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Vicenza province III: Contrà Soarda

From Siemàn in Colli Berici it was almost an hour’s ride back on the north side of the motorway, to Bassano del Grappa, in the extreme east of the Breganze DOC. Here is Vignaiolo Contrà Soarda, whose wines I had been familiar with since a few years ago. I had tasted their wines in London, both at the Raw fair, including the tasting that Fiona Beckett talks about here, and in natural wine bars.

I came half an hour early, so I started to make myself comfortable, as I believed I was going to meet the person with whom I had corresponded. So I started with a short tasting in the shop. It turned out that it was nobody else than one of the owners, Gloria Gottardi herself, that kept the shop going at that time.

The first wine was exactly the one that Beckett started her tasting with, as an alternative to sauvignon blanc to match with a goat’s cheese. And it stood the test with its crisp, citrussy flavours. That time it was the 2012. Now the Soarda Vespaiolo is in the 2017 vintage. Vespaiolo is a wonderful grape, one of the great Italian V’s (alongside verdicchio, vermentino, a.o.).

Vespaiolo (or vespaiola), named after the wasps (vespa in Italian) thrives especially well in this area of Veneto. -it’s our star grape, the whole family agrees. It is often used for passito (dried grapes) style dessert wines, such as the Torcolato, and the wasps have also found out that the sugar levels can be very high because of the sweet aromas in the vineyards. The grape is often fermented to dryness, and produces wines with high acidity and other aromatic characteristics.

Contrà Soarda’s Vespaiolo 2017, fermented and raised in steel and bottled unfiltered, was light straw coloured, with green apples, pears in the aroma, and a high, but well integrated, acidity. Vignasilan 2013 (made in the same way, also 100% vespaiolo); light straw, apple and citrus aromas, but it also goes towards peach and apricot, and a touch of honey. The great concentration and elevated acidity makes the finish long, and at five years of age it keeps very well. 121 B.C. Time Flows Bianco 2014, named after a fabled vintage a long time ago, is also a varietal vespaiolo, I tasted before I left for Italy, and it’s convenient to mention it here. It’s spontaneously fermented, with 7 days of skin-maceration, and stayed 12months in oak barrel (with steamed, not toasted staves), and no added sulphur. Nice golden colour; complex aroma with floral components, honey; concentrated and structured (high acidity and some tannin).

121 b.C. Time flows Bianco 2014

 121 B.C. Time Flows Rosso 2012, is the red version. Here the variety is carmenère. It’s aged for 18 months in steamed oak, the rest is similar. Deep cherry red; mature fruit (blackberry, dark cherry), with some herbs and spices; luscious and fresh in the mouth, with a light tannin structure.  Veneto Rosso 2009 is a blend of  marzemino 30%, merlot 25%, pinot noir 20%, and the rest teroldego and groppello, fermented in steel and barrel before blending, then matured 24 months in barrel and steel. Deep purple; fresh aromas of dark berries, cherries, morellos, herbs, and some underwood; fresh, immediate and juicy in the mouth, with a nice integrated tannin.

Back to the Bassano tasting, the last wine I tasted with Gloria was Musso Riserva 2007. A lovely wine from marzemino and merlot, and the first wine that really showed development: Brick nuances; developed aroma somewhere between cherries, dried fruits and smoke; quite slender on the palate with plums and some lickorice. -Musso is a different project, explains Gloria. -Musso means donkey in Venetian dialect. When thinking about terroir images of vines, soils come along. And our philosophy is based on the respect for our land, but alto the animals that live on it. So Musso offers a none ironic perspective, suggesting that the animals are in fact part of the terroir. Donkeys are much more than workers; they are gentle and intelligent companions, curious and with an incredible memory. While horses often will run away from any danger, donkeys are cautious and steadfast.

Anyway, in comes Marcello, the wine maker, and his father Mirco Gottardi (Gloria’s husband obviously), and we have a chat and a brief tour around the premises.

Mirco (left) and Marcello Gottardi

The hill was bought in 2000, and 2004 was the first vintage. They started with a 4 hectare vineyard, now it’s 18. A successful traditional restaurant in Bassano centre, that the family has been running for three generations, has been important for the project’s overall economy, says Marco. In 2011 the restaurant, Pulierin, was moved to the hills where the winery is located.

Down to some basic information: Contrà Soarda, meaning ‘on the slope’, is located in the hills at the foot of the Asiago plateau in San Michele of Bassano del Grappa, a place dedicated to vines and olive trees since ancient times. The soil here is volcanic, often called “onion type”, because it’s old lava solidified in various layers. This makes the rock easy to break, thus it’s easier for the roots to go deep. We also find clay and rocks with fossils here.

A green manure is used to improve the biodiversity. The vines are normally trained in ouble guyot. Only own grapes are used, growing and vinification is all natural, with natural yeast, spontaneous fermentation, and also natural temperature control. The first harvest is normally done in the 2nd week of September, three weeks later for the sweet wines. The winery is modern, but based on traditional winemaking techniques, such as gravity, and wisely integrated with the environment.

They come back to the vespaiolo, -our star grape, the family rejoices. -It’s versatile; we use it for sweet wine (torcolato), natural wine, basic wines, cuvées, and special selections. We love it for the high acidity and the citrus notes, the mineral character. And after ageing it gains in hydro carbon, like truffle.

Time flies, or flows, as the labels say. I take a look at the watch, appologize that the visit became shorter than intended. But the good impression I had before I came here is confirmed, and I am already looking forward to next time, when a visit to the restaurant should be obligatory.

 

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Vicenza province I: Tenuta l’Armonia

Veneto has so much to offer. It’s enough to mention Valpolicella (with its ripasso and amarone), Soave, and we have now learned about Gambellara – each of these with their own sweet recioto. Then there is of course Prosecco, that the Veneto region must share with neighbouring Friuli.

Remembering that Gambellara is also Vicenza, now we shall talk about three more wineries located across the province. To try and keep it inside the blog format we will divide it into three parts. And we start with, freely after Tennessee Williams: An Estate called Harmony.

Andrea Pendin’s Tenuta l’Armonia is found in the small settlement of Bernuffi, municipality of Montecchio Maggiore. That means if you can find it after the narrow, long and winding roads. Arriving there you can experience the perfect harmony, and see for yourself the co-exsistence of people, land, chicken, turkies, and all the small creatures found in the vineyards.

It’s Lorenzo Fiorin who meets me. He’s working in export, but also a little bit of everything else, as it is useful to have an overview over the whole situation.

The estate has 10 hectares of vineyards planted with both indigenous and international varieties. It’s quite new, from 2008, but some vines are more than 60 years old. The vines are planted in the slopes and on top of a hill, in various exposures. Around 40.000 bottles are made per year, from own and rented plots (7 more hectares).

 

Lorenzo shows the pergola system

The soil here is volcanic with some schist and chalk. There is an amphitheater with white soil (chalk), shells and other fossils. Towards Verona in the west there is volcanic soil, and also tufa towards the south of Verona.

Both indigenous and international varieties are used. We walk past a planting done three years ago; merlot, syrah, cabernet franc etc. -The varieties are not the most important, says Lorenzo. -It’s the terroir, and also see how the grapes react together with it.

-A grape we really believe in is durella, especially for its acidity, but also for its history. It is really one of the traditional grapes here in Vicenza.

 

One has already understood that the cultivation is organic and biodynamic, so it’s about maintaining and stimulating biodiversity. Mint grows naturally in the vineyard, oat too. Green manure (based on plants and flowers) is employed.

The idea of harmony, the balance in nature, is also a message that winemaker David Xodo has preached from the very beginning. -In the long run we don’t need to work as much as with “chemical agriculture”, because the biodiversity we have created is holding itself up, says Lorenzo. -Furthermore, Veneto is a cool place, always windy. It’s then easier to work the vineyards organically. A light breeze is also welcome walking around the estate on a hot summer day like this.

Andrea Pendin

Andrea is a trained chef, so the chickens and the turkeys in his Garden of Eden shouldn’t feel too safe… He has also a stove with a pizza oven that can do magical things. There had been a party, with a lot of leftovers, and some other wines that had been opened up to 13 days before. so we had a lot to sample.

Bruno, Andrea’s father who started it all

Basically there are two different lines. “Pop” consists of high quality “easy” natural wines at a good price. “Cru” is a premium line from native varieties in clay and limestone. Here are some very brief notes.

Frizzi 2015 is a pét nat, or col fòndo sur lie at 12%. it’s a simple, easy, un-oaked, appley, not very structured, lightly bubbly wine. Pinot noir had a bad year, so pinot bianco and chardonnay were used together with the usual durella, the acidic grape that made Vicenza special in the past.

Frizzi 2017: Here was pinot noir fully ripe, so there is 60% and the rest durella. No maceration, no filtration. The only problem with our bottle was that there were no bubbles, as the re-fermentation had apparently not started yet. Another bottle of the same wine as better: Light salmon red, a touch sweeter; strawberry, apple, and a crisp acidity.

Pop is a series with more volcanic soil than the Cru, and doesn’t ripe that much.

Bianco “Pop” comes from a relatively high altitude vineyard at 500 meters. 2017 is light yellow with appley aroma and fresh acidity. The 2016 I find a little more ripe. This has some incrocio manzoni (or: manzoni bianco), a cross between riesling and madeleine royal. We also tried the 2012: Lightly browning, orange peel (from longer maturation on skins), ginger notes (from a proportion of garganega). For that vintage some carbonic maceration was used. -Acidity is what binds them together, Lorenzo points out. And rightly so.

Perla 2016. This is a “Cru”, which means smaller area, lower yield, older garganega plants (60-80 years). This is a varietal garganega, both early harvest and late harvest (with some botrytis), then blended. Andrea is a good friend of Sébastien Riffault of Loire, and it was Sébastien who gave him the inspiration for different harvest times. The wine shows a complex aroma of mature apples, nuts, flowers, apricot, towards honey; medium full on the palate, and a salty, mineral aftertaste. The acidity is there, but it’snot pungent.

Bolla 2013. This is their traditional method sparkler. The 2013 has 75% durella, pinot nero, got a light maceration and stayed 14 months on the lees. This gave a pink blush, some yeast and also some oxidative notes, like yellow or mature apples.

What followed now was like a “Capriccio Italiano”, a joyous ride over creeks and hills, with wines in a seemingly random order. Love it! On came a fresh and inspiring, waxy, appley, and a little smoky vespaiolo 2017. A teroldego-CS-garganega with light pink colour, flowers, pyrazine (sauvignon-like), with super fruit all the way. Brio 2017, in the Pop line and predominantly from cabernet franc, is a luscious, peppery carbonic maceration wine, made in cement tank. There was a fruity, partly carbonic maceration Barbera in both 2017 and 16 editions, the latter a bit more structured than the former.

And what about this!

G-Ray is from something called the “Lab” line, where Andrea works with another Andrea, namely Marchetti, among other activities founder of the Vinessum fair. This wine is from pinot grigio on volcanic soil, it has been in contact with skins 8 days, no sulphites and no filtration. As you can see: Turbid light red or rosé; aromas of strawberry, apple; quite good concentration actually, and not that simple as you maybe might think.

Lastly there was the Gioia of the Cru line. 2016 is from cabernet franc, hand-destemmed, no sulphites added, and no filtration. Pure, loads of red fruits, some pepper, and a promising tannin structure. 2012 (the first vintage of the wine), made from 100% carmenère, stayed in big oak tonneaux for 8 months: Some cigar box and pencil/carbon notes (graphite soil), with red fruits, and a good structure.

Epilogue:

Lorenzo tells that they are a sort of incubator that helps young vignerons from Vicenza area to develop their own projects. These are: MaterVi (Alberto Rigon), Yeasteria (Jacopo and Esmeralda) and Do-line (Nicola Rigo). Small production (less than 10.000 bottles) and sharing the same philosophy (no interventions in wine-making and respect for the living environment) are requirements to participate.

I think ‘s an honorable act supporting others in the same area and tradition, without seeing them as competitors. In the long run this will help the whole province, or region.

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Wine of the Week

1701, biodynamic Franciacorta

1701 was the first certified biodynamic producer in Franciacorta. I met Rhona and Federico at the Real Wine fair last year, and I tasted the Brut again at a London wine bar recently.

They are located in an old magnificent villa near Cazzago San Martino, Franciacorta, and the property includes around 10 hectares of vineyards.

Rhona Cullinane and Federico Stefieni (London last year)

The production is low-intervention, with no dosage and sulphur only when absolutely needed.

This wine is a blend of Chardonnay 85% and Pinot Nero 15%. Whole bunches are put into stainless steel, and the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, as usual. It stays 30 months on lees before the final bottling. It’s just lightly filtrated.

1701 Franciacorta Brut (Soc. Agr. 1701)

Light yellow with green tones, creamy mousse. Fresh aroma of citrus, mature apples, with some chalky, mineral notes. Appealing, fresh fruit in the mouth, and an acidity that contributes to the lingering finish.

Price: Medium

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Wine bars and restaurants

Nights at “The Office”

I think it’s common not to visit sights and attractions close to your home, because you can always go – some other time. This may also be the case with bars and restaurants. Stavanger, Norway (in my own backyard, so to speak) has got its first decent wine bar, and then it should take three months before I managed to get there, and then quite by chance, while I was waiting for a party to start some other place in downtown Stavanger.

Once inside, I meet an old wine-mate Emil Heimdal behind the bar, and then I know we are talking “serious business” here. I know him from several restaurants over the years, and this is a man with passion for wine and real dedication. Emil took over the wine section of this bar, now called Vinkontoret (The Wine Office), together with Christoffer Ingebretsen. They have no purchase agreement that binds them, so they buy exactly the wines that they want and now collaborate with about 30 importers. They use the Coravin system, which allows them to serve anything by the glass. Here you can buy smaller units than a whole glass and pay less, so you can taste more wines during an evening.

 

Emil serves smaller units of better wines

They can literally offer hundreds of wines. They have a list that is heavy on traditional wine regions such as Burgundy, Rhône, Alsace, Mosel, Rhine, Piemonte, Tuscany and … say west-of-Vienna Austria.

But these people are just as crazy wine freaks to throw in almost anything you can think of.

As for grapes, of course they offer cabernet, merlot, syrah and such, without being “ashamed” of it at all (as if that would be something to regret). If you look carefully at the list you will see some “oddities” like a manzoni from Trentino, a kékfrankos from (why not) Austria, and you can get the “Pornfelder” if you like, Lukas Krauß’ German blend of portugieser and dornfelder. But most of all it’s a focus on the classic grapes here, even from not-so-classic countries.

There was a time when Stavanger was more in the avant-garde of Norwegian culinary movement, when the oil industry was booming, and the most important gastronomic educational institutions were located there. Today there is no doubt that the hegemony is in Oslo, and that every initiative like this deserves a warm welcome.

Emil and Christoffer also have a small selection of handcrafted beers, like lambic and geuze. (Bear in mind that one of the country’s best beer selections is just across the same narrow street, at Cardinal bar. So this is obviously not their biggest priority.) The wine selection must be best in town. I am not sure if the wine list is the longest, but there are several hundred references, and mainly wines to drink, no show-off crazy over-priced stuff.

Here are just a few picks from my first brief visits.

  

Here is a riesling spätlese trocken from the Ökonomierat Rebholz of Pfalz, the Rebholz 2008. It proved to be a rich and honeyed wine with a thick texture and great acidity. To the right is a Gevrey-Chambartin, the Rossignol-Trapet Clos Prieur 1er Cru 2008 from Domaine Rossignol. It shows a clear ruby, somewhat developed colour, and smells quite aerial og cherry and plums. The tannins are still evident, and the acidity is well integrated. The actual vintages of these wines on sale are 2012 and 2013, respectively. So come here to get the wines closer to their peak.

  

Here is a wonderful pinot noir called Nature 2015 from Alsace producer Rieffel, now with Lucas and André in charge. Today the estate covers 10 hectares, all organic certified. The 30 year old vines are planted in soil of clay and alluvial sandstones. The fermentation is spontaneous and goes on for seven months in 228L barrels. It’s really fresh, juicy and quite full, with just enough structure to match a wide variety of food. After this I wanted a red with darker fruit, and I suggested syrah. On the counter was a Stellenbosch syrah, that was already opened, so I went for that one. The Liberator The Francophile 2015 (Dreyfus Ashby) was ok; a somewhat warm blackberry fruit, earthy with some spice, mouthfilling with rounded tannins.

 

The door is permanently closed at The Office (Kontoret). The Wine Office has opened.

 

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Wine of the Week

A Swiss project in New Zealand

This is a project that started in the late 80s, formed by Swiss Georg and Ruth Fromm together with winemaker Hatsch Kalberer, all of them with knowledge about the wines of both European and New Zealand. It didn’t take long before they decided to join forces, set up a winery in Marlborough, and the first plantings were done in 1992. The Fromm’s returned to Switzerland some years ago, but Hatsch continues to release one superb wine after another, not least the country’s oldest single vineyard malbec, called “H” for Hatsch.

This wine is a 100% pinot noir. It was spontaneously fermented in steel tanks with a long maceration. 


Fromm La Strada Pinot Noir 2014 (Fromm Winery)

Brilliant ruby red. Fresh on the nose, with raspberries, plums and aromatic herbs. Luscious, rounded mouthfeel, long aftertaste with a well-integrated acidity that lasts all the way. It has stayed on the shelves for some time (2015 also released), and must be near its peak now.

Price: Medium

Food: Veal and pig, duck and chicken, salads, tapas

 

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Tasting new vintages with Friedrich Schatz

Federico Schatz has been a leading figure on the Andalusian wine scene for many years. He came here from Süd-Tirol, the German speaking area in the north of Italy. And before that his family came from Baden Württemberg, where they had been involved in viticulture since 1641. So his real name is Friedrich, but here he is Federico. Year after year he puts out remarkable wines, for long the same six wines that form his last name when placed side by side. Treasure, it translates.

Bodega house (credit: Linda Haynes)

The vineyard extends in a gentle slope to the south with a deep soil with silt loam, clay and sand. This secures a healthy soil because of the good aeration and permeability. In 1982 he planted new strains to study the plants’ behavior. As a result 3 hectares were planted with his chosen varieties.

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Friedrich Schatz

This time I had an appointment to come and taste his new vintages. It was nice to see his label designer being there doing the same. After a while a distributor joined in with some guests. Everything very familiar and very Spanish.

On to the wines, that we tasted in a slightly different succession than put after another by the labels.

S Chardonnay 2016: This is a sample, almost finished though and will be released shortly. It was fermented with native yeasts, was aged on its lees in French oak for 5 months (with some batonnage), and is now in steel.

Light yellow. It’s very fragrant (white flowers), has some tropical notes too (banana, papaya), with a lively, fresh acidity and mineral aftertaste.

The Chardonnay (credit: Linda Haynes)

Z Rosado 2016: This has long been one of the most personal and complex rosé wines around. It used to be made from the muskat-trollinger grape, now it’s moscatel negro. And it does not disappoint. This one is treated much the same way as the white wine, except for three days of maceration (as opposed to one).

Light red (dark for a rosé). Violets, raspberry and some balsamic notes. Dry in the mouth, good volume.

The reds ferment in open tubs for one to two weeks. The alcoholic fermentation of the red wines is carried out at a controlled temperature with native yeasts in open vats, manual pressing down several times a day. Malolactic fermentation is carried out in deposit, then aged in barrel (French, American and Central European) for up to 6 months, the lees removed once in a while.

H Acinipo 2009: Named after the Roman ruins just down the road, the name meaning “land of wine” in pre-Roman language. The wine is made from the variety lemberger, more officially called blaufränkisch and much more used further north and east in Europe. The toasting of the oak varies according to grape variety. This one requires a careful treatment.

It has good colour for a lemberger. It has a balsamic smell (mynth), some laurel, flowers. I’m the mouth it’s rounded, but with some tannins too and good acidity.

C Pinot Noir 2010: One year in oak, more toasted than for the previous wine.

It has a good colour, dark young ruby. The aroma is quite tricky, forest fruits with some cigar-box and chocolate (reminding of both another grape and another place, you guessed it: cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux), but red fruits too. Full on the palate with a certain dry texture, spicy with some cocoa.

A Finca Sanguijuela 2010(?): The wine that takes the name from the farm is a blend of some of the grape varieties grown there, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, tempranillo and syrah, in approximately even quantities.

Dark red. Aromas of red fruits, cherry, lavender, rosemary, a touch of oak. In the mouth it has some dryness, I suppose from grape, soil and oak, some cocoa, and a long aftertaste.

T Petit Verdot 2010: Darker, deep purple, shows no signs of wear. Complex nose; balsamic/medicinal notes, red berries (cherry, plums), tobacco, some underwood too. Quite dry in the mouth, partly from 12 months in oak and heavier toast, but with a fresh acidity too.

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Vineyard close to the house (credit: Linda Haynes)

Again, the Schatz portfolio delivers as expected. If you ask me which are my favourites (some already did), it’s difficult. The rosé is obviously a star, but the white is good in its category, and I have long been weak for the Acinipo (and not only for the name). But all of them have a mission. They are made to go with food. They are made for happy gatherings, for tapas tables, for a garden grill. According to Federico the Petit Verdot can even match desserts like brownies. It has many times proved that it’s at home with meat from animals with horns. But brownies: Must try!

 

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The Real Wine fair I: A lovely bubbly start

The Real Wine fair is a two days event with focus on naturally made wine, where many of the leading producers in the genre come from all corners of the world to gather in London, this year at the Tobacco Dock in the eastern part of the city. The activities are not restricted to these two days either, as the arrangers (most importantly importer/distributor Les Caves de Pyrène) have collaborators all over the UK with their own arrangements in the weeks and even months leading up to the fair itself.

This is a very nice place to be, with so many nice people (both producers and visitors) contributing to the atmosphere. And about the wines, I say ‘natural wines’ for short. But there are so many different interpretations of the theme, and add to this the variations in terroirs, grapes and producer personalities, so there are not two identical wines here.

There were maybe not that many sparkling wines on show, but it struck me that here were some of the leading producers of naturally made sparklers in many categories. So here are a few.

Let’s begin in Champagne. Pierre Gerbais is located in the Côte des Bars area in southern Champagne, and has been certified since 1996. Their vineyard consists mainly of the dark marl called kimmeridge. They use the most traditional grapes of the region, but they are also noted for making the first 100% pinot blanc called L’Originale.

IMG_4219 Aurélien Gerbais

From the fresh Cuvée Réserve (24 months on lees) I tasted my way through the five champagnes they had on offer. Among the more special treats were the aforementioned L’Originale (officially NV, but from 2011 grapes): 100% pinot blanc, mostly from a vineyard planted in 1904, in white clay soils: A concentrated wine with aromas of yellow apples, some toast, salty minerals and it’s drying off. L’Osmose Extra Brut (also white clay, also from the 2011 harvest) made from chardonnay: Light colour, quite complex, with apple, some nuts, a nice acidity, and a dry aftertaste. In contrast, L’Audace (2011) is from pinot noir and from darker soil. Here is no dosage, no sulphur added. It’s darker yellow than the others, apples, strawberry, toast, and a mineral finish.

Finally the Grains de Celles Extra Brut, made from 50% pinot noir and the rest chardonnay and pinot blanc and with 36 months ageing on lees, is the most complex of lot. More toasted, aged notes, but some freshness too, yellow apples, mineral, with a slightly sweet fruit balanced by its concentration.

IMG_4218 Ton Mata

Antoni “Ton” Mata Casanovas now leads Recaredo together with his cousins Josep, Carles and Jordi. If there is one emblematic cava producer it is this one, second to no sparkling wine producer from anywhere. They practise dry farming with biodynamic principles, and only work their own vineyards high up in the Alt Penedès.

I have visited them in Sant Sadurní (Catalunya) and tasted through the whole range. Here most cavas were represented. All their wines have a great concentration of flavours, from low yields and prolonged ageing on lees. They don’t have any dosage, and all of them long exceeds the ageing requirements for a gran reserva. They have more focus on the xarel.lo grape than most cava producers. This is the grape that shines most brightly of the cava grapes given a few years of ageing.

Terrers Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2010 has slightly more macabeu than xarel.lo: Aroma of mature apples and a touch of apricot and peach, some balsamic notes and some toast too, and a fresh appearance in spite of the ageing. The Finca Serral del Vell Brut de Brut 2007 is made from approximately even shares of xarel.lo and macabeu. The colour is light, it’s complex, with fresh pineapples aromas along with some toast, some balsamic, and a surprising freshness after 8 years on the lees; the aftertaste shows a stony minerality. According to Ton this is because of the calcareous soil on top of the hill. Further down the same road is the Reserva Particular 2005 (also a gran reserva despite the name), that can be considered one of the purest expressions of Mediterranean sparkling terroir wine (even if Recaredo themselves makes another fantastic cava only in some years), with a xarel.lo 55%/ macabeu 45% blend: Dark straw colour, some lime, smoke, concentrated, rich, and remarkably fresh for its age (almost 10 years on yeast). Worth noting is also that their Brut Intens Rosat 2012 (garnacha/monastrell, a little pinot noir) har all the charms of a sparkling rosé, but is also clearly in the family of aged Recaredo wines.

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Then there is Franciacorta, in the hills near Brescia in the Italian region of Lombardia. The only producer presented here was 1701 Franciacorta, the first certified biodynamic producer in the area. They never use any dosage and sulphur only when absolutely necessary.

As an ouverture there is the low-pressure (3 atmospheres) Sullerba, that is outside the appellation. It’s a light and lovely, yeasty and appley, super easy-to-drink wine. Made from chardonnay in steel and amphora with 12 months on its lees. Their Rosé is lovely, from the 2012 vintage (these wines are also officially NV), fresh with raspberry notes, and a good balance between the fruit and the aged qualities. The Satèn from the 2013 vintage is a chardonnay with 30 months on lees; fresh, not too complicated, but delicious drinking. Maybe the most “serious” (among these wines, all of them obviously serious) is the Vintage 2011 Dosaggio Zero, a 90% chardonnay, the rest pinot noir (pinot nero in Italian), 42 months on the lees, 20% in barrels. Here is a perfect balance between ageing and fruit character, with some toast, mature apples, and a balsamic touch. Long curve. 1701 was a nice surprise and a producer that I didn’t know before.

IMG_4237 Rhona Cullinane and Federico Stefieni

Talking about fun: Prosecco is often marketed as such, but alas, like for many others the vast majority doesn’t give me much of that. But luckily Casa Belfi was in the house!

Casa Belfi (or: Albino Armani) works according to biodynamic principles and there is no fining or filtering involved, nor any addition of SO2. 6 months on lees is typical. I have tried all the wines before, and they are truly joyful wines to drink. I think especially the normal Colfòndo Frizzante 2015 has a good value, with its expressive, pure fruit. It’s yellow/orange, cloudy with a super and fresh apple and citrus peel aroma, notes of bread, and a dry finish. The Colfòndo Anfora 2015 is darker after 7 days of skin contact and 4 months in clay. It’s still fruity, with mature apples, a spicy touch and a citric aftertaste. Talking about fun, the red Raboso Frizzante 2015, from the grape variety by that name, has all the playful expressiveness you can ask for. Red with a dark rim; red berries, earthy notes, and lovely fruit all the way.

IMG_4229 Nicola Zuliani

Casa Coste Piane was also there. This is an estate that dispose of many old vines, some pre-phylloxera, and like Casa Belfi the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, dégorgement is not carried out, so some cloudiness is inevitable. At this point it has not the same expressive qualities as its neighbour, but has more subtle citrus and minerality, and it’s definitely promising.

A couple of days before the fair I visited Will Davenport in his winery in Rotherfield, East Sussex (a short article will follow).

IMG_4200 Will Davenport

Davenport Vineyards, or Limney Farm, is the biggest organic producer in the UK. The winery is small and modest, but it’s fully equipped to make both still and sparkling wines. Therefore they give services to other producers in the area. I love their still white Horsmonden White, but as this piece is about sparkling wines we shall take a brief stop at the Davenport Pet Nat (you know that wine that everybody makes nowadays that can do it, a welcome trend, in my opinion), aged 3 months before disgorging: Light in colour, very aromatic, mature apples, some citrus. Then there is the Limney Auxerrois Sparkling 2014, from a vineyard near the farm, 18 months on lees: Rich yeasty character, stony minerality, and a fresh and delicate touch too. And lastly the Limney Sparkling Rosé 2014: salmon pink, some autolysis character on the nose, plenty of fruit, raspberries and a citric touch.

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Lisa Harvey and Ian Hardwick, volunteers for the Forty Hall project

I was about to say that Forty Hall Vineyard makes the wines with the shortest travel, from Enfield, North London. It’s not quite true that it’s the one with shortest travel, because it has travelled down to Davenport’s winery in East Sussex, and back again, because Forty Hall is among the producers that get some help from Will Davenport.

Forty Hall is a 4 hectar organic vineyard, the first commercial producer in London since the middle ages, led by volunteers as a non-profit organization to support the community.

The London Sparkling Brut 2014 was delicious, beautifully balanced with lightly yeasty character, rounded fruit (mature apples and a touch of citrus) and just enough acidity to match.

Apart from this there were some occational bubbles from producers that aren’t primarily makers of such, both fully and half sparkling wines from Loire, from Italy, and from elsewhere in the world.

 

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Wine of the Week

From a Nelson Gravity winery

Mahana Estates is located in the Nelson region, in the north of New Zealand’s South Island. In the vineyard everything is organic, in the cellar gravity (four levels) is one key word, low-intervention another – and winemaker Michael Glover puts out good wines in several categories. The respect for terroir is there, and he states that if something unusual or surprising should appear, it’s not as a result of experimentation, but exploration.

The reds are made with whole bunch winemaking and with almost no additions. On this background they can explore the combination of Mahana’s yellow ultic soil (derived from quartz-rich sediments turned into clay or sandy clays, abundant near Marlborough), the seasons, and “the enigmatic pinot noir”.

Mahana’s reds are sourced from their Moutere vineyard; dry-farmed, and from the above-mentioned soil you can expect a rather deep, dark coloured wine. For this wine half of the grapes were destemmed, and the spontaneous fermentation was carried out in open concrete fermenters. There was no new oak used (only steel and old French oak), and it was bottled without fining or filtration.

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Mahana Gravity Pinot Noir 2014 (Mahana Estates)

Deep dark, dense colour. Smells of dark fruits (morellos, blackberries) and with some balsamic and herbal notes, a little chocolate too. Lots of tannins, but very fine, it rounds off warm and full, with adecuate acidity to make it delicious drinking already.

Price: Medium

Food: Light meat, game, salads…

 

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Wine of the Week

An elegant and complex Oregon pinot

It was in the latest edition of our local wine club that we found many interesting US wines, for me especially reds, and a rosé. Some of the stars were the light, elegant Californian reds from Anthill Farms (Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast) and Copain (Anderson Valley) that we have known for a while. But that night’s revelation was a darker, and maybe more complex wine from Oregon.

Cristom dispose of several vineyards with highly different characteristics. From these they elaborate both single vineyard wines and blends. My local shop has more of the singular wines, so I have probably already been back there by the time you read this. All their vineyards are LIVE (low input viticulture and enology) certified, but they see far beyond their own vines as they also work with the authorities for the healthiness of the state’s rivers and watershed.

Cristom_Jessie Vineyard_Slope Jessie

The Jessie Vineyard (named after one of the owners’ grandmother) is one of the steapest in the Willamette Valley, and one of the most varied in soil composition, including five different volcanic soils. There is also the so-called “jory”, a typical Willamette soil, a deep, well-drained, silty clay loam soil from igneous bedrock.

 

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Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir “Jessie Vineyard” 2012 (Cristom Vineyards)

Quite dark, deep red. Ripe red fruit, cherrie, flowers, mushrooms, a bit earthy. A full mouth-feel, a vibrant acidity that contrasts with the ripeness of the fruit and great lenght.

Price: High

Food: Red meat, game

 

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