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Wine of the Week

Aged natural wine at its peak

Who said a natural wine cannot age?

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

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

1368 Pago Cerro las Monjas 2002 (Barranco Oscuro)

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

Price: Medium

For meat and meditation

 

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Valtravieso: High altitude Ribera del Duero

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

   

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

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

 The Listilla barrel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the caves of Granada: Bodegas Cauzón

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Work has begun to make a new bodega

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

Thumbs up for a new bodega within two years!

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

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

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

 

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Visiting Finca Montepedroso, Rueda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marta and Lauren, with Rueda village in the background

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

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

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

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

20171015_105231 Lauren and Marta with some of the visitors

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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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