Let’s not forget the inexpensive, but oh so good! everyday wines. For me a trustworthy “workhorse” (pun intended) has for ten years been the Asinoi, meaning ‘we are donkeys’, by many around here simply called “the Donkey wine”, because of its label.
In a market like the one in my country -Norway that is- many barberas were sweet, oaky, and not much fun. This one was different, more slender, elegant, fruity, natural, and a lot better with food too. So no wonder it soon found many followers.
Donkeys at Carussin
The producer is Carussin, Bruna Ferro and Luigi Garberoglio with their family, and the farm is located in San Marzano Oliveto, south of Asti in Piemonte.
The producer has many interesting wines, but to be honest I’m not sure if this particular one is found to any extent outside Norway, where their importer Non Dos is a good customer and collaborator.
The farming is biodynamic. The grapes are hand-picked, and fermentation is spontaneous. Only a tiny amount of sulphur is added before bottling. All ageing is carried out in steel, and sometimes cement.
Asinoi Barbera d’Asti 2017(Carussin-Bruna Ferro)Ruby red. Fruity aroma of cherries, other red berries and herbs. Mellow, juicy in the mouth, low in tannin, but with a clear and fine-tuned acidity.
Food: Pasta, pizza, light meat, white fish (!), vegetables, and a variety of cheeses. I must admit (although it’s against my principles, I think) that I’ve had this wine without food at all, and with a lot of joy.
This wine I tasted recently in London. Simon Woolf has a new book about orange wines in the market, and he presented it at a seminar during the Real Wine fair. (More about the book later.)
The wine in the glass while Simon talks in the background
Jurgen Gouws has both learned from and been a colleague of Craig Hawkins of Testalonga in South-Africa’s Swartland (read about last week’s wine here). He “owns neither vineyards nor winery, but has built a cult following for his delicate, subtle cuvées”, one can read in Woolf’s book. All are dry-farmed (in a country with serious draught problems).
The chenin blanc grapes for this wine were grown on granite and macerated for two weeks on the skins. But it’s only contact to add some texture. The skin-contact makes it an orange wine, according to Woolf’s definition, although the colour is yellow.
This is the second report from this year’s Simplesmente… Vinho, of Porto. The first one was about the Portuguese participants, and you can read it here. This one deals mainly with Spanish wine, with one exception.
As soon as I entered the Cais Novo I ran into Alejandro of Bodegas Forlong. There is a lot happening in the sherry region right now, and I visited him when I was doing reasearch for a magazine article about table wines from the Jerez area. A shorter version of the article can be read here, and a wine of the week post here. In Porto Alejandro was together with his life companion Rocío.
Alejandro Narváez and Rocío Áspera
So why not start with a tasting of wine from sherry grapes and albariza soil? The wines I knew from before delivered, such as the Forlong Blanco 2018 (palomino 90%, the rest PX, grown in albariza soil), with its roundness and at the same time enough acidity, almonds and a saline minerality. Much of the same applies to the Rosado 2018, a 100% cabernet sauvignon, with its colour of onion skin, its creamy character and also a light tannin. We could go on through the Petit Forlong 2017 (syrah, merlot), the Assemblage 2016 (merlot, tintilla de rota, syrah), and the Tintilla 2016, with its dark smell of ink, blackcurrant, and that in a way also plays with oxidation.
A wine I can’t remember having tasted before were 80/20, a non SO2, unfiltered wine, made of must from palomino fermented on skins of PX: Light pineapple colour; some tropical hint in the aroma, peel; round and smooth, yet fresh, well a little mousy, but with a nice mineral salinity. Equally interesting was Mon Amour 2017, palomino from the hardest type of albariza, called “tosca cerrada”. I have to reconsider if I like the touch of vanilla from the fermentation in French barrels, but it surely has some interesting yellow fruits, and a vibrant touch too.
According to my ‘one wine only’-game I chose this one: Amigo Imaginario 2017, from old vine palomino, fermented with skins, and aged in an oloroso cask for 10 months. The colour is yellow; smells of orange peel, herbs, plums, and a touch of marzipan; in the mouth it’s full, with a great concentration, and you by now you would have guessed that it’s somewhat sweet – but it’s not. Great personality, alternative, truly interesting!
Always a pleasure meeting up with Sandra Bravo and tasting her wines
I appreciate that Sandra Bravo of Sierra de Toloño keep coming back to these events. She is one of the younger, independent voices in a Rioja still struggling to come out of its classification system based on wood ageing. From vineyards below the Sierra Cantabria mountains, both on the Riojan and Basque side of the border, she takes good decisions on the way from grape to bottle.
The reds showed as good as ever, from the plain Sierra de Toloño, now 2017, with its fresh cherry fruit, and inspiring acidity, but also in this vintage quite evident tannins, the Camino de Santa Cruz 2016 (formerly Rivas de Tereso), a single vinyard wine with extra minerality; darker and wilder fruits, with some subtle underlying oak and also lovely acidity and the super delicious La Dula 2016, a garnacha made in amphora, really floral, red-fruity and expressive. The Nahi Tempranillo is a dark, rich, spicy wine that will improve with age – and lastly Raposo 2016 from Villabuena, the Basque part: a little graciano thrown in among the tempranillo; dark, blackberry, forest fruits, good acidity – classic in the good sense of the word.
In recent years she has presented wonderful white wines, very different from both the young and clean tank style of the 1970’s (still popular) and the oaky style requiring long ageing. The basic Sierra de Toloño 2017 is clean and bright, but has already a profound quality. A favourite among white riojas during the latest years has been the Nahi Blanco, now 2016. Made from viura, malvasía and calagraño, a field blend from five small parcels in Villabuena de Álava, with a light ageing in barrel: Golden colour, a touch of tropic (litchi), white flowers and a light touch of smoke, full in the mouth and a nice natural acidity.
Alfredo Maestro (left) and Dutch journalist Paul Op ten Berg
I have tasted Alfredo’s wines several times lately, so here I only tasted a couple in order to discuss them with my friend, Dutch journalist Paul Op ten Berg. One was an orange wine that was featured in January. (Read it here.) In short: Lovamor 2016 stayed 6 days with the skins, then on lees for 4 months. Due to the cold Castilian winter a malolactic fermentation never happened. It’s a rich and complex wine with a gold-orange colour; apple and melon in the aroma, flowery, and also lovely, light citrus; slightly pétillant and with a citrussy aftertaste.
I first met Yulia in Alfredo’s neighbourhood, more precisely at Dominio de Pingus, where she guided us around the premises during a wine trip that I organized. But she has Eastern roots and is now making wine in the Kakheti region of Georgia. The winery is called Gvymarani and can be found in the village of Manavi. The wine is made from the mtsvane grape, fermented 7 months and also aged in qvevri. Gvymarani Mtsvane: Clean golden; fruity nose of apple, dried apricot, peach, orange peel and some honey; full and with evident tannins in the mouth.
Antonio Portela (picture taken at the Barcelona tasting)
I tasted Antonio Portela‘s wines in Barcelona earlier that month and made an appointment to visit his vineyards later – so I just took the opportunity to try his beautiful red tinta femia Namorado 2017 (tinto mareiro) again, fermented and aged for 12 months in used French oak: Light in colour; pure, with fresh, red fruits on the nose; a vibrant flavour, a good natural acidity and in a long saline finish. Goodness, what a wine!
Constantina Sotelo (picture taken in her winery after the fair)
Constantina Sotelo was another producer that I decided to cross the border to visit once the fair was over. Here I tasted, among others, her Pio Pio 2017 ‘en rama’ (unfiltered). It’s from a vineyard with quite a lot of ‘pie franco’ (ungrafted) plants, and a very personal wine: Light yellow; green apple, citric (lime), anise; quite full, glyceric, and with an appealing acidity. A lovely albariño. See you on the other side of the border!
Before London’s Real Wine fair I usually go down to Brighton for a couple of days. Here is a new discovery.
After having been a bartender at Brighton’s excellent Plateau wine bar Johan Fredrik Claesson, Swedish-born, took a job in the newly opened Cin Cin in a “chain” of two. Here at Cin Cin Johan has total control over the selection of wines, and the closing time is earlier – that would be the two main reasons that he decided to move.
Cin Cin Hove is a neighbourhood restaurant, in Hove to be accurate, that since 2000 has formed a city together with Brighton. It is an Italian restaurant, with carefully prepared small plates. I had Agnolotti (a type of pasta typical of Piemonte) of garden pea and smoked ham hock and Crème brulée (an exception to the Italian).
Johan suggested a flight of four wines. First came the Arcese 2017(VIttorio Bera), the name put together from the arneis and cortese grapes that normally make up this wine. It’s a skin-contact white from the Asti area in Piemonte, golden in colour, aroma of white flowers and some peel character, a cool acidity and some carbonic that adds to the freshness. Quite easy to drink, after all. The second was an aged Barolo, Boscareto 2007, that we soon shall give some special attention. Then, the Bianchdùdùi 2000 (also from Bera), a moscato aged like a sherry under ‘flor’ for 16 years. Despite of this it’s very fresh. It shows nice herbal aromas, it’s quite dry in the beginning, it’s full but not heavy, some texture, and with a touch of bitterness in the finish. Bukkuram Sole d’Agosto, a Passito di Pantelleria 2016 from Marsala based Marco de Bartoli, was the last wine according to the original plan. The colour is amber, it’s concentrated and intense, with scents of dried apricots, dates, but also some citrus (orange). It’s sweet of course, but beautifully balanced by a long acidity.
Some “obscurities” were thrown in along the way too, among them Therìa 2017 (Alberto Loi, Sardegna), a yellow coloured wine, slightly pétillant and rich at the same time, with notes of flowers, dried fruits, spice, made from the vermentino grape.
When I started to write this piece my plan was to present the Barolo in my wine of the week column, and I had a look at the background of the producer and the wine. So even if my focus shifted I still want to give it a special mention. Here we go.
Principiano Ferdinando is a young winemaker, third generation, and in charge of the family estate in Monforte d’Alba since 1993. In 1946 the six hectares were planted in Serralunga d’Alba, that were to become the plot where they source the grapes for their top wine Boscareto. In the Serralunga very few take the risk to run the plots organically, but Principiano’s vines stand out. The only treatments are copper, and some sulfur only when necessary. The soils are calcareous, with very good drainage, and various crops are planted to help creating a functioning biodiversity and to add to the health of this south-west facing vineyard. In the cellar only natural yeast is employed for fermentations, and the sulphites are kept to a minimum. The barrels are big and old, Slavonian and French oak.
Boscareto 2007 (Ferdinando Principiano): Developed, cherry colour; intense aroma of mature red berries (cherry), forest fruits, spice and smoke; in the mouth it’s concentrated, yet with fine silky tannins, long. A lovely wine with still some years to go. The price is quite high, but worth it.
Next time in Brighton I suggest you pay Johan and his collegues a visit. It’s less than half an hour’s walk from the city centre, and the buses go west along the Western Road all the time. There are passionate wine people who gladly share of their knowledge and enthusiasm. Recommended.
Finally I got the chance to visit Elliot’s wine bar in Borough Market, on the south side of the Thames. The occasion was not only that I was in London for the Real Wine fair, but also that I visited the new big sax shop at nearby Blackfriars. In the wine bar I had three wines, among them Testalonga‘s Stay Brave.
Elliot’s opened in 2011 and has from the beginning offered a simple menu based on good ingredients in season. They deal directly with fishermen and farmers, all of them with a focus on sustainability. They cook over a wood fired grill, and the wine list is exclusively comprised of natural wines from small artisan growers.
I had two small plates, first courgette, broad bean & herb salad, then beef tartare with green peppercorn, parsley and smoked Wensleydale (Yorkshire cow’s milk cheese). And several of the waiters have the knowledge to guide you through the wines.
I started with a Catalan white, Nar i Tornar 2017(Vinya Ferrer), mainly garnacha blanca and some macabeu, a tasty and slightly cloudy non SO2 wine. It showed a slight mouse taint, but was nevertheless good. It was followed by a Côtes du Rhône 2017(Dom. Aphillantes), an un-oaked grenache-carignan-mourvèdre blend; young, dark fruit, spice (but not the sweet oak style), and luscious, drinkable at the same time that it also has some light fine-grained tannin.
From the “last pour” section (not on the list and changes according to what has been opened) I had a wonderful wine from Testalonga. This is Craig Hawkins’ project in Swartland, South-Africa, and one of my favourites right now (I have two opened chenins of his in my fridge at the time of writing).
Stay Brave 2018 is pure chenin blanc. The names in the producer’s Baby Bandito series come from the encouragements you give a child, and the colourful labels are inspired by street artist. It’s made in steel, with 11 days of skin-contact and bottled un-filtered. It’s a low alcohol (10,5) and high acidity (6,5-7g) wine.
Stay Brave 2018(Testalonga Wines)
Yellow. Smells of fresh green apples, citrus (lemon), white flowers and ginger. Very fresh, fruity, quite concentrated, mineral and super elegant.
Food: Worked well with my herbaceous, green plate. Can go with white fish, grilled fish, light meat, Asian and a variety of cheeses
I am back in Brighton for the Real Wine fair that is coming up, starting on Sunday. And I am back at Plateau, the natural wine temple close to the city hall. (See one of several write-ups here.)
This time one of the wines is the Fusion 2017, a varietal gamay made by Vincent Marie of Domaine No Control, in Auvergne, some 150 km west of Lyon.
He explains on the website that the wine is named after a music style that he likes very much, in this case it’s the mixing of hip-hop and energetic rock. The wine is pure gamay, but it’s a fusion between gamay from Auvergne and gamay from Beaujolais, and also between two types of vinification.
The parcel is south-facing, and the vines between 15 and 110 years old. The wine is made using whole bunches in two vats of fiberglass. In the first vat the grapes were trodden to make som space in the vat, then maceration of whole bunches. In the second there was carbonic maceration. Then the two were blended, and macerated for three weeks – without any additions.
Fusion 2017(Vincent Marie, Dom. No Control)
Light cherry red. Fruity, violets, red fruits (raspberry, cherry) and blueberry on the nose. Juicy, kind of soft, but has also some fine-grained tannins.
Food: Light meat, charcuterie, salads, bacalao and grilled fish
Before the Vins Nus and Vella Terra wine fairs started in Barcelona I took the opportunity to travel around l’Empordà – together with a good friend, Malena Fabregat, wine writer and distributor.
We visited two producers of natural wine, one well-established classic, and one up-and-coming estate, both in the same vicinity – Carles Alonso and La Gutina.
Carles Alonso is maybe the foremost pioneer of Catalan natural wines, having started back in the late 1970’s. He is certainly not the most well-known figure, but this is only due to the fact that he has never seeked the limelight, and it has not been necessary either, as he has easily sold everything from his bodega at the entrance of the Els Vilars village.
Carles is self-taught, and he hasn’t felt it necessary to join either fashions or denominations. He owns between 4 and 5 hectares of vineyard, and there he works about 10 varieties, most local, but also some foreign that have adapted well in Catalunya. He does all the work himself. -My daughter helps me a bit though, he admits, -and of course at harvest times there are many people here.
The altitude is never really high in l’Empordà. Here we are about 15 km from the sea and at 230 meters altitude. The Tramontana wind is always noticeable in the area. Carles has a lot of knowledge, and likes a good discussion, and some good jokes. After having joked about bad things in France (politics and weather) he gets more serious: -I am from the Mediterranean, born in Barcelona. So this is my terroir. I make strong, thick wines, full of alcohol. I harvest only 0,5 kg per plant, never prune in green, I never move a leaf… And I harvest late (i.e. September). Many look for acidity, and the only thing they get is acidity.
Carles explains to Malena
The wines ferment in clay amphora, and never see any oak. He makes white and red wine. But it’s the sparkling wines from the ancestral method that are the most prominent.
No chemicals are ever used either in the vineyard or in the cellar. The wines ferment with their own yeasts, without added sulfites, or any other additive of any kind.
We tasted his Blanc Petillant (macabeu, xarel.lo, garnatxa blanca, parellada and chardonnay) both 2009 and 2018. It was quite dark at his desk, but the 09 seemed dark yellow towards orange, smelled of pears, plums and mature apples, was rich and with generous alcohol, but balanced and harmonious. -It is its own category in a way, Carles said, and we could well agree to that. The 18 followed the same line, at 13,8% alc., but was obviously younger. Light straw colour; pear, some citrus (lime); full, with some oxidation (a touch of bitter almonds).
-I used to offer fresh wines, he says. -Like make 4.000 bottles of rosé and sell it to tourists. But in 2001, after I discovered how good a mature wine could be. Then I started to lay some years behind, on purpose.
We also tasted two reds, the Carriel dels Vilars Tinto (garnatxa, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, carinyena) 2018 and 2007. The 18 was dark red with lovely fruit, still some carbonic, and obviously still with an ageing potential. The 07 had no oak, -I am totally against it, he stresses. Ok, I see that old oak can work for micro-breathing, but it’s not for me. It was cherry red with mature nuances; smell of plums, cherry and some compote; drying a little in the mouth, but still full of life.
Only ten minutes away, in Sant Climent Sescebes near the Vilartolí village, we find La Gutina, which means Joan Carles Torres and Barbara Magugliani.
It was a wild landscape. -Here was “nothing”! It’s really difficult to find areas like this, in the middle of Europe, says Joan Carles enthusiastically.
Joan Carles Torres
Joan Carles is 4th generation. It was his father who started replanting, a work that Joan Carles and his Italian-born wife Bárbara continued. They also recovered the oldest vines on the estate, and it was only in 2010 that they sold bottled wines for the first time.
Joan Carles and Malena
There are three dolmens within the borders of the estate, and also menhirs (the long stones, like in Stonehenge). These are from the Neolithic period, maybe 7.000 years ago.
We are 250 meters above sea level. The estate is 80 hectares, but they have only 8,5 hectares of vineyard. The varieties are mostly garnatxa and mostly old vines, but also carinyena, ull de llebre (tempranillo), cabernet sauvignon and others.
The soils are granite and sand, with some small plots of quartz. This is mainly towards the ocean, because there has been less erosion there. The climate is of Mediterranean influence, but dry and windy, and with a strong variation between day and night temperatures in summer.
As we have already mentioned, the tramontana wind is often present. It comes from the north, via the Rhône and can reach 180 km/h. It’s probably the same wind that’s called mistral in Provence and cierzo in Tarragona and Baleares.
Estanys de la Gutina, a small lake on the estate. -La Gutina is here, says Joan Carles, -the place, the territory.
Very old vines inserted in 1961
Bárbara meets us at the outdoor tasting table, provisionally set up in the lovely February afternoon
Everything is organic, and there is a functional biodiversity. The harvest is manual, the wines are fermented with natural yeasts and without added sulfites. -The main threats are wild boars and wild cows, says Joan Carles. These ‘vacas salvajes’ were domesticated before, but escaped during 2-3 generations.
They make some 15-20.000 bottles a year, of which 50% is sold at the farm, by good friends and other people that have heard about these wines.
They prefer to work with cold temperatures, 8-10°C for whites and rosé. The picking here is quite early to retain acidity, this year it started as early as 23rd August.
The wines are really promising. We tasted most of the range. Here are a few.
Barba Roig 2018, a garnacha gris with four hours of maceration: Light colour; still quite restrained in aroma, some pear and apricot; more potent in the mouth with matching acidity.
A couple of wines had a slight mousiness, which I hope they can escape from with time. Nothing of that in the next wine. Joan Carles said about his tempranillo vineyard: -My first vineyard, my first mistake. I don’t agree. Murtra 2017 is the tempranillo, with 5 days skin-contact, no cold-maceration. Red cherry colour; bright red fruits, cherry, some blackberry; young and fruity with evident tannins.
Demontre 2017 (meaning “funny little devil”, a nickname his mother used for Joan Carles), is a garnacha made with 20-25% whole bunches. The wine has a light ruby colour; it’s flowery, very fruity with fruits from the forest; rich in the mouth, a slightly bitter finish, and some alcohol present. Somehow easy, but with character.
Idò 2016: Idò is a “waiting word” in the Balearic, if I remember right, and it also denotes the English “I do”. It’s a garnacha too, this one with one year in old oak (6-10 years): Light cherry red; red fruits, dried fruit (like figs), some balsamic (pine); vibrant in the mouth, fresh acidity, and some tannin.
Life goes on. Joan Carles and Bárbara is living a good life. Joan Carles’ great passion is to be a fireman, to protect from catastrophes to occur and to “prevent”, he says, and sometimes he does “gigs” for the local brigade. A musician from Salif Keita’s band, who works on the farm, gives him occasional drum lessons too. But we must leave for Barcelona, so the jam session must wait until next time.
Castello di Rubbia has been highlighted before. Here you can read more about their Friulian wines and their estate near the Slovenian border.
Just a brief introduction: They are found in Carso, called Kras on the other side. Their village is San Michele di Carso, where they dispose of the 13 hectares historic Ušje vineyard, with its rocky terrain of limestone and red soil. The winery enjoys long macerations and fermentations with indigenous yeasts.
This wine is made from around 20 years old vitovska vines. Manual harvest is carried out quite late, towards the end of September. The grapes are de-stemmed and fermented with natural yeasts in steel vessels and macerated on the skins for around 20 days. While fining is done naturally over a period of 1 to 1 and a half years, the wine also undergo malolactic fermentation. After three years it’s then bottled without filtration.
Vitovska 2013(Castello di Rubbia)
Dark yellow/golden. Intense aroma of white flowers, herbs or hay, dried fruits, and a touch of honey. Full on the palate, good concentration, and a stony minerality.
Food: Very versatile, and can go well with light meat, rice dishes, omelettes, salads and vegetables, charcuterie, Asian, seafood…