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Wine of the Week

Domaine de la Graveirette’s lovely budget wine

Domaine de la Graveirette is located in the Southern Rhône valley, to the east of Châteauneuf du Pape, where they also make wine of that appellation. Julien Mus started the project in 2005, after finishing his studies in Burgundy. The 25 hectares of vineyards are farmed organic, and the wines now certified biodynamic. They have a freshness well above average in this part of France, and they are lovely drinking, though not at all simple.

The Ju de Vie is a favourite, with all its character and lusciousness. The 2016 is made from grenache 35%, merlot 30%, marselan 25% and mourvèdre 10%, grown in sandy soils with the typical round pebbles. It was aged for 8 months in concrete tanks, and only given a tiny amount of sulphur.

Ju du Vie 2016 (Dom. de la Graveirette)

Dark cherry red. Aroma of red and dark berries (cherry, blackberry, plums), with notes of herbs. Luscious in the mouth, a warm touch, but there is a fresh, natural acidity too,  and a good length.

Price: Low

Food: Red meat, lamb, game, casseroles

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Vicenza province III: Contrà Soarda

From Siemàn in Colli Berici it was almost an hour’s ride back on the north side of the motorway, to Bassano del Grappa, in the extreme east of the Breganze DOC. Here is Vignaiolo Contrà Soarda, whose wines I had been familiar with since a few years ago. I had tasted their wines in London, both at the Raw fair, including the tasting that Fiona Beckett talks about here, and in natural wine bars.

I came half an hour early, so I started to make myself comfortable, as I believed I was going to meet the person with whom I had corresponded. So I started with a short tasting in the shop. It turned out that it was nobody else than one of the owners, Gloria Gottardi herself, that kept the shop going at that time.

The first wine was exactly the one that Beckett started her tasting with, as an alternative to sauvignon blanc to match with a goat’s cheese. And it stood the test with its crisp, citrussy flavours. That time it was the 2012. Now the Soarda Vespaiolo is in the 2017 vintage. Vespaiolo is a wonderful grape, one of the great Italian V’s (alongside verdicchio, vermentino, a.o.).

Vespaiolo (or vespaiola), named after the wasps (vespa in Italian) thrives especially well in this area of Veneto. -it’s our star grape, the whole family agrees. It is often used for passito (dried grapes) style dessert wines, such as the Torcolato, and the wasps have also found out that the sugar levels can be very high because of the sweet aromas in the vineyards. The grape is often fermented to dryness, and produces wines with high acidity and other aromatic characteristics.

Contrà Soarda’s Vespaiolo 2017, fermented and raised in steel and bottled unfiltered, was light straw coloured, with green apples, pears in the aroma, and a high, but well integrated, acidity. Vignasilan 2013 (made in the same way, also 100% vespaiolo); light straw, apple and citrus aromas, but it also goes towards peach and apricot, and a touch of honey. The great concentration and elevated acidity makes the finish long, and at five years of age it keeps very well. 121 B.C. Time Flows Bianco 2014, named after a fabled vintage a long time ago, is also a varietal vespaiolo, I tasted before I left for Italy, and it’s convenient to mention it here. It’s spontaneously fermented, with 7 days of skin-maceration, and stayed 12months in oak barrel (with steamed, not toasted staves), and no added sulphur. Nice golden colour; complex aroma with floral components, honey; concentrated and structured (high acidity and some tannin).

121 b.C. Time flows Bianco 2014

 121 B.C. Time Flows Rosso 2012, is the red version. Here the variety is carmenère. It’s aged for 18 months in steamed oak, the rest is similar. Deep cherry red; mature fruit (blackberry, dark cherry), with some herbs and spices; luscious and fresh in the mouth, with a light tannin structure.  Veneto Rosso 2009 is a blend of  marzemino 30%, merlot 25%, pinot noir 20%, and the rest teroldego and groppello, fermented in steel and barrel before blending, then matured 24 months in barrel and steel. Deep purple; fresh aromas of dark berries, cherries, morellos, herbs, and some underwood; fresh, immediate and juicy in the mouth, with a nice integrated tannin.

Back to the Bassano tasting, the last wine I tasted with Gloria was Musso Riserva 2007. A lovely wine from marzemino and merlot, and the first wine that really showed development: Brick nuances; developed aroma somewhere between cherries, dried fruits and smoke; quite slender on the palate with plums and some lickorice. -Musso is a different project, explains Gloria. -Musso means donkey in Venetian dialect. When thinking about terroir images of vines, soils come along. And our philosophy is based on the respect for our land, but alto the animals that live on it. So Musso offers a none ironic perspective, suggesting that the animals are in fact part of the terroir. Donkeys are much more than workers; they are gentle and intelligent companions, curious and with an incredible memory. While horses often will run away from any danger, donkeys are cautious and steadfast.

Anyway, in comes Marcello, the wine maker, and his father Mirco Gottardi (Gloria’s husband obviously), and we have a chat and a brief tour around the premises.

Mirco (left) and Marcello Gottardi

The hill was bought in 2000, and 2004 was the first vintage. They started with a 4 hectare vineyard, now it’s 18. A successful traditional restaurant in Bassano centre, that the family has been running for three generations, has been important for the project’s overall economy, says Marco. In 2011 the restaurant, Pulierin, was moved to the hills where the winery is located.

Down to some basic information: Contrà Soarda, meaning ‘on the slope’, is located in the hills at the foot of the Asiago plateau in San Michele of Bassano del Grappa, a place dedicated to vines and olive trees since ancient times. The soil here is volcanic, often called “onion type”, because it’s old lava solidified in various layers. This makes the rock easy to break, thus it’s easier for the roots to go deep. We also find clay and rocks with fossils here.

A green manure is used to improve the biodiversity. The vines are normally trained in ouble guyot. Only own grapes are used, growing and vinification is all natural, with natural yeast, spontaneous fermentation, and also natural temperature control. The first harvest is normally done in the 2nd week of September, three weeks later for the sweet wines. The winery is modern, but based on traditional winemaking techniques, such as gravity, and wisely integrated with the environment.

They come back to the vespaiolo, -our star grape, the family rejoices. -It’s versatile; we use it for sweet wine (torcolato), natural wine, basic wines, cuvées, and special selections. We love it for the high acidity and the citrus notes, the mineral character. And after ageing it gains in hydro carbon, like truffle.

Time flies, or flows, as the labels say. I take a look at the watch, appologize that the visit became shorter than intended. But the good impression I had before I came here is confirmed, and I am already looking forward to next time, when a visit to the restaurant should be obligatory.

 

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Gambellara: Maule and the two Davides

Gambellara is a small village at the foot of Monti Lessini in the western corner of the Vicenza province. To the west it borders Soave (Verona). It has a DOC for the whole area, a “classico” designation for wines with lower yields and higher alcohol, and a DOCG Recioto di Gambellara. The DOC is comprised of 4 municipalities, most important are Gambellara and Montebello.

When the prosecco boom took off, many of the grapes in the flatlands were replaced with the glera grape (formerly called prosecco). One of the results is that the general quality of Gambellara wine is extremely high, and as much as 60% of the grapes are grown in the hillsides.

Gambellara village

In one day I visited three of the best, in or around Gambellara village, and maximum 5 minutes drive from each others.

Angiolino Maule – La Biancara

The most important of these is La Biancara, run by Angiolino Maule, who has been in the avant-garde of local and national natural wine movement and inspired many younger vintners. He founded the VinNatur organization in 2000 and leads the Villa Favorita natural wine fair held in Vicenza. The objective is to establish contact between collegues, to be able to support and learn from each others.  They are currently looking at the possibility of replacing copper and sulfur, widely used in organic farming, with plants and extracts that help vines build up resistance. Maule is now also studying the possibility to certify natural wines.

Most of Maule’s wines though, come under the IgT Veneto designation, as Angiolino can be said to have a general mistrust in the Consorzio, and the wines are not regarded “typical” by the them either.

It’s Francesco Maule, one of Angiolino’s sons, who meets me on this warm summer morning. First we take a stroll through the vineyards and the estate, to get an overview. The soil of Gambellara is volcanic, with just a little limestone in the heights. This is easy to see from here.

Maule has approximately 12 hectares own vineyards on south facing slopes in these hills, about 150m to 250m above sea level. They are managed in a strictly organically way. They use naturally produced plant compost and control fungal diseases with herbal teas and other natural products. Contrary to tradition, here the predominant binding technique is the Guyot, but also some pergola.

Guyot up-binding

Here around the winery there are 5,5 ha. garganega grapes, many of them used in the Sassaia wine. Higher up, as the name implies, the grapes for the Pico are grown. There is also some trebbiano and durella, and merlot and others for the reds.

-At La Biancara we use modern technology, as we want to have control, at least “enough” control. To oxygenate we add air to the must. Fermentation starts by ifself, because of the hot weather. We may use the pied de cuve technique, 2 or 3 different ones, to see which one is best. It’s important to have a fresh pied de cuve.[A short note: Pied de cuve is a technique that is often used for white wines. Some grapes are collected a week or so before the grapes are ready to be harvested. A small amount of this “stock” is then used to “kick-start” the fermentation, and helps to avoid any possibility of early oxidation.]

-After some years of “strange things” (high volatile, extreme skin-contact), some 10 years ago we decided to do some adjustments in the cellar, says Francesco. -We were lucky, as my father knew Josko Gravner (top Friuli producer with long experience in orange wines). He had also been making extremes wines, and then changed slightly. We also got some help from a retired enologist from Zonin (the region’s big player, just down the road).

-Normally we don’t add sulfites, only in the cheapest wines, that can have quite high volatile acidity.

We tasted a few wines together. And Francesco has nothing to hide, a sympathetic approach, as we start with their pét nat:

Garg’n’go 2017: In 2017 we have problems with re-fermentation, so here are practically no bubbles. That’s the way it is with pét nat (natural pétillance/bubbles), when there is no nat pét, there is just one way to fix it: we have to wait. The colour is quite dark, with flavours of yellow apples, yeast, and good acidity from the durella grape (20%). We can imagine how it will be in good condition. -We have no tradition for bubbles, says Francesco. -My father never thought about it, but I love it, and it’s easy to sell. Francesco fetches another bottle, that has a little more bubbles. OK, so there is hope.

Over to the still wines, the first one all garganega: Sassaia 2016, as we said from the vineyard close to the house. 70% were directly pressed, the rest skin-macerated for 2-3 days, then barrelfermented. Because we don’t use SO2 tannin and polyphenol from the skin-contact help the wine to stay healthy and live longer. It shows a light golden colour; mature apples, white flowers, ginger (from garganega) and some toast on the nose; it’s quite full and very tasty.

The relatively high altitude Pico has for me been a favourite, if I were to pick only one wine. Selected grapes from three relatively high vineyards, Pico 2016 was 50% directly pressed, an equal part had 2-3 days skin-contact. In fact there was also a tiny amount (one barrel, maybe 2%) that had extended skin-contact for 2 1/2 months. -’16 was a good harvest, and it rained at the right moments. The wine showed dark, almost amber; with mature apples, white pepper, ginger, a touch of honey; rich and glyceric in the mouth, with an integrated acidity and an extreme length.

Rosso Masieri 2017 is a young and luscious, fruity and herb-scented red wine from merlot, tokai rosso (grenache) and cabernet sauvignon. See link #1 at the bottom of this post for more.

Passito Monte Sorio 2015 is a recioto style, IgT (though they have a DOCG Recioto too). The garganega was harvested before the other grapes. They were all hung in vertical nets, for 4-5 months to dry. Then there was one week skin-maceration, and fermentation for 2-3 months. More normal is 14% and 150 grams residual sugar, but in this vintage the alcohol is 16% and sugar 76 grams. Some sulfites are added, simply because the wine gets cloudy after 2-3 years because of some protein bindings. Amber colour; on the nose: nuts, some raisin, iodene, lightly oxidezed style; on the palate: long and with a good acidity.

Let’s close this chapter with a recommendation from Francesco Maule: Recioto and parmesan cheese: a fantastic combination! (Parmesan, or parmiggiano, is “almost local”, as Parma is only  one and a half hours from Verona.)

 

Davide Vignato

Climbing downhill to the center of the village we find both our next wine people, the two Davides. Vignato is not an uncommon name in Gambellara, and in the short street I ring the doorbell at two other Vignato’s houses before the right one stands before me.

Davide is third generation vigneron, so he’s born and raised in the village. But he is the first to have organic wines certified as DOC Gambellara. He has 14 hectares of vineyards that are characterized by these mineral soils. He works them organically, with techniques like green manure. Grape varieties are mainly garganega, but also durella, glera, chardonnay and merlot.

 

In the ancient amphitheater of Monte San Marco

He takes me to the biggest of the two amphitheaters formed by the ancient volcanoes. It’s the one in Gambellara, close to his home, the other is in the aforementioned Montebello to the east.

-I want to make organic wine, but I also want clean wine, for me this is important, Davide says. He also believes that the volcanic soil gives a salty, mineral character to the wines. Both these opinions can be backed by the tasting.

Balaltic dark rocks of volcanic origin

Primo Incontro 2016, IgT Veneto: The “first meeting” is a garganega frizzante (light pressure), where the second fermention is catalyzed by some of the dried grapes. The yeasts remain in the bottle, so the “sur lie” technique is employed, with batonnage once a week. -The final bottling was done after 15 months, no SO2, so I prefer to do malo-lactic fermentation, says Davide.

The wine shows a light yellow colour, slightly cloudy; aromas of apples, white flowers and citrus; there is a balanced acidity, a slightly salty, simple, good summer drink.

Cuvée dei Vignato 2013: A spumante metodo classico (high pressure) from 90% durella, and the rest chardonnay, with 40 months on the lees.

Somewhat lighter; green apples, citrus, bread crust; more evident, pungent acidity, long and mineral aftertaste.

Then follow two still whites, both 100% garganega.

El Gian 2016, Gambellara Classico, a tribute to his father Gian Domenico: This wine is from 25 year old vines in the hills. As usual: Natural yeast and only a small quantity SO2. It stayed on the lees in steel tanks for 5 months before bottling.

Light straw colour; green apples, white flowrs, citrus, clean (no tropics); quite mellow in the mouth, but the acidity shines through, and typical for the garganega grape it has a nice bitterness towards the end.

Col Moenia 2016 , Gambellara Classico: This is from 40 years old vines, and the grape selection is stricter. No de-stemming. It stays on the lees for 7 months, and batonnage is carried out once in a while.

Light straw, clear; yellow apple, ginger; full on the palate, more concentration than the previous wine, and more integrated acidity (the harvest was 20 days later), slightly bitter aftertaste.

A general observation can be added here: Garganega has a long cycle, and late picking is normal. Durella is approximately one month earlier, around mid-september.

Regarding the wine styles, at this point it should also be clear that  Vignato’s wines are clean, the fruit is a bit more acid and the apple notes are greener. La Biancara is more turbid, obviously unfiltered, plays with oxidation, and the fruit is more yellow and mature.

1950 Merlot 2016, IgT Veneto: -1950 was the year when my father planted the merlot vineyard for this wine, because he realized that he was tired of drinking only white gambellara, says Davide. The pressing is light, and the wine matures in steel tank with occational batonnage.

The colour is ruby with some violet; with aroma of red fruits and some herbs; medium body, soft tannins, quite easy drinking really.

The “picai” technique is still used, bunches hung from the roof to dry

Cal d’Oro 2009: This is a passito wine with mahogany (or dark amber) colour; iodine notes, umami, dried fruits and dates; some tannins, medium sweet (120-30 g), a bit raisiny, and also salt in the finish.

Ca’ Ronchi 2007, Passito Rosso: Dark red, a little browning; red berries and forestfruits (morelloes, blackberries), nuts; quite slender, good tannin structure, medium sweet (same as the former), wonderfully balanced by acidity.

Davide Vignato

 

Davide Spillare

After a sandwich and a coffee in the bar on Gambellara’s central square, I climb the labyrinths of the neighbourhood where Davide Spillare has his house and winery, and several of the vineyards are there too. I meet Davide together with Lanfranco Fossà, who helps him with various tasks in the office.

Davide and Lanfranco

A little background: Davide Spillare (his last name should have a stress on the first syllable) was born in 1987.  He went to agronomy school, then worked 4 years for Angiolino Maule, to learn and to gain experience. In 2007 he started on his own. He is third generation. Antonio, his grandfather, worked in real estate, and made wine in the weekends.  Mariano, his father, worked with machines and repair, he made more wine than his father, but he only sold it to the cooperative.

So Davide’s project is in a way still young. He owns 4 hectares of vineyards, and has 6 on rent (the latter will come into production from the 2019 vintage). In fact 50% of Davide’s production is today sold to Japan. The wines are also found in a handful more countries. I tasted them in London’s 40 Maltby Street wine bar.

The annual production is now 20.000 bottles, and will increase to 30.000. Not very much. From Davide’s house there is a nice view over the village, and you can easily see the big Zonin winery.

Davide has 5 labels, mostly garganega, except for some durella for sparkling (up to 70 years old), and also some merlot for the red. He employs biodynamic viticulture, and there is almost no technology in the cellar. The old vines are bound up in the pergola system, but for the newer plantings he uses Guyot.

In the plains, at around 200 meters above sea level, there are clayey soils. The rest is mostly volcanic.

In general we could say that after Vignato’s clean and clear wines we are now, not surprisingly maybe, back towards the style of Maule’s La Biancara. In a way the wines are elegant, with their crisp acidity. But they clearly take place in the natural wine category, without added sulfur, and no filtration or fining, so they also come with a rich mouthfeel and loads of taste.

Here are some short notes from the tasting.

L1 (named after Lumber 1, the lowest rib in the back, that Davide once broke in a tractor accident): It’s made from 90% garganega, and 10% durella (only for acidity). The second fermentation was in the bottle. -We don’t use yeast, but the moist from the sweet wine. (It rings a bell now from both visits earlier that day.)

The colour is yellow; aromas of yellow apples, light bread; very good acidity

Bianco Crestan 2016: 100% garganega, from the flat area (with less mineral soil).

Straw yellow, aromas of green apples, citrus (lime); quite glyceric, mellow, a nice and simple wine for everyday drinking.

Bianco Rugoli 2016 (12,5%): From the 80 old vineyard that gives name to the next wine, the bushes trained in pergola. Spontaneous fermentation, like all his wines, here in used oak barrels. The first bottle is bretty. Davide says it’s from the cork. When the water isn’t changed often enough this can happen. The water should be changed for every 100.000 corks.

The nose is more complex than the previous, but maintaining a good acidity and a strong minerality.

Straw yellow; more mature apples, wax, aromatic herbs; smooth yet fresh, fruit all the way (4-5 g/L acidity), slightly bitter aftertaste.

Vecchie Vigne 2016: It had 100% skin-contact for 5 days, then fermented in barrel 7-8 days. 13,5% alcohol.

Golden; more mature apples on the nose, together with pear, honey and nuts (it was a very late harvest); concentrated on the palate, a warmer, richer style, with a salty mineral aftertaste. This wine is still young though, and will open more.

Rosso Giaroni 2016: Merlot at 13,5%.

Dark cherry, me green pepper, red fruits; fruity, bit tannic.

#3 – Gambellara: Maule and the two Davides

 

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Wine of the Week

Maule’s Masieri

I am in Veneto. Yesterday I had a wonderful day in Gambellara, Vicenza province, which I will come back to.

This week’s wine is from the most important producer in that area. Well, Zonin is a big player indeed. But for an organic, down to earth approach Angiolino Maule has taught and inspired other growers that are just beginning. He also created the VinNatur organization and runs the Villa Favorita fair that brings together producers of the same sort from Italy and abroad.

Francesco Maule in front of a Masieri barrel

Gambellara is mainly white wine country, with volcanic soil. But there are some splendid reds made too.

There is also a white Masieri, but here we concentrate on the red version. It’s made mainly from merlot, some tai rosso (tocai/cannoneau/grenache), and around 5% is cabernet sauvignon, all fermented with indigenous yeasts in steel tanks.

The vineyards are young, and the cultivation is Guyot. The fermentation is spontaneous with indigenous yeasts, with a 13 days maceration. Minimum sulphur, no filtration.

Masieri Rosso 2017 (Angiolino Maule – La Biancara)

Dark cherry, violet hints. Aroma of cherry and blackberry, herbs, spices. Lightly structured, luscious and delicate, fruit all the way. Just lovely! (2017 is 13,5% alc.)

Price: Low

So far in this series:
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Four different takes on Ribera del Duero

Squeezed in between our Rueda and Rioja days we had a short stay in Ribera del Duero. Indeed we had two very interesting visits on Spain’s national holiday. Summed up very briefly the four producers can be said to represent big variations on the theme:

*Aalto: An intriguing story, a glimpse of glory and meaty red wines for ageing

*Valtravieso: Organic high-altitude wines; the great discovery of the trip

*Alfredo Maestro: Natural small-scale wine, as pure and fruity as they come

*Pingus: Legendary, but rooted in reality; biodynamics; ageworthy wines, but already possible to predict what will come

What their creators have in common: A deep passion, knowledge and respect for the land and for the tempranillo fruit, or tinto fino, as it is often referred to here, and a desire to express it in the wines. Always with an eco-friendly approach in mind.

 

Bodegas Aalto

After a drive up the narrow, rugged path we knew when we saw the stately, stylish new bodega that we had come to the right place. And Javier Zaccagnini was welcoming us.

Javier started the company in 1999 together with Mariano García. -At that time I was the president of the DO Ribera del Duero, explains Javier. -I had been thinking about opening my own wine business. Mariano had for long been pursuaded by his employer Vega Sicilia to end his own project Mauro in the outskirts of Ribera, as they wanted an exclusive winemaker. After 16 years of conflict enough was enough, and Mariano left. It’s worth noting that friends of Spanish wine would be familiar with Mariano’s Maurodos in Toro, and maybe also a brand new one, Garmón. Javier has also embarked on his own project, Sei Solo, with much less fuss. (We will taste and review these wines at another occasion.)

So no doubt, with Javier from the DO and Mariano of Vega Sicilia fame, Aalto got a flying start and was a success in the market from the first day. Aalto’s style is fruity, powerful reds, good young with a hearty beef, but showing more elegance through careful ageing.

Mariano knows the area in great detail, and they own plots of tempranillo many places in the D.O., 110 hectars and 200 plots in all, none bigger than 1 hectar. The complexity and balance is a result of myriads of soil types, altitude, exposition and so on, according to Javier.

Most grapes are sourced from La Horra, a small village in the Burgos province, quite far from the bodega, but there are always varying percentages from places near La Horra like Roa and La Aguilera, then Moradillo to the south, Fresnillo or Baños more to the east – or Quintanilla, in the west where the bodega is.

 

Javier Zaccagnini, music lover, puts together notes from all over the D.O. to form his chords

Javier tells about how he brought his son Michael into the company. -Michael was studying oenology, and insisted on receiving the lowest possible pay according to Spanish law, Javier says. -Being near and learning from ‘the master’ was enough for him. I had to accept, for a year, but then I had to rise his salary because he was so good, and he worked hard and independently. The thing was that I couldn’t treat him different because he was my son, in this case: I couldn’t treat him worse than others!

 

Javier and his son Michael, now oenologist together with Mariano García

Two wines are produced, Aalto and Aalto PS (that stands for ‘pagos seleccionados’, selection of plots), that retails for around 30 and 60€ respectively. The grapes are exclusively tinto fino (or tempranillo), as cabernet and merlot have too long cycles for maturing here. And all vines are at least 60 years old. PS is basically from La Horra. The alcohol fermentation lasts 5-10 days. The temperatures are raised from 10 to 14˚C when they want the fermentation to start.

When asked “how organic” the farming is, Javier says that they don’t want to damage the planet. Thus the farming is organic, not certified though, but it might be that something would be used to prevent mildew. Only natural yeasts are used.

We tasted the wines in the 15 vintage.

Aalto 2015: Dark with violet rim. Dark fruits, blackberry, herbs, toast, coffee. Rich, big in the mouth, strong tannins after medium plus roasted barrels. (14,8% alcohol)

Aalto PS 2015: Deep purple, still darker. Blackberry and blueberry, toast, while lickorice and anis adds to the freshness on the nose. Rich and heavy, this one too with ‘demanding’ texture, and  big in the mouth. It’s somewhat more oaky, but it’s made for a long life.

 

Valtravieso

High up in Piñel de Arriba in the Valladolid province some 920-950 meters above sea level we found Valtravieso, the journey’s biggest surprise. Here I will report only briefly from the visit, as the long story has already been published here.

 Ricardo Velasco (left)

Ricardo Velasco works very naturally, the farming is dry and if all is well nothing is added.

High up in Piñel is a long ripening processes, which is good for the aromas and flavours and improves the acidity in the wines. The long sun exposure gives good colour to the grapes. The great differences between day and night, especially in summer, when temperature can drop 18º C, brings more polyphenols, and with it higher antioxidant content.

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

Some wines from the tasting:

Crianza 2015: Cherry red. Very fruity, some coffee, spice, herbs, pine. Rich, but with a fresh acidity, long, and the high alcohol (14,5%) is no problem.

Tinta Fina 2015: Dark. Very fruity, with blackberry, pine, truffles, and a flinty mineral character. A lot of structure, rich, somewhat heavy at 15% alcohol, but still the fine acidity shines through. (Tinta fina is yet another variation on the name tempranillo.)

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

Alfredo Maestro Tejero
I had met Alfredo several times, around in Spain, and once in London. (You can look at the pictures from Gredos here, and here is a report from London’s Real Wine fair.) He is always fun to be with, very unselfish, and always ready to help. When I first met him I contacted him to see if I could visit him in Gredos. But as a leader of the Garnachas de Gredo group he proposed to organize the trip, and finally we drove around all the area together and met around ten producers. He also deserves the credit for our “discovery” of Valtravieso, that came in as a substitute after an appointment in the Soria province was cancelled.
This was the first time I had the opportunity to visit his bodega. The humble winery with no doorsign is located by the main road in Peñafiel, close to our hotel (the Ribera del Duero), and looking up against the majestic castle that is now the “parador” (in the chain of stately run tourist hotels).
His bodega is located, I would say, in the heart of Ribera del Duero, at least in the middle of the major town of the western part, not far from Protos, Vega Sicilia, Villacreces – or Aalto – to name just a few. He refuses to use the DO Ribera del Duero though. This is for two reasons, because he wants to have freedom, and also because he makes wines from several places within the Castilla y León region. His native Peñafiel is in the Valladolid province, where he has some 25-27 hectares, but he also operates in Valtiendas (Segovia), Cigales (another D.O. in Valladolid) and Navarredondilla in the Gredos mountains of Ávila, where he has 5-7 hectares own vineyards. That is why he rather wants to bottle everything under the broader Castilla y León designation.
 
All of his wines are very pure, with a clear-cut fruit. We tasted a few through the tour in his cellar, first a skin-contact albillo mayor (the Ribera variety, as opposed to the more aromatic albillo real from Gredos) called Consuelo, a tasty wine with some mature apple and apricot. The 46 Cepas is a merlot from Peñafiel made with stems; dark, aromas of green pepper and herbs, quite warm. An all time favourite is Almate, now in the 2016 vintage, a tempranillo from both sides of the Ribera del Duero border, which means partly from Valtiendas, Segovia: Dark, grapey, juicy and with a cool freshness.
Alfredo has been given several vineyards from old people, that rather will see them in good hands than abandon them. A really interesting wine is a rosé from Cigales, aged partly in chestnut, made from 75% tempranillo (the rest is “de toda la vida”, which means it could be practically anything, red or white). This is the old style from a former stronghold of delightful rosés, in contrast to the many “well-made but utterly boring” rosé wines nowadays, and he calls it Rosado Clásico de Valladolid. It has very little skin-contact, but the colour is light red-orange, delightful raspberry and citric aromas, and it’s tasty as few rosés on the market. Very, very good!
We also tasted the Marciano 2016, a Gredos wine, high altitude (1.200 meters). This is a garnacha grown in granite, made with 100% stems. It’s very fresh with a high acidity. His most typical Ribera wine is Castrillo de Duero, now in the 2016 vintage. It’s mad from grapes grown in Castrillo at 960 meters. This is a red fruit-driven wine, a bit balsamic and with very fresh acidity. It has stayed some months in rather neutral French oak, and it’s not at all oaky.
Dominio de Pingus
Parking the car outside another humble bodega building. Best to have the notebook ready…
The last visit before we leave Ribera del Duero is no less than the emblematic Dominio de Pingus. Already something of a legend even though it didn’t start untill 1995. This is Danish oenologist Peter Sisseck’s project. Today is another busy day for Peter, but he has the time to say hello and good-bye.
 
It was Julia Zhdanova, assistant to the winemaker, who welcomed us and guided us through the facilities and the history behind Pingus. There are many people working to ensure that everything is right. Among them are 6 people in analysis, who are helping other producers in the area too. They also work in collaboration with universities, such as the one in Cádiz for yeast environments and Valencia for bacteria. The winemaking at Pingus is very natural, and biodynamic principles are used. But in case something goes wrong, you can be sure that there is a back-up plan.
Many people has wondered why is the wine that expensive (selling at 800-900€ per bottle in Europe, 10 times more than Aalto PS). Speculation is of course an element in this highly regarded and limited quantity wine. Julia says that it was not the intention to push the price through the roof. But it was obviously of a high quality, and when the first vintage was shipped to the USA, the boat sank and the highly valued bottles went down with it. This raised the price significantly, and it has been kept high since then.
Peter Sisseck (from my previous visit in 2009, photo K. Karlsson)
It’s mabye convenient to give a brief background here, since we have now already travelled back in time. Peter Sisseck came to Spain from Bordeaux in the late 1980’s, and it was almost by coincidence that he became involved in wine. He was appointed to direct the new Hacienda Monasterio, now another big name in this area with a huge concentration of important wineries. While at Monasterio Peter discovered some plots of old tinto fino vines – wild, but of outstanding potential – and decided to make a wine of his own. This was the start of Pingus, his nick-name from his childhood. He was himself amazed about the quality of that first vintage, the 1995. So was American critic Robert Parker, who scored it higher than any Spanish wine so far. So when Peter went back to Bordeaux and presented it at the “en primeur” tastings it was already the talk of the town. But, as we have heard, the first shipment to America (from a total production of 12 barrels) went down, and the prices went accordingly up. And as we shall see, although the production is always less than 500 cases the income has given Peter the opportunity to embark on projects that will benefit other winegrowers in the region, and possibly also the DO as a whole.
 
Peter and Dominio de Pingus is now further exploring the map of Ribera del Duero, a work that has been generously offered to the Consejo Regulador (the regulating body in the wine industry), who has welcomed it. This will be important for a new classification of vineyards in Ribera del Duero.
I remember from an earlier occation that he spoke about how well he was received in Castilla, the openness of the people, ready to help and shared willingly of their knowledge. PSI, a project and a wine named after a letter in the greek alphatet that resembles a vine root, is a project that Peter has created to help local farmers to fulfill the potential of their vineyards. He loves the region that has given him so much, nature both rough and graceful and with lots of character.
 
Pingus was originally sourced from a plot in La Horra (over in the Burgos province) called “Barroso”, with old vines planted in pebbles over clay-limestone with good drainage. Later other adjoining vinyards with similar characteristics, like the “Parrando”, were added. Today 5.000 bottles are made annually from 4,5 hectars, and the yield is only 9 hl/ha. “2nd wine” Flor de Pingus (a tenth of the price, ten times the production) were initially sourced from the vineyards of Villacreces near today’s Pingus winery, but now it comes from La Horra too.
The main wine ferments in 1800 liter barrels, while Flor ferments in tank. The vinification has been altered a bit through the times, towards less new oak and less extraction. Flor now spends 18-22 months in 30-40% new oak, while Pingus sees mostly 2nd year oak for 24 months. Fermentation starts when the must is heated. There is not much extraction these days, and almost no pumping-over: For the current vintage nothing. Psi is fermented in cement tanks and large old wooden casks, and in general little oak is used. For the time being it’s made in rented fascilities.
There is in fact a forth wine called Amelia. This is from a very old plot in La Horra. The grapes from here used to go into Flor, and cuttings were used to replace old vines in the Pingus vineyards. Since 2003 however it has been separately bottled, and the whole tiny production is sold to the USA. 
Everything is sold “en primeur”. To be precise, there are allocations between the regular customers.
2016 was a good year, easy to work and without complications. The samples show a good freshness. The three wines were clearly in the same direction, so here follow only some brief notes. Psi (mainly tempranillo, but also around 10% garnacha) was dark, with a flowery nose with cherry, herbs and a touch of coffee. Young tannins, high acidity and will not need much time to integrate the oak. Flor de Pingus: In the same vein, more aromatic, the same roasted notes, a touch more structured. Pingus: Again obviously in the same family. Deep, dark, with a violet rim. Already complex, more balsamic, blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry waiting to come out, some nutmeg and other spices, but also roasted elements, a tough structure and high acidity. It’s worth repeating though, that these wines are not ready. They will smoothen with time and will keep very long.
 Impeccable cleanness, as expected
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Wine of the Week

Aged natural wine at its peak

Who said a natural wine cannot age?

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

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

1368 Pago Cerro las Monjas 2002 (Barranco Oscuro)

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

Price: Medium

For meat and meditation

 

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Valtravieso: High altitude Ribera del Duero

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

   

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

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

 The Listilla barrel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Visiting Finca Montepedroso, Rueda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marta and Lauren, with Rueda village in the background

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

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

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

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

20171015_105231 Lauren and Marta with some of the visitors

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Wine of the Week

A thrill from an Alicantina hill

This is delicious, unpretentious wine from Bodega La Encina, whom I visited last week. It’s called a varietal, but it’s made from garnacha, monastrell and merlot. La Encina is a small artisan bodega just north of Villena (Alicante, bordering both Albacete and Murcia). The farming is organic and biodynamic, and they work completely without additions.

Cero Tinto Jóven 2016 (Bodega La Encina)

Dark red with blue tones. Intense young berry-aromas; blueberry, cherry, flowers, pine, and maybe some ink. Fresh, young taste, with a refreshing acidity, and some stalky bitterness that I find appealing here.

Food: Pizza, pasta, vegetarian, (green) tapas. Without food is also nice

Price: Low

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Wine of the Week

A good (value) table wine from Southern Rhône

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

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

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

Ju du Vie

Ju de Vie 2015 (Dom. de la Graveirette)

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

Price: Low

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