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Wine Chords Posts

Terras de Tavares 1997, a well-matured Dão

Before this week I had known this producer mostly for his entry-level Rufia! wines (such as the one mentioned here). That is totally changed now after a visit, complete with dinner, breakfast and and overnight stay in João and Luisa’s agro-tourism facilities.

Now I have come to know a man with deep knowledge, not only of vinegrowing, but in many other fields, such as culture and cooking, and one who loves the sport of discussion. He refreshed my memory too, as we had in fact met at a tasting of Dão rosés many years ago.

João Tavares da Pina’s farm Quinta da Boavista is located outside Penalva do Castelo, Dão. We are in a cool climate around 500 meters above sea level, and the soil is clay shale (from marine sediments) and a small percentage of the, for Dão, usual granite. This mixture gives both freshness and mineraliy. Some more key words are recovering of endangered grape varieties, biodiversity, no-till, manual harvest, chamomile or lavender at the beginning of a vine row, spontaneous fermentation and only a small dose of sulphur.

João looks for freshness, that’s true, but also the decadent underwood aromas, and mushrooms. To achieve this he uses high fermentation temperatures (32°C is not unusual). Also, the jaen grape is well suited to this area’s longer growing season.

The 1997 was the first wine after having decided not to sell all the grapes to the cooperative. This is a blend of jaen and touriga nacional, around 60-40.

Terras de Tavares Reserva 1997 (João Tavares da Pina, Quinta da Boavvista)

Red colour with some evolution. Forest fruits, aromatic herbs and mushrooms. Fine structure, with just the right touch of tannins and acidity. Long and elegant. I would say fresh, and definitely full of life.

Price: Medium

 

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Nights at “The Office”

I think it’s common not to visit sights and attractions close to your home, because you can always go – some other time. This may also be the case with bars and restaurants. Stavanger, Norway (in my own backyard, so to speak) has got its first decent wine bar, and then it should take three months before I managed to get there, and then quite by chance, while I was waiting for a party to start some other place in downtown Stavanger.

Once inside, I meet an old wine-mate Emil Heimdal behind the bar, and then I know we are talking “serious business” here. I know him from several restaurants over the years, and this is a man with passion for wine and real dedication. Emil took over the wine section of this bar, now called Vinkontoret (The Wine Office), together with Christoffer Ingebretsen. They have no purchase agreement that binds them, so they buy exactly the wines that they want and now collaborate with about 30 importers. They use the Coravin system, which allows them to serve anything by the glass. Here you can buy smaller units than a whole glass and pay less, so you can taste more wines during an evening.

 Emil serves smaller units of better wines

They can literally offer hundreds of wines. They have a list that is heavy on traditional wine regions such as Burgundy, Rhône, Alsace, Mosel, Rhine, Piemonte, Tuscany and … say west-of-Vienna Austria.

But these people are just as crazy wine freaks to throw in almost anything you can think of.

As for grapes, of course they offer cabernet, merlot, syrah and such, without being “ashamed” of it at all (as if that would be something to regret). If you look carefully at the list you will see some “oddities” like a manzoni from Trentino, a kékfrankos from (why not) Austria, and you can get the “Pornfelder” if you like, Lukas Krauß’ German blend of portugieser and dornfelder. But most of all it’s a focus on the classic grapes here, even from not-so-classic countries.

There was a time when Stavanger was more in the avant-garde of Norwegian culinary movement, when the oil industry was booming, and the most important gastronomic educational institutions were located there. Today there is no doubt that the hegemony is in Oslo, and that every initiative like this deserves a warm welcome.

Emil and Christoffer also have a small selection of handcrafted beers, like lambic and geuze. (Bear in mind that one of the country’s best beer selections is just across the same narrow street, at Cardinal bar. So this is obviously not their biggest priority.) The wine selection must be best in town. I am not sure if the wine list is the longest, but there are several hundred references, and mainly wines to drink, no show-off crazy over-priced stuff.

Here are just a few picks from my first brief visits.

  

Here is a riesling spätlese trocken from the Ökonomierat Rebholz of Pfalz, the Rebholz 2008. It proved to be a rich and honeyed wine with a thick texture and great acidity. To the right is a Gevrey-Chambartin, the Rossignol-Trapet Clos Prieur 1er Cru 2008 from Domaine Rossignol. It shows a clear ruby, somewhat developed colour, and smells quite aerial og cherry and plums. The tannins are still evident, and the acidity is well integrated. The actual vintages of these wines on sale are 2012 and 2013, respectively. So come here to get the wines closer to their peak.

 

  

Here is a wonderful pinot noir called Nature 2015 from Alsace producer Rieffel, now with Lucas and André in charge. Today the estate covers 10 hectares, all organic certified. The 30 year old vines are planted in soil of clay and alluvial sandstones. The fermentation is spontaneous and goes on for seven months in 228L barrels. It’s really fresh, juicy and quite full, with just enough structure to match a wide variety of food. After this I wanted a red with darker fruit, and I suggested syrah. On the counter was a Stellenbosch syrah, that was already opened, so I went for that one. The Liberator The Francophile 2015 (Dreyfus Ashby) was ok; a somewhat warm blackberry fruit, earthy with some spice, mouthfilling with rounded tannins.

 

The door is permanently closed at The Office (Kontoret). The Wine Office has opened.

 

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24 hours in Rioja

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Telmo by an “amphiteathre” near the winery

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

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

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

 Óscar and Ainara

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 (photo: A. Sjurseike)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The professor lectures about the autoctonous varieties in the garage

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

*1991: the DOC regulations

*2008: new grape varieties allowed

*2017: the new viñedos singulares category

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

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

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

  

Monastel, the one and only

 (photo: A. Sjurseike)

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

 

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

 

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Organic sherry, yes it exists

Delgado Zuleta, the oldest family owned winery in the Sherry region, bottled the first organic manzanilla in 2016, which they have launched under the name Entusiástico.

It is the result of a three years joint venture with the organic vine grower Pepe Cabral with organic palomino grapes from a 1 hectar vineyard in the Burujena pago in Trebujena to the north-east of Sanlúcar.

Entusiástico is a classic manzanilla aged in very old barrels, using the traditional criaderas and solera system, but using organic grapes and organic wine alcohol. It’s also labelled “en rama”, meaning that it’s only lightly filtered, as close as possible to how the wine is in the barrel. It comes in a transparent glass bottle, with an organic cork closure and a very distinctive purple label showing a painting by the Russian painter Igor Andriev.

The first release was only 1200 bottles, but the interest made the producers take the decision to expand capacity in the coming years.

The wine started after the 2012 harvest and has been matured under flor for two years in two barrels taken from the La Goya manzanilla solera. In the following years the butts have been refreshed with new mosto twice a year – a slower rate than La Goya for instance, resulting in a more concentrated wine in less time. The solera has expanded over the years as well.

I tasted it at the release. More recently there was a second edition, now officially under the Delgado Zuleta brand with a different presentation. This tasting note is thus based on this label.

 

Manzanilla Entusiástico (Delgado Zuleta)

Golden yellow colour. Very fresh on the nose, with flowery notes, herbs, yeasty, some citrus (lemon), but with mature apples too. In the mouth it’s completely dry, grapey, quite light in concentration, with the fruits from the nose coming back.

Price: Low

Food: Traditional seafood and fish platters from the region, but also salads, vegetarian dishes, ceviche and light meat

 

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Ismael Gozalo II: Some reds

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

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

Livre 2016

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

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

Sietejuntos Tempranillo 2015

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

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

 

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

 Livre and Sietejuntos front labels

Sietejuntos Merlot 2015

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

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

Sietejuntos Syrah 2015

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

 

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

 Livre and Sietejuntos back labels

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

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Ismael Gozalo I: In the Verdejo Respublic

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

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

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

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

La Banda del Argílico 2016

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

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

Sin Nombre 2015

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

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

ISSÉ Viñador Soñador 2016

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

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

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

Sin Rumbo Viñas Viejas Vendimia Tardía 2016

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

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

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

Respública Verdejo 2015

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

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

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

 

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A meaty Marenas monastrell

José Miguel Marqués is one of the leading figures in the Spanish natural wine movement. His winery, Viñedo y Bodega Marenas, is found in the outskirts of Montilla. This week’ pick is one of his most admired wines, the Cerro Encinas, meaning something like oak hill. Read more about his wine philosophy and that 6 hectare vineyard here.

It’s a monastrell made with spontaneous fermentation, 20 days of maceration. As you would expect from José Miguel there are absolutely no additions, and no fining nor filtration.

Cerro Encinas 2014 (Vin. & Bod. Marenas)

Dark cherry red. Dark berries, plums, sundried tomatoes, rosehips. Good concentration, rich and meaty, lovely fruit and good tannins.

Price: Medium

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You can call me Alf

Alfrocheiro preto is a grape that deserves its time in the spotlight. Historically a typical blending grape, there have been many good varietals too. And given the grape’s reputation for delivering dark stuff, often on the rustic side, I have through the years come across surprizingly many elegant wines, José Perdigão’s and Quinta dos Roques‘ Dão, Outeiros Altos’ Alentejo (sample), to name just a few, there are also some promising bruñal projects (one of its Spanish synonyms) like the one at Ribera de Pelazas, over the border in Arribes.

It’s an early ripener, yields quite generously, gives dark must, and balanced tannins and acidity, to be very short. The name is among the many “unpronounceable” Portuguese varieties, and someone just had to come up with the abbreviation Alf – and it was Terra d’Alter of Alentejo.

So much for that, this week’ pick is from Vinhos das Mercês, Norwegian Roar Aune and German Petra Lohmann, that in a short time have obtained remarkable results in Oliveira do Hospital, southern Dão (with oenologic help from Virgilio Loureiro (university lecturer who has aided several Beiras wineries). They have now a splendid collection of to-the-bone fruity wines, among them the pure and lovely red and white blends that could be considered their “entry-level” wines. The couple was among the ones heavily affected by the 2017 fires, but will rise again. Follow this blog, and you will read more from the producer later.

Aune Lohmann Alfrocheiro 2015 (Vinhos das Mercês)

Deep red. Dark and red, spices like nutmeg, leather, and somewhat earthy. Quite smooth texture, with a silky oak, good acidity and length.

Price: Low

Food: Various meats, game, roasts, casseroles

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Four different takes on Ribera del Duero

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bodegas Aalto

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

We tasted the wines in the 15 vintage.

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

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

 

Valtravieso

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

 Ricardo Velasco (left)

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

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

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

Some wines from the tasting:

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

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

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

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

Who said a natural wine cannot age?

Barranco Oscuro of the Alpujarras area of the mountaineous part of the Granada province is a producer with a completely natural approach to wine making. Manuel Valenzuela and his son Lorenzo have also spearheaded a Spanish movement in the natural wine field, with no additives, not even SO2, as key elements. They make a variety of styles, from red to white wines, and sparklers too, from international grapes like merlot and viognier, national grapes like tempranillo and garnacha, and local obscurities like the white vijiriega.

This is their wine from what used to be Europe’s highest vineyard at 1368 meters above sea level, hence the name. The grape composition is garnacha, carignan, cabernet sauvignon and -franc, and merlot. From the vineyard you can look up on the Mulhacén peak of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Here it’s easy to obtain both ripening from the sun and acidity because of the elevation. As a young wine it often shows an evident oakiness. Now it is perfectly integrated, and at the same time by no means fruitless.

1368 Pago Cerro las Monjas 2002 (Barranco Oscuro)

Cherry red with developed tones. Aroma of cherries, plums, hint of prunes, aromatic spices, mushroom and undergrowth. It’s full and fleshy in the mouth, integrated oak, some warmth and alcohol from the sun, nicely knitted together by a cool acidity.

Price: Medium

For meat and meditation

 

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