The Ju de Vie is a favourite, with all its character and lusciousness. The 2016 is made from grenache 35%, merlot 30%, marselan 25% and mourvèdre 10%, grown in sandy soils with the typical round pebbles. It was aged for 8 months in concrete tanks, and only given a tiny amount of sulphur.
The white Coume de l’Olla is a lovely, citrusy skin-contact wine. Today we had the red wine with the same name at a restaurant.
- It’s made from grapes biodynamically farmed in the Calce region, on the northeast side of the Pyrenees. They are grenache 70%, grenache gris 20%, and macabeo 10%. The must was spontaneously fermented and aged in cement tanks.
Coume de l’Olla 2015 (Dom. Matassa)
Light ruby. Aromatic, smells of red fruits, both sweet and sour (plum, cherry, cranberry), floral overtones and hints to truffles and mature cheeses too. Quite soft, fleshy, but just enough tannin to bind it together, a fresh, natural acidity and some spice in the finish.
Food: Light meat, salads and much more. At an Italian restaurant we tried it today with four different dishes, and it performed brilliantly with vitello tonnato (veal in tuna mayonnaise) and pasta with a creamy sauce and mushrooms.
Michel Guignier is a Beaujolais producer with whom I haven’t been familiar very long. He practices organic and biodynamic viticulture, makes his wines without any additions like industrial yeast, enzymes, acid alterations, there’s no filtering, no fining, no added sulphites… On the other hand he believes in biodiversity, healthy grapes and soil quality.
His farm is located in the forest outside the Vauxrenard village (northwest of Fleurie and Chiroubles), his vineyards are also in that area, and he could have labelled the wines with the name of the village if he wanted. Here at 500 metres above sea level there is a slower maturation than in most Beaujolais villages.
Drawing of the winery (Credit: M. Guignier)
The soils are granite with sandstone, and the vines range from 30 to 80 year old. They are found mostly around Vauxrenard, and some in Fleurie and Moulin à Vent. La Bonne Pioche is probably his most known wine. It originates in a 7 hectare vineyard near Vauxrenard, planted with more than 45 year old vines. Its exposure is south-east and the soil is a kind of loose granite.
Guignier uses concrete tanks with epoxy lining for fermentation, that can be called semi-carbonic. In the winery he has a great variety of barrels, steel and tanks to play with. New oak is never used though.
The horse Bistere contributes to a healthy soil (Credit: M. Guignier)
La Bonne Pioche 2016 (M. Guignier)
Cherry red, slightly turbid. Lovely aromas of flowers and red berries (raspberry, redcurrant), and some barnyard notes underneath. Fresh acidity, meaty on the palate, with smooth tannins and a long and dry aftertaste.
Food: Salads, light meat like bird, cold ham and meat, try with sushi…
Sébastien Riffault has been mentioned in this blog many times, so it’s about time we highlight one of his wines. These are full of personality. Riffault’s sauvignons are maybe not you would think of when hearing the word Sancerre. But this is maybe Sancerre like in the old days, before all the corrections became the norm.
Sébastien cultivates twelve hectares of vineyard in Sury-en-Vaux. He also plants trees to contribute to the diversity. He can harvest several times, but in general grapes can hang on the vines for a long time -Mid-October is normal- so they achieve full ripening. .As a result of the late harvest, some of the grapes are affected by botrytis. Unlike most other Sancerre wines, Sébastien’s. wines also undergo malolactic fermentation.
Everything is cultivates according to biodynamic principles, and the whole vineyard is certified organic. Sébastien uses horse and plow in many of the vineyards, because it gives better soil quality. In the cellar, nothing is added, neither are they fined nor filtered (except for a tiny amount of sulphur and lightly filtering of one wine).
This week’s selected wine is from nobody else than natural wine guru Jean-Pierre Robinot.
As the story goes, Robinot fell in love with wine at a young age, moved to Paris, met some of the pioneers of natural wine and opened L’Ange Vin, one of the first bars dedicated to that kind of drinks.
Soon he decided to make natural wines himself, and moved back to Chahaignes, where he grew up, in the north of Loire.
The rest is history, as they say. He offers one wine better than the other; easy-to-drink and serious at the same time, they keep for weeks after opening, they express their origins magnificently, and they are highly original.
Jean-Pierre owns around 8 hectares of vines in the two appellations Jasnières and the Coteaux du Loir, soils red clay, limestone and silex. And the fermentations, they can last for months, years, in the ancient underground caves.
Gambellara is a small village at the foot of Monti Lessini in the western corner of the Vicenza province. To the west it borders Soave (Verona). It has a DOC for the whole area, a “classico” designation for wines with lower yields and higher alcohol, and a DOCG Recioto di Gambellara. The DOC is comprised of 4 municipalities, most important are Gambellara and Montebello.
When the prosecco boom took off, many of the grapes in the flatlands were replaced with the glera grape (formerly called prosecco). One of the results is that the general quality of Gambellara wine is extremely high, and as much as 60% of the grapes are grown in the hillsides.
In one day I visited three of the best, in or around Gambellara village, and maximum 5 minutes drive from each others.
Angiolino Maule – La Biancara
The most important of these is La Biancara, run by Angiolino Maule, who has been in the avant-garde of local and national natural wine movement and inspired many younger vintners. He founded the VinNatur organization in 2000 and leads the Villa Favorita natural wine fair held in Vicenza. The objective is to establish contact between collegues, to be able to support and learn from each others. They are currently looking at the possibility of replacing copper and sulfur, widely used in organic farming, with plants and extracts that help vines build up resistance. Maule is now also studying the possibility to certify natural wines.
Most of Maule’s wines though, come under the IgT Veneto designation, as Angiolino can be said to have a general mistrust in the Consorzio, and the wines are not regarded “typical” by the them either.
It’s Francesco Maule, one of Angiolino’s sons, who meets me on this warm summer morning. First we take a stroll through the vineyards and the estate, to get an overview. The soil of Gambellara is volcanic, with just a little limestone in the heights. This is easy to see from here.
Maule has approximately 12 hectares own vineyards on south facing slopes in these hills, about 150m to 250m above sea level. They are managed in a strictly organically way. They use naturally produced plant compost and control fungal diseases with herbal teas and other natural products. Contrary to tradition, here the predominant binding technique is the Guyot, but also some pergola.
Here around the winery there are 5,5 ha. garganega grapes, many of them used in the Sassaia wine. Higher up, as the name implies, the grapes for the Pico are grown. There is also some trebbiano and durella, and merlot and others for the reds.
-At La Biancara we use modern technology, as we want to have control, at least “enough” control. To oxygenate we add air to the must. Fermentation starts by ifself, because of the hot weather. We may use the pied de cuve technique, 2 or 3 different ones, to see which one is best. It’s important to have a fresh pied de cuve.[A short note: Pied de cuve is a technique that is often used for white wines. Some grapes are collected a week or so before the grapes are ready to be harvested. A small amount of this “stock” is then used to “kick-start” the fermentation, and helps to avoid any possibility of early oxidation.]
-After some years of “strange things” (high volatile, extreme skin-contact), some 10 years ago we decided to do some adjustments in the cellar, says Francesco. -We were lucky, as my father knew Josko Gravner (top Friuli producer with long experience in orange wines). He had also been making extremes wines, and then changed slightly. We also got some help from a retired enologist from Zonin (the region’s big player, just down the road).
-Normally we don’t add sulfites, only in the cheapest wines, that can have quite high volatile acidity.
We tasted a few wines together. And Francesco has nothing to hide, a sympathetic approach, as we start with their pét nat:
Garg’n’go 2017: In 2017 we have problems with re-fermentation, so here are practically no bubbles. That’s the way it is with pét nat (natural pétillance/bubbles), when there is no nat pét, there is just one way to fix it: we have to wait. The colour is quite dark, with flavours of yellow apples, yeast, and good acidity from the durella grape (20%). We can imagine how it will be in good condition. -We have no tradition for bubbles, says Francesco. -My father never thought about it, but I love it, and it’s easy to sell. Francesco fetches another bottle, that has a little more bubbles. OK, so there is hope.
Over to the still wines, the first one all garganega: Sassaia 2016, as we said from the vineyard close to the house. 70% were directly pressed, the rest skin-macerated for 2-3 days, then barrelfermented. Because we don’t use SO2 tannin and polyphenol from the skin-contact help the wine to stay healthy and live longer. It shows a light golden colour; mature apples, white flowers, ginger (from garganega) and some toast on the nose; it’s quite full and very tasty.
The relatively high altitude Pico has for me been a favourite, if I were to pick only one wine. Selected grapes from three relatively high vineyards, Pico 2016 was 50% directly pressed, an equal part had 2-3 days skin-contact. In fact there was also a tiny amount (one barrel, maybe 2%) that had extended skin-contact for 2 1/2 months. -’16 was a good harvest, and it rained at the right moments. The wine showed dark, almost amber; with mature apples, white pepper, ginger, a touch of honey; rich and glyceric in the mouth, with an integrated acidity and an extreme length.
Rosso Masieri 2017 is a young and luscious, fruity and herb-scented red wine from merlot, tokai rosso (grenache) and cabernet sauvignon. See link #1 at the bottom of this post for more.
Passito Monte Sorio 2015 is a recioto style, IgT (though they have a DOCG Recioto too). The garganega was harvested before the other grapes. They were all hung in vertical nets, for 4-5 months to dry. Then there was one week skin-maceration, and fermentation for 2-3 months. More normal is 14% and 150 grams residual sugar, but in this vintage the alcohol is 16% and sugar 76 grams. Some sulfites are added, simply because the wine gets cloudy after 2-3 years because of some protein bindings. Amber colour; on the nose: nuts, some raisin, iodene, lightly oxidezed style; on the palate: long and with a good acidity.
Let’s close this chapter with a recommendation from Francesco Maule: Recioto and parmesan cheese: a fantastic combination! (Parmesan, or parmiggiano, is “almost local”, as Parma is only one and a half hours from Verona.)
Climbing downhill to the center of the village we find both our next wine people, the two Davides. Vignato is not an uncommon name in Gambellara, and in the short street I ring the doorbell at two other Vignato’s houses before the right one stands before me.
Davide is third generation vigneron, so he’s born and raised in the village. But he is the first to have organic wines certified as DOC Gambellara. He has 14 hectares of vineyards that are characterized by these mineral soils. He works them organically, with techniques like green manure. Grape varieties are mainly garganega, but also durella, glera, chardonnay and merlot.
In the ancient amphitheater of Monte San Marco
He takes me to the biggest of the two amphitheaters formed by the ancient volcanoes. It’s the one in Gambellara, close to his home, the other is in the aforementioned Montebello to the east.
Balaltic dark rocks of volcanic origin
Primo Incontro 2016, IgT Veneto: The “first meeting” is a garganega frizzante (light pressure), where the second fermention is catalyzed by some of the dried grapes. The yeasts remain in the bottle, so the “sur lie” technique is employed, with batonnage once a week. -The final bottling was done after 15 months, no SO2, so I prefer to do malo-lactic fermentation, says Davide.
The wine shows a light yellow colour, slightly cloudy; aromas of apples, white flowers and citrus; there is a balanced acidity, a slightly salty, simple, good summer drink.
Cuvée dei Vignato 2013: A spumante metodo classico (high pressure) from 90% durella, and the rest chardonnay, with 40 months on the lees.
Somewhat lighter; green apples, citrus, bread crust; more evident, pungent acidity, long and mineral aftertaste.
Then follow two still whites, both 100% garganega.
El Gian 2016, Gambellara Classico, a tribute to his father Gian Domenico: This wine is from 25 year old vines in the hills. As usual: Natural yeast and only a small quantity SO2. It stayed on the lees in steel tanks for 5 months before bottling.
Light straw colour; green apples, white flowrs, citrus, clean (no tropics); quite mellow in the mouth, but the acidity shines through, and typical for the garganega grape it has a nice bitterness towards the end.
Col Moenia 2016 , Gambellara Classico: This is from 40 years old vines, and the grape selection is stricter. No de-stemming. It stays on the lees for 7 months, and batonnage is carried out once in a while.
Light straw, clear; yellow apple, ginger; full on the palate, more concentration than the previous wine, and more integrated acidity (the harvest was 20 days later), slightly bitter aftertaste.
A general observation can be added here: Garganega has a long cycle, and late picking is normal. Durella is approximately one month earlier, around mid-september.
Regarding the wine styles, at this point it should also be clear that Vignato’s wines are clean, the fruit is a bit more acid and the apple notes are greener. La Biancara is more turbid, obviously unfiltered, plays with oxidation, and the fruit is more yellow and mature.
1950 Merlot 2016, IgT Veneto: -1950 was the year when my father planted the merlot vineyard for this wine, because he realized that he was tired of drinking only white gambellara, says Davide. The pressing is light, and the wine matures in steel tank with occational batonnage.
The colour is ruby with some violet; with aroma of red fruits and some herbs; medium body, soft tannins, quite easy drinking really.
The “picai” technique is still used, bunches hung from the roof to dry
Cal d’Oro 2009: This is a passito wine with mahogany (or dark amber) colour; iodine notes, umami, dried fruits and dates; some tannins, medium sweet (120-30 g), a bit raisiny, and also salt in the finish.
Ca’ Ronchi 2007, Passito Rosso: Dark red, a little browning; red berries and forestfruits (morelloes, blackberries), nuts; quite slender, good tannin structure, medium sweet (same as the former), wonderfully balanced by acidity.
After a sandwich and a coffee in the bar on Gambellara’s central square, I climb the labyrinths of the neighbourhood where Davide Spillare has his house and winery, and several of the vineyards are there too. I meet Davide together with Lanfranco Fossà, who helps him with various tasks in the office.
Davide and Lanfranco
A little background: Davide Spillare (his last name should have a stress on the first syllable) was born in 1987. He went to agronomy school, then worked 4 years for Angiolino Maule, to learn and to gain experience. In 2007 he started on his own. He is third generation. Antonio, his grandfather, worked in real estate, and made wine in the weekends. Mariano, his father, worked with machines and repair, he made more wine than his father, but he only sold it to the cooperative.
So Davide’s project is in a way still young. He owns 4 hectares of vineyards, and has 6 on rent (the latter will come into production from the 2019 vintage). In fact 50% of Davide’s production is today sold to Japan. The wines are also found in a handful more countries. I tasted them in London’s 40 Maltby Street wine bar.
The annual production is now 20.000 bottles, and will increase to 30.000. Not very much. From Davide’s house there is a nice view over the village, and you can easily see the big Zonin winery.
Davide has 5 labels, mostly garganega, except for some durella for sparkling (up to 70 years old), and also some merlot for the red. He employs biodynamic viticulture, and there is almost no technology in the cellar. The old vines are bound up in the pergola system, but for the newer plantings he uses Guyot.
In the plains, at around 200 meters above sea level, there are clayey soils. The rest is mostly volcanic.
In general we could say that after Vignato’s clean and clear wines we are now, not surprisingly maybe, back towards the style of Maule’s La Biancara. In a way the wines are elegant, with their crisp acidity. But they clearly take place in the natural wine category, without added sulfur, and no filtration or fining, so they also come with a rich mouthfeel and loads of taste.
Here are some short notes from the tasting.
L1 (named after Lumber 1, the lowest rib in the back, that Davide once broke in a tractor accident): It’s made from 90% garganega, and 10% durella (only for acidity). The second fermentation was in the bottle. -We don’t use yeast, but the moist from the sweet wine. (It rings a bell now from both visits earlier that day.)
The colour is yellow; aromas of yellow apples, light bread; very good acidity
Bianco Crestan 2016: 100% garganega, from the flat area (with less mineral soil).
Straw yellow, aromas of green apples, citrus (lime); quite glyceric, mellow, a nice and simple wine for everyday drinking.
Bianco Rugoli 2016 (12,5%): From the 80 old vineyard that gives name to the next wine, the bushes trained in pergola. Spontaneous fermentation, like all his wines, here in used oak barrels. The first bottle is bretty. Davide says it’s from the cork. When the water isn’t changed often enough this can happen. The water should be changed for every 100.000 corks.
The nose is more complex than the previous, but maintaining a good acidity and a strong minerality.
Straw yellow; more mature apples, wax, aromatic herbs; smooth yet fresh, fruit all the way (4-5 g/L acidity), slightly bitter aftertaste.
Vecchie Vigne 2016: It had 100% skin-contact for 5 days, then fermented in barrel 7-8 days. 13,5% alcohol.
Golden; more mature apples on the nose, together with pear, honey and nuts (it was a very late harvest); concentrated on the palate, a warmer, richer style, with a salty mineral aftertaste. This wine is still young though, and will open more.
Rosso Giaroni 2016: Merlot at 13,5%.
Dark cherry, me green pepper, red fruits; fruity, bit tannic.
#3 – Gambellara: Maule and the two Davides
In the days leading up to the Simplesmente Vinho fair we drove around in the Dão region, and it was no doubt that the fires of 2017 had left its mark on the region. And not only among those directly hit.
Here is an article from our Dão visits, recently published in Norway’s Vinforum magazine. It’s in the Norwegian language, but here I chose one wine from each featured producer, and supply a few pictures from the article.
Casa de Mouraz (Mouraz outside Tondela): Well-made wines, clean and direct, fruity and balanced. Wine from all categories, also Vinho Verde. 25 ha. own vineyards, more clay than usual in Dão, but some granite too. Sara and António were probably the most severely hit by the fires, and guests of honour at the fair.
Here I chose their Elfa 2014, from 80% baga and around 30 other varieties, that went into the fermentation tanks with whole bunches. It’s a great wine, fresh and quite direct, with red berries, green pepper, medium structure and a balanced natural acidity.
Quinta do Perdigão, Silgueiros: 7 ha., granitic, mostly quartz. Biodynamic prictise. The fires stopped right outside the quinta gate, and José and Vanessa went through some terrifying hours that night. The late-released rosé is an all time favourite, and aside from that one the white and the youngest reds are the best wines for me. Good varietals from jaen, and the one I chose here:
Alfrocheiro 2011 has kept the dark colour well, and shows aromas of blackcurrant, pepper and some balsamic, and with good support from tannins and acidity.
João Tavares da Pina (Quinta da Boavista), Penalva do Castelo: Cooler, higher (around 500 meters), clay and schist (from maritime sediments), 13 ha. planted (50 in total). João has a passion for the jaen grape, well-suited here, with its long cycle. His entry-level wines Rufía! are direct, fruity, acidic, turbid and easy to put in the “natural wine bag”. But the reds also demonstrate their ability to age. João searches for both freshness, but also the decadent mushroom and underwood aromas. The jaen grape and high fermentation temperatures (up to 32°C) are tools to achieve this. João is also a passionate horse-breeder, a creative chef, and maker of Serra da Estrela cheese until recently.
While waiting for the lamb chutlets to be finished we tasted some 20 wines that João had placed on the stove. A white Rufia! 2016 was opened 13 days earlier, had one week skin-contact in a small steel lagar. Light orange and turbid, flowery aromas, citrus peel, and a wonderful, stimulating acidity. He plays with oxidation, but balances masterfully.
António Madeira, making wine from 6 ha. spread over 6 villages, most near -or in- the Estrela: He is French, from Portuguese descendant. His project is to identify and categorize the great vineyards of Dão. He started to make wine in 2011 from a 50 year old vineyard, while still living in Paris. His wines all have freshness and energy. To say that they are promising is an understatement.
2017 will be remembered by the fires, but the vintage itself is promising, dry (not surprisingly) and very early harvests. Liberdade Branco 2017, his first almost-no-sulphites wine: Complex, still a bit reductive, but fine spicy notes, pear and citrus. Good acidity, with a salty minerality (oysters, according to himself) in the finish. Wait until this really opens!
Here is a collection of articles from the fair:
There will also come short articles about the Douro and Vinho Verde producers of the fair.
Eulogio Pomares has been the winemaker at Bodegas Zárate since the 2000 harvest. He has started to make some wines for himself too, in tiny quantities under the label Grandes Vinos Desiguales, and some are quite sensational.
The soils are granitic, and the grapes for this wine come from parcels that Eulogio has replanted and using biodynamic principles and without rootstocks. Only native yeasts are used, the wine stays in 1,200 litre chestnut foudres and stayed 8 months, where it also undergoes malo-lactic fermentation.
This one was fermented and aged in big 1200 liters vats of chestnut. The vines are seventy year old, and they are located in Castrelo-Cambados, in the central part of Salnés, probably the most important sub-region of DO Rías Baixas.
An informative back label
We have seen several styles of albariño over the years. Some of us are a bit tired of the commercial, aromatic versions. Too heavily oaked wines were plentiful at a time, and always out of question. Later there were many lees-aged wines; a good idea, but this too can make the wines more similar to each other. I like the ones on the wild side, made without corrections. Here is yet another interpretation, a chestnut and lees aged single vineyard wine from old vines.
Carralcoba Albariño 2016 (Eulogio Pomares/ Grandes Vinos Desiguales)
Straw yellow. Apple, lemon, pear and white flowers on the nose. It has a fantastic concentration, is full, with a lemony acidity and with an extraordinary length. It has a touch of oxidative character, but it’s held in check, and is balanced incredibly. Close to perfection.
Food: The best seafood you can think of, creatively elaborated
1701 was the first certified biodynamic producer in Franciacorta. I met Rhona and Federico at the Real Wine fair last year, and I tasted the Brut again at a London wine bar recently.
They are located in an old magnificent villa near Cazzago San Martino, Franciacorta, and the property includes around 10 hectares of vineyards.
The production is low-intervention, with no dosage and sulphur only when absolutely needed.
This wine is a blend of Chardonnay 85% and Pinot Nero 15%. Whole bunches are put into stainless steel, and the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, as usual. It stays 30 months on lees before the final bottling. It’s just lightly filtrated.
1701 Franciacorta Brut (Soc. Agr. 1701)
Light yellow with green tones, creamy mousse. Fresh aroma of citrus, mature apples, with some chalky, mineral notes. Appealing, fresh fruit in the mouth, and an acidity that contributes to the lingering finish.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.