Fabio Bartolomei was born in Scotland to Italian immigrant parents. There he studied accounting and finance. In 2001 he decided to move to Spain to make wine. For many years he also worked as a translator. It was not until 2019 that he became a full time winemaker.
Fabio knew from the start that he didn’t want to use pesticides or additives. But he didn’t know that natural wine was an expression for that kind of wines. Since 2014 he has used the old cooperative building in El Tiemblo as his winery.
Here you can read a short piece about yesterday’s lunch in that bodega.
Alba is an orange wine made with albillo real grapes. The grape was fermented with native yeasts with the skins, then pressed and finished in stainless steel. It was transferred to clay amphoras and matured there for five months. Unclarified, unfiltered and without added sulphites.
Alba 2021(Vinos Ambiz)
Golden colour, hazy. Aromatic, with yellow apple, peach and flowers in front, then a layer of nuts with a touch of honey. Medium-bodied, luscious, drinkable and also quite long.
Esteban Celemín is found in Castronuño, in the Valladolid province, close to Toro (Zamora). He works a lot with albillo real, that he names the emblematic variety of Castronuño and which the family has planted an experimental vineyard. All vineyards are cultivated organically.
Other varieties are also used, some of them posted under “minor white varieties from the ‘comarca’ of Toro”. At the bar named El Bar in the center of Valladolid I was offered one of these, an orange wine based on palomino, a variety not uncommon in the area. Here it’s often called jerez. Well orange, the maceration had been very gentle during its 16 ,days of skin-contact, and probably lightly filtered, so the wine showed transparent. Nothing was added to the wine, of which a “grand” total of 260 bottles were filled.
10th and 11th February there were two natural wine fairs in Barcelona. Both days the Saló de Vins Naturales (aka Vins Nus, meaning Naked Wines) was organized by the PVN (Productores de Vinos Naturales in Spain), while Monday 11th there was the Vella Terra, organized by Alejandra Delfino and Stefano Fraternali. Both fairs had guided tastings on the side, and there were parties in addition to the main fairs, and Barcelona was simply the place to be!
The 6th edition of the Vins Nus was held in the Nau Bostik building in the La Sagrera quarter, a place for cultural meetings. What place could better house the Vins Nus, that holds a position as the leading fair nationally for Spanish natural wines.
Most producers were Spanish, but there were also some from abroad, especially from France and Italy.
Here I met old friends and familiar producers. And there were some revelations too, of some I had only known the name or maybe tasted one wine.
In this post I can only mention some highlights. And I will try to limit myself to only one wine from each producer.
Lorenzo Valenzuela, Barranco Oscuro
Barranco Oscuro is a true classic on the Spanish natural wine scene, and has also been one of the founders and driving forces behind the PVN, who organizes this fair. From the high altitude vineyards in the Alpujarras of Granada they bring out one wine more inspiring than the other. One of my favourites has long since been the Garnata, a garnacha from the most elevated vineyards now in the 2014 vintage: Cherry red; very fresh, red fruits, clover, aromatic herbs; fleshy, tasty with a mineral finish.
Samuel Cano, Vinos Patio
This is a producer I have known for a long time. There is something intriguing about all the wines. It would be strange to call them cool, because they reflect the warmth of sunny La Mancha. This is Quijote’s land, near some old-fashioned windmills in the Cuenca province. Most wines have Patio in the name, such as the lovely white airén Aire en el Patio and the dark, raisiny dessert wine Al Sol del Patio. I also tasted four of Samuel’s wines at an arrangement at the bar Salvatge a couple of days before, so I limited myself to four wines at his table. A newcomer, or one I didn’t know before was Mic Mac, a delicious, flowery, super fruity blend of airén and moscatel.
This time I chose the white, or more accurately, rosé Atardecer en el Patio 2017 (from the red tinto velasco grape). It’s quite floral, with apple and peach. In the mouth it’s round and fruity, I reckon it must have some residual sugar, and would be perfect for an afternoon (atardecer) in the patio.
Fabio Bartolomei of Vinos Ambiz
I have met Italo-Scot Fabio, former translator, many times at fairs and visits to Madrid and Gredos. He makes many cuvées with variations in time of skin-contact, ageing (varying time and type of container) and so on. All the wines, how different they may be, carry his personal stamp. The focus has shifted from the the vineyards just outside the capital to the high sites of El Tiemblo (Ávila), Gredos, and we might be seeing the beginning of something great, and his albillo real wines from granite soil can be said to bear the torch here. Doré (a synonym of chasselas) is a grape that he has brought to the fore during the recent years. Now the wine comes under the name Doris. The 2018 is yellow-gold, slightly cloudy; smells of mature apples and is also flowery; quite full on the palate, grapey and sapid.
Ramón Saavedra of Cauzón (left)
Ramón was enthusiastic and happy to show his 2018 vintage; the white Cauzón, a lovely strawberry-scented pinot rosé, the four grape Ira Dei and the Mozuelo, a red fruits luscious garnacha. I chose the Duende 2018, a wonderful syrah through several vintages: Dark cherry; fruity, earthy and slightly spicy; fleshy and tasty with young tannins.(Read more about his bodega and his wines in a post from 2017.)
Nacho González, La Perdida
La Perdida is a splendid producer in Valdeorras (Galicia). Nacho uses the traditional grapes godello, mencía and garnacha tintorera, but also palomino, and more unlikely varieties such as sumoll. I like his range on a general basis, such as the palomino skin-contact MalasUvas, the Proscrito, a reddish white from palomino and a small amount garnacha tintorera. The one that I chose for lunch that day was O Poulo 2018, a garnacha tintorera: Dark, fruity, with red berries, some green pepper, very clean and elegant with fruit all the way.
Joan Carles, La Gutina
I visited La Gutina of Empordà a couple of days before (a brief article from that visit to follow), so there was no need to taste the whole portfolio again. But a wine they didn’t present then was Gluglu 2018, a carbonic maceration garnacha, strawberry scented with good volume in the mouth, but also a fresh acidity. Fun and authentic.
Angélica Amo López and Julien Ben Hamou, Coruña del Conde
Ribera del Duero can not be called a stronghold for natural wines. But Coruña del Conde, a bodega in the settlement of the same name outside Aranda, is among the torchbearers. I came across the following wine at the Cascorrot Bistrot in Madrid (read about it here). The latest edition is Don’t panic I’m only natural 2018 #5: Dark, violet colour; fruity with red berries and blackberry; juicy, with smooth tannins.
Diego Losada, La Senda (picture taken the night before at bar Salvatge)
La Senda of Bierzo is another producer that I have been exposed to at Cascorro, Madrid. In my opinion everything from here is good, and I would be surprised if these wines will not be much more in demand in the future. La Senda white, red, all very clean, pure, the right amount of acidity, and with a sense of place. I chose La Senda “1984” 2017, the latter the vintage and the former a reference to Orwell’s novel. It’s cherry red, super fruity, with cherries, plums, medium body, and a lovely integrated natural acidity.
Torcuato Huertas, Purulio
Purulio is a neighbour of Cauzón in Guadix (Granada), except this is found even higher, at 1.200 meters, in the small settlement of Marchal. Most of the wines are interesting and good, marked both by the sunny south and the high elevation, though sometimes I’d wished the oak treatment had stopped just a little while before. The one I liked best this time was maybe the aromatic Purulio 2018 (sample, 5 months in oak), with its berry aromatics, flowery sensations and a quite cool acidity.
Vinotauro 2016, a pinot with the not-too-well hidden wordplay on the label
Josep Dasca (right), with Ludovic Darblade (co-owner of bar Salvatge in the middle)
Among this years’ revelations Dasca Vives presented some impressive and different wines from l’Alt Camp, Tarragona province. They work well with the maccabeu variety, that is also the one behind their rounded, maturely fruity Llunàtic and the Vi Ranci. Another speciality is the vinyater variety. (Read here about their wine from this interesting grape.)
Now back to the rancio. This is an oxidized wine, most often from the grenache/garnatxa, and it takes some 8-10 years before it’s “rancified”. This particular wine was made from white grapes though. Josep and Alba explain that some ten years ago they put white wine from the grape variety macabeu in a barrel with a some kind of “dense vi ranci”, that Josep’s father has in a very old and broken barrel. They also added a little of alcohol (it’s the only time that they had done so). Now they have started to sell it. Sometimes more white wine is added, but the barrel is never full, so the wine is always in contact with oxygene. The Vi Ranci had a mahogany colour, nutty aroma (almonds, hazelnut), notes of iodine, reminiscent of a relatively young amontillado sherry. In the mouth it was full and glyceric, with some tannin. My notes say nothing about how sweet it was; if my memory doesn’t fail me I think it was kind of off-dry, anyway there was nothing at all disturbing.
Maribel and Juanjo of Alumbro
Alumbro of Zamora, Castilla y León was another discovery, with their wonderfully expressive wines, from the slightly turbid, fruity-grapey orange wine called Blanco 2016 (verdejo-godello-albillo), via the dark orange, perfumed moscatel Maeve 2018 to a couple of reds. Should I pick only one it could be the truly inspiring Berretes 2016 of albillo real/ godello 50/50: Orange, slightly cloudy; plums, apples, yellow tomatoes; some tannins. Linear, fruity.
Iker García of Hontza, Labraza (Rioja Alavesa) showed that he has something interesting going on. Another one to watch is La Zafra, of Monòver, Alicante.
I’m sorry for all the producers from abroad, that I had too little time for this Sunday. But we’ll meet again, I hope.
Greeted by a Brazilian style percussion band by the Arc de Triomf, on my way to the fair
Alfredo Maestro puts out one delicious natural wine after another. (Read about a visit to his Peñafiel winery here.) This week’s pick is his skin-contact albillo, here in the 2016 vintage.
The wine stayed 6 days with skin-contact, then on lees for 4 months.
The white Lovamor 2016 is a high altitude albillo real (770-1.000m) from more 100-120 year old vines in Olmos de Peñafiel with one week skin-contact, and due to the cold Castilian winter it didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation.
Alfredo refuses to use any DO, so his wines are labelled VT Castilla y León, whether they originate from the Ribera del Duero/ Valtiendas area, Gredos, or occasionally Cigales or other places.
Lovamor 2016(Alfredo Maestro)
Gold to orange colour. Apple and melon in the aroma, flowery, and also lovely, light citrus. Quite rich and complex in the mouth, slightly pétillant, and a lovely, lively citrusy acidity.
I’m in the Spanish capital again, and a visit to the Angelita Madrid seems very appropriate. Having not booked a table on a weekend’s night will most often mean that the only option is a place in the bar. Which is nice. This time I was sitting next to Federico, a young Argentinian who runs the splendid Acid Café coffeeshop in the museums area (Prado).
I will come back to Angelita and their extensive list of artisan and natural wines by both glass and bottle. This week’s wine is an orange wine from Zamora, that I hadn’t tasted before. The winery is found in Villamor de los Escuderos, south of Zamora town, not far from Salamanca.
The wine is made from godello 50% from centenary vineyards, and albillo real from new plantings. The soils are stones and sand over clay. Height above sea level is 800-900 m.
The producer says that this is a modern variant of the ancestral “embabujado” technique, that is, wine made with all its components. The grapes were partially destemmed before fermentation that finished it in oak barrels. It has not been clarified and it has been bottled after a light filtering to remove turbid. Total So2 is less than 6 mg/l.
Berretes 2014(Microbodega Rodríguez Morán)
Light orange. Aroma of white flowers, orange peel, a touch of honey, chalk. Lightly structured with good natural acidity.
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.
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 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.
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 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.