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Dorado III – New initiatives, a new level

We end our journey with some more recent initiatives. Their history is not necessarily that short though. Menade for instance is relatively new, and the launch of their oxidative wine too. But the companiy’s history can be traced many generations back, and their dorado has also some history.

Menade was officially founded in 2005. But this branch of the Sanz family can trace its wine history back to 1820, when they sold their first vintage to the mayor of La Seca. At that time, there was more red wine than white. Antonio Sanz was one of the pioneers of Rueda and of Spanish wine in general; he traveled around, among other places to the Basque Country to see how they made wine there. He took part in the revolution to avoid oxidation; pick at night and use steel tanks – and to start DO Rueda. Now his three children in the 6th generation are leading the family business. Menade operates completely organically and is committed to spontaneous fermentation. The family sold the famous brand Palacio de Bornos, and the bodega which later got the same name. But they kept the vineyards. Menade benefits from the use of these today.

Ivan in Menade’s Rueda cellar

Here we meet again my musician friend, who I first met in another Rueda bodega. Ivan Acebes García is generally interested in culture and speaks long and inspired. His thoughts on the history of the Spanish nation will not be discussed in detail here. But he says that for 250 years, solera was the way to make wine here. It was to make the process cheaper that they started placing the wine out in the sun. It is natural that Ivan asks if we can meet in the old bodega in La Seca, where a living room is filled with books. Later we drive to what has been the headquarters since 2009 in Rueda town. There they have made an organic bodega, laid out a garden with all the typical plants – and supplemented with, among other things, an “insect hotel”. Menade has a total of 210 hectares, 60 here at the farm in Rueda. Their homage to the dorado tradition they call Adorado. The vines for this are between 20 and 25 years old, and the grapes are picked by hand.

-Every year we harvest earlier, says Ivan, with the global warming in mind.

We are out in Menade’s biodiversity paradise. There is a lot of fennel: -All verdejo smells like fennel, other typical smells are rosemary and thyme, he points out.

It’s getting late, and a breeze has crept in over the inhospitable Castilian landscape.

-Here, far inland there is actually a certain Atlantic influence, he says, -there is nothing to stop the wind between the sea and these fields.

The pressing takes place in a historical vertical press from around the year 1900, when it is believed that an earlier incarnation of this particular wine was made for the first time. The must is cloudy, and the fermentation starts naturally. After fermentation, the finished wine is fortified with grape spirits to obtain 2 or 3 extra grades of alcohol. Flor develops, usually in the spring, and when it has disappeared, the oxidative process resumes in the old underground bodega in La Seca. -The mother solera of Adorado dates back to 1967, but the first “saca” (withdrawal from the solera) was as late as 2018, when we made the decision to reactivate this style, Ivan continues. Unlike the other well-known producers, Menade uses 8-liter damajuana. The wine is released on the market without clarification or filtration.

This dorado has even more saline expressiveness than the aforementioned wines. In addition it has evident iodine and umami features. It has a clear amber color with a golden element.

Vidal Soblechero

I always appreciate coming back to Alicia and Vidal Vidal Soblechero in La Seca. (No, there is no misprint there.) Vidal is a passionate “bird man” and is the only one who has made me hold a bird of prey on my arm. By the way, his falcons have a function; they keep pests away from the vines. Alicia is a music lover and this time she invited me to a baroque organ concert in the local church of La Seca.

Actually, I find it strange that this producer is not more famous. They did get a lot of attention when they made Spain’s first ice wine in 2010, but it was probably quickly sorted under curiosities. No, it is their single-parcel wines that most of all arouse interest and admiration. I always make sure to taste some, if not all, of these. The wine series Pagos de Villavendimia was born precisely with the aim of expressing the characteristics of the various plots.

Alicia and Vidal

The Vidal Soblechero family has 50 hectares on 32 plots. Nothing is bought-in, no vineyard is rented. It was his father Cláudio who was behind the standard verdejo Clavidor (also derived from his name).

La Oxidativa, their dorado, comes under this label Pagos de Villavendimia. It is made from 100% verdejo from over 80 years old vines and stored in damajuanas that are always full, in a form of solera from 1947.

-It started, once told their distributor Joachim Buchta, -when Cláudio Vidal put a barrel in the yard filled with ordinary verdejo. Then he placed enough damajuanas around it on the ground. After six months, he replenished ten percent of the wine from the barrel with the wine from the damajuanas. Then he refilled the damajuans. Over the years, the number increased. Now it’s around ten.

This explanation is perhaps good for understanding how the solera system works in this context. The point here is that there are barrels that never run out, that there is a small amount left from the first vintage.

Another point is that at Vidal Soblechero, dorado is fermented like ordinary verdejo, with potentially about thirteen percent alcohol. You are then sure to end up with a completely dry wine.

We see that this is a type of wine that several producers are now bringing to light again, and beyond the four I had planned to visit especially with a view to dorado, I will mention two. I had agreed to visit Ismael Gozalo anyway, and he gave me a bottle of his historical wine when I was about to leave. And to a trade fair in Barcelona, ​​Malaparte had also brought their oxidative wine.

Ismael in his Nieva cellar

Ismael Gozalo

Ismael Gozalo’s father was one of the founders of Viñedos de Nieva, a reference in the area. And he himself was behind Ossian together with Javier Zacchagnini, known from Ribera del Duero. In 1998, Ismael started making wines outside the family’s bodega, and it did not take long before everything was produced organically, as natural wine without additives. Nieva, the small village where he was born in 1971, is one of the highest in Rueda, 850 meters above sea level. With less than 300 inhabitants, Nieva has four significant wineries, which must be said to be an unparalleled density.

Ismael Gozalo has 31 hectares, only “en vaso”, without upbinding, which is very common in Spain, with all its old vineyards. The wine EvoluciÓn comes from one of Gozalo’s best vineyards, 180-year-old pre-phylloxera in sandy soil. The wine is based on the vintages 2010 and 2011. It has then been over ten years in old sherry barrels. It has a permanent floor layer based on yeast cells from the bodega since the 11th century. As he writes on the baking label, it is “stored under flor (flower), bottled on a ‘día de flor’ (flower day) and you can enjoy this flor (wine flower)”. He may be called the “verdejo alchemist”, for his creative ways of dealing with this emblematic grape. Obviously, he also uses 100% verdejo for his dorado. Ripe grapes are picked by hand, spontaneously fermented and stored in barrels, which are only filled up with 5/6 of the capacity. The wine achieves an alcohol of 15%, but evaporates, and when the wine has 13.5%, it is not refilled with alcohol, but bottled as it is. It would thus not have been approved by DO Rueda. 950 half litre bottles were produced.

Old sherry bota from producer Pedro Romero
“Natural artwork” (inside a damajuana)

EvoluciÓn is stored longer under flor than the aforementioned wines. Therefore, one might call it pálido rather than dorado. Surely it is that it is also made after inspiration from the historical wines from Rueda. Because of a longer time under flor it is lighter than the others in colour. It is aromatic, with hints of ripe apples and plum and a yeasty flor characteristic. It is a very fresh wine with good concentration, vital acidity and a sweetish fruit sensation. Dry in the mouth, and good length.

Ismael’s EvoluciÓn

Like Gozalo, Bodega de Frutos Marín is located in the province of Segovia. The producer is most often called Malaparte, after its most famous label. Rubén and Elisa cultivate 5.5 hectares of vineyards near Cuéllar. They use different techniques, such as tanks, old barrels and amphorae. All plots are operated without irrigation. This is near the Ribera del Duero. Still, and despite a lovely amphora-aged tempranillo, I would say that they are mostly a white wine producer, offering several versions of verdejo and viura. Interesting for us in this round is the wine OX. This is obviously an abbreviation of “oxidativo”. It is based on verdejo and palomino fino from 65 year old vines. After a year it was transferred to damajuanas. It naturally reaches 14%, and is not strengthened. It has all the yeast, almond and dried fruit aromas one would expect, and in the mouth it is glyceric – and typically more fruity than its sherry equivalents.

Rubén and Elisa

Maybe the dorado drink can get a place at our tables again? The first mentioned wines (see part I and II) should have similar use as a young or medium aged amontillado or palo cortado sherry. If we should refer to what the producers themselves are suggesting, it can be anything from cured cheeses, via stews, anchovies, bacalao, foie and smoked and pickled starters – to salty and sweet foods, such as blue cheese and chocolate-based desserts. EvoluciÓn will probably be more like a fino, manzanilla pasada or young amontillado, with some lighter food. One of Gozalo’s importers mentions Asian-inspired dishes and red fish. It would probably suit some of the others as well.

The golden age was called the era after the discovery of America. It remains to be seen whether the golden drink is now facing a new golden age.

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Dorado II – Two classics

We continue our trip back in time. Now we shall visit two more producers of the Catholic Monarchs’ drink.

We arrive at Alberto Gutiérrez, or: De Alberto. The Gutiérrez family has been making this type of wine since the 1940s. Today’s management is 4th generation and has 500 hectares of vineyards. They fill 8,000 damajuanas of 16 liters and up to 6,000 bottles annually. The house is thus the largest producer of dorado.

Export director Diego of De Alberto

Export Manager Diego González Hernández meets us. We talk about the production of their dorado while wandering in a labyrinth of underground cellars, formerly a bodega that was part of a 16th century convention and was used for fermentation.

Sherry style fino demonstration

Harvesting takes place at night, as is usual in modern Rueda, usually in late September / first part of October. The grapes are picked when they have a potential 11-13% of alcohol. The first fermentation is exactly like for white wine. Then they add alcohol until the wine has reached 17%, then store it in damajuana for 8-10 months. Thereafter awaits a year in a solera, where the oldest barrels are from the earliest times, ie more than 70 years old. Then follows a year in newer barrels. 10% of the barrels are then bottled. Today, only verdejo is used. But since it is a form of solera, it is still possible that there are drops of palomino in there.

We tasted a pálido, but also their El Dorado. The colour is light amber. In terms of aroma and taste, I can not say that it is fundamentally different from Cachazo’s wine (read first part here); with aroma of nuts, dried fruit and vanilla, glyceric in the mouth and with a concentrated bitterness that perfectly complements the sweetness and the alcohol in the aftertaste.

Cuatro Rayas (Agrícola Castellana)

It was in 1935 that the village doctor in La Seca encouraged several wine-growing families to unite, not only to become bigger, but also stronger. The backdrop was a particularly unstable Spain, which only a year later would prove to break out in civil war. Today, the cooperative has 300 members in 30 municipalities, taps around 15 million bottles annually and has thus become the largest producer in DO Rueda. It is also the largest producer of organic wine. The cooperative changed its name a couple of years ago, from Agrícola Castellana to Cuatro Rayas, after its most famous brand. The bodega name means four stripes, is designed as a musical ‘sharp’ or a hashtag, and symbolizes the four important villages of La Seca, Rueda, Rodilana and Medina del Campo.

In the 1950s, the first commercial brand of the young cooperative was born. The members had decided that the wine should be brought to the large common cellar and poured into large vessels. During the first years, it was said that of all the vats with wine, number 61 was the best of them all. The house brand Fino 61 was named after this vat.

Roberto and Sara

We meet oenologist Roberto L. Tello and Sara Manzanas in the communications department. Roberto and Sara concentrated most on the best wine, 61 Dorado en Rama, but we also tasted the “regular” 61, and the company’s pálido. “En rama” means that the wine does not undergo clarification or filtration. In short, it is based on verdejo and palomino fino; 75% verdejo for the wine 61 en Rama, while the other wine has 50/50, both from old vines. The grapes are harvested by hand in the morning, in late August and the first half of September. Biological fermentation takes place in sherry barrels, where one sixth is not filled, to stimulate the development of flor. The wine is bottled once a year and then refilled with wine matured in a concrete tank for a year. During the autumn and winter, it loses its flor layer, which leads to a gradual oxidative maturation. At Cuatro Rayas, the wine is fortified to 17%. Production is limited to about a thousand bottles.

Flor is a native yeast, which comes naturally. Cuatro Rayas is also collaborating with the University of León to “save” local yeast strains, and then use them in production. In general, work is done organically and with a philosophy of a low climate footprint. When asked about the number of criadeas, Roberto says that here is a solera, a criadera and the rest.

61 Dorado en Rama follows the aforementioned dorado wines in style: Clear, light golden amber color, aroma of pastries, vanilla, pastries, caramel and a toasted tone, honey, caramel and dried fruit. There is a clear difference to the “ordinary” wine, which is not as expressive and where the alcohol is more evident.

Enologist Roberto L. Tello
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Wine of the Week

Vital verdejo

Here is a wine that I tasted, and bought, in the Bendito wine bar of Madrid. (Read here.) It is made by Esmeralda García. Her family comes from Santiuste de San Juan Bautista, a small village with 500 inhabitants that is part of the DO Rueda. And the wines is made there.

She works five hectares of verdejo that have been in her family for centuries. These pre-phylloxera vines have grown on their original rootstocks for up to 210 years, according to Esmeralda’s own estimates. She uses organic methods, manual harvests, direct pressing of the grapes, and fermentation with native yeasts in 600-litre chestnut barrels.

Las Miñañas is a single-vineyard verdejo sourced from a plot of that age, at 840 meters above sea level. Fermentation and ageing in chestnut before 8 months on lees in amphorae.

Label inspired by the sandy, pebbly soil
The label stretching around the bottle

Las Miñañas 2020 (E. García)

Light lemon yellow, slightly turbid. Fragrant, aromas of citrus (lemon, grapefruit) and flowers, with chalky mineral notes. Vital in the mouth with lovely acidity and grapefruity finish.

Price: Medium

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Dorado I – Historic wine from Rueda, Land of Medina

I come from the west where I have photographed the monument in memory of the Battle of Toro, which laid the foundation for a unified Spain. Here in and around the villages of La Seca and Rueda, I will visit some of the producers who are now involved in a restoration of the historic dorado wine. This was a popular drink at the courts over five hundred years ago, when the aforementioned battle took place.

In the court of Cachazo

How much this wine is inspired by the more famous in Jerez is hard to say, as Spain after the fall of the empire almost had a collective memory loss of 150 years, and very little was written. But several conditions coincide, from the grape variety palomino fino (here together with the local verdejo), oxidative storage in oak barrels (as in the main category oloroso), the use of “botas” (600 liter oak barrels) and large glass containers called “damajuanas” . Wait a minute! Many people would probably call them demijohns, as in English.

My good musician friend Ivan, who works for the producer Menade, lectures: -The word probably comes from the French dame-jeanne and refers to Queen Joanna I of Naples. Legend has it that during a storm she sought refuge in the workshop of a master glassblower, and she became interested in the art of blowing glass. She wanted to try to make her own bottle, blew with great force and got a ten liter bottle. This bottle and its successors were called dame-jeanne, and the look was soon linked to a lady’s round shapes. The art and designation triumphed, and when it came to Spain in the 15th century, it was associated with Juana, who was the daughter of Queen Isabel II and one of the parties in the Castilian War of Succession, where the battle mentioned in the introduction was included. We continue with our introduction, and we will meet Ivan again in article number three.

An old back label at Cachazo

DO Rueda currently has its own category for dorado in its legislation. It states that the wine must be made of palomino fino and / or verdejo and have at least 15% alcohol. It must have undergone oxidative storage and must have been in oak barrels for at least two years before it is launched. Their general characteristics are a golden color, aroma of dried and roasted fruit, oxidative properties, and it should be powerful, glyceric and complex in the mouth. Some may also have an aroma of vanilla. Unlike sherry, most also have the verdjo’s flattering, fruity (sometimes sweet) nose and slightly bitter aftertaste. There is also a category for biological storage (under a layer of the yeast «flor») called pálido.

In the production of dorado with DO, the wine must contain at least 40% verdejo. When the fermentation is complete, alcohol is usually added so that it is at least fifteen degrees. Most people believe that this is also necessary for the wine to withstand the further process. The wine is usually poured into the damajuans, which usually contain 16 liters. The wine is placed outdoors for more than a year, so that it can be exposed to sun and temperature fluctuations, which gives it a golden colour and its characteristic aromas. In the past, it was common to spend more time in something more reminiscent of a solera system. After storage in glass, the whole thing is completed with a stay in an oak barrel.

Félix Lorenzo Cachazo

At Félix Lorenzo Cachazo, I am welcomed by brother and sister Eduardo and Ángela Cachazo, who are 6th generation. Eduardo takes care of public relations, while Ángela is an oenologist. The family’s Carrasviñas was the first Dorado wine bottled in 1946, and their father Félix was one of the eight founders of DO Rueda in 1980.

Eduardo, Félix and Ángela Cachazo

Cachazo uses the grape varieties verdejo and palomino fino. The grape mixture is 65% verdejo, which grows some distance away, in the village of Alcazarén, where there is sandy soil and pre-phylloxera vines. The rest is palomino, which is grown around the bodega in Pozaldez. -We work with small growers from the area. They are a treasure to us; we are in debt to the area, says Eduardo.

Flor yeasts

Harvest is usually late, in late October. The grapes are harvested at potentially 15% alcohol. The grapes are vinified separately, stalked and gently pressed. The must is then fermented in a stainless steel tank. After the alcohol fermentation follows a racking, and wine from the two varieties is mixed. Then it is temporarily filled in 16-liter damajuanas. These are left in the patio for 18 months, where the wine develops “flor” in the spring, in what is called biological fermentation. During this time, it also undergoes an oxidative storage that gives the wine a golden color. Then it stays for two years in 2-3 year old barrels, French and American.

Ángela and Eduardo

Cachazo makes 2,500 bottles of dorado annually. -It is allowed to mix vintages, but we make vintage wines, says Eduardo. -We use a cultivated yeast strain from the local verdejo.

Félix Lorenzo Cachazo

We tasted their Dorado 2017 together with oenologist Ángela: Golden, pure and light color. Aroma of quince jam, hazelnut, dried fruit and vanilla. Full-bodied in the mouth with nuts and spices, a toasted tone and a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste (from verdejo). A textbook example (or what you would think of as typical, since very little is written about these wines). On the whole, this may be the closest you get to the classic wines, at least after the norm became a short time in the patio rather than a long time in the solera.

Ángela

-In the past, wines were not infrequently at 17-18% alcohol. Today we do not add alcohol; it was our grandfather who stopped this and brought the wines down to 15% as today, the siblings say.

Eduardo is interested in history and can complement our historical introduction with an interesting etymological outline: Pozaldez has less than 500 inhabitants and two churches. The name was Pozoldes (meaning wells) in the 13th century, changed to Pozal de las Dos Iglesias (the pool of the two churches) in 1587 and then changed its name to Pozal de Hez. Here, hez refers to the sediments that remain on the wine barrel after fermentation. The church of San Boal, where we stand, has Mozarabic features. It was also the Mozarabs (Berbers under the new Christian rule) who brought the grape verdejo to Spain from North Africa. Palomino, the grape that dominates sherry production, also certainly has a history of at least 500 years in our region.

The church of San Boal

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Wine of the Week

Authentic Verdejo, aged

I am travelling Rueda in search of the historic wines of the area. Vidal Soblechero has this, and I will come back to it in a future post. Now I want to bring your attention to something that sadly is scarce, organically made verdejo from single plots, old bush vines – and this producer even disposes of beautifully aged wines of that sort.

It’s always a pleasure to see Alicia and her brother Vidal Vidal Soblechero (no misspelling here!) and their falcons in La Seca, DO Rueda area. I really wonder why this estate is not more famous. From the young Clavidor to their single plot wines, the reds and their historic dorado wine, this is nothing but perfect.

We were driving through Finca Varrastrojuelos, a vineyard that also gives a very special viura. The highest part is a two hectare piece where the Finca El Alto wine is sourced. This part of the plot has around one-hundred years old verdejo on partly decomposed limestone. Here are many pebbles in the surface. Strong winds are frequent, but less dangerous than in other plots. In the middle of the plot is planted a fig tree. The idea is that the ripeness of the figs shall advise on the time to harvest the grapes.

The wine is fermented and aged for 10 months in two 300 liter oak barrels. 730 bottles produced.

Pago de Villavendimia Finca El Alto 2013 (Vidal Soblechero)

Clear yellow. Mature apples, white pepper, a touch of exotic fruit. Glyceric in the mouth, a hint of caramel, long taste with integrated acidity. A true, authentic aged verdejo still in its prime.

Price: Medium

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Wine of the Week

Clavidor still flies high

Sometimes when you feel a grape or a wine region has somewhat lost its direction, there are still someone that knows how to use a compass. It’s not that Rueda is completely lost, but the amount of uninspiring wines, often made with artificial yeast, together with the commercial success in the national market has made it one to “hate” for many. Good to know then, that there are people like Ismael Gozalo in the natural wine field. And among the producers working in a terroir-focused way with natural yeast there are a few. One of the leading ones, but often overlooked, is Bodegas Vidal Soblechero. They are mentioned before, and you can read about a visit here.

They are found in La Seca, located in the heart of Rueda, and the Spanish municipality with the most extensive vineyard. Claudio Vidal has tended the 42 hectares of family vineyards for several decades. Some of the plantings are more than seventy years old. With the climate, the old vines and the airing of the high plain, Rueda is a good place for organic farming.

Today it’s Claudio´s son Vidal and daughter Alicia who hold the reins, and founded in the 1990’s a small bodega built for their purpose.

Vidal and horse

The property is based on the verdejo grape, but they also own some viura (macabeo) and tinta fina (tempranillo). I appreciate their focus on small quantities of single plot wines, and tasting through their lines Pagos de Villavendimia (single plots) and Viña Clavidor (mostly estate blends) is a rewarding exercise. You have by now understood that you should consider this producer when searching for the authentic Rueda.

This week’s wine: The vineyards lie to the north of the municipality. In most of the plots they use the traditional bush vine system. All grapes are hand-picked, fermented in steel, only with indegenous yeast. Grapes from bush vines are harvested earlier, and for this wine some trellis style grapes are picked later. After alcoholic fermentation the final blend is left to age some months on the lees. In fact the wine is bottled every month, so the impact of the lees is stronger every time, as they are never removed. While the first bottlings are always fruitdriven, both complexity and ageing ability are increasing at the next bottlings. Only slightly fined and filtered.

Clavidor Verdejo 2018 (Bod. Vidal Soblechero)

Straw-coloured. Aroma of yellow apples and citrus (lemon), slightly yeasty, and a touch of apricot. Quite full and fleshy on the palate, with excellent but integrated acidity, and more to the mineral than the fruity side.

Price: Low

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Ismael Gozalo I: In the Verdejo Respublic

Ismael Gozalo is one of the rising stars on Spain’s natural wine heaven.

He founded Ossian, in the high altitude village Nieva in the Segovia province in 2004, together with Javier Zaccagnini (read about his Ribera del Duero adventures here). Ismael soon went on to work on a smaller scale with his project MicroBio, to make use of his family’s best vineyards the way he wanted. Some of these are between 100 and 200 years old, pre-phylloxera, at between 800 and 900 meters. These vines have always been grown in an organic way.

Ismael works in a medieval underground cellar in his native Nieva using barrels of different sizes, amphorae, glass demijohns, and stainless steel. He works in a very natural way. His most important goal though, is to let the land speak directly through his wines.

They come in two lines. The whites are in the Ismael Gozalo line, except for Issé and Sin Rumbo, which are MicroBio. I collected some wines for tasting. Ismael has said that his wines expresses themselves best after more than a week in an open bottle. Ok, I gave them 7-12 days, tasting them occasionally and leaving them with their original cork.

La Banda del Argílico 2016

Verdejo from two Nieva vineyards, both ungrafted. The first has sandy soils, the other sand with gravel. The grapes are harvested twice, the first for freshness and low alcohol (all wines at 13,5%), the second for maturation, fruitiness, structure and length. Spontaneous fermentation, no added SO2. On lees for 5-6 months. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Light yellow, somewhat cloudy. White flowers in the aroma, citrus (orange peel), mature apples. Light but with a good concentration, good acidity.

Sin Nombre 2015

Verdejo from one of five parcels, Pago de Navales (acid soil, sand, 20% clay and low fertility). Natural fermentation in old oak (12 hl), remains in oak for 9-10 months on the lees (no batonnage). 10 months in steel, also on lees.

Clear yellow with a brownish hue. Mature apples, citrus (blood orange), hay, “breathes well” (meaning that the oak treatment is evident, without any sweetness). Quite full, good acidity, a touch of alcohol in finish.

ISSÉ Viñador Soñador 2016

Verdejo. From a 0,58 ha. vineyard planted at 915 meters in 1868, ungrafted. Spontaneous fermentation (that lasts for several months) in clay amphora, that is sealed for the one year ageing, then som time in steel before bottling. Unfiltered, no added SO2.

Light yellow with some green, somewhat cloudy. White flowers, citrus (grapefruit). Lovely fruit in the mouth, good acidity, elegant finish.

After ten days it’s maybe a little less focused, but still full of life.

Sin Rumbo Viñas Viejas Vendimia Tardía 2016

Verdejo, from a 0,42 ha. pre-phylloxera vineyard planted in 1872 in Nieva at 910 meters (one of the “Navales” vineyards). Poor soil; sand, gravel, pebbles. Whole cluster pressing, first a slow fermentation, then very quick (thus the volatile touch, according to Ismael). Spontaneous fermentation in clay amphora, no added SO2, unfiltered.

Light yellow, just a little bit cloudy. White flowers, apples, citrus, wax, and a slight touch of volatile acidity. Good concentration, fresh acidity, long.

The fruit is more vibrant after ten days than the previous amphora wine.

Respública Verdejo 2015

Verdejo from one plot (that he calls Grand Cru). Whole cluster pressing, spontaneous fermentation in old 228L barrels where it remains around 10 months. Bottled unfiltered.

Straw yellow, clear. Complex nose of citrus (lemon), yellow apples, chalky minerals, vanilla and a touch of honey. Rich, creamy, some oak, and good acidity in a long and intense finish.

Twelve days after (with low standing and just the original cork) am not able to detect any vanilla, and no oxidation. The wine is creamy, mineral, full of mature apples, and the balance is just perfect.

 

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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.

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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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Wine of the Week

Nieva, a new chapter

Nieva is a small settlement of some 300 souls in the Segovia province, at the southeastern border of DO Rueda. It’s a cool and high area with predominantly sandy soils, so there are many un-grafted, pre-phylloxera vines, in Spanish called ‘pie franco’. These three factors make it a really interesting place.

Allow me a brief Nieva quality wine history, which is all about the verdejo variety. Viñedos de Nieva was the leading producer here, with Pie Franco as one of the great Spanish whites. Then Ismael Gozalo, from Nieva, teamed up with Javier Zaccagnini (from Aalto with Mariano García, formerly Vega Sicilia) to form Ossian, that gave us the Capitel, a big wine, by many considered among the country’s best wines too. The Brothers Herrero, that we will visit tomorrow, left Viñedos de Nieva when the Martúe group took over. When Zaccagnini sold his part of Ossian to Pago de Carraovejas, Ismael went solo. Now folks, I will not bore you any more with tales of who leaves who.

Ismael works according to nature’s laws, and tries to express the terroir. He uses the old bodega of an old Nieva monastery. He makes a variety of wines, some more on the experimental natural side than others. 

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Rack is a verdejo from pre-phylloxera vines, and organically certified. It’s fermented in steel tanks with natural yeasts, aimed to be reductive and thus self-protective. (The back label says ‘beautiful reduction taken to the extreme’.) It’s bottled without added sulphites, un-filtered and without corrections of any sort. Only 650 bottles were made.

Rack 2015 (Ismael Gozalo, MicroBio)

Deep yellow, cloudy. Aroma of white flowers, peach, mature apples. Opulent in the mouth, with small bubbles, and a fresh acidity that knits it nicely together.

Price: Medium

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Articles

Stavanger fair I: Spanish sparklers, white wines and more

Stavanger Vinforum was established in 1995 to contribute to more interest in and better understanding of wine in the southwestern region of Norway. Their most important activity is the annual fair, and this was the 23rd in a row. Each year has a specific theme, usually one or more countries. This year Spain and Portugal was in focus. 17 importers presented a total of around 250 wines, and there are always seminars: This time one mainly about Rueda by Igniacio Pariente of Bodegas Pariente (formerly II Victorias), one by Óscar Alegre (of Telmo Rodríguez’ company) about the northwestern corner.

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Nils Nærland, member of the board and responsible for the program

I have written more about the fair itself for other publications. Here I will just present some of the highlights, from my own perspective and according to my own preferences.

Spanish sparkling wines: We are talking mainly about cava here. A head above the rest on the fair is Gramona, this time represented by their superb xarel.lo-based III Lustros Gran Reserva, now in the 2007 vintage. This wine shows the greatness of the xarel.lo grape, not very aromatic from the start, but after some years it starts to shine, and in Xavier Gramona’s opinion the best grape for cavas meant for ageing. This one spent 7 years on lees, has great depth and concentration, aromas of toast with a smoky note, and still with an incredible “presence” after all these years. Reserva Millesime Brut Nature 2011 (Castelo de Pedregosa), mainly from pinot noir, was kept for 3 years on the lees. It’s quite concentrated too, with the characteristic “bakery” aromas. Clos Lentiscus, DO Penedès (not Cava) was new to me. Their Blanc de Noirs Brut Nature 2010 was a different take. The “noir” variety of the title is sumoll, that not many years ago was a nearly extinct grape, but is now on the rise. The colour is almost orange, or maybe pink-ish, from a somewhat extended skin-contact. It’s more robust and tannic than the fair’s other sparklers.

To the white wines: Rueda is a region that is gaining still more ground in the conscousness of the people, but at the same time it’s facing problems with high production and many wines that are maybe correct, but with lack of personality and inspiration. I chose Basa 2015 (T. Rodríguez). It’s based on verdejo, but includes 10% of viura, and is sourced from various plots around the area. It’s a fresh, fruity wine for everyday drinking, and maybe a typical restaurant house wine. A very good one. Equally good and consistent is Gaba do Xil 2015, a Valdeorras wine from the same producer. Not so straightforwardly generous, but with more layers, and with those typical hints of straw and herbs from the godello grape.

IMG_3976 Óscar Alegre at importer Moestue Grape Selections’ table

A single white wine represented the Canary Islands, Trenzado 2014 (Suertes del Marqués), a complex and rich skin-contact white that shows what can be done on Tenerife. This has been highlighted here.

From the Gredos area (province of Madrid) it was a nice to taste the Navaherreros Blanco from producer Bernabeleva again, now in the 2015 vintage. This is a predominantly albillo real with some macabeo, with hints of white flowers, peaches, yellow apples and slightly buttery too (from fermentation in big vats and ageing on the lees), with good body and a smooth texture.

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Aina Mee Myhre of Heyday Wines presented a well-chosen range of wines

From Catalunya I first tasted Espelt Quinze Roures 2015 from Empordà near the French border. This is a barrel and lees-aged wine from the grapes with the Catalan names lledoner roig (grey garnacha) and lledoner blanc (white garnacha), grown in slate and sandy soils with understated aromas, quite complex (dried fruits, anise), good body and concentration, a touch of skin-contact, and just enough acidity to match. From Torroja, Priorat, producer Terroir al Límit was represented by 8 wines, 3 of them white. I especially liked the Terroir Històric 2015 (garnacha blanca 75%, macabeu 25%) aged in concrete eggs for 6 months, golden in colour with aromas of yellow apples, hints of honey, medium-bodied, and with a salty mineral aftertaste. The Terra da Cuques 2014 (pedro ximérez 80%, moscatel 20%) had more skin-contact feel, but was also fresher, with floral and citrusy notes, some herbs too. Quite rounded texture, expressive and with a touch of acidity. Dare I say elegant: For a Priorat very much so!

Fortified wines and dessert wines were not among my priorities this time. But some good wines for later in the meal were chosen. Among these the Molino Real, now in its 2010 incarnation. Telmo Rodríguez makes this wine in cooperation with Bodegas Almijara of Cómpeta, Málaga province. It’s always good, some vintages more lemony than others. I have a suspicion that it’s lighter than before, but it’s a really nice moscatel, an old-fashioned “mountain wine” introduced at a time when wines from the pedro ximénez grape was reigning supreme in the area. Lastly, I know very well the sherries offered, so I didn’t taste them this time. But I never miss a chance to taste the wines selected (not produced) by Equipo Navazos. They chose single “botas” (barrels) of wines that they find exceptional. The one presented here was 57 – La Bota de Florpower MMXII (in other words: a sherry vintage 2012), a light, grapey fino with some citrus notes, and yes! with a lot of “flor” character (the layer of yeast that covers the lightest wines in the bodega). Simply delicious!

On my way out I couldn’t miss a completely natural cider from the northern region Asturias, the Valdedios Natural (Manuel Bustos Amandi), with aromas of citrus, green apple, herbs, and with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

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