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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

Infantado’s organic ruby

I have just come back from the Simplesmente Vinho fair in Porto, where João Roseira is chief organizer. This year I chose to visit some wineries of the Douro valley after the fair, Roseira’s own Quinta do Infantado among them. While João has handed down the enology responsibilities to 6h generation, his nephew Álvaro, he is still in charge of viticulture.

João Roseira

Infantado has a long history; and celebrated their first 200 years in 2016. Yet they are in many ways in the avant-garde. They were the first producer to break the monopoly of the négociants in Vila Nova de Gaia, by starting to bottle in the Douro valley in 1979 and export directly from there in 1986.

They have 46 hectares in the Covas de Douro, 4 km from Pinhão. 12 of these are organically grown, the rest is sustainable viticulture. The.is ruby is sourced from three vineyards called Pousado, Barreiro and Serra Douro, that cover 6 hectares on schist soil at an altitude of 250-350 meters. It is made from grape varieties touriga franca, tinta roriz and touriga nacional, as well as an old field blend that makes up 5%. There are three vintages blended together here, 2016, ’17 and ’18.

Álvaro Roseira, 6th generation with an impressive range

At Infantado the ports ferment longer than usual, so at an earlier stage there is less residual sugar and more alcohol. Therefore less addition is needed, and the brandy is added gradually. Consecuently the ports tend to have a natural appearance, and both sugar and alcohol are nicely balanced with the fruit. This is also the case with their Reserva Ruby. It has around 50 grams of residual sugar, and carries the term “meio-seco” (medium dry) on the label. Also unlikely for a ruby, it was bottled unfiltered.

Reserva Ruby (Quinta do Infantado)

Deep red, violet edge. Smells of blackcurrant and blackberry with plums, with notes of eucalyptus and aromatic herbs and flowers. It’s fresh for a port, nicely balanced, showing both elegance and refinement.

Price: Medium

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Wine of the Week

Limestone rocks

No, this is not just a slick heading, but actually the name of the wine. For so much loves Rheinhessen producer Wittman this type of soil that they decided to name a wine after it.

I bought it in a tax-free shop at a ridiculously low price. And in the wine is in fact bottled specifically for the Heinemann group, that’s responsible for the selection of most airports in northern Europe. It reminds me of some of their more basic dry rieslings though, but more about this and this brilliant winery at a later occasion.

Limestone Rocks Riesling Trocken 2018 (Weingut Wittman)

Light yellow. Young, fruity aroma of yellow apples, flowers, and a stony minerality. Young, slender, but with good concentration, slightly spritzy riesling style, and am elegant acidity dancing on the tongue.

Price: Low

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Articles and Wine of the Week

2019: Mencía for me

For 2019 my New Year’s resolution is to dive deeper in the “Mar de Mencía”. This grape variety is by no means new to me (just do a search on these pages and see). I have long since recognized its ability to show differences in terroir and its susceptibility for reduction. It has many faces. But not least, it can be an absolute delight. And I think it has the potential to be a lot more popular, recognized and appreciated than it is at the moment.

Through a series of short Wine of the Week articles I will show many sides of it (through wines that I have not yet tasted). I think there is a lot to learn through focusing on its homeland, El Bierzo (a ‘comarca’ in the province of León), that shall also be presented as we go along. But we will also meet it in neighbouring Valdeorras and Ribeira Sacra, in Portugal (most often called jaen) and elsewhere. I have a strong suspicion that its white sister godello will follow once in a while. We will see.

Mencía covers nearly two-thirds of the region’s vineyard. It ripens early, often early September, and likes the maritime climate of Bierzo with its usual wet autumns. It’s very versatile and capable of expressing the mineral-rich soils of the region.

Bodegas Estefanía (Credit: MGwines)

Bodegas Estefanía, part of the MGwines group since 2014, is one of the emblematic wineries and one of the bigger ones, with 40 hectares with more than 100 years old vines. The majority is bush vine mencía (“en vaso” in Spanish) on steep south facing slopes. Winemaker is Raúl Pérez (read a little about his personal project here), from Bierzo. He has become one of the most famous of the travelling oenologists, but Estefanía is still one of his favorite projects.

Tilenus is named after the Teleno, a Celtic god of war, spelled this way to pay tribute to the Roman era in the Bierzo. There is also an old Roman coin on the label, a coin that was once discovered in the vineyard. The grapes were sourced from the bodega’s organic vineyards in Arganza.

Tilenus Ecologico Tinto

Tilenus Ecológico 2018 (Bodegas Estefanía)

Cherry red, some purple. Aroma of red berries (cherry, raspberry). Quite smooth on the palate, with fine tannins, and good fruit all the way.

Price: Low

Food: A variety of meats, probably super for the local roasts, salads and hard cheeses

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Wine of the Week

A light monastrell, for a change

While being focused on the light, delicate wines of Beaujolais, we throw in a Mediterranean wine that I have had on my list for some time.

And it shares in fact some of their characteristics. For a Jumilla monastrell it’s lightly extracted, focused on fruit and a, should we say, relatively modest 13,5% in alcohol.

Part of the Vinival group, Parajes del Valle is their Jumilla project. Winemaker is the young María Jover Sánchez, who worked for Vega Sicilia for a year, before she returned to her native Levante.

The soil here has a high limestone content, and the monastrell grapes are old. The variety has dark skin, small berries, and in the warm Mediterranean climate the wines are often big with elevated alcohol. Here the farmers are instructed to go for the opposite. The grapes are destemmed, subject to a light pressing and a careful maceration. It’s made mostly in steel, except for malo-lactic fermentation that is carried out in concrete.

Parajes del Valle Monastrell 2018 (Parajes del Valle)

Dark young colour. Quite concentrated berry aroma (raspberry, dark cherry), with aromatic herbs and a touch of lickorice in the background. Juicy, quite cool with smooth tannins.

Price: Low

Food: Stews, Murcian paella, light meat, fried fish

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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

Eco from Esporão

Esporão has been among the leading wineries of Portugal since its foundation in the early 1970’s.

The vineyard that gives birth to the Colheita

Not only are they big. Well they are; their Alentejo property is vast, the sales are good, and they have several well-known brands in the market. So when in Portugal, if I’ve had a plain bacalhau at a modest restaurant, there is almost always an Esporão at hand, such as the Monte Velho.

But they are also leading the way with many sustainable projects, such as reducing the bottle weight, fighting to stop the dam at river Tua, Douro, where they have a second winery. But more than this, then have a holistic approach, and in every aspect they seriously take the responsibility they believe that they are given.

I keep coming back to this wine. Made from touriga nacional, aragonêz and cabernet sauvignon in equal parts, the grapes are destemmed, fermented in open lagares for 10 days, and kept in steel. Eco-friendly, eco-nomic.

Credit: Herd. Esporão

Esporão Tinto Colheita 2017 (Herdade do Esporão)

Deep purple. Fruitdriven (mature dark berries), plums, aromatic herbs, some lickorice. Round, juicy, fruity with some acidity.

Price: Low

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Wine of the Week

Elena of Jumilla

I visited Elena Pacheco at the family farm some years ago. She runs the business together with three sisters. They have 17 hectares. Monastrell is the main variety, growing in poor, limestone soils at around 500 meters. These are bush vines (‘en vaso’ in Spanish, more than 40 years old. And the wines are certified organic.

This wine made from 95% monastrell and the rest syrah, and is fermented and raised in steel.

Familia Pacheco 2016 (Viña Elena)

Dark cherry red. Aroma of mature red and dark berries (plums, blackberry, aromatic herbs and some balsamic (lickorice). Full-bodied, fresh and balanced; the alcohol (14,5) is evident, but not dominating.

Price: Low

Food: Roast, cheese, murcian paella, tapas


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Wine of the Week

Malhada, a great value vinho

I have known André Pereira for many years, but for some reason his wines have never featured as a “wine of the week”. His wines are all well-made and of splendid value, and you can read about some of them in this post.

André Pereira

The farm Quinta do Montalto has belonged to his family for 5 generations. It comprises 50 hectares of vines, olives and other crops. It’s found in the municipality of Ourém, that is actually belonging to Leiria, but most of the wines are still classified as regional Lisboa.

Even if the 17 is already in the market I chose the 2015 vintage here, because this is the one I enjoyed last. And it’s not always necessary to drink the last edition. One is not better that the other; they are different. This one has lost its young blueberry character, but it’s nevertheless a superb, fruity wine that will last still a couple of years. The 2015 vintage of this wine was made from aragonêz and castelão in equal parts. The fermentation was natural, and it was made in steel. It’s certified organic and vegan.

Vinha da Malhada 2015 (Quinta do Montalto)

Red cherry colour with some sign of evolution. Smells of red and dark berries, lightly spicy and some dried fruits start to show. Still fresh and luscious in the mouth, with an integrated acidity.

Price: Low

Food: Light meat, bacalhau, vegetables

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Articles

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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