with it (such as gouveio, godello, verdejo and more).

It was harvested manually. Whole bunch pressing was carried out, natural racking
after 24 hours, and fermentation in 600 to 1000 litre steel tanks. Designation: the Pico sub-region (on the west of the island) within the Açores IG area.

Last words: About the possible confusion between Azores – Açores (on the label you can read both), the former is English, the latter Portuguese.

Verdelho o Original 2016 (Azores Wine Company)

Light yellow, hints of green. Aroma with citrus, yellow apples, herbs, slightly nutty. Clean, fresh, quite full, salty mineral, and long.

Price: Medium

Food: Grilled fish, seafood, salads, perfect with oysters

Leave a Comment

A brilliant South African “Portuguese” in Brighton

I will recommend a place that will close down in a couple of weeks. I can do this because I feel confident that Jon and Jake will find a new place to fulfill their mission. The blues… sorry, wine brothers, also work in the bar and in the kitchen respectively, of Plateau, Brighton’s temple of natural wine.

1909’s mission is quite simply to serve delicious organic and natural wines with bites to match. The cuisine could be called modern European, with influences from other places (Asia not least) and former times (such as fermented ingredients).

Their wine list is a small but fine selection, from a few selected producers, to to five or six references from each.

Jon Grice (left) and Jake Northcole-Green

 

This week’s pick is from their “by the glass” selection.

It’s supposedly the only planting of Portuguese grape fernão pires in South Africa, planted as unirrigated bushvines 40 years ago near Darling town in the Swartland, only 700 bottles made. Pieter H. Walser started his first winery in his friend’s garage during his agriculture studies in Stellenbosch, and his wish to make wines where the content inside should tell it all, lead to the winery with the name BLANKbottles. He has a rather free approach to both styles and grapes.

Kortpad kaaptoe in Afrikaans means something like short-cutting one’s way to Cape Town. As the story goes: In 2011 Walser was visiting a carignan grape vineyard. He received an text message from someone who needed him to be in Cape Town within the next hour. He asked the farmer the quickest way, and was told, the “kortpad Kaaptoe”, drive towards the Carignan, past the Shiraz and Fernão Pires…” He had to ask about the latter, the story about our wine had started, but I don’t know if Walser ever made it to Cape Town in time.

The label is designed by Walser himself with the AC/DC font on Microsoft Word

 

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2016 (Blank Bottle)

Intensely gold yellow in colour. Ripe, concentrated exotic aromas, peaches, apricots, a touch of anise and spices. In the mouth it is full, almost fat, grapey, with a light tannic dryness too, and wonderful acidity. Very pure, with lots of energy.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with 1909’s herb dumpling, with dill and fermented spring onions. But it should go to a variety of fish and seafood, light meat and more…

Leave a Comment

Authentic Algarve: Monte da Casteleja

At the Simplesmente Vinho fair in Porto one of the biggest surprises came from the touristic southern coast of Algarve. Already at the welcome dinner at Rui Paula’s DOP restaurant, when a 10 days skin-contact white was presented (outside the programme), I decided that this producer’s table was one to visit.

Guillaume Abel Luís Leroux’s father is French, and his mother is from western Algarve. It was his father that introduced him to the world of wine, and when he inherited a piece of land from his mother’s family he decided to leave the Douro (where he had worked with Taylor and Quinta do Côtto a.o.). In 2000 he started to recover the vineyards at Monte da Casteleja near Lagos in order to make organic wines. Here he wants to combine modern technology with ancient methods, such as treading the grapes, macerate with stems – and also ageing in barrels.

 Guillaume Leroux

Monte da Casteleja’s soil is unique to the area, explains Guillaume, good for vine growing, medium depth with a high percentage of clay and limestone. Rainfall is a sparse as 400 mm per year, mainly during the winter months, which naturally limits vine growing. The proximity to the sea ensures less water stress and long maturations, while the nocturnal northerly breezes improve colour and flavour concentration.

This week’s wine is made from bastardo 60% and the rest alfrocheiro. The grapes were partly destemmed, then foottrodden for four hours, before a spontaneous fermentation that lasted for three weeks at up to 26ºC. The wine then stayed in big barrels of Portuguese and French oak for 20 months.

 From the adega (credit: Monte da C.)

Monte da Casteleja Tinto 2015 (Monte da Casteleja)

Dark cherry red. Floral aroma (violets), mint, forest fruits and underwood. Good structure, with evident tannins and an adecuate acidity to match.

Price: Low

Food: Red meat, game, pasta and much more. The producer’ website suggests local fare like bean stews and fig cake

Leave a Comment

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

 

Leave a Comment