Wine bar and restaurant Cedrón is located in the the La Latina neighborhood of Madrid, just behind the Plaza de la Cebada, with the famous market. It’s a warm and cosy locale from 1850, with wood, steel and stone. They have a wide variety of wines by the glass, some are natural wines, some just organic, and all are made by small family producers.
The owners are Argentinians, and both wine list and food menu has some influence from this. I ordered vitello tonnato, that is Italian origin, but very popular in Argentina. I completed with two more small dishes, a fresh burrata, and croquetas of cod, that turned out to be quite spicy. A complimentary starter was a humus de remolacha, accompanied by flatbread with herbs.
For the three platters I chose three wines. La Salada Disbarats 2021 is a simple but delicious white made by Toni Carbó, that has collaborated with Mas Candí in Penedès. The wine, from macabeu 80% and xarel.lo, is a light skin-contact white, slender, with aromas of citrus, flowers and a touch of orange peel, and with a saline finish.
La Traca 2020(Risky Grapes) is a juicy, light structure bobal from València. The colour is ruby red, and the aromas are dominated by red berries like raspberry. This red wine accompanied the vitello tonnato, as always cold veal with tuna mayonnaise, a dish with some umami. Sommelier Gustavo, also Argentinian, said that he would normally have chosen a sherry for that dish. Knowing what I now know it would have been easy to agree.
I had quite a bit of luck, as the croquetas were more spicy than expected, and also the last wine was more sweetish than expected. Las Nubes 2021 is made by José Luís Mounier, whom Gustavo called the father of the grape torrontés in Argentina. Light straw coloured, and on the nose it was very perfumed with flowers and honey. This gives a sweetish sensation, not sweetness. The same continued into the taste, not unlike a dry moscatel. I had a suspicion though that this was a wine made with selected yeasts, later confirmed by the producer’s web page. Anyway, the marriage was good, and I am happy to have found a new wonderful wine bar in central Madrid.
Here is an ecologic cava from the varieties pansa blanca (local name for xarel.lo), macabeu and parellada. The Alta Alella winery is run by the Pujol-Busquets family in the Serralada de Marina Natural Park, just north of the city of Barcelona. Mireia, daughter of founders Josep Maria and Cristina Pujol-Busquets, is currently wine-maker.
Alta Alella’s wines are made from their own grapes. The soils are low in pH, which compensates for the warm Mediterranean climate and give acidity to the wines. They are based on the decomposed granite called sauló, with a sandy texture and good drainage.
All work in the vineyard is manual. After a gentle pressing each of the varieties for this wine ferment separately. Then there is a second fermentation in bottle following the traditional Champenoise method. Unfermented must is used to provide the sugar for the secondary fermentation in bottle, and SO2 is added only after disgorging. The ageing on lees is 30 months (thus the youngest of their cavas). It is disgorged before release, with the disgorgement date noted on the label.
None of Alta Alella’s wines receives dosage.
Mirgin Gran Reserva 2017(Alta Alella)
Light straw. Fruity, green apple, lemon peel, chalk and some brioche autolycic quality. Full in the mouth, mellow mousse, good acidity, dry, saline, long.
I am back at Barcelona’s Vella Terra. It is now in its 6th edition after having been postponed, last time since February this year. Vella Terra is a fair organized by the couple Ale Delfino and Stefano Fraternali, and celebrates natural and low-intervention wines from smaller wineries, most of them family businesses. This year there were 146 artisans from 16 countries booked in. There were also related companies like Pulltex, distributor of wine accessories (see my company profile of one of their most important collaborators Pulltap’s in a forthcoming article) and restaurants like Garage Bar and Zaza. There were of course also various activities around town, with so much “talent” gathered in one place.
This year I had no special theme in mind. I did select a bit, but was also open to walk in new doors. So here are some of the most interesting tastes, only organized from local to global, if I can put it that way. And as many times before, I try to restrict myself by chosing only one wine from each winery. In this first part we shall deal with Spain.
I had tasted a few wines from Cal Teixidor before. (See my latest wine of the week here.) Their winery is found in Corbera de Llobregat, not far from Barcelona. At Vella Terra Josep Casañas showed an impressive range, most of the wines based on the two vineyards described in my latest wine of the week, that you can read about here). These are a north-facing xarel.lo vineyard that gives acidity and minerality, and a south or southwest-facing macabeu vineyard that gives more fruity, aromatic wines. There were also wines made from subirat parent (see his T-shirt), also known by the name malvasía riojana. Here I chose a wine solely based on the macabeu vineyard from 1974. It’s called Masía Cal Salines 2019, is made with whole clusters and aged … Dark yellow; appley, with fennel-tones; rich, structured and mouth-filling. Josep also showed a superb subirat parent traditional method sparkler with almost the same name, Masía Cal SalinesBrut Nature Reserva. This fruity wine, with herbs and mature apple, but also mineral and with a fresh acidity – was of the 2017 vintage and aged 42 months on the lees. Which strictly makes it a gran reserva (it’s minimum 30 months, by Cava standards). Lastly, his wife Brugués is the force behind the estate’s own olive oil.
Loxarel I have known a long time, and I’ve appreciated their good and not least good value wines. Last time they were represented in a wine of the week post was here. In February I had an appointment with winemaker Pep for a visit to their Penedès winery, but had to cancel as I was struck by covid. Here founder Josep Medios participated together with Anna Janué, who calls herself commercial sommelier. They showed an impressive range, such as still and sparkling Loxarel à pel, an amphora-made xarel.lo, and a “xarel.lo sherry” (called Himen), and reds. Here I chose Loxarel109 2011, a brut nature reserva (well, technically it qualifies for a gran reserva). This wine was the reason that Loxarel left DO Cava for Clàssic Penedès, because the authorities didn’t allow them to bottle without disgorging. Loxarel’s opinion is that after nine years the wine has already integrated the yeast. Obviously, this is also a xarel.lo-dominated wine, like nearly all the most ageworthy. Aged on the lees for 109 months in a shelter from the civil war. Light in colour; smells of mature apples, burnt yeast and coffee; is rich with a super acidity and mineral finish, it’s still full of vividness and not at all “old”. It comes in a bottle wrapped in paper.
Clos Lentiscus is located inside the national park in the Garraf mountains just outside Sant Pere de Ribes. The winery was established in 2001 by brothers Manel and Joan Aviñó, when they set out on a task of restoring the family vineyard from the 14th century. They currently cultivate 22 hectares of vineyards in a biodynamic way, of which 95 percent are planted with local grape varieties.
Before the fair I had warmed up with a classy, mineral red, Perill Noir Carinyena 2017, a varietal carinyena that also were shown here. I chose one of the bright sparklers that Manel’s daughter Núria poured. The Núria Parellada 2018, one of several wines named after her, is a pét-nat, very fresh for its age. It’s very dry with notes of red apples, raspberry and bright citrus.
I met Dido and Jurriaan three years ago at the Garage Bar. Then they were just starting, after having travelled the world and worked in a number of wineries. Since then I have come across their rosé sparkler Juicy several times. (See here.) share a passion: wine. They bought 9.5 hectares of vines planted in the Albera natural reserve of Alt Empordà, where they farm organically and have started to implement biodynamic principles. They have now bought an old coop in the village Rabós, where they first were hiring space.
Many of their labels carry references to music, such as Big Time Sensuality, Comfortably numb and Libertango. My pick here would be Magic Potion 2021, a cabernet franc-sauvignon pét-nat named after the album of The Black Keys: Blueish red, full of fresh and sweet strawberry and raspberry fruit, and in the mouth some structure that complements well with a slight residual sugar.
Architect Alfredo Arribas is quite new on the Catalan wine scene, having taken over the family’s vineyards in 2001 founded his bodega in 08. But he has made himself heard. His two main series are Siuralta, mostly monovarietal wines from Montsant and Instabiles, more free-spirited wines from Priorat. The vineyards are in Cornudella de Montsant, in the north of the Priorat region, and the grapes are vinified in the winery in Falset. Arribas’ project is a response to the challenges of climatic change, seeking higher altitude vineyards, more shade and rainfall, biodiversity and more.
For Siuralta grapes from the highest vineyards are spontaneously fermented in whole clusters with stems in small steel tanks and amphorae in various shapes. The grapes for Instabile are spontaneously fermented mainly in whole clusters with short peel maceration. The wines are matured in small cement tanks and amphorae of ceramics, porcelain or glass. Different vintages are mixed in some cases by bottling.
Let’s taste the Siuralta Antic2019, a varietal cariñena: Deep red; cool, fresh fruit, dark and wild berries (blackberry, elderberry), a hint of pepper; luscious/fleshy in the mouth, carried by a long acidity, beautifully integrated tannins, more to the mineral side.
I didn’t know Sifer Wines, but it clearly is a winery to watch. (See also a mention of their Ephraim Mel garnacha blanca here.) Sifer, the name made up from two last names, has vineyards both in Terra Alta’s Batea and in Teruel, Aragón. Among their expressive, vibrant entries were Víbria Soul 2021, a macabeu made in amphora and steel. It’s light, quite turbid, with pear and white fruits and a super acidity.
Cap de Nit is a young family winery that produces wines in the Marina Alta in the north of the province of Alicante. Josh and Josie started the project in 2017, looking for old vineyards of native varieties, to work them in strict organic farming. The vineyards are mostly located in the Vall de Xaló, in the coastal mountains. The small plots are hidden between plantations of almond, orange and olive trees. Work in the field and in the manual warehouse. – The wines are made naturally, fermentation is spontaneous, temperature is not controlled and the wines remain on the mother lees throughout the ageing. No type of additive is applied. The fermentation and aging is done in 500 liter clay pots and stainless steel tanks. They work with different degrees of maceration. At the end the wines are bottled by gravity. – Grape varieties: muscat of alexandria and giró
The real name is Bodega de Frutos Marín, but this producer is most often called Malaparte, after its most famous label. Rubén and Elisa cultivate 5.5 ha of vineyards near Cuéllar, in the province of Segovia. They employ various techniques, such as tanks, old barrels and amphoras. All vineyards are farmed dry.
This is close to Ribera del Duero. Nevertheless, and in spite of a lovely amphora-aged tempranillo, I would say they are mostly a white wine producer, offering verdejo and viura in several fashions. Maybe because I am currently working on an article about the historical wines of the lands of Medina, I chose OX. This is obviously an abbreviation of oxidative, a feature of the “dorado” wines. It is a mix of varieties (I will check, but typical, and recommended in DO Rueda are verdejo and palomino fino), 65 year old vines. The wine rested one year under “flor”, and was then transferred to “damajuanas” (big bottles, demijohns in English). It arrives naturally at 14%, and is not fortified. It has all the yeast, almonds, dried fruits aromas that one night expect, and in the mouth it’s glyceric – and more fruity than its sherry equivalents.
Makatzak Wild Wines is a Basque project found in Aia (Guipuzcoa), near Zarauz, that really has impressed me. Here is no talk about conditions “not favourable for organic growing in our region”, as we often hear. Aitor Irazu Alonso started the winery with his cousin. Here he manages the Sorgintxulo vineyard, that after being abandoned for 5 years now is restored. It is an ecosystem of 3 hectares of vineyards, whose main variety is the hondarrabi zuri. Atlantic climate with high rainfall, mainly southern exposure, steep slopes and slate soils are the main characteristics. The work is based on ecological, natural, regenerative and biodynamic agriculture. Makatzak are now receiving their organic certification, and will later aim also for a biodynamic one.
Sorkin 2021 is light in colour, has an aroma of green apple and bright citrus, and comes with a wonderful acidity. It’s a natural txakolí that’s “impeccably clean”, I imagine the classic British writers would have said. A prime example of the growing natural wine scene in Spain.
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 Mel2021, 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.
Food: Grilled fish, tasty shellfish, rice dishes, pairing, soft and semi-cured cheeses, a variety of tapas
While Norway changed government with parades and speeches, an interesting tasting took place just across the street at the Grand Hotel. This tasting in Oslo was the first official Corpinnat tasting outside of Spain.
To be short, Corpinnat (meaning born in the Penedès, after Roman etymological roots) is a group of Catalan producers of sparkling wine that has left DO Cava. All ten producers with wines in the market were represented. Leading the tasting was Carles del Amor, export director of Nadal, one of the six founding members – together with Liora Levi, Norwegian sommelier and wine writer.
The tasting showed a variety of styles. Some wineries contributed what they consider the more typical from their range, while others offered “top” wines. There were examples of restrained, mineral wines, while others were more on the fruity side. Some dominated by the xarel.lo grape (also varietals), others with more parellada. One rosé.
There will be a longer report that I will link to here. Now I will just present one wine in the ever ongoing Wine of the Week series.
Since Carles is here (on behalf of Corpinnat, that is) I still want to focus a bit on Nadal‘s contribution. Their Brut Nature Reserve 2015 was maybe the most flowery/fruity of the lot. This can maybe be seen from the grape composition; parellada 57%, xarel.lo 22%, macabeu 21%. While xarel.lo is a variety with a lot of acidity and preferred in wines made for ageing, parellada contributes more finesse and aroma. This said, Carles tells that they have a project going on, trying to prepare parellada for more ageing, for example by moving higher up towards the Pyrenees. By doing this they also prepare themselves for new, hotter times. The wine has an ageing of 60 months on the lees, is a non dosé obviously organically grown (as is mandatory without Corpinnat), and it’s degorged 21st June 2021 (also obligatory information within the group).
Here are other posts about members of the group (search the site for more):
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…
Time to celebrate. Maybe not the year that lie behind us, but rather a toast to life, art and good wine itself. There are many possibilities; champagne, crémants, cava… Cava? All right, listen.
Agustí Torello Roca (AT Roca) belongs to the family that gave us Kripta and other great great cavas and wines from Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. While Agustí Torelló Mata (ATM) has turned to organics AT Roca goes further; with a more natural approach, and has also joined the ranks of those who leave the very strange DO Cava, that in reality stands for a way of making wine rather than a sense of place.
Agustí Torello Roca and his father and aunt Agustí and Lali founded AT Roca in 2013. One of the first priorities was to join DO Classic Penedès, a subdivision under the DO Penedès formed in 2012. It started with just 10 members, and has been growing ever since. DO Classic Penedès is perhaps the first governing body that requires organic certification in order to be a member. In addition to the farming requirements, 15 months aging on the lees is the minimum (while only 9 months within DO Cava), and all wines must be made by the traditional method and vintage dated. AT Roca goes further by only using indigenous yeasts and harvesting 100% of their grapes by hand.
For their single vineyard wines, they ferment in used barrels and age the wines on the lees under natural cork instead of crown caps, both of which are rarities in the region. Sulfur is only used once to block malolactic as an effort to retain the acidity. All their wines are zero dosage. They only work with indigenous Catalan grape varieties, with a focus on macabeu.
AT Roca Reserva 2016(AT Roca)
Yellow with greenish hints. Aroma of fennel, lime, breadcrumbs. Good body and concentration, nice acidity, and a salty dry finish.
Food: Good Spanish ham, light meat, salads, dried fish and tasty shellfish
Just before leaving Spain this time I had the chance to visit the wonderful wine bar-restaurant Angelita Madrid just off the Gran Vía. This is an all time favourite, but I realized that this post is the only one on these pages so far. They have a bodega with more than 500 references, and always some 50 on offer by the glass. Add to this a high level kitchen, moderate prices and a highly competent staff, and you understand that the place is recommended.
This time I started with an albariño from Meaño, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Altos de Cristimil 2018, from the bodega of the same name. It showed a light yellow colour with greenish tones; aroma of yellow apples, flowers and with a certain lees character; quite slender in the mouth, with a good acidity, a bit almondy and with a salty finish. Very appealing.
La Flamenca 2018 is a new project of Mario Rovira, of bodega Akilia in Bierzo. This is however in Alella, Catalunya, just north of Barcelona. It was listed under skin-contact wines, but the contact is limited with only five days of maceration with skins and two more days in spontanous fermentation after pressing – thus the light colour. 2018 is his first vintage here. Macabeu and pansa blanca are grown near the sea in granite soil. Aging was in ceramic egg, manzanilla barrel and steel tank. I would say the colour is light straw; a fine and discreet aroma with white flowers and lime; lightly textured, just a hint of peel, and with a salty finish. Really cool.
I tried Massuria 2009, a specialty in that it’s a developed red Bierzo wine. This dish however, called for something fresher. Guímaro Finca Meixemán 2017(Pedro Manuel Rodríguez) could provide that. It’s a single plot wine from the middle of a hill in the Amandi subregion of Ribeira Sacra. Dark colour with violet hints; despite a hot vintage the aroma is quite cool, with red berries and some balsamic, or herby, notes; super fruit in the mouth, a natural, integrated acidity, and just the faintest touch of barrel.
Valderiz 2016 was also tried, and is not bad at all. But I had already selected the Yotuel Selección 2015. The family bodega Gallego Zapatero is one of three in Ribera del Duero that Alsatian winemaker Sophie Kuhn was in charge of before she left a couple of years ago. From nine hectares in Anguix, Burgos province, they have a selection of wines, some of them single-plot wines. This is the quality between the entry-level wine and the single vineyard wines. It’s a varietal tinta del país (tempranillo) from two plots, both with more than sixty year old vines in bush training, grown in mainly clay and sandy soil. 2015 was a hot year with a short growth cycle. Fermentation was carried out in inox and concrete, and the 14 month ageing in French oak and concrete. Dark red with violet hints; aroma of forest fruits (blackberry), herbs (mint, rosemary) and pepper and some coffee,; it’s a potent wine, but the tannins are not overwhelming, and it has a good balance between the richness and the acidity, a hint of toast, and stylish in spite of 14%.
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.