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Natural classics on the Costa

It’s not often that I visit the typical tourist spots on the “costa”, although Málaga city is a favourite. But when I became aware that Fuengirola had a natural wine bar I had to pay it a visit. It’s easy to jump on a train from the province capital, and at this time of the year Fuengirola was cosy and relaxed, and I must “admit” that there are nice spots in the town center.

The owners of the Tapeo Andaluz also own an ecologic pizza restaurant next door. The tapeo offers a wide array of dishes and a selection of organic wines, around half of them marked “natural” (meaning no additions, not even SO2). We went there for lunch, my wife had two wines from the organic category, and I had three glasses of “naturals”. Our waiter, Russian born Tatiane, had a good overview of the various wines and dishes.

Tatiane Smirnove

My three wines were from three great names within the natural wine field of Spain: José Miguel Márquez makes table wines from Montilla (dessert wine stronghold of Andalucía). The two others operates in Castilla y León, Diego Losada of La Senda in Bierzo, close to the Galician border, and Alfredo Maestro several places, this wine near his home in Peñafiel (Valladolid).

The first wine is made from the cordobés indigenous variety montepila(s). The vineyard was planted in 1998 in a traditional way, and manually grafted, at José Miguel’s place Cerro Encinas, at 350 meters altitude in Montilla (Córdoba). You could mistake this for an orange wine, but it’s a result of direct pressing. The skins of this grape get dark when ripe, so the colour is natural, with on excess maceration.

Montepilas 2015 (Marenas, José Miguel Márquez)
Deep golden, light brown colour. Mature apples, chamomile tea, and a trace of burned/glaced nuts. Good volume, smooth texture, integrated acidity, finishes dry.

I met the Diego Losada in Barcelona this year. (Read more here.) This is really good, and I would be surprised if his wines will not be much more in demand in the future. 1984 is a reference to Orwell’s novel, and 2017 is obviously the vintage.

“1984” 2017 (La Senda)
Cherry red, super fruity, with cherries, plums, medium body, and a lovely integrated natural acidity.

This wine is grown in the heart of Ribera del Duero, but Alfredo Maestro choses to label his wines Castilla y León, to be more free. This is a 100% tempranillo, more than 70 years old vines grown 1.050 meters of altitude. It was fermented spontaneously in steel before 12 months in neutral French oak. Bottled unsulphured and unfined.

Tnto Valdecastrillo 2016 (Alfredo Maestro)
Deep brick red. Dark berries (blackberry), black pepper, some tobacco. Full, good concentration, some dryness and good acidity. Calls for food, like this wonderful acorn-fed pig from the Ronda mountains.  

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Wine of the Week

Exciting white Málaga

Viñedos Verticales is the brain-child of two friends; Juan Muñoz, of the family that runs Bodegas Dimobe, and Vicente Inat, winemaker with experience in different regions.

We are in Moclinejo, a small town of the Axarquía landscape in the Málaga province. This is an area close to the Mediterranean Sea, with steep slopes, poor slate soils and old vineyards. See more in yesterday’s article.

This week’s pick is their wonderful, but maybe not so easy, Filitas and Lutitas. The name refers to the soil composition. It’s made from moscatel 90% (three vineyards) and the rest PX (a high vineyard at 1.000m). The fermentation was spontaneous in a 3300 liters fudre over 100 years old. It was then kept 10 months in that fudre on its fine lees.

From a tasting of wines from Viñedos Verticales and Bodegas Dimobe

 

Filitas y Lutitas 2016 (Viñedos Verticales)

Yellow colour. Yellow fruits, flowers, plums, herbs/spice. In the beginning it showed some trace of toffee and brandy, but with 5-10 minutes of airing it was giving way to a slight hint of raisins. The overall impression is however that of a dry wine. On the palate it’s full, concentrated, and with a persistent acidity.

Price: Medium

Food: White and grilled fish, seafood, light meat, vegetables, cheeses and much more
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Articles

Trekking in the Andalusian mountains

I have taken a two day break from my seaside city holiday in Málaga. We are now trekking in the mountains. And we, we are my friend Jan Inge Reilstad (writer and culture activist) and me. I thought I’d give you some main lines in a postcard format, before I go into more detail later.

First of all I must say a big thanks to all the kind and lovely people who set their work on pause for a while to welcome us, after having given them a very short notice!

Manuel Valenzuela

First stop was Barranco Oscuro, outside Cádiar in the Alpujarras. I have met Lorenzo Valenzuela many times and many places, but it must be ten years since my latest visit to the winery. This time it’s his father Manuel who welcomes us. He shows us around the premises, before we end in a room to taste some wines.

We can’t help notice the wordplay on many of the labels. Tres Uves resembles the Spanish expression for three grapes, but what it really means is three V’s. And aptly enough the wine is based on the varieties viognier, vermentino and the local vijiriega. It’s obvious that Manuel has great fun talking about this. And he tells the story behind the labels, one by one, ending with the Salmónido, with the subtitle rosado a contracorriente, meaning: rosé against the stream.

And when you think of it: It’s not only the salmon that is going towards the stream. The Valenzuelas started to make natural wines without any additions or corrections at a time when few others did. Manuel Valenzuela is by most regarded as one of the true pioneers of Spanish natural wine.

Everything we tasted was expressive and full of energy; like the Art Brut 2017, a sparkler made according to the ancestral method, the yellow fruit-packed viognier La Ví y Soñé 2017 and the always lovely cherry fruit-dominated Garnata 2012 (obviously from garnacha). For those interested in ampelography (the study of grapes), the La Ví y Soñé has now a small percentage of vijiriega negra, a very rare variety that the white vijiriega once mutated from. We ended the tasting with two vintages of 1368 Cerro Las Monjas, whose name refers to the altitude of their highest vineyard (until recently the highest in Europe). Both were very much alive. Vintage 2004 was a bit reduced, cherry red, showed red and dried fruits, and a good acidity, and a slightly dry mouthfeel. The 2003 was a bit darker, with dark cherry dominating the aroma, and a rounder palate – and still more years ahead. (Read my report about the 2002 here.) A terrific bonus was Xarab, an amber coloured wine from the pedro ximénez (PX) variety, with aroma of apricot, figs, a touch of raisins and a balanced acidity. Manuel had showed us a barrel of the wine in the cellar. At this point it had been fermenting for three years (!).

High altitude vines grown organically and unirrigated on schist and clay soil

After a lunch in the centre of Ugíjar, rabbit and chicken with a dark, meaty nameless Cádiar wine, we continued our short road trip. Just outside Ugíjar we were met by this signpost.

I visited Dominio Buenavista around ten years ago too. Nola, from Dayton, Ohio has been through tough times since her husband Juan Palomar passed away last year. They both used to travel between the two countries. Now she has been forced to stay in Spain to look after the domaine, and continue the work just the way her beloved husband would have done himself.

Nola makes it clear that she wants to have control over the end-product. Therefore the wines can be said to lack the “savagery” of Barranco Oscuro. Their wines called Veleta (the second highest peak in Sierra Nevada, but also meaning weather-bird) are well-made, and their followers in Spain, the US and elsewhere know what to expect. -Natural yeast scares me, Nola says. So she relies on cultured yeasts, and hesitates to go completely organic. But the amount of sulphur is low, and added only following the harvest. In the cellar we tasted some red samples, from tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon (2018), and cabernet franc (2014), the grapes that make up Noladós, one of their signature wines. There was also a promising graciano (2016).

Should I pick just one wine it would be the Vijiriega “Viji” 2017, a fruity and mellow wine with apple, citrus and herbal notes.

We decided to see if there were room for the night in Trevélez. This is the second highest municipality in Spain at 1.476 meters, a place with thin air, good for curing of the famous Trevélez hams. So we climbed the steep slopes, and Jan Inge maneuvered the car through the narrow streets of the town. At last we found a room in the highest hotel of Trevélez.

Hams hanging in the restaurant where we had dinner

Next morning, continuing over the province border to Málaga, we arrive in the village of Moclinejo, as we enter the historic Axarquía landscape. Here we met Ignacio Garijo. He represents both the well-known Bodegas Dimobe, a family company that dates from 1927, and the new project Viñedos Verticales. The director is Juan Muñoz, one of three brothers. We can maybe say that stylistically, at least philosophically, these wines fall in between the two producers from yesterday.

Dimobe’s highest vineyard: Moscatel de Alejandría on slate and stone ground. These are 50-60 years old, while average is 80-90. On the north side of the hill there is moscatel for dry wines, on the south side moscatel for sweet wines picked a little later

Ignacio and Jan Inge looking south

Dimobe was dedicated to sweet wines, as was the tradition in Málaga. Around 2001, when the DO Sierras de Málaga was established as a means to meet the challenges and demands of modern times, they started to incorporate dry table wines in their portfolio. Pepe Ávila (Bodegas Almijara, of Jarel fame) and Telmo Rodríguez probably made the first dry moscatel in the area in 1998 (I visited them in 2001, I think), and since the new regulations came many more followed. Now it’s the norm, and one can wonder about the future of the traditional sweet and fortified wines.

Dimobe owns 5 hectares and controls 38 in total. All viticultors work the same way: Harvest by hand, sulphur as the only chemical product, and organic farming (though not certified). This is easy: -In 40 years we have only had two mildew attacks, in 1971 and 2011.

The old part of the winery looks like a museum. But it is also in operation; there is actually wine in the barrels. -There are many seals in here, says my friend. Ignacio explains that it is goat’s stomachs, very useful in old times to keep wine from oxidating, from Quijote’s time untill much more recently.

We tasted Verticales’ four wines first. La Raspa 2018, a moscatel 70% and doradilla wine. The moscatel is aromatic and fresh, while the doradilla rounds it off. It’s an appealing wine; light in colour, and typical moscatel aromas of flowers, some herbs, and some citrus (lemon). Filitas y Lutitas 2016 is a moscatel 90% and PX. This is a complex and very interesting wine that you can read more about here. We had a 2018 sample of El Camaleón. The grape here is romé (or romé de la axarquía, to be precise). It’s a grape that’s difficult to work and that offers little colour. So the colour is light red, aroma predominantly of red fruits, and fine-grained tannins. Ignacio explains that the tannins come from the vat, and they need some time to soften. He also claims that the tannins from the vat help to get some colour, even if I don’t see how this could work. Anyway, all these wines come under the DO Sierras de Málaga.

The last Verticales wine is Noctiluca Vendimia Asoleada 2016, that is a DO Málaga and comes from grapes totally dried in the paseros. It arrives 10% alcohol and has never seen any barrel. It’s yellow because of some oxidation in the paseros; aroma of apricot, flowers, and some tender sweetness (173 g/L). We went straight over to a couple of wines from the extensive Dimobe range. Señorío de Broches 2017 comes from grapes dried only on one side of the clusters. It reaches 8% natural alcohol, then it’s fortified up to 15. It’s a fresh wine, easy-to-drink, with the same sweetness at the Noctiluca. Trasañejo is an expression from the old Málaga classification that means that the wine must be at least 5 years old. Pajarete Trasañejo is a naturally sweet wine from moscatel and PX (again with the same sweetness), and one is not allowed to use arrope, the traditional reduced must. Amber or mahogny in colour, nutty and concentrated, with figs and dried fruits. Absolutely delicious.

Time to get back to our rented flat on the beach of Málaga capital. I must also confess that my wife and I had the wonderful sparkling moscatel Tartratos 2015 that Ignacio gave us (for the road), during the evening and night. Yellow, yeasty, tasty; just delicious summer drinking.

Ignacio Garijo

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Wine bars and restaurants and Wine of the Week

A meaty red at Matritum

Matritum, an old name for Madrid, is maybe not an especially well-known wine bar and restaurant. It’s located in the neighbourhood of La Latina, where I often stay when in the Spanish capital, and I have never been disappointed.

The Matritum kitchen proposes delightful dishes such as home-made foie-gras micuit, and seafood and meat dishes inspired from all corners of Spain. “Anchoas del Cantábrico con ‘pa amb tomàquet'” thus means traces of both Cantabria and Catalunya/Baleares.

The wine list has close to 400 references, many of them served by the glass. They are both local, they cover the most of the important Spanish wine areas, some less known, and also international. It seems that they have a special love for the wines of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, all of them also served by the glass.

So over the years I have had a great many different wines here, and so this choice would maybe seen casual. Anyway, this time I had three wines, one of them a garnacha from Viña Zorzal. Okay, we are in Madrid, and beautiful garnachas are made right in the backyard. But let’s not forget that the grape has a long history in Navarra. It’s even possible that it once originated there.

Zorzal started in 1989, when Antonio Sanz, after a life in wine, fulfilled his dream of producing his own wines in Navarra. Today it’s his sons who carry on what he started, and created Viña Zorzal, as we know it today.

The wine is made from garnacha of 35 near old vines grown in stony soils 520 meters above sea level in Fitero, single vineyard. Early harvest, spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast in 3500-litre wooden vats, soft winemaking. 9 months ageing used French used barriques.

Malayeto 2015 (Viña Zorzal)

Clear ruby red. Fresh aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, pepper, and with some earthy hints. Medium body, round tannins and a long finish.

Price: Medium

Food: Red meat, game, tasty vegetables (incl. mushrooms, asparagus, Navarra piquillos)…

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Wine of the Week

Carbonic Cabrónicus

This bottle was bought from natural wine bar La Casa del Perro in Málaga (a report to follow). Out from the fridge it didn’t take long before it reached optimum serving temperature on a hot summer day.

Producer Cauzón, or Ramón Saavedra, can be found in several articles on this blog (such as here, after a visit, and here, in a report from a fair earlier this year).

In 1997 Ramón left a successful career as a Michelin star chef, to start making wines without additions up to 1.200 meters above sea level in his home town Graena. This is rather a small settlement in the Sierra Nevada mountains, some 30 minutes east of Granada city.

Cabrónicus is made from tempranillo grapes grown on red clay soil. The name is derived from the use of carbonic maceration, that went on for three weeks in whole bunches.

Cabrónicus 2017 (Bod. Cauzón)

Pale red. Smells of red berries (raspberry), pomegranate, and a slight touch of white pepper. Juicy and delicate, with fine, discrete tannins, and a long, integrated acidity. A very fresh, clean and appealing natural wine.

Price: Medium

Food: At the wine bar we had it with as different dishes as carpaccio of beef and guacamole with nachos, but it goes well with everything from light meat, white fish, and a variety of salads

 

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Wine of the Week

Another beautiful Cambon

This château was acquired by Marcel Lapierre (Dom. Lapierre) and Jean Claude Chanudet (Dom. Chamonard) in the mid-90s. After Marcel passed away a few years ago it’s Marie, his widow, who runs the estate. (I met her at a London fair. Have a look here.)

The vineyards for this wine is located between Morgon and Fleurie. Cambon places itself towards the “natural” side of Beaujolais; unfined, unfiltered, and barely sulphured… a pure expression of the gamay grape. The fermentation was spontaneous in steel tank, then ageing on big oak vats on lees.

Château Cambon Beaujolais 2018 (Ch. Cambon)

Deep red with purple hints. Cool aroma of flowers and cherries, with some meaty notes. Fresh and juicy, a touch of cherry comes back, and there is a long, natural acidity here. Elegant, beautiful.

Price: Low

Food: Light meat, pasta, tasty white fish, salads

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Articles and Wine bars and restaurants

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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Wine of the Week

Smooth Sylvaner

Fernand Engel’s office is located in Rorshwihr, but the domaine’s 160 hectares of vineyards are spread over 8 villages in Alsace. Here they can play with many different microclimates.

This wine is made from 100% sylvaner, almost 50 years old vines, handharvested. It’s spontaneously fermented and kept for 8 months on lees.

Renaissance Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes 2017 (Dom. Fernand Engel et Fils)

Light yellow with greenish hint.
Introvert at first, but the aroma opens with air and shows mature fruits, herbs and a nutty touch. Smooth, somewhat glyceric in the mouth (some 5g residual sugar), some citrus, herbs and crushed stone, and a good length.

Price: Medium

Food: Light meat, tasty fish and shellfish,  vegetables, try with Asian

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Wine of the Week

Asinoi: We are donkeys

Let’s not forget the inexpensive, but oh so good! everyday wines. For me a trustworthy “workhorse” (pun intended) has for ten years been the Asinoi, meaning ‘we are donkeys’, by many around here simply called “the Donkey wine”, because of its label.

In a market like the one in my country -Norway that is- many barberas were sweet, oaky, and not much fun. This one was different, more slender, elegant, fruity, natural, and a lot better with food too. So no wonder it soon found many followers.

Donkeys at Carussin

The producer is Carussin, Bruna Ferro and Luigi Garberoglio with their family, and the farm is located in San Marzano Oliveto, south of Asti in Piemonte.

The producer has many interesting wines, but to be honest I’m not sure if this particular one is found to any extent outside Norway, where their importer Non Dos is a good customer and collaborator.

The farming is biodynamic. The grapes are hand-picked, and fermentation is spontaneous. Only a tiny amount of sulphur is added before bottling. All ageing is carried out in steel, and sometimes cement.

Asinoi Barbera d’Asti 2017 (Carussin-Bruna Ferro)
Ruby red. Fruity aroma of cherries, other red berries and herbs. Mellow, juicy in the mouth, low in tannin, but with a clear and fine-tuned acidity.

Price: Low

Food: Pasta, pizza, light meat, white fish (!), vegetables, and a variety of cheeses. I must admit (although it’s against my principles, I think) that I’ve had this wine without food at all, and with a lot of joy.

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Wine of the Week

Subtle Swartland orange wine

This wine I tasted recently in London. Simon Woolf has a new book about orange wines in the market, and he presented it at a seminar during the Real Wine fair. (More about the book later.)

The wine in the glass while Simon talks in the background

Jurgen Gouws has both learned from and been a colleague of Craig Hawkins of Testalonga in South-Africa’s Swartland (read about last week’s wine here). He “owns neither vineyards nor winery, but has built a cult following for his delicate, subtle cuvées”, one can read in Woolf’s book. All are dry-farmed (in a country with serious draught problems).

The chenin blanc grapes for this wine were grown on granite and macerated for two weeks on the skins. But it’s only contact to add some texture. The skin-contact makes it an orange wine, according to Woolf’s definition, although the colour is yellow.

Elementis 2018 (Intellego)

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