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Visiting l’Empordà

Before the Vins Nus and Vella Terra wine fairs started in Barcelona I took the opportunity to travel around l’Empordà – together with a good friend, Malena Fabregat, wine writer and distributor.

We visited two producers of natural wine, one well-established classic, and one up-and-coming estate, both in the same vicinity – Carles Alonso and La Gutina.

Carles Alonso is maybe the foremost  pioneer of Catalan natural wines, having started back in the late 1970’s. He is certainly not the most well-known figure, but this is only due to the fact that he has never seeked the limelight, and it has not been necessary either, as he has easily sold everything from his bodega at the entrance of the Els Vilars village.

Carles is self-taught, and he hasn’t felt it necessary to join either fashions or denominations. He owns between 4 and 5 hectares of vineyard, and there he works about 10 varieties, most local, but also some foreign that have adapted well in Catalunya. He does all the work himself. -My daughter helps me a bit though, he admits, -and of course at harvest times there are many people here.

The altitude is never really high in l’Empordà. Here we are about 15 km from the sea and at 230 meters altitude. The Tramontana wind is always noticeable in the area. Carles has a lot of knowledge, and likes a good discussion, and some good jokes. After having joked about bad things in France (politics and weather) he gets more serious: -I am from the Mediterranean, born in Barcelona. So this is my terroir. I make strong, thick wines, full of alcohol. I harvest only 0,5 kg per plant, never prune in green, I never move a leaf… And I harvest late (i.e. September). Many look for acidity, and the only thing they get is acidity.

Carles explains to Malena

The wines ferment in clay amphora, and never see any oak. He makes white and red wine. But it’s the sparkling wines from the ancestral method that are the most prominent.

No chemicals are ever used either in the vineyard or in the cellar. The wines ferment with their own yeasts, without added sulfites, or any other additive of any kind.

We tasted his Blanc Petillant (macabeu, xarel.lo, garnatxa blanca, parellada and chardonnay) both 2009 and 2018. It was quite dark at his desk, but the 09 seemed dark yellow towards orange, smelled of pears, plums and mature apples, was rich and with generous alcohol, but balanced and harmonious. -It is its own category in a way, Carles said, and we could well agree to that. The 18 followed the same line, at 13,8% alc., but was obviously younger. Light straw colour; pear, some citrus (lime); full, with some oxidation (a touch of bitter almonds).

-I used to offer fresh wines, he says. -Like make 4.000 bottles of rosé and sell it to tourists. But in 2001, after I discovered how good a mature wine could be. Then I started to lay some years behind, on purpose.

We also tasted two reds, the Carriel dels Vilars Tinto (garnatxa, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, carinyena) 2018 and 2007. The 18 was dark red with lovely fruit, still some carbonic, and obviously still with an ageing potential. The 07 had no oak, -I am totally against it, he stresses. Ok, I see that old oak can work for micro-breathing, but it’s not for me. It was cherry red with mature nuances; smell of plums, cherry and some compote; drying a little in the mouth, but still full of life.

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Salò de Vins Naturales (Vins Nus), Barcelona

10th and 11th February there were two natural wine fairs in Barcelona. Both days the Saló de Vins Naturales (aka Vins Nus, meaning Naked Wines) was organized by the PVN (Productores de Vinos Naturales in Spain), while Monday 11th there was the Vella Terra, organized by Alejandra Delfino and Stefano Fraternali. Both fairs had guided tastings on the side, and there were parties in addition to the main fairs, and Barcelona was simply the place to be!

The 6th edition of the Vins Nus was held in the Nau Bostik building in the La Sagrera quarter, a place for cultural meetings. What place could better house the Vins Nus, that holds a position as the leading fair nationally for Spanish natural wines.

Most producers were Spanish, but there were also some from abroad, especially from France and Italy.

Here I met old friends and familiar producers. And there were some revelations too, of some I had only known the name or maybe tasted one wine.

In this post I can only mention some highlights. And I will try to limit myself to only one wine from each producer.

Lorenzo Valenzuela, Barranco Oscuro

Barranco Oscuro is a true classic on the Spanish natural wine scene, and has also been one of the founders and driving forces behind the PVN, who organizes this fair. From the high altitude vineyards in the Alpujarras of Granada they bring out one wine more inspiring than the other. One of my favourites has long since been the Garnata, a garnacha from the most elevated vineyards now in the 2014 vintage: Cherry red; very fresh, red fruits, clover, aromatic herbs; fleshy, tasty with a mineral finish.

Samuel Cano, Vinos Patio

This is a producer I have known for a long time. There is something intriguing about all the wines. It would be strange to call them cool, because they reflect the warmth of sunny La Mancha. This is Quijote’s land, near some old-fashioned windmills in the Cuenca province. Most wines have Patio in the name, such as the lovely white airén Aire en el Patio and the dark, raisiny dessert wine Al Sol del Patio. I also tasted four of Samuel’s wines at an arrangement at the bar Salvatge a couple of days before, so I limited myself to four wines at his table. A newcomer, or one I didn’t know before was Mic Mac, a delicious, flowery, super fruity blend of airén and moscatel.

This time I chose the white, or more accurately, rosé Atardecer en el Patio 2017 (from the red tinto velasco grape). It’s quite floral, with apple and peach. In the mouth it’s round and fruity, I reckon it must have some residual sugar, and would be perfect for an afternoon (atardecer) in the patio.

Fabio Bartolomei of Vinos Ambiz

I have met Italo-Scot Fabio, former translator, many times at fairs and visits to Madrid and Gredos. He makes many cuvées with variations in time of skin-contact, ageing (varying time and type of container) and so on. All the wines, how different they may be, carry his personal stamp. The focus has shifted from the the vineyards just outside the capital to the high sites of El Tiemblo (Ávila), Gredos, and we might be seeing the beginning of something great, and his albillo real wines from granite soil can be said to bear the torch here. Doré (a synonym of chasselas) is a grape that he has brought to the fore during the recent years. Now the wine comes under the name Doris. The 2018 is yellow-gold, slightly cloudy; smells of mature apples and is also flowery; quite full on the palate, grapey and sapid.

Ramón Saavedra of Cauzón (left)

Ramón was enthusiastic and happy to show his 2018 vintage; the white Cauzón, a lovely strawberry-scented pinot rosé, the four grape Ira Dei and the Mozuelo, a red fruits luscious garnacha. I chose the Duende 2018, a wonderful syrah through several vintages: Dark cherry; fruity, earthy and slightly spicy; fleshy and tasty with young tannins.(Read more about his bodega and his wines in a post from 2017.)

Nacho González, La Perdida

La Perdida is a splendid producer in Valdeorras (Galicia). Nacho uses the traditional grapes godello, mencía and garnacha tintorera, but also palomino, and more unlikely varieties such as sumoll. I like his range on a general basis, such as the palomino skin-contact MalasUvas, the Proscrito, a reddish white from palomino and a small amount garnacha tintorera. The one that I chose for lunch that day was O Poulo 2018, a garnacha tintorera: Dark, fruity, with red berries, some green pepper, very clean and elegant with fruit all the way.

Joan Carles, La Gutina

I visited La Gutina of Empordà a couple of days before (a brief article from that visit to follow), so there was no need to taste the whole portfolio again. But a wine they didn’t present then was Gluglu 2018, a carbonic maceration garnacha, strawberry scented with good volume in the mouth, but also a fresh acidity. Fun and authentic.

Angélica Amo López and Julien Ben Hamou, Coruña del Conde

Ribera del Duero can not be called a stronghold for natural wines. But Coruña del Conde, a bodega in the settlement of the same name outside Aranda, is among the torchbearers. I came across the following wine at the Cascorrot Bistrot in Madrid (read about it here). The latest edition is Don’t panic I’m only natural 2018 #5: Dark, violet colour; fruity with red berries and blackberry; juicy, with smooth tannins.

Diego Losada, La Senda (picture taken the night before at bar Salvatge)

La Senda of Bierzo is another producer that I have been exposed to at Cascorro, Madrid. In my opinion everything from here is good, and I would be surprised if these wines will not be much more in demand in the future. La Senda white, red, all very clean, pure, the right amount of acidity, and with a sense of place. I chose La Senda “1984” 2017, the latter the vintage and the former a reference to Orwell’s novel. It’s cherry red, super fruity, with cherries, plums, medium body, and a lovely integrated natural acidity.

Torcuato Huertas, Purulio

Purulio is a neighbour of Cauzón in Guadix (Granada), except this is found even higher, at 1.200 meters, in the small settlement of Marchal. Most of the wines are interesting and good, marked both by the sunny south and the high elevation, though sometimes I’d wished the oak treatment had stopped just a little while before. The one I liked best this time was maybe the aromatic Purulio 2018 (sample, 5 months in oak), with its berry aromatics, flowery sensations and a quite cool acidity.

Vinotauro 2016, a pinot with the not-too-well hidden wordplay on the label

Josep Dasca (right)

Among this years’ revelations Dasca Vives presented some impressive and different wines from l’Alt Camp, Tarragona province. They work well with the maccabeu variety, that is also the one behind their rounded, maturely fruity Llunàtic and the Vi Ranci. Another speciality is the vinyater variety. (Read here about their wine from this interesting grape.)

Now back to the rancio. This is an oxidized wine, most often from the grenache/garnatxa, and it takes some 8-10 years before it’s “rancified”. This particular wine was made from white grapes though. Josep and Alba explain that some ten years ago they put white wine from the grape variety macabeu in a barrel with a some kind of “dense vi ranci”, that Josep’s father has in a very old and broken barrel. They also added a little of alcohol (it’s the only time that they had done so). Now they have started to sell it. Sometimes more white wine is added, but the barrel is never full, so the wine is always in contact with oxygene. The Vi Ranci had a mahogany colour, nutty aroma (almonds, hazelnut), notes of iodine, reminiscent of a relatively young amontillado sherry. In the mouth it was full and glyceric, with some tannin. My notes say nothing about how sweet it was; if my memory doesn’t fail me I think it was kind of off-dry, anyway there was nothing at all disturbing.

Maribel and Juanjo of Alumbro

Alumbro of Zamora, Castilla y León was another discovery, with their wonderfully expressive wines, from the slightly turbid, fruity-grapey orange wine called Blanco 2016 (verdejo-godello-albillo), via the dark orange, perfumed moscatel Maeve 2018 to a couple of reds. Should I pick only one it could be the truly inspiring Berretes 2016 of albillo real/ godello 50/50: Orange, slightly cloudy; plums, apples, yellow tomatoes; some tannins. Linear, fruity.

Iker García of Hontza, Labraza (Rioja Alavesa) showed that he has something interesting going on. Another one to watch is La Zafra, of Monòver, Alicante.

I’m sorry for all the producers from abroad, that I had too little time for this Sunday. But we’ll meet again, I hope.

Greeted by a Brazilian style percussion band by the Arc de Triomf, on my way to the fair

 

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Wine of the Week

Dasca Vives’ Vinyater

At the Salò de Vinos Naturales (Vins Nus) of Barcelona one of the revelations were Dasca Vives. Not only for their interesting rancio wine, but for the quality in general, and for their clever use of the “forgotten” variety of vinyater.

The Dasca Vives winery is found in the l’Alt Camp area, near the town Valls (Tarragona province). They have about 15 hectares, not only vineyards. Not more than 20 km from the coast the soil has a high lime content. It’s worked in a very natural way. The wines have little or no clarification and filtration, and only a small amount of sulphite before bottling, if necessary.

According to Josep Dasca and Alba Vives this variety fell out of fashion when the cava rules were defined, because it was not selected. But they think it deserve a place in the panorama of Catalan grapes. And after having tasted a sample of the 2018 and the bottled 2017 I would not hesitate to applaud them.

The family had always kept two vineyards of vinyater, of 50 and 35 years old. When they started to work it they first blended it with maccabeu to make the Llunàtic wine. When they saw that the vinyater kept the acidity well, they started to do some experiments to make a monovarietal vinyater wine. According to the producer, who cites a dictionary, the vinyater has a strong leaf and sweet juice, and is good for keeping.

Vinyater Finca el Freixa 2017 (Dasca Vives)

Light yellow with an orange rim; very fruity, from yellow apples to plums, white flowers, and a touch of citrus peel; full, round, with a touch of lees ageing, it also plays with oxidation is perfectly balanced.

Price: Medium

 

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Wine of the Week

Štekar’s Re Piko

Janko Štekar is based in Goriška Brda, in the small town of Kojsko, between the Pre-Alps and the Adriatic Sea, not far from Italian Friuli.

His winery is protected from the cold winds from the north, while the mild breezes from the east helps avoiding humidity and thus plagues in the vineyards. The vines are planted on terraces and worked organically.

(Photo credit: Kmetija Štekar)

The wines are made as naturally as possible. He uses just a small amount of sulphites sometimes..

He has two lines of wines, one with skin-maceration and one without. This wine is from the former selection, made from riesling 90% and picolit, and macerated on the skins for 28 days. It underwent a spontaneous fermentation, and matured in 1100L vats of acacia for four years. Very low sulphur, no filtering.

Re Piko 2013 (Kmetija Štekar)

Clear amber. Aroma of nectarines, white pepper, flowers, eucalyptus. light touch of apple vinegar. Full, grapey, some tannin and good, natural acidity.

Price: Medium

Food: Fried and grilled fish, light meat, salads… We had it with panfried salmon and various vegetables

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Wine of the Week

Pacalet’s Nuits-Saint-Georges

Philippe Pacalet is one of the most talented négociants. Operating from Beaune since 2001, he works with growers from many parts of Bourgogne. He is not the type that buys in wines, but he works closely with the farmers, giving them his advice, buys the juice and follows and elevates the wines, so that he can put his stamp on them with his greatest confidence.

He tries to minimize the use of sulphur (and only before bottling), but his wines are still ageworthy. He never uses new oak, so there is never any disturbing oakiness.

During the latest years he has been looking outside Côte d’Or, such as Cornas, and he has even bought his own vineyards in Chénas and Moulin-à-Vent, Beaujolais.

He was the one who helped Fanny Sabre out in the beginning (read more here).

Nuits-Saint-Georges 2016 (Philippe Pacalet)

Cherry red. Mature red and dark fruits (blackberry), mineral and tobacco. Some tannin, fresh, concentrated and long.

Price: High

 

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Wine of the Week

Altura’s Ansonaco

Former maths teacher Francesco Carfagna is the owner of the Altura winery on the island of Giglio off the coast of Toscana. It has become a popular tourist destination, but only 600 people are actually living there.

Carfagna has himself revived the former traditions, and makes wines from indigenous grape varieties farmed biodynamically. It’s especially the ansonica (sic!) that has seen a revival in the hands of Francesco. As for today he is the only one who bottles his own wine.

This wine was included in a recent tasting of lesser or -for many- not known varieties.

The wine comes under the designation DOC Isola del Giglio. The soil is sandy granite, and the plants from the small vineyard are of various ages (20-80 years). It’s spontaneously fermented, aged for up to a year in steel tanks. Unfined and unfiltered. Low-sulphur (less than 30 mg/l).

Ansonaco 2013 (Altura)

Amber colour, slightly cloudy. Strong peel character, smells of plums, bitter almonds, slight barnyard. Full, grapey and tasty. Lots of character and charm.

Price: Medium

Food: Grilled and fried fish, tasty seafood, salads, lightly spicy food, light meat, cheeses (try with mild blue cheese)

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Wine of the Week

An Escoda red at Bar Brutal

I am in Barcelona for two natural wine fairs (Vins Nus and Vella Terra). And I have just finished a well-prepared meal at the city’s perhaps most iconic natural wine bar Brutal. And what could be more appropriate than to have one of Joan Ramón Escoda’s wines as this week’s pick?

Joan Ramón is one of the owners, and he was the one who brought my attention to this fabulous bar a few years ago, though he has no active role in it.

Waiter Lorenzo Gonelli entertaining the guests

Small plates like tuna tataki and ‘sweetbreads’ (here: pig’s cheeks) and cecina de vaca, lightly smoked ham from cow, were accompanied by several wines: An inspiring, fresh, yellow, barrel-aged xarel.lo Essencial 2017 (J. Rubió) from Penedès, Qvevri, a full thick, earthy, sauvignon blanc from Loire, with some residual sugar (made by a distributor of Georgian wines in France), a terret-dominated blend called Rouge fruit 16/ Rouge de Causse 15  (Petit Gimios), a dark, green herb-scented Minervois. To round off it all I had the floral, yellow and rosa-hued Súpertock Ancestral (Bodegas Cueva), a fresh valencian pét nat from the tardana grape.

But in-between: A timely reunion with the following wine.

The owners have grown their grapes organically in the Conca de Barberà since 1996, biodynamic since 2003 and without additions of sulphur (or anything else) since the 2007 harvest.

This wine is made from the varieties cabernet franc, cariñena, garnacha tinta and merlot. It stays 10 months on the lees in inox, and clocks in at a relatively low 13% alcohol.

Nas del Gegant 2017 (Escoda-Sanahuja)
Dark red. Cherry and blackberry aromas, with flowers and a mineral touch. Lively in the mouth, with a fresh acidity.

Price: Medium

Food: Very versatile; aromatic and light meat, cured ham, cheeses, rice dishes, tasty salads, and much more…

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Wine of the Week

Maestro’s Lovamor

Alfredo Maestro puts out one delicious natural wine after another. (Read about a visit to his Peñafiel winery here.) This week’s pick is his skin-contact albillo, here in the 2016 vintage.

The wine stayed 6 days with skin-contact, then on lees for 4 months.

The white Lovamor 2016 is a high altitude albillo real (770-1.000m) from more 100-120 year old vines in Olmos de Peñafiel with one week skin-contact, and due to the cold Castilian winter it didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation.

Alfredo refuses to use any DO, so his wines are labelled VT Castilla y León, whether they originate from the Ribera del Duero/ Valtiendas area, Gredos, or occasionally Cigales or other places.

Lovamor 2016 (Alfredo Maestro)

Gold to orange colour. Apple and melon in the aroma, flowery, and also lovely, light citrus. Quite rich and complex in the mouth, slightly pétillant, and a lovely, lively citrusy acidity.

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If natural wines can age…: Ribera del Duero edition

We have seen several natural wines now that really can age. (Here is a good one from Granada, and here an even older wine from Dão, Portugal.)

Let me tell you about one from Ribera del Duero, Castilla y León (Spain). Goyo García Viadero, the man behind it, comes from a respected family in wine. I got in touch with him through Bodegas Valduero of Gumiel del Mercado, where his sister Yolanda is winemaker.

Goyo started to produce his own naturally made wines in 2003. He has three small plots near Roa, with different soil types and at various altitudes. And they are the “toda la vida” kind of vineyards, where white varieties grow together with reds. The idea is to express the characteristics of the vineyard, rather than each grape variety.

(Credit: G. García)

All wines are de-stemmed, fermented exclusively with wild yeast, and nothing is added during elevage, neither any SO2.  The wines are raised in old French barrels in a very old underground cellar in Gumiel.

The Viñas de Arcilla is Goyo’s only mono-varietal cuvée, 100% tinto fino (tempranillo).  It comes from a very old vineyard, clay-dominated (as the name suggests) with some lime-stone, at more than 800 meters altitude. It’s produced with a similar vinification and elevage as outlined above.


Finca Viñas de Arcilla 2010
(Goyo García Viadero/ Explotaciones Valduero)

Deep cherry red, signs of development. Cherry, mature fruits, a bit earthy and peaty. Still some fine-grained tannins, lovely acidity and quite persistent. Not heavy at all, and with none of the oakiness often associated with this wine region.

At a younger stage it is perhaps the most powerful of his wines, with a solid structure, but it’s always juicy and surprisingly open too. Now I would say it’s near its peak.

Price: Medium

Food: The suckling pigs or lambs of the region, any kind of roasts and red meat, and don’t forget the wild mushrooms

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Wine of the Week

Natural Shiraz from McLaren Vale

The original battle of Bosworth was fought on Bosworth Fields, Leicestershire, England in 1485. Joch Bosworth explains that there is also a modern day version, namely his own battle for organic certification, which he acquired in 1995. The winery is found in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, only 7 km west of the sea and around 130 metres above sea level.

This particular wine was made from 100% shiraz, harvested by hand. It was fermented in open tanks, turned around three times a day during fermentation, then pressed and brought to steel tanks. It has seen no oak, and was bottled soon after malolactic fermentation, with no sulphur added.

Puritan Shiraz (no added preservatives) 2016 (Battle of Bosworth)

Dark cherry with blue hue. Mature red and dark berries, plums, balsamic notes, meat. Young, fresh, with a slightly carbonic, yet juicy mouthfeel.

Price: Low

Food: Meat, like pepper steak or casseroles, salads…

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