I don’t taste wines from Liguria too often. Here is a delicious white from the lesser known pigato variety.
Pigato has been in the area for centuries. Genetically it is a clone of vermentino. But it has differentiated over time and developed its own characteristics. Pighe means freckles in local dialect, a reference to the spots on its skin. Pigato has generally more aromatic qualities than its twin, possibly also more structure.
Tenuta Selvadolce is overlooking the sea in the extreme western Liguria in Bordighera, a few kilometers from the border with France. It extends for about 7 hectares in one of the most panoramic heights of the town.
The vineyard sits at an altitude of about 150-200 meters with a southern exposure, and managed biodynamically. The soils contain limestone and clay. Harvest is by hand, and fermentation takes place spontaneously in wood. The wine ages in stainless steel vats on lees with batonnage for 6 months and is bottled without clarification or filtration.
Crescendo 2020(Ten. Selvadolce)
Light yellow. Expressive aromas of white fruit (white peach), citrus (lime), white almonds and a touch of butter. On the palate it’s full, savoury, harmonious and ends with a pleasant salinity.
Food: Seafood, spaghetti vongole, other pasta ‘frutti di mare’, fish soup, grilled fish
We tasted 15 varietal trebbianos in our local wine club yesterday. Trebbiano is a name for several grapes, more or less in family with each other. Many wines had apple or pear and citrus aromas, accompanied by a certain herbal character. The tasting also showed that low yields are necessary. The wines from Abruzzo and Umbria were generally quite concentrated with high levels of acidity, while those from Lugana were mellow and easy drinking.
Here are three of the best.
Bianco Regio 2019(Cant. Margò)
Carlo Tabarrini farms biodynamically his vineyards in Sant’Enea, province of Perugia, Umbria. He works without any additions, like his parents and grandparents did. The soils are sand and limestone, and the age of the vines are close to 40 years. 8 days skin-contact, matured in steel and a small percentage barrique.
Straw coloured, slightly cloudy. Aroma of pears and oranges with some herbs. (Reductive at first, opens in the glass.) Slightly carbonic, tasty and quite concentrated, fresh acidity, and a slightly bitter and long finish.
This wine originates from Spoleto, in southern Umbria. The Mattioli family has cultivated these slopes since the 10th century, and they have made wine in the last three generations. The soil is clay with mixed content of iron and limestone, and fertilizing is compost from their own animals. Harvesting was done by hand. All wines are spontaneously fermented in cement without temperature control or additions of sulphur. This wine had two days of skin-maceration, and aged in steel. Unfined and unfiltered. Biodynamic.
Light golden colour. Aroma of yellow apples, table grapes, a touch of tropical fruits (apricot) and some herbs. Quite full in the mouth, luscious, a slight tannin, quite long with herbs in the finish.
This wine is from a vineyard in San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Chianti Classico, and classified as IGT. The Messana family farms biodynamically, and the soil is chalky clay. The grapes were harvested by hand, spontaneously fermented with up to 4 weeks skin-maceration, and the wine aged in qvevri.
Light orange or amber colour. Opulent and grapey style, with a rich aroma of apricot, orange peel and smoke. Good body with just enough acidity, quite concentrated and long.
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.
Wine bar and restaurant Cedrón is located in the the La Latina neighborhood of Madrid, just behind the Plaza de la Cebada, with the famous market. It’s a warm and cosy locale from 1850, with wood, steel and stone. They have a wide variety of wines by the glass, some are natural wines, some just organic, and all are made by small family producers.
The owners are Argentinians, and both wine list and food menu has some influence from this. I ordered vitello tonnato, that is Italian origin, but very popular in Argentina. I completed with two more small dishes, a fresh burrata, and croquetas of cod, that turned out to be quite spicy. A complimentary starter was a humus de remolacha, accompanied by flatbread with herbs.
For the three platters I chose three wines. La Salada Disbarats 2021 is a simple but delicious white made by Toni Carbó, that has collaborated with Mas Candí in Penedès. The wine, from macabeu 80% and xarel.lo, is a light skin-contact white, slender, with aromas of citrus, flowers and a touch of orange peel, and with a saline finish.
La Traca 2020(Risky Grapes) is a juicy, light structure bobal from València. The colour is ruby red, and the aromas are dominated by red berries like raspberry. This red wine accompanied the vitello tonnato, as always cold veal with tuna mayonnaise, a dish with some umami. Sommelier Gustavo, also Argentinian, said that he would normally have chosen a sherry for that dish. Knowing what I now know it would have been easy to agree.
I had quite a bit of luck, as the croquetas were more spicy than expected, and also the last wine was more sweetish than expected. Las Nubes 2021 is made by José Luís Mounier, whom Gustavo called the father of the grape torrontés in Argentina. Light straw coloured, and on the nose it was very perfumed with flowers and honey. This gives a sweetish sensation, not sweetness. The same continued into the taste, not unlike a dry moscatel. I had a suspicion though that this was a wine made with selected yeasts, later confirmed by the producer’s web page. Anyway, the marriage was good, and I am happy to have found a new wonderful wine bar in central Madrid.
On thursday I was invited to lunch by my friend, natural wine maker Fabio Bartolomei, in his bodega. He is now making wines in the old cooperative of the town El Tiemblo, a building he shares with collegue Daniel Ramos.
Daniel was there. So was natural wine maker Sinta Moreso from Tarragona. So was a group of young aspiring chefs from here and from San Sebastian, whom Fabio has been mentoring in their hobby winemaking projects. One of them, Fernando, will from next week join the crew of star restaurant Maaemo of Oslo, by the way. The lunch went on without a strict program, people came and left. But the lunch was eventually served, and it was delicious. There was some wine tasting, of Fabio’s wines -mostly originating from El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos), various projects of the participants, and someone even brought a magnum of Granada producer Barranco Oscuro’s wine called 1368 in the 2003 vintage. This was another proof that natural wines can age.
Before I left Fabio and I tasted a few more wines from his cellar. Fabio’s starting point is healthy grapes, free of chemicals. Experience and experimentation tells him how to proceed in making balanced wines that are true to their terroir and that suit Fabio’s taste.
Fabio Bartolomei was born in Scotland to Italian immigrant parents. There he studied accounting and finance. In 2001 he decided to move to Spain to make wine. For many years he also worked as a translator. It was not until 2019 that he became a full time winemaker.
Fabio knew from the start that he didn’t want to use pesticides or additives. But he didn’t know that natural wine was an expression for that kind of wines. Since 2014 he has used the old cooperative building in El Tiemblo as his winery.
Here you can read a short piece about yesterday’s lunch in that bodega.
Alba is an orange wine made with albillo real grapes. The grape was fermented with native yeasts with the skins, then pressed and finished in stainless steel. It was transferred to clay amphoras and matured there for five months. Unclarified, unfiltered and without added sulphites.
Alba 2021(Vinos Ambiz)
Golden colour, hazy. Aromatic, with yellow apple, peach and flowers in front, then a layer of nuts with a touch of honey. Medium-bodied, luscious, drinkable and also quite long.
Have you ever heard of roditis? This grape comes in many variations and clones throughout Greece. Robinson, Harding and Voillamoz (in the book Wine Grapes) say that it has generally low ambitions and often comes in field-blends. Here it is in its crude version, and with serious goals, a lovely natural wine from producer Oenops Wines of Drama.
Winemaker is Nikos Karatzas. The grapes come from old vineyards and are picked by hand. Fermentation is carried out with native yeasts in a clay pot, where the juice remains on the lees for a month. The wine stays in a for further a 6 months. No additions are made.
Rawditis is accompanied on the market by the equally ambitious and raw red Xinomavraw, also recommended.
Golden with orange hints. Expressive aroma of peach, apricot, white flowers, citrus peel, honey and a touch of smoke. Rich in the mouth, with a good acidity and some bitterness towards the end, long and dried-fruity finish.
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.
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.
No, it’s not a cheap joke, but the name of the wine. I am told it was made for the Garage Bar of Barcelona, in a tiny quantity of 100 bottles. I bought it from the Bendito bar in Madrid. (Read a short article from Garage here and a review of Bendito here.)
Dumenge Calling is monovarietal xarel.lo produced by Celler Dumenge in a garage in Penedès, Catalunya. The winery calls it an “ancestral”, or a pét nat. All their wines are made with a deep respect for the vineyard, seeking the highest possible expression of the grape and the soil. They opt for natural agriculture, always with minimal intervention, which results in original and true wines.
This wine has been aged in amphora, which allows it to perfectly preserve the freshness of the varietal, and at the same time it adds to the complexity.
Dumenge Calling 2017(Celler Dumenge)
Light yellow, slightly turbid. Fruity aromas of pears, white flowers and grapefruit. Fresh fruit on the palate, vibrant acidity, quite full and with a long finish.
Food: Shellfish, white fish, tapas, and many Asian-style dishes