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At the Vella Terra fair, Barcelona

Vella Terra, now in its 4th edition, is organized by Alejandra Delfino and Stefano Fraternali. In Barcelona’s Estació del Nord there were on 10-11th February gathered more than 100 producers. In addition there were several activities linked to the fair. One of these was an Asian-Catalan fusion kitchen with orange wines, presented by the Casa Xica restaurant and held at the festival’s own Garage Bar, and a tasting of natural sparkling wines at the Toto restaurant. Another was a presentation of aged natural wines from the Catalan pioneers, also at the Garage Bar, where I was lucky to get a seat.

I would say that this event has a more international air to it than the Vins Nus, held in the city at the same time. Here were many winemakers from Catalunya and other Spanish regions, but the features from other countries were much more evident. France, Italy, Portugal and Austria were among the well-represented places. Just like the Vins Nus the objective is to raise people’s awareness of natural and organic wines, and to eat and drink healthier. Like at the other fair, the goal is to present wines made by minimal intervention. But I would say that there is a slight difference in approach, and that the producers here are, well maybe not more open, but could we say: less strict in their view of the use of SO2 (to say it simple, or maybe over-simplified).

Vella Terra at the Estació del Nord

There were so many interesting, personal wines, that I can only present some highlights. And again, I will try to limit myself to one wine from each producer, though I know that again it will not be easy.

Antonio Portela

While the albariños of coastal Galicia should be well-known the reds don’t have the same recognition. Forget the images you may have of dark, sturdy, bubbling, bitter wines from the old days! Now there are several producers who show how fine, elegant and cool the coastal reds can be. Two of them were represented here. I will tell more about Antonio Portela later, whom I visited a couple of weeks after this fair. Although he is not far from Cambados, where the headquarters of the Consejo Regulador of Rías Baixas is located, his farm on the Morrazo peninsula is outside the delimitations of the DO area. So he uses terms as ‘tintos marineiros’ (something like ‘reds from the sea’), he uses grapes like espadeiro branco (related to the loureiro), tinto caiño, and he is a defender of the local grape tinta femia (related to the caiño redondo). His low vineyards in or near the beaches are the most atlantic in the whole of Galicia.

His red wines are from the parish of Cela in the town of Bueu, and the white wines from O Hío in the town of Cangas. They are all fresh and vivid – from the  Quereres de Berobreo 2017 (called ‘viño mareiro’, mainly espadeiro blanco), with its light, green apples, citrussy fruit, via the rounder, more mellow Quereres do Hío 2017 (also viño mareiro, albariño-dominated) to the delicious, grapey Area Donón 2017. Donón is the village where the grapes grow, to the extreme west, just before you reach the island of Cíes outside the Ría de Vigo. These are practically wine from sand, from the beach. The red Namorado 2017 (tinto mareiro), fermented and aged for 12 months in used French oak, has all the virtues that this area can offer: It’s light in colour; pure, with fresh, red fruits on the nose; a vibrant flavour, a good natural acidity and in a long saline finish.

Juan of As Furnias hasn’t learned the tongue-in-cheek trick yet

As Furnias is more inland, in the Rías Baixas subzone Condado do Tea. After his studies in enology Juan González Arjones went to Barbaresco, to work with a small family producer, then also in a wine shop in Torino. Then he went back to his native Crecente to start his own project. He has also been managing a vineyard for the reknowned producer Terras Gauda, nearer to the coast in the subzone O Rosal. In 2010 he planted his own vineyard down there. Pícaro 2015 was a terrific red sparkling wine from a variety of grapes (albariño, treixadura, blanco legítimo, brancellao, sousón, espadeiro), with a lovely red fruits nose (raspberry, strawberry), and some tannin. After this came a vertical of his emblematic wine, the As Furnias, in vintages 15, 16, 17, 18. This too is a multi-varietal where each grape gives its contribution; the espadeiro gives both freshness, some herb and mushroom, and some special flavour characteristics (like cherry), while the balsamic notes come from caiño longo, and the spice from the sousón. They are typically made with 12 days fermentation in steel, and with no sulphite additions. The 16 was an early picking from a hot year, but everything went right in 15. As Furnias 2015 had all the best; quite dark, inky colour; pure yellow fruits, red berries, herbs and some menthol; a good tannin structure and a wonderful acidity.

Ismael Gozalo, MicroBio

In my opinion the small settlement of Nieva has long been and interesting spot on the Rueda map. This small, high altitude settlement in the province of Segovia houses producers like the Viñedos de Nieva with their excellent old pie franco vineyards, the Herrero family’s new project, not to say Ossian. Ismael was born here, and he also was involved in Ossian. But now he goes solo, and his project surpasses it all. I have covered some of his whites here and reds here. And there are several other wines mentioned elsewhere on this blog. The whites are a study in the possibilities of the verdejo grape, mostly very old and un-grafted, combined with the extreme climate of this part of Castilla. The reds include tempranillo, rufete and syrah.

This time I tasted two pét nats, the early-harvested (and reductive wine-making) Nieva York 2018 and the younger vine (and oxidative wine-making) Correcaminos 2018, the fresh and citrussy MicroBio 2018, and the Rack 2018. For this wine Ismael has been looking for a reduction. Some gas was added to the musts fermenting in steel to raise the turbidity. No battonage. All this to keep the reduction and the wine’s selv-protection. Not a beginner’s wine, with the green-greyish colour, the cloudiness, the bubbles, the creaminess, and the acid-structured taste. Flowery, citrussy, stone-fruity too, I should add.

Mariano Tabernero, Bodegas Cueva

I didn’t visit Mariano’s table that day, I just took a couple of snapshots as I went by. But later that night I was taking part in a tasting at the Bar Salvage of the Gràcia neighbourhood. I was then sitting next to Mariano and his wife, and they let me taste some wines. More about this soon.

Eduardo of Azpillaga Urarte

The family has a long history in wine in Lantziego, Rioja Alavesa, but it was not untill the 1970’s that they started to make their own wines. It was when Eduardo Pérez de Azpillaga Urarte started in the family company that the way towards an organic, sustainable farming began. So, in 2001 their vineyards finally got their organic certification. Maybe I liked best of all the white, non-DO Viña el Pago 2016 from garnacha blanca. It was macerated with whole bunches at 7 degrees for 72-100 hours, on stirred lees for 4-5 months. The result is a quite dark yellow wine with mature apples, some citrus, aromatic spices and a touch of dried fruits on the nose. In the mouth it’s medium-bodied with some tannin structure. The reds include a carbonic maceration wine with the same name, and an interesting clay aged wine called Fincas de Aztule 2015.  Under the label Naturostean 2017 they had a dark, rich, sweet and quite alcoholic tempranillo, not from dried grapes, but with added alcohol. They stress that this was an experiment. A winery to watch.

 

Friedrich Schatz: The Acinipo will now have a label representing the nettle, or preparation 504

Friedrich, or Federico, Schatz of Ronda has long since established himself as one of the leading producers of table wine in Andalucía. He has been in the avantgarde of organic and biodynamic farming in the area, and uses both international and local grapes. I have visited him several times, and you can read more about his whole range here. Many will know that his wines carry one special letter that together spells his name, and as such they have become some kind of collector’s items. However, this will now come to an end. Schatz presented this time the first vintages that will come on the market without that one letter. In-stead they will carry a drawing of plants used in biodynamic farming.

Other than that, the wines are the  same, full of taste, with a touch of something exotic, and also with a good level of acidity. When asked I have often picked the Acinipo as a favourite, because it refers to the Roman ruins just down the road, and it’s made from lemberger, a grape from where his family can be found – and because it has been a good wine of course. This time I pick the Pinot Noir 2013 (formerly known as C), is made with 12 months of ageing in French oak on lees that has been moved a few times. It has a dark cherry colour, an aroma full of red fruits with cocoa and some aromatic spices. In the mouth it’s medium-bodied, tasty, with a lovely acidity and also with a slight bitterness in the end. The acidity can be said to come from the cool night temperatures, and it was also an extreme year with a lot of rain and snow in winter, and temperatures down to -12ºC.

Jean-Phillippe Padié

I finally got the chance to meet Jean-Phillippe of Domaine Padié whose wines I have known for some time. From Calce north-northwest of Perpignan, Roussillon, he releases one wonderful wine after another. I tasted some samples and some bottled wines. Quickly through the 2018 samples, there was the limestone-blend Fleur de Cailloux, with its yellow colour, mature apple-scent with flowery tones, full with some tannin, the light and luscious Calice, a carignan from young vines in schist soil, the juicy Gibraltar – and finally the Petit Toureau, from older carignan plants in limestone, with its ruby red colour, and very fresh fruit.

Among the bottled wines I tasted the red Le Tourbillon de la Vie 2017, partly own vineyards, partly chosen from others: quite dark, luscioius, plums, red fruits, light tannin. Unpretentious, I would say, but very good. The Petit Taureau 2017, that originates from limestone marls (carignan) and schist (syrah), made with reduction in mind (both the grape varieties and the concrete vats environment). The wines was cherry red, with expressive fruit (red and dark berries), some flowers and herbs, and soft tannins in the mouth with a super and long, cool acidity. Ciel Liquide 2012, from grenache and carignan in equal proportions, from what Jean-Phillippe calls “a mosaic of terroirs” from Calce (limestone, calcarious clay and schist).  and 5 years in barrels of 600 liters, 2 years in tank after that: Ligh cherry red; on the nose there is some warmth, the citrussy notes appear, also stone fruits (cherries, plums); good balance between the elements, with just enough tannins, and super acidity in a long finish.

There were a couple of French producers that I didn’t know, but are worth mentioning. Les Vins Pirouettes were represented by Vanessa Letort. They are winemakers from Alsace who work in close collaboration with around ten small producers, all working organically, some with biodynamics – each producers with his characteristics. Some of the most interesting wines were made by  Stéphane Bannwarth, who is based in Obermorschwihr, south of Colmar. There was a lovely, appley riesling, with great acidity, and a full rose-scented gewürztraminer. I chose the Tutti Frutti de Stéphane 2016 (gewürztraminer, pinot gris, pinot blanc and auxerrois) was a light coloured wine, with a touch of gas, round and medium full, and with a lovely acidity.

Domaine Balansa has 15 hectares in Corbières. I tasted some clean, fruity wines from grenache blanc and gris, and syrah. A speciality was the Muscat 2018 aged in amphora, very light in colour, aromatic (both fruity and flowery), medium bodied, and with just enough acidity. Domaine Carterole was established in Côte Vermeille (coastal southern Roussillon) by Joachim Roque. The 10-70 years old cooperative plots he had bought were transformed little by little to be able to make natural wines. In 2014 he rented a winery in Banyuls-sur-Mer. I tasted a slighty pétillant white Ton Sec 2018, a well-balanced, but a bit on the “wild” side, apple, tea and ginger-smelling Esta Fête Le Blanc 2018, from 90% grenache blanc and the rest rousanne. An interesting wine was Vermentino Amphorae, that was light yellow, quite open, with apple, pear and citrus tones, and a slight tannin-structure.

Andrea Pendin of Tenuta l’Armonia

I visited Andrea following a London wine fair last year, and you can see my report here. He has a creative approach, and makes several styles of organic wines from volcanic terroir in the small settlement Bernuffi (Montecchio Maggiore, Veneto region). His wines can maybe be characterized as inviting, simple, fresh, and very difficult to stop drinking. In spite of that they have a strong sence of place too. He uses biodynamic techniques, green manure and very little intervention, and of course always spontaneous fermentetion. Repeated from my article about them: ‘Basically there are two different lines. “Pop” consists of high quality “easy” natural wines from volcanic soil at a good price. “Cru” is a premium line from native varieties in clay and limestone.” Should I chose only one wine, let it be the Frizzi 2017, a pét nat, or col fòndo sur lie from the “pop” line. It’s simple, un-oaked, slightly bubbly, light salmon-pink, apple and strawberry-scented wine, not very structured, and oh! so delicious. In addition to a varying content of different grapes, here pinot noir 60%, the constant is the local durella, a grape providing acidic backbone, that the vintners in the area are very proud of.

Catarina and Antonino, Valdibella

Valdibella is a small cooperative operating from Camporeale, on the north side of Sicilia. They encourage biodiversity, and they concentrate on native varieties, both for grapes and other crops such as olives. Enologue Antonino Vilardi work closely with the growers. He says they want the whole chain, from grower to consumer, to share the same values, or visions, and to know about how the products are made. Therefore they can appreciate the quality, and they will understand that the products can not have a very low price.

I tasted a couple of interesting grillos, Ariddu 2017, a light, grassy-citrussy wine, Grillo sulle Bucce 2017, (bucce meaning skins), so the colour was light orange, with aromas of flowers, peel, a touch of white pepper, and some bitterness in the finish. Zi bi Bò 2017 (from zibibbo, a synonym of muscat of Alexandria) is an aromatic, rose-mango-scented wine, slightly off-dry. A wine full of character was Dhyana 2017 from perricone, a light rosé of salmon colour; strawberry and redcurrant aromas; some warmth in the mouth, but also with an acidity that carries on to the end.

Niklas Peltzer representing Meinklang

Werner and Angela Michlits of Meinklang are found in Burgenland, Austria, in the village Pamhagen on the Hungarian border. In fact some vineyards are on the other side, and they also bottle a Hungarian wine from the volcano Somló. Here is a perfect biodiversity, vines and other crops between the natural ponds of the area. They fertilize with compost that they produce themselves, using sheep, cow and horse manure and several other components.

Meinklang has a full range of very reasonably priced high-quality wines, and is mentioned in many posts of this blog. Here is one of the wine-of-the-weekend articles, where you can also see a picture of their Angus cows. Today we concentrate on their Hungarian pét nat Foam Somló 2017. The 35-60 year old vines (6o% harslevelü, 4o% juhfark) are grown on volcanic rock with a light layer of loess. The fermentation started in tank, then it was bottled with 10 grams residual sugar, and finished fermentation in bottle. No additives, no filtering. The result is a fresh, vibrant wine, low in alcohol, high in acidity. The colour is light straw, slightly turbid; aromatic, pears and peaches, some spice (white pepper); a certain warmness (or rather: a component of mature fruits like apple marmelade), but kept alive of a long, cool acidity.

Ondřej Dubas, Krásná Hora

This is, believe it or not, another producer that we have covered more than once on this blog. Read here a report on various Czech wines tasted in England last year. I like their sparkling wines, and the Blanc de Pinot Noir 2018 wasn’t bad at all; light, with a slight blush, aroma of apples and red berries, well-structured. They offered an aromatic Chardonnay 2018, and equally convincing as before was the skin-contact, gooseberry-rhubarb-scented Gewürztraminer, now in the 2018 vintage. Our focus will this time be put on La Blanca 2018, a blend of riesling (40%), sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer from several vineyards (a total of 40%), and the last 20% is pinot blanc. The wine is partially fermented in old barrels and partly in steel. Only a minimum of SO2 is added. It’s a bit cloudy, light golden; apples pear and citrus on the nose; low alcohol, bone dry, with a steely acidity.

It’s maybe unfair, but there is a limit to how much one can do in one day. There were many producers that I should have spent more time with, such as the locals Clot de les Soleres, Casa Pardet, Cosmic, Escoda-Sanahuja, Gratias, Mas Candí, Recaredo, Can Sumoi, Pepe Raventòs, Laureano Serres and Alfredo Arribas, all of whom I know make good to excellent wines. Elsewhere in Spain there are Sistema Vinari, 4 Kilos, and abroad: Carussin, Casa Belfi, Colombaia, Quinta da Palmirinha, La Cave des Nomades, the list goes on…

This was my first Vella Terra, but I really want to go back, to be a part of the positive vibe that are found in the city these days. And, as Alejandra Delfino, co-founder of Vella Terra, states, “natural wines are not a passing fad, but rather a trend that has come to stay, and something that will continue to increase demand among wine lovers”. Amen to that, and we could add that while the natural wine has been something of a punk movement, I think it’s right to say that the mainstream is now moving in that direction.

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Salò de Vins Naturales (Vins Nus), Barcelona

10th and 11th February there were two natural wine fairs in Barcelona. Both days the Saló de Vins Naturales (aka Vins Nus, meaning Naked Wines) was organized by the PVN (Productores de Vinos Naturales in Spain), while Monday 11th there was the Vella Terra, organized by Alejandra Delfino and Stefano Fraternali. Both fairs had guided tastings on the side, and there were parties in addition to the main fairs, and Barcelona was simply the place to be!

The 6th edition of the Vins Nus was held in the Nau Bostik building in the La Sagrera quarter, a place for cultural meetings. What place could better house the Vins Nus, that holds a position as the leading fair nationally for Spanish natural wines.

Most producers were Spanish, but there were also some from abroad, especially from France and Italy.

Here I met old friends and familiar producers. And there were some revelations too, of some I had only known the name or maybe tasted one wine.

In this post I can only mention some highlights. And I will try to limit myself to only one wine from each producer.

Lorenzo Valenzuela, Barranco Oscuro

Barranco Oscuro is a true classic on the Spanish natural wine scene, and has also been one of the founders and driving forces behind the PVN, who organizes this fair. From the high altitude vineyards in the Alpujarras of Granada they bring out one wine more inspiring than the other. One of my favourites has long since been the Garnata, a garnacha from the most elevated vineyards now in the 2014 vintage: Cherry red; very fresh, red fruits, clover, aromatic herbs; fleshy, tasty with a mineral finish.

Samuel Cano, Vinos Patio

This is a producer I have known for a long time. There is something intriguing about all the wines. It would be strange to call them cool, because they reflect the warmth of sunny La Mancha. This is Quijote’s land, near some old-fashioned windmills in the Cuenca province. Most wines have Patio in the name, such as the lovely white airén Aire en el Patio and the dark, raisiny dessert wine Al Sol del Patio. I also tasted four of Samuel’s wines at an arrangement at the bar Salvatge a couple of days before, so I limited myself to four wines at his table. A newcomer, or one I didn’t know before was Mic Mac, a delicious, flowery, super fruity blend of airén and moscatel.

This time I chose the white, or more accurately, rosé Atardecer en el Patio 2017 (from the red tinto velasco grape). It’s quite floral, with apple and peach. In the mouth it’s round and fruity, I reckon it must have some residual sugar, and would be perfect for an afternoon (atardecer) in the patio.

Fabio Bartolomei of Vinos Ambiz

I have met Italo-Scot Fabio, former translator, many times at fairs and visits to Madrid and Gredos. He makes many cuvées with variations in time of skin-contact, ageing (varying time and type of container) and so on. All the wines, how different they may be, carry his personal stamp. The focus has shifted from the the vineyards just outside the capital to the high sites of El Tiemblo (Ávila), Gredos, and we might be seeing the beginning of something great, and his albillo real wines from granite soil can be said to bear the torch here. Doré (a synonym of chasselas) is a grape that he has brought to the fore during the recent years. Now the wine comes under the name Doris. The 2018 is yellow-gold, slightly cloudy; smells of mature apples and is also flowery; quite full on the palate, grapey and sapid.

Ramón Saavedra of Cauzón (left)

Ramón was enthusiastic and happy to show his 2018 vintage; the white Cauzón, a lovely strawberry-scented pinot rosé, the four grape Ira Dei and the Mozuelo, a red fruits luscious garnacha. I chose the Duende 2018, a wonderful syrah through several vintages: Dark cherry; fruity, earthy and slightly spicy; fleshy and tasty with young tannins.(Read more about his bodega and his wines in a post from 2017.)

Nacho González, La Perdida

La Perdida is a splendid producer in Valdeorras (Galicia). Nacho uses the traditional grapes godello, mencía and garnacha tintorera, but also palomino, and more unlikely varieties such as sumoll. I like his range on a general basis, such as the palomino skin-contact MalasUvas, the Proscrito, a reddish white from palomino and a small amount garnacha tintorera. The one that I chose for lunch that day was O Poulo 2018, a garnacha tintorera: Dark, fruity, with red berries, some green pepper, very clean and elegant with fruit all the way.

Joan Carles, La Gutina

I visited La Gutina of Empordà a couple of days before (a brief article from that visit to follow), so there was no need to taste the whole portfolio again. But a wine they didn’t present then was Gluglu 2018, a carbonic maceration garnacha, strawberry scented with good volume in the mouth, but also a fresh acidity. Fun and authentic.

Angélica Amo López and Julien Ben Hamou, Coruña del Conde

Ribera del Duero can not be called a stronghold for natural wines. But Coruña del Conde, a bodega in the settlement of the same name outside Aranda, is among the torchbearers. I came across the following wine at the Cascorrot Bistrot in Madrid (read about it here). The latest edition is Don’t panic I’m only natural 2018 #5: Dark, violet colour; fruity with red berries and blackberry; juicy, with smooth tannins.

Diego Losada, La Senda (picture taken the night before at bar Salvatge)

La Senda of Bierzo is another producer that I have been exposed to at Cascorro, Madrid. In my opinion everything from here is good, and I would be surprised if these wines will not be much more in demand in the future. La Senda white, red, all very clean, pure, the right amount of acidity, and with a sense of place. I chose La Senda “1984” 2017, the latter the vintage and the former a reference to Orwell’s novel. It’s cherry red, super fruity, with cherries, plums, medium body, and a lovely integrated natural acidity.

Torcuato Huertas, Purulio

Purulio is a neighbour of Cauzón in Guadix (Granada), except this is found even higher, at 1.200 meters, in the small settlement of Marchal. Most of the wines are interesting and good, marked both by the sunny south and the high elevation, though sometimes I’d wished the oak treatment had stopped just a little while before. The one I liked best this time was maybe the aromatic Purulio 2018 (sample, 5 months in oak), with its berry aromatics, flowery sensations and a quite cool acidity.

Vinotauro 2016, a pinot with the not-too-well hidden wordplay on the label

Josep Dasca (right)

Among this years’ revelations Dasca Vives presented some impressive and different wines from l’Alt Camp, Tarragona province. They work well with the maccabeu variety, that is also the one behind their rounded, maturely fruity Llunàtic and the Vi Ranci. Another speciality is the vinyater variety. (Read here about their wine from this interesting grape.)

Now back to the rancio. This is an oxidized wine, most often from the grenache/garnatxa, and it takes some 8-10 years before it’s “rancified”. This particular wine was made from white grapes though. Josep and Alba explain that some ten years ago they put white wine from the grape variety macabeu in a barrel with a some kind of “dense vi ranci”, that Josep’s father has in a very old and broken barrel. They also added a little of alcohol (it’s the only time that they had done so). Now they have started to sell it. Sometimes more white wine is added, but the barrel is never full, so the wine is always in contact with oxygene. The Vi Ranci had a mahogany colour, nutty aroma (almonds, hazelnut), notes of iodine, reminiscent of a relatively young amontillado sherry. In the mouth it was full and glyceric, with some tannin. My notes say nothing about how sweet it was; if my memory doesn’t fail me I think it was kind of off-dry, anyway there was nothing at all disturbing.

Maribel and Juanjo of Alumbro

Alumbro of Zamora, Castilla y León was another discovery, with their wonderfully expressive wines, from the slightly turbid, fruity-grapey orange wine called Blanco 2016 (verdejo-godello-albillo), via the dark orange, perfumed moscatel Maeve 2018 to a couple of reds. Should I pick only one it could be the truly inspiring Berretes 2016 of albillo real/ godello 50/50: Orange, slightly cloudy; plums, apples, yellow tomatoes; some tannins. Linear, fruity.

Iker García of Hontza, Labraza (Rioja Alavesa) showed that he has something interesting going on. Another one to watch is La Zafra, of Monòver, Alicante.

I’m sorry for all the producers from abroad, that I had too little time for this Sunday. But we’ll meet again, I hope.

Greeted by a Brazilian style percussion band by the Arc de Triomf, on my way to the fair

 

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La Loba, a new voice in Soria

Ana Carazo is La Loba, “The Wolfess”, a passionate wine woman who loves the work in the field and in the cellar. I met her in Matanza de Soria together with Eduardo “Edu” Catalina Chuti, who is responsible for vineyards, and Gabriel Oprea from Romania, who lends a helping hand.

Ana, Eduardo and Gabriel

Ana, trained at the school of oenolody and viticulture in Requena (Valencia), now manages the centuries-old vineyards handed-down from her grand-father. We walked through the icy vineyards a freezing cold April day. A lot of those vineyards are old pre-phylloxera. There is a great variety of soil in small places, mostly sand, clay and loamy soil. It’s more fine in the “north” (the Matanza de Soria area) compared to the area where we find the Dominio de Atauta and the Rudeles wineries (see an overview here). As Ana explains, “the river Duero marks a border between what we call the north and the south”.

The green door in Matanza, featured on the labels

Matanza is a small settlement. The inhabitants are very few, but the extention is large. The name, meaning ‘killing’, comes from a battle during the Moorish times when everyone was killed.

 

From the vineyard Quintanilla de Tres Barrios

 

Sheep’s wool as “manure”, same vineyard

Ana’s family has 1-1,5 hectares of vineyards. Eduardo counts on 7, that he uses for various purposes, both here, and he sells some to Atauta’s Atalayas project too. He delivers wines with different profiles for the different villages.

Even this cold, in Matanza we have more problems with goat’s kid and rabbit than frost, explains Ana.

Ana’s vineyards are marked by green sticks, while Eduardo’s are orange and pink

We climbed uphill for some magnificent views and a tasting.

The La Loba brand comes from old vines, 90 years+, and only pre-phylloxera. They are very structured, potent and rich wines. Ana calls La Lobita (‘the wolf cub’) “a different concept”. Still structured wines from old vines, but also with a small percentage of the white albillo grape. This wine is fermented in lightly-charred American oak barrels with open top, they are de-stemmed by hand, then a light punching of the cap, whole grapes, and a light pressing.

La Lobita 2016, fermented for 5 months with natural yeast and no manipulation of temperature. The French oak was toasted “al punto” (just enough), 20-25% albillo was used, contrary to the normal 5%. “Every year is a different world, with its own expression, and one has to see what needs to be done”, says Ana.

Cherry red with violet tones; aroma of red fruits, and a slight caramel tone; very fresh in the mouth and with good structure.

La Loba 2011: “This was very special for me”, Ana says, “as it was my first vintage”. Here is only new oak (14 months, 2 barrels were bought), but it was a good year for this oak ageing, a year with a lot of structure.

Some development in colour; still some oak, but lots of fruit, rounded tannins, and freshness and warmth side by side. (14% alc.)

La Loba 2014: Brigh cherry colour; red fruits, some blackcurrant, aromatic spices; lots of taste/power, but also finesse, great elegance, fresh – the most elegant of the lot, even if it has the highest alcohol level (14,5). It spent 10 months in the big barrels.

La Loba 2015: Considerably darker, and with a dense colour; darker fruits, blackcurrant and blackberry, but also spices; still it’s lively and vibrant in the mouth (maybe due to the cold winter, even for Soria), and a long lasting finish. All in all very balanced.

These are short notes, but it was a special time and place: Over an old cellar we were sitting on a tiny veranda overlooking wide plains of the Soria province. Ana and her friends prepared a delicious meal while we were there; cutlets with kidneys and vegetables, from ‘cordedo lechal de Soria’, the young lamb that can be so delicious in this part of Castilla.

Ana down in that old cellar, owned by Eduardo’s mother

As you can see on this map we are near the border of the DO Ribera del Duero, in the eastern part. Most of the Soria province is high-altitude. In Matanza we are 900 metres above sea level. The winters are long and cold, the rainfall is moderate, there can be late spring frosts. In this continental climate the summer temperatures are obviously higher. But the summers are short, and even then the nights are quite cool. This gives a long growth cycle, with healthy ripening and high quality.

The majority of the vines are pre-phylloxera, and the pruning system means that all tasks must be carried out manually. Almost everything is tempranillo, or tinta del país, as it’s known here.

“We always wanted to know what essence came from those grapes of century-old vineyards, that tasted so good”, says Ana, “and that also in oenological parameters they reached optimal points. When we in 2011 were given the chance to started this project, a dream had become a reality.”

Edu insisted on a photo shoot in that clayey-icey vineyard, cold not only for a visitor from the north

 

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From the Atauta valley

A few weeks ago I wrote and introduction to the wineries of Soria. Read it here, including a note on one of today’s wines. I will now follow up with two winery profiles.

Dominio de Atauta is undoubtedly the leading quality producer in the Soria part of Ribera del Duero. I visited them again in April this year, and met Jaime Suárez. He is in theory the winemaker, while brother Ismael is viticulturalist. But as he say, they work together and consult each other, to have a greater understanding of the totality. The Suárez brothers and their team draw from the valley’s five hundred years of experience in bringing the best out of the tinto fino (tempranillo) grape. Here are extreme conditions with little rainfall, the wind that blows though the vineyards and large temperature variations. Therefore the winemaking it quite easy, there is no great chance of diseases, so the traditional, sustainable way is good enough. All work is manual. The soil treatment is completely natural, with only animal and plant compost. According to tradition there is only goblet-training in the vineyard.

Soil types (Credit: D. Atauta/ Avante Selecta)

In the cellar there is not much intervention needed either. The vats are of various sizes and from different materials, such as wood, concrete and stainless steel.

Big oak vats in the cellar

Today they also count on the Atalayas de Golbán range. While Atauta is typical of Soria, the Atalayas represent the whole of Ribera del Duero. The distribution is roughly 50% of grapes from Soria, the rest is mostly from the Burgos province. This lets them offer more “typical” Riberas within the styles of joven, crianza, and reserva, that many people are more used to.

A winery neighbourhood, “barrio de bodegas”, beside one of the vineyards. These are underground cellars from the 18th century

The Atauta Valley runs 4 kilometres east-west, and 1 north-south. Here they have identified 25 different terroirs. Jaime points to the bottom of the nearest hill where there are 2 meters of topsoil, and smaller, calcareous rocks. 22 hectares are their own, and they control another 23. This makes a total of 600 plots, all of them really small. Only one of these plots is grafted, the rest is pre-phylloxera.

What is different with Soria then? It’s cooler, in general higher altitude, so the resulting wines have less body and tannin structure, but more acidity and freshness. In Jaime’s opinion this is about it, because the soils vary as much here as they do in the rest of the denomination.

Jaime in the highest vineyard

Atauta’s highest plot is at 990 meters. Here there is 2 meters of clay soil, that gives some structure, but the maturity is low and the acidity high. In contrast sandy soils give higher alcohol and richer wines.

A wine soon to be launched is called La Roza, and will from the 2013 vintage on be sourced from here. That is, from the right part. Note that to the left is another owner, that uses chemicals, hence the light colour, and the “dead” soil

They make three “single terroir” wines. -We can’t say single vineyard, Jaime points out, as there is only made 450-1.200 bottles of each of them. La Mala from calcareous soil (a layer of only 60 cm), just 0,7 of a hectare in total. Still there are 10 plots. From these they first make four wines, age them separately, then taste to find the Mala to be bottled. Then it goes to barrel ageing for 18 months. It takes it name (La Mala = the bad one), because of the extremely low yield that this thin layer gives it was earlier considered unprofitable. Valdegatiles in contrast, has the deepest soil (1.6 metres up to the calcareous rock, and the highest content of clay of all their vineyards. It’s thus a powerful wine, but also with the freshness and the minerality of the area. Llanos del Almendro is made with grapes from sandy soil with cobbles stones on the surface. The temperatures here are higher, because of the cobbles.

-We destem all of it, no pressing, first cool maceration (less than 10 degrees), work them twice a day, pumpover and plunging, then raise the temperature.

A word on fermentations, that are almost always “spontaneous”, but only almost always: -If we can fill a tank from one terroir, we use only natural yeast. If we need to add grapes we use selected yeast. Why? Because we want to control the fermentation. With this operation we don’t want to change anything, we are just interested in completing the fermentation.

The only oak employed is of French origin. -For Parada 40% new, then 3rd and 4th use, for 14 months. For the other wines there are different variations according to what we want to achieve, says Jaime.

A short tasting started with one Atalayas wine, the rest were from the Atauta valley.

La Celestina 2015 Crianza (Atalayas de Golbán) sells for less than 10€ in the shop. The grapes are sourced 60% from Soria, the rest from La Horra, near Roa (Burgos) in central Ribera del Duero. 20-25% is new oak.

Cherry red. Full of fruit; red fruits (from the Soria part), blackberry (from Burgos), a touch of lickorice and pepper. It’s full and smooth on the palate, with integrated wood, the Burgos grapes also give some structure.

Parada de Atauta 2014 is fairly new in the assortment. 50-70.000 bottles were made. It retails for around 18€, and it’s by no means an ordinary entry-level wine. It’s made from minimum 80 year old vines, from sandy/stony soil, in and around Atauta.

Dark purple. Fresh, floral aroma with blueberry and blackberry. Smooth tannins, a cool acidity, and a dark minerality.

Dominio de Atauta 2014 is a tremendous wine from 120-160 year old vines, only pre-phylloxera. This is the final blend of the 25 terroirs, so this is probably Atauta’s most complex wine).

Cherry red (lighter in colour than Parada). Floral aroma, raspberry and blackberry, aromatic herbs, some oak in the back. Good structure with mature tannins, minerals (chalk), a touch of coffee. It’s very long, and you feel the flavours come back in waves.

Valdegatiles 2012 (1,2 ha. 100% clay, fermented in steel with natural yeast): Cherry red, not very developed. Lots of fruit, red and black, tobacco and oak is just a sense or feeling in the background. Powerful structure, intense, and a long, fruity aftertaste.

 

 

 

 

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Wine of the Week

If natural wines can age…: Ribera del Duero edition

We have seen several natural wines now that really can age. (Here is a good one from Granada, and here an even older wine from Dão, Portugal.)

Let me tell you about one from Ribera del Duero, Castilla y León (Spain). Goyo García Viadero, the man behind it, comes from a respected family in wine. I got in touch with him through Bodegas Valduero of Gumiel del Mercado, where his sister Yolanda is winemaker.

Goyo started to produce his own naturally made wines in 2003. He has three small plots near Roa, with different soil types and at various altitudes. And they are the “toda la vida” kind of vineyards, where white varieties grow together with reds. The idea is to express the characteristics of the vineyard, rather than each grape variety.

(Credit: G. García)

All wines are de-stemmed, fermented exclusively with wild yeast, and nothing is added during elevage, neither any SO2.  The wines are raised in old French barrels in a very old underground cellar in Gumiel.

The Viñas de Arcilla is Goyo’s only mono-varietal cuvée, 100% tinto fino (tempranillo).  It comes from a very old vineyard, clay-dominated (as the name suggests) with some lime-stone, at more than 800 meters altitude. It’s produced with a similar vinification and elevage as outlined above.


Finca Viñas de Arcilla 2010
(Goyo García Viadero/ Explotaciones Valduero)

Deep cherry red, signs of development. Cherry, mature fruits, a bit earthy and peaty. Still some fine-grained tannins, lovely acidity and quite persistent. Not heavy at all, and with none of the oakiness often associated with this wine region.

At a younger stage it is perhaps the most powerful of his wines, with a solid structure, but it’s always juicy and surprisingly open too. Now I would say it’s near its peak.

Price: Medium

Food: The suckling pigs or lambs of the region, any kind of roasts and red meat, and don’t forget the wild mushrooms

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Articles and Wine of the Week

Next stop: Soria

Lately I have been traveling a lot in northern Spain, and many times I have been visiting, or simply crossing Ribera del Duero. I have also been passing the city and province of Soria, without stopping. Now this has come to an end: Just like I did some ten years ago it was time to explore this often-forgotten but interesting high-altitude part of the DO Ribera del Duero.

There is Bodegas Gormaz, the former cooperative of San Estéban de Gormaz, the area’s biggest village. They are the biggest company, owner of many old pre-phylloxera vines, controls over 1300 acres of vines and makes sound and solid wines. There is of course Bertrand Sourdais, formerly with Atauta, and his new project Antídote.

There is Tierras de Guijarral, a private project that makes ambitious wines under the Rudeles label in Peñalba de San Esteban, on the way to Soria capital. Sergio Rupérez, one of the four owners, is the Ru- of Rudeles. He is responsible winemaker. Today there is no fertilizing, and he also tells that he will convert to only organic cultivation and only autoctonous yeasts in a not too distant future.

And there are others too. Our third article in this series will highlight a very promising producer.

Jaime Suárez at Atauta

However, few will deny that Dominio de Atauta is the leading producer at the moment. I will dedicate the next article to them, so I will not give too much about the background here.

When I made a stop (parada in Spanish) to fill up the tank and found the Parada de Atauta in the shelves of the gas station, then I understood that there must be a certain culture here. This is the entry-level wine from the producer’s classical line.

It’s a serious wine from min. 80 year old tempranillo vines, from in and around the Atauta valley. We are almost a thousand meters above sea level, and the soil is sandy and stony, typical of the area. The wine stayed a year in French oak.

Parada de Atauta 2014 (Dominio de Atauta)

Dark purple colour. Smell of dark and red berries (blueberry, blackberry), violets, pepper and some coffee. The palate is also dominated by berries, with a cool freshness, velvety tannins, and a stony minerality.

Price: Low

Food: Red and light meat, rice dishes, pasta, roast vegetables…

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Wine of the Week

Fresh air in Toro

We are near the tiny village of El Pego near the southern border of Toro, Castilla y León. Aciano is a 3 hectare vineyard that Alvar de Dios Hernández inherited from his grandfather. The altitude is more than 700 meters, the soils here are sandy, quite special for this area. And for this reason the 100 years old ungrafted vines have survived the phylloxera plague. Aciano was his grandfather’s nickname, so the wine is baptized in his honour. The vineyard practise is organic and biodynamic.For this wine the grapes were hand harvested. 60% whole clusters, 3-4 day pre-fermentation maceration, natural yeast fermentation in big vat, daily soft pigeage, 20 day maceration are other keywords. The ageing was then done for 12-14 months in big, old French barrels, mostly neutral.

Alvar was born in El Pego, but he came in contact with Fernando García and Dani Landi of Sierra de Gredos, and was at a time cellar master for Fernando at Bodegas Marañones. (See various write-ups about the two around this blog; here is one.) Their influence can maybe explain Alvar’s search for coolness in his wines, and for Toro this must be a much needed fresh air.

Aciano 2016 (Alvar de Dios Hernández)

Dark cherry red. Perfumed aroma; flowers, dark and red fruits (blackberry, cherry), a slight touch of coffee. It’s tasty and quite solid, yes, but it’s not coarse-heavy-rough like toro can be, and the acidity is good, natural. The most elegant red from this appellation I have tasted for years.

Price: Medium

Food: Roast suckling pig (traditional Castilian dish), other light meats, game, Villalón and other fresh and hard cheeses

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Wine of the Week

Supurao: The sweet Rioja

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

Soon these shelves will be filled with bunches of grapes

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

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

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

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

Oxuel Supurao 2016 (Ojuel)

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

Price: Medium

Food: Light desserts, pastries, cheeses, patés

 

 

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Wine of the Week

Exopto: A new star arises in the Rioja Horizon

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

Tom Puyaubert, Exopto

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

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

Horizonte de Exopto 2016 (Exopto)

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

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

Price: Medium

Food: Roasts, game, stews, other meat dishes

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Articles

5 Riojas at Guardaviñas, Logroño

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

 Alberto Ruiz

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

  

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

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

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

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

 

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