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Visiting l’Empordà

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.

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Vicenza province I: Tenuta l’Armonia

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 Pendin

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.

Epilogue:

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.

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Wine of the Week

Maule’s Masieri

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.)

Price: Low

So far in this series:
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Two Raw days

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.

Éric Teixier

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.

Marinella Camerani

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.

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Wine of the Week

Aged natural wine at its peak

Who said a natural wine cannot age?

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

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

1368 Pago Cerro las Monjas 2002 (Barranco Oscuro)

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

Price: Medium

For meat and meditation

 

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Valtravieso: High altitude Ribera del Duero

Valtravieso was a new find on our journey over the Castilian meseta.

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Located in Piñel de Arriba in the Valladolid province some 920-950 meters above sea level it is one of the highest in the DO Ribera del Duero (except for some parts in the eastern Soria province).

The treatments are natural, the land is worked carefully, the farming is dry, and nothing is done that doesn’t need to be done.

-Here is a long ripening processes, which is good for the aromas and flavours and improves the acidity in the wines, explains winemaker Ricardo Velasco. -The long sun exposure gives good colour to the grapes. There are great differences between day and night, especially in summer, when temperature can drop 18º C. This brings more polyphenols, and with it higher antioxidant content.

The soils are poor. Some parts are more calcareous, others have more clay, which also contributes to more polyphenols. In addition some grapes are bought in from Gumiel (over in the Burgos province) and from Soria. The estate now consists of 54 hectares, that count for half of the wine production, but there will be planted at least 20 more.

The farming is organic, not certified though. -But it’s very easy here, with healthy soils and with the wind sweeping through the vineyards, says Ricardo. They will soon make their own compost too.

 

Cabernet franc is preferred to CS, as it is easier to work because of its shorter growth cycle

Ricardo thinks that ideally a malolactic fermentation should be done in barrel, as it’s easier to integrate it. But Valtravieso is a new and relatively small winery, and he choses to be pragmatic, as it’s much easier to do one tank than -say- 44 barrels. But on the other hand, after the wine has stayed one year in barrel the result is practically the same.

Like many Ribera producers, a rueda wine is also made. Ricardo choses to do this in Miguel Arroyo’s bodega in the southern part of Valladolid. This we will come back to at a later occation.

   

The bodega building is air-conditioned at 16 and 18°C.

Ricardo told us about one special barrel, where he kept a favourite wine of his, that he calls “Listilla”. It’s a natural wine, nothing added nothing taken away. -I hope the boss will like it, he says. We tasted it, and we can promise a very pure, fruity, grapey wine, a high acidity tempranillo.

 The Listilla barrel

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

Among the wines we tasted were the Crianza 2015 and a tinta fina, also from 2015.

The Crianza is from 60% own grapes, the rest from Burgos and Soria. It’s a mix between tinta fina (tempranillo), cabernet (franc rather than sauvignon) and merlot, aged in French oak for a little more than a year.
Crianza 2015: Cherry red. Very fruity, some coffee, spice, herbs, pine. Rich, but with a fresh acidity, long, and the high alcohol (14,5%) is no problem.

The Tinta Fina is so called because it is from only tinta fina, and 100% from the estate. It’s a single vineyard, which here means from a single parcel of old vines, and with very low yields.

Tinta fina 2015: Dark. Very fruity, with blackberry, pine, truffles, and a flinty mineral character. A lot of structure, rich, somewhat heavy at 15% alcohol, but still the fine acidity shines through.

After a tour in the cellar, with samples, we had a wonderful tasting of some bottled wines in this room. Here is a view of a typical Castilian landscape, a high plain, seemingly not especially welcoming, but of the type that Dutch writer Cees Noteboom said “you have to conquer”. Here we eventually sat down, contemplated to a sip of the Gran Valtravieso.
The best grapes from more than 80 years old vines go into this wine. The fermentation is carried out at a controlled temperature, followed by 35 days of maceration. For this wine the malolactic fermentation takes place in French oak barrels. It used to be aged for three years in wood from three different French forests, but nowadays it stays 12-15 months in concrete.

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

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In the caves of Granada: Bodegas Cauzón

Ramón Saavedra is waiting in the main square when I arrive in Graena, a small village east of Granada. Otherwise it might have been difficult to find his home among all the other houses that apparently look the same.

Apparently. Because, as we shall see, when we enter the bodega area behind the house this is all but ordinary.

The municipality is called Cortes y Graena and is comprised of four villages. The word Graena is of Arabic origin, and the caves are a legacy of the Arab Andalusian period. A most special feature here are the thermal waters. In fact the name of the bodega is also inspired by the Moors; al-cauzon meaning something like the land of the sand.

Ramón Saavedra returned to his village to take over inherited land that he later planted with vines. He had then been working with Manuel Valenzuela of Barranco Oscuro, to help with pruning etc. In 1998 his first harvest was finally bottled.

The soil is sandy-clayey and calcareous with big, round stones. There is continental climate, with extreme summers with more than 25ºC difference between day and night in the maturation period.

It’s a perfect place to make organic and natural wines, but since his own wines express such a crystal clear idea, I’m maybe a bit surprised by Ramón’s pragmatic attitude about the trade in general.

-Well, for me it’s not only about health, it’s about the balance in nature. I wish that my wine should expressing the earth. But I respect everybody. However I wish that the communication is clear, what you say is what you do.

The grape variety next to the caves is garnacha. -I love the green, living colour, says Ramón

We are 1.080 meters above sea level, and some of the vineyards are at 1.200 meters.

Ecological cultivation, manual harvest, natural production. Wines without added sulfites and fermented with their own yeasts. Without additives of any kind. Its maximum annual production is 20,000 bot.

There are 7 parcels and a total of 6 hectars, all in the Graena village. Here are a lot of field blends from the old days. The cactus both delimits the vineyards and have a function in the biodiversity. Sheep compost is used as fertilizer.

-The panjil tree (also called Bohemian olive, or olive of Paradise) has a strong and inviting aroma, so the insects come here instead of attacking the vineyards, says Ramón. The Moorish people had a lot of knowledge about this.

 

Work has begun to make a new bodega

-In the old times people were living here. Now I also see a possibility for tourism. We wish to offer a form of rural accommodation here.

Thumbs up for a new bodega within two years!

We had the time for a tasting too. I will not bore my reader with the tank and barrel samples along the way. But here is a brief tale about the bottled wines. The white Cauzón 2015 from torrontés and some chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc was dark orange, very juicy, grapey, elegant and smooth, but very sapid too. Duende 2015, a dark syrah from 1.200 meters of altitude, had violet, eucalyptus and other balsamic notes, wild berries and leather, nice fruit in the mouth, with bright acidity and pleasant tannins. The 6,5 grams of acidity comes from the high altitude.

Cauzón 2015 red from tempranillo was difficult because of the lack of rain. Therefore we don’t find the same fruitiness, says Ramón, who is quick to fetch the same wine in version 2014, just to compare. This one clearly has more fruity berry notes, spice, and it tastes younger, overall. The Ira Dei 2014, tempranillo (or tinta fina), garnacha, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, partly from ungrafted stocks, has ripe fruit, some lickorice, but also a lot of freshness. The mouthfeel is quite dry due to more maceration of the three last grapes, but the fruit is there all the time. Lastly we tasted the Pi Noir 2014, and this was a concentrated pinot, also with some volatile, but with a fruity aroma with red berries in the forefront. Cauzor 2009 showed some sign of ageing towards the rim, but was in a good shape. It has some plum confit in the aroma, but there are fresh fruits too, and is delicious now.

Ramón Saavedra, always energetic and enthusiastic, and a distinctive voice on the Spanish wine-scene

 

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Visiting Finca Montepedroso, Rueda

At Finca Montepedroso we met winemaker Lauren Rosillo and Marta Martínez Bujanda (of the family that owns the winery).

Montepedroso is a beautiful farm on a plateau overlooking the Rueda village. It was bought in 2008, and a functional winery built in the typical materials of the area opened four years later.

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They manage 25 hectares of vineyards with an average of 20 years, at an altitude of 750 meters. This is a one wine farm, dedicated to one single variety, the verdejo, and only 120.000 bottles are made annually.

Here are three types of soils: alluvial soil on top of the plateau accounts for 70%, clay soil in the gorge where the oldest vineyards are planted, and a soil with a large quantity of lime and clay sediments.

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We are on the central Castilian meseta, with cold and long winters, short springs with late frosts and hot and dry summers. The vines find water and nutrients deep down the  subsoil, and the wide temperature gives freshness and acidity to the wine.

The fermentation starts without addition of yeasts. Lauren says that for him this is the only way. And worth mentioning here is that the typical features for the verdejo are green apple and grass, and that the tropical aromas found in many verdejos are from added yeasts, according to the winemaker. The fermentation at Montepedroso lasts typically for 19 days at 16ºC. Then the must rests over its fine lees for five months with weekly stirring. The wine is completely dry, but the lees add a sensation of sweetness. Lauren says that he aims for acidity, varietal character – and a low alcohol (here typically 12-12,5).

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Marta and Lauren, with Rueda village in the background

We first tasted the most recent vintage, Finca Montepedroso 2016. This is light yellow with a greenish hint, aromatic with notes of green apple, apricot, fennel, white flowers and hay. It has both volume and structure in the mouth, and a fresh balancing acidity. In sum a personal verdejo, but in a traditional line.

We also tasted the 2010, the first vintage of the wine, to see the development. 2010 had frost during spring, and the production was low. This wine was more golden, still flowery, but with mature sensations of honey and a touch of petrol. Very fresh and appealing.

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We also tasted a few wines from Martínez Bujanda‘s other projects. Their single estate in Rioja is Finca Valpiedra, 80 hectares between Fuenmayor and Cenicero at an altitude of just over 400 meters, where we find alternating Atlantic and Mediterranean influences. This is the only Rioja estate to be included in the organization Grandes Pagos de España. Both wines are predominantly tempranillo, but with presence of other Rioja varieties, such as graciano.

Cantos de Valpiedra 2013 had a cherry red colour, an aroma of dark fruits, blackberry, fennel with slight hints of vanilla. In the mouth it was quite full, and a decent level of acidity gives freshness and contributes to the balance. The Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2010 had a slightly darker, intense black cherry colour. The aroma was complex with red and dark fruits, balsamic, a touch of smoke, and some vanilla, spices and tobacco from the oak-ageing. The tannins are still there, but they are rounded off by age, it’s fresh and delicate, and with a good balance between fruit and wood.

20171015_105231 Lauren and Marta with some of the visitors

During the travels through the many great vineyards of Spain Finca Antigua was a “love at first sight” experience, according to both Marta and Lauren. This is close to where the winemaker lives, in the Cuenca province towards the border of Toledo. We find scrubland, vineyards and forest, and it’s easy to maintain the eco-diversity. It’s a vast farm in Castilla-La Mancha with an altitude over 900 meters, one of the coldest part of the meseta, and extreme variations between day and night. They decided that varieties well-apted for this land were merlot, syrah, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon, together with tempranillo (formerly known in Central Spain as cencibel) and other national grapes.

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The wines have cool elegance and freshness, and the wines improve with age. But even with full phenolic maturity the alcohol levels rarely exceeds 14, not even in the hottest years. The Finca Antigua 2012 (a crianza of 50% tempranillo, and the rest merlot, syrah and cabernet) was a dark, cool wine, with aromas of chalky minerals, almost milky (from the malolactic, I guess), fresh berries, and in the mouth it had a creamy structure and then a wonderful acidity. The Reserva 2010 (70% merlot, complementet with cabernet and syrah) was also a dark and cool wine, with cherries and berries from the woods, balsamic (mint, eucalyptus), herbal (thyme), with a slightly tougher structure than the crianza.

Sidestepping: Please read here about Lauren’s solo project in Málaga, where I met him for the first time.

Coming back: These days when we speak a lot about the changes of Rioja (Norwegian readers can read a couple of articles on these pages), it’s no doubt that the Martínez Bujanda family is in the vanguard. And it’s no better place to experience this than the tasting table where are sitting right now, with a view of the picturesque village of Rueda.

 

 

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Articles

The Real Wine fair III: Some stars, and some comets on the rise

Here is my last report from this year’s edition of the Real Wine Fair. You may also read the first two articles that cover the sparkling wines and some Spanish producers. I will just give you some of the many highlights.

Jo Landron was there with some of his magnificent Muscadet whites, biodynamic since 2008, with their citric edge and steely minerality. Le Clos la Carizière 2015, a light and fruity wine  from a rented single vineyard, partly on gneiss soil, that gives a flinty hint, and the Muscadet Amphibolite 2015, from amphobolitic soil, that gives a slightly more smoky character. The Melonix 2015 is his most natural wine, with no additions and only 10 mg sulphur. It stayed 3-4 months on the lees; citrus, peel, it’s round and delicious, but the acidity carries it over.

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Jo Landron

In the corner was the lovely Marie Lapierre, whom I have never met before. The family is almost legendary, leading the way in the beginnings of the modern natural wine movement. Their vineyards cover 13 hectares in the Ville-Morgon area of Beaujolais. They used compost and ploughing to preserve the natural yeast of the grapes. The wines are unfiltered, and only given a small amount of sulphur before bottling. The Vin de France Raisins Gaulois 2016 was the only wine she had brought from the Domaine Lapierre this time, a light and delicious, raspberry/strawberry-scented wine from young vines. From their Château Cambon between Morgon and Brouilly on clay-granite and calcareous soils, she had brought three wines. The Château Cambon 2016 was more aromatic, both light and concentrated at the same time, smooth, long and so very elegant. The Cuvée du Chat 2016 was just as elegant and with a raspberry lusciousness. Brouilly 2016 was made for the first time this year. It showed a somewhat darker side, a little broader, more earthy wine, and with more structure.

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Marie Lapierre

Right beside her was Jean-Claude Lapalu, of Brouilly, Beaujolais. I have tasted some of his wines over the past few years, and I find them a bit more on the wild side. He favours some more extraction, and the wines stay at least 6 months on the lees. Among his selection the Brouilly “Croix des Rameaux” 2014, from 80 year old vines and aged in 3-5 year old barrels, is a pure wine with lovely raspberry fruit, but with an underlying earthiness, some leather and tar behind there too. The Vin de France “Eau Forte” 2013 is a bit more developed, but by no means fading. It shows some etheric, almost pinot’esque character, with some raisins, and a touch of figs, drying towards the end. The Brouilly “Alma Mater” Amphora 2012 was also interesting. It was not surprisingly vinified in amphoras, the grapes destemmed: Developed red, aromas of red fruits, cherries, and a bit raisiny too, concentrated and serious.

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Jean-Claude Lapalu

From Sicilia came Arianna Occhipinti, who has taken the wine world with storm with her stylish, fresh wines, such as the SP68 2016 Rosso and Bianco, named after the main road in her part of Vittoria. She seems to have a magic tough in her frappato grape, but the nero d’avola and the white albanello and muscato. Low yields and natural farming are two key-factors. The white SP68 is simple as it’s good, with its flowery aroma with hints of peel and nuts, and is just on the way to become an orange wine, even it the light colour suggests something else. Its red counterpart (frappato and nero d’avola) has a somewhat lighter body than the previous vintage, quite dark in colour, but with a very supple and fresh fruit, with elements of blueberry and herbs. Il Frappato 2015 was extraordinary, of course, with its pure, elegant dark cherry fruit with apricot and some spicy notes. I also liked Il Siccagno Nero d’Avola 2014, light in colour for a nero d’avola, but delicious, pure, red fruits, blueberry and flowers aroma.

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Arianna Occhipinti

Cantina Filippi owns the highest vineyards in Soave, up to 400 meters. Most of the vineyards were planted in the 1950’s, and the 16 hectares are divided into three “crus”, Castelcerino (the highest one), Monteseroni and Vigne della Brà. The Vigne della Brà 2014, from clay soil, was light and very delicate. I also liked the Montesoroni 2014, from limestone. It’s more open, with white flowers and herbs. In a way it feels mellow and smooth, but with a very “Italian” grapefruity, slightly bitter aftertaste.

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Filippo Filippi (left), and Emma Bentley (right) from Cant. Filippi

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Nicolas of the Winemakers Club representing Meinklang

Meinklang is a big estate, some 1.800 hectares, 70 of them vineyards. They are Demeter-certified biodynamic. They started over the border in Somlo, Hungary. This is a plateau formed by a volcano. Angela and Werner Michlits of Meinklang were represented by their importer The Winemakers Club, that showed a great variety of wines, such as the J 2013, (the J standing for the juhfark grape) from the aforementioned Somlo of Hungary, a cider, and many lovely wines from various Austrian grape varieties. If I then should give myself the task of mentioning only three wines among those that I never had tasted before, I would this time stick to the whites: The J was an exciting wine one and a half days skin-contact and that stayed for 12 months in big Hungarian barrels. It was quite light, fruity with some peel and some tropical notes, with a good acidity and a slightly bitter aftertaste. The Graupert Weiss 2015 from an unpruned grauburgunder (pinot gris) with ten days skin-maceration, and Konkret Weiss 2014 of red traminer, yellow traminer and geewürztraminer, of 28 days skin-contact in concrete eggs especially designed for Meinklang. After pressing it went back to the egg for a 9 months ageing. No sulphur at any stage. A dark wine that plays with oxidation, quite structured.

were both darker wines with more skin-contact, both flowery with aromas of peel, smooth textured lovely wines..
Konkret Weiss 2014.

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Pedro Marques

Pedro Marques at Vale da Capucha, Torres Vedras, is among the young squad that is currently revitalizing the vast Lisboa region. I have knowed the man and his work for some years, and I love his full, expressive whites and some of his fresh reds too. In the monarchy of Arinto it’s he who is king, and occasionally his alvarinho and gouveio deliver on the same level. He looks for maturity and a rich texture, and he uses only a minimum of sulphur. All wines could be mentioned, here I will limit myself to the two entry-level wines he shows in the picture, called Fossil, that denote that the farm is located only 8 km from the sea, and in the ancient times under water.

Fossil Branco 2015 was full and glyceric, but energetic and complex, salty, with citric notes, pineapple, and some smokiness, and good acidity from the arinto (fernão pires and gouveio also in the blend, all three in equal parts). The 2014 was also brought to the table. Clearly in the same family, but not as bright. Fossil Tinto 2015 (touriga nacional 60%, tinta roriz and some syrah) was dark, smoky with flowers and green herbs, fresh, and with a nice tannic grip.

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Craig Hawkins

Craig Hawkins is a leading figure in South Africa’s dynamic Swartland region. I have tasted his range several times and cannot recommend it enough. The wines tend to be very natural and with little extraction. I really like the entry-level wines called Baby Bandito. His Testalonga El Bandito “Cortez” from 35 year old chenin blanc vines on granite is always brilliant, now 2015. Lively, iodine, mineral and with that steely edge from the grape. “Mangaliza” 2015, from the Hungarian grape of that name, was a new find. “Monkey gone to Heaven” (on bicycle, according to the label), now 2016, is as always concentrated. But there is a lot more to it, a floral and grapey mourvèdre with red fruits and fresh aromatic herbs.

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Most of the range, Testalonga Bandito and Baby Bandito

 

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Sebastiano de Martino

De Martino has been around since the founder came over from Italy to Maipo in the 1930’s. Today they are among the leading organic producers in several regions. Some of their most interesting wines are results of dry farming in the southern Itata region. The Muscat and the Cinsault aged in clay are the two that come to my mind. Here they came in various versions; a muscat/corinto was interesting. So were some of the cheaper ones such as fruity, wonderfully balanced cabernet sauvignon under the Legado label (2016).

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Wine bar Ducksoup of Soho had a stand with marvellous small dishes

 

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Wine of the Week

A good (value) table wine from Southern Rhône

This week’s suggestion is from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape country in Southern Rhône, between Orange, Avignon and Carpentras (Vaucluse) to be more precise. Here we find Julien Mus, who studied in Beaune, returned to his native village Bédarrides where he joined the cooperative, and then in 2005 founded his own Domaine de la Graveirette, biodynamically certified since 2015.

Harvesting is done by hand, he uses no additives, except for minimal doses of sulfur. In his wines there is always a harmony of body, fruit and acidity, be it bigger Châteauneuf wines or bottlings with more “humble” designations.

This particular wine is made from grenache 35%, merlot 30%, cabernet sauvignon 25% and mourvèdre 10%. The fermentation was spontaneous and carried out in concrete. Aged in steel and concrete.

Ju du Vie

Ju de Vie 2015 (Dom. de la Graveirette)

Dark, quite deep red. Young aroma, red and dark berries, with a slight earthyness. Quite full in the mouth, with a nice touch of acidity and some tannins. Good length. It’s good now, but I imagine it will evolve positively over the next couple of years.

Price: Low

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