I had two wines from Bodegas Frontonio at a tasting this week. They are found in Valdejalón, a non-DO area within a triangle formed by Campo de Borja, Calatauyd and Cariñena – and not far from Zaragoza, capital of Aragón. It comprises the area around Jalón, a tributary to the Ebro river.
(Credit: B. Frontonio)
The people behind the Frontonio project are Fernando Mora (one of Spain’s new Masters of Wine, who started to make his own wine in 2008) and his friends Francisco Latasa and Mario López.
On their website they refer to a local legend from the Roman times, when the head of patron saint Frontonio was thrown into the Ebro near Zaragoza, but later found upstream along the banks of the Jalón in Épila, the village where they are located. They compare this tale to their own story, suggesting that these “garage wines”, made in very small quantities (now 6.000 bottles), are something of a miracle and a result of going against the stream.
Miracle or not, the wines are excellent. Today they have several lines, such as an entry-level range and some single vinyard wines. Microcósmico are their village wines, blended from two or more vineyards. The garnacha has the power and the earthiness of the region, but it’s also very fresh and inviting. This macabeo is made from old vines on a rocky soil. The whole area is chalky with a layer of clay to retain the humidity from the sparse rainfall. There is both continental and mediterranean influence, as the winds shift between coming north-west or south-east in the Ebro depression, but generally speaking this is a hot and dry land. The macabeo is made from 65 year old plants, spontaneously fermented, partly in oak, but mostly in concrete.
Microcósmico Macabeo 2017(Bodegas Frontonio)
Light yellow with a greenish hint. Aroma of white flowers and citrus, backed by ginger and a touch of smoke. Great concentration on the palate, an acidity that adds to the structure and a long, dry finish.
Food: Grilled fish, bacalao, tasty seafood, light meat, salads and vegetables (must be delicious with local ‘piquillo’ peppers in olive oil), a variety of cheeses
Primož Lavrenčič is found in the Vipava valley about 40 km east of the Italian border, where he owns 8 hectares of vineyards.
His objective is to make a modern wine based on traditional methods. He says that he “controls the temperature and oxidation” in the wine cellar, but “encouraging the rest”.
(Credit: Burja Estate)
He has a holistic approach to both vine, wine and nature. This includes stimulating spontaneous fermentation, because “the diversity of yeast strains contributes to the complexity of the wine and provides original expression of each vineyard”. Some of the old folks would have prohibited the low temperatures, to take the full advantage of the extended skin-contact). So this is maybe then a modern, elegant white with a nod to the traditional orange wines of the area.
The work in the vineyard is done according to organic and biodynamic principles. The grape composition is laški rizling (Italian riesling or Welschriesling) 30%, malvazija (d’Istria) 30%, rebula (ribolla gialla) 30%. 7 days skin-maceration in steel, 10 months ageing in barrel.
Bela 2016 (Burja Estate)
Deep golden. Aroma of mature fruits, citrus, peach, herbs, white pepper. Full on the palate, a touch of nuts and a natural, integrated acidity.
Food: Light meat, pig, veal, grilled and white fish, tasty salads
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.
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.
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 Taureau, 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 wine 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 was made of grenache and carignan in equal proportions, from what Jean-Phillippe calls “a mosaic of terroirs” from Calce (limestone, calcarious clay and schist). It spent 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, green apple and pineapple on the nose, medium full, and with a lovely integrated 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.
I have met Juan González Arjones at a couple of natural wine fairs, last time this February in Barcelona’s Vella Terra.
Following his enology studies Juan worked at Coto de Gomariz (Ribeiro), then in Italy’s Barbaresco, at a small family winery, and later in a wine shop in Torino. With this background he returned to his native Crecente, in the Rías Baixas subzone Condado do Tea, to start his own project As Furnias.
He has also been managing a vineyard for the more famous Terras Guada in O Rosal nearer to the ocean. It was also down there that Juan planted his first vineyard.
Crecente was historically an area for red wine, with many varieties and soil types. While the focus naturally has been on varietal alabriño, part of Juan’s goal has been to bring back the traditional red wines.
The soils are sandy with granitic origins and a high quartz content.
In the vineyard the soil is covered with grass. In the winter sheep is a natural fertilizer, and the only treatment may be the bordeaux blend. In the cellar fermentation is always with natural yeasts. The fruit is de-stemmed and only a selection of mature grapes is used. Batonnage is used 2-3 times a day for 12-15 days. Then the grapes are hand pressed, taken back to steel tanks, naturally starting malolactic fermentation. There is a light clarification with egg white, but no filtering and no additives other than the minimum sulfur before bottling.
This wine is made from 40% brancellao, 30% caíño longo, 15% sousón, 10% espadeiro and 5% touriga nacional.
As Furnias 2015 (Juan González Arjones)
Cherry red, slightly carbonic. In the aroma it has many layers, both mature red fruits, but also some fresh berry, like raspberry, redcurrant, and also a hint of earth and underwood. Rounded tannins, herbaceous notes, long aftertaste with a lingering acidity.
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), with Ludovic Darblade (co-owner of bar Salvatge in the middle)
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
At the Salò de Vinos Naturales (Vins Nus) of Barcelona one of the revelations were Dasca Vives. Not only for their interesting rancio wine, but for the quality in general, and for their clever use of the “forgotten” variety of vinyater.
The Dasca Vives winery is found in the l’Alt Camp area, near the town Valls (Tarragona province). They have about 15 hectares, not only vineyards. Not more than 20 km from the coast the soil has a high lime content. It’s worked in a very natural way. The wines have little or no clarification and filtration, and only a small amount of sulphite before bottling, if necessary.
According to Josep Dasca and Alba Vives this variety fell out of fashion when the cava rules were defined, because it was not selected. But they think it deserve a place in the panorama of Catalan grapes. And after having tasted a sample of the 2018 and the bottled 2017 I would not hesitate to applaud them.
The family had always kept two vineyards of vinyater, of 50 and 35 years old. When they started to work it they first blended it with maccabeu to make the Llunàtic wine. When they saw that the vinyater kept the acidity well, they started to do some experiments to make a monovarietal vinyater wine. According to the producer, who cites a dictionary, the vinyater has a strong leaf and sweet juice, and is good for keeping.
Vinyater Finca el Freixa 2017(Dasca Vives)
Light yellow with an orange rim; very fruity, from yellow apples to plums, white flowers, and a touch of citrus peel; full, round, with a touch of lees ageing, it also plays with oxidation is perfectly balanced.
If there is one person that comes to mind when talking about natural wines in Madrid, it’s Carlos Campillo. I don’t know about everything he has done, but since I met him he has run Le Petit Bistrot in the old town, Solo de Uva, by the Berlin park north of the city centre, and now this wine bar at Plaza de Cascorro in the centric La Latina district. He has played a central role as regards numerous natural wine fairs in the city, and many of the names familiar for me now I have first been served by Carlos.
While we don’t forget the food, and the small dishes so well elaborated, it’s the wine that we concentrate on here.
Natural wines in Madrid has a name: Carlos Campillo
This particular time I had arrived from Rioja, and I brought a wine from Ojuel (the producer behind the magnificent sweet wine Supurao) that I wanted him to taste. So we opened it. The room was packed, so I was standing by the bar. Next to me an importer (of Champagne and other wines to Spain) heard what we were talking about, and joined both the conversation and the tasting. This is just that kind of bar; nothing complicated, the one next to you is your friend, join the fun!
None of us has yet mastered the art of taking selfies to perfection, but we managed to get both faces and the bottle inside the frame
Oxuel Salvaje 1 2016 (Ojuel)
This is a wine from the garnacha variety, grown in Sojuela village between the Najerilla and the Irégua valleys of La Rioja. Biodynamically treated, and fermented in used French oak. Purple colour; redcurrant and strawberry nose, a bit earthy with aromatic spices; sapid, with a refreshing acidity, a vibrant and long finish.
Here are a few of the other wines I tasted this time, and the next.
Bonny Giornata 2017(Vinos Ambiz)
Bonny means fine, nice or beautiful in Scottish, and giornata is day in Italian. This wine is made by Italo-Scot Fabio Bartolomei and Antonio Sicurezza, his Italian friend. This carbonic maceration wine is made near Albeche river in Sierra de Gredos at 750 meters of altitude. It’s a fresh and vibrant, red fruits dominated, low alcohol garnacha (12%) with medium body.
Torcuato Huertas makes wine in Marchal, municipality of Guadix, in the highlands east of Granada. His wine are marked both by high altitude (up to 1.200 meters) and southern geography. From just 3 hectares he grows more than 20 varieties.
Carlos poured just a sip of both, the multi-varieal Purulio Blanco 2016 was a tasty, robust wine with some skin-contact peel aromas from Torcuato’s lower plot (at “just” 900 meters), while the Jaral (2016 too, I think – my notes are not easy to read here) was made with red grapes from higher up. This was more fresh and elegant, with notes of blueberry, blackberry and just a bit leathery. Purulio Tinto 2016 is a mix between the two, and shows it, both in the fresh fruit and the rich mouthfeel.
Vinos Patio of Castilla-La Mancha is a long time favourite at Carlos’ restaurants. The Aire en el Patio 2016 is a skin-contact airén, very much alive, tasty, with a pure fruit, smooth texture and a round mouthfeel.
As I mentioned, this was not my latest visit to Carlos’ bar at Cascorro. I was there a short time ago, on a Sunday. If you have been a tourist to Madrid you know about the Rastro flee market. While I must admit I had my doubts if the people would be able to find his Solo de Uva, here we are in the midst of the Rastro. -Very good for the business, says Carlos. And let’s really hope that this will thrive and keep its position as the bastion of natural wine in Madrid. Today there are signs that something is on the move, with new bars and restaurants, and plans for more. But in difficult times it’s Carlos who has been holding the fort, almost alone.
From this last busy Sunday visit I will just mention three wines that Carlos poured in a hurry, all from the Castilla y León region. La Senda of Bierzo is a winery I must check out and come back to, because both wines were fabulous.
The Vindemiatrix 2017 was a dark violet, cherry and plums-scented wine with a pure taste, fine-grained tannins, and a really nice natural acidity. The cherry red “1984” 2017 showed super fruit, with cherries, plums, cloves and a lovely acidity. Both are wines to drink, but they are far away from simple.
Coruña del Conde is such a rare thing as a natural wine producer in Ribera del Duero. They are found near Aranda, so I’ll have to check it out next time in the area. The I’m Natural, Don’t Panic 2016 un-oaked tempranillo wine (with a small amount of albillo mayor) was dark violet of colour, with a good fruit, mature red berries and blackberry; fleshy and smooth in the mouth and with an inspiring acidity. Sincere, interesting.