Casa Castillo has for long been considered one of the leading producers of Jumilla wines, today with José María Vicente in charge.
The winery is located to the west of Jumilla town, on the slopes of Sierra del Molar. Here, up to 760 metres, they own a big estate with diverse plantings including pine and almond trees, while 170 hectares are covered with vines. Under José María many of the international varieties have been replaced with monastrell and other Mediterranean grapes, and also garnacha, that is thriving well here.
Much of the soils are limestone, often with sand. Most of the wines are made fermented in steel or concrete, often with some amount of whole bunches, to counterbalance the ripeness in the grapes. Ageing is in concrete, foudre or old 500 liter French oak vats.
This wine is a blend of monastrell, syrah and garnacha.
Viñedos de Altiplano 2018 (Casa Castillo)
Dark cherry. Aroma of black pepper, blackberry, herbs (thyme, anise), and a hint of chocolate. Medium body, mature fruits balanced with a nice acidity and a slight bitterness at the end. Very Mediterranean, very good.
Food: Hearty dishes, stews, most kinds of meat, Murcian paella…
I am in Murcia, Spain. And suddenly the opportunity came to visit the third fair held by magazine Verema this summer. The two first ones were held in Palma de Mallorca and Madrid. There will be more tastings later in summer and autumn too. The location in Murcia was the Royal Casino, an emblematic building in the center. It was built from 1847 on, and shows traces of different styles from that period and somewhat later – now declared monument of historic-artistic interest.
I concentrated on the local wineries, that also were best represented here.
I was invited by Parajes del Valle, a winery I hoped to visit, but we didn’t manage to meet at their place this time. They are part of the bigger García Pérez group. In Jumilla they are for me one of the most interesting wineries. The first reason lies in their name, Parajes shows a sense of place. To obtain this I think that their decision to harvest early (first part of September for the monastrell grape, while most pick later that month or even October) and also the light extraction helps.
Director Gregorio Ruiz Abellán and export responsible Gemma Morcillo brought three vintages of their Parajes del Valle, an unoaked wine that is both fresh and cool, and at the same time very Mediterranean with its herbal fruitiness of the local supergrape. It starts in stainless steel, and is transfered to concrete after a while. I have highlighted both the 2018 and 19. Here is the latter, maybe most relevant. For me this has been a house wine through the winter (the article also has a link to the first one). At this moment I would say that the 20 is a bit lighter, maybe more to the fruity side, while the two others are more mineral. But they all are red fruit-driven and stand in the crossroads between the coolness and the rosemary/thyme-herbal Med-landscape.
The terraje system is described in the blogpost about the vintage 2019. In short it consists of renting the vineyard to the farmers, who take care of the quality of the vines, and then some wine is given back to the farmer. Terraje is also the name of their most “ambitious” wine (I feel the scraping of the sword when writing this, because the Parajes is in its way also a very ambitious one). Organic and dry-farmed, just like the other, this one is from older, ungrafted (“pie franco”) monastrell from defined places (parajes) called La Fuente de las Perdices and La Cañada de Albatana to the north of Jumilla town. This wine is made in a similar way, but aged in wooden “foudres”. Even this wine has low extraction with a cherry red colour. It’s fuller and more complex, but follows the same line in acidity and minerality.
Viña Elena I have known for a long time, and also visited Elena Pacheco once. This time it was her sister María together with José Marín who presented the wines.
Located in Estrecho de Marín, a valley surrounded by low mountains south of Jumilla, they offer a varied range, from a light salmon-coloured rosé through monastrell-variations with cabernet and syrah, even the dark, spicy paprika-flavoured cabernet sauvignon varietal Cuco. Very interesting is their Bruma del Estrecho de Marín, a series of single vineyard wines, almost all from monastrell, some from the vineyards owned by two brothers over in the Albacete province of Castilla-La Mancha. The Parcela Particiones 2020 is a clarete from sandy soils. In Spain clarete means a blend of red and white grapes (whereas in Portugal this is called palhete, and clarete is a light wine from red grapes). It’s an elegant monastrell and airén blend without malolactic fermentation; smells of cherry and other stone-fruits and has quite a bit of tannins. Paraje Marín 2019 from stony soils was fabulous and fresh, with typical Mediterranean herbs and somewhat warm fruit. Paraje Las Chozas 2018 was a bit darker and with young tannins, but still fresh and cool, iodine and salty. Parcela Navajuelos 2018 from sandy soils was light in colour, fresh, fruity and cool with some spice. While Parcela Vereda 2018 was darker, with forest fruits (like blackberry) and some warmth from the clay soils, while the chalky part gives also this wine some saltiness. These fabulous wines and the parcel/paraje concept contribute to make Jumilla a wine region to watch in the years to come.
Bodegas Carchelo I knew well in the times of founder Agapito Rico, one of the great personalities in Jumilla from the early 1980’s. At that time he was quite a revolutionary with his fresh, concentrated, yet good value wines. It was nice to be able to catch up and meet David Ferraje from the team of new owners that took over a little more than ten years ago.
They are located to the east of Jumilla, at the foot of the mountains Sierra del Carche, hence the name. And most of the vineyards are quite near, north-northeast of the town. Today they are 100% organic. I have enjoyed several of their wines, from the young and fresh rosé via the simple and fun Eya Tinto 2020 and the dark fruit-driven Carchelo Roble 2019 (monastrell with cabernet and tempranillo) – to the more ambitious part of their range. Here you find f.ex Canalizo 2014, a monastrell-syrah-tempranillo aged 20 months in barrel. This one had aged beautifully; mature morellos, tea, dried fruits and a nice bitter tone. Muri Veteres 2016, a pie franco monastrell with dark fruits and balsamic notes, was elegant and attractive.
It’s maybe a bit strange to say that one of the surprises was Juan Gil. But the Gil Family Estates has turned into a conglomerate of bodegas across the country. I don’t know the quality of all of them, but the original (bodega founded by Juan Gil Giménez in 1916) was quite good. They are in transition to organic cultivation, with the majority of vineyards northeast towards Yecla.
In short, the young white and rosé were good, but not with much personality. The new project over in Almansa, named Bodegas Atalaya, has potential, but at this point too much oak for me. Here I chose as a representative Juan Gil‘s own Honoro Vera2020, a varietal monastrell, organically farmed, unoaked and vegan certified. This was a quite fresh dry-farmed wine from calcareous and rocky soils, with the usual red and dark berries and balsamic notes.
From neighbouring Yecla, a one-municipality-denomination, I tasted the wines of its leading winery. Bodegas Castaño had good offerings from the unoaked white and rosé to the dense and rich Casa Cisca, and neither have I forgotten that they have one of the best sweet monastrell wines (not brought to this tasting). Among the most interesting wines is an old favourite, now called Hécula Organic in the 2019 vintage. It shows ripe red berries (morello), aromatic herbs and a hint of coffee. Full and quite fresh in the mouth with mature tannins. I will come back to this one in a while.
Loxarel I have met at a couple of artisan fairs, in Barcelona, and as far as I remember, in London too. Masia Can Mayol, the official name, is Josep Mitjans, fifth generation. When he got in charge of the family firm at a young age he changed the philosophy of this old winery. He started bottling wines, converting to organic, then implementing biodynamic techniques. (Here is another good sparkler from the house.)
The winery is located in Villobí, on a plain not far from Vilafranca del Penedès, but they have also plots in El Pla de Manlleu, higher in altitude and a bit further west.
This winery is among the many that are now abandoning the DO Cava. Among the reasons for this can be a challenging reputation that the appellation has gained over the years, and the fact that it is not dedicated to one specific geographical area. More about this in a future article.
This particular sparkler is made up from xarel.lo 55% (now widely recognized as the best of the “usual suspects” for ageing, then macabeo 30%, parellada 5%, and the rest chardonnay, a grape that I have nothing against, even not here, even not native. I interpret the name a pèl +18 as the time spent on lees (and not skins).
A Pèl +18 Brut Nature 2016(Loxarel/ Masia Can Mayol)
Light straw, greenish tones, creamy mousse. Mild Mediterranean smell of aromatic herbs, yeast, mature lemons and yellow apples. Creamy, tasty, rounded but dry.
Food: Apéritif, Iberian cured ham, light fish and shellfish…
A Ponte comes from a crazily steep amphitheater-shaped vineyard, on top of the hill above the more famous Meixemán vineyard. We are in Ribeira Sacra of Galicia, Spain, and Guímaro is one of the best representatives of the new wave of producers. Pedro Manuel Rodríguez Pérez started the project in 1991, but relied on many generations of his family’s work.
The vineyard sits on granitic, slate and sandy soils. Pedro and his father planted in 2010 equal parts of mencía, caíño tinto, merenzao, brancellao and sousón, all indegenous from Ribeira Sacra and around (Galicia and northern Portugal). The wine is made similar to the other Guímaro reds: The grapes are handpicked, macerated for 35 days (here a bit shorter than normal), then alcoholic fermentation is carried out at a controlled temperature of 25ºC. After malolactic fermentation follows an ageing for 12 months in used French oak barrels, before a light clarification.
Normally Pedro has worked with almost exclusively mencía grapes for his reds. But we have seen that the climate is changing, and to meet the future he decided to plant the five varieties in almost equal parts. Mencía is there, but the other varieties are known for retaining the acidity even with more ripeness.
A Ponte 2017(Guímaro)
Dark cherry colour. Dark and red berries on the nose (blackberry, morello, plums), and some herbs. Medium-bodied and well-structured, good acidity for a warm year, long. An expressive and individual wine without oakiness, and a good candidate for medium-term ageing (+/- 5 years). With good airing it can also be enjoyed now, and why not in company with a good roast.
This could have been a review of the relatively new vegan restaurant Bellies of Stavanger, Norway. They deserve a really good one, no doubt. As a 100% vegan restaurant they have few competitors. But Bellies is good in every sense; in the kitchen they know how to handle the knives, and the wine list is extensive and good. Bellies is hereby recommended, for vegans and all others.
We ordered “Full belly”, a 7 course meal, with wine recommendations. Among these were Krásná Hora Riesling 2019 (Moravia, Czech Rep.), aromatic with integrated acidity, with a carrot salad, Enderle & Moll Müller-Thurgau 2018 (Baden, Germany), a light skin-contact wine with jerusalem artichoke and celery, and Un Petit Coin de Paradis 2018, a gamay at 6,5%. This is light red, sweetish wine, perfect to accompany our meringue dessert.
[A minor point of advice could be that it is not always clear what wines should go with what dishes. To be precise: The first dessert came without wine, and we wondered why. It’s ok, only a matter of communication.]
The wine I chose here is another. Some natural wine fairs I follow closely, and during the Vella Terra of Barcelona I have met Dido and Jurriaan, a young couple from Amsterdam that have chosen to make wine in Alt-Empordà, Catalunya. Here they farm own vineyards and some others, at least organically, and gradually implementing biodynamic principles. From these grapes, and inspired by collegue Joan Ramón Escoda, they make natural wines without added sulphites.
They are new in the wine business, and the fact that they are already represented here at Bellies was a coincidence that I felt I had to follow up. (Here is another encounter of their wines in Norway. And here is a report from the Barcelona fair, where you can read about other producers on Bellies’ list.)
Doolittle has nothing to do with the play My fair Lady (where it’s the name of the protagonists). No, the wines have taken their names from music album titles, and Doolittle is an album by the Pixies. When remembering that Dido told me that for her thesis in cultural anthropology she spent some time with the Swartland Independent Producers. Among these Craig Hawkins took the name Monkey gone to Heaven (his mourvèdre) from the same album.
Doolittle is also part of the ideology of Dido and Jur, to intervene as little as possible. The 2018 is made from 60% garnacha, with whole bunch maceration for one week, and the rest barbera, elevated in amphora under a veil of flor.
Cherry red. Aroma of blackberry and cherry, and a lactic note. Dry, but with a sweetish garnacha sensation. Slightly tannic, with a very refreshing natural acidity, and a bit salty finish.
Food: We tried it with several dishes and ingredients, like creamy almond potato, buckwheat chips, black truffle, betroot and quinoa chervil. It is really a versatile wine, should be perfect with varied tapas and charcutérie.
Clandestina travels from Catalunya to new destinations with accordingly named labels, such as Blanc Fugitiu (fugitive), Orance Censurat (censored), Ancestral Confiscat (confiscated). Read more about these here in an article from the cancelled Rawfair this March, where I met winemaker Ferrán at wine bar WineO in London.
This week’s wine, Blanc Sense Papers 2019, has made it all the way to my northern local wine shop. It originates from a more than 50 years old xarel.lo vineyard. The grapes from the three plots were harvested seperately at different times to ensure perfect ripeness, the different harvests are fermented in steel and aged in demijohns for different periods of time, and the last harvest kept in oak for 4 months, before blending it all and bottling unfined and unfiltered. -I base my wines on acidity, says Ferrán, -and I like Bourgogne Aligoté, he answers to my question what he tries to achieve. And acidity he has managed to retain. It really is acidic. I am not sure if it has the body to match, but time will show.
Blanc Sense Papers 2019(Bodegas Clandestina)
Yellow with green and grey hints, slightly turbid. Aroma of green apricot, flowers and grapefruit. Fresh and luscious, dry, good acidity, good length.
Time to celebrate. Maybe not the year that lie behind us, but rather a toast to life, art and good wine itself. There are many possibilities; champagne, crémants, cava… Cava? All right, listen.
Agustí Torello Roca (AT Roca) belongs to the family that gave us Kripta and other great great cavas and wines from Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. While Agustí Torelló Mata (ATM) has turned to organics AT Roca goes further; with a more natural approach, and has also joined the ranks of those who leave the very strange DO Cava, that in reality stands for a way of making wine rather than a sense of place.
Agustí Torello Roca and his father and aunt Agustí and Lali founded AT Roca in 2013. One of the first priorities was to join DO Classic Penedès, a subdivision under the DO Penedès formed in 2012. It started with just 10 members, and has been growing ever since. DO Classic Penedès is perhaps the first governing body that requires organic certification in order to be a member. In addition to the farming requirements, 15 months aging on the lees is the minimum (while only 9 months within DO Cava), and all wines must be made by the traditional method and vintage dated. AT Roca goes further by only using indigenous yeasts and harvesting 100% of their grapes by hand.
For their single vineyard wines, they ferment in used barrels and age the wines on the lees under natural cork instead of crown caps, both of which are rarities in the region. Sulfur is only used once to block malolactic as an effort to retain the acidity. All their wines are zero dosage. They only work with indigenous Catalan grape varieties, with a focus on macabeu.
AT Roca Reserva 2016(AT Roca)
Yellow with greenish hints. Aroma of fennel, lime, breadcrumbs. Good body and concentration, nice acidity, and a salty dry finish.
Food: Good Spanish ham, light meat, salads, dried fish and tasty shellfish
César Márques Pérez is one of the young winemakers who contributes to make Bierzo a dynamic area, and it’s easy to predict that he will become a far more well-known name than today. He is the nephew of Raúl Pérez, who has mentored many producers in their initial phase.
César started his own project in 2015, and works with a number of plots, several of them with over a hundred year old vines. He has 2 hectares in the Valtuille de Abajo, at the moment he also uses purchased grapes from 3 hectares, where he works closely with the growers. It is mostly mencía for the red wines, but also around 10% garnacha tintorera, most often grown in the same fields.
He applies a similar production method for all red wines, thus they are suitable for showing differences in vintage and vineyard conditions. The grapes are always grown organically, they are partially destalked and fermented in open old barrels. The maceration time is normally quite long, but with careful extraction. And the use of sulfur is always careful. The result is very fresh, vibrant and expressive wines.
We are in the vineyard of El Rapolao, located in the paraje Valtuille de Abajo (which in turn is located in the municipality of Villafranca del Bierzo). This is a very important vineyard, 3.5 hectares with 20 owners, of which 10 make wine that will potentially have the name on the label. It is the coolest of the fields César has available. Ricardo Palacios also buys wine from here for his tax-free bestseller Pétalos.
El Rapolao 2018 is, as we have heard, a single field wine from one of the coolest corners of the Valtuille de Abajo, but not higher than 540 meters. The exposure is north-facing with a clay soil. Dark color, cherries, slightly reductive, some smoke and spices, fine-grained tannins. A very elegant wine.
El Rapolao 2018(C. Márquez)
Dark purple colour. Intense aroma of red fruits (cherries), cloves, some spices. Fleshy, yet fine-grained tannins and decent acidity. A powerful and smoky mineral wine. It’s slightly reductive at some point, thus changes in the glass.
Let us start with the conclusion this time: This monastrell is a modern, juicy, “gluggable” wine way up the natural road – but at the same time it is the Mediterranean, slightly spicy, Provencal-herbal, hearty and quite recognizeable. I love it, and wrote about the previous vintage here.
This particular wine is made by 30 year old wine maker María Jover (born in nearby Alicante) who has a modern approach. The vines are between 20 and 40 years old, organically grown, in the old system of “terraje”. This concept involves renting the vineyard to the farmers, who take care of the quality of the vines. As a bonus the landowner in this specific project 7% of the production is given back to the farmer. This is a very common practise in Jumilla for old vines.
The producer owns some 80 hectares, mostly monastrell. The grapes for this wine were de-stemmed, lightly pressed and fermented with indigenous yeasts on steel, before malo-lactic fermentation and a short ageing in cement. (Here is a bit more reading, such as a presentation of the previous vintage.)
Parajes del Valle Monastrell 2019 (Parajes del Valle)
Dark colour with a young blueish hint. Aromas of dark and red berries, like blackberry and cherry, aromatic herbs (rosemary, thyme), and a hint of lickorice. Juicy in the mouth, it has a coolness to it, like a fresh, natural acidity, but at the same time a serious southern quality hinting to coffee, or maybe tea leaves.
Food: Light meat dishes, bacalao, Murcian paella, pizza, hard cheeses, and almost everything from the grill
Finca Valpiedra is a single estate owned by Martínez Bujanda family. They started out in Rioja as early as 1889, and bought this place in the 1990’s. The finca is located in a bend of the Ebro river, between Fuentmayor and Cenicero. From here they launch wines in a crossroads between tradition and modernity, with some initial oakiness. Among the modern features are organic growing, estate focus, and the wines will reach the balance between oak and fruit after only a few years.
Tempranillo is the main grape, supported by a little cabernet sauvignon for structure and graciano for aroma. This particular wine also contains a tiny percent mazuelo (cariñena/carignan). The 2001 was a great vintage in Rioja, and the best wines, like this one, will last long.
Here you can read a report from their Rueda winery, where we also tasted their riojas.
Dark red with hint of brown. Forest fruits (blackberry), plums, thyme and eucalyptus over a thin layer of roast and dried fruits. Quite big, mature fruits in the mouth, with rounded tannins. In an optimal stage of evolution, without the sweetness of oak, still some freshness, the fruit intact, the individual parts integrated but still possible to detect.
Food: We had it with entrecôte, and perfect with lamb, roast, game, hard cheeses…