Grégory Pérez was educated in Bordeaux, and came to Bierzo, where he has his roots, in the early 2000’s.
His steep vineyards are situated by the river Cúa in Espanillo, ranging 600 to 850 meters above sea level. Pérez only grows local varietals and native yeasts, and the work is strictly organic. He plows and aerates the clay and decomposed slate soils to enhance the health and biodiversity of the earth, he strongly limits the use of fertilizers, and he never uses herbicides.
The grapes for this wine is exclusively godello, that have grown on calcareous-clay in Valtuille and Villafranca vineyards, stony soils in Carracedo – and on slate in Espanillo (the latter around the bodega). The age is 25 years, trained in goblet. They were harvested manually, pressed with whole clusters and fermented in 4,000L foudres. Then followed 7 months in foudres on fine lees with weekly stirring. Very light fining and filtering.
MengobaGodello Viejo Sobre Lías 2020(Grégory Pérez)
Light yellow. Mature pear, yellow apple, hay and herbs on the nose. Good volume in the mouth, with mature fruit, a pleasant acidity and a salty touch in the finish.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This was one of the rioja wines that stood out in a local wine club tasting. It’s made by Bordeaux-born Olivier Rivière, who took a job in Rioja in 2004, after having studied enology in Montagne Saint-Émilion and worked briefly for several wineries. Among them were Domaine Leroy in Vosne-Romanée, where he learnt about their biodynamic methods. He decided to stay in Rioja and began looking for specific vineyards grown organically, with the goal to buy grapes and make his own wine.
Ganko is a 50/50 blend of mazuelo and garnacha The grapes are grown in the village of Cárdenas in the Alto Najerilla. Here in 600 meters altitude the old vines grow on sandy soils. It’s a rugged zone with only small plots. The wine is fermented with whole bunches in a 3.000-liter oak foudre and matured in used barrels.
Perhaps you wonder what the word ganko means? It’s Japanese for stubborn, a nickname given to Olivier by a Japanese importer. Olivier liked it and gave the name to this wine.
Ganko 2018(Olivier Rivière)
Dark cherry red. Aroma of wild berries (blackberry), flowers and herbs (thyme). Fine-grained tannins, a cool, fresh acidity and a long and dry finish. Complex and elegant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
-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.
No trip to Madrid is complete without a visit to Carlos Campillo’s Cascorro Bistrot. Located by the Plaza de Cascorro where the Rastro market are held on Sundays, it’s the place where Carlos Campillo currently stays. Carlos, with French background, has had several places of the bistro type including natural wines in Madrid. One of its predecessors can you read about here. He has also organized natural wine fairs in town.
This Sunday I started with an Uva Attack, the 2020 version of the ancestral. Carlos explains that Jesús Sánchez-Mateos Campo, the enologue of the coop Alcázar de San Juan in Ciudad Real has made this wine together with Ezequiel Sánchez Mateos, proprietor of the wine shop Reserva y Cata. They launch it under the brand Galdo Wines. Here it shows how fresh a sparkler from the grape airén can be: Light golden, somewhat cloudy; yellow apples, fennel; good acidity, citrusy mouthfeel, and a touch of lemongrass. A quite simple wine really, but appealing.
Las Pilas from Luís Oliván, was also in its 2020 vintage. It’s a quite dark garnacha with violet hints; dark fruits and licorice; juicy in the mouth, light-bodied with some tannin. It comes from the southwest of Somontano with abundant north wind. The wine rests up to six months in big, used barrels. I had it with duck confit.
Paeriza is a wine from Samuel Cano of Cuenca, a favourite of mine, and also a friend of the house. “es-carbó” as indicated on the label, gives allusions to snails, and maybe also low-carb. It’s a dark syrah with aromas of wild berries, herbs and a touch of aceton; lively in the mouth, with dark fruits all the way to the finish.
La Garulla 2019 from Bodega Honorato Callejo has “origen sin denominación” (origin without denomination), according to its label. In reality it has, even if no DO. Agricultural student Pablo and his father Honorato Calleja make it in Amusquillo de Esgueva. This is in the Esgueva valley that runs between the Duero and Pisuerga valleys, in western Ribera del Duero. By the way, they also have some grapes in Valbuena in the neighboring valley.
Pure tempranillo, it’s a dark cherry coloured wine with typical varietal aromas of red fruits and blackberries. Fresh and fruity in the mouth, with fine-grained tannins. The back label says fermented in barrique, but it has zero trace of this.
Samuel Cano’s aromatic, delicious pét-nat Micmac2020 was served on the next day. Made of airen/moscatel, it showed light yellow (no notes of bubbles); pears and flowers on the nose. The bubbles are noted in the mouth, with good acidity and also some light varietal (moscatel) bitterness.
Here is an ecologic cava from the varieties pansa blanca (local name for xarel.lo), macabeu and parellada. The Alta Alella winery is run by the Pujol-Busquets family in the Serralada de Marina Natural Park, just north of the city of Barcelona. Mireia, daughter of founders Josep Maria and Cristina Pujol-Busquets, is currently wine-maker.
Alta Alella’s wines are made from their own grapes. The soils are low in pH, which compensates for the warm Mediterranean climate and give acidity to the wines. They are based on the decomposed granite called sauló, with a sandy texture and good drainage.
All work in the vineyard is manual. After a gentle pressing each of the varieties for this wine ferment separately. Then there is a second fermentation in bottle following the traditional Champenoise method. Unfermented must is used to provide the sugar for the secondary fermentation in bottle, and SO2 is added only after disgorging. The ageing on lees is 30 months (thus the youngest of their cavas). It is disgorged before release, with the disgorgement date noted on the label.
None of Alta Alella’s wines receives dosage.
Mirgin Gran Reserva 2017(Alta Alella)
Light straw. Fruity, green apple, lemon peel, chalk and some brioche autolycic quality. Full in the mouth, mellow mousse, good acidity, dry, saline, long.
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.
I am back at Barcelona’s Vella Terra. It is now in its 6th edition after having been postponed, last time since February this year. Vella Terra is a fair organized by the couple Ale Delfino and Stefano Fraternali, and celebrates natural and low-intervention wines from smaller wineries, most of them family businesses. This year there were 146 artisans from 16 countries booked in. There were also related companies like Pulltex, distributor of wine accessories (see my company profile of one of their most important collaborators Pulltap’s in a forthcoming article) and restaurants like Garage Bar and Zaza. There were of course also various activities around town, with so much “talent” gathered in one place.
This year I had no special theme in mind. I did select a bit, but was also open to walk in new doors. So here are some of the most interesting tastes, only organized from local to global, if I can put it that way. And as many times before, I try to restrict myself by chosing only one wine from each winery. In this first part we shall deal with Spain.
I had tasted a few wines from Cal Teixidor before. (See my latest wine of the week here.) Their winery is found in Corbera de Llobregat, not far from Barcelona. At Vella Terra Josep Casañas showed an impressive range, most of the wines based on the two vineyards described in my latest wine of the week, that you can read about here). These are a north-facing xarel.lo vineyard that gives acidity and minerality, and a south or southwest-facing macabeu vineyard that gives more fruity, aromatic wines. There were also wines made from subirat parent (see his T-shirt), also known by the name malvasía riojana. Here I chose a wine solely based on the macabeu vineyard from 1974. It’s called Masía Cal Salines 2019, is made with whole clusters and aged … Dark yellow; appley, with fennel-tones; rich, structured and mouth-filling. Josep also showed a superb subirat parent traditional method sparkler with almost the same name, Masía Cal SalinesBrut Nature Reserva. This fruity wine, with herbs and mature apple, but also mineral and with a fresh acidity – was of the 2017 vintage and aged 42 months on the lees. Which strictly makes it a gran reserva (it’s minimum 30 months, by Cava standards). Lastly, his wife Brugués is the force behind the estate’s own olive oil.
Loxarel I have known a long time, and I’ve appreciated their good and not least good value wines. Last time they were represented in a wine of the week post was here. In February I had an appointment with winemaker Pep for a visit to their Penedès winery, but had to cancel as I was struck by covid. Here founder Josep Medios participated together with Anna Janué, who calls herself commercial sommelier. They showed an impressive range, such as still and sparkling Loxarel à pel, an amphora-made xarel.lo, and a “xarel.lo sherry” (called Himen), and reds. Here I chose Loxarel109 2011, a brut nature reserva (well, technically it qualifies for a gran reserva). This wine was the reason that Loxarel left DO Cava for Clàssic Penedès, because the authorities didn’t allow them to bottle without disgorging. Loxarel’s opinion is that after nine years the wine has already integrated the yeast. Obviously, this is also a xarel.lo-dominated wine, like nearly all the most ageworthy. Aged on the lees for 109 months in a shelter from the civil war. Light in colour; smells of mature apples, burnt yeast and coffee; is rich with a super acidity and mineral finish, it’s still full of vividness and not at all “old”. It comes in a bottle wrapped in paper.
Clos Lentiscus is located inside the national park in the Garraf mountains just outside Sant Pere de Ribes. The winery was established in 2001 by brothers Manel and Joan Aviñó, when they set out on a task of restoring the family vineyard from the 14th century. They currently cultivate 22 hectares of vineyards in a biodynamic way, of which 95 percent are planted with local grape varieties.
Before the fair I had warmed up with a classy, mineral red, Perill Noir Carinyena 2017, a varietal carinyena that also were shown here. I chose one of the bright sparklers that Manel’s daughter Núria poured. The Núria Parellada 2018, one of several wines named after her, is a pét-nat, very fresh for its age. It’s very dry with notes of red apples, raspberry and bright citrus.
I met Dido and Jurriaan three years ago at the Garage Bar. Then they were just starting, after having travelled the world and worked in a number of wineries. Since then I have come across their rosé sparkler Juicy several times. (See here.) share a passion: wine. They bought 9.5 hectares of vines planted in the Albera natural reserve of Alt Empordà, where they farm organically and have started to implement biodynamic principles. They have now bought an old coop in the village Rabós, where they first were hiring space.
Many of their labels carry references to music, such as Big Time Sensuality, Comfortably numb and Libertango. My pick here would be Magic Potion 2021, a cabernet franc-sauvignon pét-nat named after the album of The Black Keys: Blueish red, full of fresh and sweet strawberry and raspberry fruit, and in the mouth some structure that complements well with a slight residual sugar.
Architect Alfredo Arribas is quite new on the Catalan wine scene, having taken over the family’s vineyards in 2001 founded his bodega in 08. But he has made himself heard. His two main series are Siuralta, mostly monovarietal wines from Montsant and Instabiles, more free-spirited wines from Priorat. The vineyards are in Cornudella de Montsant, in the north of the Priorat region, and the grapes are vinified in the winery in Falset. Arribas’ project is a response to the challenges of climatic change, seeking higher altitude vineyards, more shade and rainfall, biodiversity and more.
For Siuralta grapes from the highest vineyards are spontaneously fermented in whole clusters with stems in small steel tanks and amphorae in various shapes. The grapes for Instabile are spontaneously fermented mainly in whole clusters with short peel maceration. The wines are matured in small cement tanks and amphorae of ceramics, porcelain or glass. Different vintages are mixed in some cases by bottling.
Let’s taste the Siuralta Antic2019, a varietal cariñena: Deep red; cool, fresh fruit, dark and wild berries (blackberry, elderberry), a hint of pepper; luscious/fleshy in the mouth, carried by a long acidity, beautifully integrated tannins, more to the mineral side.
I didn’t know Sifer Wines, but it clearly is a winery to watch. (See also a mention of their Ephraim Mel garnacha blanca here.) Sifer, the name made up from two last names, has vineyards both in Terra Alta’s Batea and in Teruel, Aragón. Among their expressive, vibrant entries were Víbria Soul 2021, a macabeu made in amphora and steel. It’s light, quite turbid, with pear and white fruits and a super acidity.
Cap de Nit is a young family winery that produces wines in the Marina Alta in the north of the province of Alicante. Josh and Josie started the project in 2017, looking for old vineyards of native varieties, to work them in strict organic farming. The vineyards are mostly located in the Vall de Xaló, in the coastal mountains. The small plots are hidden between plantations of almond, orange and olive trees. Work in the field and in the manual warehouse. – The wines are made naturally, fermentation is spontaneous, temperature is not controlled and the wines remain on the mother lees throughout the ageing. No type of additive is applied. The fermentation and aging is done in 500 liter clay pots and stainless steel tanks. They work with different degrees of maceration. At the end the wines are bottled by gravity. – Grape varieties: muscat of alexandria and giró
The real name is Bodega de Frutos Marín, but this producer is most often called Malaparte, after its most famous label. Rubén and Elisa cultivate 5.5 ha of vineyards near Cuéllar, in the province of Segovia. They employ various techniques, such as tanks, old barrels and amphoras. All vineyards are farmed dry.
This is close to Ribera del Duero. Nevertheless, and in spite of a lovely amphora-aged tempranillo, I would say they are mostly a white wine producer, offering verdejo and viura in several fashions. Maybe because I am currently working on an article about the historical wines of the lands of Medina, I chose OX. This is obviously an abbreviation of oxidative, a feature of the “dorado” wines. It is a mix of varieties (I will check, but typical, and recommended in DO Rueda are verdejo and palomino fino), 65 year old vines. The wine rested one year under “flor”, and was then transferred to “damajuanas” (big bottles, demijohns in English). It arrives naturally at 14%, and is not fortified. It has all the yeast, almonds, dried fruits aromas that one night expect, and in the mouth it’s glyceric – and more fruity than its sherry equivalents.
Makatzak Wild Wines is a Basque project found in Aia (Guipuzcoa), near Zarauz, that really has impressed me. Here is no talk about conditions “not favourable for organic growing in our region”, as we often hear. Aitor Irazu Alonso started the winery with his cousin. Here he manages the Sorgintxulo vineyard, that after being abandoned for 5 years now is restored. It is an ecosystem of 3 hectares of vineyards, whose main variety is the hondarrabi zuri. Atlantic climate with high rainfall, mainly southern exposure, steep slopes and slate soils are the main characteristics. The work is based on ecological, natural, regenerative and biodynamic agriculture. Makatzak are now receiving their organic certification, and will later aim also for a biodynamic one.
Sorkin 2021 is light in colour, has an aroma of green apple and bright citrus, and comes with a wonderful acidity. It’s a natural txakolí that’s “impeccably clean”, I imagine the classic British writers would have said. A prime example of the growing natural wine scene in Spain.