Finca Valpiedra is a single estate owned by Martínez Bujanda family. They started out in Rioja as early as 1889, and bought this place in the 1990’s. The finca is located in a bend of the Ebro river, between Fuentmayor and Cenicero. From here they launch wines in a crossroads between tradition and modernity, with some initial oakiness. Among the modern features are organic growing, estate focus, and the wines will reach the balance between oak and fruit after only a few years.
Tempranillo is the main grape, supported by a little cabernet sauvignon for structure and graciano for aroma. This particular wine also contains a tiny percent mazuelo (cariñena/carignan). The 2001 was a great vintage in Rioja, and the best wines, like this one, will last long.
Here you can read a report from their Rueda winery, where we also tasted their riojas.
Dark red with hint of brown. Forest fruits (blackberry), plums, thyme and eucalyptus over a thin layer of roast and dried fruits. Quite big, mature fruits in the mouth, with rounded tannins. In an optimal stage of evolution, without the sweetness of oak, still some freshness, the fruit intact, the individual parts integrated but still possible to detect.
Food: We had it with entrecôte, and perfect with lamb, roast, game, hard cheeses…
There were several wine fairs that were postponed due to the uncertainties around the coronavirus outbreak. But as far as I know this was the first major fair, and the only one so far that I planned to attend.
Luckily there were many danger-seeking people like me, who decided to go anyway. One of them was Carles Mora Ferrer of Penedès, one of the heroes in this story.
As readers of this blog may know, Raw is a fair for natural, artisan producers and seeks to highlight the “poetry” in the wine. And it has become something of a worldwide community, as the fair has expanded to places like Berlin, New York and Toronto.
Sager & Wilde, Ries & Shine, Antidote and Dandy were among the restaurants that were registered in the #rawwineweek program. And Lady of the Grapes was hosting an event on Women’s Day 8th March. I used the opportunity to visit Elliott’s, as you will soon hear more about, but also favourites like Flor, the Spanish tapas place Brindisa, and the Portuguese Bar Douro (read a post from my visit here). I attended two tastings held by several importers. And the first thing I did was making an appointment with a rising star of British wine, the Tillingham winery. (There will be more about this in the next post from the “fair”.)
At Elliott’s Café, Borough Market I had four wines this time, the two from Clot de les Soleres offered in the by the glass-selection. Allow me first a few words on the winery. In Piera, close to Sant Sadurní (the Cava capital) lie Carles Mora’s family vineyards, abandoned since the 1960’s. Many years later Carles planted some cabernet sauvignon there, and the intention was clearly to make natural wine aged in amphora. Today he and his partner Montse hav 5-6 hectares of not only cabernet, but also chardonnay, and the local varieties macabeo and xarel.lo, that they tend organically, and there are zero additivies in the vineyard or cellar, except for a little copper/sulphur in the vineyard when absolutely necessary. The vineyard lies around 300 meters above sea level, on calcareaous soil, with small stone and pebbels. There is a Mediterranean climate with a lot of sun, but also a breeze from the sea that regulates the temperature so the grapes will not be “baked”. They want to express the terroir, but also the grape variety. So for that reason, only varietal wines are made.
Clot de les Soleres Macabeu 2018 was a pale, slightly pétillant wine, pears and flowers scented, with lovely lemony acidity. The red Clot de les Soleres Cabernet Amphora 2018 was deep dark, dominated by black fruits like blackcurrant, but also with a mineral touch, and well-structured and very vibrant in the mouth.
Aside from this I had the V&S Bacchus 2018, from 2naturkinder of Franken, Germany. This was golden in colour, with orange peel and flowers as dominant aromatics, and full and “orangey” in the mouth. Last this afternoon was Rivera del Notro 2018(Roberto Henríquez), from Bio Bio of Chile, made from the país variety. The wine was light cherry red, with raspberry and some ethereal note. Quite firm in the mouth, and moderate acidity.
Elliott’s has delicious small dishes to go with the wines too. After recommendations from the sommeliers I chose stratiacella (an eggsoup with cheese and nutmeg) culatella (a cured ham from Parma) and hake ragu with the four mentioned wines.
Tasting at Weino BIB
Fernando Berry from Elliott’s is involved in the import company Otros Vinos. Together with a couple of other importers they invited some of the visiting producers to the small wine bar Wineo BIB near Dalston Junction.
So let’s go back to Clot de les Soleres. At Weino BIB Carles served both white, rosé and red wines, still and sparkling. Some were samples, as far as I remember. I hope I have got the names and vintages right. All the whites have been pressed before they ferment in steel, spent the winter in tank and bottled in spring. After the same Macabeu as at Elliott’s the other afternoon there was the Chardonnay 2017, a light, clean and citric wine, mellow in the mouth and with a year more it has achieved a good balance between alcohol and acidity.
The Xarel.lo pét nats (Ancestral I think the name is), vintage 2015 and 2017, were fascinating. With 30 grams in the 2015 when it was bottled (less in the finished wine because it continues to ferment) golden yellow in colour, with an aroma of mature apples and lots of bread from the autolysis; rich and mouthfilling, with a sweet touch, but nice acidity to match. The 2017 was made in the same way, but behaved differently. There were muh less bubbles, more green apple character, citrus and pineapple, some ginger and herbs too, and also some toast, and an excellent acidity. The Chardonnay 2018 pét nat came from two tanks. It showd ligh yellow, more fruity and citric; still with an unfulfilled potential, but with time this will also get a good balance between sugar and alcohol.
I tasted the Rosé Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, a very pale, peach-coloured wine (pressed less than one hour), flowers and strawberry-scented, quite soft but with good acidity, before turning to the reds. The Cabernet Saugivnon 2014 (from 22 year old vines) had only been in tank. It was dark after six years, with typical cabernet aromas such as blackcurrant and a vegetal component; slender in the mouth with a nice structure. Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 had stayed 13 months, then bottled. Also dark, and very fruity, with blackcurrant, green pepper, sour cherries, and an inspiring acidity. It comes with 14% alcohol, but it’s well integrated. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 were made in the same way, except for a period in three amphoras of 700L (from Extremadura, because of the quality and type of clay): This one was a little more on the “wild” side; more sour cherries, also with more red berries; quite big in the mouth (13% alc.).
Near Clot de les Soleres, in the tasting room but also the Catalan bodega itself, is Ferrán Lacruz. He runs the Bodega Clandestina in the village of Sant Martí Sarroca, not far from Vilafranca del Penedès. The farm has 8 hectares, of which 3 is planted with vines. The bodega name has inspired the titles of the wines too, Blanc Sence Papers, Fugitiu, Censurat and Confiscat. I think there is no need to translate, please tell me if the contrary is true. The first vintage was 2018. It’s an organic and natural project, no additives, not even SO2, and he works outside any appellation.
All the wines are samples from the 2019 vintage, so I will just go briefly through them. Blanc Sense Papers 2019 comes from a more than 50 years old xarel.lo vineyard. The grapes from the three plots were harvested seperately at different times to ensure perfect ripeness, the different harvests are fermented in steel and aged in demijohns for different periods of time, and the last harvest kept in oak for 4 months, before blending it all and bottling unfined and unfiltered. -I base my wines on acidity, says Ferrán, -and I like Bourgogne Aligoté, he answers to my question what he tries to achieve. And acidity he has managed to retain. It really is acidic. I am not sure if it has the body to match, but time will show. The Blanc Fugitiu is another varietal xarel.lo with three weeks maceration. The skins are always inside the wine, as it is held down with an inox net. It finishes in 500L barrels and amphoras from the French side of Catalunya. This one is much more textured than the former, in the sense of tannins. It’s a bit more funky too, but has nice flowers and citrus peel aromas. Orance Censurat is a carinyena blanc with 4 weeks skin-contact, then aged in amphoras for 5 months. Also a bit on the funky side, but very nice citric notes and quite floral too. The Ancestral Confiscat is a xarel.lo sparkling wines with one year and three months ageing in bottle. The colour is yellow, and there is an abundancy of bubbles; very fruity, appley character with evident autolysis. A promising sparkler.
Le Quais á Raisins is a producer from Aubais in the Languedoc, started in 2015. They are Imogen and Robin, from England and Alsace respectively, who met there while studying. They have also worked abroad, being inspired by and have worked with the Swartland Independent Producers of South Africa, to name just one of the places they have experienced. Imogen was represented here. They only own 1.5 hectares, but use grapes from friends in Languedoc, Roussillon and Rhône. Everything is organic, and some places biodynamic practises are also employed.
Among the wines were Umami 2019, a pét nat with 9 months on the lees from muscat and grenache with no sugar, and no SO2 added. A very nice wine with aroma, a bit peachy, some brioche; it was mouthfilling, with nice acidity, and a saltiness at the end. Méridional 2018 from rolle, grenache and muscat, was floral, but also mineral, and very fresh, – fermented in tank, and some 15% in neutral wood. Embruns 2018, made from macabeu in alluvial soil, was light, pear-like in aroma, there was a little more oak-influence there, and some smokiness. A really interesting one was Syrault 2018 (from syrah and cinsault) from calcareous loess: Cherry red; aroma of blueberry, flowers, mint, pepper; a little sweet sensation in the mouth, but after all an easy-drinking wine. Then a delicate, yet fleshy amphora-aged cinsault called Lopin 2018. Before we rounded off with the Garmatcha 2018 (a grenache, or garnacha grown on limestone and gneiss): Darker colour (because of small yield, more extraction, more punch-down), 18 months in 400L oak (some young, some neutral): It had a intriguing smell of chalkiness, red fruits and herbs, a fruity and well-structured, concentrated taste with some coffee/lickorice towards the end.
Matthias Hager is located in the northern part of the Kamptal, and is known as one of the most creative producers in the area. He produces terroir-driven wines from his 14 hectares of vineyards, from Mollands, his hometown. He has had a biodynamic certification since 2005. He works with different soil types, like loess and clay. He uses different product lines, literally speaking: A label with a blue line represents a fresh and young wine, while a brown line denotes more earthy, flavorful characteristics. Red line stands for no sulphites.
Here are the wines he brought, in brief: Grüner Veltliner Mollands 2018: Light colour; fruity, with pepper and other herbs; smooth, quite concentrated, dry and salty. Grüner Veltliner Urgestein 2018, from schist soil, 10% skin-fermented, made in old oak and steel: This one is more yellow, more mineral, also with peppery tones; good weight in the mouth, and evident acidity. Completely natural. Riesling Alte Reben 2016, 10% skin-fermented for 6 weeks: It’s light yellow; flowery, fruity (but also some mineral); in the mouth it’s textured, rich. A nice take on a riesling.
Riesling PUR 2015 is a wine with 100% skin-contact for 3 weeks: Golden colour; a bit waxy, appley, with ginger and some honey; full in the mouth, textured and with a good acidity. Lastly the Zweigelt Blauburger 2018, an “Austrian merlot”, as Matthias called this second variety (a cross between blauer portugieser and blaufränkisch, noted for colour, not tannin or acidity). The grapes were grown on clay (the zweigelt), loess and schist soil. The wine is blueish; smells of red berries, some green components (pepper), herbs; it’s clean, soft, luscious and also crispy.
Stay on this channel for more from the first restaurant.
Here is a short post from a wonderful Italian lakeside resort. Bardolino is located on the east side of lake Garda, not far from Verona in the Veneto province. There are many nice, fresh and juicy rosés and light red wines.
These hills are where the Gorgo Wine Estate was established in 1973. It belongs to the village of Custoza, and the company also makes organic certified biancos bearing that name.
This Bardolino wine is made from corvina 55%, rondinella 25&, and the rest divided between molinara, merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes. It’s made with controlled temperature fermentation in stainless steel, and was pumped over for up to ten days.
Light ruby red. Aroma of clean red fruit; cherry, some herbs. It’s dry in the mouth, with a pleasant smooth mouth-feel, and with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Simple, harmonious, easy to drink. Just nice!
Food: Light meat, salads, soups, and some pasta and rice dishes
I have taken a two day break from my seaside city holiday in Málaga. We are now trekking in the mountains. And we, we are my friend Jan Inge Reilstad (writer and culture activist) and me. I thought I’d give you some main lines in a postcard format, before I go into more detail later.
First of all I must say a big thanks to all the kind and lovely people who set their work on pause for a while to welcome us, after having given them a very short notice!
First stop was Barranco Oscuro, outside Cádiar in the Alpujarras. I have met Lorenzo Valenzuela many times and many places, but it must be ten years since my latest visit to the winery. This time it’s his father Manuel who welcomes us. He shows us around the premises, before we end in a room to taste some wines.
We can’t help notice the wordplay on many of the labels. Tres Uves resembles the Spanish expression for three grapes, but what it really means is three V’s. And aptly enough the wine is based on the varieties viognier, vermentino and the local vijiriega. It’s obvious that Manuel has great fun talking about this. And he tells the story behind the labels, one by one, ending with the Salmónido, with the subtitle rosado a contracorriente, meaning: rosé against the stream.
And when you think of it: It’s not only the salmon that is going towards the stream. The Valenzuelas started to make natural wines without any additions or corrections at a time when few others did. Manuel Valenzuela is by most regarded as one of the true pioneers of Spanish natural wine.
Everything we tasted was expressive and full of energy; like the Art Brut 2017, a sparkler made according to the ancestral method, the yellow fruit-packed viognier La Ví y Soñé 2017 and the always lovely cherry fruit-dominated Garnata 2012 (obviously from garnacha). For those interested in ampelography (the study of grapes), the La Ví y Soñé has now a small percentage of vijiriega negra, a very rare variety that the white vijiriega once mutated from. We ended the tasting with two vintages of 1368 Cerro Las Monjas, whose name refers to the altitude of their highest vineyard (until recently the highest in Europe). Both were very much alive. Vintage 2004 was a bit reduced, cherry red, showed red and dried fruits, and a good acidity, and a slightly dry mouthfeel. The 2003 was a bit darker, with dark cherry dominating the aroma, and a rounder palate – and still more years ahead. (Read my report about the 2002here.) A terrific bonus was Xarab, an amber coloured wine from the pedro ximénez (PX) variety, with aroma of apricot, figs, a touch of raisins and a balanced acidity. Manuel had showed us a barrel of the wine in the cellar. At this point it had been fermenting for three years (!).
High altitude vines grown organically and unirrigated on schist and clay soil
After a lunch in the centre of Ugíjar, rabbit and chicken with a dark, meaty nameless Cádiar wine, we continued our short road trip. Just outside Ugíjar we were met by this signpost.
I visited Dominio Buenavista around ten years ago too. Nola, from Dayton, Ohio has been through tough times since her husband Juan Palomar passed away last year. They both used to travel between the two countries. Now she has been forced to stay in Spain to look after the domaine, and continue the work just the way her beloved husband would have done himself.
Nola makes it clear that she wants to have control over the end-product. Therefore the wines can be said to lack the “savagery” of Barranco Oscuro. Their wines called Veleta (the second highest peak in Sierra Nevada, but also meaning weather-bird) are well-made, and their followers in Spain, the US and elsewhere know what to expect. -Natural yeast scares me, Nola says. So she relies on cultured yeasts, and hesitates to go completely organic. But the amount of sulphur is low, and added only following the harvest. In the cellar we tasted some red samples, from tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon (2018), and cabernet franc (2014), the grapes that make up Noladós, one of their signature wines. There was also a promising graciano (2016).
Should I pick just one wine it would be the Vijiriega “Viji” 2017, a fruity and mellow wine with apple, citrus and herbal notes.
We decided to see if there were room for the night in Trevélez. This is the second highest municipality in Spain at 1.476 meters, a place with thin air, good for curing of the famous Trevélez hams. So we climbed the steep slopes, and Jan Inge maneuvered the car through the narrow streets of the town. At last we found a room in the highest hotel of Trevélez.
Hams hanging in the restaurant where we had dinner
Next morning, continuing over the province border to Málaga, we arrive in the village of Moclinejo, as we enter the historic Axarquía landscape. Here we met Ignacio Garijo. He represents both the well-known Bodegas Dimobe, a family company that dates from 1927, and the new project Viñedos Verticales. The director is Juan Muñoz, one of three brothers. We can maybe say that stylistically, at least philosophically, these wines fall in between the two producers from yesterday.
Dimobe’s highest vineyard: Moscatel de Alejandría on slate and stone ground. These are 50-60 years old, while average is 80-90. On the north side of the hill there is moscatel for dry wines, on the south side moscatel for sweet wines picked a little later
Ignacio and Jan Inge looking south
Dimobe was dedicated to sweet wines, as was the tradition in Málaga. Around 2001, when the DO Sierras de Málaga was established as a means to meet the challenges and demands of modern times, they started to incorporate dry table wines in their portfolio. Pepe Ávila (Bodegas Almijara, of Jarel fame) and Telmo Rodríguez probably made the first dry moscatel in the area in 1998 (I visited them in 2001, I think), and since the new regulations came many more followed. Now it’s the norm, and one can wonder about the future of the traditional sweet and fortified wines.
Dimobe owns 5 hectares and controls 38 in total. All viticultors work the same way: Harvest by hand, sulphur as the only chemical product, and organic farming (though not certified). This is easy: -In 40 years we have only had two mildew attacks, in 1971 and 2011.
The old part of the winery looks like a museum. But it is also in operation; there is actually wine in the barrels. -There are many seals in here, says my friend. Ignacio explains that it is goat’s stomachs, very useful in old times to keep wine from oxidating, from Quijote’s time untill much more recently.
We tasted Verticales’ four wines first. La Raspa 2018, a moscatel 70% and doradilla wine. The moscatel is aromatic and fresh, while the doradilla rounds it off. It’s an appealing wine; light in colour, and typical moscatel aromas of flowers, some herbs, and some citrus (lemon). Filitas y Lutitas 2016 is a moscatel 90% and PX. This is a complex and very interesting wine that you can read more about here. We had a 2018 sample of El Camaleón. The grape here is romé (or romé de la axarquía, to be precise). It’s a grape that’s difficult to work and that offers little colour. So the colour is light red, aroma predominantly of red fruits, and fine-grained tannins. Ignacio explains that the tannins come from the vat, and they need some time to soften. He also claims that the tannins from the vat help to get some colour, even if I don’t see how this could work. Anyway, all these wines come under the DO Sierras de Málaga.
The last Verticales wine is Noctiluca Vendimia Asoleada 2016, that is a DO Málaga and comes from grapes totally dried in the paseros. It arrives 10% alcohol and has never seen any barrel. It’s yellow because of some oxidation in the paseros; aroma of apricot, flowers, and some tender sweetness (173 g/L). We went straight over to a couple of wines from the extensive Dimobe range. Señorío de Broches 2017 comes from grapes dried only on one side of the clusters. It reaches 8% natural alcohol, then it’s fortified up to 15. It’s a fresh wine, easy-to-drink, with the same sweetness at the Noctiluca. Trasañejo is an expression from the old Málaga classification that means that the wine must be at least 5 years old. Pajarete Trasañejo is a naturally sweet wine from moscatel and PX (again with the same sweetness), and one is not allowed to use arrope, the traditional reduced must. Amber or mahogny in colour, nutty and concentrated, with figs and dried fruits. Absolutely delicious.
Time to get back to our rented flat on the beach of Málaga capital. I must also confess that my wife and I had the wonderful sparkling moscatel Tartratos 2015 that Ignacio gave us (for the road), during the evening and night. Yellow, yeasty, tasty; just delicious summer drinking.
This is the second report from this year’s Simplesmente… Vinho, of Porto. The first one was about the Portuguese participants, and you can read it here. This one deals mainly with Spanish wine, with one exception.
As soon as I entered the Cais Novo I ran into Alejandro of Bodegas Forlong. There is a lot happening in the sherry region right now, and I visited him when I was doing reasearch for a magazine article about table wines from the Jerez area. A shorter version of the article can be read here, and a wine of the week post here. In Porto Alejandro was together with his life companion Rocío.
Alejandro Narváez and Rocío Áspera
So why not start with a tasting of wine from sherry grapes and albariza soil? The wines I knew from before delivered, such as the Forlong Blanco 2018 (palomino 90%, the rest PX, grown in albariza soil), with its roundness and at the same time enough acidity, almonds and a saline minerality. Much of the same applies to the Rosado 2018, a 100% cabernet sauvignon, with its colour of onion skin, its creamy character and also a light tannin. We could go on through the Petit Forlong 2017 (syrah, merlot), the Assemblage 2016 (merlot, tintilla de rota, syrah), and the Tintilla 2016, with its dark smell of ink, blackcurrant, and that in a way also plays with oxidation.
A wine I can’t remember having tasted before were 80/20, a non SO2, unfiltered wine, made of must from palomino fermented on skins of PX: Light pineapple colour; some tropical hint in the aroma, peel; round and smooth, yet fresh, well a little mousy, but with a nice mineral salinity. Equally interesting was Mon Amour 2017, palomino from the hardest type of albariza, called “tosca cerrada”. I have to reconsider if I like the touch of vanilla from the fermentation in French barrels, but it surely has some interesting yellow fruits, and a vibrant touch too.
According to my ‘one wine only’-game I chose this one: Amigo Imaginario 2017, from old vine palomino, fermented with skins, and aged in an oloroso cask for 10 months. The colour is yellow; smells of orange peel, herbs, plums, and a touch of marzipan; in the mouth it’s full, with a great concentration, and you by now you would have guessed that it’s somewhat sweet – but it’s not. Great personality, alternative, truly interesting!
Always a pleasure meeting up with Sandra Bravo and tasting her wines
I appreciate that Sandra Bravo of Sierra de Toloño keep coming back to these events. She is one of the younger, independent voices in a Rioja still struggling to come out of its classification system based on wood ageing. From vineyards below the Sierra Cantabria mountains, both on the Riojan and Basque side of the border, she takes good decisions on the way from grape to bottle.
The reds showed as good as ever, from the plain Sierra de Toloño, now 2017, with its fresh cherry fruit, and inspiring acidity, but also in this vintage quite evident tannins, the Camino de Santa Cruz 2016 (formerly Rivas de Tereso), a single vinyard wine with extra minerality; darker and wilder fruits, with some subtle underlying oak and also lovely acidity and the super delicious La Dula 2016, a garnacha made in amphora, really floral, red-fruity and expressive. The Nahi Tempranillo is a dark, rich, spicy wine that will improve with age – and lastly Raposo 2016 from Villabuena, the Basque part: a little graciano thrown in among the tempranillo; dark, blackberry, forest fruits, good acidity – classic in the good sense of the word.
In recent years she has presented wonderful white wines, very different from both the young and clean tank style of the 1970’s (still popular) and the oaky style requiring long ageing. The basic Sierra de Toloño 2017 is clean and bright, but has already a profound quality. A favourite among white riojas during the latest years has been the Nahi Blanco, now 2016. Made from viura, malvasía and calagraño, a field blend from five small parcels in Villabuena de Álava, with a light ageing in barrel: Golden colour, a touch of tropic (litchi), white flowers and a light touch of smoke, full in the mouth and a nice natural acidity.
Alfredo Maestro (left) and Dutch journalist Paul Op ten Berg
I have tasted Alfredo’s wines several times lately, so here I only tasted a couple in order to discuss them with my friend, Dutch journalist Paul Op ten Berg. One was an orange wine that was featured in January. (Read it here.) In short: Lovamor 2016 stayed 6 days with the skins, then on lees for 4 months. Due to the cold Castilian winter a malolactic fermentation never happened. It’s a rich and complex wine with a gold-orange colour; apple and melon in the aroma, flowery, and also lovely, light citrus; slightly pétillant and with a citrussy aftertaste.
I first met Yulia in Alfredo’s neighbourhood, more precisely at Dominio de Pingus, where she guided us around the premises during a wine trip that I organized. But she has Eastern roots and is now making wine in the Kakheti region of Georgia. The winery is called Gvymarani and can be found in the village of Manavi. The wine is made from the mtsvane grape, fermented 7 months and also aged in qvevri. Gvymarani Mtsvane: Clean golden; fruity nose of apple, dried apricot, peach, orange peel and some honey; full and with evident tannins in the mouth.
Antonio Portela (picture taken at the Barcelona tasting)
I tasted Antonio Portela‘s wines in Barcelona earlier that month and made an appointment to visit his vineyards later – so I just took the opportunity to try his beautiful red tinta femia Namorado 2017 (tinto mareiro) again, fermented and aged for 12 months in used French oak: Light in colour; pure, with fresh, red fruits on the nose; a vibrant flavour, a good natural acidity and in a long saline finish. Goodness, what a wine!
Constantina Sotelo (picture taken in her winery after the fair)
Constantina Sotelo was another producer that I decided to cross the border to visit once the fair was over. Here I tasted, among others, her Pio Pio 2017 ‘en rama’ (unfiltered). It’s from a vineyard with quite a lot of ‘pie franco’ (ungrafted) plants, and a very personal wine: Light yellow; green apple, citric (lime), anise; quite full, glyceric, and with an appealing acidity. A lovely albariño. See you on the other side of the border!
Before the Vins Nus and Vella Terra wine fairs started in Barcelona I took the opportunity to travel around l’Empordà – together with a good friend, Malena Fabregat, wine writer and distributor.
We visited two producers of natural wine, one well-established classic, and one up-and-coming estate, both in the same vicinity – Carles Alonso and La Gutina.
Carles Alonso is maybe the foremost pioneer of Catalan natural wines, having started back in the late 1970’s. He is certainly not the most well-known figure, but this is only due to the fact that he has never seeked the limelight, and it has not been necessary either, as he has easily sold everything from his bodega at the entrance of the Els Vilars village.
Carles is self-taught, and he hasn’t felt it necessary to join either fashions or denominations. He owns between 4 and 5 hectares of vineyard, and there he works about 10 varieties, most local, but also some foreign that have adapted well in Catalunya. He does all the work himself. -My daughter helps me a bit though, he admits, -and of course at harvest times there are many people here.
The altitude is never really high in l’Empordà. Here we are about 15 km from the sea and at 230 meters altitude. The Tramontana wind is always noticeable in the area. Carles has a lot of knowledge, and likes a good discussion, and some good jokes. After having joked about bad things in France (politics and weather) he gets more serious: -I am from the Mediterranean, born in Barcelona. So this is my terroir. I make strong, thick wines, full of alcohol. I harvest only 0,5 kg per plant, never prune in green, I never move a leaf… And I harvest late (i.e. September). Many look for acidity, and the only thing they get is acidity.
Carles explains to Malena
The wines ferment in clay amphora, and never see any oak. He makes white and red wine. But it’s the sparkling wines from the ancestral method that are the most prominent.
No chemicals are ever used either in the vineyard or in the cellar. The wines ferment with their own yeasts, without added sulfites, or any other additive of any kind.
We tasted his Blanc Petillant (macabeu, xarel.lo, garnatxa blanca, parellada and chardonnay) both 2009 and 2018. It was quite dark at his desk, but the 09 seemed dark yellow towards orange, smelled of pears, plums and mature apples, was rich and with generous alcohol, but balanced and harmonious. -It is its own category in a way, Carles said, and we could well agree to that. The 18 followed the same line, at 13,8% alc., but was obviously younger. Light straw colour; pear, some citrus (lime); full, with some oxidation (a touch of bitter almonds).
-I used to offer fresh wines, he says. -Like make 4.000 bottles of rosé and sell it to tourists. But in 2001, after I discovered how good a mature wine could be. Then I started to lay some years behind, on purpose.
We also tasted two reds, the Carriel dels Vilars Tinto (garnatxa, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, carinyena) 2018 and 2007. The 18 was dark red with lovely fruit, still some carbonic, and obviously still with an ageing potential. The 07 had no oak, -I am totally against it, he stresses. Ok, I see that old oak can work for micro-breathing, but it’s not for me. It was cherry red with mature nuances; smell of plums, cherry and some compote; drying a little in the mouth, but still full of life.
Only ten minutes away, in Sant Climent Sescebes near the Vilartolí village, we find La Gutina, which means Joan Carles Torres and Barbara Magugliani.
It was a wild landscape. -Here was “nothing”! It’s really difficult to find areas like this, in the middle of Europe, says Joan Carles enthusiastically.
Joan Carles Torres
Joan Carles is 4th generation. It was his father who started replanting, a work that Joan Carles and his Italian-born wife Bárbara continued. They also recovered the oldest vines on the estate, and it was only in 2010 that they sold bottled wines for the first time.
Joan Carles and Malena
There are three dolmens within the borders of the estate, and also menhirs (the long stones, like in Stonehenge). These are from the Neolithic period, maybe 7.000 years ago.
We are 250 meters above sea level. The estate is 80 hectares, but they have only 8,5 hectares of vineyard. The varieties are mostly garnatxa and mostly old vines, but also carinyena, ull de llebre (tempranillo), cabernet sauvignon and others.
The soils are granite and sand, with some small plots of quartz. This is mainly towards the ocean, because there has been less erosion there. The climate is of Mediterranean influence, but dry and windy, and with a strong variation between day and night temperatures in summer.
As we have already mentioned, the tramontana wind is often present. It comes from the north, via the Rhône and can reach 180 km/h. It’s probably the same wind that’s called mistral in Provence and cierzo in Tarragona and Baleares.
Estanys de la Gutina, a small lake on the estate. -La Gutina is here, says Joan Carles, -the place, the territory.
Very old vines inserted in 1961
Bárbara meets us at the outdoor tasting table, provisionally set up in the lovely February afternoon
Everything is organic, and there is a functional biodiversity. The harvest is manual, the wines are fermented with natural yeasts and without added sulfites. -The main threats are wild boars and wild cows, says Joan Carles. These ‘vacas salvajes’ were domesticated before, but escaped during 2-3 generations.
They make some 15-20.000 bottles a year, of which 50% is sold at the farm, by good friends and other people that have heard about these wines.
They prefer to work with cold temperatures, 8-10°C for whites and rosé. The picking here is quite early to retain acidity, this year it started as early as 23rd August.
The wines are really promising. We tasted most of the range. Here are a few.
Barba Roig 2018, a garnacha gris with four hours of maceration: Light colour; still quite restrained in aroma, some pear and apricot; more potent in the mouth with matching acidity.
A couple of wines had a slight mousiness, which I hope they can escape from with time. Nothing of that in the next wine. Joan Carles said about his tempranillo vineyard: -My first vineyard, my first mistake. I don’t agree. Murtra 2017 is the tempranillo, with 5 days skin-contact, no cold-maceration. Red cherry colour; bright red fruits, cherry, some blackberry; young and fruity with evident tannins.
Demontre 2017 (meaning “funny little devil”, a nickname his mother used for Joan Carles), is a garnacha made with 20-25% whole bunches. The wine has a light ruby colour; it’s flowery, very fruity with fruits from the forest; rich in the mouth, a slightly bitter finish, and some alcohol present. Somehow easy, but with character.
Idò 2016: Idò is a “waiting word” in the Balearic, if I remember right, and it also denotes the English “I do”. It’s a garnacha too, this one with one year in old oak (6-10 years): Light cherry red; red fruits, dried fruit (like figs), some balsamic (pine); vibrant in the mouth, fresh acidity, and some tannin.
Life goes on. Joan Carles and Bárbara is living a good life. Joan Carles’ great passion is to be a fireman, to protect from catastrophes to occur and to “prevent”, he says, and sometimes he does “gigs” for the local brigade. A musician from Salif Keita’s band, who works on the farm, gives him occasional drum lessons too. But we must leave for Barcelona, so the jam session must wait until next time.
Veneto has so much to offer. It’s enough to mention Valpolicella (with its ripasso and amarone), Soave, and we have now learned about Gambellara – each of these with their own sweet recioto. Then there is of course Prosecco, that the Veneto region must share with neighbouring Friuli.
Remembering that Gambellara is also Vicenza, now we shall talk about three more wineries located across the province. To try and keep it inside the blog format we will divide it into three parts. And we start with, freely after Tennessee Williams: An Estate called Harmony.
Andrea Pendin’s Tenuta l’Armonia is found in the small settlement of Bernuffi, municipality of Montecchio Maggiore. That means if you can find it after the narrow, long and winding roads. Arriving there you can experience the perfect harmony, and see for yourself the co-exsistence of people, land, chicken, turkies, and all the small creatures found in the vineyards.
It’s Lorenzo Fiorin who meets me. He’s working in export, but also a little bit of everything else, as it is useful to have an overview over the whole situation.
The estate has 10 hectares of vineyards planted with both indigenous and international varieties. It’s quite new, from 2008, but some vines are more than 60 years old. The vines are planted in the slopes and on top of a hill, in various exposures. Around 40.000 bottles are made per year, from own and rented plots (7 more hectares).
Lorenzo shows the pergola system
The soil here is volcanic with some schist and chalk. There is an amphitheater with white soil (chalk), shells and other fossils. Towards Verona in the west there is volcanic soil, and also tufa towards the south of Verona.
Both indigenous and international varieties are used. We walk past a planting done three years ago; merlot, syrah, cabernet franc etc. -The varieties are not the most important, says Lorenzo. -It’s the terroir, and also see how the grapes react together with it.
-A grape we really believe in is durella, especially for its acidity, but also for its history. It is really one of the traditional grapes here in Vicenza.
One has already understood that the cultivation is organic and biodynamic, so it’s about maintaining and stimulating biodiversity. Mint grows naturally in the vineyard, oat too. Green manure (based on plants and flowers) is employed.
The idea of harmony, the balance in nature, is also a message that winemaker David Xodo has preached from the very beginning. -In the long run we don’t need to work as much as with “chemical agriculture”, because the biodiversity we have created is holding itself up, says Lorenzo. -Furthermore, Veneto is a cool place, always windy. It’s then easier to work the vineyards organically. A light breeze is also welcome walking around the estate on a hot summer day like this.
Andrea is a trained chef, so the chickens and the turkeys in his Garden of Eden shouldn’t feel too safe… He has also a stove with a pizza oven that can do magical things. There had been a party, with a lot of leftovers, and some other wines that had been opened up to 13 days before. so we had a lot to sample.
Bruno, Andrea’s father who started it all
Basically there are two different lines. “Pop” consists of high quality “easy” natural wines at a good price. “Cru” is a premium line from native varieties in clay and limestone. Here are some very brief notes.
Frizzi 2015 is a pét nat, or col fòndo sur lie at 12%. it’s a simple, easy, un-oaked, appley, not very structured, lightly bubbly wine. Pinot noir had a bad year, so pinot bianco and chardonnay were used together with the usual durella, the acidic grape that made Vicenza special in the past.
Frizzi 2017: Here was pinot noir fully ripe, so there is 60% and the rest durella. No maceration, no filtration. The only problem with our bottle was that there were no bubbles, as the re-fermentation had apparently not started yet. Another bottle of the same wine as better: Light salmon red, a touch sweeter; strawberry, apple, and a crisp acidity.
Pop is a series with more volcanic soil than the Cru, and doesn’t ripe that much.
Bianco “Pop” comes from a relatively high altitude vineyard at 500 meters. 2017 is light yellow with appley aroma and fresh acidity. The 2016 I find a little more ripe. This has some incrocio manzoni (or: manzoni bianco), a cross between riesling and madeleine royal. We also tried the 2012: Lightly browning, orange peel (from longer maturation on skins), ginger notes (from a proportion of garganega). For that vintage some carbonic maceration was used. -Acidity is what binds them together, Lorenzo points out. And rightly so.
Perla 2016. This is a “Cru”, which means smaller area, lower yield, older garganega plants (60-80 years). This is a varietal garganega, both early harvest and late harvest (with some botrytis), then blended. Andrea is a good friend of Sébastien Riffault of Loire, and it was Sébastien who gave him the inspiration for different harvest times. The wine shows a complex aroma of mature apples, nuts, flowers, apricot, towards honey; medium full on the palate, and a salty, mineral aftertaste. The acidity is there, but it’snot pungent.
Bolla 2013. This is their traditional method sparkler. The 2013 has 75% durella, pinot nero, got a light maceration and stayed 14 months on the lees. This gave a pink blush, some yeast and also some oxidative notes, like yellow or mature apples.
What followed now was like a “Capriccio Italiano”, a joyous ride over creeks and hills, with wines in a seemingly random order. Love it! On came a fresh and inspiring, waxy, appley, and a little smoky vespaiolo 2017. A teroldego-CS-garganega with light pink colour, flowers, pyrazine (sauvignon-like), with super fruit all the way. Brio 2017, in the Pop line and predominantly from cabernet franc, is a luscious, peppery carbonic maceration wine, made in cement tank. There was a fruity, partly carbonic maceration Barbera in both 2017 and 16 editions, the latter a bit more structured than the former.
And what about this!
G-Ray is from something called the “Lab” line, where Andrea works with another Andrea, namely Marchetti, among other activities founder of the Vinessum fair. This wine is from pinot grigio on volcanic soil, it has been in contact with skins 8 days, no sulphites and no filtration. As you can see: Turbid light red or rosé; aromas of strawberry, apple; quite good concentration actually, and not that simple as you maybe might think.
Lastly there was the Gioia of the Cru line. 2016 is from cabernet franc, hand-destemmed, no sulphites added, and no filtration. Pure, loads of red fruits, some pepper, and a promising tannin structure. 2012 (the first vintage of the wine), made from 100% carmenère, stayed in big oak tonneaux for 8 months: Some cigar box and pencil/carbon notes (graphite soil), with red fruits, and a good structure.
Lorenzo tells that they are a sort of incubator that helps young vignerons from Vicenza area to develop their own projects. These are: MaterVi (Alberto Rigon), Yeasteria (Jacopo and Esmeralda) and Do-line (Nicola Rigo). Small production (less than 10.000 bottles) and sharing the same philosophy (no interventions in wine-making and respect for the living environment) are requirements to participate.
I think ‘s an honorable act supporting others in the same area and tradition, without seeing them as competitors. In the long run this will help the whole province, or region.
I am in Veneto. Yesterday I had a wonderful day in Gambellara, Vicenza province, which I will come back to.
This week’s wine is from the most important producer in that area. Well, Zonin is a big player indeed. But for an organic, down to earth approach Angiolino Maule has taught and inspired other growers that are just beginning. He also created the VinNatur organization and runs the Villa Favorita fair that brings together producers of the same sort from Italy and abroad.
Francesco Maule in front of a Masieri barrel
Gambellara is mainly white wine country, with volcanic soil. But there are some splendid reds made too.
There is also a white Masieri, but here we concentrate on the red version. It’s made mainly from merlot, some tai rosso (tocai/cannoneau/grenache), and around 5% is cabernet sauvignon, all fermented with indigenous yeasts in steel tanks.
The vineyards are young, and the cultivation is Guyot. The fermentation is spontaneous with indigenous yeasts, with a 13 days maceration. Minimum sulphur, no filtration.
Masieri Rosso 2017 (Angiolino Maule – La Biancara)
Dark cherry, violet hints. Aroma of cherry and blackberry, herbs, spices. Lightly structured, luscious and delicate, fruit all the way. Just lovely! (2017 is 13,5% alc.)
London’s Raw fair is over. This wine fair, founded by Isabelle Légeron (now also with meetings in Berlin and New York), is a two day celebration of individual, organic wines with a wide range of exhibitors. But what unifies them is their desire to express their place in their own unique way. Some have a no sulphur approach, while some are more pragmatic to this question.
This year the fair was back at the Strand, in central London, after two years further east. The venue is open and clean with good light, good for wine tasting. Wine bar and restaurant Noble Rot had their stand, and it was possible to savour food of many sorts.
Most of the artisans came from Europe. The bigger wine producing countries like Italy and France, and to a certain extent Spain, had their fair shares of exhibitors. But smaller wine countries were also represented, maybe most surprisingly Romania and the Czech Republic.
Among the more established producers, especially in this context, were Eric Texier (with expressive wines from Côtes du Rhône), the Catalan trio Mas Martinet-Venus la Universal (from Priorat/ Montsant, with increased focus on fruitiness than before), and mainly sparkling wine producers Mas de Serral- Pepe Raventòs and Recaredo-CellerCredo, Frank Cornelissen (who really has become a top Sicilian producer in every respect), not to mention Friulian neighbours Radikon and Gravner with their textbook skin-contact wines.
An opportunity for vignerons like Fabio Bartolomei to communicate directly with their audience
There were many contenders. Aside of the aforementioned ones here producers that I have appreciated for a long time were from France, Dom. Milan (Provence), Dom.de Clovallon (Languedoc); from Italy, Carussin-Bruna Ferro (Piemonte), Corte Sant’Alda (Veneto), 1701 (Franciacorta); Spain, Vinos Ambiz (Gredos/ Madrid); Portugal, both two participants, Quinta da Palmirinha (Minho) and Casa de Mouraz (Dão); Austria, Meinklang (Burgenland).
But not least is this an occasion to be surprised.
Here follow some memorable moments.
Chat Fou 2016(Éric Teixier)
A light entry here: A luscious, inspiring côtes du rhône. Light ruby; red berries, herbal, lightly spiced; juicy, fresh, just a hint of tannins, good acidity. A light, elegant vintage of this wine.
Carles and Montse
Carles Mora Ferrer and his close friend Montse have produced natural wines since 2008; no chemicals, no additives. I chose their cabernet; not pressed, fermented in inox, 20-25 days of maceration. Total sulphites is a mere 4 mg/L.
Cabernet Sauvignon Ánfora 2015(Clot de les Soleres)
Dark cherry, violet hint; red fruits, blackcurrant, green pepper; structured, good acidity.
Mas Martinet has been a favourite for many years, and maybe the most influential among the Priorat “pioneers” from the 1980’s, thanks to both father Josep Lluís’ teachings, daughter Sara’s and son-in-law René’s consulting and general inspiration through their wines. Sara Pérez, current winemaker, was also in the avant-garde when turning to organics in the early 2000’s. Venus is their side project in Montsant. Here I chose their white Venus, a varietal xarel.lo, fermented 20% with skins and elevated in big barrels. No added sulphite.
Venus Blanc 2014(Venus la Universal)
Yellow colour; very fresh, citrus, litchi some balsamic; glyceric, creamy and saline. So expressive!
Ivan and Ana Gómez
Bodegas Gratias of Castilla-La Mancha showed some good wines. I chose a field blend of some 20 varieties, many of them in danger of extinction, a crowdfunding project, “gratias to all those people
(‘gratias mecenas’) who believed” in the project, as they say. Fermentation was carried out in small deposits of 5 hectoliters, with whole clusters. The ageing was carried out no the lees, in oak, jars and steel. No clarification or cold stabilization.
¿Y tu de quién eres? 2016(B. Gratias)
Dark cherry colour; red and dark fruits, a hint of spice; juicy and drinkable, but also with a touch of dryness (from the stems).
Thyge of Bodega Frontío
Here were several surprises at one stand: A new, young producer in the remote Arribes, Castilian area bordering Portugal. Furthermore the man behind the bodega is Danish, Thyge Benned Jensen. I’m learning every year, says Thyge, which is good. But much is already very good: Taste his two-weeks skin-contact Naranjito, another surprise for this region. The variety is doña blanca (even he the label indicates something else).
Naranjito 2017 (B. Frontío)
Yellow with orange tones; mature apples, some peel; quite glyceric, with a purple acidity.
Andrea and Petr Nejedlich of Dobrá
Cuvée Kambrium 2014(Dobrá Vinice)
A wine from the Podyji national park in Moravia, Czech Republic, a blend of veltlín, ryzlink and sauvignon, as the back label reads. Light colour; gooseberry, white pepper; both round and light, but with good acidity too.
See also an article about Moravian wines tasted in England here.
Mladen Rožanić, jazz fan with creative Istrian wines
Roxanich of Croatian peninsula Istria makes powerful natural wines.
This is a field blend including syrah, cabernet franc, lambrusco, barbera, borgonja, malvasia nera. Bottling went without filtration, after 9 years of aging in big wooden vats and barrels. I like the reds. But the white ones, most often orange in colour, really has an unequalled quality. You can read more about them and another featured wine here.
Ines U Crvenom (in Red) 2008(Roxanich)
Red, developed colour (towards orange); a volatile feeling, mature red berries, dried fruits and roasted almonds; weighty, packed with fruit, plays with oxidation.
Fernando Paiva and his importer Ricardo Rodrigues of Portuguese Story
Fernando’s wines are marked by the Atlantic influence. His whites are covered several places on this site. This time he showed that the light (light-weight, not light in colour) vinhão can be fascinating when aged too. So that must be the choice.
Quinta da Palmirinha Vinhão 2012 (F. Paiva)
Dark with violet and some red; incredibly fresh, cherry and tint; round, mineral, with integrated acidity. It has an uplifting lightness, a feeling of weightlessness.
Corte Sant’Alda is a well-known Valpolicella producer, mostly in the more classic end of the spectrum. But the wines are thoroughly made, they are good, and they have nothing of the negative characteristics that the area has become known for in many wine circles today. Their classic wines are good. And Marinella presented an intriguing varietal molinara rosé aged in Tuscan amphorae, a vino de tavola with a total of 2 mg sulphur.
Agathe 2016(Corte Sant’Alda)
Salmon pink; flowers, strawberry and a touch of white pepper; no the palate quite smooth, but also with a surprisingly high acidity.
Lorenzo (left) and Andrea Pendin: Thumbs up for another inspiring meeting
L’Armonia of Vicenza (Veneto), Italy was one of the really great finds at this year’s Raw. Among many good wines I chose this wonderful garganega, from older plants (60-80 years). This is both an early harvest and a late harvest (with some botrytis), then blended. The different harvest times are due to Andrea’s friendship with and inspiration from Sébastien Riffault of Loire. (Read more here.)
Perla 2016 (Tenuta l’Armonia)
Complex aroma of mature apples, nuts, flowers, apricot, towards honey; medium full on the palate, and a salty, mineral aftertaste. Integrated, natural acidity.
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.