What started in the old synagogue of Ponferrada in the 1940’s is now carried on by 3rd generation. Manuel Benito Otero runs the family business with his wife Merche and their daughters Encina and Marina, whose initial syllables gave the winery its name. It was in 2013 that the need to have production facilities near the vineyards made them move to the beautiful village of Molinaseca outside Ponferrada.
The Otero family’s vines are planted between an altitude of 600 and 650 m in soils with a mix of slate and clay. The 10 hectares of vineyards, with up to 120 years old vines, are all worked completely organic.
Un Botón is a village wine in the Bierzo classification hierarchy, from Ponferrada. It’s made from 100% godello, dry-farmed in aluvial soils. The grapes are destemmed and cold-macerated cold for a few hours (by dry ice). Then goes into a pneumatic press. Once the fermentation with yeasts has started, the must is racked into oak barrels and foudres and a small stainless steel tank where it ferments at controlled temperatures. The wine remains in contact with its lees, with batônnage, for a minimum of 6 months.
Para Muestra Un Botón Godello 2019(Encima Wines)
Yellow colour. Aroma of yellow tomatoes, hints of lemon, stony minerality. Full in the mouth, glyceric, creamy, with integrated acidity. It’s not oaky; the wood in a way enhances the fruitiness.
Food: Light meat, cheese, rice dishes, fish and shellfish. Best served at room temperature.
Extinto is a wine from the variety ‘pan y carne’, very rare and too special to forget.
I met Jorge Vega of Puerta del Viento in his home and bodega in the small settlement of Arborbuena outside Cacabelos in Bierzo. Here he has a small bodega that covers more or less everything in a single room. Well, I said Bierzo. Jorge is a maker of natural wines and doesn’t put much effort in thinking about the other producers or the regulations of the wine authorities. Rather he has his network of fellow artisans and his true customers. And he is an acknowledged expert, and many producers turn to him when in doubt.
Jorge is from Cacabelos, one of the main towns of Bierzo, where the consejo regulador is located. It was his mother-in-law who came from Arborbuena, and the reason that the winery is located exactly here. Jorge disposes of an estate of 15 hectares in the settlements of Canedo and Pieros, not far from the winery, and there is a total of 3,5 hectares of vineyards. Jorge never clarifies nor filters, and never adds sulphites. The fermentations are done in big old chestnut barrels, and his tinajas are from Juan Padilla in Villarrobledo (Castilla-La Mancha).
Outside the temperature was below zero, and the bodega was not much better. Still we tasted around ten samples of wines, all from the 2022 harvest. Among the wines that stood out was an appley and cidery godello with doña blanca, also with a hint of honey. In the mouth it showed high glycerine and also high acidity, thus showing a perfect balance. This wine comes under the name Bajo Velo, that means “under ‘flor'”. To name it doña blanca is however unjust to Jorge. He calls the variety valenciana, as this is the name the locals use. JaJa is a valenciana with 30 days of skin-contact. It’s has some orange peel character, complemented by flowers and a strong mineral component, and with some tannin in the mouth. YeYa is a clarete made from 7 varieties, including pan y carne. It was wonderfully fresh, with red berries (raspberry, strawberry) with flowers, fizzy on the tongue with a light structure and an “electric” acidity. It had a bit residual sugar, that contributes well to the balance. Puerta del Viento is a red mencía, with good colour, somewhat blueish, blackberry and violets perfume, a light structure and fresh acidity. And Puerta del Viento Viñas VIejas is an old vines version of the same, with darker fruit (blackcurrant), ink, with young tannins, but still very luscious and drinkable.
Then came the wine in the introduction. Extinto. The wordplay is perfect to denote this tinto, from a nearly extinct variety.
Pan y carne, or estaladiña, is one of the new varieties recognized by the DO Bierzo in their new regulations. The consejo regulador tells that it is less than 2 ha. in total of the grape. This includes the 600 plants that Jorge grafted in Canedo vineyard some years ago. Prior to this he had done a great job to verifiy genetically that it actually was the variety in question, described by the acknowledged agromomist Nicolás García de los Salmones more than a hundred years ago. (A note on the side: I have in fact tasted an estaladiña before. But as Jorge points out, it is very likely to be another grape, a synonyme of merenzao, and not pan y carne.)
Extinto 2021 (Puerta del Viento)
Dark, blackish with violet hints. Concentrated aroma, young, blackcurrant, violets, ink. In the mouth it is vivid, has some structure (tannins and acidity), though nothing aggressive, hint of coffee-sweets, and a long and fruity finish.
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.
Grégory Pérez was educated in Bordeaux, and came to Bierzo, where he has his roots, in the early 2000’s.
His steep vineyards are situated by the river Cúa in Espanillo, ranging 600 to 850 meters above sea level. Pérez only grows local varietals that are fermented with native yeasts, and the work is strictly organic. He plows and aerates the clay and decomposed slate soils to enhance the health and biodiversity of the earth, he strongly limits the use of fertilizers, and he never uses herbicides.
The grapes for this wine is exclusively godello, that have grown on calcareous-clay in Valtuille and Villafranca vineyards, stony soils in Carracedo – and on slate in Espanillo (the latter around the bodega). The age is 25 years, trained in goblet. They were harvested manually, pressed with whole clusters and fermented in 4,000L foudres. Then followed 7 months in foudres on fine lees with weekly stirring. Very light fining and filtering.
MengobaGodello Viejo Sobre Lías 2020(Grégory Pérez)
Light yellow. Mature pear, yellow apple, hay and herbs on the nose. Good volume in the mouth, with mature fruit, a pleasant acidity and a salty touch in the finish.
I have met Iria a few times at fairs like Simplesmente of Porto (read a little more here). This summer we agreed on a visit on my way to Vigo and the nearby A Emoción fair. She makes wine in both Ríax Baixas and now also Ribeira Sacra, and they are excellent. But she is literally at home in Leiro, to where she moved with the family a few years ago, after having lived in Vigo and been commercial director of Dominio do Bibei.
When the time was right to make those important changes in life, she started with the Sacabeira label from the Salnés area of Rías Baixas. These are very stylish wines, both white and red. Here in Ribeiro Iria and her partner Miguel grow varieties like sousón, mencía, caíño tinto, treixadura and loureiro. They have one hectare on their own, and dispose of two more. Now Miguel is responsible for the work in the field. They are very clear that the vineyard they want is an organic one with little intervention, but with manual work when there is any, and chemicals are a non-existent issue. If the grapes are tasty in the vineyard, the chances for a good, balanced wine is there.
The project name “wines with memory” implies that she wants to show how they were made in the past, and also that the wines reflect the place they come from. She simply uses the time needed, and the respect that every variety requires.
Here is a lot of granite soil, with some slate and clay. They wines have a maritime character, even though we are not as close to the sea as her vineyards in Rías Baixas. This can maybe be because of the varieties, especially caíño can have a saline touch, and Iria thinks it’s maybe more pronounced in granite soil.
Castes Brancas is, as the name suggests, made from white varieties, treixadura, godello, loureiro and torrontés. It was raised in concrete, where it stayed for 6 months.
A Seara Castes Brancas 2019 (Iria Otero)
Light golden; citric aroma, flowers, green apples and tasteful yellow plums, a bit herbal too; juicy and creamy in the mouth, vivid and energetic with a delisciuos natural acidity.
Food: We had it with a wide selection of dishes, some of them typical tapas, containing both vegetables, fish and sausages. But it goes well to a great variety of light meat, fish, shellfish…
Back in the magnificent Monastery of Oia on the coast of Galicia, I will take a look at some producers that were new to me, or that I didn’t know very well. Here I have only time and space to mention a few.
Adega do Ricón can be found in Arbo, otherwise known for the Galician-Portuguese speciality lamprea, that jawless fish that is not an eel, but swims in the Miño-Minho and is often cooked and served in its own blood, and not only during the festivals in honour of the fish. Albariños and other local wines are perfect with lamprea. We are now in the subzone of Condado do Tea of Rías Baixas, close to the Portuguese border. Adrián Ricón manages 1.6 hectares of vineyards organically. The vineyards are more than 30 years old and planted with many different local grapes, both white and red. Both their Do Ricón Blanco 2018 made from albariño, loureira, treixadura and godello, and the lees-aged Anne do Ricón 2017 (same grapes except for godello) must be good lamprea wines. The first made in steel; young, fresh style, with a good acidity to match, the latter richer, but still more than enough acidity. I also liked the Do Ricón Tinto 2018, made from sousón, mencía, caíño tinto, espadeiro and brancellao and fermented in steel and with a short stay in used French barriques. Light red; strawberry and raspberry; fresh and with a good fruit all the way.
Adega Torgo is found at A Cañiza in the outer limits of Ribeiro, towards Condado do Tea. They offer fascilities for holiday and leisure, in addition to their small wine business based on one hectare of albariño, loureira and treixadura. They are in conversion and will be certified organic from this year. They have an interesting sparkling albariño with 8 months on lees. And then there is the Torgo & Tal 2018, which is a 80% albariño, 20% loureira/treixadura, grown in sandy granitic soil. It’s kept on lees with some bâtonnage: Golden colour; aroma of mature apples; very fresh, with a vivacious acidity.
Antonio Miguez Amil and his Boas Vides may be a name to watch. The only wine I tasted was from the hot and dry 2017, but I liked it. He is located in S. Lourenzo da Pena, near Ribadavia. At present he has only one hectare, and many different local grapes were planted by himself in 2005 on a terrace of loam and sand. He practises organic and biodynamic farming, and average yield is as low as 20 hl/ha. The grapes were de-stemmed but not crushed, and the wine was made in stainless steel and plastic. Only natural yeasts were used, no additives, and only a small dose of sulphites. It was aged in two year old French oak 300L and 500L for 12 months, then another six months in inox. No fining nor filtration. A short tasting note: Quite dark in colour; dark and red fruits on the nose, some coffee; round tannins, some oak yes, but also with a very saline touch.
Zak Elfman is a man with a mission. He is American, but his mission to make wine started in Stellenbosch, South Africa, where he got training at Keermont Vineyards, then crossed the South Atlantic to Mendoza, Argentina – before he ended in Ribeira Sacra, where he finally set up his small venture called Mission, at present a mere 0.15 hectares. We are talking about low imprint natural wines. The bottles are lightweight. The wines are handmade through every step, from picking to packing. In fact when I lifted up a bottle after the airplane flight when I came home, the label fell off. So they are probably sustainable, and I will not be surprised if there is used a vegan-friendly glue. The grapes are stomped lightly and has had gentle punch downs. They are all aged in neutral French oak, unfined and unfiltered. I chose Mission Cantina Amandi (pink label) 2018: The wine was quite dark, a bit turbid; flowery, cherries, iodine, a bit rustic (earthy); very luscious and delicate in the mouth. I also tasted the 2019, that was less rustic, and a bit darker, as the grapes had matured better. But I liked both. On the third day, and when the temperature was rising, there arrived a slight hint of mousiness too. But don’t worry, this is already lovely, and when these wines are fine-tuned after a couple more years it will be just great. No reason to doubt it!
A Emoción dos Viños is now in its 10th edition. It is a fair for small artisan vintners held at the magnificent Real Mosteiro de Oia, with splendid views to the Atlantic Sea. This Cistercian monastery -near Baiona, roughly between the big city of Vigo and wine town A Guarda- can trace its history at least back to 1149, when king Alfonso VII of León and Castilla granted parts of today’s complex to the monks of Oia. The fair was held over two days. A novelty this year was not more than 35 wine producers on the first day, and 35 others on the second. And every possible coronavirus times precausion was taken, such as mandatory use of masques for both artisans and visitors.
Antonio Portela, himself wine producer, is head of the fair, together with wine merchant Marina Cruces. In this much too short report we will concentrate on the Galician wines, try to select one wine per producer (at least not all will be mentioned) – and why not start with the organizer. Antonio Portela has always impressed me with his wines, that really tell a story. I visited him last year and saw his beachfront vines, whites albariño, espadeiro blanco and loureiro, and reds tinta femia (caíño tinto), espadeiro, loureiro a.o. They always have a clearcut edge, a long curve, and a wonderful saline finish. The winery is located in Bueu on the Morrazo península, between the rías of Pontevedra and Vigo, just outside the Rías Baixas denomination.
His varietal tinta femia (Mar do) Namorado, an all-time favourite, now in its 2018 vintage, must be mentioned. It’s a low-extraction wine, full of red berry aromas (raspberry), herbs like thyme, and as mentioned above, with a long curve, lovely integrated acidity and saline finish. Along the same line was Viña Fazóa 2019, also a tinta femia, this one from three different municipalities, but the taste had close similarities to the more established brand. Aside of this I tasted a tinta femia-espadeiro, in the same vein as the Namorado, and also an interesting loureira tinta, both from 2018. The latter comes with a much darker colour, because of the character of that grape variety.
It was a nice oportunity for an update of other well-known producers from the region. Among these were Luís Anxo Rodríguez, who has a wide range of wines. I visited him in Ribeiro 7-8 years ago. Some of his wines are meant to last, and among the wines he had brought here were A Teixa 2017 (mainly treixadura with godello and albariño), a citric, creamy and a bit buttery white, still young. Even more so the Viña de Martín Escolma 2015 (treixadura, albariño, torrontés, lado), almost Central Burgundian in its rich citric, powerful, buttery oakiness (12 months in new French oak), 10-15 years before it reaches its prime, according to Luís. And this I can believe, because when I visited him he showed much older editions of the Escolma. For drinking now the Viña de Martín Os Pasás 2018 (80% treixadura, the rest albariño, torrontés and lado) was a better choice. Light yellow with some green, citric, chalky, a bit honeyed. In a way luscious and light, but also concentrated. Appealing.
Two other excellent Ribeiro producers were Iria Otero and Cume do Avia. Iria I visited one of the days before the fair and will publish a report. Both ranges were tasted at the Simplesmente Vinho fair in Porto in February this year (here is a summary), so the tasting here was done quickly. From Cume do Avia I tasted a wine in Vigo a couple of days before the fair. (Read about it here.)
Adega Vimbio of O Rosal are now taking steps to be fully organic, and can at the moment be dubbed sustainable. Low sulphur is a characteristic here. I have for long admired their varietal Albariño. It didn’t disappoint in the 2018 vintage either; apples, white flowers and a hint of spice. Splendid was the Baenis 2017 (after an old name for the river Miño), an albariño from a 0.5 ha. plot with poor clay soil. It’s whole-cluster pressed, and spends 6 months with bâtonnage, then another three or four on lees without stirring. There is minimal added sulphur here. It’s rich and tasty, with a slight feeling of sweetness, and with a super integrated acidity. On the nose it’s both herby and saline.
More over to the wild side, and well-known after numerous natural wine fairs, is La Pérdida of the village Larouco in Valdeorras. There Nacho González grows 4 hectares of vines on granite and clay at an elevation of 500 meters. The name pérdida (“lost”) derives from the vineyard of old garnacha tintorera that he inherited from his grandmother, and chose to restore in-stead of replant or sell. This marked the start of his winemaking career. He makes extensive use of tinajas (clay vessels) from expert maker Juan Padilla in La Mancha (see here), and very old oak. You will never find any oakiness in his wines, and sulphur is a word you would think he hasn’t heard of. Palomino is another grape that he favours, historically important to the region.
Malas Uvas 2019 was absolutely wonderful. It’s made mostly from palomino, but also doña blanca, two varieties not permitted in Valdeorras (hence the name “bad grapes”). It’s made in steel and tinaja, and got five days skin-maceration, then spent the winter on the lees. No fining, filtration nor addition of SO2. Yellow/greenish and cloudy; very flowery, with pears and minerals; a fine and light tannin, and a lovely cidery acidity. A Chaira 2019 was equally appealing, very natural and juicy, a doña blanca made in tinaja and inox. O Pando Orange is a wine I love, and very much so in the 2019 vintage. From a single vineyard godello, it’s fermented on skins for around 5 months in tinajas before being racked over to steel. This one has more colour, and there is a lot more tannin texture here; aromas of mature citrus (clementine), mature apples, white flowers and salt. It’s a white wine for everything from the grill. OK, I also have to mention the Proscrito 2019. This is made mostly with palomino with some garnacha tintorera, fermented in chestnut and oak, then finished in steel. The grapes are both white and red, thus the category is clarete. Light cherry red; aromas of strawberry, raspberry, orange peel; lightly textured, and a very appealing acidity.
I have had a special relation to Guímaro. Mostly because I have for a long time loved the wines. I visited Pedro Manuel Rodríguez back in 2012, and I was also his importer a couple of years. He is found in Sober in the Ribeira Sacra sub-region of Amandi, where he has 8 hectares of own vineyards at 350-550 meters on slate, granite and sand. He makes both red and white wines, entry-level blends and single plot wines. Just after this fair I had his Finca Meixemán at a restaurant in Madrid, about which you can read here. I have always been a fan of his basic red mencía. In most years, except for some of the hottest, the Guímaro Tinto, is an elegant, red berries fruity wine with some herbs, and with a mineral palate. 2019 is no exception. An interesting feature was Camiño Real, that Pedro brought in two vintages. The grapes are sourced form a 50 year old vineyard, is made with 80% mencía, the rest garnacha tintorera, and pressed with 60% whole bunches. The 2017 was one of the hot years. Here it showed dark, mature fruits, a hint of wood, also a bit vegetal; in the mouth it was quite potent, but also with a stimulating acidity. The 2018 on the other hand, was lighter in colour; it showed more red berries, and more of the saline, sea-breeze characteristics; very juicy in the mouth, and overall a more elegant style. A Ponte is also an “all-time” favourite (since its debut in 2015), now 2017. It’s from an 80 year old vineyard of granite and slate, from the same slope as Meixemán, but on top (while the other is in the middle). The grapes are mencía, sousón, brancellao, merenzao and caiño tinto. It shows plenty of red fruits, also some balsamic, herbs, it’s quite structured, still with a bit oak, and would be perfect in a 3-5 years time, I would guess. Interesting was also Divina Clementia 2015, a wine in its optimum drinking point, according to Pedro. It was a bit developed, cherry coloured, with fine-grained tannins and still good acidity. And it would be unfair to leave without having mentioned the whites. Both the entry-level Guímaro Blanco 2019 and the Cepas Viejas 2018 deliver as expected. The first light, smooth and lovely immediate drinking, the other more yellow, a bit buttery, full, but still with good acidity.
Back soon for some (at least for me) lesser-known producers, then some from outside Galicia.
It is always a delight to visit the Simplesmente… Vinho fair of Porto, held in Porto towards the end of February at Cais Novo, a former port wine warehouse by the Douro river. It’s an independent and alternative winefest that unites press, wine lovers and vignerons, most of these small artisan growers that work in a natural and organic way. This edition was number 8th, and showcased 101 producers, most of them Portuguese, some from Spain, only one from France I think, and a specially invited producer from Oregon, USA. There was good food, visual arts, there was music (and this year I was lucky to be able to take part myself), and oh! so many nice people.
There were endless rows of good wines to enjoy, so here I will only present a few of the highlights, and I will try to limit myself to one wine per producer. I have already published three short posts about single wines in the Wine of the Week column, and you can also read about some of the other producers from the previous fairs by doing a quick search yourself. Last year I wrote two articles similar to this one. Here you find recommendations of several Portuguese producers, and here are some of the rest.
We start locally. Tiago Sampaio is one of the best exponents of the “new wave” of Douro producers, making less “noisy” wines than the region is more known for, with less extraction, lower alcohol, and more focus on freshness of fruit. I have already reported from a visit to the Folias de Baco bar in downtown Porto where he delivers the wine (read here), and there will be a report from a visit to the winery in Alijó. Rabigato is getting more and more attention these days, as it shows its varietal potential. Uivo Rabigato 2019 is a characterful wine, light in colour, with flowery notes, grapefruit, citrus peel, a refreshing, cool acidity, and a saline finish.
A neighbour of Tiago in Alijó is Ana Hespanhol of Quinta do Zimbro. She is also involved in a smaller project called Grau Baumé with her partner Hugo Mateus, and one of her sisters. I had a meal with the three of them in Alijó after a visit to Tiago. I remember some of the wines of Ana’s father Manuel from way back, and the brand Calços de Tanha (a very nice, direct, fruity red wine with a good price, by the way). Now it’s taken a step back to estate wines, to organics and naturally enough to a fresher style adapted to our times. Of the many good wines I here chose the Grau Baumé Undo 2017, a varietal viosinho that was lightly pressed without de-stemming, ageing in tank, and bottled un-fined and un-filtered. It showed a light colour, yet both full-flavoured, with yellow fruits, citrus and careful tropical notes, and a lovely acidity wrapped in a full, almost waxy appearance on the palate, and some saltiness too.
About Conceito further east, near Vila Nova Foz Côa, I have written several times. Their white wines are stylish, their lighly extracted Bastardo red stunningly delicate, and they even offer ports, like a white port made in collaboration with Madeira producer Ricardo Diogos of Barbeito. This time I chose the white Único 2018, made from different plots in the same vineyard, more than 100 years old. It’s a field blend of around ten varieties, including rabigato, códega do larinho, gouveio, arinto, donzelinho branco and folgazão. It had a temperature controlled fermentation in used French oak barrels and regular bâtonnage up to one month, before it was aged 11 months in the barrels. It’s a light coloured wine with a complex aroma on the mineral side, with white peaches, citrus, ginger and some aromatic herbs; concentrated in the mouth, with a great natural acidity, and the oak is already almost integrated. It has probably a long life ahead.
It’s always a delight to meet Filipa Pato and William Wouters. I have written about Filipa’s wines several times, and I like them a lot, so I thought I knew their portfolio. This time William presented wines from a range of his own, and I tasted a promising white wine. Other than that they had brought most of the range, both white and rosé sparklers, and I also tasted still whites and reds. Here I chose the Post-Quercus Baga 2018, that is presented as a wine from both of them. This wine is now made only in French and Italian amphoras (since their Portuguese one suddenly broke). These are not coated, and they have the same thickness all over, giving exactly the touch of taste that they search for. This is a wine that really sings: It’s quite dark in coulour, with violet hints; aroma of red and berries (cherries), plums, flowers; it’s juicy and delicious in the mouth, but not without concentration, fine-grained tannins, and with an acidity that’s there, but wonderfully integrated. Truly inspiring!
When I saw Luís Gil came into the tasting hall I expected him to take place at the table of his friend and collegue Rodrigo Filipe of Humus (see this article, including pictures of Luís). Well, he is still with Rodrigo, but this time he had come to present his new project. Marinho signifies that we are very close to the ocean, southwest of the Óbidos village. Here Luis works 2 hectares (6 plots) of rented old vines (between 40 and 110 years), where he works closely with the proprietors to ensure that they agree on everything. They work completely naturally, without additions of sulphur. The red varieties are first and foremost castelão, and some cruzado (a crossing with a lot of colour). I tasted the whole range, from whites with more or less skin-contact, rosé and reds. The Marinho Rosé 2018 was fabulous. 18 hours on skins with with stems, predominantly castelão (if I remember right) and some white grapes, like fernão pires, arinto and vital. This gives a light rosé colour, with strawberry and raspberry aromas; very juicy and delicate in the mouth, but also with a certain structure, and a lingering saline finish.
Luís tells that he grew up with wine, with a big wine cellar at his parents’ house. He had spent a lot of time visiting fairs, meeting vignerons and tasting wines that he was “triggered” by. This project started in 2017, when he had been thinking of it long enough, and suddenly realized that the wines he wanted to make were of a kind that was missing in the market.
If there is anything to compare Luís Gil’s wines with, or liken them to, it could be (well, apart of some wines in the Humus range of course) the Atlantic wines in Galicia. Which brings us over the border. I visited Constantina Sotelo in Cambados, Rías Baixas after last year’s edition of the Simplesmente. I tasted a few wines again this year, all from albariño and all from vintage 2018. And there were indeed several intesting wines that I could have chosen, not least the Aquelarre (sparkling from the ancestral method) and Flor de Sotelo (albariño under the ‘flor’ yeast, like in Jerez). I started with Octopus and Volandeira, the former more mineral from ageing in amphora, and the latter more fruity, from wood. All right, Octopus 2018 (2nd from left in the picture) was light coloured; flowery, with apricots and stony minerals; fleshy and grapey in the mouth, concentrated, with a super acidity in the long finish.
When Iria Otero started her own wine adventure it was with the Sacabeira label from the Salnés area of Rías Baixas. She prefers to chill the whites down to prevent malo-lactic fermentation to take place. While these are superb albariños, most the wines she had brought this time were from inland Ribeiro, from the village of Leiro by the river Avia. She normally elaborate entry wines in concrete, while the others are made in chestnut. A Seara Castes Brancas 2018 is, as the name implies, made from white varieties, treixadura, godello, torrontés and albariño to be exact. This one is made in concrete and stayed there for 6 months. It’s light in colour; green apples, yellow plums and flowers on the nose (as she points out herself, it’s more flowery than fruity); it’s mellow in the mouth, with some acidity, and really enjoyable.
Not far from Iria, in Eira de Mouros, Ribeiro we find Cume do Avia, named after the highest hill in the subregeion of Avia. They have there 13 local varieties on 9 hectares. This area varies between Atlantic and Continental influence. The soil is a mix of clay, schist and granite, and the vineyards are facing east, with optimum sun exposure and ventilation. I really enjoyed both their white and red wines. Under the Dos Canotos label come both a varietal brancellao, and a caíño longo, but I chose another one (not for any specific reason, because they are all very good), Dos Canotos 2017, a blend of brancellao, sousón and caiño longo fermented and aged 6 months in very old big neutral barrels. This is a bit darker than the others; fresh, red fruits, with a lactic note; in the mouth it’s cool and fresh, with a slight tannic grip and a nice salty character.
Puro Rofe and Bien de Altura are sister companies, the former is the oldest and most “well”-known and stands for Lanzarote wines, and the latter for wines from Gran Canaria. In fact there is a third sister now, as they make wine from El Hierro under the name Bimbache. This is quite sensational, so it’s pretty sure that we will come back to this. Our choice here is a high-quality wine from the maybe unlikely island of Gran Canaria, and the village San Mateo. The grower is Carmelo Peña, native to Gran Canaria, who works with indigenous varieties in an artisan, and organic and biodynamic way; native yeasts, de-stemming by hand, little use of SO2, and long macerations with little extraction. This place is considered to have desert climate due to constant warm temperatures and minimal rainfall. Carmelo and his team climb high, up to more than 1.400 meters.
The word ikewen has its origin in the Berber language Tamaziɣt and means root, or source. The red wine by that name is made from pie franco vineyards facing northeast and southeast, planted in volcanic soils. The grapes were hand-harvested and macerated 40% whole cluster, 60% was destemmed, gently pressed into one 500L used French barrel and the rest into steel tanks to finish fermentation. The finished wine was bottled unfined, unfiltered and with only a tiny amount of sulphur. Ikewen 2018 of Bien de Altura, grapes listán prieto, listán negro and some white varieties: Light red colour; red fruits, white pepper, a smoky touch; bright, fresh acidity and fine-grained tannins. 11,5% alcohol.
Germán Blanco of Quinta Milú is one of those who believes in village wines, and shows that even wines from Ribera del Duero can express a sense of place. And the place in this case is La Aguilera, one of the dominant wine towns of Burgos (Castilla y León), not far from Aranda de Duero. The grapes are grown organically in the traditional way, hand-harvested and with minimal use of sulphur. They use materials such as concrete or clay, and when they do use wood, it’s always big and used barrels. They never clarify nor stabilize and almost never filter.
They have a winery in Rioja and one in Bierzo too, but we concentrate on Duero here. Milú was also the first bodega in their project. To Porto Germán had brought three wines from La Aguilera; La Cometa 2018 from different plots, Viñas Viejas 2018 from limestone soil. I chose Quinta de Milú Bellavista 2018, from a tiny tempranillo vineyard with 80 year old vines at 930 meters on sandy soil. The wine is fermented in open barriques and aged there for 12 months. It’s deep dark purple; the aroma is dominated by forest fruits (blackberry), and aromatic herbs; in the mouth it’s fleshy, fresh, quite structured yes, but it’s elegant and can be drunk relatively short-term. Germán says they prefer imperfection to carefully monitored processes. But the wines are truly beautiful, and Germán hints to Leonard Cohen when he says, “it’s in the cracks that the light comes in”.
Also in Castilla y León, José Manuel Benéitez is found in the small wild, remote region Arribes del Duero close to the Portuguese border. El Hato y el Garabato is family project that started in 2015. Here they manage organically 8 hectares of 70-100 years old vineyards with varieties like the red juan garcía; bruñal, rufete, bastardo and the white doña blanca and puesta en cruz (rabigato in Portugal). And the cellar work is very artisanal.
The white Otro Cuento 2018 is made from doña blanca grown in granite, higher up in the domaine (while there is slate/schist at a lower level in the canyon). Half of it was fermented in small old barrels, and stayed there for 6 months. It’s light yellow wine, a bit reductive at first (a bit fosforic, some graphite), but it looses out to yellow fruits, and a smoky touch is there; quite creamy, or glyseric in the mouth, and integrated acidity. Mineral, intriguing. And then we are ready to cross over the border back to Portugal…
…which is not a long distance at all. Because we come to the northern part of Alentejo, by the Serra de São Mamede mountains, where João Afonso and his family has their Cabeças do Reguengo literally inside the national park. It’s an ambitious project where they seek to live and breathe in harmony with nature and ecosystem. And the wines are made in the most healthy way possible. The Respiro 2018 is made from both red and white grapes. Take a deep breath: Trincadeira, alicante bouschet, castelão, grand noir are the reds, while the white proportion include arinto, assario, fernão pires, roupeiro, alicante branco, rabo de ovelha, tamarez, manteúdo, uva rei, uva formosa, vale grosso, excelsior, salsaparrilha. Ok, come quickly back to the normal colour of your face please: They are grown between 500 and 710 meters, bought from local farmers who shares their ideology. The grapes were fermented in stone lagar with native yeasts and aged one year in old oak. The colour is fresh, clear red; aroma of red fruits, plums, some green pepper (from the whole-bunch treatment maybe), a touch of spice; fruit-driven fresh taste, fine tannins. Both serious and delicious summer-drinking.
Back to the islands, but this time to Pico of the Açores, where Fortunato Garcia makes his Czar wines in Criação Velha on the western side.
Why the name Czar? After the Russian revolution in 1917, sweet wines from Pico was found in the cellars of the palace of the last Tsar, Nicholas II. This wine was shipped in barrels on the island of Pico and sent to the royal banquets. It even appeared on medical prescriptions as a cure for certain ills and even Tolstoy mentions it in his book “War and Peace”. This is their reason for naming the wine. The Czar 2013 has 19% of natural alcohol, as can happen with these grape varieties (here: verdelho, terrantez, and arinto) in the volcanic soil. This time it stopped by 15-16 degrees, then started again. The colour is deep amber; with a sweet aroma of raisin, but also with some orange peel, hazel-nuts and anise to balance; it’s rich in the mouth, with a long nutty aftertaste.
When talking about the highlights one of them was for me a non-vinous one. This year I was lucky to be asked to perform with André Indiana and the in-house jam band. So for a full two hours we were rocking the house, and it was a wonderful experience to see all the wine producers in the audience diggin’ and dancin’. And Fortunato of Czar joined too, and lead the band masterly in an old Motown hit (I think it was).
A lot of superb wines are not mentioned. I did not have the time to taste everything. Some other producers were given priority last year, and the year before. At the dinners and lunches I remember wines from Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno, Rodrigo Filipe, João Tavares de Pina, with whom I shared table, and many others.
What now, my love? During this fair we got the message that the Cais Novo had been sold. So next year Simplesmente Vinho has to move again. And it’s a common belief that it would be difficult for festival organizer João Roseira to come up with a place as good as the one that we now have become used to. But he has surprised us before, so let’s see…
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
Simplesmente… Vinho is the kind of wine fairs that I love, where you meet only individual producers off the beaten wine track. I have already published a short report from the fair itself, I presented a wine from Dão in my weekly column, one from Algarve, then one from the Açores, and finally one from Douro. I visited Rodrigo Filipe’s Humus in the Lisboa region before the fair, and lastly I also prepare an article from my visits in Dão. Here are just a few of the rest.
Quinta da Palmirinha
Fernando Paiva was one of the pioneers of biodynamic farming in Portugal, in the unlikely region of Vinho Verde, a humid region with a strong Atlantic influence. When looking closer at the map he is based in Lixa, near Amarante in the southern part, not far from Douro. His wines are wonderfully balanced, flowery, and with the acidity in percfect harmony with the rest. The main white grape is loureiro. The Quinta da Palmirinha Loureiro 2016 was oh so light, fresh and citric, with balsamic (pine) notes, and with a fresh natural acidity perfectly well integrated. The red Palmirinha 2016 (vinhão-espadeiro-azal tinto), no sulphur added, was dark, with ink, plums, and aciditywise it was in line with the whites (high but hidden). Paiva is also involved in the Mica project, where four producers are joining forces, making greatly enjoyable wines at a lower price. I liked the 2017, an azal-treixadura-avesso tropic/mellow blend at 17 g/L residual sugar.
Vasco Croft went biodynamic since the beginning, at his farm near Ponte de Lima, where he has 18 hectares, uses own sheep compost. All wines are made using native yeast.
Vasco Croft (right) talking to Brazilian reporter Didu Rosso
Aphros Loureiro 2016 is light, with lemon, flowers, slender, citric, and with a good, steely acidity. Daphne 2016 comes from a different plot, granitic, more rocky (while the others are sandy). It had 12 hours skin-contact, was then fermented in concrete eggs of 1600 liters and stayed there untill bottling. This wine was full, a bit darker, with aroma dominated by apple. Phaunus Loureiro 2016 stayed 6-8 weeks in amphora, with olive oil on top. The colour was yellow, towards orange; with that white flower aroma that amphoras can enhance; quite full on the palate, somewhat richer, and with a pleasant structure. Phaunus Pet-Nat 2016, bottled while still fermenting; yellow apples, some citrus, and good acidity. The Rosé Vinhão 2017 (sample) had a cloudy peach colour, and a promising acidity. Phaunus Palhete 2016 is a fresh and lovely amphora-elevated wine, made from both red and white grapes with skin-contact for 6-8 weeks. I will come back to this in a wine-of-the-week post. The Vinhão 2017 was pressed by foot, fermented by itself, and no further extraction: Dark, with a violet hue; dark fruits, blackberry, flowers, raspberry, and decent acidity. Lots of character and energy!
Over the border to Spain, and two Galician wines we tasted at the DOP restaurant, run by the celebrated local chef Rui Paula.
Finca Teira 2014(Manuel Formigo) comes from the inland DO Ribeiro: It’s made from godello, treixadura and torrontés. The wine is light yellow; a little buttery, mineral, with darker citrus (orange/mandarine); broad, full on the palate, with the acidity to match. Traste 2015 (José Aristeguí) is another inland Galician wine, this time from Valdeorras (neighbouring the Castilan region of Bierzo). The grapes are garnacha tintorera (alicante bouschet) and mencía. Dark; rich and warm (15% alc.), hints of morello, and some coffee; tough tannins, the alcohol shows again in the finish, but it’s not without charm either.
Here we are talking about a collaboration with Raúl Pérez, especially known from Bierzo, Spain. These are stylish wines. Mirandela 2015 (from Tras-os-Montes north) is a white field blend of moscatel-malvasia a.o.: Pear, citrus; quite full, good acidity. Tinto 2010 from tinta amarela, tinta roriz and touriga nacional: Dark; very fresh for a 10, red fruits, good structure.
Among the rest from this region the following stood out. Quinta de Arcossó Reserva 2009: Dark colour; dark fruits (morello, blackcurrant); powerful, evident tannins, some alcohol in finish.
Rita Marques has impressed for some years with remarkably elegant wines for a hot region like Douro. Near Vila Nova de Foz Côa in the Douro Superior her ranges are called Contraste and Conceito, and she also makes some port.
Contraste 2016 from various grapes: Light; very fresh, citric, herbs; luscious, soft and natural, with an integrated acidity. Conceito 2016, fermented in barrel, a field blend: Light; white flowers, peach, some vanilla, honey; full on the palate. Ontem (=yesterday in Portuguese) 2016, Terras de Beira, in other words from outside the Douro. The grape varieties include encruzado and rabigato, and the soils are granitic. It’s a flowery, fruity, full wine with vibrant acidity and evident mineral tones.
Contraste 2015: Cherry red; red fruits; soft, some tannnin structure. Conceito 2015: Dark colour; dark and red berries, some vanilla, mint, some toast, but fruit-driven nevertheless. Legítimo 2016: A carbonic maceration wine: Purple, violet; dark fruits, pepper, a bit lactic; young tannins. Outem 2015, a wine made from baga 60-70%: Bright red; some green pepper, raspberry; cool and fresh, and some structure.
Rita and Manuel
The Verdelho family is found near Vila Nova de Foz Côa too, and I have tasted many of their Dona Berta wines through a mutual friend. The wines, made by professor in oenology Virgilio Loureiro, I have learned to recognize as well-made wines, more robust than elegant. They are proud of their rabigato, and deservedly so. The Rabigato Reserva Vinhas Velhas 2016 made in inox was full and creamy, with notes of citrus, nuts, wax and melon. Among the other wines worth mention were first Sousão Reserva 2013, dark and fruit-driven, juicy with some spice and lickorice. Then the Reserva 2013, an “entry-level” blend: This is a fresh red, with notes of red berries, plums, an earthy touch, but with a quite elegant structure. Tinto Cão Reserva 2012: A structured wine with red fruits, blackberries, solid tannins and good acidity.
Quinta do Romeu
This is one of the most northern wineries in the Douro Superior, a really cool place north of Vila Nova de Foz Côa. They work biodynamically, and have organic certification. It’s always spontaneous fermentation, and SO2 only after malolactic and before bottling.
Quinta do Romeu 2016: Open, immediate and aromatic, with red fruits and herbs; smooth, glyceric, and a good acidity. Quinta do Romeu Rosé 2016: Light salmon colour; strawberry, gooseberry; fresh, with a good natural acidity. Quinta do Romeu Tinto 2011: Dark cherry red; red fruits; juicy, luscious, cool and fresh on the palate. Quinta do Romeu Reserva 2015: Made from touriga nacional, touriga franca and sousão, fermented in lagares of granite, moderate extraction: Dark red; smells of dark berries, tobacco; full on the palate with a good acidity. Quinta do Romeu Touriga Nacional 2015: Dark, dense, violet; aroma of dark fruits with leather; young and robust tannins. They also make a colheita port.
Folias do Baco
Tiago Sampaio is the winemaker of Folias de Baco, a project he started in 2007. He never forgets the roots and the terroir, but it’s always something creative about his wines. And though he can experiment at every stage of the process, the extraction is always very gentle. He is found in Favaios, the traditional moscatel stronghold, in the sub-region of Cima Corgo, and the vines are on schist and granite at an altitude between 500-700m.
When he came back from Oregon with a degree in oenology in 2007, he established the brand Olho no Pé. The latest editions however, come under the name Uivo.
I tasted a cloudy, fruity and very tasty Uivo Pet Nat from the very early harvested 2017 (started 8. August), a very fresh, flowery Olho no Pé Moscatel from the same vintage, smooth but also with a lovely acidity, and the Olho no Pé Vinhas Velhas 2016, a no SO2, skin contact, barrel-fermented wine with more colour, somewhat tropic, waxy aroma, and a glyceric appearance in the mouth – a wine for keeping.
Among the reds there was the Uivo Renegado Tinto 2017 (a field blend with both red and white grapes, so to call it rosé is maybe better), a little turbid, earthy, strawberry/raspberry, and a tough grapefruity acidity, and the light, transparent Olho no Pé Pinot Noir 2014 with raspberry, full and round. Uivo Tinta Francisca 2016, had a deeper colour, very fruity with red berries and plum, juicy and grapey in the mouth, with a graphitic mineral touch. The last wine I will mention here is the impressive Olho no Pé Colheita Tardia 2012, an orange/amber wine with sweet honeyed bouquet from 100% botrytisized grapes.
Quinta do Infantado,João and Álvaro Roseira
Infantado was the first winery to export directly from the Douro valley in the 1980’s, and I visited them twice shortly after. They weren’t given first priority in the tasting hall this time, but at the DOP restaurant of Rui Paula we tasted two ports and the Roseira 2011, a project from Joaõ Roseira of Infantado (and Simplesmente Vinho, of course). Dark colour; red berries and forest fruits; good tannins, still young (good with baby goat). Two well-matured ports: the Colheita 2007, a tawny with vintage, had a young, red colour, beginning developement; figs, nuts, berries, elderberry; fruity, not very sweet, long. Vintage Port 1997 (magnum): Very fruity (blackberry), but also with some chocolate, spices and a warm, raisiny hint. Lots of tannin in the mouth, matching acidity, and still fruity after all these years.
Casa de Saima
This was an occation to meet the lovely Graça Miranda again, whom I had not seen since I visited the winery in Sangalhos many years ago. Saima was known as a tratitional producer, and I have still a few older vintages in my own cellar, such as the superb Garrafeiras 1991 and 2001, and I remember a foot-trodden rosé with more than 10 years of age when it was released. But they also embraced the new opportunities that appeared some years ago, with new grape varieties such as merlot.
The white Vinhas Velhas 2017 (sample) was light; fruity, with citrus and apples; full, concentrated, good acidity, fresh. I think this will be great in a not too distant future. The same wine from 2016 (a hot year) was waxy and herby, but also with fine flower notes; full in the mouth, with a fine acidity. Garrafeira 2015 (the first garrafeira white), made in old oak with 3 months of batonnage in big 3.000L vats: Darker, more creamy, quite waxy, with a touch of honey, concentrated, glyceric, smooth, and long. Promising.
The Pinot Noir 2015 I found interesting; fruity and saline. Baga Tonel 10 2014 (10 is the name of the vat [tonel in Portuguese], while 14 is obviously the vintage): Light colour; red berries, forest fruits, some greenness; luscious in the mouth, tannins still come creeping, and a good acidity ends it all. Baga Vinhas Velhas Grande Reserva 2014: Grande Reserva means here that it must be in oak for at least 24 months. The wine is cherry red, has some greenness, good fruit, lots of tannins, and good acidity. Maybe a classic Saima with great ageing potential.
Quinta do Montalto
I have known André Pereira of Montalto and Pedro Marques of Vale da Capucha for some years, visited their quintas and met them at fairs, such as the London natural wine fairs. André not only makes good wines, but with an almost unbeatable quality-price ratio. His farm is in Ourém, in the Encostas d’Aire area, some of the vineyards in Leiria, but most of the wines are classified as regional Lisboa.
André is currently experimenting with amphora, coated with natural resin. An clay-aged fernão pires from 2017 (the name is to be announced, possibly something with ‘talha’, denoting clay wines in Portugal), harvested early, was light in colour; flowery, fresh, fresh, but also nutty and a bit waxy, and full of life. His Medieval d’Ourem 2017 (DOC Encostas d’Aire) is based on an old Ourém tradition. It’s defined in the strict DOC rules that it must be 20% red and the rest white grapes (here tricadeira and fernão pires). The 2017 was light red, with a lovely raspberry scent; luscious and round, but also with a citrussy freshness. Although the alcohol is 14,5% (spring was hot and dry) this must be the best “medieval” wine I have tasted from André so far.
A Touriga Nacional 2017, this one also aged in amphora: Dark, violet; aroma of flowers, red fruits, blackcurrant; a touch of tannin, and also a bit warm at 14,5%. As the name suggests Cepa Pura is a series of varietal wines. Cepa Pura Baga 2016 was totally destemmed, put in 50% used barrel, and the rest inox. 2016 was a difficult year here, with a great loss because of rain and fungus. The wine was nice, with and aroma of red fruits, green pepper, cherry, and some spice; fresh and luscious in the mouth, with soft tannins. Cepa Pura Fernão Pires Late Harvest 2015: This is another example of fernão pires’ many talents: Yellow colour; aroma of yellow fruits, citrus and honey; semi sweet, rich, and with a good acidity. No botrytis.
One of the big revelations this year was Cabeças do Reguengo. They currently have 11 ha. vineyards, in the north of Alentejo, near the São Mamede national park. Rui Felé tells that they encourage the biodiversity, with man, wildlife, olives, other crops and vines in harmony. The grape harvest is all done in a single day and in the cellar there is very little intervention. The only product used is a little SO2. The wines stay in old oak, and in the near future only black oak – the autochthonous species.
One of the wines that stood out was an orange wine called Luminoso 2016. It’s made from arinto, fernão pires and rupeiro, had 10 days skin-contact, no SO2. The colour is orange/amber; aroma of peel, nectarine, mandarine, a touch of honey; full, structured (tannin), and fruit all the way. The red Felisbela (“my mother”, says Rui), no SO2: Dark cherry; dark fruits, blackcurrant, forest fruits; a bit carbonic, a feature that matches the slightly warm fruit. Courelas da Torre 2015, aragonêz, trincadeira, alicante bouschet: dark; mature fruits, blackcurrant, round, full, some lickorice. There was also a pleasant rosé, quite dark and with some structure: Courelas da Torre Rosé 2016.
Under the Cabeças label came wines like Equinocio 2015, aged in mainly old wood for one year: Some butter, nuts, and full on the palate. Seiva 2014: Red and dark fruits, concentrated flavours, long. Solstício 2015, made with whole bunches: Dark colour; wild fruits; rich and a bit tannic.
Quinta do Mouro
Quinta do Mouro is one of the famous producers of Alentejo, based in the northernly Estremoz, and one of the few (maybe together with Herdade do Mouchão) who strongly believed in the variety alicante bouschet at a time with castelão (locally called periquita) was popular with both producers and local wine authorities. I meet Miguel Louro father and son, the father fronting Mouro and the son both this and his own project. Mouro is about as good as Alentejo gets, and they have a freshness that is difficult to achieve if you’re not located near the mountains in the Portalegre sub-region. So here are a few, only briefly described (partly because I visited them late in the evening when the crowds came in and the music was turned louder, and I actually was “on my way” back to the hotel for a rest).
From Miguel junior’s project Apelido 2016, a fresh and clean white, a wine with the 1 o (primero =first) symbol), Nome 2016, full, rich on glycerine, with good acidity, and Apelido 2015, a dark, fruit-driven red, also with some earthy notes.
Some brief notes on the Mouro range too: Zagalos Reserva 2013: Dark colour; wild fruits, blackcurrant, blackberry; full in the mouth. Quinta do Mouro 2012: Dark; red and dark fruits, balsamic (menthol); full and complete. Quinta do Mouro (Goliardos) 2012, a wine made with some cabernet in the blend, various types of oak, in collaboration with the Goliardos (see an interview with Silvia here): Very dark, dense, almost opaque; still cool fruit, balsamic: a lot of tannins, but not aggressive at all.