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Wine of the Week

White SP68

Here is another delight from «natural woman» Arianna Occhipinti. She makes two wines named after the local road SP68. Read about the red one here. Near the town of Vitoria and Mount Etna Occhipinti dispose of about 18 hectars of vineyards.

 

The white SP68 is made from albanello and moscato di allessandria, from a vineyard 280 meters above sea level. The plants are just over 10 years old, and they are not subject to any chemical treatment. The fermentation is done with natural yeasts, the maceration 10 days with the skins, and the wine is then aged 6 months in inox and bottled unfiltered.

 

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SP68 2013 (A. Occhipinti)

Light golden orange colour (appearance almost like a fino sherry). Big aromas of white flowers, almonds and orange peel. In the mouth it is quite full with a touch of dryness, some tannin from the ten days with the skins, moderate acidity and dry finish. Just a little more skin-contact, and I would have called it an orange wine.

Price: Low

Food: Some cheeses and salads. Think of it as a moscatel wine when pairing with food.

 

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Wine of the Week

Mountain wine off Granada’s tropical coast

We took a trip from Almuñécar on Granada’s tropical coast and found Bodega H. Calvente in the village of Jete just 15 minutes inland. Here Horacio Calvente and his wife Josefina makes organic red, white, rosé and sparkling wines from two main vineyards in the sheltering mountain ranges Chaparral and Almijara. They ferment them with natural yeasts, and they play with the temperatures to achieve the desired qualities. The lights and whites are simply delicious. The reds are on the oaky side, but I believe that they have the power to come around.

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When we were there on San Juan, a public holiday, they obviously had other plans. Still they kindly opened the doors for a brief visit. It’s wonderful actually that everywhere you turn there are small scale producers like these who love their land, their work and their wine. 

The wine of this week is their signature white wine. Made from 50-120 years old moscatel de Alejandría grapes in the Guindalera vineyard at 750 to more than 1000 meters in the Sierra de Chaparral.

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Calvente Guindalera (mountain wine) 2014

Light straw yellow. Expressive aromas of peach and pineapple, white flowers, some tropical fruit (chirimoya). Full on the palate, a slight hint of bitterness, and with moderate acidity, all this typical of the grape.

Price: Low/medium

Food: Fish, shellfish, chicken, fruits. The picture is taken at Almuñécar’s Los Laureles restaurant, where we had a blue cheese and cured ham salad, and it also went well with the chicken main and a strawberry, cream and peppermint dessert.

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Wine of the Week

Serious Beaujolais

Jean Foillard was one of the disciples of Jules Chauvet, one of the fathers of modern natural wine. Foillard’s Morgons are from nearly 100 year old vines from the family domain grown on granite and schist soils. They are made according to strictly organic principles and with very little SO2, but there is nothing «strange» about them, and I suppose anyone can like them. Though accessible and delicious when young they have an ageing potential of several years too. They undergo a traditional whole cluster beaujolais fermentation for 3 or 4 weeks. Then are aged in old barrels, but oaky is clearly not a word to describe these wines.

 

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Jean Foillard Morgon 2013

Young red colour, dark for a beaujolais. Lovely perfumed scent of raspberries and cherries. Delicious, juicy taste, still good concentration and just a slight touch of tannin. Good length. Complete finesse – Serious fun!

Price: Low

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Wine of the Week

From the wine oasis

Château Musar is quite popular these days. But the Hochar family has made high quality wines from high altitude vineyards in the Bekaa Valley since its foundation in 1930, organic before organic wine was «labelled», and natural before natural wine was «invented» – all this despite wars and unstableness. The blend is French because of its founder’s fascination for Bordeaux –and his son Serge Hochar’s studies there– and the grapes are hand-picked by local bedouins.

2011 was a very dry year in the beginning. Heavy rainfalls compensated it in april and may, but the result was one of the latest ripenings in the history of Musar. I appreciate the variations in vintages, that comes partly from Hochard’s approach to winemaking.

And I particularly like the version that comes from younger grapes, that I feel is somewhat between youthful fruitiness and more complex seriousness. The grapes are French (in 2011 50% cinsault, 35% syrah and 15% cabernet sauvignon), but the wine is also unmistakably «foreign», with a warm touch. In a sense it parallels its multicultural place of origin. It’s made from natural yeasts, the vinification has been carried out in cement tanks, and the wine had 9 months ageing in steel before it was bottled, unfined, unfiltered.

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Musar Jeune 2011 (Ch. Musar)

Deep red. Aroma of red fruits, blackcurrent, flowers, plums, some spice. At first some barnyard, but it disappears with airing. It has a raisiny character from the many long days of sun, but also some coolness from the breezes and the snowy mountain ranges. The taste is fresh and fruity, with round tannins and a spicy aftertaste with a touch of warmth.

A serious tax-free wine!

Price: Low

Food: Red meat, game

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Articles

Verdejo in the wind

I was invited to speak about the wines of Rueda in a wine club on the windy Norwegian southwestern coast. Jæren Wine Club is one of the most active and ambitious ones in the area. They have monthly tastings with invited speakers, and they also arrange an interesting annual wine and food fair. The tastings are held in an extraordinary cultural project, Hå gamle prestegård (Old Vicarage), home to events like concerts and exhibitions.

Hå gamle prestegård

Although the grape variety verdejo has existed in northern Castilla since the 11th century it rose to prominence from the 1970’s on. Today it’s almost a synonym of DO Rueda. So popular has it become that it’s maybe the white wine you are most likely to be served almost anywhere in Spain. The influx of external actors on the scene is enormous (though only a few have established their own bodega), and there are many commercial brands hiding almost identical steel tank wines these days. Still many producers fight to keep the quality up, there is interesting work being done.

Here I have picked four wines from the tasting. All these were made from organically managed vineyards and fermented with natural yeast. The first one is splendid value for money, the three others (at least in theory) contenders to the Spanish white wine throne.

A typical dish to go with these wines is ‘cochinillo’, the suckling pig so popular and delicious in the provice capitals of Castilla y León.

Menade 2013 (Bodegas Menade)
Light yellow. Fresh, green, with a touch of citrus and nettle. Quite full on the palate, with a lightly citric taste, and good length

Price: Low

El Transístor 2012 (Telmo Rodríguez)
Telmo Rodríguez, originally from Rioja, is famous for restoring of old vineyards in partnership with vintners in many Spanish regions. The name of this wine is inspired by the a special form of biodiversity: a radio blasting in the vineyard to keep the wild boars away.

The wine has a light straw colour. Mature apple and white fruits on the nose, some citric tones. Round, tasty and concentrated, some acidity and a lightly green finish. Just lovely. Fermented in oak, cement and steel, that only adds to the complexity.
I would say near its peak, but will keep.

Price: Medium

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Barco del Corneta 2012 (Beatriz Herranz Sanz)
Today Beatriz has two projects, she’s doing verdejo in Rueda (or rather: Castilla y León, as the wine has the designation ‘vino de tierra’), and another interesting grape variety named juan garcía in Arribes. Formerly she was also working with garnacha in the Gredos area.

This verdejo has a light straw colour. Citric aroma with hints of herbs, minerals, it has a yeasty ‘sobre lías’ (on lees) character, but very, very clean. It has some more Though a bit more ‘lees’ than the previous wine it’s also very elegant, and I would say a bit tough more acidity. Fermented in barrels, but it’s by no means oaky.
Excellent drinking now, but will keep.

Price: Medium

Ossian 2012 (Ossian Vides y Vinos)

This wine is from the most southeastern corner of Rueda, and higher than the others (almost 1.000 meters as opposed to around 700). The tiny village of Nieva has only three wineries, all of them owners of old ungrafted verdejo grapes. This one has spent 9 months in new and used oak.

Pale and clear. Vanilla on the aroma, some apple, apricot, and a touch of honey. It’s full on the palate, nuances of citrus, and at this stage, quite oaky.
It clearly needs to mature, but will it ever come around? Maybe, maybe not. And though from the coolest part of Rueda, another question is if it has the acidity to accompany it along the way. One has to buy some bottles to find out.

Price: Medium

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Wine of the Week

Gold on the Costa Blanca

Interesting things are happening at the unlikely place of the Costa Blanca, the most heavy tourism and holiday home strip along the Spanish coast. From head-quarters in Bigastro, between Oriuhela and the infamous Torrevieja, Rafa Bernabé makes wines from grapes sourced from a rather big area from the coast and towards bordering Murcia.

This week’s special wine is aged in clay jars (in Spanish called tinajas) made in La Mancha. Perhaps more sensational, it is grown within the borders of La Mata national park in the municipality of Torrevieja. Bernabé is one of the many who have left their respective DO’s lately, so the wine is classified as a table wine (Vino de Mesa). The vineyards are situated near sea level, and they are organically treated. They have a high proportion of sand, so the vines are also predominantly pre-phylloxera, ungrafted. The ageing has been carried out in jars, without stirring, no SO2 has been added, the yeast are all natural, and there has been no filtration.

The wine has an orange colour one can expect from a «white» wine that has spent a prolonged time in contact with the skins (30 days maceration), but it has also a red hue. Why is this, I first asked myself, especially when the only grapes listed are the white merseguera 60% and moscatel 35%. But then, there are also 5% «others». So I asked the producer the same question. And yes, the wine also includes five red varieties that already existed within the old vineyards, and they are esclafacherre, plantamula, forcayat, valensi and parrell. (Say them one more time, as fast as you can!) Rafa says the old folks liked the colour that red varieties in small quantities gave the white wines. But he says that he also thinks the higher proportion of polyfenols adds to the ageing potential to the wine.

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Tinajas de La Mata 2013 (Bernabé Navarro)

Golden orange colour, with a light touch of red, and with «long legs». Aromas of flowers, white fruits, orange peel, and with a salty tang; some barnyard at first, but it disappears with airing. It’s quite full, with some tannin, and a mellow citric acidity. All in all a lovely, stimulating wine.

Price: Medium

Food: Fish and shellfish, foie, a variety of cheeses, and – why not – paella

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Articles

Master tinajero in Albacete

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I took a day off and left Madrid for a trip through Quijote’s manchego land, passed the beautiful windmills in Mota del Cuervo. And soon I found Juan Padilla’s place. Not where the map showed me, but some people at a nearby restaurant knew the way. I had no appointment, and I was prepared only to talk to somebody in the reception, and take a walk around and take some pictures. I knew it was right when I came to this closed door.

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So I phoned the number, and who else came and let me in but the master himself. He showed me around, and explained the various stages. Very rarely I have had so few questions to ask, I must admit.

During the last few years I have been aware that containers made of clay can provide a serious alternative, as it lets the wine breathe in a way that stainless steel cannot, without affecting the taste of the wine in the same way that oak barrels do. But I am only beginning to see behind the initial fascination and to understand a little bit. I knew there were many old ones around. I also know that there is an 8.000 year old unbroken line in Georgia, and some very good producers. And the number of wines made in these vessels, big Georgian kvevri or smaller amphorae (in Roman times made for transport), seems to be increasing every day. When I attended a kvevri seminar at the RAW fair in London 2013 Emilio Foradori presented a fabulous wine, for me best-in-show (see here), and I was amazed when he told that this was the only one not made in Western Georgia, but in Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. In Spain they call them tinajas, (the big ones tinajones) or simply barros (barro meaning clay), and the makers are tinajeros.

I contacted Emilio when I planning to write this article, and he tells that for him «Padilla is the last real wine-clay artisan, the quality of his clay is outstanding and above all others I have tasted (lowest percentage of metals)». I also contacted COS, who inform that when they started to use amphoras in 2000 they had also tried jars from Tunisia as well as from their native Sicilia, but they preferred Padilla’s tinajas.

So here I am, walking around Padilla’s pottery in the outskirts of Villarobledo, Albacete. He talks about the process, and shows me his workshop, where he has started on many new tinajas.

2015-05-08 15.31.17 New tinajas

In short, the clay is grinded, then it’s mixed with water and kneaded. It’s widened, then left to rest overnight, and it’s kneaded again the day after. He forms the jars with two metal blades, before it’s scratched so as to avoid marks between the numerous overlapping rolls of clay used.

Padilla paleteando … formed by two blades

Once completed, it is dried slowly, in various periods like autumn and early spring. In May the jars get in the wood oven and once baked, they are finally ready and can be shipped, to Italian producers like Foradori and COS, or some Spanish wine producer (or gardener) will eventually come and pick them up. So you see, it’s not much rush about this.

20150508_153606 Another small building where he keeps the oven

La Mancha is the historically the big center of the jar industry in Spain. You can read about it in Cervantes novel, and nearby El Toboso, where Quijote’s virgin lived (according to himself), was one of the most important villages. In more recent times, between 1915 and 1930, Villarrobledo had 72 active producers.

2015-05-08 15.34.51 Holes for the fire

At the natural wine fair in Madrid I tasted some really delicious wines from the interior of Galicia, the red ones from mainly garnacha tintorera being raised in tinajas. Nacho González tells that his wines called La Perdida are made in clay a little more porous than the ones from Padilla, but they share some of the natural characteristics. Some clay containers are covered inside with epoxy, beeswax or other elements. «For me this is like losing some of the essence of the clay», says Nacho. «I am looking for a natural element for the wine to ferment in.»

Several winemakers, like Nacho González, refers to Rafa Bernabé for his long experience with the use of clay. He is located in the village of Bigastro on the Costa Blanca tourist and international holiday home strip. Rafa informs that all his tinajas has been new and aquired from Padilla. He has now more than 100 tinajas with a capacity between 200 and 400 liters. He works with Padilla «for many reasons», he says, «but mainly because of his artesan character, having learned the skills from his grand-father, for the rigorous selection of the clays, and for the way he dries and blends them». The way he heats it up, in his wood oven (horno de leña, in Spanish), is maybe the most important single factor, according to Rafa.  He says he likes the finish and roughness, probably the only jars of the world that do not require to be lined inside with epoxy or other materials. Still, having said this, Rafa Bernabé stresses that he is not looking for anything in particular when it comes to making wine in jars, because «after all the most important is the vineyard and the grape, that must be shown respect and given freedom. I think we should intervene as little as possible so that these wines can be the very expression of the landscape, territory, its vineyards and its people.»

And here we are back where we started, the most important is the potential of the grape, and the land where it’s grown. And it’s here that clay offers an interesting alternative to both steel and wood.

 

 

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Wine of the Week

Handmade in Menfi

There is more in Sicilia than Etna, much in fashion these days. The southwestern coast faces the ocean, and there are beaches with beautiful sand dunes and a fresh breeze. On these beaches there are flowers, and there are beetles, turtles, and all sorts of birdlife. And close to the ocean there are vineyards that take in the salinity from the ocean breeze and warmth of the Mediterranean sun, and the temperature changes between night and day brings both ripeness and a cool acidity to the grapes.

The small town of Menfi is located on this coast, some 3 kilometres inland, and not far from the Marsala growing area. And here is Cantine Barbera, that makes wine from local and regional white grapes like inzolia, grillo and zibibbo, and reds perricone, nerello mascalese, nero d’avola, and some occational international intruder like merlot (in fact a very interesting wine, and the first one I tasted from this winery around 10 years ago).

Bilderesultat for cantine barbera menfi

Marilena Barbera has a “more than organic” approach to winemaking, these wines are made in an artesan way, handmade. This week’s special wine is just that: handmade and truly special. Ammàno means handmade in local dialect. But it’s more: In Marilena’s own words, “it’s totally hand made, and by totally I mean it”. This statement implies that no electricity operated machines are used, the grapes are hand harvested and hand crushed, and all winemaking is carried out only with manual tools. Bottling and corking is also manual, and even the labels are handwritten by Marilena herself (as you may want to see here).

It’s made from old zibibbo grapes. There are no industrial additives, the wine is not filtered, and bottling and corking is done manually too. No industrial additives are used during winemaking, and sulphur is used only to disinfect the barrels. Free SO2 is a mere 13 mg/L.

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Ammàno #2 2014 (Cant. Barbera)

Light golden with a greenish hue, bordering of being unclear. Extremely aromatic with strong tones of grapefruit, and some rhubarb, gooseberry and a salty touch. Full in the mouth, cidery. Yes, it has grapefruit taste too, but it’s a well-rounded, almost ripe and highly attractive bitterness coming through towards the end. Great personality!

Price: Medium

Food: White fish, cooked and grilled, tuna and sword fish, light meat and, I believe, many of the Arab influenced dishes of western Sicilia

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Wine of the Week

Bearable lightness

One of the most memorable wines from RAW fair a couple of years ago was this one. Emilio Foradori of Trentino, Italy presented it at a kvevri seminar. I had serious trouble to describe it, but the title of Kundera’s famous book came to my mind, in the opposite meaning though, because this was absolutely bearable, not to say “uplifting”.

This one was different from the other wines presented. It was lighter, it had another texture – and it was aged in a clay container – from Spain! I had to investigate this further, and I will tell you more about this soon.

Nosiola is a grape variety without a very distinct character of its own. The name is thought to have something to do with hazelnuts (‘nosiol’ in local dialect), and it sounds likely. In the past it was usually made with long skin-contact, and it’s associated with the production of dessert wines. I imagine that this is a grape variety that is applicable for expressing terroir. More about the producer and the techniques behind the wine later. Here is a brief description.

 

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Fontanasanta Nosiola 2012 (Elisabetta Foradori)

Light yellow. Aroma of flowers (jazmine), orange peel, peaches, nuts (closest to hazelnuts, in fact). Quite dry texture, integrated acidity, and an unbelievable combination of lightness and concentration.

Still in the same vintage as presented at the fair, but there’s no wear and tear about this true, true wine.

Price: Medium

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Articles

Natural wine fair in Madrid

Madrid was the place to be for natural wine enthusiasts last Sunday, as the Salón de Vinos Naturales was arranged after an initiative from the Productores de Vinos Naturales. Among the exhibitors were some of their own members, like Barranco Oscuro, and Marenas, whose proprietor José Miguel Márquez is the actual leader of the organization. There were other Spanish producers too, and a few from abroad. The wines were all made by small, artesan producers, almost without exception with natural yeasts, without sulphur added, without much else added either, all in all with minimal intervention.

I tasted something like three fourths of the wines, spoke to most of the producers, and I also met some visitors whom I knew or had met before. For me this is a real fun fair, as you meet a lot of nice people, and everyone is open-minded and willing to share opinions without having to defend anything, and there are no points given. There are just so many delicious tastes, healthy products, and conversations about how all this came about.

I warmed up with some white wines at the stand of Fabio Bartolomei and his Ambiz wines. First a couple of airéns, where the 2012 strangely was lighter than the 2014. But this is the way it is, as Fabio said, these wines chose their own path. I also tasted his Doré 2014, an expressive wine from the grape of the same name, and the Sauvignon 2013, nothing like the commercial Sancerres. It’s aromatic though, with some flowers, yellow apple and a tropical hint. The Albillo 2014 is also full of character, quite rich, with some tannin, and with the balsamic note of the variety.

2015-05-10 10.45.42 Fabio Bartolomei, Vinos Ambiz (right)

Samuel Cano was there with most of his portfolio of Patio wines aged beneath the old-fashioned windmills in Mota del Cuervo (Cuenca). Between Aire en el Patio 2014 (literally Air in the Patio, the never-disappointing airén wine) and Al Sol del Patio 2013 (To the Sun of the Patio), there was a wine from syrah grapes harvested as late as end of December in 5 degrees below zero. He had brought his airén-petit verdot Rosé too, and some delicious reds. If I should pick one it could be the Kabronic this time, a 50/50 syrah/graciano, where the latter has been subject to carbonic maceration, showing very fruity, red berries, some balsamic notes, a touch of CO2, and fruit all the way.

2015-05-10 11.55.19 Samuel Cano

From the area not far from Madrid came also Julián Ruíz Villanueva of Escencia Rural. I know he has several good things, in different styles. This time I only tasted the red De Sol a Sol, a dark wine from the variety velasco, quite special, rich, with notes of coffee, aromatic herbs, and a touch of raisins and plums.

Lorenzo Valenzuela served many of his Barranco Oscuro wines, from the highest vineyards in Europe, more specifically Cádiar in las Alpujarras (Granada). I visited some 3-4 years ago, and I have tasted these wines several times since, but I never miss an opportunity. Among all the excellent wines I will this time mention the ultra-fresh and typical Sauvignon (a completely different interpretation than Fabio’s), and the wonderful Garnata, a very fruity, herb-scented and personal garnacha. Fellow Andalusians, Cauzón and Marenas had several interesting wines, like Mazuelo 2014 from the former, and Vides Bravas 2006 from the latter. Being located in Montilla, Marenas has also wines aged under flor, like the one with the descriptive name Bajo Velo PX (that I didn’t taste here).

2015-05-10 13.56.34 Lorenzo Valenzuela, Barranco Oscuro

Viña Enebro of Bullas had a varied table. A white wine from black grapes, adecuately named Uva Negra Vino Blanco, a fresh, floral, clean wine, the Rosado de Aguja from monastrell, a fruity wine, a little bubbly of course, but quite structured too. Then there were also the Viña Enebro, the one with the pink label, a 100% monastrell, quite light for the variety, some plums and red berries, a lousicious character, but with a nice tannic grip as well. The Quercus came in both 2010 and ’11. See the post about wine bar Solo de Uva for more.

2015-05-10 11.05.40 Juan Pascual López, Viña Enebro

A nice surprise came from Galicia. La Perdida of Larouco in the Valdeorras area served a doña blanca and a godello, but the reds based on garnacha tintorera, one with mencía, were among the highlights for me. Maybe most interesting of all from this producer, also with the name La Perdida 2014, a garnacha tintorera (70%) and sumoll (30%) aged in tinaja (amphora), on granite soil, with splendid clean fruit and a solid tannic grip.

2015-05-10 11.41.42 Nacho González, La Perdida (right)

From Catalunya I tasted some nice wines from Can Torres, Empordà, a vinous garnacha blanca from sandy soil over granite ground, and among the reds the interesting Idó 2013, a garnacha from quite old vines on alternating slate and granite, aged in used barrels, a relatively light-coloured wine with aromas of red berries, plums, a rich wine with an appealing texture. The Ambre was one of the specialities of the day, from garnachas gris and tinta, aged in some kind of solera system. The colour was the same as its name suggests, aromas of figs, nuts, a slight touch of raisin, and the alcohol level was very nicely balanced.

2015-05-10 13.59.31 Bárbara Magugliani, Can Torres (left)
Among the «foreigners» I didn’t taste the wines of Frank Cornelissen this time, as I know them quite well, and the Spanish were my main focus this time. But I visited the table of Château Lamery of the village St. Pierre d’Auirillac, by the Garonne river. Here Jacques Broustet makes wines that are clearly at home in this locale, but distinctly different from what we think of as Bordeaux. His only red wine Autrement 2011 was luscious and juicy, with a slight tannin, and a lovely fruit all the way.

2015-05-10 12.15.06 Jacques Broustet, Ch. Lamery

Domaine Thuronis near Carcassonne in Languedoc had some interesting stuff too. The Esprit Vendangeur 2013 is a sauvignon blanc made naturally, and came with super fruit, yellow apple, melon and some peach, and a trace of CO2 (and the 2012 was in the same line, but a little more developed). There was also a sauvignon made in steel and also a time on the lees of chardonnay in barrel. This was a bit darker, yellow with a brownish tinge, some CO2 again, a creamy texture and a very nice acidity.

There was more than this, and the aforementioned wine bar Solo de Uva was serving home-made bread, tasty tapas, and proprietor Carlos Campillo was filling the room with good vibes. He also hosted a dinner in his restaurant that same evening. I was not there, but it couldn’t be bad.

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