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Tag: Rioja

Back in time: Viña Tondonia

It was in the evening of the Haro Station Wine Experience. Lunch was over and I was walking around in the streets of the Barrio de la Estación, where many of the leading bodegas establish themselves after the railroad came to town and a new area started, with Rioja as a leading brand and Haro as its capital.

I decided to step into the mythical bodega and there stood María José López de Heredia opening a mysterious bottle. I didn’t know exactly what it was when she poured it. But indeed I understood that it was a white Tondonia and that I had stepped back in time.

María José opens the white ’64

López de Heredia’s wines must be one of the most legendary in Spain, and well-known for being made the same way since the winery’s foundation 130 years ago.

Only grapes from their own vineyards are used, for this wine one from their most emblematic Viña Tondonia, a 100 hectares pago not far from the bodega. The soil is clay with a high limestone content. It’s a large vineyard with varying plantings and grape varieties, but average age is around 50 years. The cultivation is organic.

To get the fermentation going they simply wait. And if it looks like it’s going to be difficult one can only open the windows, as in Haro there are often big differences in night and day temperatures.

Art nouveau, a building style in fashion at the turn of the century

The wine is made from 85% viura, 15% malvasía and has 12% alc. It stayed 6 months in wooden deposits, then 9 years in old barriques of American oak, treated in the bodega’s own cooperage. It was racked manually 18 times, then clarified with egg whites. It was then bottled from the barrels in July 1973 without filtering.

Viña Tondonia Blanco 1964 (R. López de Heredia)

Golden colour towards amber. Notes of dried fruits, toasted almonds, citrus and a touch of honey (without the sweetness, if that makes sense). It’s almost like walking in an old sherry bodega. Glyceric and rich, with a smooth texture. Low alcohol, high natural acidity, and a salty finish. But even if there are other barrel-aged whites this is almost in a category of its own.

Price: High (if you can find it at an auction)

Lastly, the bodega is always referred to as a very traditionalist bodega, and rightly so. Here is how they define their form of traditionalism:

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Supurao: The sweet Rioja

It took an ethnographer to discover this old tradition of dessert wines in Rioja. In fact it was Miguel Martínez’ interest in this particular wine that brought him into vinegrowing. He first made it in 2012, but it was only after a two year battle against the wine authorities that they accepted it. Thus Miguel’s supurao is the first, and at the moment the only sweet wine that comes under the DOC Rioja.

Soon these shelves will be filled with bunches of grapes

Miguel can be found in the small hamlet of Sojuela, his home village, in the slopes of the Moncalvillo mountain range between the Najerilla and Irégua valleys. Miguel says, before the industrialization, men and women from La Rioja went to the vineyards before harvest, picking the best grapes for their own consumption. They were stored on top of the houses, hung in the most ventilated, safe places, stayed there all winter, ageing, concentrating their juices, drying.

In the old days supurao was drunk at celebrations, a tradition Miguel remembers the old folks in his own family talked about. It could also be made in the community, each neighbour contributing with his or her grapes.

For the actual wine the bunches of garnacha and tempranillo were dried in a small shed, with room for 6.000 bunches to make 600 half bottles of dessert wine. It has typically low alcohol (this one is 12%, the previous vintage 9.5), and is light and fresh. After pressing it fermented in steel with part of the skins, then it underwent a slow fermentation, around fifty days, with several rackings, then a couple of months in barrel.

Ojuel is Miguel’s village without the first and last letter, the x marks his respect of tradition

Oxuel Supurao 2016 (Ojuel)

Strawberry red. Straight-forward, simple and lovely aromas of mature raspberries, cherries, elderberry, with a sweet touch. Smooth texture, not very sweet and with a fresh acidity to match, there is pure fruit all the way. I barely believe it when Miguel tells it has around 150 grams residual sugar per litre.

Price: Medium

Food: Light desserts, pastries, cheeses, patés

 

 

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Exopto: A new star arises in the Rioja Horizon

It’s two years or so since I first met Tom Puyaubert and tasted his range of wines, and I instantly knew that this was something to take notice of. I have tasted some occational wines since then, and they have never disappointed. Now at wine bistró Guardaviñas in Logroño, capital of La Rioja, I tasted the Horizonte again. Read about the visit here.

Tom Puyaubert, Exopto

Tom is one of the so-called Rioja’n’Rollers, a new generation vintners that put their focus on terroir. Exopto comprises 10 ha, divided into 15 micro-plots, of 30-90 years old bush-trained vines. He has chosen the vineyards to be able to blend from different types of soil, orientation, altitude and so on. The winery is in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa), the tempranillo vineyards are found on calcareous soils in Ábalos (Rioja Alta, but near Labastida, San Vicente, Laguardia, i.e. the road that snakes in and out of Alta and Alavesa). For Tom the Atlantic influence of this site is ideal to express the refined fruit and the complexity of the variety. The garnacha and graciano is mostly grown in sandy soil near the Monte Yerga range in the south-east, where maturation especially of the garnacha is easier. The altitude is around 1.000 meters (in Rioja Baja, imagine).

Horizonte is based on tempranillo with around 10% each of garnacha and graciano. The fermentation was in oak vats and concrete tanks at 22-26ºC. It was macerated for 21 days, and aged 12 months in French oak barrels (20% first use).

Horizonte de Exopto 2016 (Exopto)

Dark, dense ruby colour. On the nose blackberry, blackcurrant, a second layer of roast and subtle vanilla in the background. Good concentration, young tannins, very fresh, still in its youth, and will keep for long.

Yes, the wine is young. Yes, it’s maybe too young. But if you don’t grab it now you will never see it, and never taste it again, because the production is so small. The best would obviously be to buy some and put them aside for a few years.

Price: Medium

Food: Roasts, game, stews, other meat dishes

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5 Riojas at Guardaviñas, Logroño

I’m in Rioja visiting some producers on the right bank of Ebro. It’s then only natural to stay in the capital of the La Rioja region. Guardaviñas is a relatively new venture in Logroño’s old quarter. It’s run by Alberto Ruiz, who has lived in London and operates La Cava de Pyrène, a branch of one of the organizers of the Real Wine fair. Guardaviñas is different from most others in Logroño, including the bulk of wine-holes along the tapas trail. Alberto’s place specializes in wines from small artisan producers, mostly local, but also some from other parts of Spain and the world outside.

 Alberto Ruiz

I love these places where you order a couple of wines, tasty small bites to go with them, and after a while a collaboration starts between the sommelier and you. He or she maybe comes up with some more glasses of odd wines, often from un-known producers. Here I opened with Ijalba Maturana Blanca 2016, a light yellow, clean and correct organic certified wine from Viña Ijalba (just outside Logroño), a pioneer in the area. Then my waiter, formerly sommelier at Michelin star restaurant Echaurren, came with a really interesting bottle, Viña el Pago 2014. This is a garnacha blanca from Azpillaga Urarte. The natural wine movement hasn’t taken off in Rioja. But here is a no-nothing added wine with extended skin-contact from Lanciego (Lantziego), Álava. The colour was yellow towards orange, and the aroma showed mature apples, white flowers, some peel, and in the mouth it was full, a bit honeyed, but with decent acidity.

  

The kitchen delivers both small pinchos, somewhat bigger raciones and full dinner. The influences are from several places, some from England (as Alberto’s wife is from there), from Spain, and from a variety of modern cuisine. And there is something for everyone, vegetarians and vegans too. I had croquettes of jamón ibérico, foie with fig marmelade and filet of ecologic pig, from a nearby farmer, served with red peppers and fried potatoes. The first two were smaller and served at approximately the same time. The wines arrived one by one, and I felt at home, made myself comfortable, and tried a new one before the previous glass was finished. So at a time there were two dishes, four glasses and a lot of bottles at the table. There was a great deal of flexibility here, so you could really “keep calm and drink wine”, as a cardboard sign tells you to.
The third wine was kindly offered by my waiter, who has a special interest in it. A carbonic maceration, vintage 2017, the kind of wine that Rioja made a lot of in the past. This wine, from producer De Luís R (also Lanciego), is not organic -yet-, and not very expressive, but well on the fruity side and showed nice violet and blueberry tones, and some tar.
Next wine was a beauty, again from Lanciego municipality, but the small settlement of Viñaspre, further up the road when coming from Laguardia. Some will have guessed that it’s from the new star Roberto Oliván. Xérico Viñaspre 2015 (Tentenublo) from mainly tempranillo, with some 10% of viura, white grapes: Brilliant stuff, dark cherry red, the aroma is very expressive, both flowery and with a lot of berries (blackberry, blackcurrant) and with some earthy notes too. It has a concentrated fruit expression, lots of rounded tannins and lovely fruits all the way in the lingering finish.

The fifth wine was Horizonte de Exopto 2016 (Exopto), one of Frenchman Tom Puyaubert’s contributions to the new wave of terroirdriven Rioja wines. Dark, dense, with blackberry, blackcurrant, a second layer of roast and subtle vanilla in the background. Good concentration, young tannins, very fresh, still in its youth, and will keep for long, but I love it already. Read more in the wine of the week column.

There was in fact a sixth wine, served blind. The waiter revealed that it was the same Xérico as before, but while the former had been opened two weeks ago and served by Coravin (you know that needle and gas system whose aim is to keep the quality of the wines after taking out a tiny quantity), this one was just opened. One could hardly reckognize it as the same wine. While I preferred the fruit in the former, he liked the latter better. I think it has to do with the slow airing in the Coravin version.

There was jazz on the air, from I arrived untill I left: Reed greats like Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman, then Glenn Miller taking over. “My favourite things” in a trombone version when our “improvisations” were over and I was about to leave. All right, I thought as I walked into the cool Logroño spring, now at least I have revealed some of my favourite things. As a joke it was not that funny, but it was absolutely true.

 

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A Victory for the Vinho

I am on my way home from the 6th Simplesmente Vinho in Porto, an event for individual, artisanal wine producers. This time 101 producers participated, mostly Portuguese, a few visitors from Spain, and one single winery from France. And having followed Portuguese wine over the years it’s so exiting to be around now to witness the steps that are being taken in the country.

João Roseira, organizer of the event 

João Roseira (of Quinta do Infantado, Douro) one of the founders of this two day fair, said in his opening speech that the idea came from off-springs of bigger festivals in France and Italy, and they thought, this we can do at home. So Simplesmente Vinho was created in 2013 as an alternative to the Essência do Vinho, also in Porto. It’s held in Cais Novo, a former port warehouse near the Port Wine Museum, and in addition to wine presentations the fair includes concerts and dinners, one of them this time in reknowned chef Rui Paula’s DOP restaurant.

There’s Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno in the crowd

I will come back to details about the wines I tasted. Here I will limit myself to say that there were both well-known producers like the aforementioned Quinta do Infantado (Douro), Álvaro Castro and Quinta do Perdigão (Dão), Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno, Quinta das Bágeiras (who recently received a prestigious award from the Grande Escolha magazine), Casa de Saima, Luís and Filipa Pato (all Bairrada), Adega Regional de Colares, Quinta do Mouro (Alentejo) and Barbeito (Madeira).

The ever popular Filipa Pato spotted at a distance

There were many less famous producers. Well, less known to the “masses”, but many have already made a name for themselves among those who are interested in what’s going on the authentic, organic, natural wine scene. Maybe some should rather be in the first category, anyway here are just a few more names: Aphros and Quinta da Palmirinha (Vinho Verde), Conceito, Quinta de Romeu and Folias de Baco (Douro), António Madeira and João Tavares da Pina (Dão), Vale da Capucha, Humus and Quinta do Montalto (Lisboa), Cabeças do Reguengo (Alentejo), and Monte da Casteleja (Algarve).

Sonia and Pedro of Vale da Capucha takes a well-deserved break

Special guests were Sara and António of Casa de Mouraz (Dão) that lost both buildings, vineyards and a lot more in the devastating fires of last autumn. I met them before the fair, and will report from my visit.

Sara Dionísio, tirelessly presenting the Casa de Mouraz range

Lastly there were some intriguing producers from Spain. Sandra Bravo of Sierra de Toloño (Rioja) are among those who I know best. I will come back to her and the others. Here Sandra gives her opinion about the event: V for Victory, for Vinho, and I take the opportunity to add a heartfelt Bravo! to all.

Sandra Bravo sums it all up

 

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24 hours in Rioja

This is a belated article from the Castilla-Rioja trip last autumn, that I organized and guided. The trip (labelled RRR) went through Rueda and Ribera del Duero and ended with more or less 24 hours in Rioja. So what do you show people in just one day, when the area is so vast and there are so many producers to chose from?

One had obviously to chose a theme, and not surprisingly the criteria were in accordance with this blog. Therefore a big Sorry to all the historic bodegas, the ones from the station neighbourhood in Haro, the ones with noble names, architect designed buildings, big public relation departments and so on. The producers we visited were focused on vineyards, organic farming, expressing terroir through their wines, they were small, and they had their unique personal style.

*Telmo Rodríguez (Remelluri), Labastida: Remelluri was one of the first estate wines in Rioja, and Telmo himself has also done a tremendous job driving across Spain to find in finding and communicate terroirs, fighted in an unselfish way for understanding of diversity, and most lately he was the driving force behind the so-called Manifesto meetings, that in turn led to change in Rioja classification

*Sandra Bravo (Sierra de Toloño), Rivas de Tereso and Villabuena de Álava: A new voice, first amphora aged wine in Rioja, member of the “activist” group Rioja’n’Roll who has a strong focus on landscape

*Juan Carlos Sancha: University professor of enology, recovers traditional grape varieties, and as representative of small family-wineries in the Consejo Regulador, and has there advocated for a structural change from within

*In addition to the three we visited Lauren Rosillo (Finca Valpiedra), not in Rioja, but in Martínez Bujanda’s bodega in Rueda. Here you can read about it.

Arriving at La Granja de Nuestra Señora de Remelluri there were Telmo Rodríguez, his collegue and companion Óscar Alegre and Ainara Martínez from the administration to welcome us. The first thing we do is to go for a walk in the lovely landscape amidst the vineyards around the farm, chat about Remelluri’s place in the scenery and in history, about Rioja politics and many other things. So relaxed, so much in harmony.

We are in Labastida (or: Bastida in Basque, as this is Rioja Alavesa), looking up on the Sierra de Toloño, part of the Cantabria range. The farm was bought by the Rodríguez family in 1967. It’s however an old property, having been created by the Hieronymite monks some 600 years ago. -That time around 1970 was Middle Age, recalls Telmo. -There were mules, no tractors… And we ran the farm for 9 years without electricity.

When the first vintage was released in 1971 it was Rioja’s first modern estate wine. After his project of recovering vineyards and reviving traditions all over Spain for many years, Telmo Rodríguez took over the family property in 2009. Telmo, with his sister Amaia, cut production of Remelluri down 30-40% to maximise quality. Today Remelluri spans over 160 hectares, 100 under vine, divided in around 150 plots. All organic, certified in 2013. Production is now 270.000 bottles, which make them a medium-size Rioja producer.

 Telmo by an “amphiteathre” near the winery

The vineyards are at 6-800 meters altitude, the highest destined for a white wine. Telmo is an advocate for field blends, as he sees terroirs more important than varieties. Therefore the terroirs are not blended.

So the decision was taken that from the 2010 vintage the wine they had made for their good neighbours, Lindes (meaning something like ‘common borders’), should be divided between the two municipalities where their suppliers come from. By making two wines it was also possible to show the differences in terroir between the two villages; Lindes de San Vicente is a riper, more structured wine, while the higher altitude Labastida counterpart is slow-ripening, fresher, more floral, and the grapes are typically picked ten days later. There is also an up-grade of the quality of this wine. -We want to pay them higher, says Telmo, -although the pay is already high by Rioja standards.

-Other than this we don’t buy grapes, says Telmo, -not even in 2017 when the crop was low. The bigger houses asked us where we would buy grapes to maintain production. We said ‘nowhere’ of course. For us this is a simple question. You don’t add grapes from Navarra in a Ch. Lafite only because the crop is smaller, do you? This is a question of mentality. Some people buy grapes to maintain the number of bottles, we don’t. “This vineyard in a bottle is a beauty.”

 Óscar and Ainara

Note: One of the reasons for visiting Remelluri at this moment was the special circumstances, in the aftermath of the aforementioned Manifesto. The Basque producers (the ABRE organization where Remelluri is not a member) had threatened to leave Rioja and set up their own DO, and Artadi had already left. Meanwhile most of the Manifesto meeting thought that the best was to change the system from within. What we now know is that the Consejo all of a sudden and quite surprisingly announced the new ‘viñedos singulares’ category, and ABRE put the leaving plans on hold for two years.

Back in the bodega house we had a tasting of the two Lindes wines in the 2013 edition, plus the two more famous references, the reserva and gran reserva, both in the 2010 vintage. All were fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured in a combination of stainless steel, concrete, big oak vats and small barrels.

2013 was a generally rainy year, declared “good” by the officials (which means not so good). For us it only means different, a bit lighter than usual, maybe more elegant. Lindes de Labastida 2013 from limestone and clay soils, was quite direct and linear; light red in colour, with a floral aroma, red berries. Lightweight, but refreshing, wonderfully integrated wood, with a good acidity, and overall really nice drinking. Lindes de San Vicente 2013 (these are often slightly bigger, and harvest takes place some 10 days ealier): Ruby red, slightly darker fruit (blackberry, some blackcurrant), a hint of tobacco. In the mouth it’s rounder, a bit bigger than the Labastida wine, but this one too on the elegant side, though not very complex.

2010 on the other hand, was top rated, with healthy grapes and high values in most parametres, and a good start in Telmo’s comeback. Remelluri Reserva 2010 was aged 17 months in French barrels. It’s definitely darker than the previous wines, more complex with red and dark berries, cherries, plums, some lickorice and some earthy notes. In the mouth it’s fresh, mineral, with already almost integrated oak, good acidity, and very long. Refined. Granja Remelluri Gran Reserva 2010: Here is more garnacha, 25%. It’s a lighter wine, with nuts and a slight touch of vanilla, but with a lot of red berries underneath. Full-bodied, fresh and with good grape tannin structure. There is a timeless subtlety over this one.

Goodbye to the people at Remelluri, a short drive up the same road towards the Sierra, and Sandra Bravo is waiting for us in Rivas de Tereso, a hamlet so small that a special meeting place is not needed. It’s here she has her vineyards, while she is renting an old bodega down in Villabuena de Álava, where she has both steel, amphoras and wood of various sizes and ages.

She belongs to the activist group Rioja’n’Roll, but in private Sandra is not noisy, as she appears calm and balanced. The group wants to put the focus on the vineyards, and let the wines speak about them. Like Remelluri and many others around here she one foot in La Rioja and one in Álava. -I describe my wines as Alavesa, says Sandra, cool wines from mainly calcareous soil, small plots, and there is always the north wind that brings freshness to the wines. In addition to the freshness from the climate, Sandra is almost always the first in the area to harvest.

 

 (photo: A. Sjurseike)

She makes a total of 42.000 bottles a year, quite small by Rioja standards. Down in the Villabuena cellar we tasted through some of the wines, and I go through them only briefly. Sierra de Toloño Blanco 2016 is a viura 100%, biodynamic farming (like in most of the vineyards), the grapes are de-stemmed and 90% is made in steel, the rest in French oak, all kept on the lees. It’s light in colour, fresh aroma with white flowers hay. In the mouth it’s round, with well-integrated acidity and a salty touch.
Nahi 2016 (nahi is a Basque word meaning ‘desire’): This very special, lovely white comes from more than 80 years old vineyards around Villabuena. It’s a field blend of recovered plants of various varieties, mostly viura and malvasía, but also some calagraño and rojal. They were fermented together in a big barrel (500L), and has a gentle ageing in wood too. It has an aroma of white flowers too, but also a tough of fennel and smoke. It’s rich, soft, concentrated and long, but the acidity is not of the sharp type.  

Now for the reds: Sierra de Toloño 2016, a 100% tempranillo from 600-750m altitude. All destemmed, spontaneous fermentation in steel, then a year in old, neutral barrique, no fining or filtering. Cherry red, aromas of violets, blackberry and some balsamic notes, a slight touch of chocolate. In the mouth it’s very, fresh, young but rounded tannins, the fruit is there all the way. La Dula 2016: This is a 90% garnacha, the rest tempranillo from the vineyard La Dula planted in 1944 at 700m in Rivas de Tereso. It’s fermented in 300L amphoras, aged there for 12 months, before bottling, unfined and unfiltered. Quite dark, very floral, with herbs, laurels… Luscious, juicy in the mouth, but also with a delicate structure. Rivas de Tereso 2015: This is a single vineyard tempranillo from 650m altitude. It fermented very slowly in amphora for one year, then aged in a second-use barrel for one year. Deep red colour, aroma of red fruits, blackberry, some coffee. It’s more full-bodied and contentrated than the other wines, more calcareous, mineral, deep. The tannin structure is evident, it’s mineral, and the acidity gives it freshness. Both powerful and elegant. One for the shelf, but one you still can’t hardly resist.

It is a lovely next morning with all the colours that the Riojan autumn has to offer when we head south to the Najerilla valley from our hotel in Labastida. We reach the small settlement of Baños de Río Tobia in the Najerilla valley, southwest of Logroño, close to the Sierra de la Demanda mountains. This is one of the coldest areas in Rioja (competing with the area we just came from, Sierra de Toloño).

View over the Najerilla valley. The yellow trees in the background is where the Rioja area ends (in the direction towards Soria)

Juan Carlos Sancha’s work as a vintner is based on the results from his work at the University of La Rioja, Logroño, where he is a manager of the Master of Oenonology studies and has a special interest in nearly extinct local grape varieties. He had already started to experiment with these varieties when he was a winemaker for Viña Ijalba, known as the first Rioja producer of certified organic wine, just outside Logroño.

He makes 45.000 bottles per year. Juan Carlos sees his vineyards as being of two types: 1. young vineyards of autoctonous grape varieties, 27 different (1.200 bottles of monastel, see below, belongs to this group), and 2. singular vineyards (centennial vines of garnacha), that are going to be submitted to that group once the new regulation is put into practise. He plans to launch up to 8 wines as “viñedos singulares” according to the new regulations.

The professor lectures about the autoctonous varieties in the garage

Juan Carlos sees three important dates in the regulations since Rioja delimitation as a protected area in 1925:

*1991: the DOC regulations

*2008: new grape varieties allowed

*2017: the new viñedos singulares category

-Rioja had 44 varieties in 1912, says Juan Carlos. In 2000 there was “practically” no more than 7 (ok, save for some “projects”). Among the grapes he works are red and white maturana, white tempranillo and monastel. The name of this last one resembles several other grapes, but it’s another. Juan Carlos claims that to make the only wine in the world from this variety. What we are also about to taste are wines from old garnacha plots that he recovered. Some of them were planted by his grandfather in 1917 at Peña el Gato, 750m above sea level.

He makes a no-sulphite added garnacha and the Peña El Gato Garnacha Viñas Centenarias from his own vineyard. The rest are from local vinegrowers. The wines are bottled separately, and the name of each grower is featured on a neckhanger. These last wines are quite exclusive, as none of them reach 1.000 bottles.

There is also the Ad Libitum range. The name is Latin, used in music and denotes something that is free, or improvised. This is a good name for a creative winemaker as Juan Carlos Sancha. The range includes a white tempranillo, a mutation of red tempranillo discovered a few years ago in a Rioja vineyard. According to Juan Carlos all white varieties are mutuations of red ones.

  

Monastel, the one and only

 (photo: A. Sjurseike)

Up on the peña with these magnificent views and the autumn sun chasing the morning mist away, we had a pieceful tasting. Four wines were brought up there. Ad Libitum Monastel 2016: Not the other varieties with almost the same names, no: monastel, monastel de Rioja. The wine was fermented in big 500L barrel (new French). It’s clear red, clean. A meaty and spicy aroma, but also red berries, like cherry and some strawberry. A serious wine with firm tannins, and a nice acidic touch. Peña el Gato 2016: Garnacha planted in 1917. Juan Carlos claims it is impossible to find a 100 year old tempranillo. Light red colour, raspberry, blackberry and aromatic herbs on the nose, firm structure, very fresh acidity (7g), and some coffee too. Peña el Gato 2016 Terroir Rubén Olarte (the original, 160 year old vines, clay/calcareous soil facing south and west). Raspberry, blackberry, caramel, lickorice. Maybe more complex, but somewhat less fresh, lots of rounded tannins, rich, and more evident alcohol (at 14%). Peña el Gato Natural 2016: Garnacha again, no added sulphur (total 8 mg). Cherry red, blackberry, red fruits. Has a certain “sweetness” (from elaboration in wood), but good acidity too, good structure (more tannin than the others, that comes from a really low production because of the steep vineyard where the water escapes).

 

This trip started in Rueda, continued through Ribera del Duero, and this was the last visit. Back in Madrid we said goodbye with a meal at the Gastroteca Santiago. And the circle was completed when our promising 18 year old “apprentice” got the Rueda that we started out with, and then the Monastel de Rioja. It might be some time until next time.

 

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A day for Tempranillo

It seems to be a day for everything. Since 2011 the TAPAS (‘tempranillo advocates, producers and amigos society’) of North America has celebrated this grape, the world’s 4th in extension.

They picked the second Thursday in November, which means the coming 9th November this year. And many of the grape’s many international followers have – followed.

I miss no opportunity to open a bottle of tempranillo wine. They come in many variations, different clones and synonyms too (more than 60 in its native Spain alone), but one clone has the ability to show huge differences in terroir.

Needless to say, there are a huge amount of wines to chose from. I select one from my most recent wine trip, that included one day in Rioja. Here Sandra Bravo has released some magnificent and original wines since 2012. The clayey/chalky vineyards are found at 650 meters altitude between Labastida and the Sierra de Toloño (a part of the Cantabrian mountain range). The wines are kept in a rented bodega in Villabuena de Álava – all this to the east-northeast of Haro, for those who are not quite familiar with the landscape.

 Sandra Bravo in the Villabuena cellar

The wine in question is her “basic” red. It was in fact the first wine in Rioja to be elevated in clay amphora. There are now several vintages on the market. I chose 2014 as I think it has a perfect development right now, though it will keep. The cultivation is organic, the must was fermented with natural yeasts in steel, clay and cement, and it spent some 6 months in used French oak barrels.

Bilderesultat for sierra de toloño 2014

Sierra de Toloño 2014 (Sierra de Toloño)

Dark cherry red. Floral, cool fruit, with red berries (cherry, blackberry), herbs, and a slight dark (roasted, coffee) tone. Very elegant, quite slender, with appealing acidity and developing tannins.

Price: Medium

Food: Red and light meat, game, salads, light stews, hard cheeses

 

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Visiting Finca Montepedroso, Rueda

At Finca Montepedroso we met winemaker Lauren Rosillo and Marta Martínez Bujanda (of the family that owns the winery).

Montepedroso is a beautiful farm on a plateau overlooking the Rueda village. It was bought in 2008, and a functional winery built in the typical materials of the area opened four years later.

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They manage 25 hectares of vineyards with an average of 20 years, at an altitude of 750 meters. This is a one wine farm, dedicated to one single variety, the verdejo, and only 120.000 bottles are made annually.

Here are three types of soils: alluvial soil on top of the plateau accounts for 70%, clay soil in the gorge where the oldest vineyards are planted, and a soil with a large quantity of lime and clay sediments.

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We are on the central Castilian meseta, with cold and long winters, short springs with late frosts and hot and dry summers. The vines find water and nutrients deep down the  subsoil, and the wide temperature gives freshness and acidity to the wine.

The fermentation starts without addition of yeasts. Lauren says that for him this is the only way. And worth mentioning here is that the typical features for the verdejo are green apple and grass, and that the tropical aromas found in many verdejos are from added yeasts, according to the winemaker. The fermentation at Montepedroso lasts typically for 19 days at 16ºC. Then the must rests over its fine lees for five months with weekly stirring. The wine is completely dry, but the lees add a sensation of sweetness. Lauren says that he aims for acidity, varietal character – and a low alcohol (here typically 12-12,5).

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Marta and Lauren, with Rueda village in the background

We first tasted the most recent vintage, Finca Montepedroso 2016. This is light yellow with a greenish hint, aromatic with notes of green apple, apricot, fennel, white flowers and hay. It has both volume and structure in the mouth, and a fresh balancing acidity. In sum a personal verdejo, but in a traditional line.

We also tasted the 2010, the first vintage of the wine, to see the development. 2010 had frost during spring, and the production was low. This wine was more golden, still flowery, but with mature sensations of honey and a touch of petrol. Very fresh and appealing.

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We also tasted a few wines from Martínez Bujanda‘s other projects. Their single estate in Rioja is Finca Valpiedra, 80 hectares between Fuenmayor and Cenicero at an altitude of just over 400 meters, where we find alternating Atlantic and Mediterranean influences. This is the only Rioja estate to be included in the organization Grandes Pagos de España. Both wines are predominantly tempranillo, but with presence of other Rioja varieties, such as graciano.

Cantos de Valpiedra 2013 had a cherry red colour, an aroma of dark fruits, blackberry, fennel with slight hints of vanilla. In the mouth it was quite full, and a decent level of acidity gives freshness and contributes to the balance. The Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2010 had a slightly darker, intense black cherry colour. The aroma was complex with red and dark fruits, balsamic, a touch of smoke, and some vanilla, spices and tobacco from the oak-ageing. The tannins are still there, but they are rounded off by age, it’s fresh and delicate, and with a good balance between fruit and wood.

20171015_105231 Lauren and Marta with some of the visitors

During the travels through the many great vineyards of Spain Finca Antigua was a “love at first sight” experience, according to both Marta and Lauren. This is close to where the winemaker lives, in the Cuenca province towards the border of Toledo. We find scrubland, vineyards and forest, and it’s easy to maintain the eco-diversity. It’s a vast farm in Castilla-La Mancha with an altitude over 900 meters, one of the coldest part of the meseta, and extreme variations between day and night. They decided that varieties well-apted for this land were merlot, syrah, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon, together with tempranillo (formerly known in Central Spain as cencibel) and other national grapes.

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The wines have cool elegance and freshness, and the wines improve with age. But even with full phenolic maturity the alcohol levels rarely exceeds 14, not even in the hottest years. The Finca Antigua 2012 (a crianza of 50% tempranillo, and the rest merlot, syrah and cabernet) was a dark, cool wine, with aromas of chalky minerals, almost milky (from the malolactic, I guess), fresh berries, and in the mouth it had a creamy structure and then a wonderful acidity. The Reserva 2010 (70% merlot, complementet with cabernet and syrah) was also a dark and cool wine, with cherries and berries from the woods, balsamic (mint, eucalyptus), herbal (thyme), with a slightly tougher structure than the crianza.

Sidestepping: Please read here about Lauren’s solo project in Málaga, where I met him for the first time.

Coming back: These days when we speak a lot about the changes of Rioja (Norwegian readers can read a couple of articles on these pages), it’s no doubt that the Martínez Bujanda family is in the vanguard. And it’s no better place to experience this than the tasting table where are sitting right now, with a view of the picturesque village of Rueda.

 

 

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Real Wine Fair II: Spanish impressions

The Real Wine fair is of course an opportunity to see what’s going on in the wine category that I love the most, exactly the kind of wine that’s highlighted here. And it’s a welcome chance to say hello to some old friends, and meet new people, all of them with interesting projects. Spain is (together with the other country on the peninsula) the country where I travel the most, and here are some highlights. Because I taste these wines once in a while I didn’t visit all the tables, which I regret, but you know, too little time…

IMG_4172 Pedro Olivares Pedro Olivares

I had not really started when I spotted Pedro Olivares, and at the same time Alfredo Maestro tappet me on the shoulder. Pedro’s wines I just tasted very superficially, as I had recently visited him in Murcia. (Read about my visit here.) I took the opportunity to re-taste the Bobastrell 2015. We can call it a “terroir wine”, but from two terroirs: This is a wine with primarily monastrell (from Bullas, Murcia) in the aroma, and bobal (from Utiel-Requena, València) in the mouth. The enTreDicho 2016, jaén negro version, is a clay aged wine from that maybe unlikely place of Jaén, Andalucía. Pure fruit, flowers, juicy and lovely with some structure. I also took the chance to re-taste the Alto Viognier 2016, a 2 month skin-contact wine with grapes from 1.600 meters above sea level, and the SaSa 2016 from 10 meters, a moscatel and malvasía with the moscatel shining well through.

IMG_4186 Alfredo Maestro Alfredo Maestro

Alfredo Maestro Tejero is operating both in his native Peñafiel, in Sierra de Gredos and in other parts of Castilla too. I know him as a man full of tireless energy, and very un-selfish. I wrote him before a trip to Gredos a couple of years ago, and as leader of the Garnachas de Gredos group (now also comprising albillos), he suggested that he organized the whole trip for me. And in the end we drove around together visiting ten producers, including his own vineyard in the coldest part, Navarredondilla (Ávila province). He recuperates old vineyards, manages them organically (with some biodynamic techniques) with little or no additives.

Peñafiel is in the heart of Ribera del Duero, but Alfredo choses to stay outside the DO, to be able to use grapes from neighbouring areas such as Valtiendas to the south the Duratón river. So most of his wines are now under the label Vino de la Tierra Castilla y León. Here are some very brief comments.

The white Lovamor 2016 is a high altitude albillo real (770-1.000m) from more 100-120 year old vines in Olmos de Peñafiel with one week skin-contact, and due to the cold Castilian winter it didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation. The result is an orange-light brownish colour, flowery with orange peel aromas, full and fresh on the palate, slightly pétillant too. From the same place comes Amanda Rosado Lágrima 2016, a light red rosé from the garnacha tintorera grape with pure raspberry fruit, just delicious drinking. As the term “lágrima” suggests the pressing was very light.

Almate 2016 is a tempranillo (here called tinto fino) of various ages, some bush vines (‘en vaso’), some of the younger trained in ‘espaldera’, some found in Peñafiel, and some in Valtiendas, just outside the Ribera del Duero border. Here are lots of vines grown on river stones and clay-calcareous soils. The must was fermented in steel, 80% whole bunches with wild yeasts, then kept in neutral French oak for 2-4 months. This is one of my favourite wines from the region, with its fresh top-fruit of cherries and violets, and a wild, rougher layer underneath, together with a really refreshing acidity. Over the border to the Burgos province, in clay-calcareous soils at 960 meters, Castrillo de Duero is one of the few wines with some oak ageing worth mentioning. Having said that, it’s not more than 12 months in rather neutral French oak, and it bears it without trouble. The 2015 vintage is dark, it has a lovely fruit, it’s a bit balsamic, but not at all oaky.

Amongst all the amusing labels I chose this one:

Alfredo Maestro_El Rey del Glam 2

El Rey del Glam 2016 is sourced from grapes both in Peñafiel (sandy, clay-calcareous soil) and Navarredondilla (granite). It’s a garnacha, obviously high-altitude, and the vines varies between 30 and 100 years old. This is maybe Afredo’s most quaffable wine; beware, it’s so luscouis, delicious that it doesn’t take long before you are sliding over the floor like the glamour king on the label. It’s made from uncrushed bunches that undergo carbonic maceration, fermented with wild yeasts and with no SO2 added. It’s light in colour, with plenty of lovely raspberry fruit, with a dry finish. This takes us over into the Gredos mountain range. El Marciano 2016 is raised, not on Mars, but 1.150 meters above sea level, where the climate is extreme continental. The vines are 70 years old, and the soil is granitic. The late-ripening garnacha is not harvested untill mid-October. This vintage is particularly appealing, with a clear-cut fruit, and a wonderful acidity that’s not easy to obtain with garnacha. Alfredo also brought a few wines outside the program just to show there are interesting projects around the corner. Among these were Rosado Clásico de Valladolid 2015, a rosé from Cigales, the once prominent rosé area just outside Valladolid city. It’s a single vineyard, predominantly tempranillo, raised partly in chestnut. It was peach-coloured with pure raspberry and citric fruit, and a nice concentration.

IMG_4190 Dani and Fernando Dani Landi and Fernando García

Daniel Landi-Jiménez and Fernando García were there, representing both the Comando G project (Madrid province), but Daniel had also brought wines from his own bodega in Méntrida, Toledo. I have commented on these wines several times before (like here in Bilbao, and here at another fair), so I will present them only briefly. These are very fine wines with a refreshing acidity, an almost ethereal elegance, not much macerated and the aromas often show flowery notes. Two old favourites are La Bruja de Rozas 2015 and Las Rozas 1er Cru, now in the 2015 vintage too. The Bruja comes from several plots in and around Las Rozas de Puerto Real, and has a lively fruit, and an acidity that forms a fine structure together with a touch of tannin. The 1er Cru har only a slighly firmer tannin, a touch of smokiness and more concentration. Mataborricos Tinto 2014 was new to me, naturally made in four amphoras, but in the same line as the others. Las Umbrías 2014, a single vineyard wine from granite soils: A tight grip on this one (young tannins), raspberry and cherry fruit and some chalky minerality.

Over in the Toledo province Dani had equally light-coloured, high-expressive wines. He tells that he is always looking for vineyards that is high in the landscape, north-northeast facing, as he wants maximum freshness. Las Uvas de la Ira 2015 and Cantos del Diablo 2014, both from San Vicente, showed this. Las Iruelas 2014 too, from 1.000m elevation in El Tiemblo. El Reventón 2014 from Cebreros (that probably will be the name of the new DO) was the most reductive wine, but with air it reveals lavender and thyme aromas.

Note: I was really sad to hear the other day, that the Gredos area had been affected by severe hailstorms (7th July), and that some of the vineyards you have read about here were among the most severely hit. I really do hope that they will recover the best way possible.

IMG_4187 Rafa Bernabé father and son Rafa Bernabé, sr. & jr. of Bernabé Navarro

Rafa Bernabé (father) is long considered the Spanish expert on clay vessels for wine storage (in Spanish called ‘tinajas’), and I have reported on his wines several times, such as the Tinajas de la Mata, from the national park in Torrevieja. The wine, with 2014 on show here, will go out of production, he tells.

Most wines are made “O meters above sea level”, as Rafa sr. puts it. All wines are made with natural yeasts, none are clarified nor filtered, and all have less than 15 grams sulphur. They presented other wines aged in clay such as the Benimaquía Tinajas 2015, from moscatel and merseguera; light orange colour, aromatic with flowery compounds, it had more skin-contact than the “Tinajas” mentioned above, but still lighter in colour (as the other one has a small amount of black grapes). Musikanto 2015 is a direct-press wine (no skin-contact) garnacha from a higher altitude at 700 meters; light red, and very luscious in the mouth.

They had also a pét nat called Acequión 2015, a “sea moscatel”; deep yellow, with aromas of orange peel and yellow apples, slightly bubbly, and a “mountain monastrell 85% and garnacha”, Tipzzy 2015; light red, easy-to-drink. A dessert wine rounded it off, the Parque Natural 2013, that showed mature apples and dried fruit, some raisins, but it was not overtly sweet either.

Saó del Coster is a new find. I had heard about the winery from Gratallops, Priorat, and was lucky to be able to be pick up their basic “S” (2014) in my local shop, a wine with all the charms of a young, fruity red priorat. They want to keep the alcohol up at 15, to emphasize the local style, full and warm. Here the vintage has changed to 2015, and it’s still a lovely, pure garnacha-dominated wine (carinyena 35%), some spices and minerals, and with a good acidity for freshness.

They work biodynamically with indigenious varieties, with a low-intervention philosophy. A 100% garnatxa (as it’s spelled in Catalan) is Pim Pam Poom 2016. This has been made with 50% whole clusters, with the aim of bringing out minimum colour, maximum flowery, fresh fruit. Pure delight! They also brought two wines from old carinyena. The Planassos 2014 was good, warm and potent, but also with a velvety layer. For me La Pujada 2014 from 90 year old plants was a winner, very elegant with relatively lighter colour, fresh fruits, juicy in the mouth, and a subtle, almost cool fruit all the way.

IMG_4175 Sao del Coster Xavier Barrachina and Michelle Negrón of Saó del Coster

Rioja was represented by three producers from the right bank of Ebro; Honorio Rubio (Cordovín, once famous for claretes), Hacienda Grimón (further east, in the Jubera valley, Rioja Baja) and Viña Ilusión (Herce, near Arnedo in the Rioja Baja).

Honorio Rubio is noted for their whites, and it was especially interesting to taste the Edición Limitada-range with three very different wines. The skin-contact Viura Macerado 2014 was orange in colour, aromas of apricot and lemon, and some more herbal notes, quite light in the mouth, and with a refreshing acidity from the high altitude viura grapes. The Viura Sobre Lías Crianza 2014, aged 6 months in oak and concrete, it’s both traditional lemon and vanilla, and comes with a modern fruitiness too. Añadas is a solera wine made up from ten vintages, thus mixing the sherry and barrel-aged rioja traditions. It’s light golden, with lemon, pear and some buttery notes, both concentrated and fresh. Before I moved on I also tasted two more whites in a hurry, and the Alonso & Pedrajo, Suañe 2014, a raspberry scented red with some sweet notes.

The Oliván Family at Hacienda Grimón uses no chemical fertilisers, but sheep manure like in the old days. No herbicides are used, and the oak is all of second and third year. A couple of favourites were Finca la Oración 2015, a fruity, un-oaked wine full of blackberry aromas and freshness, and Desvelo Garnacha 2015, with second fermentation in oak (7 months); very flowery, red berries, and good weight in the mouth.

Martín Alonso of Viña Ilusión I have met several times, so I tasted his main wine very quickly. His Tinto 2015 is really nice and clean, fruity and elegant, with cherry and blackberry fruit, and good acidity.

Beginning to count down for lunch I did a brief tasting of a winery that I have known for some time. Who said they couldn’t make wine in Asturias? Nicolás Marcos can, and he does so in Cangas, that emerges as the area to consider in the region. At this occation I only tasted four wines. Pesico Blanco 2014 from the albarín variety, not destemmed, aged in chestnut vats of 2.000 liters, bottled without SO2 was glyceric, smooth but still with a young fruit. La Fanfarría Tinto 2015, 50% each of mencía and red albarín, was quite dark with red fruits, herbs and young tannin. Retortoiro Tinto 2014 showed some evolution in the colour, with aromas of cherries, and a structure for further ageing. Cadario 2012 had still more evolved colour, but the evolution has been nice, the tannins are still evident, and the primary fruits are still holding first place. I believe these wines can easily keep for ten years.

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Then running for lunch, I passed Adega Guímaro‘s table. Guímaro can be found in the cool Amandi sub-region of Ribeira Sacra, Galicia interior. I know Pedro Rodríguez and his wines well after a visit and several tastings. So here I almost only passed by the table, where his collegue Raúl Suárez was present. I did a quick tasting of the Guímaro 2016 white from 70% godello, a light, flowery, citric wine, the Finca Capeliños 2015 (50% whole cluster, long maturation in foudres) with its dark mencía fruit, mineral and with young tannins, the Finca Pambeiras 2015 (75 year old vines, 100% whole cluster), a very floral, red fruit dominated, very pure wine, before I brought his wonderful young mencía with its vibrant cherry fruit, the Tinto Jóven 2016, out into the lunch area.

 

 

 

 

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Plácet, the white Rioja Baja

I must admit that I am a sceptic when it comes to oak, whether it is ageing or fermenting. But it is a question of knowing how to use it, a controlled oxygenation, or balance if you like.

This white wine has been one of the region’s white wines of choice for many years. Now when Álvaro Palacios of La Ermita fame has returned to his native Rioja Baja it hasn’t faded.

The Plácet is a white fermented viura aged on oval casks, once made by Álvaro’s younger brother Rafael in the mid-90’s. This was his debut as a maker of white wine, ten years before he became a godello expert’ in Valdeorras.

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Plácet Valtomelloso 2013 (Palacios Remondo)

Light yellow. Lightly spicy aromas, hay, wax, with yellow fruitiness. Quite full on the palate, medium acidity and slightly bitter finish.

Price: Medium

Food: Smoked fish, light meat

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