Casa Castillo has for long been considered one of the leading producers of Jumilla wines, today with José María Vicente in charge.
The winery is located to the west of Jumilla town, on the slopes of Sierra del Molar. Here, up to 760 metres, they own a big estate with diverse plantings including pine and almond trees, while 170 hectares are covered with vines. Under José María many of the international varieties have been replaced with monastrell and other Mediterranean grapes, and also garnacha, that is thriving well here.
Much of the soils are limestone, often with sand. Most of the wines are made fermented in steel or concrete, often with some amount of whole bunches, to counterbalance the ripeness in the grapes. Ageing is in concrete, foudre or old 500 liter French oak vats.
This wine is a blend of monastrell, syrah and garnacha.
Viñedos de Altiplano 2018 (Casa Castillo)
Dark cherry. Aroma of black pepper, blackberry, herbs (thyme, anise), and a hint of chocolate. Medium body, mature fruits balanced with a nice acidity and a slight bitterness at the end. Very Mediterranean, very good.
Food: Hearty dishes, stews, most kinds of meat, Murcian paella…
I am in Porto for the Simplesmente… Vinho fair. Right at the opening dinner there were several magnificent wines. The dinner had a theme too, variations of cabidela, a popular Portuguese dish containing rice and (most often) hen’s blood, in a program called Ordem da Cabidela.
Several memorable wines were served during that dinner. One was made by Quinta Várzea da Pedra. The brothers Tomás (winemaker) and Alberto Emídio are fourth generation.
The quinta is located in Bombarral, in the DOC Óbidos, between the Atlantic Ocean and Serra do Montejunto. This provides freshness and salty minerality to a series of exciting wines.
This wine is a varietal fernão pires. The grapes were grown in a vineyard in Sanguinhal on clay-limestone soil and harvested by hand in august. After destemming followed a soft pressing, then fermentation and 12 months on lees in steel tank.
Fernão Pires 2017(Q. Várzea da Pedra)
Light golden. Citrus (lime), yellow apples, flowers with a hint of tropical fruits. Fresh, unctuous, creamy, with a wonderful acidity and some minerality.
Food: As you have seen, we had it with a special form of cabidela, but it should go with a great variety of fish, shellfish and light meat
I am in Murcia, Spain. And suddenly the opportunity came to visit the third fair held by magazine Verema this summer. The two first ones were held in Palma de Mallorca and Madrid. There will be more tastings later in summer and autumn too. The location in Murcia was the Royal Casino, an emblematic building in the center. It was built from 1847 on, and shows traces of different styles from that period and somewhat later – now declared monument of historic-artistic interest.
I concentrated on the local wineries, that also were best represented here.
I was invited by Parajes del Valle, a winery I hoped to visit, but we didn’t manage to meet at their place this time. They are part of the bigger García Pérez group. In Jumilla they are for me one of the most interesting wineries. The first reason lies in their name, Parajes shows a sense of place. To obtain this I think that their decision to harvest early (first part of September for the monastrell grape, while most pick later that month or even October) and also the light extraction helps.
Director Gregorio Ruiz Abellán and export responsible Gemma Morcillo brought three vintages of their Parajes del Valle, an unoaked wine that is both fresh and cool, and at the same time very Mediterranean with its herbal fruitiness of the local supergrape. It starts in stainless steel, and is transfered to concrete after a while. I have highlighted both the 2018 and 19. Here is the latter, maybe most relevant. For me this has been a house wine through the winter (the article also has a link to the first one). At this moment I would say that the 20 is a bit lighter, maybe more to the fruity side, while the two others are more mineral. But they all are red fruit-driven and stand in the crossroads between the coolness and the rosemary/thyme-herbal Med-landscape.
The terraje system is described in the blogpost about the vintage 2019. In short it consists of renting the vineyard to the farmers, who take care of the quality of the vines, and then some wine is given back to the farmer. Terraje is also the name of their most “ambitious” wine (I feel the scraping of the sword when writing this, because the Parajes is in its way also a very ambitious one). Organic and dry-farmed, just like the other, this one is from older, ungrafted (“pie franco”) monastrell from defined places (parajes) called La Fuente de las Perdices and La Cañada de Albatana to the north of Jumilla town. This wine is made in a similar way, but aged in wooden “foudres”. Even this wine has low extraction with a cherry red colour. It’s fuller and more complex, but follows the same line in acidity and minerality.
Viña Elena I have known for a long time, and also visited Elena Pacheco once. This time it was her sister María together with José Marín who presented the wines.
Located in Estrecho de Marín, a valley surrounded by low mountains south of Jumilla, they offer a varied range, from a light salmon-coloured rosé through monastrell-variations with cabernet and syrah, even the dark, spicy paprika-flavoured cabernet sauvignon varietal Cuco. Very interesting is their Bruma del Estrecho de Marín, a series of single vineyard wines, almost all from monastrell, some from the vineyards owned by two brothers over in the Albacete province of Castilla-La Mancha. The Parcela Particiones 2020 is a clarete from sandy soils. In Spain clarete means a blend of red and white grapes (whereas in Portugal this is called palhete, and clarete is a light wine from red grapes). It’s an elegant monastrell and airén blend without malolactic fermentation; smells of cherry and other stone-fruits and has quite a bit of tannins. Paraje Marín 2019 from stony soils was fabulous and fresh, with typical Mediterranean herbs and somewhat warm fruit. Paraje Las Chozas 2018 was a bit darker and with young tannins, but still fresh and cool, iodine and salty. Parcela Navajuelos 2018 from sandy soils was light in colour, fresh, fruity and cool with some spice. While Parcela Vereda 2018 was darker, with forest fruits (like blackberry) and some warmth from the clay soils, while the chalky part gives also this wine some saltiness. These fabulous wines and the parcel/paraje concept contribute to make Jumilla a wine region to watch in the years to come.
Bodegas Carchelo I knew well in the times of founder Agapito Rico, one of the great personalities in Jumilla from the early 1980’s. At that time he was quite a revolutionary with his fresh, concentrated, yet good value wines. It was nice to be able to catch up and meet David Ferraje from the team of new owners that took over a little more than ten years ago.
They are located to the east of Jumilla, at the foot of the mountains Sierra del Carche, hence the name. And most of the vineyards are quite near, north-northeast of the town. Today they are 100% organic. I have enjoyed several of their wines, from the young and fresh rosé via the simple and fun Eya Tinto 2020 and the dark fruit-driven Carchelo Roble 2019 (monastrell with cabernet and tempranillo) – to the more ambitious part of their range. Here you find f.ex Canalizo 2014, a monastrell-syrah-tempranillo aged 20 months in barrel. This one had aged beautifully; mature morellos, tea, dried fruits and a nice bitter tone. Muri Veteres 2016, a pie franco monastrell with dark fruits and balsamic notes, was elegant and attractive.
It’s maybe a bit strange to say that one of the surprises was Juan Gil. But the Gil Family Estates has turned into a conglomerate of bodegas across the country. I don’t know the quality of all of them, but the original (bodega founded by Juan Gil Giménez in 1916) was quite good. They are in transition to organic cultivation, with the majority of vineyards northeast towards Yecla.
In short, the young white and rosé were good, but not with much personality. The new project over in Almansa, named Bodegas Atalaya, has potential, but at this point too much oak for me. Here I chose as a representative Juan Gil‘s own Honoro Vera2020, a varietal monastrell, organically farmed, unoaked and vegan certified. This was a quite fresh dry-farmed wine from calcareous and rocky soils, with the usual red and dark berries and balsamic notes.
From neighbouring Yecla, a one-municipality-denomination, I tasted the wines of its leading winery. Bodegas Castaño had good offerings from the unoaked white and rosé to the dense and rich Casa Cisca, and neither have I forgotten that they have one of the best sweet monastrell wines (not brought to this tasting). Among the most interesting wines is an old favourite, now called Hécula Organic in the 2019 vintage. It shows ripe red berries (morello), aromatic herbs and a hint of coffee. Full and quite fresh in the mouth with mature tannins. I will come back to this one in a while.
Let us start with the conclusion this time: This monastrell is a modern, juicy, “gluggable” wine way up the natural road – but at the same time it is the Mediterranean, slightly spicy, Provencal-herbal, hearty and quite recognizeable. I love it, and wrote about the previous vintage here.
This particular wine is made by 30 year old wine maker María Jover (born in nearby Alicante) who has a modern approach. The vines are between 20 and 40 years old, organically grown, in the old system of “terraje”. This concept involves renting the vineyard to the farmers, who take care of the quality of the vines. As a bonus the landowner in this specific project 7% of the production is given back to the farmer. This is a very common practise in Jumilla for old vines.
The producer owns some 80 hectares, mostly monastrell. The grapes for this wine were de-stemmed, lightly pressed and fermented with indigenous yeasts on steel, before malo-lactic fermentation and a short ageing in cement. (Here is a bit more reading, such as a presentation of the previous vintage.)
Parajes del Valle Monastrell 2019 (Parajes del Valle)
Dark colour with a young blueish hint. Aromas of dark and red berries, like blackberry and cherry, aromatic herbs (rosemary, thyme), and a hint of lickorice. Juicy in the mouth, it has a coolness to it, like a fresh, natural acidity, but at the same time a serious southern quality hinting to coffee, or maybe tea leaves.
Food: Light meat dishes, bacalao, Murcian paella, pizza, hard cheeses, and almost everything from the grill
Finca Valpiedra is a single estate owned by Martínez Bujanda family. They started out in Rioja as early as 1889, and bought this place in the 1990’s. The finca is located in a bend of the Ebro river, between Fuentmayor and Cenicero. From here they launch wines in a crossroads between tradition and modernity, with some initial oakiness. Among the modern features are organic growing, estate focus, and the wines will reach the balance between oak and fruit after only a few years.
Tempranillo is the main grape, supported by a little cabernet sauvignon for structure and graciano for aroma. This particular wine also contains a tiny percent mazuelo (cariñena/carignan). The 2001 was a great vintage in Rioja, and the best wines, like this one, will last long.
Here you can read a report from their Rueda winery, where we also tasted their riojas.
Dark red with hint of brown. Forest fruits (blackberry), plums, thyme and eucalyptus over a thin layer of roast and dried fruits. Quite big, mature fruits in the mouth, with rounded tannins. In an optimal stage of evolution, without the sweetness of oak, still some freshness, the fruit intact, the individual parts integrated but still possible to detect.
Food: We had it with entrecôte, and perfect with lamb, roast, game, hard cheeses…
Sometimes when you feel a grape or a wine region has somewhat lost its direction, there are still someone that knows how to use a compass. It’s not that Rueda is completely lost, but the amount of uninspiring wines, often made with artificial yeast, together with the commercial success in the national market has made it one to “hate” for many. Good to know then, that there are people like Ismael Gozalo in the natural wine field. And among the producers working in a terroir-focused way with natural yeast there are a few. One of the leading ones, but often overlooked, is Bodegas Vidal Soblechero. They are mentioned before, and you can read about a visit here.
They are found in La Seca, located in the heart of Rueda, and the Spanish municipality with the most extensive vineyard. Claudio Vidal has tended the 42 hectares of family vineyards for several decades. Some of the plantings are more than seventy years old. With the climate, the old vines and the airing of the high plain, Rueda is a good place for organic farming.
Today it’s Claudio´s son Vidal and daughter Alicia who hold the reins, and founded in the 1990’s a small bodega built for their purpose.
The property is based on the verdejo grape, but they also own some viura (macabeo) and tinta fina (tempranillo). I appreciate their focus on small quantities of single plot wines, and tasting through their lines Pagos de Villavendimia (single plots) and Viña Clavidor (mostly estate blends) is a rewarding exercise. You have by now understood that you should consider this producer when searching for the authentic Rueda.
This week’s wine: The vineyards lie to the north of the municipality. In most of the plots they use the traditional bush vine system. All grapes are hand-picked, fermented in steel, only with indegenous yeast. Grapes from bush vines are harvested earlier, and for this wine some trellis style grapes are picked later. After alcoholic fermentation the final blend is left to age some months on the lees. In fact the wine is bottled every month, so the impact of the lees is stronger every time, as they are never removed. While the first bottlings are always fruitdriven, both complexity and ageing ability are increasing at the next bottlings. Only slightly fined and filtered.
Clavidor Verdejo 2018(Bod. Vidal Soblechero)
Straw-coloured. Aroma of yellow apples and citrus (lemon), slightly yeasty, and a touch of apricot. Quite full and fleshy on the palate, with excellent but integrated acidity, and more to the mineral than the fruity side.
I am back in Vigo for the Emoción dos Viños fair to be held this weekend a bit further down the coast. A stop at Malauva is then mandatory. (Read about my last visit here.)
This time Josiño first recommended Monte Pío 2019, a very nice Salnés albariño from the bodega of the same name. It had all the typicity intact, which means aromas of apple and citrus from indigenous yeast, low sulphur, creamy after long time on lees and a clean citric aftertaste. Then a very different albariño, biodynamically grown, from Alberto Nanclares, Soverribas 2015. It had very typical aged albariño character, at least from my experience. This includes mature apples that hints to oxidation, just hints!, nuts (direction almonds/hazelnuts), and full, glyceric, dry and long in the mouth.
Our wine of the week is a wonderful Atlantic style red from the Ribeiro area. Cume do Avia is the producer (also mentioned here), and it’s also the name of the highest hill in the Ribeiro subregion of Avia. It is Diego, Álvaro and Fito, all relatives, who are Cume do Avia. They come from a family of vignerons, and started for themselves in 2005. They went organic from the start, with some biodynamic practises. They count on 9 hectares with 13 autochthonous grape varieties in Eira dos Mouros.
The soil consists of clay, schist and granite, east facing, with good sun exposure and ventilation. In the cellar they use indigenous yeast, no filtration, clarification with gravity and only a small amount of sulphite before bottling. The reds are made with low extraction.
Dos Canotos Caíño Longo 17 (Cume do Avia)
Light cherry red. Fresh red fruits, slightly herby. Juicy, but concentrated, with lots of integrated natural acidity, traces of iodine, salt. It’s not powerful, but very long, and so full of energy!
A visit at Apotekergaarden, Grimstad on the southern coast of Norway is always a highlight. This is a popular place in every sense of the word, with a fascinating mix of people coming for great natural wine served by manager and sommelier Ida Konradsen, and people coming in from the street for burgers and pizza, served by the staff, some of them really talented. There are also concerts in the backyard during the summer season. We were there last Sunday, when our meal was followed by a gig with Norwegian folk-rock band Valkyrien Allstars. I have played there myself too, in fact it was one of the last things I did before the lockdown in March. A more detailed background to the restaurant you can read here.
On Sunday they made a special plate of Italian cheese and ham, olives and other stuff for us, followed by a main course of duck with a compote of red onion and a burger with spicy mushroom and onion, and on Tuesday we shared various pizzas.
Here are some of the wines, some of them in fact outside the official menu, but generously offered by Ida and the staff.
Foam Somló 2019(Meinklang), Somló, Hungary, made by Meinklang of Burgenland, Austria who owns vineyards on both sides of the border. This is a pét nat from Hungarian grapes hárslevelű and juhfark.
Light golden; aroma of yellow apples, hints of pumpkin and gooseberry; concentrated, with a sweet-irh sensation, inspiring indeed.
Brut Nature Reserva Anne Marie(Castell d’Age), Cava, Catalunya, Spain
A traditional cava from one of the pioneers in organic farming in the Penedès area, named after Anne Marie Onyent, one of today’s leading ladies of the company. The grapes are the three usual cava “suspects”.
Slightly bubbly; fresh and appley; fine natural acidity.
La Croix Moriceau 2018(Complémen’ Terre)
A full and concentrated, mineral muscadet full of character.
Yellow; waxy, with mature apples and white peach; quite full, mineral (chalky), a nice bitterness in the aftertaste.
Palmento 2019 (Vino di Anna), Etna, Sicilia, Italy
Skin-contact wine made from the Sicilian carricante grape in fiberglass tanks.
Golden towards orange; aroma of citrus peel, clementine, apricot, mango; full in the mouth and slightly textured. Not too acid, low alcohol (11,5) and perfect while waiting for the main course.
Light yellow; aromas of apple, citrus (lime), with a mineral touch; rich, with a good acidity and splendid concentration. Superb with the duck plate.
A light, fruity barbera that comes in a full litre bottle (hence the name), made by the producer behind the famous “donkey wine” Asinoi. At best when chilled.
Lght cherry red; light berries (strawberry), herbs; lively in the mouth (slightly pétillant), juicy, with a good natural acidity.
Montesecondo 2018(Montesecondo), Toscana, Italy
Located in the Chianti area, but not always classified as such. This is an entry-level wine, with 2% of trebbiano blended in with the sangiovese. If my memory doesn’t fail me it’s a light vintage for this wine.
Rather light cherry colour, aroma dominated by red berries; juicy and refreshing.
Made from tempranillo grapes in Arnedo in the lower part of Rioja. Not completely natural, but with a low amount of sulphur added.
Dark red; blackberry and spice; full, fresh and fruity.
After a few wines I often like to round it off with a beer, to “stabilize” the stomach that by now feels like full of acidity. So I asked Mathias S. Skjong, the in-house brewer, if he had something special, maybe something personal. So he produced Terje (made by Mathias himself in collaboration with Grimstad’s successful brewery Nøgne Ø and given a wide distribution by them, for the restaurant’s 10 year anniversary. It’s a very very hoppy, citrussy and dry India pale ale. Perfect to round off another good meal at Apotekergaarden.
Who has not experienced that sweet, uninspiring stuff called lambrusco? Now thankfully more and more producers try to lift it from that bad reputation. In the past it was made by what is now dubbed the ancestral method, that involves bottling before it is finished, sometimes with a small addition of unfermented must, and the bubbles were developed during this process. Some are also made by the “traditional” (champagne) method. But most are made with the second fermentation in steel tanks.
Lambrusco is a family of grapes that has also given name to several DOC regions in Emilia-Romagna. This wine here comes under the less specific designation Lambrusco dell’Emilia.
Camillo Donati is found in Langhirano, just south of Parma, where he cultivates 21 hectares of vines biodynamically. It was his grandfather who first planted vines. The soil here is calcareous clay, and this particular vineyard was planted in the 1970’s. They were spontaneously fermented, with the secondary fermentation in bottle. It’s unfined and unfiltered, and the certification is organic.
Il Mio Lambrusco 2018(Camillo Donati)
Dark red, bubbly. Aromas of cherry, raspberry, flowers. Fresh, slightly textured, yet juicy and appealing in the mouth, with a good natural acidity.
Food: Characuterie (don’t forget the prosciutto of Parma), light meat, pasta, salads, aperitif…
I was touring the Veneto region in the summer of 2018. One of the producers I would have visited was the unique Leonildo Pieropan. But sadly he passed away only two months before. But he had given me many good memories with his wines, from the lovely entry-level Soave and up to the vineyard wines. La Rocca was a regular when I was responsible for the wine selection at a restaurant during the 1990’s, and it was a delightful revisit when the latest issue appeared in a private tasting lately.
Founded in 1880, the Pieropan family was thought to have been the first to use the term Soave on the labels, several decades before the DOC was born. Leonildo Pieropan was among the first ones to recognize the potential for single vineyard wines, and for the ageing potential of Soave wines and the much overlooked garganega grape.
The Calvarino vineyard was bought by his grandfather in 1901. This was the first single vineyard Soave Classico in 1971.
The La Rocca vineyard is located on the hillside of Mount Rcchetta near Soave’s medieval castle. The soil is calcareous, the south-west, and there are several long, narrow terraces. The harvest is usually done in late October. The harvest is manual, the maceration short but some skin-contact. After fermentation the wine is aged for one year in old barrels of 500L. And the variety? Garganega, obviously.
La Rocca 2018(L. Pieropan)
Golden yellow. Aromas of yellow apples, white flowers, white peach, a touch of tropical fruit, and a nutty touch. Full, glyceric and juicy on the palate, with a pineapple-like acidity, and some bitter almond in the end. It’s complex, quite concentrated and long.
Food: Grilled and tasty fish, light meat, cheese, risotto…