As we enter into a new year we chose a bubbly fresh wine from a promising winery. The obvious choice would be champagne, of which the is a big amount to chose from, also in the natural end of the scale. But no, our choice is from England, itself a promising wine country.
I visited the Tillingham wineryas we entered into the pandemic for the first time, and went straight into a quarantine, according to the rules that had been made while I was there. I will not go into details about the producer, as much is written already. Here is one of the write-ups.
The wines are produced as naturally as possible; which means no spraying in the vineyards, no unnecessary additives are added, and the wines are bottled with minimal sulphur.
This wine is made in and named after the italian method Col Fondo, in essence the same as the ancestral method. The grapes are mostly pinot noir, with chardonnay, pinot meunier and auxerrois. Hand-picked grapes ferment naturally in separate containers. Pinot noir and chardonnay are pressed directly as whole bunches and fermented in steel. Pinot meunier is also pressed as whole bunches of grapes and fermented in large Georgian qvevri. Auxerrois is mainly pressed as whole bunches of grapes and fermented in steel, as well as a small amount of yeast with a day’s skin contact before it is pressed into qvervi. After finishing the alcoholic fermentation, all the components in the steel tank are mixed with minimal amounts of sulphur added, and then the wine is bottled with 8 g/L added sugar. Thus the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle.
Col 2019(Tillingham Wines)
Light golden and somewhat cloudy. Aroma of lime, green fig and white flowers. Light and appealing, a moderate amount of tiny bubbles, with fresh acid, a bit creamy and with a quite long, dry finish.
Food: Apéritif, natural shellfish, white fish, tapas…Perfect for celebrations.
Pedersgata in the main street in what was earlier known as a tired eastern neighbourhood, but is now bustling with energy. Other fabulous restaurants like Bellies (vegan) and Sabi Omakase (Japanese with Michelin star) are also found here. This wonderful wine we tasted at Claes Helbak’s new place Lapin in that street.
One of the wines I tasted at the opening night in March was Wilder Satz 2018, a very clean, pure natural wine from Bockenheim, Pfalz. Weingut Brand is now brothers Daniel and Jonas, 5th generation. When little brother Jonas joined in 2014 the then organic production was taken a step further to natural. In some wines are added a bit sulphur. This one not. Whole clusters of chardonnay, müller-thurgau and silvaner were pressed before spontaneous fermentation. Bottled unfiltered.
Wilder Satz 2018 (Weing. Brand)
Light straw, slightly turbid. Aromatic, yellow apples, lime and orange peel, and yeast. Energetic, with lovely acidity and low alcohol; long.
Loxarel I have met at a couple of artisan fairs, in Barcelona, and as far as I remember, in London too. Masia Can Mayol, the official name, is Josep Medios, fifth generation. When he got in charge of the family firm at a young age he changed the philosophy of this old winery. He started bottling wines, converting to organic, then implementing biodynamic techniques. (Here is another good sparkler from the house.)
The winery is located in Villobí, on a plain not far from Vilafranca del Penedès, but they have also plots in El Pla de Manlleu, higher in altitude and a bit further west.
This winery is among the many that are now abandoning the DO Cava. Among the reasons for this can be a challenging reputation that the appellation has gained over the years, and the fact that it is not dedicated to one specific geographical area. More about this in a future article.
This particular sparkler is made up from xarel.lo 55% (now widely recognized as the best of the “usual suspects” for ageing), then macabeo 30%, parellada 5%, and the rest chardonnay, a grape that I have nothing against, even not here, even not native. I interpret the name a pèl +18 as the time spent on lees (and not skins).
A Pèl +18 Brut Nature 2016(Loxarel/ Masia Can Mayol)
Light straw, greenish tones, creamy mousse. Mild Mediterranean smell of aromatic herbs, yeast, mature lemons and yellow apples. Creamy, tasty, rounded but dry.
Food: Apéritif, Iberian cured ham, light fish and shellfish…
Tillingham is one of England’s most innovative producers. Their minimal intervention approach to winemaking and often surprising presentation have given them a strong following amongst matural wine lovers. This wine was tasted in a local wine club quite recently.
I visited them outside Rye, Sussex in March this year, one of the last days before lockdown and my first quarantine. Ben Walgate and his companion Serena showed me around and explained about their organic farming, also with certain biodynamic practises, and we had a tasting of all their original wines (and ciders) in their own bar and restaurant. In a wet climate like England’s, the threat of mildew is ever-present, so some copper and sulfur-based sprays are often used.
Aside of winegrowing, not only ciders, but also animals are part of the project, so is the bar and restaurant.
While some sparkling wine specialists have “owned” the headlines so far, I am very sure that the recognition of Tillingham will exceed far beyond the natural wine scene in the future. The grapes for this lovely low-alcohol when are müller-thurgau 35%, ortega 32%, bacchus 17%, chardonnay 12% and schönburger 4%, grown in chalky clay soil. There is no filtration nor fining.and minimal sulphur added before bottling.
Tillingham White 2018(Tillingham)
Yellow. Aroma of yellow apples, apricot, some lime. Luscious, light and superbly drinkable.
Read more about one of their rosés here. http://winechords.com/?s=Tillingham
We have also visited nearby Davenport winery. Take a look here. http://winechords.com/still-british/
The savoury pudding called Haggis (containing sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs) has found its followers among Scottish immigrants in many countries, not least Australia.
Patrick Sullivan and his wife Megan are winemakers in Strezleki Ranges in Gippsland, Victoria. After traveling in Europe for two years, Patrick returned to Australia to study winemaking, but soon discovered that he didn’t want to follow the principles of his oenology studies. Instead he took a different turn, and started to study viticulture with botany, as he strongly believes that wine is made in the vineyards.
Currently he buys grapes from organic or biodynamic growers, but his dream is to have his own. In the cellar there is a low-intervention mentality so that the grape material can express as much fruit and origin as possible. All grapes are hand-harvested, a large proportion of whole bunches are used, spontaneous fermentation in used barrels, cement eggs or fiberglass tanks, long skin contact and ripening in neutral containers. Before bottling, there is no filtration and minimal use of sulfite.
This aromatic wine is made from a wide variety of grapes, first moscato 50%, sauvignon blanc 10%, sémillon 10%, and also the reds pinot and malbec with 10% each. Then after the skin-contact a 10% of chardonnay is added also. It’s obviously bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Haggis 2018 (Patrick Sullivan)
Light orange colour, a bit turbid. The aroma has typical muscat notes, here including orange blossom, yellow apples and fresh herbs. Luscious and fruity in the mouth, some volume and a light tannin structure.
Food: The first one to try it with haggis: Tell me how it worked. I have a strong belief that it works.
With a little help from their friends: Welshriesling, Neuburger, Muscat Ottonel, Grüner Veltliner.
The most autochtonal grape varieties with indigenous character. Originally grown on limestone, schist and sedimentary soils. Handpicked, left overnight on the skins and stems, spontaneously fermented in large, old oak casks. Unfiltered. No sulfur added. Pure.
This is the beginning of the back label text, and it sums it all up well.
Gernot Heinrich runs his farm by the Neusiedler sea in a terroir-focused way with biodynamic treatments. His focus is on local grapes, and as such are the main actors in this performance among the minor grapes, the whole farm seen as a whole. It’s not a very small business, but after a more conventional big player start he now shares the principles normally associated with small artisan producers.
Natural White 2017(Weing. Heinrich)
Turbid yellow-green-greyish. Aromatic flowers and elderberry, somewhat yeasty over a layer of apricot. Over all a wonderful glug-glug, full, with integrated acidity and the slightest bit of resistance in form of a peel’ish hint of bitterness.
Food: Apéritif, salads, charcuterie, fried fish
Finally, as the back label advices: Attention: For best enjoyment, shake before pouring!
Here is the last account in this round from A Emoción dos Viños, 10th edition. There were a number from outside of Galicia, from Portugal, even from France – and Titerok-Akaet from even further away, Lanzarote (in the same country though). Here are some great wines from very reliable producers.
Ismael Gozalo is nothing less than a legend within the natural wine world, and famous far outside the borders of Spain. From Nieva (Segovia), Castilla y León, he disposes of centenary pie franco verdejo vines that has been used for the wines of Viñedos de Nieva, and later Ossian. Now he is “travelling alone”, with two lines, one called MicroBio, and the other bears his own name. Well, centenary is here an understatement: Some vines are no less than 280 years old. I have written about his wines many times, so you can search through this pages, and you will find a lot more information. I didn’t taste all the wines either, because I have done so several times. A short post about one of his lovely Nieva York pét nats was published in late May this year (read here).
Ismael is a very hardworking, dedicated bloke. But he also like to play with the rock’n’roll myth. Correcaminos is a lovely unpretentious wine, light, unfiltered, open, “mature grapefruity” and thirstquenching. And naturally enough, because of the name (“roadrunner”), it gave name to his “coronavirus tour”. I guess because of the virus there has not been too much touring, but it’s a cool nod to the rock merchandise business anyway. La Resistencia 2019 (an amphora wine from two different parcels and 4 months on the lees) is also slightly turbid, vibrant, with a lovely acidity. MicroBio 2019 (whole clusters, aged in old barrels): Very light in colour; aroma of green apples, flowers; full, rich, juicy, and tasty with a slight touch of sweetness. Sin Nombre is a favourite, and a house wine by me (when available). The 2017 vintage had some colour, golden with green; aroma of stone-fruit, yellow apples, a touch of cinnamon; it’s creamy, a bit buttery, cidery, juicy, and just lovely. I also tasted a Rufete, (don’t remember if it was the Rufian or a sample), delicious anyway, a light red wine, packed with red fruits, before I moved on.
Marc Isart was there, both on behalf of himself and Bernabeleva, where he is co-founder and winemaker. I have followed Bernabeleva for some years. They are located in San Martín de Valdeiglesias in the Madrid part of the Gredos mountains. They work the land according to biodynamic principles, and in the cellar they use whole bunch fermentation and ageing in neutral wood. They generally use low extraction, and I would say their wines are among the most elegant in the area. For the records: They also make white wines, mostly from albillo. Highly recommended. But because I know them well, I chose to concentrate on Marc’s own range this time.
His own project is further east in the DO. Vinos de Madrid, in the subzone Arganda del Rey. Here he grows both tinto fino, or tempranillo, and the white malvar between 700-800 meters of altitude, on calcareous soil that contains gypsum and clay.
In the La Maldición line we tasted the Cinco Legua Malvar 2019 from calcareous soil, with 40-50 days skin-contact, made in neutral barriques. Malvar is related to airén, but is more aromatic and has more acidity. This wine is technically an orange wine, but is light golden in colour, has a flowery nose (roses), also nuts, lightly textured and full in the mouth. I also liked the clarete of the same name and vintage, made with 15% tempranillo. The majority of the rest is divided between malvar, airén and various other white varieties. The wine is light red;, with aromas of raspberry. In the mouth it is lightly textured, with fruit to the end. The red version, again with the same name and vintage, has 85% tempranillo and 15% malvar, and was blended in the cellar. Cherry red; dark fruits (blackberry), some spice; very clean fruit, and good structure. Gleba de Arcilla 2018 is a wine only from this local form of tempranillo, with one year in used oak. It’s dark red; again with blackberry, some spice and coffee; round in the mough, with a touch of wood, that will easily be integrated.
Germán Blanco makes wine in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. You can read more about this here, in a report from the Simplesmente Vinho fair in February. Albares de la Ribera, just outside the boundaries of the DO Bierzo to the east. Casa Aurora is a tribute to his great-grandmother who handed down the first vineyard. Albares is in a transition zone between the valley and the Bierzo Alto at 850-900 meters of altitude.
Germán grows three hectares of own vineyards. He also buys grapes from two local farmers. These go into the Clos Pepín, a straightforward red fruits-fruity wine that is pure joy, also in the 2018 version that he presented here. Most wines contain many grape varities, including white ones, and I don’t list all of them here. Poula 2018 is a village wine, a mencía blend from various plots. I found it quite fine and elegant, juicy in the mouth with fine-grained tannins. La Galapana is the vineyard handed down from his great-grandmother, almost 1.000 meters altitude. In the 2018 vintage this was darker, with more menthol, but also red fruits, and in the mouth more structure than the previous wines, with an amount of tannins, though very fine-grained. More structured is also Valle del Río 2018, a 60-65% garnacha tintorera: Deep red, blue tinge; red fruits and forest fruits (blackberry), solid tannins and with a vivacious acidity. The most obvious wine of guard among these.
Alfredo Maestro and his wines I have known for some years now. Originally from Peñafiel in the heart of Ribera del Duero, where he has his bodega, but disposes of magnificent vineyards in both Segovia and Madrid provinces. This time I took the opportunity for an update of some of his wines. There is a lot about him on this blog, but I recommend this article as an introduction. El Marciano is a high altitude (1.150 meters) wine garnacha and albillo land, where Alfredo is doing a great job on behalf of the Gredos community. It’s a fresh red-fruity wine, a bit earthy with some texture, generous in the mouth and lovely, lively acidity, and the 2019 is no exception. El Rey del Glam, now in 2019 vintage also, is his take on carbonic maceration. The grapes come partly from the high Gredos vineyards, partly from Peñafiel. There is no pressing, nor destemming. Carbonic maceration is carried out in steel tanks, then malolactic in the same tanks. This wine is also very fresh, with cool, red fruits, and a touch of carbonics in the mouth. It has just a bit of structure, and can be served slightly chilled.
A Dos Tiempos 2019 is from Navalcarnero, a high altitude village in the province of Madrid and the name refers to the fact that the grapes are harvested twice. Alfredo explains that the idea is that the first harvest gives a lot of acidity and low alcohol, while the harvest one month later gives less acidity and a richer alcohol. Then the two are blended and one gets a fresh wine with balanced, ripe fruit and tannins and just enough structure. It was aged six months in used barrels. Here the garnacha is complemented by tempranillo. By the time I got to his table it had been a long day of tasting and accumulated tannins, so Alfredo recommended a taste of his Brut Rosé to rinse the mouth. A delicious strawberry and red fruit-driven sparkler, by the way. Then I tried his classic ribera del duero Valdecastrillo 2018, from various plots between 750-1.000 meters of altitude. This wine had been ageing in half French oak, half chestnut for one year. A super, classic, yet individual ribera; cherry red, potent aroma of berries with a touch of dried fruit (figs), and a long, fruity finish. After this I had decided to leave, but I couldn’t resist tasting a long-time favourite, the lovely fruity, non-oaked Viña Almate. A really interesting one is the white Consuelo 2018, a full-bodied, citric albillo mayor from more than 100 year old vines in Valladolid and Burgos, with 7 days of skin-maceration and fermentation in French oak.
After all these Castilians something from Catalunya: Can Ràfols dels Caus I visited in the Garraf zone of Penedès many years ago, when Carlos Esteva was turning his family estate into one of the most dynamic properties of the region. But they have somehow been neglected by me for many years now, for no particular reason. It’s not that I haven’t tasted any wines, but it was nice to get the chance to meet present manager Rosa Aguado for a real update here. The estate comprises 90 hectares of vines, and other crops in addition. The oldest vineyard is one with xarel.lo from 1948. It was in 2008 that they went organic, and at present biodynamic practises are introduced too.
Here is a brief account of some of the wines: Gran Caus 2018, xarel.lo 50%, chenin blanc 30, chardonnay 20:The colour was light golden, citric on the nose, with yellow apples, and quite fat in the mouth. Xarel.lo Brisat 2019: Brisat is a Catalan name for orange wine, and as the name implies this is deeper gold; it has an aroma of flowers, lemon, wax and honey; full on the palate. El Rocallis 2016, from manzoni bianco: Light golden, greenish; aroma of mature apples, aromatic herbs, lime, mothballs; lightly textured, good acidity, long aftertaste with some nuts. Rosa had brought two vintages of their merlot rosé. Gran Caus Rosat 2019 was very light cherry red; raspberry, some vegetal hints in the aroma; very juicy, with a fresh acidity. The 2018 was more towards peach colour; more forest fruits on the nose; and it showed some evulotuion, some “positive oxidation” we could say. Sumoll 2017: “Fine like pinot, rustic like nebbiolo”, I think this was how Rosa described the sumoll variety. The wine showed cherry red colours; red fruits (raspberry, cherry) on the nose, a little spice too; and surprisingly structured in the mouth. Finally Caus Lubis 2004, 100% merlot, one parcel, oriented towards the mountain: Good colour, a bit brick; good evolution, plums, dried apricot, some cinnamon and tobacco; round, complete, still some fruit and acidity. In good shape. “Pomerol del Mediterráneo”, she called it. Not bad.
João Roseira of Quinta do Infantado I met for the first time in the late 1980’s, after he had become the first one to break the monopoly of the Porto/Gaia shippers and exported directly from his estate in the Douro. I started this series with Antonio Portela, organizer of this fair. And I round it all off with João, who runs what we can call a “sister” event in Porto, the Simplesmente VInho, where Antonio also participates. (Look around these pages for many accounts, you can maybe start here with a report from this year’s fair.) João admits that it’s difficult to sell port wine these days. But while you are thinking that port is out of fashion, I assure you: Quinta do Infantado is different. The Roseiras, João and now his nephew Álvaro, who has taken over as chief winemaker, want a dryer style. They ferment longer than usual, so there is less residual sugar and more alcohol. Therefore less addition of alcohol is needed, and it is also added gradually. This makes them more dry, and the alcohol is balanced with the fruit.
I visited his farm in February, so I just tasted a few wines this time. I simply had to re-taste their fabulous organic Ruby Reserva, that you can read about here. Then I sipped to some of the standard reds and ports (among them the organic tawny) while chatting with João about the times, especially with reference to the coronavirus and the destiny of port in general. Other than that I tasted the wines João had brought from 2010, the year. Quinta do Infantado Colheita 2010, the first ever vintage dated organic port, did not disappoint: Red fruits, figs, dried fruit, a vibrant acidity, balanced alcohol.
This was a much too short report over three articles from this initiative in the wonderful Atlantic environment. Watch out for small reports, wines of the week and other stuff. See you again!
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.
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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.
Château de Béru is located in the small village Béru, to the east of Chablis town. It has been a property of the family of the same name since the 15th century. Athénaïs de Béru has been in charge since 2004, and now cultivates 15 hectares according to biodynamic principles.
Montserre is made from a single vineyard on the flatlands of the valley, where the soils contain mainly limestone with fragments of rock.
This wine was spontaneously fermented, then spent 3 months in steel and 3 months in old oak vats. There was no fining nor filtering, and no sulphur was added.
Montserre 2015(Château de Béru)
Dark yellow, orange tones. Developed aromas of mature yellow fruits (mandarins, yellow tomatoes, mango), and a slightly bitter peel tone. Round and tasteful, quite powerful, and with a balancing acidity. A cool wine from a warm Chablis vintage.
Food: A variety of fish (both red and white) and seafood, salads, tasteful cheeses, try with lightly spiced food too