Bierzo is divided according to the so-called Burgundy model, with a classification pyramid. The highest level is parajes, that means specific sites, like a vineyard. Verónica Ortega’s wine Kinki is made from the paraje called La Llamilla in Cobrana (commune of Congosto). The vineyard has an altitude of 750 meters, and a soil composition of blue slate combined with some clay. The vines are 90-100 years old. Like most bierzo wines the main grape is mencía, here assisted by small percentages of palomino and godello, both white grapes.
The grapes were destemmed and poured into stainless steel tanks for spontaneous fermentation with native yeasts and a short maceration of about 10 days. The wine was then aged in a combination of French oak barrels and an 800 liter clay amphora.
Kinki 2020(V. Ortega)
Light red. Intense aroma, complex with red fruits (wild strawberry, raspberry), currants and menthol. Fresh in the mouth, with a light texture. Electric, uplifting, elegant and saline.
The rain in Spain was falling on the plains that day. Castilla, otherwise known for its dry, almost prairie-like landscape, was even less inviting than usual. I met a man in a cowboy hat. His name was Goyo.
I will not embark on a wild west novel. I had indeed been invited to Gumiel del Mercado (province of Burgos) by Goyo García Viadero, one of the new guns of Ribera del Duero. Goyo makes expressive, lightly extracted, terroir-focused wines without additives and without oakiness, in a region rather famous for the opposite.
I had originally been aware of Goyo through his sister, who is winemaker at Bodegas Valduero in the same village. In fact Goyo gets his oak barrels from them. He explains:
-I don’t like oak, it’s not from the grape, not from the soil. So the barrels he uses are always at least 7-8 year old barrels, and from Valduero. He uses oak with ultrafine grain, -because I like a slow evolution.
He has a careful approach to winemaking. All grapes are destemmed by hand, pressed gently, and fermentations are slow in the cold, ancient cellar. For the wines that age in barrel, Goyo uses, as we have heard, more than 7-8 year old very finely grained barriques from Bordeaux. Sulfur and other additives are never used. The resulting wines have a striking sincerity and elegance that communicate a strong sense of place. All vineyards have 800 meters or more of altitude, quite impressive. The sun of the meseta and the high altitudes bring both phenolic concentration and bright acidity to the wines.
His bodega dates from the Roman times. Upon meeting there we tasted through a number of wines from tank and barrel, some of them from vineyards both here and in the Soria province. Among these was the white skin-contact García GeorgievaMalvasía 2021 from tank, a wine with a lovely fresh acidity. The wine was pressed in an old basket press, fermented in steel with 14 days skin contact and malolactic fermentation. Bottled without fining, filtration or added SO2. Another was the Finca los Quemados Clarete 2021 from all tinto fino (or: tinto del país), a clone of tempranillo, with its splendid cherry fruit. It’s made with short maceration (5-6 days), according to the most common style of the region. The Los Quemados vineyard has almost 60 year old vines planted on red sands with pebbles 960 meters above sea level.
Here we also tasted one of my personal favourites, a house-wine so to speak. Joven de Viñas Viejas 2021, which means young/unoaked wine from old vines, gets a richness and concentration from the age of the vines and the low yield, and it does not need any oak. It’s from a dry-farmed vineyard planted entirely with tinto fino at 880 meters altitude. The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed and fermented with wild yeasts in steel tank with 3 months of skin maceration, then raised in tank before being bottled without fining, filtration or any addition of SO2. Dark, lovely, concentrated fruit (blackberry, morello); juicy with fine tannins and and lovely acidity.
All the vineyards are old; the youngest 40 years, the oldest more than 100. Goyo never uses filtration, almost no additives (only sulphur and copper in the vineyards).
-Most important is the quantity of tartaric acid in the grape. It should be 7 or 8 grams tartaric acid per litre, says Goyo. All grapes are destemmed. The maceration lasts for 10-15 days at 6 degrees, and fermentation takes place at no more than 22 degrees. -We only play with temperature and batonnage, says Goyo about possible variables.
His adventure began in 2003 with three parcels of old vines, that he says the French public call “the three musketeers”, named Finca Valdeolmos in Villabuena de Gumiel (90% tinto fino, 10% of the white albillo), Finca el Peruco in Olmedillo de Roa (85% tinto fino, 15% albillo), and Finca Viñas de Arcilla in Anguix (100% tinto fino), that are still the basis of his portfolio. From these he produces his three single vineyard wines and his annual Reserva Especial, all made the same way, with two to three years in barrel. -All this is a nod to the area’s past, before it became too commercial, he says. Valdeolmos, nicknamed “the elegant” has limestone. Finca el Peruco, “the fine”, has white sand and is one of the highest in Ribera, with over 900 meters of elevation. While Finca Viña de Arcilla, “the serious”, has clay, as the name implies.
We tasted the 2017 of the three wines. Finco Valdeolmos 2017 has dark fruits (blackberry), touch of licorice; gentle tannins and some minerality. Finca el Peruco 2017 holds back, is even more mineral: evident tannins, salty (from the white sand). Finca Viña de Arcilla 2017 is more balsamic (pine, encina), evident tannin, but also more fruit. Reserva Especial is made from Goyo’s favourite each year. This wine first ages in the same fashion as the three. Then it’s blended and gets another one or two years before release. We tasted the 2015, a blend of the three. This showed a slight mousiness, so down in the storing cellar we felt like trying the 2016 also. This one was in good condition, in that vintage made only from Valdeolmos. Down in the storing cellar we also tasted the 2018 vintage of all the three muscateers.
Goyo also makes wine in Cantabria, the region where his mother comes from. He has 2 hectares of mencía and palomino grapes on slate in the mountainous Liébana Valley. Here he makes a red wine and skin-contact white wine. These are called Beâtum from the 2019 vintage on (formerly Cobero).
Beâtum Tinto is made from 80% mencía and the rest palomino fino. The latter is the same as the sherry grape. This vineyard blend is often found in the vineyards of northern Spain. The vines here are more than 80 years old and are planted on broken slate soils. The red and white grapes are co-fermented with indigenous yeasts, then raised one year in French oak barrels, without any sulfur additions. The red is typically made of 80% mencía and the rest palomino fino. The latter is the same as the sherry grape. We tasted the 2019: Very dark; super expressive, floral (violets), a touch licorice; lovely mouthfeel, luscious and [a bit spritzy]. Beâtum Blanco is made from bush vines of palomino grown on brown slate soils at 500-600 meters elevation around the town of Potes in the Valle de Liébana, Picos de Europa. It’s fermented on the skins in stainless steel tanks without added yeast, and bottled without sulfur additions. The 2020 smelled of mature apples and orange peel; it was quite full in the mouth, some tannin.
On the way out: One of the wines was Tempranillo a Mano 2019, where he takes the best grapes from every bunch, so it takes 3 parcels to fill a big barrel. The wine was big and bold, darke with some coffee. Finca de Quemado Clarete 2019, with one year in barrel, was lovely scented and perfumed. Graciano a Mano 2019 was dark and very fruity, light-bodied but long. Its origin is the Finca Guijarrales (formerly Finca Cascorrales), a vineyard planted entirely with graciano.
We end our journey with some more recent initiatives. Their history is not necessarily that short though. Menade for instance is relatively new, and the launch of their oxidative wine too. But the companiy’s history can be traced many generations back, and their dorado has also some history.
Menade was officially founded in 2005. But this branch of the Sanz family can trace its wine history back to 1820, when they sold their first vintage to the mayor of La Seca. At that time, there was more red wine than white. Antonio Sanz was one of the pioneers of Rueda and of Spanish wine in general; he traveled around, among other places to the Basque Country to see how they made wine there. He took part in the revolution to avoid oxidation; pick at night and use steel tanks – and to start DO Rueda. Now his three children in the 6th generation are leading the family business. Menade operates completely organically and is committed to spontaneous fermentation. The family sold the famous brand Palacio de Bornos, and the bodega which later got the same name. But they kept the vineyards. Menade benefits from the use of these today.
Here we meet again my musician friend, who I first met in another Rueda bodega. Ivan Acebes García is generally interested in culture and speaks long and inspired. His thoughts on the history of the Spanish nation will not be discussed in detail here. But he says that for 250 years, solera was the way to make wine here. It was to make the process cheaper that they started placing the wine out in the sun. It is natural that Ivan asks if we can meet in the old bodega in La Seca, where a living room is filled with books. Later we drive to what has been the headquarters since 2009 in Rueda town. There they have made an organic bodega, laid out a garden with all the typical plants – and supplemented with, among other things, an “insect hotel”. Menade has a total of 210 hectares, 60 here at the farm in Rueda. Their homage to the dorado tradition they call Adorado. The vines for this are between 20 and 25 years old, and the grapes are picked by hand.
-Every year we harvest earlier, says Ivan, with the global warming in mind.
We are out in Menade’s biodiversity paradise. There is a lot of fennel: -All verdejo smells like fennel, other typical smells are rosemary and thyme, he points out.
It’s getting late, and a breeze has crept in over the inhospitable Castilian landscape.
-Here, far inland there is actually a certain Atlantic influence, he says, -there is nothing to stop the wind between the sea and these fields.
The pressing takes place in a historical vertical press from around the year 1900, when it is believed that an earlier incarnation of this particular wine was made for the first time. The must is cloudy, and the fermentation starts naturally. After fermentation, the finished wine is fortified with grape spirits to obtain 2 or 3 extra grades of alcohol. Flor develops, usually in the spring, and when it has disappeared, the oxidative process resumes in the old underground bodega in La Seca. -The mother solera of Adorado dates back to 1967, but the first “saca” (withdrawal from the solera) was as late as 2018, when we made the decision to reactivate this style, Ivan continues. Unlike the other well-known producers, Menade uses 8-liter damajuana. The wine is released on the market without clarification or filtration.
This dorado has even more saline expressiveness than the aforementioned wines. In addition it has evident iodine and umami features. It has a clear amber color with a golden element.
I always appreciate coming back to Alicia and Vidal Vidal Soblechero in La Seca. (No, there is no misprint there.) Vidal is a passionate “bird man” and is the only one who has made me hold a bird of prey on my arm. By the way, his falcons have a function; they keep pests away from the vines. Alicia is a music lover and this time she invited me to a baroque organ concert in the local church of La Seca.
Actually, I find it strange that this producer is not more famous. They did get a lot of attention when they made Spain’s first ice wine in 2010, but it was probably quickly sorted under curiosities. No, it is their single-parcel wines that most of all arouse interest and admiration. I always make sure to taste some, if not all, of these. The wine series Pagos de Villavendimia was born precisely with the aim of expressing the characteristics of the various plots.
The Vidal Soblechero family has 50 hectares on 32 plots. Nothing is bought-in, no vineyard is rented. It was his father Cláudio who was behind the standard verdejo Clavidor (also derived from his name).
La Oxidativa, their dorado, comes under this label Pagos de Villavendimia. It is made from 100% verdejo from over 80 years old vines and stored in damajuanas that are always full, in a form of solera from 1947.
-It started, once told their distributor Joachim Buchta, -when Cláudio Vidal put a barrel in the yard filled with ordinary verdejo. Then he placed enough damajuanas around it on the ground. After six months, he replenished ten percent of the wine from the barrel with the wine from the damajuanas. Then he refilled the damajuans. Over the years, the number increased. Now it’s around ten.
This explanation is perhaps good for understanding how the solera system works in this context. The point here is that there are barrels that never run out, that there is a small amount left from the first vintage.
Another point is that at Vidal Soblechero, dorado is fermented like ordinary verdejo, with potentially about thirteen percent alcohol. You are then sure to end up with a completely dry wine.
We see that this is a type of wine that several producers are now bringing to light again, and beyond the four I had planned to visit especially with a view to dorado, I will mention two. I had agreed to visit Ismael Gozalo anyway, and he gave me a bottle of his historical wine when I was about to leave. And to a trade fair in Barcelona, Malaparte had also brought their oxidative wine.
Ismael Gozalo’s father was one of the founders of Viñedos de Nieva, a reference in the area. And he himself was behind Ossian together with Javier Zacchagnini, known from Ribera del Duero. In 1998, Ismael started making wines outside the family’s bodega, and it did not take long before everything was produced organically, as natural wine without additives. Nieva, the small village where he was born in 1971, is one of the highest in Rueda, 850 meters above sea level. With less than 300 inhabitants, Nieva has four significant wineries, which must be said to be an unparalleled density.
Ismael Gozalo has 31 hectares, only “en vaso”, without upbinding, which is very common in Spain, with all its old vineyards. The wine EvoluciÓn comes from one of Gozalo’s best vineyards, 180-year-old pre-phylloxera in sandy soil. The wine is based on the vintages 2010 and 2011. It has then been over ten years in old sherry barrels. It has a permanent flor layer based on yeast cells from the bodega since the 11th century. As he writes on the baking label, it is “stored under flor (flower), bottled on a ‘día de flor’ (flower day) and you can enjoy this flor (wine flower)”. He may be called the “verdejo alchemist”, for his creative ways of dealing with this emblematic grape. Obviously, he also uses 100% verdejo for his dorado. Ripe grapes are picked by hand, spontaneously fermented and stored in barrels, which are only filled up with 5/6 of the capacity. The wine achieves an alcohol of 15%, but evaporates, and when the wine has 13.5%, it is not refilled with alcohol, but bottled as it is. It would thus not have been approved by DO Rueda. 950 half litre bottles were produced.
EvoluciÓn is stored longer under flor than the aforementioned wines. Therefore, one might call it pálido rather than dorado. Surely it is that it is also made after inspiration from the historical wines from Rueda. Because of a longer time under flor it is lighter than the others in colour. It is aromatic, with hints of ripe apples and plum and a yeasty flor characteristic. It is a very fresh wine with good concentration, vital acidity and a sweetish fruit sensation. Dry in the mouth, and good length.
Like Gozalo, Bodega de Frutos Marín is located in the province of Segovia. The producer is most often called Malaparte, after its most famous label. Rubén and Elisa cultivate 5.5 hectares of vineyards near Cuéllar. They use different techniques, such as tanks, old barrels and amphorae. All plots are operated without irrigation. This is near the Ribera del Duero. Still, and despite a lovely amphora-aged tempranillo, I would say that they are mostly a white wine producer, offering several versions of verdejo and viura. Interesting for us in this round is the wine OX. This is obviously an abbreviation of “oxidativo”. It is based on verdejo and palomino fino from 65 year old vines. After a year it was transferred to damajuanas. It naturally reaches 14%, and is not strengthened. It has all the yeast, almond and dried fruit aromas one would expect, and in the mouth it is glyceric – and typically more fruity than its sherry equivalents.
Maybe the dorado drink can get a place at our tables again? The first mentioned wines (see part I and II) should have similar use as a young or medium aged amontillado or palo cortado sherry. If we should refer to what the producers themselves are suggesting, it can be anything from cured cheeses, via stews, anchovies, bacalao, foie and smoked and pickled starters – to salty and sweet foods, such as blue cheese and chocolate-based desserts. EvoluciÓn will probably be more like a fino, manzanilla pasada or young amontillado, with some lighter food. One of Gozalo’s importers mentions Asian-inspired dishes and red fish. It would probably suit some of the others as well.
The golden age was called the era after the discovery of America. It remains to be seen whether the golden drink is now facing a new golden age.
We continue our trip back in time. Now we shall visit two more producers of the Catholic Monarchs’ drink.
We arrive at Alberto Gutiérrez, or: De Alberto. The Gutiérrez family has been making this type of wine since the 1940s. Today’s management is 4th generation and has 500 hectares of vineyards. They fill 8,000 damajuanas of 16 liters and up to 6,000 bottles annually. The house is thus the largest producer of dorado.
Export Manager Diego González Hernández meets us. We talk about the production of their dorado while wandering in a labyrinth of underground cellars, formerly a bodega that was part of a 16th century convention and was used for fermentation.
Harvesting takes place at night, as is usual in modern Rueda, usually in late September / first part of October. The grapes are picked when they have a potential 11-13% of alcohol. The first fermentation is exactly like for white wine. Then they add alcohol until the wine has reached 17%, then store it in damajuana for 8-10 months. Thereafter awaits a year in a solera, where the oldest barrels are from the earliest times, ie more than 70 years old. Then follows a year in newer barrels. 10% of the barrels are then bottled. Today, only verdejo is used. But since it is a form of solera, it is still possible that there are drops of palomino in there.
We tasted a pálido, but also their El Dorado. The colour is light amber. In terms of aroma and taste, I can not say that it is fundamentally different from Cachazo’s wine (read first part here); with aroma of nuts, dried fruit and vanilla, glyceric in the mouth and with a concentrated bitterness that perfectly complements the sweetness and the alcohol in the aftertaste.
Cuatro Rayas (Agrícola Castellana)
It was in 1935 that the village doctor in La Seca encouraged several wine-growing families to unite, not only to become bigger, but also stronger. The backdrop was a particularly unstable Spain, which only a year later would prove to break out in civil war. Today, the cooperative has 300 members in 30 municipalities, taps around 15 million bottles annually and has thus become the largest producer in DO Rueda. It is also the largest producer of organic wine. The cooperative changed its name a couple of years ago, from Agrícola Castellana to Cuatro Rayas, after its most famous brand. The bodega name means four stripes, is designed as a musical ‘sharp’ or a hashtag, and symbolizes the four important villages of La Seca, Rueda, Rodilana and Medina del Campo.
In the 1950s, the first commercial brand of the young cooperative was born. The members had decided that the wine should be brought to the large common cellar and poured into large vessels. During the first years, it was said that of all the vats with wine, number 61 was the best of them all. The house brand Fino 61 was named after this vat.
We meet oenologist Roberto L. Tello and Sara Manzanas in the communications department. Roberto and Sara concentrated most on the best wine, 61 Dorado en Rama, but we also tasted the “regular” 61, and the company’s pálido. “En rama” means that the wine does not undergo clarification or filtration. In short, it is based on verdejo and palomino fino; 75% verdejo for the wine 61 en Rama, while the other wine has 50/50, both from old vines. The grapes are harvested by hand in the morning, in late August and the first half of September. Biological fermentation takes place in sherry barrels, where one sixth is not filled, to stimulate the development of flor. The wine is bottled once a year and then refilled with wine matured in a concrete tank for a year. During the autumn and winter, it loses its flor layer, which leads to a gradual oxidative maturation. At Cuatro Rayas, the wine is fortified to 17%. Production is limited to about a thousand bottles.
Flor is a native yeast, which comes naturally. Cuatro Rayas is also collaborating with the University of León to “save” local yeast strains, and then use them in production. In general, work is done organically and with a philosophy of a low climate footprint. When asked about the number of criadeas, Roberto says that here is a solera, a criadera and the rest.
61 Dorado en Rama follows the aforementioned dorado wines in style: Clear, light golden amber color, aroma of pastries, vanilla, pastries, caramel and a toasted tone, honey, caramel and dried fruit. There is a clear difference to the “ordinary” wine, which is not as expressive and where the alcohol is more evident.
I come from the west where I have photographed the monument in memory of the Battle of Toro, which laid the foundation for a unified Spain. Here in and around the villages of La Seca and Rueda, I will visit some of the producers who are now involved in a restoration of the historic dorado wine. This was a popular drink at the courts over five hundred years ago, when the aforementioned battle took place.
How much this wine is inspired by the more famous in Jerez is hard to say, as Spain after the fall of the empire almost had a collective memory loss of 150 years, and very little was written. But several conditions coincide, from the grape variety palomino fino (here together with the local verdejo), oxidative storage in oak barrels (as in the main category oloroso), the use of “botas” (600 liter oak barrels) and large glass containers called “damajuanas” . Wait a minute! Many people would probably call them demijohns, as in English.
My good musician friend Ivan, who works for the producer Menade, lectures: -The word probably comes from the French dame-jeanne and refers to Queen Joanna I of Naples. Legend has it that during a storm she sought refuge in the workshop of a master glassblower, and she became interested in the art of blowing glass. She wanted to try to make her own bottle, blew with great force and got a ten liter bottle. This bottle and its successors were called dame-jeanne, and the look was soon linked to a lady’s round shapes. The art and designation triumphed, and when it came to Spain in the 15th century, it was associated with Juana, who was the daughter of Queen Isabel II and one of the parties in the Castilian War of Succession, where the battle mentioned in the introduction was included. We continue with our introduction, and we will meet Ivan again in article number three.
DO Rueda currently has its own category for dorado in its legislation. It states that the wine must be made of palomino fino and / or verdejo and have at least 15% alcohol. It must have undergone oxidative storage and must have been in oak barrels for at least two years before it is launched. Their general characteristics are a golden color, aroma of dried and roasted fruit, oxidative properties, and it should be powerful, glyceric and complex in the mouth. Some may also have an aroma of vanilla. Unlike sherry, most also have the verdjo’s flattering, fruity (sometimes sweet) nose and slightly bitter aftertaste. There is also a category for biological storage (under a layer of the yeast «flor») called pálido.
In the production of dorado with DO, the wine must contain at least 40% verdejo. When the fermentation is complete, alcohol is usually added so that it is at least fifteen degrees. Most people believe that this is also necessary for the wine to withstand the further process. The wine is usually poured into the damajuans, which usually contain 16 liters. The wine is placed outdoors for more than a year, so that it can be exposed to sun and temperature fluctuations, which gives it a golden colour and its characteristic aromas. In the past, it was common to spend more time in something more reminiscent of a solera system. After storage in glass, the whole thing is completed with a stay in an oak barrel.
Félix Lorenzo Cachazo
At Félix Lorenzo Cachazo, I am welcomed by brother and sister Eduardo and Ángela Cachazo, who are 6th generation. Eduardo takes care of public relations, while Ángela is an oenologist. The family’s Carrasviñas was the first Dorado wine bottled in 1946, and their father Félix was one of the eight founders of DO Rueda in 1980.
Cachazo uses the grape varieties verdejo and palomino fino. The grape mixture is 65% verdejo, which grows some distance away, in the village of Alcazarén, where there is sandy soil and pre-phylloxera vines. The rest is palomino, which is grown around the bodega in Pozaldez. -We work with small growers from the area. They are a treasure to us; we are in debt to the area, says Eduardo.
Harvest is usually late, in late October. The grapes are harvested at potentially 15% alcohol. The grapes are vinified separately, stalked and gently pressed. The must is then fermented in a stainless steel tank. After the alcohol fermentation follows a racking, and wine from the two varieties is mixed. Then it is temporarily filled in 16-liter damajuanas. These are left in the patio for 18 months, where the wine develops “flor” in the spring, in what is called biological fermentation. During this time, it also undergoes an oxidative storage that gives the wine a golden color. Then it stays for two years in 2-3 year old barrels, French and American.
Cachazo makes 2,500 bottles of dorado annually. -It is allowed to mix vintages, but we make vintage wines, says Eduardo. -We use a cultivated yeast strain from the local verdejo.
We tasted their Dorado 2017 together with oenologist Ángela: Golden, pure and light color. Aroma of quince jam, hazelnut, dried fruit and vanilla. Full-bodied in the mouth with nuts and spices, a toasted tone and a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste (from verdejo). A textbook example (or what you would think of as typical, since very little is written about these wines). On the whole, this may be the closest you get to the classic wines, at least after the norm became a short time in the patio rather than a long time in the solera.
-In the past, wines were not infrequently at 17-18% alcohol. Today we do not add alcohol; it was our grandfather who stopped this and brought the wines down to 15% as today, the siblings say.
Eduardo is interested in history and can complement our historical introduction with an interesting etymological outline: Pozaldez has less than 500 inhabitants and two churches. The name was Pozoldes (meaning wells) in the 13th century, changed to Pozal de las Dos Iglesias (the pool of the two churches) in 1587 and then changed its name to Pozal de Hez. Here, hez refers to the sediments that remain on the wine barrel after fermentation. The church of San Boal, where we stand, has Mozarabic features. It was also the Mozarabs (Berbers under the new Christian rule) who brought the grape verdejo to Spain from North Africa. Palomino, the grape that dominates sherry production, also certainly has a history of at least 500 years in our region.
I am back at Barcelona’s Vella Terra. It is now in its 6th edition after having been postponed, last time since February this year. Vella Terra is a fair organized by the couple Ale Delfino and Stefano Fraternali, and celebrates natural and low-intervention wines from smaller wineries, most of them family businesses. This year there were 146 artisans from 16 countries booked in. There were also related companies like Pulltex, distributor of wine accessories (see my company profile of one of their most important collaborators Pulltap’s in a forthcoming article) and restaurants like Garage Bar and Zaza. There were of course also various activities around town, with so much “talent” gathered in one place.
This year I had no special theme in mind. I did select a bit, but was also open to walk in new doors. So here are some of the most interesting tastes, only organized from local to global, if I can put it that way. And as many times before, I try to restrict myself by chosing only one wine from each winery. In this first part we shall deal with Spain.
I had tasted a few wines from Cal Teixidor before. (See my latest wine of the week here.) Their winery is found in Corbera de Llobregat, not far from Barcelona. At Vella Terra Josep Casañas showed an impressive range, most of the wines based on the two vineyards described in my latest wine of the week, that you can read about here). These are a north-facing xarel.lo vineyard that gives acidity and minerality, and a south or southwest-facing macabeu vineyard that gives more fruity, aromatic wines. There were also wines made from subirat parent (see his T-shirt), also known by the name malvasía riojana. Here I chose a wine solely based on the macabeu vineyard from 1974. It’s called Masía Cal Salines 2019, is made with whole clusters and aged … Dark yellow; appley, with fennel-tones; rich, structured and mouth-filling. Josep also showed a superb subirat parent traditional method sparkler with almost the same name, Masía Cal SalinesBrut Nature Reserva. This fruity wine, with herbs and mature apple, but also mineral and with a fresh acidity – was of the 2017 vintage and aged 42 months on the lees. Which strictly makes it a gran reserva (it’s minimum 30 months, by Cava standards). Lastly, his wife Brugués is the force behind the estate’s own olive oil.
Loxarel I have known a long time, and I’ve appreciated their good and not least good value wines. Last time they were represented in a wine of the week post was here. In February I had an appointment with winemaker Pep for a visit to their Penedès winery, but had to cancel as I was struck by covid. Here founder Josep Medios participated together with Anna Janué, who calls herself commercial sommelier. They showed an impressive range, such as still and sparkling Loxarel à pel, an amphora-made xarel.lo, and a “xarel.lo sherry” (called Himen), and reds. Here I chose Loxarel109 2011, a brut nature reserva (well, technically it qualifies for a gran reserva). This wine was the reason that Loxarel left DO Cava for Clàssic Penedès, because the authorities didn’t allow them to bottle without disgorging. Loxarel’s opinion is that after nine years the wine has already integrated the yeast. Obviously, this is also a xarel.lo-dominated wine, like nearly all the most ageworthy. Aged on the lees for 109 months in a shelter from the civil war. Light in colour; smells of mature apples, burnt yeast and coffee; is rich with a super acidity and mineral finish, it’s still full of vividness and not at all “old”. It comes in a bottle wrapped in paper.
Clos Lentiscus is located inside the national park in the Garraf mountains just outside Sant Pere de Ribes. The winery was established in 2001 by brothers Manel and Joan Aviñó, when they set out on a task of restoring the family vineyard from the 14th century. They currently cultivate 22 hectares of vineyards in a biodynamic way, of which 95 percent are planted with local grape varieties.
Before the fair I had warmed up with a classy, mineral red, Perill Noir Carinyena 2017, a varietal carinyena that also were shown here. I chose one of the bright sparklers that Manel’s daughter Núria poured. The Núria Parellada 2018, one of several wines named after her, is a pét-nat, very fresh for its age. It’s very dry with notes of red apples, raspberry and bright citrus.
I met Dido and Jurriaan three years ago at the Garage Bar. Then they were just starting, after having travelled the world and worked in a number of wineries. Since then I have come across their rosé sparkler Juicy several times. (See here.) share a passion: wine. They bought 9.5 hectares of vines planted in the Albera natural reserve of Alt Empordà, where they farm organically and have started to implement biodynamic principles. They have now bought an old coop in the village Rabós, where they first were hiring space.
Many of their labels carry references to music, such as Big Time Sensuality, Comfortably numb and Libertango. My pick here would be Magic Potion 2021, a cabernet franc-sauvignon pét-nat named after the album of The Black Keys: Blueish red, full of fresh and sweet strawberry and raspberry fruit, and in the mouth some structure that complements well with a slight residual sugar.
Architect Alfredo Arribas is quite new on the Catalan wine scene, having taken over the family’s vineyards in 2001 founded his bodega in 08. But he has made himself heard. His two main series are Siuralta, mostly monovarietal wines from Montsant and Instabiles, more free-spirited wines from Priorat. The vineyards are in Cornudella de Montsant, in the north of the Priorat region, and the grapes are vinified in the winery in Falset. Arribas’ project is a response to the challenges of climatic change, seeking higher altitude vineyards, more shade and rainfall, biodiversity and more.
For Siuralta grapes from the highest vineyards are spontaneously fermented in whole clusters with stems in small steel tanks and amphorae in various shapes. The grapes for Instabile are spontaneously fermented mainly in whole clusters with short peel maceration. The wines are matured in small cement tanks and amphorae of ceramics, porcelain or glass. Different vintages are mixed in some cases by bottling.
Let’s taste the Siuralta Antic2019, a varietal cariñena: Deep red; cool, fresh fruit, dark and wild berries (blackberry, elderberry), a hint of pepper; luscious/fleshy in the mouth, carried by a long acidity, beautifully integrated tannins, more to the mineral side.
I didn’t know Sifer Wines, but it clearly is a winery to watch. (See also a mention of their Ephraim Mel garnacha blanca here.) Sifer, the name made up from two last names, has vineyards both in Terra Alta’s Batea and in Teruel, Aragón. Among their expressive, vibrant entries were Víbria Soul 2021, a macabeu made in amphora and steel. It’s light, quite turbid, with pear and white fruits and a super acidity.
Cap de Nit is a young family winery that produces wines in the Marina Alta in the north of the province of Alicante. Josh and Josie started the project in 2017, looking for old vineyards of native varieties, to work them in strict organic farming. The vineyards are mostly located in the Vall de Xaló, in the coastal mountains. The small plots are hidden between plantations of almond, orange and olive trees. Work in the field and in the manual warehouse. – The wines are made naturally, fermentation is spontaneous, temperature is not controlled and the wines remain on the mother lees throughout the ageing. No type of additive is applied. The fermentation and aging is done in 500 liter clay pots and stainless steel tanks. They work with different degrees of maceration. At the end the wines are bottled by gravity. – Grape varieties: muscat of alexandria and giró
The real name is Bodega de Frutos Marín, but this producer is most often called Malaparte, after its most famous label. Rubén and Elisa cultivate 5.5 ha of vineyards near Cuéllar, in the province of Segovia. They employ various techniques, such as tanks, old barrels and amphoras. All vineyards are farmed dry.
This is close to Ribera del Duero. Nevertheless, and in spite of a lovely amphora-aged tempranillo, I would say they are mostly a white wine producer, offering verdejo and viura in several fashions. Maybe because I am currently working on an article about the historical wines of the lands of Medina, I chose OX. This is obviously an abbreviation of oxidative, a feature of the “dorado” wines. It is a mix of varieties (I will check, but typical, and recommended in DO Rueda are verdejo and palomino fino), 65 year old vines. The wine rested one year under “flor”, and was then transferred to “damajuanas” (big bottles, demijohns in English). It arrives naturally at 14%, and is not fortified. It has all the yeast, almonds, dried fruits aromas that one night expect, and in the mouth it’s glyceric – and more fruity than its sherry equivalents.
Makatzak Wild Wines is a Basque project found in Aia (Guipuzcoa), near Zarauz, that really has impressed me. Here is no talk about conditions “not favourable for organic growing in our region”, as we often hear. Aitor Irazu Alonso started the winery with his cousin. Here he manages the Sorgintxulo vineyard, that after being abandoned for 5 years now is restored. It is an ecosystem of 3 hectares of vineyards, whose main variety is the hondarrabi zuri. Atlantic climate with high rainfall, mainly southern exposure, steep slopes and slate soils are the main characteristics. The work is based on ecological, natural, regenerative and biodynamic agriculture. Makatzak are now receiving their organic certification, and will later aim also for a biodynamic one.
Sorkin 2021 is light in colour, has an aroma of green apple and bright citrus, and comes with a wonderful acidity. It’s a natural txakolí that’s “impeccably clean”, I imagine the classic British writers would have said. A prime example of the growing natural wine scene in Spain.
Bendito Vinos y Vinilos (wine and vinyl) is an all natural wine bar in Madrid’s Lavapiés barrio. This hilly neighborhood was earlier a cheap place that attracted many immigrants. (Here is a link to another restaurant, to be published.) Bendito is located inside the multicultural San Fernando market, that looks like a gathering place for the cultures they represent. Lavapiés is now the most international neighborhood in Madrid. Once the Jewish quarter, much later the immigrants actually established many bars here. After Spain’s entry into the EU, there was a new wave of migration. Therefore Bendito is a good place to get to learn about the changes in Spanish culture and gastronomy.
Owner José González selects cheeses and hams from many places. These are served with economic down-to-earth wines chosen by Ilan Saltzman, wine responsible, while the vinyl records spins in the background. By the way, Bar Bendito means the blessed bar, with all the allegories that it is possible to derive from that name.
I was there last Friday and the following Sunday and enjoyed a handful of wines both days, all served with small bites of cheese or charcuterie. This report is mainly based on the first visit.
One of the wines that night was Pampaneo Airén 2020 from Esencia Rural, a very fresh, lemony sparkler from Toledo. Read more about it here.
A delightful habit of the wine bars is when the waiter gives you a couple of sips, before you decide which wine you want in your glass. Here my waiter Ilan poured three samples. One of them Soif du Mal Blanc 2020, a muscat-dominated wine from Les Foulards Rouges, over the French border. I chose to wait until some other time, and go for a Castilian wine. Palote 2020 from Microbodega Rodríguez Morán in the province of Salamanca was made from palomino grapes. It rested one week with skins and stems. Thereafter it was aged in clay, finally bottled unfined, unfiltered and without sulphur. The colour was light orange/amber, slightly turbid; nice aroma of yellow fruit, elderberry, flowers and a touch of figs; good acidity, it plays with bitterness, but it’s restrained. A blue cheese accompaned these first wines, and it went surprisingly well.
Behind Artesano Vintners is Mike Shepherd, who has a past in Australia in two important natural wine houses. Now in Catunya he grows only 2 hectares. Parellatxa 2020 is a clarete: Pale red; vibrant fruit, raspberry; very light delicate touch of tannin. The name is put together by the varieties parellada and garnatxa, but this you have already figured out.
Kikiriki 2018 is made from ull de llebre (tempranillo) and carinyena in a vineyard from 1979, by Manel Aviñó of Clos Lentiscus, Penedès. He works employing biodynamic techniques and ferment the grapes by variety before assembling the wines. Dark cherry colour; blueberry, also lighter fruit (raspberry) and a touch licorice; juicy with light tannin, good acidity, and over all truly fascinating.
Nacho González makes his wines within Valdeorras. But he is not a member of the DO, thus his La Perdida wines carry the designation Vinos de España. A Mallada 2020 is made from sumoll and garnacha tintorera. Fermented in amphora, aged in old oak, bottled without sulphites. It’s dark, quite complex; on the nose it displays something sweet and sour (sweet cherries, acidic berry stones?) and very fresh fruit; there is a young dryness in the mouth, lovely acidity.
About the second visit I will report very briefly. It went more or less like the first visit. The two absolutely brilliant wines were Jordi Llorens‘ Ancestral de la Cristina and Oriol Artigas‘ El Rall, both from Catalunya, both from 2019. The former is from the Conca de Barberà area in the province of Tarragona and lived up to normal standard, light yellow with its clean appley and mature lemony easy-going character. The latter I didn’t know. It’s a sumoll (the grape) from DO Alella, north of Barcelona city, and showed a cherry-dominated red fruits side, with a pleasant juicyness in the mouth. The best of the rest, and a surprise too, was Sin Prisa 2018, a forest fruits-coffee-scented monastrell without added sulphites from Bodegas De Fábula, Murcia, near the regional capital.
Below: Only two of the many international cuisine restaurants in the San Fernando market.
Esteban Celemín is found in Castronuño, in the Valladolid province, close to Toro (Zamora). He works a lot with albillo real, that he names the emblematic variety of Castronuño and which the family has planted an experimental vineyard. All vineyards are cultivated organically.
Other varieties are also used, some of them posted under “minor white varieties from the ‘comarca’ of Toro”. At the bar named El Bar in the center of Valladolid I was offered one of these, an orange wine based on palomino, a variety not uncommon in the area. Here it’s often called jerez. Well orange, the maceration had been very gentle during its 16 ,days of skin-contact, and probably lightly filtered, so the wine showed transparent. Nothing was added to the wine, of which a “grand” total of 260 bottles were filled.
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, but also in this vintage quite evident tannins, 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.
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!
Delgado Zuleta, the oldest family owned winery in the Sherry region, bottled the first organic manzanilla in 2016, which they have launched under the name Entusiástico.
It is the result of a three years joint venture with the organic vine grower Pepe Cabral with organic palomino grapes from a 1 hectar vineyard in the Burujena pago in Trebujena to the north-east of Sanlúcar.
Entusiástico is a classic manzanilla aged in very old barrels, using the traditional criaderas and solera system, but using organic grapes and organic wine alcohol. It’s also labelled “en rama”, meaning that it’s only lightly filtered, as close as possible to how the wine is in the barrel. It comes in a transparent glass bottle, with an organic cork closure and a very distinctive purple label showing a painting by the Russian painter Igor Andriev.
The first release was only 1200 bottles, but the interest made the producers take the decision to expand capacity in the coming years.
The wine started after the 2012 harvest and has been matured under flor for two years in two barrels taken from the La Goya manzanilla solera. In the following years the butts have been refreshed with new mosto twice a year – a slower rate than La Goya for instance, resulting in a more concentrated wine in less time. The solera has expanded over the years as well.
I tasted it at the release. More recently there was a second edition, now officially under the Delgado Zuleta brand with a different presentation. This tasting note is thus based on this label.
Manzanilla Entusiástico (Delgado Zuleta)
Golden yellow colour. Very fresh on the nose, with flowery notes, herbs, yeasty, some citrus (lemon), but with mature apples too. In the mouth it’s completely dry, grapey, quite light in concentration, with the fruits from the nose coming back.
Food: Traditional seafood and fish platters from the region, but also salads, vegetarian dishes, ceviche and light meat