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Tag: natural wine

Rodrigo Filipe at Humus, Lisboa region

Finally I got the chance to visit Rodrigo Filipe, who makes the wonderful Humus wines. He can be found at his farm Quinta do Paço in the village Alvorninha. This is in the Óbidos part in the far north of the big Lisboa region. Here he makes cool Atlantic wines, guided by nature, experience and intuition, more than school oenology.

Before this day I had enjoyed a few of his wines at wine bars and cafés, such as this one. So I felt that I visit was overdue, and I am very glad that I finally made it to the quinta to meet the sympathetic man behind the work.

Quinta do Paço is a family propriety of a total of 20 hectares, of which around 10 are planted with vines. We are about 150 meters above sea level, between the Atlantic and the Serra dos Candeeiros range that enjoys a special soil and climate. The soil is calcareous/limestone with clay. The valley lies in a north-west direction, that secures longer maturation, and more acidity in the wines. Having said that, the wind was also shifting while we were there, so at one point there came a warmer breeze from the east (-from Spain, he joked). But as a whole the cool Atlantic breeze and high humidity contribute to a slow ripening and a high natural acidity.

Coming from a job as an engineer, Rodrigo took over the farm from his father in 2000, and it was from then that the project became more serious. It has been learning by doing, sometimes wrong, but always in a clear direction towards tasty and healthy wines. In other words, Rodrigo had no formal training in wine at the time. And even if he has taken a few courses, to this day he takes many decisions by experience and intuition, such as determing when to harvest.

The grapes are mainly local, or at least of Portuguese origin. -We use the grapes that are best adapted to our place, and the yields are kept lower than normal for the area, says Rodrigo. -We give special treat to the soil, because it must be alive to bring out the best of the varieties.

The beans give nitrogene to the soil

As we walk around the property it becomes clear that Rodrigo is in harmony with his farm and the land, and the farming is just very simple. He fertilizes with natural compost, and of additives there is only occational use of small quantities of copper and sulphur. Fermentation starts by itself after 5-6  days. The white wines are fermented in used barrels, and the reds are destemmed, pressed, fermented in steel and aged in used oak. The wines are never fined or filtered. We believe him easily when he tells that he has great pleasure to make, and share, authentic wines made in a very natural way.

The vigorous touriga nacional grape, here with eucalyptus to the left and cork trees in the middle

As we went along we tasted a few samples. A castelão 2017 was full of red fruits, still a little reduced (like some of the other wines, but it’s fixed with airing), mellow in the mouth, and the 16 (less maceration, 5 days) was lighter with lovely fruit and a wonderful natural acidity.

A touriga nacional rosé 17 (an “acidity year”, as Rodrigo puts it) had a wonderful salmon pink colour, strawberry and floral aromas, quite full in the mouthh, and yes, a refreshing acidity. Among the other 17’s a fernão pires was delighful, quite full and glyceric, with aromas of flowers, herbs and some wax. An arinto had the typical lemony acidity, and both apple and some herbs on the nose.

The barrels used are 10 years old. Chestnut was tradition here, just like clay

A white touriga nacional, a “blanc de noirs” 2017  matured 6 months over arinto skins (how did he come up with that idea anyway?): Yellow with trace of red; appley and grapey with some pharmacy notes. What is more: There is one over fernão pires skins too. Salmon pink colour, this was more fruity, still with apple notes, but flowers and menthol, and with a dry texture. Rodrigo explains, -Chestnut and clay give dryness, the wine “oxidizes” more because of a longer distance between the fibres, while oak can give a reductive tone. Then these two can balance each other.

We tried more touriga samples. Not to bore my readers too much I can say that the samples follow the line of the bottled wines; they are cool, natural with a fresh Atlantic feel.

Rodrigo together with Luis Gil after a long day in the vineyard

Among the bottled wines we tasted the cool and fruity Espumante 2010 and a Rosé (a blend of 2014-15-16, mostly castelão). Then on to the Humus range:

Humus Branco (no added sulfites) 2016 from fernão pires and arinto: Light yellow; it smells of matura apples, it’s also waxy in the aroma (from fernão pires); it’s full on the palate, a bit buttery, and with a good acidity (for which arinto is often a guarantist, but here also the climate). It has in fact more arinto, but the fernão pires shows a lot of influence.

Humus Curtimenta 2016: This is a creative take. The wine has also arinto and sauvignon blanc, that are fermented with skins for three months. This is added to freshly pressed touriga nacional (“blanc de noirs”). The colour thus becomes orange, and with a certain structure. But it’s still in a way soft and mellow, I would say elegant. It has a lovely fruit, on the tropical side, but also flowers, citrus and a nutty touch. This is very pure and lively, full of taste, just delicious.

Humus 2012, a 100% castelão, was ruby red with aromas of red berries (cherry, raspberry) and some darker tones behind it. Likewise the fruit was forward, but there was also a slight tannin bite, and a fresh acidity. Very drinkable, very appealing.

Humus (no added sulfites) 2013: This wine, from touriga nacional and syrah, showed really nice, fresh fruit, violets, dark berries (blackcurrant), a balsamic touch. The tannins were round, the fruit ripe and with a slighly sweet spicy note, and with a long aftertaste.

Humus (no added sulfites) 2011 from touriga nacional and syrah: This is the second year without additions, not even SO2. It was a warm vintage, and the wine showed wild and meaty, on the nose dark berries, flowers and an earthy tone. Rich, with marmelade and spices.

A lovely bunch of wines, all lively, fresh, natural, and with the outstanding creative invention Curtimenta in the middle

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5 Riojas at Guardaviñas, Logroño

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

 Alberto Ruiz

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

  

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

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

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

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

 

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Orange at Egget, Stavanger

Mariano Taberner is one of the highest esteemed makers of natural wine near the Spanish eastern coast. Last time in the region I almost managed to make it up to his place, but I didn’t manage due to unpredicted circumstances.

Last Tuesday I was surprisingly able to taste two of his wines at Egget (The Egg) in Stavanger, Norway, close to where I live. This is a unique place in my part of the world, a restaurant with a focus on natural wines, and with well-prepared dishes to go with them. Here is a report from a former visit.

This time we were accompanied by sommelier Mikela Tomine, wine student in the WSET system, and Nikita, from the kitchen. I was accompanied by my daughter, and they easily juggled her vegan options.

Egget’s Mikela preparing a cheeseboard for a customer

The wine is made in the small village  La Portera in DO Utiel-Requena, Valencia. Bodegas Cueva dates back to the 18th century, and still only uses traditional methods. Here is full respect for the environment, biodiversity, and health too, claims Mariano Taberner. The main grapes for reds are the central/northern tempranillo and the more bobal, a more local grape (and the variety behind our other Cueva wine that night).

The average production is only 20.000 bottles. All wines are made in the most natural way, from organically grown grapes, spontaneous fermentation, no chemicals, unfined and unfiltered – nothing added, nothing taken away. The wine in question is based on the varieties tardana and macabeo, The local tardana is so named because of the very late ripening, and still at the end of October the alcohol, or more correctly: the sugar content, is very low. Macabeo is then harvested one month ago, and the finished macabeo is slowly blended with the freshly made tardana. Fermentation for both is largely with skins. The two undergo the secondary, malo-lactic fermentation together.

Mariano Taberner (credit: B. Cueva)

Orange Tardana & Macabeo 2015 (Bodegas Cueva)

Deep orange colour, slightly cloudy. Aroma of orange peel, white flowers, and a touch of tropical fruits and white pepper. Round and luscious in the mouth, grapey, with just enough acidity to keep it together, and an agreeable orange peel-bitterness in the finish.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with skate wing and celeriac, with slices of green apple, and an aïoli with less garlic than usual. But it should go with a variety of fish and seafood, the rice dishes of the region (paella style), vegetarian/vegan dishes, light meat, carpaccio and more

 

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A Victory for the Vinho

I am on my way home from the 6th Simplesmente Vinho in Porto, an event for individual, artisanal wine producers. This time 101 producers participated, mostly Portuguese, a few visitors from Spain, and one single winery from France. And having followed Portuguese wine over the years it’s so exiting to be around now to witness the steps that are being taken in the country.

João Roseira, organizer of the event 

João Roseira (of Quinta do Infantado, Douro) one of the founders of this two day fair, said in his opening speech that the idea came from off-springs of bigger festivals in France and Italy, and they thought, this we can do at home. So Simplesmente Vinho was created in 2013 as an alternative to the Essência do Vinho, also in Porto. It’s held in Cais Novo, a former port warehouse near the Port Wine Museum, and in addition to wine presentations the fair includes concerts and dinners, one of them this time in reknowned chef Rui Paula’s DOP restaurant.

There’s Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno in the crowd

I will come back to details about the wines I tasted. Here I will limit myself to say that there were both well-known producers like the aforementioned Quinta do Infantado (Douro), Álvaro Castro and Quinta do Perdigão (Dão), Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno, Quinta das Bágeiras (who recently received a prestigious award from the Grande Escolha magazine), Casa de Saima, Luís and Filipa Pato (all Bairrada), Adega Regional de Colares, Quinta do Mouro (Alentejo) and Barbeito (Madeira).

The ever popular Filipa Pato spotted at a distance

There were many less famous producers. Well, less known to the “masses”, but many have already made a name for themselves among those who are interested in what’s going on the authentic, organic, natural wine scene. Maybe some should rather be in the first category, anyway here are just a few more names: Aphros and Quinta da Palmirinha (Vinho Verde), Conceito, Quinta de Romeu and Folias de Baco (Douro), António Madeira and João Tavares da Pina (Dão), Vale da Capucha, Humus and Quinta do Montalto (Lisboa), Cabeças do Reguengo (Alentejo), and Monte da Casteleja (Algarve).

Sonia and Pedro of Vale da Capucha takes a well-deserved break

Special guests were Sara and António of Casa de Mouraz (Dão) that lost both buildings, vineyards and a lot more in the devastating fires of last autumn. I met them before the fair, and will report from my visit.

Sara Dionísio, tirelessly presenting the Casa de Mouraz range

Lastly there were some intriguing producers from Spain. Sandra Bravo of Sierra de Toloño (Rioja) are among those who I know best. I will come back to her and the others. Here Sandra gives her opinion about the event: V for Victory, for Vinho, and I take the opportunity to add a heartfelt Bravo! to all.

Sandra Bravo sums it all up

 

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Ismael Gozalo I: In the Verdejo Respublic

Ismael Gozalo is one of the rising stars on Spain’s natural wine heaven.

He founded Ossian, in the high altitude village Nieva in the Segovia province in 2004, together with Javier Zaccagnini (read about his Ribera del Duero adventures here). Ismael soon went on to work on a smaller scale with his project MicroBio, to make use of his family’s best vineyards the way he wanted. Some of these are between 100 and 200 years old, pre-phylloxera, at between 800 and 900 meters. These vines have always been grown in an organic way.

Ismael works in a medieval underground cellar in his native Nieva using barrels of different sizes, amphorae, glass demijohns, and stainless steel. He works in a very natural way. His most important goal though, is to let the land speak directly through his wines.

They come in two lines. The whites are in the Ismael Gozalo line, except for Issé and Sin Rumbo, which are MicroBio. I collected some wines for tasting. Ismael has said that his wines expresses themselves best after more than a week in an open bottle. Ok, I gave them 7-12 days, tasting them occasionally and leaving them with their original cork.

La Banda del Argílico 2016

Verdejo from two Nieva vineyards, both ungrafted. The first has sandy soils, the other sand with gravel. The grapes are harvested twice, the first for freshness and low alcohol (all wines at 13,5%), the second for maturation, fruitiness, structure and length. Spontaneous fermentation, no added SO2. On lees for 5-6 months. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Light yellow, somewhat cloudy. White flowers in the aroma, citrus (orange peel), mature apples. Light but with a good concentration, good acidity.

Sin Nombre 2015

Verdejo from one of five parcels, Pago de Navales (acid soil, sand, 20% clay and low fertility). Natural fermentation in old oak (12 hl), remains in oak for 9-10 months on the lees (no batonnage). 10 months in steel, also on lees.

Clear yellow with a brownish hue. Mature apples, citrus (blood orange), hay, “breathes well” (meaning that the oak treatment is evident, without any sweetness). Quite full, good acidity, a touch of alcohol in finish.

ISSÉ Viñador Soñador 2016

Verdejo. From a 0,58 ha. vineyard planted at 915 meters in 1868, ungrafted. Spontaneous fermentation (that lasts for several months) in clay amphora, that is sealed for the one year ageing, then som time in steel before bottling. Unfiltered, no added SO2.

Light yellow with some green, somewhat cloudy. White flowers, citrus (grapefruit). Lovely fruit in the mouth, good acidity, elegant finish.

After ten days it’s maybe a little less focused, but still full of life.

Sin Rumbo Viñas Viejas Vendimia Tardía 2016

Verdejo, from a 0,42 ha. pre-phylloxera vineyard planted in 1872 in Nieva at 910 meters (one of the “Navales” vineyards). Poor soil; sand, gravel, pebbles. Whole cluster pressing, first a slow fermentation, then very quick (thus the volatile touch, according to Ismael). Spontaneous fermentation in clay amphora, no added SO2, unfiltered.

Light yellow, just a little bit cloudy. White flowers, apples, citrus, wax, and a slight touch of volatile acidity. Good concentration, fresh acidity, long.

The fruit is more vibrant after ten days than the previous amphora wine.

Respública Verdejo 2015

Verdejo from one plot (that he calls Crand Cru). Whole cluster pressing, spontaneous fermentation in old 228L barrels where it remains around 10 months. Bottled unfiltered.

Straw yellow, clear. Complex nose of citrus (lemon), yellow apples, chalky minerals, vanilla and a touch of honey. Rich, creamy, some oak, and good acidity in a long and intense finish.

Twelve days after (with low standing and just the original cork) am not able to detect any vanilla, and no oxidation. The wine is creamy, mineral, full of mature apples, and the balance is just perfect.

 

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A meaty Marenas monastrell

José Miguel Marqués is one of the leading figures in the Spanish natural wine movement. His winery, Viñedo y Bodega Marenas, is found in the outskirts of Montilla. This week’ pick is one of his most admired wines, the Cerro Encinas, meaning something like oak hill. Read more about his wine philosophy and that 6 hectare vineyard here.

It’s a monastrell made with spontaneous fermentation, 20 days of maceration. As you would expect from José Miguel there are absolutely no additions, and no fining nor filtration.

Cerro Encinas 2014 (Vin. & Bod. Marenas)

Dark cherry red. Dark berries, plums, sundried tomatoes, rosehips. Good concentration, rich and meaty, lovely fruit and good tannins.

Price: Medium

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You can call me Alf

Alfrocheiro preto is a grape that deserves its time in the spotlight. Historically a typical blending grape, there have been many good varietals too. And given the grape’s reputation for delivering dark stuff, often on the rustic side, I have through the years come across surprizingly many elegant wines, José Perdigão’s and Quinta dos Roques‘ Dão, Outeiros Altos’ Alentejo (sample), to name just a few, there are also some promising bruñal projects (one of its Spanish synonyms) like the one at Ribera de Pelazas, over the border in Arribes.

It’s an early ripener, yields quite generously, gives dark must, and balanced tannins and acidity, to be very short. The name is among the many “unpronounceable” Portuguese varieties, and someone just had to come up with the abbreviation Alf – and it was Terra d’Alter of Alentejo.

So much for that, this week’ pick is from Vinhos das Mercês, Norwegian Roar Aune and German Petra Lohmann, that in a short time have obtained remarkable results in Oliveira do Hospital, southern Dão (with oenologic help from Virgilio Loureiro (university lecturer who has aided several Beiras wineries). They have now a splendid collection of to-the-bone fruity wines, among them the pure and lovely red and white blends that could be considered their “entry-level” wines. The couple was among the ones heavily affected by the 2017 fires, but will rise again. Follow this blog, and you will read more from the producer later.

Aune Lohmann Alfrocheiro 2015 (Vinhos das Mercês)

Deep red. Dark and red, spices like nutmeg, leather, and somewhat earthy. Quite smooth texture, with a silky oak, good acidity and length.

Price: Low

Food: Various meats, game, roasts, casseroles

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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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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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Puglia Primitivo

Primitivo is one of Puglia’s most prominent grapes. We haven’t focused much on primitivos on this blog. I don’t know, it’s maybe easy to ignore the often slightly warm wines from this corner of Europe and Italy. This remarkable wine I enjoyed at the excellent restaurant and natural wine bar Brawn of London East. (Read about it here.)

Primitivo is an early ripener, hence the name. The Gioia del Colle plateau, with its sea winds and cool nights, is one of the most favoured terroirs. We are 400 meters above the plains where all the boring stuff originates. It’s up here that we find Cristiano Guttarolo, who works his 1.5 hectare vineyard (biodynamically. The vines here are planted on a base of limestone and clay. Fermentation is done with natural yeasts in stainless steel fermentation tanks. Maceration is carried out for 16 days and aged in steel. Bottling is without clarification, filtration or the addition of sulphur dioxide.

Lamie delle Vigne 2014 (Cristiano Guttarolo)

Very dark, young colour. Aroma of berries from the woods (blueberry), and also berries bathed in the sun, and a salty minerality. Round and tasty in the mouth, with a good acidity for a Puglian wine. A hint of volatile acidity maybe, but in tiny quantities it’s ok, as it adds to the freshness in a southern wine like this.

Price: Medium

Food: At Brawn’s it came with their magnificent crispy and tasty black pudding. But it goes to a variety of light meat, salads, vegetarian, vegan and light desserts.

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