Here is a prime example of the “new” Rioja, made by Pedro Balda, one of the younger authorities in the field.
Pedro Balda is director of the research department of Vintae, a group that started in La Rioja, but has expanded to many Spanish areas. Pedro is himself from Sonsierra, and after workingr with many wineries of the world, such as Chile’s Viña Santa Cruz, the United States’ Marimar Estate, and New Zealand’s Dry River, he has brought his experience home to Spain.
He is also an academic, earning his doctorate in enology with a thesis discovering two minority varieties which had been recovered in Rioja and triumphing with the wines le makes from his family’s vineyards. He is the youngest doctor of enology in Spain, currently professor at the university of Logroño.
He started his personal project in 2008, in his native San Vicente de la Sonsierra. There Pedro works without the addition of sulphites in any of the points of the process. Nor are yeasts, bacteria or any other agent that can accelerate fermentations added. His way of working is simply to let everything happen naturally.
Pedro makes two wines. The most expensive one is Vendimia Seleccionada. This one is called Cosecha, a varietal tempranillo. In the selection priority is given to the smallest clusters with the most intense aromas. The grapes are always hand-harvested, but in the Cosecha they were mechanically destemmed. The extraction is light. He works in the most natural way possible, and no sulfites are added at any stage.
The label is a tribute to the land and his ancestors.
Cosecha 2016(Pedro Balda)
Dark cherry red. Ripe aromas of black and red fruits (blackberry, cranberry), plums, flowers, ink and a mineral touch. Good volume and concentration, smooth tannins, light cocoa, and a long aftertaste.
Garnacha was once the main variety in the historic vineyards of the lower Rioja. This wine is a nod to this tradition. We are in the northern slopes of the Sierra de Yerga. Javier Arizcuren here works with some of the few old vineyards, in the Gobelet conduction system.
The wine seeks to be an expression of the both the variety and of the place where it grows, therefore no foreign products are used in the process (except a small amount of sulfur). The wood is used exclusively for thewine stabilization process, without being excessively marked.
The grapes were manually harvested, with grape selection in the field. De-stemming. Alcoholic fermentation with wild yeasts at around 25ºC. Daily stirring and pumping over, then only stirring. Malolactic fermentation in steel. 8 months in 225-litre American oak barrels (6th year) and an additional 2 months in new French oak barrels.Total SO2 is 50 mg/litre.
Solo Garnacha 2016(Javier Arizcuren)
Dark cherry red. Youthful aroma of blackberry and cherry, a touch of coffee and sweet spice. Full in the mouth, rich with good weight and concentration, fine tannins, balanced acidity. Still young, and will improve.
Carlos Sánchez has a background from Sierra de Gredos (4 Monos). But he had early on fallen in love with the Sonsierra area of Rioja. And here he is. Since 2019 he has used the facilities of the former cooperative in Labastida.
This is a wine from a single plot (0,3 ha.) in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, on 100% garnacha. It’s spontaneously fermented with a high percentage of whole bunches, and kept in large oak barrels. Not clarified nor filtered. A modest production of 1.700 bottles.
Buradón Las Plegarias 2020(Carlos Sánchez)
Cherry red. Good ripe fruit, red plums, cherry, some strawberry, and a layer of dried herbs and lavender. Good volume, soft and fleshy, fine tannins, integrated acidity. It’s rooted in its landscape, yet has a noble air to it. Really good.
This was one of the rioja wines that stood out in a local wine club tasting. It’s made by Bordeaux-born Olivier Rivière, who took a job in Rioja in 2004, after having studied enology in Montagne Saint-Émilion and worked briefly for several wineries. Among them were Domaine Leroy in Vosne-Romanée, where he learnt about their biodynamic methods. He decided to stay in Rioja and began looking for specific vineyards grown organically, with the goal to buy grapes and make his own wine.
Ganko is a 50/50 blend of mazuelo and garnacha The grapes are grown in the village of Cárdenas in the Alto Najerilla. Here in 600 meters altitude the old vines grow on sandy soils. It’s a rugged zone with only small plots. The wine is fermented with whole bunches in a 3.000-liter oak foudre and matured in used barrels.
Perhaps you wonder what the word ganko means? It’s Japanese for stubborn, a nickname given to Olivier by a Japanese importer. Olivier liked it and gave the name to this wine.
Ganko 2018(Olivier Rivière)
Dark cherry red. Aroma of wild berries (blackberry), flowers and herbs (thyme). Fine-grained tannins, a cool, fresh acidity and a long and dry finish. Complex and elegant.
This is a Riojan garnacha with a strong varietal character, that takes me towards its relatives in the Gredos mountains on the other side of the capital. This can be because the producer’s collegues in Rioja don’t put enough focus on the grape and its qualities, – maybe because of its lack of reputation, or the producers’ tendency to oak everything in sight.
Sandra Bravo is not among them. She is one of the producers in the group Rioja’n’Roll, from a dynamic generation that wants to move forward from the stereotype of the blending eras. She was probably the first in Rioja to use amphorae for maturing wines, and she never lets the oak get in the way for the local typicity, be it Rivas de Tereso, at the foot of the Toloño) or over in Villabuena de Álava (Basque Country).
Sandra has also launched a wine called La Dula Garnachas de Altura (garnacha from the heights). This one is a single parcel wine from a vineyard in Rivas de Tereso, planted in 1944 at 700 meters altitude. It’s fermented and aged in a 300 liters amphora.
Edit: I realized that I had highlighted the same wine in the 2018 vintage three years ago, from the Simplemente Vinho fair. Read about it here.
La Dula 2018(Sierra de Toloño)
Dark cherry red. Cool, concentrated aroma of wild berries (blackberry, elderberry), raspberry and a lovely flowery scent, with a stony, mineral touch. Rounded tannins, integrated, fresh natural acidity, expressive and long.
Food: Game, other tasty meat, but also more delicate dishes like vitello tonnato, charcuterie
Much can be said of the family Martínez Bulanda, and some has also been said in these pages. They have several properties in Rioja, Rueda and La Mancha. See for example an article that features some of their wines here.
This is a simple, delicious and economic Rioja. It’s a 100% tempranillo, steel-raised, modern, for the wave of gastronomy that more and more people take on these days.
Viña Bujanda Tempranillo 2020(Martínez Bujanda)
Dark cherry red, blueish hint. Fruity, with mature dark berries (blackberry), plums, green herbs, some licorice. Slight touch of tannin, just enough acidity to make it easy to drink yet refreshing, berry fruit and some herbs following up in the mouth.
Frenchman Olivier Rivière has formerly worked with well-known Telmo Rodríguez. He came in 2004 to help converting the vineyards into biodynamic agriculture. But he liked Rioja so much that he decided to stay, and has since long bought grapes and made wines for himself. At the moment he makes wines from Rioja, Arlanza and Navarra. It is at the facilities of Bodegas Lacus in Aldeanueva de Ebro (Rioja Baja), where he is consulting, that he makes his wines.
He uses fermentation tanks of cement and oak (from 2,000 to 5,000 litres). The reds are often fermented with stems. In Rioja he sources his grapes from several areas. This wine Ganko, a blend of garnacha and mazuelo, comes from Cárdenas in Najerilla valley, on the right bank of the Ebro river. The vines are high altitude, old vines on sandy soils.
Ganko 2016(Olivier Rivière)
Dark cherry red. Fresh and intense aroma of dark berries (blackberry), plums, and a balsamic touch. Concentrated, a lot of tannins, but rounded off, a sense of coolness in the fruit, long.
Finca Valpiedra is a single estate owned by Martínez Bujanda family. They started out in Rioja as early as 1889, and bought this place in the 1990’s. The finca is located in a bend of the Ebro river, between Fuentmayor and Cenicero. From here they launch wines in a crossroads between tradition and modernity, with some initial oakiness. Among the modern features are organic growing, estate focus, and the wines will reach the balance between oak and fruit after only a few years.
Tempranillo is the main grape, supported by a little cabernet sauvignon for structure and graciano for aroma. This particular wine also contains a tiny percent mazuelo (cariñena/carignan). The 2001 was a great vintage in Rioja, and the best wines, like this one, will last long.
Here you can read a report from their Rueda winery, where we also tasted their riojas.
Dark red with hint of brown. Forest fruits (blackberry), plums, thyme and eucalyptus over a thin layer of roast and dried fruits. Quite big, mature fruits in the mouth, with rounded tannins. In an optimal stage of evolution, without the sweetness of oak, still some freshness, the fruit intact, the individual parts integrated but still possible to detect.
Food: We had it with entrecôte, and perfect with lamb, roast, game, hard cheeses…
A visit at Apotekergaarden, Grimstad on the southern coast of Norway is always a highlight. This is a popular place in every sense of the word, with a fascinating mix of people coming for great natural wine served by manager and sommelier Ida Konradsen, and people coming in from the street for burgers and pizza, served by the staff, some of them really talented. There are also concerts in the backyard during the summer season. We were there last Sunday, when our meal was followed by a gig with Norwegian folk-rock band Valkyrien Allstars. I have played there myself too, in fact it was one of the last things I did before the lockdown in March. A more detailed background to the restaurant you can read here.
On Sunday they made a special plate of Italian cheese and ham, olives and other stuff for us, followed by a main course of duck with a compote of red onion and a burger with spicy mushroom and onion, and on Tuesday we shared various pizzas.
Here are some of the wines, some of them in fact outside the official menu, but generously offered by Ida and the staff.
Foam Somló 2019(Meinklang), Somló, Hungary, made by Meinklang of Burgenland, Austria who owns vineyards on both sides of the border. This is a pét nat from Hungarian grapes hárslevelű and juhfark.
Light golden; aroma of yellow apples, hints of pumpkin and gooseberry; concentrated, with a sweet-irh sensation, inspiring indeed.
Brut Nature Reserva Anne Marie(Castell d’Age), Cava, Catalunya, Spain
A traditional cava from one of the pioneers in organic farming in the Penedès area, named after Anne Marie Onyent, one of today’s leading ladies of the company. The grapes are the three usual cava “suspects”.
Slightly bubbly; fresh and appley; fine natural acidity.
La Croix Moriceau 2018(Complémen’ Terre)
A full and concentrated, mineral muscadet full of character.
Yellow; waxy, with mature apples and white peach; quite full, mineral (chalky), a nice bitterness in the aftertaste.
Palmento 2019 (Vino di Anna), Etna, Sicilia, Italy
Skin-contact wine made from the Sicilian carricante grape in fiberglass tanks.
Golden towards orange; aroma of citrus peel, clementine, apricot, mango; full in the mouth and slightly textured. Not too acid, low alcohol (11,5) and perfect while waiting for the main course.
Light yellow; aromas of apple, citrus (lime), with a mineral touch; rich, with a good acidity and splendid concentration. Superb with the duck plate.
A light, fruity barbera that comes in a full litre bottle (hence the name), made by the producer behind the famous “donkey wine” Asinoi. At best when chilled.
Lght cherry red; light berries (strawberry), herbs; lively in the mouth (slightly pétillant), juicy, with a good natural acidity.
Montesecondo 2018(Montesecondo), Toscana, Italy
Located in the Chianti area, but not always classified as such. This is an entry-level wine, with 2% of trebbiano blended in with the sangiovese. If my memory doesn’t fail me it’s a light vintage for this wine.
Rather light cherry colour, aroma dominated by red berries; juicy and refreshing.
Made from tempranillo grapes in Arnedo in the lower part of Rioja. Not completely natural, but with a low amount of sulphur added.
Dark red; blackberry and spice; full, fresh and fruity.
After a few wines I often like to round it off with a beer, to “stabilize” the stomach that by now feels like full of acidity. So I asked Mathias S. Skjong, the in-house brewer, if he had something special, maybe something personal. So he produced Terje (made by Mathias himself in collaboration with Grimstad’s successful brewery Nøgne Ø and given a wide distribution by them, for the restaurant’s 10 year anniversary. It’s a very very hoppy, citrussy and dry India pale ale. Perfect to round off another good meal at Apotekergaarden.
This is the second report from this year’s Simplesmente… Vinho, of Porto. The first one was about the Portuguese participants, and you can read it here. This one deals mainly with Spanish wine, with one exception.
As soon as I entered the Cais Novo I ran into Alejandro of Bodegas Forlong. There is a lot happening in the sherry region right now, and I visited him when I was doing reasearch for a magazine article about table wines from the Jerez area. A shorter version of the article can be read here, and a wine of the week post here. In Porto Alejandro was together with his life companion Rocío.
Alejandro Narváez and Rocío Áspera
So why not start with a tasting of wine from sherry grapes and albariza soil? The wines I knew from before delivered, such as the Forlong Blanco 2018 (palomino 90%, the rest PX, grown in albariza soil), with its roundness and at the same time enough acidity, almonds and a saline minerality. Much of the same applies to the Rosado 2018, a 100% cabernet sauvignon, with its colour of onion skin, its creamy character and also a light tannin. We could go on through the Petit Forlong 2017 (syrah, merlot), the Assemblage 2016 (merlot, tintilla de rota, syrah), and the Tintilla 2016, with its dark smell of ink, blackcurrant, and that in a way also plays with oxidation.
A wine I can’t remember having tasted before were 80/20, a non SO2, unfiltered wine, made of must from palomino fermented on skins of PX: Light pineapple colour; some tropical hint in the aroma, peel; round and smooth, yet fresh, well a little mousy, but with a nice mineral salinity. Equally interesting was Mon Amour 2017, palomino from the hardest type of albariza, called “tosca cerrada”. I have to reconsider if I like the touch of vanilla from the fermentation in French barrels, but it surely has some interesting yellow fruits, and a vibrant touch too.
According to my ‘one wine only’-game I chose this one: Amigo Imaginario 2017, from old vine palomino, fermented with skins, and aged in an oloroso cask for 10 months. The colour is yellow; smells of orange peel, herbs, plums, and a touch of marzipan; in the mouth it’s full, with a great concentration, and you by now you would have guessed that it’s somewhat sweet – but it’s not. Great personality, alternative, truly interesting!
Always a pleasure meeting up with Sandra Bravo and tasting her wines
I appreciate that Sandra Bravo of Sierra de Toloño keep coming back to these events. She is one of the younger, independent voices in a Rioja still struggling to come out of its classification system based on wood ageing. From vineyards below the Sierra Cantabria mountains, both on the Riojan and Basque side of the border, she takes good decisions on the way from grape to bottle.
The reds showed as good as ever, from the plain Sierra de Toloño, now 2017, with its fresh cherry fruit, and inspiring acidity, but also in this vintage quite evident tannins, the Camino de Santa Cruz 2016 (formerly Rivas de Tereso), a single vinyard wine with extra minerality; darker and wilder fruits, with some subtle underlying oak and also lovely acidity and the super delicious La Dula 2016, a garnacha made in amphora, really floral, red-fruity and expressive. The Nahi Tempranillo is a dark, rich, spicy wine that will improve with age – and lastly Raposo 2016 from Villabuena, the Basque part: a little graciano thrown in among the tempranillo; dark, blackberry, forest fruits, good acidity – classic in the good sense of the word.
In recent years she has presented wonderful white wines, very different from both the young and clean tank style of the 1970’s (still popular) and the oaky style requiring long ageing. The basic Sierra de Toloño 2017 is clean and bright, but has already a profound quality. A favourite among white riojas during the latest years has been the Nahi Blanco, now 2016. Made from viura, malvasía and calagraño, a field blend from five small parcels in Villabuena de Álava, with a light ageing in barrel: Golden colour, a touch of tropic (litchi), white flowers and a light touch of smoke, full in the mouth and a nice natural acidity.
Alfredo Maestro (left) and Dutch journalist Paul Op ten Berg
I have tasted Alfredo’s wines several times lately, so here I only tasted a couple in order to discuss them with my friend, Dutch journalist Paul Op ten Berg. One was an orange wine that was featured in January. (Read it here.) In short: Lovamor 2016 stayed 6 days with the skins, then on lees for 4 months. Due to the cold Castilian winter a malolactic fermentation never happened. It’s a rich and complex wine with a gold-orange colour; apple and melon in the aroma, flowery, and also lovely, light citrus; slightly pétillant and with a citrussy aftertaste.
I first met Yulia in Alfredo’s neighbourhood, more precisely at Dominio de Pingus, where she guided us around the premises during a wine trip that I organized. But she has Eastern roots and is now making wine in the Kakheti region of Georgia. The winery is called Gvymarani and can be found in the village of Manavi. The wine is made from the mtsvane grape, fermented 7 months and also aged in qvevri. Gvymarani Mtsvane: Clean golden; fruity nose of apple, dried apricot, peach, orange peel and some honey; full and with evident tannins in the mouth.
Antonio Portela (picture taken at the Barcelona tasting)
I tasted Antonio Portela‘s wines in Barcelona earlier that month and made an appointment to visit his vineyards later – so I just took the opportunity to try his beautiful red tinta femia Namorado 2017 (tinto mareiro) again, fermented and aged for 12 months in used French oak: Light in colour; pure, with fresh, red fruits on the nose; a vibrant flavour, a good natural acidity and in a long saline finish. Goodness, what a wine!
Constantina Sotelo (picture taken in her winery after the fair)
Constantina Sotelo was another producer that I decided to cross the border to visit once the fair was over. Here I tasted, among others, her Pio Pio 2017 ‘en rama’ (unfiltered). It’s from a vineyard with quite a lot of ‘pie franco’ (ungrafted) plants, and a very personal wine: Light yellow; green apple, citric (lime), anise; quite full, glyceric, and with an appealing acidity. A lovely albariño. See you on the other side of the border!