Here is an ecologic cava from the varieties pansa blanca (local name for xarel.lo), macabeu and parellada. The Alta Alella winery is run by the Pujol-Busquets family in the Serralada de Marina Natural Park, just north of the city of Barcelona. Mireia, daughter of founders Josep Maria and Cristina Pujol-Busquets, is currently wine-maker.
Alta Alella’s wines are made from their own grapes. The soils are low in pH, which compensates for the warm Mediterranean climate and give acidity to the wines. They are based on the decomposed granite called sauló, with a sandy texture and good drainage.
All work in the vineyard is manual. After a gentle pressing each of the varieties for this wine ferment separately. Then there is a second fermentation in bottle following the traditional Champenoise method. Unfermented must is used to provide the sugar for the secondary fermentation in bottle, and SO2 is added only after disgorging. The ageing on lees is 30 months (thus the youngest of their cavas). It is disgorged before release, with the disgorgement date noted on the label.
None of Alta Alella’s wines receives dosage.
Mirgin Gran Reserva 2017(Alta Alella)
Light straw. Fruity, green apple, lemon peel, chalk and some brioche autolycic quality. Full in the mouth, mellow mousse, good acidity, dry, saline, long.
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.
While Norway changed government with parades and speeches, an interesting tasting took place just across the street at the Grand Hotel. This tasting in Oslo was the first official Corpinnat tasting outside of Spain.
To be short, Corpinnat (meaning born in the Penedès, after Roman etymological roots) is a group of Catalan producers of sparkling wine that has left DO Cava. All ten producers with wines in the market were represented. Leading the tasting was Carles del Amor, export director of Nadal, one of the six founding members – together with Liora Levi, Norwegian sommelier and wine writer.
The tasting showed a variety of styles. Some wineries contributed what they consider the more typical from their range, while others offered “top” wines. There were examples of restrained, mineral wines, while others were more on the fruity side. Some dominated by the xarel.lo grape (also varietals), others with more parellada. One rosé.
There will be a longer report that I will link to here. Now I will just present one wine in the ever ongoing Wine of the Week series.
Since Carles is here (on behalf of Corpinnat, that is) I still want to focus a bit on Nadal‘s contribution. Their Brut Nature Reserve 2015 was maybe the most flowery/fruity of the lot. This can maybe be seen from the grape composition; parellada 57%, xarel.lo 22%, macabeu 21%. While xarel.lo is a variety with a lot of acidity and preferred in wines made for ageing, parellada contributes more finesse and aroma. This said, Carles tells that they have a project going on, trying to prepare parellada for more ageing, for example by moving higher up towards the Pyrenees. By doing this they also prepare themselves for new, hotter times. The wine has an ageing of 60 months on the lees, is a non dosé obviously organically grown (as is mandatory without Corpinnat), and it’s degorged 21st June 2021 (also obligatory information within the group).
Here are other posts about members of the group (search the site for more):
Loxarel I have met at a couple of artisan fairs, in Barcelona, and as far as I remember, in London too. Masia Can Mayol, the official name, is Josep Medios, fifth generation. When he got in charge of the family firm at a young age he changed the philosophy of this old winery. He started bottling wines, converting to organic, then implementing biodynamic techniques. (Here is another good sparkler from the house.)
The winery is located in Villobí, on a plain not far from Vilafranca del Penedès, but they have also plots in El Pla de Manlleu, higher in altitude and a bit further west.
This winery is among the many that are now abandoning the DO Cava. Among the reasons for this can be a challenging reputation that the appellation has gained over the years, and the fact that it is not dedicated to one specific geographical area. More about this in a future article.
This particular sparkler is made up from xarel.lo 55% (now widely recognized as the best of the “usual suspects” for ageing), then macabeo 30%, parellada 5%, and the rest chardonnay, a grape that I have nothing against, even not here, even not native. I interpret the name a pèl +18 as the time spent on lees (and not skins).
A Pèl +18 Brut Nature 2016(Loxarel/ Masia Can Mayol)
Light straw, greenish tones, creamy mousse. Mild Mediterranean smell of aromatic herbs, yeast, mature lemons and yellow apples. Creamy, tasty, rounded but dry.
Food: Apéritif, Iberian cured ham, light fish and shellfish…
Time to celebrate. Maybe not the year that lie behind us, but rather a toast to life, art and good wine itself. There are many possibilities; champagne, crémants, cava… Cava? All right, listen.
Agustí Torello Roca (AT Roca) belongs to the family that gave us Kripta and other great great cavas and wines from Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. While Agustí Torelló Mata (ATM) has turned to organics AT Roca goes further; with a more natural approach, and has also joined the ranks of those who leave the very strange DO Cava, that in reality stands for a way of making wine rather than a sense of place.
Agustí Torello Roca and his father and aunt Agustí and Lali founded AT Roca in 2013. One of the first priorities was to join DO Classic Penedès, a subdivision under the DO Penedès formed in 2012. It started with just 10 members, and has been growing ever since. DO Classic Penedès is perhaps the first governing body that requires organic certification in order to be a member. In addition to the farming requirements, 15 months aging on the lees is the minimum (while only 9 months within DO Cava), and all wines must be made by the traditional method and vintage dated. AT Roca goes further by only using indigenous yeasts and harvesting 100% of their grapes by hand.
For their single vineyard wines, they ferment in used barrels and age the wines on the lees under natural cork instead of crown caps, both of which are rarities in the region. Sulfur is only used once to block malolactic as an effort to retain the acidity. All their wines are zero dosage. They only work with indigenous Catalan grape varieties, with a focus on macabeu.
AT Roca Reserva 2016(AT Roca)
Yellow with greenish hints. Aroma of fennel, lime, breadcrumbs. Good body and concentration, nice acidity, and a salty dry finish.
Food: Good Spanish ham, light meat, salads, dried fish and tasty shellfish
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.
La Casa del Perro is a hidden gem in the historic centre of Málaga. Here the couple Ana and Fede serves small well-elaborated dishes to be paired with delicious natural wines.
We visited several times during a couple of weeks and enjoyed a great variety of dishes, such as Guacamole with home made nachos, Carpaccio of beef with yellow tomatoes, parmesan and greens, and also a vegan lemon cake made with almond milk.
Ana and Fede
But what initially caught my attention were their wine offerings. Many of these are from the leading producers in natural wine field, especially southern ones, like Barranco Oscuro, Cauzón, Torcuato Huertas and José Miguel Márquez (all of whom are presented on this blog). I met Ana earlier this year at the Barcelona wine fairs, and some of the vintners I had marked as “interesting”, she had contacted, and some already included. La Zafra of Alicante is an example. La Casa del Perro may not have the biggest selection, but it is indeed an eclectic one.
A little background: Ana and Fede opened their restaurant in the historic centre of Málaga in 2004, and moved to the current location some three years ago. The restaurant’s name is a result of a wordplay game started by a friend.
They were both born in this neighbourhood, and both families have lived there for generations. As Ana tells:
-We strive and fight to do what we like, and we are very happy to find ourselves in a neighborhood a bit hidden. We totally disagree with bars and restaurants that receive the passing tourist as if they were cattle. We want the visitor to have a good time and have a desire to come again.
Barranco Oscuro’s Ring! Ring! (Riesling)
Among the many wines we tasted during the visits were some new and interesting ones, such as a varietal parellada called Water Fly (Ca Foracaime, and bottled by Celler Portes Abertes in Terra Alta, Catalunya), a light white with an integrated acidity, and Pura Vida 2018 (Vinos Fondón), a promising dark and juicy garnacha rosé from the Almería part of the Alpujarras. From the more established artisans were Marenas Mediacapa xviii (18) (José Miguel Márquez, Montilla), a clean and delicious, light straw, off dry, some co2 wine, and La Pámpana 2018 (Viña Enebro, Bullas), made partly with carbonic maceration, a cherry red, juicy wine with some co2. Then the Ring! Ring! (Barranco Oscuro): Nothing to do with the old ABBA song, but a wordplay on riesling, a light golden, good acidity wine. There were also several editions of La Traviesa, made by the same producer, with grapes from one their neighbours up in the Alpujarras. (Read here about my recent visit to the producer.)
Lastly I want to draw your attention to four wines that really stand out. Either are they interesting takes on traditional themes, or simply of amazing quality.
NU Rosado /3/2017(La Zafra): This one I mentioned in the beginning, and in an article from the fairs in Barcelona I wrote that the producer was one to watch. This is a monastrell rosé made in four editions, with 0, 3, 5 and 7 months of skin-contact respectively, and only between 2-400 bottles are made of each of them. /3/ signifies that this is the 3 months edition, the second lightest. It’s a light and lively wine, salmon pink colour, and smells of red berries (raspberry, strawberry).
Cabrónicus 2017(Bod. Cauzón): This tempranillo made with carbonic maceration was the pick of the week (read here). It’s made east of Granada city at around 1.000 meters altitude, near Guadix. It’s pale red, super fruity with raspberry, pomegranate, and a touch of white pepper. In the mouth it’s delicious, juicy, fresh and clean, with a long, integrated acidity.
Purulio 2018(T. Huertas): Here is a very personal wine from the same area as the previous one. It’s made from a blend of both tempranillo and French grapes: Dark and dense, and full of blackberry and other dark fruits, along with a touch of coffee and roast, and touch of tannin and a stimulating acidity.
La Veló 2016(José Miguel Márquez): Another Montilla still wine with the Marenas label. This is a tempranillo grown at Cerro Encinas at 350 meters. Dark, almost opaque, some blueberry, but also plums and some tobacco. There is a lot of tannin here, but it doesn’t dominate the fruit.
Ana showing the La Veló in the restaurant’s wine shop
Is there a mirror there at the bottom of the casserole?
Before the Vins Nus and Vella Terra wine fairs started in Barcelona I took the opportunity to travel around l’Empordà – together with a good friend, Malena Fabregat, wine writer and distributor.
We visited two producers of natural wine, one well-established classic, and one up-and-coming estate, both in the same vicinity – Carles Alonso and La Gutina.
Carles Alonso is maybe the foremost pioneer of Catalan natural wines, having started back in the late 1970’s. He is certainly not the most well-known figure, but this is only due to the fact that he has never seeked the limelight, and it has not been necessary either, as he has easily sold everything from his bodega at the entrance of the Els Vilars village.
Carles is self-taught, and he hasn’t felt it necessary to join either fashions or denominations. He owns between 4 and 5 hectares of vineyard, and there he works about 10 varieties, most local, but also some foreign that have adapted well in Catalunya. He does all the work himself. -My daughter helps me a bit though, he admits, -and of course at harvest times there are many people here.
The altitude is never really high in l’Empordà. Here we are about 15 km from the sea and at 230 meters altitude. The Tramontana wind is always noticeable in the area. Carles has a lot of knowledge, and likes a good discussion, and some good jokes. After having joked about bad things in France (politics and weather) he gets more serious: -I am from the Mediterranean, born in Barcelona. So this is my terroir. I make strong, thick wines, full of alcohol. I harvest only 0,5 kg per plant, never prune in green, I never move a leaf… And I harvest late (i.e. September). Many look for acidity, and the only thing they get is acidity.
Carles explains to Malena
The wines ferment in clay amphora, and never see any oak. He makes white and red wine. But it’s the sparkling wines from the ancestral method that are the most prominent.
No chemicals are ever used either in the vineyard or in the cellar. The wines ferment with their own yeasts, without added sulfites, or any other additive of any kind.
We tasted his Blanc Petillant (macabeu, xarel.lo, garnatxa blanca, parellada and chardonnay) both 2009 and 2018. It was quite dark at his desk, but the 09 seemed dark yellow towards orange, smelled of pears, plums and mature apples, was rich and with generous alcohol, but balanced and harmonious. -It is its own category in a way, Carles said, and we could well agree to that. The 18 followed the same line, at 13,8% alc., but was obviously younger. Light straw colour; pear, some citrus (lime); full, with some oxidation (a touch of bitter almonds).
-I used to offer fresh wines, he says. -Like make 4.000 bottles of rosé and sell it to tourists. But in 2001, after I discovered how good a mature wine could be. Then I started to lay some years behind, on purpose.
We also tasted two reds, the Carriel dels Vilars Tinto (garnatxa, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, carinyena) 2018 and 2007. The 18 was dark red with lovely fruit, still some carbonic, and obviously still with an ageing potential. The 07 had no oak, -I am totally against it, he stresses. Ok, I see that old oak can work for micro-breathing, but it’s not for me. It was cherry red with mature nuances; smell of plums, cherry and some compote; drying a little in the mouth, but still full of life.
Only ten minutes away, in Sant Climent Sescebes near the Vilartolí village, we find La Gutina, which means Joan Carles Torres and Barbara Magugliani.
It was a wild landscape. -Here was “nothing”! It’s really difficult to find areas like this, in the middle of Europe, says Joan Carles enthusiastically.
Joan Carles Torres
Joan Carles is 4th generation. It was his father who started replanting, a work that Joan Carles and his Italian-born wife Bárbara continued. They also recovered the oldest vines on the estate, and it was only in 2010 that they sold bottled wines for the first time.
Joan Carles and Malena
There are three dolmens within the borders of the estate, and also menhirs (the long stones, like in Stonehenge). These are from the Neolithic period, maybe 7.000 years ago.
We are 250 meters above sea level. The estate is 80 hectares, but they have only 8,5 hectares of vineyard. The varieties are mostly garnatxa and mostly old vines, but also carinyena, ull de llebre (tempranillo), cabernet sauvignon and others.
The soils are granite and sand, with some small plots of quartz. This is mainly towards the ocean, because there has been less erosion there. The climate is of Mediterranean influence, but dry and windy, and with a strong variation between day and night temperatures in summer.
As we have already mentioned, the tramontana wind is often present. It comes from the north, via the Rhône and can reach 180 km/h. It’s probably the same wind that’s called mistral in Provence and cierzo in Tarragona and Baleares.
Estanys de la Gutina, a small lake on the estate. -La Gutina is here, says Joan Carles, -the place, the territory.
Very old vines inserted in 1961
Bárbara meets us at the outdoor tasting table, provisionally set up in the lovely February afternoon
Everything is organic, and there is a functional biodiversity. The harvest is manual, the wines are fermented with natural yeasts and without added sulfites. -The main threats are wild boars and wild cows, says Joan Carles. These ‘vacas salvajes’ were domesticated before, but escaped during 2-3 generations.
They make some 15-20.000 bottles a year, of which 50% is sold at the farm, by good friends and other people that have heard about these wines.
They prefer to work with cold temperatures, 8-10°C for whites and rosé. The picking here is quite early to retain acidity, this year it started as early as 23rd August.
The wines are really promising. We tasted most of the range. Here are a few.
Barba Roig 2018, a garnacha gris with four hours of maceration: Light colour; still quite restrained in aroma, some pear and apricot; more potent in the mouth with matching acidity.
A couple of wines had a slight mousiness, which I hope they can escape from with time. Nothing of that in the next wine. Joan Carles said about his tempranillo vineyard: -My first vineyard, my first mistake. I don’t agree. Murtra 2017 is the tempranillo, with 5 days skin-contact, no cold-maceration. Red cherry colour; bright red fruits, cherry, some blackberry; young and fruity with evident tannins.
Demontre 2017 (meaning “funny little devil”, a nickname his mother used for Joan Carles), is a garnacha made with 20-25% whole bunches. The wine has a light ruby colour; it’s flowery, very fruity with fruits from the forest; rich in the mouth, a slightly bitter finish, and some alcohol present. Somehow easy, but with character.
Idò 2016: Idò is a “waiting word” in the Balearic, if I remember right, and it also denotes the English “I do”. It’s a garnacha too, this one with one year in old oak (6-10 years): Light cherry red; red fruits, dried fruit (like figs), some balsamic (pine); vibrant in the mouth, fresh acidity, and some tannin.
Life goes on. Joan Carles and Bárbara is living a good life. Joan Carles’ great passion is to be a fireman, to protect from catastrophes to occur and to “prevent”, he says, and sometimes he does “gigs” for the local brigade. A musician from Salif Keita’s band, who works on the farm, gives him occasional drum lessons too. But we must leave for Barcelona, so the jam session must wait until next time.