Milan Nestarec’s Forks and Knives wine has changed somewhat over the years. It has been made with aromatic varietals, carbonics, and “sought-after expressions”, as Nestarec puts it. Now he calls it a “village wine”, a traditional, balanced and rich wine from his village. For the white wine this is Velké Bílovice, southeast of Brno and not far from the Austrian and Slovakian border, and the soil is loess. The grapes are now grüner veltliner, welschriesling and neuburger. The varieties are processed separately, some skin-contact overnight and very light pressing the day after. Fermentation was carried out in 3000 liter barrels. And, as he says, “no noise, no unnecessary bells and whistles, just purity and a lot of patience”. It was bottled late summer 2022, with no sulfur added, no fining, no filtration.
Forks and Knives 2020(Milan Nestarec)
Golden colour, lightly cloudy. Aroma of mature apples, oranges, apricot, white flowers, and also a tiny volatile touch (which is good in these quantities). Full-bodied and rich, concentrated, lightly textured and with a good acidity. Long.
Valentina Passalacqua’s Calcarius project has been introduced before (like here).
A short overview: She disposes of a 80 hectares farm, where she grows vine, fruit and vegetables, based on biodynamic principles. The soils are Kimmeridgian calcareous (thus the name Calcarius). The wines, from indigenous varieties, have always great minerality and nerve.
This time it’s the Frecciabomb, an orange pét nat made from bombino bianco, an indigenous grape variety from Puglia. The Ca on the label is the symbol for calcium, 20 is its atomic number, and 40.08 is its molar mass.
Frecciabomb Orange 2021(V. Passalacqua)
Orange, spritzy, some sediments on the bottom. Aroma of ripe pineapple, lemon, aromatic herbs, a touch acacia honey. Slight tannin in the mouth, fresh bubbles, medium concentration and great acidity.
This Christmas I visited Bodegas Castaño in Yecla, Murcia, for the first time in more than 20 years. They are in conversion to organic farming. And if I remember right, all wines will soon have the seal, except for some wines where part of the grapes are purchased. One of their slogans is “the art of monastrell”, and through their various lines they showed what can be done with this emblematic grape of the Levante coast.
This week’s pick is one of my favourite monastrell wines. Hécula is an ancient Roman name for the town. The wine is a pure monastrell, and was also featured last year (read here). It can be considered their entry-level monastrell, but it’s not simple. It comes from a 750 meter altitude vineyard on limestone, with an average of 50 year old vines. It’s certified organic, made with spontaneous fermentation and got a few months of oak treatment (mostly French), with malolactic in steel. It’s very Mediterranean and very good.
Hécula Organic 2020 (Bod. Castaño)
Dark cherry red. On the nose it shows ripe berries (morello), plum, aromatic herbs (thyme, rosemary) and a hint of coffee. Full in the mouth with mature tannins, an earthy note and a fine acidity.
Food: All kinds of meat, stews, salads with meat (such as Caesar), murcian paella…
This was one of the very best from a recent tasting of pure chardonnay extra-dry grower champagnes.
Maison Fleury was established in 1895 in Courteron, in Côte des Bar, southern Champagne. The 15 hectares are all cultivated biodynamically. In fact Fleury was the first producer in Champagne to be certified biodynamic. Jean-Sébastien Fleury has since 2009 been responsible for both vineyards and cellar. He introduced plowing with horses in the vineyards, and today half of them are cultivated in this way. It was also Jean-Sébastien who introduced the first sulphur-free vintage champagne.
Near to Chablis, the grapes are grown on Kimmerigian calcareous clay soils. Most of the vineyards are located on steep slopes facing south and south-west, where the grapes get a lot of sun and thus high ripening. The grapes are hand-picked, and the wines are spontaneously fermented in steel tanks and in 6,000 liter old oak vats, where they also ripen. Cuvée Cépage Blancs Extra-Brut 2011 is elaborated from 100% chardonnay. 35% is vinified in oak barrel.
Cépages Blancs Extra-Brut 2011(Maison Fleury)
Straw yellow, careful mousse. Lovely complexity on the nose: citrus, green apple, white flowers, brioche, and a touch dried fruit. Persistent acidity, almonds and lovely fruit throughout; and even if it’s a dry wine there is a hint of honey in the finish.
Pannobile is the name of an association of wine growers in Burgenland, Austria. Pannonia was the region’s name during Roman times (thus underscoring the importance of origin), and nobile means noble, rich or generous.
In their own words, they were “a group of winemaking friends and colleagues meeting regularly in Gols, a wine village on the northeastern shore of Neusiedler See. Their aim was neither to be ‘modern’ nor ‘international’, but to be committed to the soils, the character, and the climate of their region so that premium wines made from local grape varieties could be created”.
Hans Nittnaus was the one that suggested the name. Here on this blog we have said hello to Gernot Heinrich, also one of the founders from the 1980’s, and Gerhard Pittnauer and Claus Preisinger, who joined later.
Also among the founders was Hans Gsellmann, whose son Andreas started to work in the winery in 2005, and has been in charge since 2919. Andreas says that his goal is “to harmonize traditional winemaking with the biodynamic way of working and living”. They cultivate 19 hectares of vineyards.
Gsellmann has a wine that carries the name Pannobile on the label. We will come back to this. Today we present his Blaufränkisch. The grape variety here is obviously blaufränkisch, that grows on quartz and gravel. The fermentation was spontaneous, and the maceration lasted two weeks. The wine was raised three months in used 500 liter oak barrels.
Blaufränkisch 2021(A. Gsellmann)
Dark cherry. Dark fruits (blueberry, blackberry, dark cherry), a lactic note, herbs, and also a touch of dried fruits. Juicy in the mouth with some structure, some spice and good acidity.
La Gracia is a small and cozy natural wine bar that opened in 2020, when the pandemic was at its height. It’s found in Murcia capital, Spain, in one of the narrow streets behind the city hall and the cathedral in the Santa Eulalia district. They work with artisan producers of wine, cheese and also beer and other products. The owners are Esperanza Pérez Andreo and Cristina Ramos Berna. They have strong ties with local and regional producers from whom they buy directly.
I was there twice at the end of the year, including New Year’s Eve. We sat on the “terrace” (i.e. the plaza behind the first street) near midnight, and then inside the bar around noon. We chose from the cold and the warm tapas menues, and from the by-the-glass wine selection, that counts on around 30 references.
Among the small dishes we chose was a “cured” cheese selection. The first one was a young and fresh, but oh so tasty, cheese from Cartagena, then a 3-4 months cured goat’s cheese soaked in red wine, then a 9 months cured cheese from San Javier called ‘El Abuelo’ (the grandfather) and finally a wonderfully complex cheese from a mountain between Cartagena and Mazarrón. The watermelon marmelade was from coastal San Javier.
The wine list contains established and new natural wine stars from Murcia and elsewhere in Spain. We started with Las Madres 2020(Punta de Flecha), a light skin-contact white from the Madrid area. The grape is malvar, and like many other wines from that variety it is low on acidity but rather textured. Amber coloured and slightly fizzy, it had a nice aroma of flowers and orange peel.
Viña Enebro is rather well-known in Spanish natural wine circles, and you can read about a visit in Bullas here. El Yesar 2020 is a white wine made from the red grape forcallat. Hence it has a little blush of red. It’s round and tasty, and the aroma includes traces of citrus (clementine) and herbs.
At the second day I asked for whatever white wine and was served Doble Plaer 2020 from Vinyes Singulars (with collaboration from Toni Osorio) It turned to be a wonderful wine with a phenomenal acidity, almost electric. It has a good body too. Light orange in colour, and somewhat cloudy, with an aroma of citrus peel (lemon) and flowers over black tea. Long aftertaste where the citric notes linger. The grapes are malvasía de Sitges and parellada.
The two first reds were revelations from the Murcia region. Negrete 2021 from Negrete Blue is a monastrell/garnacha tintorera from no less than 1.373 meters of altitude in the Bullas denomination. It was a fresh and juicy, berry-dominated, young wine, with blackberry and blueberry in front.
Tinaha 2020 comes from the bodega of the same name. It’s found between Molino de Segura and Jumilla to the north of the regional capital. As the name implies they believe in ageing in clay (tinajas). The varieties are a local field blend, and so monastrell should be among the suspects. The wine had red berry notes, but was more dominated by a clay minerality with flowers, and had a juicy taste with a long aftertaste, and especially for the region, good acidity.
We tasted two reds from Castilla. Felipe el Caminero 2021(Inma Badillo) is a fresh tempranillo/ juan garcía/bruñal blend from Arribes del Duero, close to the Portuguese border (provinces Zamora and Salamanca). It’s a pure, very juicy and fruity wine with lots of berry character. La Payana 2020 (Cható Gañán) is completely different. Made from garnacha on granite soil in the Sierra de Gredos, it has a more serious air to it. It has some of the etheral character often associated with the Gredos garnachas, and some of the minerality behind the red fruits. The oak shows delicately on the palate.
Since I was back on New Year’s Eve I took the opportunity to round off with a sparkling wine. The choice fell on En Moviment A 2020 (Bàrbara Forés) from Terra Alta, Catalunya, made from the local morenillo grape. The sparkling rosé smells of peach and grapefruit. There is an acidic attack in the mouth, the wine is slim in the middle, but the citrus acidity strikes back and gives it a lift towards the end.
We continue to explore the parajes of Bierzo, a denomination that sets the standard in Spanish wine.
La Cova de la Raposa was the first plot developed by pioneer Raúl Pérez. It is a southfacing 0,2 hectare paraje with 6 owners, located in the outskirts of Valtuille. The soil is sandy and somewhat clayey with steep slopes. Some of the vines are over 100 years old. This paraje is known for making mineral wines.
The producer here is Castro Ventosa, which is Raúl Pérez’ family bodega, and where his nephew César Márquez is also involved in the winemaking.
Mencía is here complemented by 10% garnacha tintorera and 5% others. The harvest was manual. It is often the first plot to be harvested in Bierzo. Whole grapes were deposited in open 500-litre barrels. Fermentation was carried out naturally without adding yeast and without temperature control. The wine macerated inside the barrels for 60 days, soaking the hat once a day by gravity, without the intervention of pumps. Then it was taken out, pressed, and the wine was resting for a couple of months. It was aged 12 months in used 500 liter barrels (as opposed to 225 liters in the past).
La Cova de Raposa 2019(Castro Ventosa)
Dark cherry. Open, aromatic and concentrated, with red and dark fruits (cherry, raspberry, blackberry), mineral notes. Medium-bodied, with fine tannins, earthy hints and a marked acidity.
Ismael Gozalo has proved that he can take the verdejo grape to new heights. With basis in the family vineyards of Nieva, Segovia (averaging 180 years old, around 900 meters altitude) he has various takes on that grape.
The grapes for the wine Frágil were pressed and fermented naturally in 16-litre demijohns. The wine was further matured in the same glass containers for a further 7 months before being bottled, unfiltered. It is not sulphured and has only been kept in glass after harvest. 670 bottles made.
Frágil 2021(Ismael Gozalo)
Light yellow, slightly cloudy. Aroma of ripe citrus, white flowers and yellow apples. Creamy lees character, some dryness, taste of ripe stone fruit, mineral, good acidity and good length. It’s a delicate, subtle wine yet with a strong varietal character.
Even though I recently have come across a few good nouveau wines, this is probably the Beaujolais revelation of the year for me.
Romain des Grottes has since 2001 run his domaine organically, and it has been biodynamic certified since 2006. The soil is granitic. In the vineyard he does not use any synthetic substances, and very little copper. He prefers herbal teas and fermented extracts. Trees and hedges are planted to contribute to biodiversity. The domaine has been welcoming volunteers for more than 10 years to transmit their values and allow them, in Romain’s words, “to bring down into reality our dreams of a world of sharing, exchange and respect”.
Here is a super low-extraction red beaujolais made without sulfur and without filtration. It’s obviously made from solely gamay. The natural carbonic maceration lasted for 5 days.
Brut de Cuve 2018 (Domaine des Grottes)
Light amber, almost currant coloured. Lovely scent of raspberry, currant, white flowers and a touch of apricot. Super, cool fruit in the mouth, lovely acidity.
Bierzo is divided according to the so-called Burgundy model, with a classification pyramid. The highest level is parajes, that means specific sites, like a vineyard. Verónica Ortega’s wine Kinki is made from the paraje called La Llamilla in Cobrana (commune of Congosto). The vineyard has an altitude of 750 meters, and a soil composition of blue slate combined with some clay. The vines are 90-100 years old. Like most bierzo wines the main grape is mencía, here assisted by small percentages of palomino and godello, both white grapes.
The grapes were destemmed and poured into stainless steel tanks for spontaneous fermentation with native yeasts and a short maceration of about 10 days. The wine was then aged in a combination of French oak barrels and an 800 liter clay amphora.
Kinki 2020(V. Ortega)
Light red. Intense aroma, complex with red fruits (wild strawberry, raspberry), currants and menthol. Fresh in the mouth, with a light texture. Electric, uplifting, elegant and saline.