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Tag: garnacha blanca

Wine bars and restaurants and Wine of the Week

Duo at Barcelona’s Garage Bar

The rain in Spain falls… and falls. I’ve come to Barcelona to attend the Vella Terra fair. Walking from my hotel through the square outlined part of the Eixample district, when entering the quiet and pleasant Sant Antoni neighborhood, the sky is wide-open. What is then better than to take refuge in the Garage Bar, that opens right now after the daily break. In the bar I am welcomed by Stefano Fraternali, co-owner. Soon after Ale Delfino show up at my table. Ale is Stefano’s wife and chief organizer of the fair. The theme is thus set.

I let Stefano chose. He served four wines to the small, well-made dishes Pan amb tomate (the Catalan bread classic, here fermented dog 24 hours), marinated olives (own recipe marinade), vitello tonnato (veal with tuna-mayonnaise served cold) and their own burrata (mozzarella on toast, here with champignons, red onions and truffle oil), the two latter maybe a nod to Stefano’s Italian past.

These were Ephraim Mel 2021, a gentle skin-contact garnacha blanca (Sifer Wines, Catalunya), Le Glam Cab du Bled, a fruity, peppery carbonic maceration gamay/ cabernet franc (Laurent Lebled, Loire) and Aldo Viola’s light, raspberry-fresh Saignée Rosso 2019, made from nerello mascalese/ perricone/ syrah (Alcamo, Sicilia).

But first he served this week’s pick. This is born from a duo of grapes, each from their vineyard. The xarel.lo vineyard with the name Cal Tusac, that was planted in 1955, and a macabeu vineyard planted in 1974. We are in Santa Margarida i els Monjos in Penedès, Catalunya. The soil in the first one has marl and chalk, and is northeast-facing. The second, nearby, but over in Vilafranca del Penedès, is south facing, flat with clay and lots of sunshine. Two quite different vineyards, in other words. The viticulture is organic in both. The grapes were hand-picked early September, then very lightly pressed. Then spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, before stainless steel for ten and a half months while doing battonage. After almost a year the two wines were brought together and finally bottled unfiltered.

Cal Tusac Vinyes 55+74 Xarel.lo i Macabeu 2016 (Cal Teixidor)

Light straw. Yellow apples, pears, a herbal touch (thyme). Good acidity, long, and also with a mineral note. A wonderful duo of grapes, fresh for a 16.

Price: Medium

Food: Grilled fish, tasty shellfish, rice dishes, pairing, soft and semi-cured cheeses, a variety of tapas

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Wine of the Week

Making Sense

Celler Batea speaks about duality. One expression of this is the mixture of Continental and Mediterranean influences in their home town Batea, DO Terra Alta (Catalunya). Another is the focus on two grape varieties, that is the black and the white version of garnacha, or let’s just name it garnatxa, like it’s written here. It is these two varieties that make up the series of non-added-sulphites wines called Sense (meaning without in Catalan).

Credit: Celler Batea

In 2019 the producer launched these wines, with total sulphites less than 10mg per liter. They are completely organic, do not contain any chemicals, nor preservatives and have not been filtered. The white wine was fermented in steel at 14-16°C with native yeasts, stayed there for 6 months on fine lees, with “batonnage” (stirring) to give more complexity and mouthfeel.

Sense Blanc 2020 (Celler Batea)

Dark golden colour, hint of brown. In the front are aromas of mature apples and bitter almond, underlying we find fennel, aniseed and a touch of honey. Quite full and nutty in the mouth, with a good acidity that’s important to balance the ripe fruit and relatively high alcohol (14%). Somewhat bitter end. Lots of character.

Price: Medium-low

Food: Rice dishes, salads, white and red fish, tasty shellfish, pasta, pizza, cheeses and more

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Wine of the Week

Call of the wild

Azul y Garanza is a producer that is located near the protected desert area Bardenas Reales in Navarra, and up towards the Pyrenees. Dani Sánchez Nogue and María and Fernando Barrena make wonderful, inspiring wines from this extreme landscape.

They make a fruity great-value red wine called Fiesta, but this time we deal with their orange wine from the garnacha blanca grape. The soil is calcareous clay with a thin layer top-soil at 550 meters of altitude. Average age of the grapes is 30 years.

It’s harvested by hand, destemmed, spontaneously fermented in cement for 10 days, 5 of them with skin-contact. Later it’s matured in amphora for 4 months.

Naturaleza Salvaje 2019 (Azul y Garanza)

Golden colour. Lovely scent of flowers and citrus, with hints of peach and herbs. Fresh, dry, and quite smooth textured.

Price: Medium

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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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At the Vella Terra fair, Barcelona

Vella Terra, now in its 4th edition, is organized by Alejandra Delfino and Stefano Fraternali. In Barcelona’s Estació del Nord there were on 10-11th February gathered more than 100 producers. In addition there were several activities linked to the fair. One of these was an Asian-Catalan fusion kitchen with orange wines, presented by the Casa Xica restaurant and held at the festival’s own Garage Bar, and a tasting of natural sparkling wines at the Toto restaurant. Another was a presentation of aged natural wines from the Catalan pioneers, also at the Garage Bar, where I was lucky to get a seat.

I would say that this event has a more international air to it than the Vins Nus, held in the city at the same time. Here were many winemakers from Catalunya and other Spanish regions, but the features from other countries were much more evident. France, Italy, Portugal and Austria were among the well-represented places. Just like the Vins Nus the objective is to raise people’s awareness of natural and organic wines, and to eat and drink healthier. Like at the other fair, the goal is to present wines made by minimal intervention. But I would say that there is a slight difference in approach, and that the producers here are, well maybe not more open, but could we say: less strict in their view of the use of SO2 (to say it simple, or maybe over-simplified).

Vella Terra at the Estació del Nord

There were so many interesting, personal wines, that I can only present some highlights. And again, I will try to limit myself to one wine from each producer, though I know that again it will not be easy.

Antonio Portela

While the albariños of coastal Galicia should be well-known the reds don’t have the same recognition. Forget the images you may have of dark, sturdy, bubbling, bitter wines from the old days! Now there are several producers who show how fine, elegant and cool the coastal reds can be. Two of them were represented here. I will tell more about Antonio Portela later, whom I visited a couple of weeks after this fair. Although he is not far from Cambados, where the headquarters of the Consejo Regulador of Rías Baixas is located, his farm on the Morrazo peninsula is outside the delimitations of the DO area. So he uses terms as ‘tintos marineiros’ (something like ‘reds from the sea’), he uses grapes like espadeiro branco (related to the loureiro), tinto caiño, and he is a defender of the local grape tinta femia (related to the caiño redondo). His low vineyards in or near the beaches are the most atlantic in the whole of Galicia.

His red wines are from the parish of Cela in the town of Bueu, and the white wines from O Hío in the town of Cangas. They are all fresh and vivid – from the  Quereres de Berobreo 2017 (called ‘viño mareiro’, mainly espadeiro blanco), with its light, green apples, citrussy fruit, via the rounder, more mellow Quereres do Hío 2017 (also viño mareiro, albariño-dominated) to the delicious, grapey Area Donón 2017. Donón is the village where the grapes grow, to the extreme west, just before you reach the island of Cíes outside the Ría de Vigo. These are practically wine from sand, from the beach. The red Namorado 2017 (tinto mareiro), fermented and aged for 12 months in used French oak, has all the virtues that this area can offer: It’s light in colour; pure, with fresh, red fruits on the nose; a vibrant flavour, a good natural acidity and in a long saline finish.

Juan of As Furnias hasn’t learned the tongue-in-cheek trick yet

As Furnias is more inland, in the Rías Baixas subzone Condado do Tea. After his studies in enology Juan González Arjones went to Barbaresco, to work with a small family producer, then also in a wine shop in Torino. Then he went back to his native Crecente to start his own project. He has also been managing a vineyard for the reknowned producer Terras Gauda, nearer to the coast in the subzone O Rosal. In 2010 he planted his own vineyard down there. Pícaro 2015 was a terrific red sparkling wine from a variety of grapes (albariño, treixadura, blanco legítimo, brancellao, sousón, espadeiro), with a lovely red fruits nose (raspberry, strawberry), and some tannin. After this came a vertical of his emblematic wine, the As Furnias, in vintages 15, 16, 17, 18. This too is a multi-varietal where each grape gives its contribution; the espadeiro gives both freshness, some herb and mushroom, and some special flavour characteristics (like cherry), while the balsamic notes come from caiño longo, and the spice from the sousón. They are typically made with 12 days fermentation in steel, and with no sulphite additions. The 16 was an early picking from a hot year, but everything went right in 15. As Furnias 2015 had all the best; quite dark, inky colour; pure yellow fruits, red berries, herbs and some menthol; a good tannin structure and a wonderful acidity.

Ismael Gozalo, MicroBio

In my opinion the small settlement of Nieva has long been and interesting spot on the Rueda map. This small, high altitude settlement in the province of Segovia houses producers like the Viñedos de Nieva with their excellent old pie franco vineyards, the Herrero family’s new project, not to say Ossian. Ismael was born here, and he also was involved in Ossian. But now he goes solo, and his project surpasses it all. I have covered some of his whites here and reds here. And there are several other wines mentioned elsewhere on this blog. The whites are a study in the possibilities of the verdejo grape, mostly very old and un-grafted, combined with the extreme climate of this part of Castilla. The reds include tempranillo, rufete and syrah.

This time I tasted two pét nats, the early-harvested (and reductive wine-making) Nieva York 2018 and the younger vine (and oxidative wine-making) Correcaminos 2018, the fresh and citrussy MicroBio 2018, and the Rack 2018. For this wine Ismael has been looking for a reduction. Some gas was added to the musts fermenting in steel to raise the turbidity. No battonage. All this to keep the reduction and the wine’s selv-protection. Not a beginner’s wine, with the green-greyish colour, the cloudiness, the bubbles, the creaminess, and the acid-structured taste. Flowery, citrussy, stone-fruity too, I should add.

Mariano Tabernero, Bodegas Cueva

I didn’t visit Mariano’s table that day, I just took a couple of snapshots as I went by. But later that night I was taking part in a tasting at the Bar Salvage of the Gràcia neighbourhood. I was then sitting next to Mariano and his wife, and they let me taste some wines. More about this soon.

Eduardo of Azpillaga Urarte

The family has a long history in wine in Lantziego, Rioja Alavesa, but it was not untill the 1970’s that they started to make their own wines. It was when Eduardo Pérez de Azpillaga Urarte started in the family company that the way towards an organic, sustainable farming began. So, in 2001 their vineyards finally got their organic certification. Maybe I liked best of all the white, non-DO Viña el Pago 2016 from garnacha blanca. It was macerated with whole bunches at 7 degrees for 72-100 hours, on stirred lees for 4-5 months. The result is a quite dark yellow wine with mature apples, some citrus, aromatic spices and a touch of dried fruits on the nose. In the mouth it’s medium-bodied with some tannin structure. The reds include a carbonic maceration wine with the same name, and an interesting clay aged wine called Fincas de Aztule 2015.  Under the label Naturostean 2017 they had a dark, rich, sweet and quite alcoholic tempranillo, not from dried grapes, but with added alcohol. They stress that this was an experiment. A winery to watch.

Friedrich Schatz: The Acinipo will now have a label representing the nettle, or preparation 504

Friedrich, or Federico, Schatz of Ronda has long since established himself as one of the leading producers of table wine in Andalucía. He has been in the avantgarde of organic and biodynamic farming in the area, and uses both international and local grapes. I have visited him several times, and you can read more about his whole range here. Many will know that his wines carry one special letter that together spells his name, and as such they have become some kind of collector’s items. However, this will now come to an end. Schatz presented this time the first vintages that will come on the market without that one letter. In-stead they will carry a drawing of plants used in biodynamic farming.

Other than that, the wines are the  same, full of taste, with a touch of something exotic, and also with a good level of acidity. When asked I have often picked the Acinipo as a favourite, because it refers to the Roman ruins just down the road, and it’s made from lemberger, a grape from where his family can be found – and because it has been a good wine of course. This time I pick the Pinot Noir 2013 (formerly known as C), is made with 12 months of ageing in French oak on lees that has been moved a few times. It has a dark cherry colour, an aroma full of red fruits with cocoa and some aromatic spices. In the mouth it’s medium-bodied, tasty, with a lovely acidity and also with a slight bitterness in the end. The acidity can be said to come from the cool night temperatures, and it was also an extreme year with a lot of rain and snow in winter, and temperatures down to -12ºC.

Jean-Phillippe Padié

I finally got the chance to meet Jean-Phillippe of Domaine Padié whose wines I have known for some time. From Calce north-northwest of Perpignan, Roussillon, he releases one wonderful wine after another. I tasted some samples and some bottled wines. Quickly through the 2018 samples, there was the limestone-blend Fleur de Cailloux, with its yellow colour, mature apple-scent with flowery tones, full with some tannin, the light and luscious Calice, a carignan from young vines in schist soil, the juicy Gibraltar – and finally the Petit Taureau, from older carignan plants in limestone, with its ruby red colour, and very fresh fruit.

Among the bottled wines I tasted the red Le Tourbillon de la Vie 2017, partly own vineyards, partly chosen from others: quite dark, luscioius, plums, red fruits, light tannin. Unpretentious, I would say, but very good. The Petit Taureau 2017, that originates from limestone marls (carignan) and schist (syrah), made with reduction in mind (both the grape varieties and the concrete vats environment). The wine was cherry red, with expressive fruit (red and dark berries), some flowers and herbs, and soft tannins in the mouth with a super and long, cool acidity. Ciel Liquide 2012 was made of grenache and carignan in equal proportions, from what Jean-Phillippe calls “a mosaic of terroirs” from Calce (limestone, calcarious clay and schist). It spent 5 years in barrels of 600 liters, 2 years in tank after that: Ligh cherry red; on the nose there is some warmth, the citrussy notes appear, also stone fruits (cherries, plums); good balance between the elements, with just enough tannins, and super acidity in a long finish.

There were a couple of French producers that I didn’t know, but are worth mentioning. Les Vins Pirouettes were represented by Vanessa Letort. They are winemakers from Alsace who work in close collaboration with around ten small producers, all working organically, some with biodynamics – each producers with his characteristics. Some of the most interesting wines were made by  Stéphane Bannwarth, who is based in Obermorschwihr, south of Colmar. There was a lovely, appley riesling, with great acidity, and a full rose-scented gewürztraminer. I chose the Tutti Frutti de Stéphane 2016 (gewürztraminer, pinot gris, pinot blanc and auxerrois) was a light coloured wine, with a touch of gas,  green apple and pineapple on the nose, medium full, and with a lovely integrated acidity.

Domaine Balansa has 15 hectares in Corbières. I tasted some clean, fruity wines from grenache blanc and gris, and syrah. A speciality was the Muscat 2018 aged in amphora, very light in colour, aromatic (both fruity and flowery), medium bodied, and with just enough acidity. Domaine Carterole was established in Côte Vermeille (coastal southern Roussillon) by Joachim Roque. The 10-70 years old cooperative plots he had bought were transformed little by little to be able to make natural wines. In 2014 he rented a winery in Banyuls-sur-Mer. I tasted a slighty pétillant white Ton Sec 2018, a well-balanced, but a bit on the “wild” side, apple, tea and ginger-smelling Esta Fête Le Blanc 2018, from 90% grenache blanc and the rest rousanne. An interesting wine was Vermentino Amphorae, that was light yellow, quite open, with apple, pear and citrus tones, and a slight tannin-structure.

Andrea Pendin of Tenuta l’Armonia

I visited Andrea following a London wine fair last year, and you can see my report here. He has a creative approach, and makes several styles of organic wines from volcanic terroir in the small settlement Bernuffi (Montecchio Maggiore, Veneto region). His wines can maybe be characterized as inviting, simple, fresh, and very difficult to stop drinking. In spite of that they have a strong sence of place too. He uses biodynamic techniques, green manure and very little intervention, and of course always spontaneous fermentetion. Repeated from my article about them: ‘Basically there are two different lines. “Pop” consists of high quality “easy” natural wines from volcanic soil at a good price. “Cru” is a premium line from native varieties in clay and limestone.” Should I chose only one wine, let it be the Frizzi 2017, a pét nat, or col fòndo sur lie from the “pop” line. It’s simple, un-oaked, slightly bubbly, light salmon-pink, apple and strawberry-scented wine, not very structured, and oh! so delicious. In addition to a varying content of different grapes, here pinot noir 60%, the constant is the local durella, a grape providing acidic backbone, that the vintners in the area are very proud of.

Catarina and Antonino, Valdibella

Valdibella is a small cooperative operating from Camporeale, on the north side of Sicilia. They encourage biodiversity, and they concentrate on native varieties, both for grapes and other crops such as olives. Enologue Antonino Vilardi work closely with the growers. He says they want the whole chain, from grower to consumer, to share the same values, or visions, and to know about how the products are made. Therefore they can appreciate the quality, and they will understand that the products can not have a very low price.

I tasted a couple of interesting grillos, Ariddu 2017, a light, grassy-citrussy wine, Grillo sulle Bucce 2017, (bucce meaning skins), so the colour was light orange, with aromas of flowers, peel, a touch of white pepper, and some bitterness in the finish. Zi bi Bò 2017 (from zibibbo, a synonym of muscat of Alexandria) is an aromatic, rose-mango-scented wine, slightly off-dry. A wine full of character was Dhyana 2017 from perricone, a light rosé of salmon colour; strawberry and redcurrant aromas; some warmth in the mouth, but also with an acidity that carries on to the end.

Niklas Peltzer representing Meinklang

Werner and Angela Michlits of Meinklang are found in Burgenland, Austria, in the village Pamhagen on the Hungarian border. In fact some vineyards are on the other side, and they also bottle a Hungarian wine from the volcano Somló. Here is a perfect biodiversity, vines and other crops between the natural ponds of the area. They fertilize with compost that they produce themselves, using sheep, cow and horse manure and several other components.

Meinklang has a full range of very reasonably priced high-quality wines, and is mentioned in many posts of this blog. Here is one of the wine-of-the-weekend articles, where you can also see a picture of their Angus cows. Today we concentrate on their Hungarian pét nat Foam Somló 2017. The 35-60 year old vines (6o% harslevelü, 4o% juhfark) are grown on volcanic rock with a light layer of loess. The fermentation started in tank, then it was bottled with 10 grams residual sugar, and finished fermentation in bottle. No additives, no filtering. The result is a fresh, vibrant wine, low in alcohol, high in acidity. The colour is light straw, slightly turbid; aromatic, pears and peaches, some spice (white pepper); a certain warmness (or rather: a component of mature fruits like apple marmelade), but kept alive of a long, cool acidity.

Ondřej Dubas, Krásná Hora

This is, believe it or not, another producer that we have covered more than once on this blog. Read here a report on various Czech wines tasted in England last year. I like their sparkling wines, and the Blanc de Pinot Noir 2018 wasn’t bad at all; light, with a slight blush, aroma of apples and red berries, well-structured. They offered an aromatic Chardonnay 2018, and equally convincing as before was the skin-contact, gooseberry-rhubarb-scented Gewürztraminer, now in the 2018 vintage. Our focus will this time be put on La Blanca 2018, a blend of riesling (40%), sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer from several vineyards (a total of 40%), and the last 20% is pinot blanc. The wine is partially fermented in old barrels and partly in steel. Only a minimum of SO2 is added. It’s a bit cloudy, light golden; apples pear and citrus on the nose; low alcohol, bone dry, with a steely acidity.

It’s maybe unfair, but there is a limit to how much one can do in one day. There were many producers that I should have spent more time with, such as the locals Clot de les Soleres, Casa Pardet, Cosmic, Escoda-Sanahuja, Gratias, Mas Candí, Recaredo, Can Sumoi, Pepe Raventòs, Laureano Serres and Alfredo Arribas, all of whom I know make good to excellent wines. Elsewhere in Spain there are Sistema Vinari, 4 Kilos, and abroad: Carussin, Casa Belfi, Colombaia, Quinta da Palmirinha, La Cave des Nomades, the list goes on…

This was my first Vella Terra, but I really want to go back, to be a part of the positive vibe that are found in the city these days. And, as Alejandra Delfino, co-founder of Vella Terra, states, “natural wines are not a passing fad, but rather a trend that has come to stay, and something that will continue to increase demand among wine lovers”. Amen to that, and we could add that while the natural wine has been something of a punk movement, I think it’s right to say that the mainstream is now moving in that direction.

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5 Riojas at Guardaviñas, Logroño

I’m in Rioja visiting some producers on the right bank of Ebro. It’s then only natural to stay in the capital of the La Rioja region. Guardaviñas is a relatively new venture in Logroño’s old quarter. It’s run by Alberto Ruiz, who has lived in London and operates La Cava de Pyrène, a branch of one of the organizers of the Real Wine fair. Guardaviñas is different from most others in Logroño, including the bulk of wine-holes along the tapas trail. Alberto’s place specializes in wines from small artisan producers, mostly local, but also some from other parts of Spain and the world outside.

 Alberto Ruiz

I love these places where you order a couple of wines, tasty small bites to go with them, and after a while a collaboration starts between the sommelier and you. He or she maybe comes up with some more glasses of odd wines, often from un-known producers. Here I opened with Ijalba Maturana Blanca 2016, a light yellow, clean and correct organic certified wine from Viña Ijalba (just outside Logroño), a pioneer in the area. Then my waiter, formerly sommelier at Michelin star restaurant Echaurren, came with a really interesting bottle, Viña el Pago 2014. This is a garnacha blanca from Azpillaga Urarte. The natural wine movement hasn’t taken off in Rioja. But here is a no-nothing added wine with extended skin-contact from Lanciego (Lantziego), Álava. The colour was yellow towards orange, and the aroma showed mature apples, white flowers, some peel, and in the mouth it was full, a bit honeyed, but with decent acidity.

  

The kitchen delivers both small pinchos, somewhat bigger raciones and full dinner. The influences are from several places, some from England (as Alberto’s wife is from there), from Spain, and from a variety of modern cuisine. And there is something for everyone, vegetarians and vegans too. I had croquettes of jamón ibérico, foie with fig marmelade and filet of ecologic pig, from a nearby farmer, served with red peppers and fried potatoes. The first two were smaller and served at approximately the same time. The wines arrived one by one, and I felt at home, made myself comfortable, and tried a new one before the previous glass was finished. So at a time there were two dishes, four glasses and a lot of bottles at the table. There was a great deal of flexibility here, so you could really “keep calm and drink wine”, as a cardboard sign tells you to.
The third wine was kindly offered by my waiter, who has a special interest in it. A carbonic maceration, vintage 2017, the kind of wine that Rioja made a lot of in the past. This wine, from producer De Luís R (also Lanciego), is not organic -yet-, and not very expressive, but well on the fruity side and showed nice violet and blueberry tones, and some tar.
Next wine was a beauty, again from Lanciego municipality, but the small settlement of Viñaspre, further up the road when coming from Laguardia. Some will have guessed that it’s from the new star Roberto Oliván. Xérico Viñaspre 2015 (Tentenublo) from mainly tempranillo, with some 10% of viura, white grapes: Brilliant stuff, dark cherry red, the aroma is very expressive, both flowery and with a lot of berries (blackberry, blackcurrant) and with some earthy notes too. It has a concentrated fruit expression, lots of rounded tannins and lovely fruits all the way in the lingering finish.

The fifth wine was Horizonte de Exopto 2016 (Exopto), one of Frenchman Tom Puyaubert’s contributions to the new wave of terroirdriven Rioja wines. Dark, dense, with blackberry, blackcurrant, a second layer of roast and subtle vanilla in the background. Good concentration, young tannins, very fresh, still in its youth, and will keep for long, but I love it already. Read more in the wine of the week column.

There was in fact a sixth wine, served blind. The waiter revealed that it was the same Xérico as before, but while the former had been opened two weeks ago and served by Coravin (you know that needle and gas system whose aim is to keep the quality of the wines after taking out a tiny quantity), this one was just opened. One could hardly reckognize it as the same wine. While I preferred the fruit in the former, he liked the latter better. I think it has to do with the slow airing in the Coravin version.

There was jazz on the air, from I arrived untill I left: Reed greats like Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman, then Glenn Miller taking over. “My favourite things” in a trombone version when our “improvisations” were over and I was about to leave. All right, I thought as I walked into the cool Logroño spring, now at least I have revealed some of my favourite things. As a joke it was not that funny, but it was absolutely true.

 

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Stavanger fair I: Spanish sparklers, white wines and more

Stavanger Vinforum was established in 1995 to contribute to more interest in and better understanding of wine in the southwestern region of Norway. Their most important activity is the annual fair, and this was the 23rd in a row. Each year has a specific theme, usually one or more countries. This year Spain and Portugal was in focus. 17 importers presented a total of around 250 wines, and there are always seminars: This time one mainly about Rueda by Igniacio Pariente of Bodegas Pariente (formerly II Victorias), one by Óscar Alegre (of Telmo Rodríguez’ company) about the northwestern corner.

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Nils Nærland, member of the board and responsible for the program

I have written more about the fair itself for other publications. Here I will just present some of the highlights, from my own perspective and according to my own preferences.

Spanish sparkling wines: We are talking mainly about cava here. A head above the rest on the fair is Gramona, this time represented by their superb xarel.lo-based III Lustros Gran Reserva, now in the 2007 vintage. This wine shows the greatness of the xarel.lo grape, not very aromatic from the start, but after some years it starts to shine, and in Xavier Gramona’s opinion the best grape for cavas meant for ageing. This one spent 7 years on lees, has great depth and concentration, aromas of toast with a smoky note, and still with an incredible “presence” after all these years. Reserva Millesime Brut Nature 2011 (Castelo de Pedregosa), mainly from pinot noir, was kept for 3 years on the lees. It’s quite concentrated too, with the characteristic “bakery” aromas. Clos Lentiscus, DO Penedès (not Cava) was new to me. Their Blanc de Noirs Brut Nature 2010 was a different take. The “noir” variety of the title is sumoll, that not many years ago was a nearly extinct grape, but is now on the rise. The colour is almost orange, or maybe pink-ish, from a somewhat extended skin-contact. It’s more robust and tannic than the fair’s other sparklers.

To the white wines: Rueda is a region that is gaining still more ground in the conscousness of the people, but at the same time it’s facing problems with high production and many wines that are maybe correct, but with lack of personality and inspiration. I chose Basa 2015 (T. Rodríguez). It’s based on verdejo, but includes 10% of viura, and is sourced from various plots around the area. It’s a fresh, fruity wine for everyday drinking, and maybe a typical restaurant house wine. A very good one. Equally good and consistent is Gaba do Xil 2015, a Valdeorras wine from the same producer. Not so straightforwardly generous, but with more layers, and with those typical hints of straw and herbs from the godello grape.

IMG_3976 Óscar Alegre at importer Moestue Grape Selections’ table

A single white wine represented the Canary Islands, Trenzado 2014 (Suertes del Marqués), a complex and rich skin-contact white that shows what can be done on Tenerife. This has been highlighted here.

From the Gredos area (province of Madrid) it was a nice to taste the Navaherreros Blanco from producer Bernabeleva again, now in the 2015 vintage. This is a predominantly albillo real with some macabeo, with hints of white flowers, peaches, yellow apples and slightly buttery too (from fermentation in big vats and ageing on the lees), with good body and a smooth texture.

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Aina Mee Myhre of Heyday Wines presented a well-chosen range of wines

From Catalunya I first tasted Espelt Quinze Roures 2015 from Empordà near the French border. This is a barrel and lees-aged wine from the grapes with the Catalan names lledoner roig (grey garnacha) and lledoner blanc (white garnacha), grown in slate and sandy soils with understated aromas, quite complex (dried fruits, anise), good body and concentration, a touch of skin-contact, and just enough acidity to match. From Torroja, Priorat, producer Terroir al Límit was represented by 8 wines, 3 of them white. I especially liked the Terroir Històric 2015 (garnacha blanca 75%, macabeu 25%) aged in concrete eggs for 6 months, golden in colour with aromas of yellow apples, hints of honey, medium-bodied, and with a salty mineral aftertaste. The Terra da Cuques 2014 (pedro ximérez 80%, moscatel 20%) had more skin-contact feel, but was also fresher, with floral and citrusy notes, some herbs too. Quite rounded texture, expressive and with a touch of acidity. Dare I say elegant: For a Priorat very much so!

Fortified wines and dessert wines were not among my priorities this time. But some good wines for later in the meal were chosen. Among these the Molino Real, now in its 2010 incarnation. Telmo Rodríguez makes this wine in cooperation with Bodegas Almijara of Cómpeta, Málaga province. It’s always good, some vintages more lemony than others. I have a suspicion that it’s lighter than before, but it’s a really nice moscatel, an old-fashioned “mountain wine” introduced at a time when wines from the pedro ximénez grape was reigning supreme in the area. Lastly, I know very well the sherries offered, so I didn’t taste them this time. But I never miss a chance to taste the wines selected (not produced) by Equipo Navazos. They chose single “botas” (barrels) of wines that they find exceptional. The one presented here was 57 – La Bota de Florpower MMXII (in other words: a sherry vintage 2012), a light, grapey fino with some citrus notes, and yes! with a lot of “flor” character (the layer of yeast that covers the lightest wines in the bodega). Simply delicious!

On my way out I couldn’t miss a completely natural cider from the northern region Asturias, the Valdedios Natural (Manuel Bustos Amandi), with aromas of citrus, green apple, herbs, and with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

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