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Tag: natural wine

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.

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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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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Just what the doctor ordered at Apotekergaarden

I was recently visiting Grimstad, a beautiful small town on the Norwegian southern coastline, where the houses are white, small private boats are moored and the seagulls are part of the scenery. I have a special relationship with the town, because I was born there, and my family has since spent many summers there.

Fresh crabs on offer in the town’s inner harbour

The town could have boasted of its seafaring culture. My late father left from there to work on a ship at the age of 14. And that night I borrowed the house of a friend, the daughter of my father’s captain at that time. But Grimstad is not of that sort, boasting is not part of its personality. It’s just lying there, a southern Norwegian idyll bathed in the summer sun.

These days the small town is home to the restaurant with the most amazing natural wine list on the whole long coastal strip. Founded in 2001 the restaurant has since enjoyed a reputation among the citizens, for its food, its atmosphere, but also as a concert arranger. However the upgrade to the natural wine haven that we know today started after a bankruptcy in 2010. Kjetil Jørgensen, one of the original founders, has a good relation to natural wine importer Non Dos, through his friend Jørgen Ljøstad, also from Grimstad. Sometimes a strong tie to one importer can feel somewhat awkward, or difficult. But here it’s more logic, and has probably helped along the way to success. Having said that, the restaurant also works with other importers. These days they also have their own micro-brewery, led by Mathias S. Skjong.

The food is based on local ingredients. The burgers are made from Hereford cattle grassing only a stone’s throw away, and there is of course delicious fish and shellfish right out of the sea. Pizza or vegetarian options too.

Apotekergaarden translates as the Pharmacist’s Shop, and refers to playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen, who was a pharmacist apprentice in Grimstad before he became famous, and this particular place also formerly housed one of the town’s pharmacies.

Ida Konradsen pulling up a Contadino, her own soft drinks at the table

Ida Konradsen is sommelier and restaurant manager, and strongly contributed to a great evening. She told us with great enthusiasm about her experiences from working at Sebastien Riffault‘s estate in the Loire. She is also involved in a new project creating soft drinks, generally popular in Norway (as everywhere I suppose) with children and non-wine addicts. All have the taste of the basic ingredients intact and come with a lot less sugar than usual for this type of drink. In between our first and second wine she offered us a tasting of three products that are sold locally, a lemon and ginger drink (based on Sicilian lemons), one from orange (and a touch of lemon) – and lastly an interesting take on a soft drink for the Christmas season (“julebrus” in Norwegian), based on biodynamically farmed grape juice of the variety zweigelt from Austrian wine producer Meinklang, well-known for readers of this blog – with some star anise, juniper and cinnamon, and without addition of sugar.

Meinklang is also responsible for some of their house labels, Skolegada 3 (the restaurant’s adress), otherwise known by other names in the market.

But while there are not more than 12-15 wines in their by-the-glass selection, Ida gladly opened three more to us, as she was going to host a special party the next day and could use the rest there. And these were fabulous wines from three natural wine legends.

Robinot’s Fêtembulles, with sourdough bread, olive and truffle oil, and olives

Fêtembulles 2017 (J.-P. Robinot), Loire, France
100% chenin blanc, biodynamically farmed, bottled without added sulphites and unfiltered.
Light yellow, small integrated bubbles. Smells of mature apples, citrus (orange), a bit waxy. Tastes of apples, is creamy with a crisp acidity, and a stony minerality in the finish.

Contadino 2016 (F. Cornelissen), Etna, Sicilia
This is a field blend dominated by some 90% nerello mascalese, biodynamically farmed. No sulphites added, unfiltered.
It’s light cherry red. Aroma of red berries (cranberry), hint of herbs (basil), some spice. The mouth is dominated by red fruit, but with and underlying carbon or smoke taste (from the Etna volcano maybe), and with a solid tannic grip.

Teroldego 2015 (E. Foradori), Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Italy
Another well-known producer for readers of this blog. This wine is from the teroldego grape grown in Trentino, near the Dolomites. It was fermented in cement and aged in cement and old oak.
Dark cherry red. Packed with red berries (cherry), plums, dark fruits (blackberry), with some balsamic notes (menthol). Cool, clean fruit in the mouth, very lively and fruity.

Typical paintings collected in one of the rooms

And on the veranda while the sun goes down we finish the evening with a craft beer from the acclaimed local brewery Nøgne Ø, that takes its name from Ibsen’s poem “Terje Vigen”. And to drink one of their beers in this moment seems more right than ever before.

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Simplesmente… Vinho 2019: Spanish delights and more

This is the second report from this year’s Simplesmente… Vinho, of Porto. The first one was about the Portuguese participants, and you can read it here. This one deals mainly with Spanish wine, with one exception.

As soon as I entered the Cais Novo I ran into Alejandro of Bodegas Forlong. There is a lot happening in the sherry region right now, and I visited him when I was doing reasearch for a magazine article about table wines from the Jerez area. A shorter version of the article can be read here, and a wine of the week post here. In Porto Alejandro was together with his life companion Rocío.

Alejandro Narváez and Rocío Áspera

So why not start with a tasting of wine from sherry grapes and albariza soil? The wines I knew from before delivered, such as the Forlong Blanco 2018 (palomino 90%, the rest PX, grown in albariza soil), with its roundness and at the same time enough acidity, almonds and a saline minerality. Much of the same applies to the Rosado 2018, a 100% cabernet sauvignon, with its colour of onion skin, its creamy character and also a light tannin. We could go on through the Petit Forlong 2017 (syrah, merlot), the Assemblage 2016 (merlot, tintilla de rota, syrah), and the Tintilla 2016, with its dark smell of ink, blackcurrant, and that in a way also plays with oxidation.

A wine I can’t remember having tasted before were 80/20, a non SO2, unfiltered wine, made of must from palomino fermented on skins of PX: Light pineapple colour; some tropical hint in the aroma, peel; round and smooth, yet fresh, well a little mousy, but with a nice mineral salinity. Equally interesting was Mon Amour 2017, palomino from the hardest type of albariza, called “tosca cerrada”. I have to reconsider if I like the touch of vanilla from the fermentation in French barrels, but it surely has some interesting yellow fruits, and a vibrant touch too.

According to my ‘one wine only’-game I chose this one: Amigo Imaginario 2017, from old vine palomino, fermented with skins, and aged in an oloroso cask for 10 months. The colour is yellow; smells of orange peel, herbs, plums, and a touch of marzipan; in the mouth it’s full, with a great concentration, and you by now you would have guessed that it’s somewhat sweet – but it’s not. Great personality, alternative, truly interesting!

Always a pleasure meeting up with Sandra Bravo and tasting her wines

I appreciate that Sandra Bravo of Sierra de Toloño keep coming back to these events. She is one of the younger, independent voices in a Rioja still struggling to come out of its classification system based on wood ageing. From vineyards below the Sierra Cantabria mountains, both on the Riojan and Basque side of the border, she takes good decisions on the way from grape to bottle.

The reds showed as good as ever, from the plain Sierra de Toloño, now 2017, with its fresh cherry fruit, and inspiring acidity, the Camino de Santa Cruz 2016 (formerly Rivas de Tereso), a single vinyard wine with extra minerality; darker and wilder fruits, with some subtle underlying oak and also lovely acidity and the super delicious La Dula 2016, a garnacha made in amphora, really floral, red-fruity and expressive. The Nahi Tempranillo is a dark, rich, spicy wine that will improve with age – and lastly Raposo 2016 from Villabuena, the Basque part: a little graciano thrown in among the tempranillo; dark, blackberry, forest fruits, good acidity – classic in the good sense of the word.

In recent years she has presented wonderful white wines, very different from both the young and clean tank style of the 1970’s (still popular) and the oaky style requiring long ageing. The basic Sierra de Toloño 2017 is clean and bright, but has already a profound quality. A favourite among white riojas during the latest years has been the Nahi Blanco, now 2016. Made from viura, malvasía and calagraño, a field blend from five small parcels in Villabuena de Álava, with a light ageing in barrel: Golden colour, a touch of tropic (litchi), white flowers and a light touch of smoke, full in the mouth and a nice natural acidity.

Alfredo Maestro (left) and Dutch journalist Paul Op ten Berg 

I have tasted Alfredo’s wines several times lately, so here I only tasted a couple in order to discuss them with my friend, Dutch journalist Paul Op ten Berg. One was an orange wine that was featured in January. (Read it here.) In short: Lovamor 2016 stayed 6 days with the skins, then on lees for 4 months. Due to the cold Castilian winter a malolactic fermentation never happened. It’s a rich and complex wine with a gold-orange colour; apple and melon in the aroma, flowery, and also lovely, light citrus; slightly pétillant and with a citrussy aftertaste.

Yulia Zhdanova

I first met Yulia in Alfredo’s neighbourhood, more precisely at Dominio de Pingus, where she guided us around the premises during a wine trip that I organized. But she has Eastern roots and is now making wine in the Kakheti region of Georgia. The winery is called Gvymarani and can be found in the village of Manavi. The wine is made from the mtsvane grape, fermented 7 months and also  aged in qvevri. Gvymarani Mtsvane: Clean golden; fruity nose of apple, dried apricot, peach, orange peel and some honey; full and with evident tannins in the mouth.

Antonio Portela (picture taken at the Barcelona tasting)

I tasted Antonio Portela‘s wines in Barcelona earlier that month and made an appointment to visit his vineyards later – so I just took the opportunity to try his beautiful red tinta femia Namorado 2017 (tinto mareiro) again, fermented and aged for 12 months in used French oak: Light in colour; pure, with fresh, red fruits on the nose; a vibrant flavour, a good natural acidity and in a long saline finish. Goodness, what a wine!

Constantina Sotelo (picture taken in her winery after the fair)

Constantina Sotelo was another producer that I decided to cross the border to visit once the fair was over. Here I tasted, among others, her Pio Pio 2017 ‘en rama’ (unfiltered). It’s from a vineyard with quite a lot of ‘pie franco’ (ungrafted) plants, and a very personal wine: Light yellow; green apple, citric (lime), anise; quite full, glyceric, and with an appealing acidity. A lovely albariño. See you on the other side of the border!

 

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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), with Ludovic Darblade (co-owner of bar Salvatge in the middle)

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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