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Simplesmente Vinho 2020: Some highlights

It is always a delight to visit the Simplesmente… Vinho fair of Porto, held in Porto towards the end of February at Cais Novo, a former port wine warehouse by the Douro river. It’s an independent and alternative winefest that unites press, wine lovers and vignerons, most of these small artisan growers that work in a natural and organic way. This edition was number 8th, and showcased 101 producers, most of them Portuguese, some from Spain, only one from France I think, and a specially invited producer from Oregon, USA. There was good food, visual arts, there was music (and this year I was lucky to be able to take part myself), and oh! so many nice people.

There were endless rows of good wines to enjoy, so here I will only present a few of the highlights, and I will try to limit myself to one wine per producer. I have already published three short posts about single wines in the Wine of the Week column, and you can also read about some of the other producers from the previous fairs by doing a quick search yourself. Last year I wrote two articles similar to this one. Here you find recommendations of several Portuguese producers, and here are some of the rest.

Uivo Rabigato (picture taken in the Folias de Baco taberna)

We start locally. Tiago Sampaio is one of the best exponents of the “new wave” of Douro producers, making less “noisy” wines than the region is more known for, with less extraction, lower alcohol, and more focus on freshness of fruit. I have already reported from a visit to the Folias de Baco bar in downtown Porto where he delivers the wine (read here), and there will be a report from a visit to the winery in Alijó. Rabigato is getting more and more attention these days, as it shows its varietal potential. Uivo Rabigato 2019 is a characterful wine, light in colour, with flowery notes, grapefruit, citrus peel, a refreshing, cool acidity, and a saline finish.

Hugo and Ana

A neighbour of Tiago in Alijó is Ana Hespanhol of Quinta do Zimbro. She is also involved in a smaller project called Grau Baumé with her partner Hugo Mateus, and one of her sisters. I had a meal with the three of them in Alijó after a visit to Tiago. I remember some of the wines of Ana’s father Manuel from way back, and the brand Calços de Tanha (a very nice, direct, fruity red wine with a good price, by the way). Now it’s taken a step back to estate wines, to organics and naturally enough to a fresher style adapted to our times. Of the many good wines I here chose the Grau Baumé Undo 2017, a varietal viosinho that was lightly pressed without de-stemming, ageing in tank, and bottled un-fined and un-filtered. It showed a light colour, yet both full-flavoured, with yellow fruits, citrus and careful tropical notes, and a lovely acidity wrapped in a full, almost waxy appearance on the palate, and some saltiness too.

Manuel Sapage of Conceito
(tank sample of the Bastardo 2019 visible in the front)

About Conceito further east, near Vila Nova Foz Côa, I have written several times. Their white wines are stylish, their lighly extracted Bastardo red stunningly delicate, and they even offer ports, like a white port made in collaboration with Madeira producer Ricardo Diogos of Barbeito. This time I chose the white Único 2018, made from different plots in the same vineyard, more than 100 years old. It’s a field blend of around ten varieties, including rabigato, códega do larinho, gouveio, arinto, donzelinho branco and folgazão. It had a temperature controlled fermentation in used French oak barrels and regular bâtonnage up to one month, before it was aged 11 months in the barrels. It’s a light coloured wine with a complex aroma on the mineral side, with white peaches, citrus, ginger and some aromatic herbs; concentrated in the mouth, with a great natural acidity, and the oak is already almost integrated. It has probably a long life ahead.

William and Filipa

It’s always a delight to meet Filipa Pato and William Wouters. I have written about Filipa’s wines several times, and I like them a lot, so I thought I knew their portfolio. This time William presented wines from a range of his own, and I tasted a promising white wine. Other than that they had brought most of the range, both white and rosé sparklers, and I also tasted still whites and reds. Here I chose the Post-Quercus Baga 2018, that is presented as a wine from both of them. This wine is now made only in French and Italian amphoras (since their Portuguese one suddenly broke). These are not coated, and they have the same thickness all over, giving exactly the touch of taste that they search for. This is a wine that really sings: It’s quite dark in coulour, with violet hints; aroma of red and berries (cherries), plums, flowers; it’s juicy and delicious in the mouth, but not without concentration, fine-grained tannins, and with an acidity that’s there, but wonderfully integrated. Truly inspiring!

Luís Manuel Gil, winegrower and surfer from Óbidos
Inspiring, saline wines from breezy Atlantic vineyards

When I saw Luís Gil came into the tasting hall I expected him to take place at the table of his friend and collegue Rodrigo Filipe of Humus (see this article, including pictures of Luís). Well, he is still with Rodrigo, but this time he had come to present his new project. Marinho signifies that we are very close to the ocean, southwest of the Óbidos village. Here Luis works 2 hectares (6 plots) of rented old vines (between 40 and 110 years), where he works closely with the proprietors to ensure that they agree on everything. They work completely naturally, without additions of sulphur. The red varieties are first and foremost castelão, and some cruzado (a crossing with a lot of colour). I tasted the whole range, from whites with more or less skin-contact, rosé and reds. The Marinho Rosé 2018 was fabulous. 18 hours on skins with with stems, predominantly castelão (if I remember right) and some white grapes, like fernão pires, arinto and vital. This gives a light rosé colour, with strawberry and raspberry aromas; very juicy and delicate in the mouth, but also with a certain structure, and a lingering saline finish.

Luís tells that he grew up with wine, with a big wine cellar at his parents’ house. He had spent a lot of time visiting fairs, meeting vignerons and tasting wines that he was “triggered” by. This project started in 2017, when he had been thinking of it long enough, and suddenly realized that the wines he wanted to make were of a kind that was missing in the market.

If there is anything to compare Luís Gil’s wines with, or liken them to, it could be (well, apart of some wines in the Humus range of course) the Atlantic wines in Galicia. Which brings us over the border. I visited Constantina Sotelo in Cambados, Rías Baixas after last year’s edition of the Simplesmente. I tasted a few wines again this year, all from albariño and all from vintage 2018. And there were indeed several intesting wines that I could have chosen, not least the Aquelarre (sparkling from the ancestral method) and Flor de Sotelo (albariño under the ‘flor’ yeast, like in Jerez). I started with Octopus and Volandeira, the former more mineral from ageing in amphora, and the latter more fruity, from wood. All right, Octopus 2018 (2nd from left in the picture) was light coloured; flowery, with apricots and stony minerals; fleshy and grapey in the mouth, concentrated, with a super acidity in the long finish.

When Iria Otero started her own wine adventure it was with the Sacabeira label from the Salnés area of Rías Baixas. She prefers to chill the whites down to prevent malo-lactic fermentation to take place. While these are superb albariños, most the wines she had brought this time were from inland Ribeiro, from the village of Leiro by the river Avia. She normally elaborate entry wines in concrete, while the others are made in chestnut. A Seara Castas Brancas 2018 is, as the name implies, made from white varieties, treixadura, godello, torrontés and albariño to be exact. This one is made in concrete and stayed there for 6 months. It’s light in colour; green apples, yellow plums and flowers on the nose (as she points out herself, it’s more flowery than fruity); it’s mellow in the mouth, with some acidity, and really enjoyable.

Cume do Avia (from left): Álvaro, Diego and Fito

Not far from Iria, in Eira de Mouros, Ribeiro we find Cume do Avia, named after the highest hill in the subregeion of Avia. They have there 13 local varieties on 9 hectares. This area varies between Atlantic and Continental influence. The soil is a mix of clay, schist and granite, and the vineyards are facing east, with optimum sun exposure and ventilation. I really enjoyed both their white and red wines. Under the Dos Canotos label come both a varietal brancellao, but I chose the other one (not for any specific reason, because they are both very good), Dos Canotos 2017, a blend of brancellao, sousón and caiño longo fermented and aged 6 months in very old big neutral barrels. This is a bit darker than the other; fresh, red fruits, with a lactic note; in the mouth it’s cool and fresh, with a slight tannic grip and a nice salty character.

Vicente Torres represents Puro Rofe and Bien de Altura

Puro Rofe and Bien de Altura are sister companies, the former is the oldest and most “well”-known and stands for Lanzarote wines, and the latter for wines from Gran Canaria. In fact there is a third sister now, as they make wine from El Hierro under the name Bimbache. This is quite sensational, so it’s pretty sure that we will come back to this. Our choice here is a high-quality wine from the maybe unlikely island of Gran Canaria, and the village San Mateo. The grower is Carmelo Peña, native to Gran Canaria, who works with indigenous varieties in an artisan, and organic and biodynamic way; native yeasts, de-stemming by hand, little use of SO2, and long macerations with little extraction. This place is considered to have desert climate due to constant warm temperatures and minimal rainfall. Carmelo and his team climb high, up to more than 1.400 meters.

The word ikewen has its origin in the Berber language Tamaziɣt and means root, or source. The red wine by that name is made from pie franco vineyards facing northeast and southeast, planted in volcanic soils. The grapes were hand-harvested and macerated 40% whole cluster, 60% was destemmed, gently pressed into one 500L used French barrel and the rest into steel tanks to finish fermentation. The finished wine was bottled unfined, unfiltered and with only a tiny amount of sulphur. Ikewen 2018 of Bien de Altura, grapes listán prieto, listán negro and some white varieties: Light red colour; red fruits, white pepper, a smoky touch; bright, fresh acidity and fine-grained tannins. 11,5% alcohol.

Germán Blanco of Milú

Germán Blanco of Quinta Milú is one of those who believes in village wines, and shows that even wines from Ribera del Duero can express a sense of place. And the place in this case is La Aguilera, one of the dominant wine towns of Burgos (Castilla y León), not far from Aranda de Duero. The grapes are grown organically in the traditional way, hand-harvested and with minimal use of sulphur. They use materials such as concrete or clay, and when they do use wood, it’s always big and used barrels. They never clarify nor stabilize and almost never filter.

They have a winery in Rioja and one in Bierzo too, but we concentrate on Duero here. Milú was also the first bodega in their project. To Porto Germán had brought three wines from La Aguilera; La Cometa 2018 from different plots, Viñas Viejas 2018 from limestone soil. I chose Quinta de Milú Bellavista 2018, from a tiny tempranillo vineyard with 80 year old vines at 930 meters on sandy soil. The wine is fermented in open barriques and aged there for 12 months. It’s deep dark purple; the aroma is dominated by forest fruits (blackberry), and aromatic herbs; in the mouth it’s fleshy, fresh, quite structured yes, but it’s elegant and can be drunk relatively short-term. Germán says they prefer imperfection to carefully monitored processes. But the wines are truly beautiful, and Germán hints to Leonard Cohen when he says, “it’s in the cracks that the light comes in”.

The light comes in to José Manuel Benéitez too

Also in Castilla y León, José Manuel Benéitez is found in the small wild, remote region Arribes del Duero close to the Portuguese border. El Hato y el Garabato is family project that started in 2015. Here they manage organically 8 hectares of 70-100 years old vineyards with varieties like the red juan garcía; bruñal, rufete, bastardo and the white doña blanca and puesta en cruz (rabigato in Portugal). And the cellar work is very artisanal.

The white Otro Cuento 2018 is made from doña blanca grown in granite, higher up in the domaine (while there is slate/schist at a lower level in the canyon). Half of it was fermented in small old barrels, and stayed there for 6 months. It’s light yellow wine, a bit reductive at first (a bit fosforic, some graphite), but it looses out to yellow fruits, and a smoky touch is there; quite creamy, or glyseric in the mouth, and integrated acidity. Mineral, intriguing. And then we are ready to cross over the border back to Portugal…

…which is not a long distance at all. Because we come to the northern part of Alentejo, by the Serra de São Mamede mountains, where João Afonso and his family has their Cabeças do Reguengo literally inside the national park. It’s an ambitious project where they seek to live and breathe in harmony with nature and ecosystem. And the wines are made in the most healthy way possible. The Respiro 2018 is made from both red and white grapes. Take a deep breath: Trincadeira, alicante bouschet, castelão, grand noir are the reds, while the white proportion include arinto, assario, fernão pires, roupeiro, alicante branco, rabo de ovelha, tamarez, manteúdo, uva rei, uva formosa, vale grosso, excelsior, salsaparrilha. Ok, come quickly back to the normal colour of your face please: They are grown between 500 and 710 meters, bought from local farmers who shares their ideology. The grapes were fermented in stone lagar with native yeasts and aged one year in old oak. The colour is fresh, clear red; aroma of red fruits, plums, some green pepper (from the whole-bunch treatment maybe), a touch of spice; fruit-driven fresh taste, fine tannins. Both serious and delicious summer-drinking.

Fortunato Garcia

Back to the islands, but this time to Pico of the Açores, where Fortunato Garcia makes his Czar wines in Criação Velha on the western side.

Why the name Czar? After the Russian revolution in 1917, sweet wines from Pico was found in the cellars of the palace of the last Tsar, Nicholas II. This wine was shipped in barrels on the island of Pico and sent to the royal banquets. It even appeared on medical prescriptions as a cure for certain ills and even Tolstoy mentions it in his book “War and Peace”. This is their reason for naming the wine. The Czar 2013 has 19% of natural alcohol, as can happen with these grape varieties (here: verdelho, terrantez, and arinto) in the volcanic soil. This time it stopped by 15-16 degrees, then started again. The colour is deep amber; with a sweet aroma of raisin, but also with some orange peel, hazel-nuts and anise to balance; it’s rich in the mouth, with a long nutty aftertaste.

When talking about the highlights one of them was for me a non-vinous one. This year I was lucky to be asked to perform with André Indiana and the in-house jam band. So for a full two hours we were rocking the house, and it was a wonderful experience to see all the wine producers in the audience diggin’ and dancin’. And Fortunato of Czar joined too, and lead the band masterly in an old Motown hit (I think it was).

A lot of superb wines are not mentioned. I did not have the time to taste everything. Some other producers were given priority last year, and the year before. At the dinners and lunches I remember wines from Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno, Rodrigo Filipe, João Tavares de Pina, with whom I shared table, and many others.

What now, my love? During this fair we got the message that the Cais Novo had been sold. So next year Simplesmente Vinho has to move again. And it’s a common belief that it would be difficult for festival organizer João Roseira to come up with a place as good as the one that we now have become used to. But he has surprised us before, so let’s see…

João Roseira: Is there a place for us somewhere? (picture taken a couple of days later at Quinta do Infantado)

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Wine of the Week

Promising prototype in Távora-Varosa

Távora-Varosa is a small mountainous DOC area bordering the Douro to the north and Dão to the south. I went there after the Simplesmente Vinho fair to visit Manuel Valente and his Protótipo project.

The region is found at the northern part of the Serra de Nave, and the names of the two major rivers are coined to form the wine region’s designation. Here is a continental climate with cold winters and hot and dry summers. This is a high place, with vines at an average altitude of 550 metres above sea level on granite and schist soils. The grapes will easily get a high acidity and tart fruit quality. That’s one of the reasons that it has for long been one of the best regions for sparkling wines in the country, and the first one to be demarcated for this type of wine in 1989. Murganheira, maybe the most emblematic winery of all, is found here.

By the Varosa river, in Ucanha, where the local Comissão has its headquarters

Manuel is found in the village Aldeia de Cima, where the “Valentes” has a 200 year long history of growing grapes and olives, and 25 hectares of various growths in total. The current generation decided in 2015 to see if it was possible to make natural wines there. -The idea is to reflect the grapes in the bottle, says Manuel, -and if you do a good job the grapes you can come away with very little intervention.

Perfect for wind turbines; here one with decoration by local artist Joana Vasconcelos (named ‘Gone with the Wind’, 2016)

And it’s clear that both rosé and white ancestral method sparkling wines show a tremendous potential, with their freshness caused by the altitude and the winds of the region. We tasted his wines, both rosé and white, still and sparkling, at the small family restaurant Tasca da Quinta restaurant in Régua.

For this column I chose the rosé pet nat, that is made with touriga nacional and tinta roriz, with an additional field blend of old vines. It comes with 4 grams residual sugar, that feels dry in this wine because of a high acidity.

Protótipo Pét Nat Rosé 2017 (Protótipo, M. Valente)

Light cherry red, a dark colour for a rosé. Aroma dominated by red fruits (raspberry), with some biscuits, and also a darker, more herbal component. Some mousse, tastes dry, with a light structure and a super natural acidity.

Price: Medium

Food: Calls for food, everything from light meat via fish and shellfish to salads. We enjoyed it with Bacalhau à brás (=grilled; dried codfish, potatoes, olives and eggs).

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Wine of the Week

Maury is more

The region of Maury is famous for its naturally sweet white of good value, and it’s here that we find Clos des Vins d’Amour. But Maury is more, and this producer shows that they can make a variety of wines, like this wonderfully fresh young red wine.

Credit: Clos des Vins d’Amour

The estate is comprised of 24 hectares lying in the shadow of the Queribus mountains, and is in the hands of the Dornier family and dates back to 1860.

The soil is mostly black slate, and grenache gris is the dominant grape variety for the sweet white wines. But being located in the Languedoc-Roussillon varieties like syrah, mourvèdre and grenache noir are obviously also seen. This particular wine is made from grenache (noir) 80% and carignan. No sulphur is added here.

Une Lubie 2018 (Clos des Vins d’Amour)

Deep red. Smells of flowers, dark and red berries (blackberry, cherry), a touch of anise. Quite light, fresh, luscious, slightly pétillant.

Price: Medium

Food: Light meat, veal, cured hams, grilled fish, salads, hard cheeses, and (probably) sushi

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Articles

Beaujolais Thursday

Every year 3rd Thursday of November sees the launch of the new Beaujolais vintage. This is nothing less than a 65 year old tradition in the wine home region. This year I haven’t participated in any comprehensive tasting, so I went to my local store and grabbed four wines. Luckily the store has a knowledgeable staff, and I could pick from some of the producers that I value the most.

Three of them comes from what have been called the “gang of four” of Beaujolais, producers who followed Jules Chauvet’s teachings and decided to avoid artificial fertilizers in the vineyard and sulphur in the wine, so as to better reflect the terroir of Beaujolais. 

Here you can read about, and see a picture of Marie Lapierre and Jean-Claude Lapalu. Lapierre’s Cambon Nouveau was featured a few years ago too. See here. The regular Cambon was also featured here this summer. The two other wines I bought were from Jean Foillard and Guy Breton.

A gang of four, an appropriate term for Beaujolais

To sum up, the two lightest wines were from Lapierre and Breton (number 3 and 1 from left, respectively) with the former as the most energetic of the two. Foillard and Lapalu (4 and 2 from left) were more “natural”, with the latter as the most “wild” and with a good deal of sediments.

Beaujolais Nouveau Cambon 2015 (Ch. Cambon – M. Lapierre)

Ruby red. Flowery with raspberries and cherries. Soft on the palate with just the right touch of acidity. Lovely, elegant.

Cuvée Fanchon Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2019 (Guy Breton)

The village here is Villié-Morgon (where Foillard is located). Light ruby. Rhubarb, raspberry. In the mouth it’s fresh, the body is very light but still with a touch of tannin, dry finish.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2019 (J. Foillard)

Cherry red. Red berries and something chemical at first – red and black berries after some time in the glass, also a lactic tone. Meaty, juicy, but also some tannin, a touch of bitterness, dry. It’s on the wild side; I don’t say it’s mousy, but it has something funky that’s not easy to detect on the nose.

Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2019 (J.-C. Lapalu)

Lapalu’s village is Saint-Etienne-la-Varenne in Brouilly, a southern location that partly explains the relative power of his wines.

Smells of dark fruits, a touch of raspberry with some lickorice and earthiness. Fresh in the mouth, lightly structured and ends dry. Some carbonic at first, but it disappears with time in the glass. Just like the former wine: On the wild, or natural side (a bit funky retronasal aroma).

Lapalu’s nouveau, clearly unfiltered
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Wine of the Week

La Fusta, Penedès

Toní Carbó is maybe better known for his collaboration with his friend Ramón Jané at Mas Candí. But he started unofficially to make wine under the Salada label in 2012, together with his wife Ana, from his family’s old farm Celler La Salada.

The family vineyards have never been sprayed, and Toní and his wife have also planted new ones, that they tend organically. These are wonderful wines without any additions of sulphur.

We are in Penedès, in the Barcelona province. La Fusta is the name of this particular vineyard, planted in 1988 in soil with limestone and some clay.

The wine is a varietal xarel·lo. The grapes were hand-picked, pressed in whole bunches, before spontaneous fermentation in old 1000 liter chestnut barrels. Unfiltered.

La Fusta 2018 (Celler La Salada)

Light grapefruit colour, somewhat turbid. Smells of yellow apples, white flowers and mature citrus. It’s a bit waxy and mineral with a lively acidity. Long.

Price: Medium

Food: Fish and shellfish, paella, and the power and the acidity suggests that it goes well with many meat dishes

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Wine bars and restaurants and Wine of the Week

Pét nat at P Franco

Finally I managed to visit P Franco in the Clapton area of East London. It’s small, I don’t know if the workers find it functional. But there is one big table in the middle of the room, so I found it cosy and social. How nice isn’t it to be surrounded by so many good bottles; used bottles from the bar, and bottles from the shop waiting to get a new owner.

The owners also have other venues in town, like the Bright and the Peg. There is always something interesting going on, and many are the guest chefs that have been visiting.

Daniel and the rest of the staff being very attentive

This night I had been in Hackney, and just popped in. No problem to find a place by their one central table.

I had three wines, and I let Daniel and the others decide. For every wine I got the choice between two or three, so it turned into an interesting tasting also.

I tasted, among other wines, a very good natural verdicchio, Terre Silvale 2018 from La Distesa di Corrado Dottori from the Marche, an unfiltered Grüner 2018 from Arndorfer, and A toi nous 2018, from Andrea Calek, a Czech in the Ardeche.

For this post I chose the Silvaner pét nat from 2 Naturkinder of Franken. They have a small production from 30 years old vines on shell limestone by the river Main in Bavaria. The grapes are hand harvested and left as whole clusters. The bunches ferment in stainless steel for two weeks without temperature control. Then the bunches are pressed, and the wine finishes the fermentation in bottle. It was bottled with close to 10 grams residual sugar and the pressure became 2.2 bars. The alcohol is low at 11%, and as for the total SO2 (nothing added) it’s as little as 4 mg/L.

Silvaner Pét nat 2018 (2 Naturkinder)

Orange/brown, slightly turbid. Aroma of yellow apples, white flowers and herbs. Yeasty, with a creamy mousse, grapefruity, with a nicely integrated acidity.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with “Smoked ivory cauliflower, cacao flower and horseradish” at P Franco, but it should tackle a lot of dishes; white fish, smoked fish, charcuterie, lightly spiced Asian…

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Wine of the Week

Juicy at Esaias

I met Dido and Jurriaan almost by coincidence in Barcelona. Or to be precise, we were introduced by the organizer of the Vella Terra natural wine fair. I got the impression that their business was just beginning (which is not far from true), and the wine they had brought was just a sample. So it was a big surprise to find one of their wines at the newly opened Esaias in Oslo (next door to, and under the same ownership as the restaurant Bacchus, itself a natural wine haven).

Jur (left) and Dido at Garage, Barcelona

Dido and Jur are from Amsterdam. In their own words, then share a passion: wine, and travelled around the world to find kid right place to make it. They finally chose Alt-Empordà in Spain, where they found around ten hectares of vineyards in the natural reserve of Albera, that they were able to buy by crowdfunding. The vineyard they call Tortuga, because they share them with a nearly extinct tortoise species). It’s already cultivated organically, and they intend to implement biodynamic practise as well. 2018 is the first vintage when they are able to make wine entirely from own grapes.

Worth mentioning is that Dido was doing research for a master in cultural anthropology on the Swartland Independent Producers, a group of young winemakers making natural wines (Craig Hawkins, Jurgen Gouws ao.). Inspired by these people, living out their dream, they decided to do the same.

Along their journey they had worked for both big industrial companies and small artisans. It was Joan Ramón Escoda of Conca de Barberà who really made them realize that wine should be made naturally, with minimal intervention.

Juicy is made from garnacha 60% and merlot. The merlot was destemmed and pressed, then raised in 500L old oak barrels for 4 months. The garnacha grapes were pressed in steel, in whole bunches. There was no temperature control. The wine is unfined and unfiltered, and total SO2 is a mere 5 mg. The soil here is granite and schist., for the records. (By the way, all their wines are named after songs. This one is from The Notorious B.I.G.’s rap hit.)

Juicy 2018 (Vinyes Tortuga)

The colour we can call strawberry red. Smells of raspberry and strawberry. It lives up to its name, is juicy in the mouth, intensely fruity with raspberry all the way, and an inspiring acidity.

Price: Medium

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Articles and Wine bars and restaurants

La Casa del Perro, Málaga

La Casa del Perro is a hidden gem in the historic centre of Málaga. Here the couple Ana and Fede serves small well-elaborated dishes to be paired with delicious natural wines.

We visited several times during a couple of weeks and enjoyed a great variety of dishes, such as Guacamole with home made nachos, Carpaccio of beef with yellow tomatoes, parmesan and greens, and also a vegan lemon cake made with almond milk.

Ana and Fede

But what initially caught my attention were their wine offerings. Many of these are from the leading producers in natural wine field, especially southern ones, like Barranco Oscuro, Cauzón, Torcuato Huertas and José Miguel Márquez (all of whom are presented on this blog). I met Ana earlier this year at the Barcelona wine fairs, and some of the vintners I had marked as “interesting”, she had contacted, and some already included. La Zafra of Alicante is an example. La Casa del Perro may not have the biggest selection, but it is indeed an eclectic one.

A little background: Ana and Fede opened their restaurant in the historic centre of Málaga in 2004, and moved to the current location some three years ago. The restaurant’s name is a result of a wordplay game started by a friend.

They were both born in this neighbourhood, and both families have lived there for generations. As Ana tells:

-We strive and fight to do what we like, and we are very happy to find ourselves in a neighborhood a bit hidden. We totally disagree with bars and restaurants that receive the passing tourist as if they were cattle. We want the visitor to have a good time and have a desire to come again.

Barranco Oscuro’s Ring! Ring! (Riesling)

Among the many wines we tasted during the visits were some new and interesting ones, such as a varietal parellada called Water Fly (Ca Foracaime, and bottled by Celler Portes Abertes in Terra Alta, Catalunya), a light white with an integrated acidity, and Pura Vida 2018 (Vinos Fondón), a promising dark and juicy garnacha rosé from the Almería part of the Alpujarras. From the more established artisans were Marenas Mediacapa xviii (18) (José Miguel Márquez, Montilla), a clean and delicious, light straw, off dry, some co2 wine, and La Pámpana 2018 (Viña Enebro, Bullas), made partly with carbonic maceration, a cherry red, juicy wine with some co2. Then the Ring! Ring! (Barranco Oscuro): Nothing to do with the old ABBA song, but a wordplay on riesling, a light golden, good acidity wine. There were also several editions of La Traviesa, made by the same producer, with grapes from one their neighbours up in the Alpujarras. (Read here about my recent visit to the producer.)

Lastly I want to draw your attention to four wines that really stand out. Either are they interesting takes on traditional themes, or simply of amazing quality.

NU Rosado /3/2017 (La Zafra): This one I mentioned in the beginning, and in an article from the fairs in Barcelona I wrote that the producer was one to watch. This is a monastrell rosé made in four editions, with 0, 3, 5 and 7 months of skin-contact respectively, and only between 2-400 bottles are made of each of them. /3/ signifies that this is the 3 months edition, the second lightest. It’s a light and lively wine, salmon pink colour, and smells of red berries (raspberry, strawberry).

Cabrónicus 2017 (Bod. Cauzón): This tempranillo made with carbonic maceration was the pick of the week (read here). It’s made east of Granada city at around 1.000 meters altitude, near Guadix. It’s pale red, super fruity with raspberry, pomegranate, and a touch of white pepper. In the mouth it’s delicious, juicy, fresh and clean, with a long, integrated acidity. 

Purulio 2018 (T. Huertas): Here is a very personal wine from the same area as the previous one. It’s made from a blend of both tempranillo and French grapes: Dark and dense, and full of blackberry and other dark fruits, along with a touch of coffee and roast, and touch of tannin and a stimulating acidity.  

La Veló 2016 (José Miguel Márquez): Another Montilla still wine with the Marenas label. This is a tempranillo grown at Cerro Encinas at 350 meters. Dark, almost opaque, some blueberry, but also plums and some tobacco. There is a lot of tannin here, but it doesn’t dominate the fruit. 

Ana showing the La Veló in the restaurant’s wine shop

Is there a mirror there at the bottom of the casserole?

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Trekking in the Andalusian mountains

I have taken a two day break from my seaside city holiday in Málaga. We are now trekking in the mountains. And we, we are my friend Jan Inge Reilstad (writer and culture activist) and me. I thought I’d give you some main lines in a postcard format, before I go into more detail later.

First of all I must say a big thanks to all the kind and lovely people who set their work on pause for a while to welcome us, after having given them a very short notice!

Manuel Valenzuela

First stop was Barranco Oscuro, outside Cádiar in the Alpujarras. I have met Lorenzo Valenzuela many times and many places, but it must be ten years since my latest visit to the winery. This time it’s his father Manuel who welcomes us. He shows us around the premises, before we end in a room to taste some wines.

We can’t help notice the wordplay on many of the labels. Tres Uves resembles the Spanish expression for three grapes, but what it really means is three V’s. And aptly enough the wine is based on the varieties viognier, vermentino and the local vijiriega. It’s obvious that Manuel has great fun talking about this. And he tells the story behind the labels, one by one, ending with the Salmónido, with the subtitle rosado a contracorriente, meaning: rosé against the stream.

And when you think of it: It’s not only the salmon that is going towards the stream. The Valenzuelas started to make natural wines without any additions or corrections at a time when few others did. Manuel Valenzuela is by most regarded as one of the true pioneers of Spanish natural wine.

Everything we tasted was expressive and full of energy; like the Art Brut 2017, a sparkler made according to the ancestral method, the yellow fruit-packed viognier La Ví y Soñé 2017 and the always lovely cherry fruit-dominated Garnata 2012 (obviously from garnacha). For those interested in ampelography (the study of grapes), the La Ví y Soñé has now a small percentage of vijiriega negra, a very rare variety that the white vijiriega once mutated from. We ended the tasting with two vintages of 1368 Cerro Las Monjas, whose name refers to the altitude of their highest vineyard (until recently the highest in Europe). Both were very much alive. Vintage 2004 was a bit reduced, cherry red, showed red and dried fruits, and a good acidity, and a slightly dry mouthfeel. The 2003 was a bit darker, with dark cherry dominating the aroma, and a rounder palate – and still more years ahead. (Read my report about the 2002 here.) A terrific bonus was Xarab, an amber coloured wine from the pedro ximénez (PX) variety, with aroma of apricot, figs, a touch of raisins and a balanced acidity. Manuel had showed us a barrel of the wine in the cellar. At this point it had been fermenting for three years (!).

High altitude vines grown organically and unirrigated on schist and clay soil

After a lunch in the centre of Ugíjar, rabbit and chicken with a dark, meaty nameless Cádiar wine, we continued our short road trip. Just outside Ugíjar we were met by this signpost.

I visited Dominio Buenavista around ten years ago too. Nola, from Dayton, Ohio has been through tough times since her husband Juan Palomar passed away last year. They both used to travel between the two countries. Now she has been forced to stay in Spain to look after the domaine, and continue the work just the way her beloved husband would have done himself.

Nola makes it clear that she wants to have control over the end-product. Therefore the wines can be said to lack the “savagery” of Barranco Oscuro. Their wines called Veleta (the second highest peak in Sierra Nevada, but also meaning weather-bird) are well-made, and their followers in Spain, the US and elsewhere know what to expect. -Natural yeast scares me, Nola says. So she relies on cultured yeasts, and hesitates to go completely organic. But the amount of sulphur is low, and added only following the harvest. In the cellar we tasted some red samples, from tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon (2018), and cabernet franc (2014), the grapes that make up Noladós, one of their signature wines. There was also a promising graciano (2016).

Should I pick just one wine it would be the Vijiriega “Viji” 2017, a fruity and mellow wine with apple, citrus and herbal notes.

We decided to see if there were room for the night in Trevélez. This is the second highest municipality in Spain at 1.476 meters, a place with thin air, good for curing of the famous Trevélez hams. So we climbed the steep slopes, and Jan Inge maneuvered the car through the narrow streets of the town. At last we found a room in the highest hotel of Trevélez.

Hams hanging in the restaurant where we had dinner

Next morning, continuing over the province border to Málaga, we arrive in the village of Moclinejo, as we enter the historic Axarquía landscape. Here we met Ignacio Garijo. He represents both the well-known Bodegas Dimobe, a family company that dates from 1927, and the new project Viñedos Verticales. The director is Juan Muñoz, one of three brothers. We can maybe say that stylistically, at least philosophically, these wines fall in between the two producers from yesterday.

Dimobe’s highest vineyard: Moscatel de Alejandría on slate and stone ground. These are 50-60 years old, while average is 80-90. On the north side of the hill there is moscatel for dry wines, on the south side moscatel for sweet wines picked a little later

Ignacio and Jan Inge looking south

Dimobe was dedicated to sweet wines, as was the tradition in Málaga. Around 2001, when the DO Sierras de Málaga was established as a means to meet the challenges and demands of modern times, they started to incorporate dry table wines in their portfolio. Pepe Ávila (Bodegas Almijara, of Jarel fame) and Telmo Rodríguez probably made the first dry moscatel in the area in 1998 (I visited them in 2001, I think), and since the new regulations came many more followed. Now it’s the norm, and one can wonder about the future of the traditional sweet and fortified wines.

Dimobe owns 5 hectares and controls 38 in total. All viticultors work the same way: Harvest by hand, sulphur as the only chemical product, and organic farming (though not certified). This is easy: -In 40 years we have only had two mildew attacks, in 1971 and 2011.

The old part of the winery looks like a museum. But it is also in operation; there is actually wine in the barrels. -There are many seals in here, says my friend. Ignacio explains that it is goat’s stomachs, very useful in old times to keep wine from oxidating, from Quijote’s time untill much more recently.

We tasted Verticales’ four wines first. La Raspa 2018, a moscatel 70% and doradilla wine. The moscatel is aromatic and fresh, while the doradilla rounds it off. It’s an appealing wine; light in colour, and typical moscatel aromas of flowers, some herbs, and some citrus (lemon). Filitas y Lutitas 2016 is a moscatel 90% and PX. This is a complex and very interesting wine that you can read more about here. We had a 2018 sample of El Camaleón. The grape here is romé (or romé de la axarquía, to be precise). It’s a grape that’s difficult to work and that offers little colour. So the colour is light red, aroma predominantly of red fruits, and fine-grained tannins. Ignacio explains that the tannins come from the vat, and they need some time to soften. He also claims that the tannins from the vat help to get some colour, even if I don’t see how this could work. Anyway, all these wines come under the DO Sierras de Málaga.

The last Verticales wine is Noctiluca Vendimia Asoleada 2016, that is a DO Málaga and comes from grapes totally dried in the paseros. It arrives 10% alcohol and has never seen any barrel. It’s yellow because of some oxidation in the paseros; aroma of apricot, flowers, and some tender sweetness (173 g/L). We went straight over to a couple of wines from the extensive Dimobe range. Señorío de Broches 2017 comes from grapes dried only on one side of the clusters. It reaches 8% natural alcohol, then it’s fortified up to 15. It’s a fresh wine, easy-to-drink, with the same sweetness at the Noctiluca. Trasañejo is an expression from the old Málaga classification that means that the wine must be at least 5 years old. Pajarete Trasañejo is a naturally sweet wine from moscatel and PX (again with the same sweetness), and one is not allowed to use arrope, the traditional reduced must. Amber or mahogny in colour, nutty and concentrated, with figs and dried fruits. Absolutely delicious.

Time to get back to our rented flat on the beach of Málaga capital. I must also confess that my wife and I had the wonderful sparkling moscatel Tartratos 2015 that Ignacio gave us (for the road), during the evening and night. Yellow, yeasty, tasty; just delicious summer drinking.

Ignacio Garijo

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Wine of the Week

Carbonic Cabrónicus

This bottle was bought from natural wine bar La Casa del Perro in Málaga (a report to follow). Out from the fridge it didn’t take long before it reached optimum serving temperature on a hot summer day.

Producer Cauzón, or Ramón Saavedra, can be found in several articles on this blog (such as here, after a visit, and here, in a report from a fair earlier this year).

In 1997 Ramón left a successful career as a Michelin star chef, to start making wines without additions up to 1.200 meters above sea level in his home town Graena. This is rather a small settlement in the Sierra Nevada mountains, some 30 minutes east of Granada city.

Cabrónicus is made from tempranillo grapes grown on red clay soil. The name is derived from the use of carbonic maceration, that went on for three weeks in whole bunches.

Cabrónicus 2017 (Bod. Cauzón)

Pale red. Smells of red berries (raspberry), pomegranate, and a slight touch of white pepper. Juicy and delicate, with fine, discrete tannins, and a long, integrated acidity. A very fresh, clean and appealing natural wine.

Price: Medium

Food: At the wine bar we had it with as different dishes as carpaccio of beef and guacamole with nachos, but it goes well with everything from light meat, white fish, and a variety of salads

 

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