Here is an ecologic cava from the varieties pansa blanca (local name for xarel.lo), macabeu and parellada. The Alta Alella winery is run by the Pujol-Busquets family in the Serralada de Marina Natural Park, just north of the city of Barcelona. Mireia, daughter of founders Josep Maria and Cristina Pujol-Busquets, is currently wine-maker.
Alta Alella’s wines are made from their own grapes. The soils are low in pH, which compensates for the warm Mediterranean climate and give acidity to the wines. They are based on the decomposed granite called sauló, with a sandy texture and good drainage.
All work in the vineyard is manual. After a gentle pressing each of the varieties for this wine ferment separately. Then there is a second fermentation in bottle following the traditional Champenoise method. Unfermented must is used to provide the sugar for the secondary fermentation in bottle, and SO2 is added only after disgorging. The ageing on lees is 30 months (thus the youngest of their cavas). It is disgorged before release, with the disgorgement date noted on the label.
None of Alta Alella’s wines receives dosage.
Mirgin Gran Reserva 2017(Alta Alella)
Light straw. Fruity, green apple, lemon peel, chalk and some brioche autolycic quality. Full in the mouth, mellow mousse, good acidity, dry, saline, long.
I am back at Barcelona’s Vella Terra. It is now in its 6th edition after having been postponed, last time since February this year. Vella Terra is a fair organized by the couple Ale Delfino and Stefano Fraternali, and celebrates natural and low-intervention wines from smaller wineries, most of them family businesses. This year there were 146 artisans from 16 countries booked in. There were also related companies like Pulltex, distributor of wine accessories (see my company profile of one of their most important collaborators Pulltap’s in a forthcoming article) and restaurants like Garage Bar and Zaza. There were of course also various activities around town, with so much “talent” gathered in one place.
This year I had no special theme in mind. I did select a bit, but was also open to walk in new doors. So here are some of the most interesting tastes, only organized from local to global, if I can put it that way. And as many times before, I try to restrict myself by chosing only one wine from each winery. In this first part we shall deal with Spain.
I had tasted a few wines from Cal Teixidor before. (See my latest wine of the week here.) Their winery is found in Corbera de Llobregat, not far from Barcelona. At Vella Terra Josep Casañas showed an impressive range, most of the wines based on the two vineyards described in my latest wine of the week, that you can read about here). These are a north-facing xarel.lo vineyard that gives acidity and minerality, and a south or southwest-facing macabeu vineyard that gives more fruity, aromatic wines. There were also wines made from subirat parent (see his T-shirt), also known by the name malvasía riojana. Here I chose a wine solely based on the macabeu vineyard from 1974. It’s called Masía Cal Salines 2019, is made with whole clusters and aged … Dark yellow; appley, with fennel-tones; rich, structured and mouth-filling. Josep also showed a superb subirat parent traditional method sparkler with almost the same name, Masía Cal SalinesBrut Nature Reserva. This fruity wine, with herbs and mature apple, but also mineral and with a fresh acidity – was of the 2017 vintage and aged 42 months on the lees. Which strictly makes it a gran reserva (it’s minimum 30 months, by Cava standards). Lastly, his wife Brugués is the force behind the estate’s own olive oil.
Loxarel I have known a long time, and I’ve appreciated their good and not least good value wines. Last time they were represented in a wine of the week post was here. In February I had an appointment with winemaker Pep for a visit to their Penedès winery, but had to cancel as I was struck by covid. Here founder Josep Medios participated together with Anna Janué, who calls herself commercial sommelier. They showed an impressive range, such as still and sparkling Loxarel à pel, an amphora-made xarel.lo, and a “xarel.lo sherry” (called Himen), and reds. Here I chose Loxarel109 2011, a brut nature reserva (well, technically it qualifies for a gran reserva). This wine was the reason that Loxarel left DO Cava for Clàssic Penedès, because the authorities didn’t allow them to bottle without disgorging. Loxarel’s opinion is that after nine years the wine has already integrated the yeast. Obviously, this is also a xarel.lo-dominated wine, like nearly all the most ageworthy. Aged on the lees for 109 months in a shelter from the civil war. Light in colour; smells of mature apples, burnt yeast and coffee; is rich with a super acidity and mineral finish, it’s still full of vividness and not at all “old”. It comes in a bottle wrapped in paper.
Clos Lentiscus is located inside the national park in the Garraf mountains just outside Sant Pere de Ribes. The winery was established in 2001 by brothers Manel and Joan Aviñó, when they set out on a task of restoring the family vineyard from the 14th century. They currently cultivate 22 hectares of vineyards in a biodynamic way, of which 95 percent are planted with local grape varieties.
Before the fair I had warmed up with a classy, mineral red, Perill Noir Carinyena 2017, a varietal carinyena that also were shown here. I chose one of the bright sparklers that Manel’s daughter Núria poured. The Núria Parellada 2018, one of several wines named after her, is a pét-nat, very fresh for its age. It’s very dry with notes of red apples, raspberry and bright citrus.
I met Dido and Jurriaan three years ago at the Garage Bar. Then they were just starting, after having travelled the world and worked in a number of wineries. Since then I have come across their rosé sparkler Juicy several times. (See here.) share a passion: wine. They bought 9.5 hectares of vines planted in the Albera natural reserve of Alt Empordà, where they farm organically and have started to implement biodynamic principles. They have now bought an old coop in the village Rabós, where they first were hiring space.
Many of their labels carry references to music, such as Big Time Sensuality, Comfortably numb and Libertango. My pick here would be Magic Potion 2021, a cabernet franc-sauvignon pét-nat named after the album of The Black Keys: Blueish red, full of fresh and sweet strawberry and raspberry fruit, and in the mouth some structure that complements well with a slight residual sugar.
Architect Alfredo Arribas is quite new on the Catalan wine scene, having taken over the family’s vineyards in 2001 founded his bodega in 08. But he has made himself heard. His two main series are Siuralta, mostly monovarietal wines from Montsant and Instabiles, more free-spirited wines from Priorat. The vineyards are in Cornudella de Montsant, in the north of the Priorat region, and the grapes are vinified in the winery in Falset. Arribas’ project is a response to the challenges of climatic change, seeking higher altitude vineyards, more shade and rainfall, biodiversity and more.
For Siuralta grapes from the highest vineyards are spontaneously fermented in whole clusters with stems in small steel tanks and amphorae in various shapes. The grapes for Instabile are spontaneously fermented mainly in whole clusters with short peel maceration. The wines are matured in small cement tanks and amphorae of ceramics, porcelain or glass. Different vintages are mixed in some cases by bottling.
Let’s taste the Siuralta Antic2019, a varietal cariñena: Deep red; cool, fresh fruit, dark and wild berries (blackberry, elderberry), a hint of pepper; luscious/fleshy in the mouth, carried by a long acidity, beautifully integrated tannins, more to the mineral side.
I didn’t know Sifer Wines, but it clearly is a winery to watch. (See also a mention of their Ephraim Mel garnacha blanca here.) Sifer, the name made up from two last names, has vineyards both in Terra Alta’s Batea and in Teruel, Aragón. Among their expressive, vibrant entries were Víbria Soul 2021, a macabeu made in amphora and steel. It’s light, quite turbid, with pear and white fruits and a super acidity.
Cap de Nit is a young family winery that produces wines in the Marina Alta in the north of the province of Alicante. Josh and Josie started the project in 2017, looking for old vineyards of native varieties, to work them in strict organic farming. The vineyards are mostly located in the Vall de Xaló, in the coastal mountains. The small plots are hidden between plantations of almond, orange and olive trees. Work in the field and in the manual warehouse. – The wines are made naturally, fermentation is spontaneous, temperature is not controlled and the wines remain on the mother lees throughout the ageing. No type of additive is applied. The fermentation and aging is done in 500 liter clay pots and stainless steel tanks. They work with different degrees of maceration. At the end the wines are bottled by gravity. – Grape varieties: muscat of alexandria and giró
The real name is Bodega de Frutos Marín, but this producer is most often called Malaparte, after its most famous label. Rubén and Elisa cultivate 5.5 ha of vineyards near Cuéllar, in the province of Segovia. They employ various techniques, such as tanks, old barrels and amphoras. All vineyards are farmed dry.
This is close to Ribera del Duero. Nevertheless, and in spite of a lovely amphora-aged tempranillo, I would say they are mostly a white wine producer, offering verdejo and viura in several fashions. Maybe because I am currently working on an article about the historical wines of the lands of Medina, I chose OX. This is obviously an abbreviation of oxidative, a feature of the “dorado” wines. It is a mix of varieties (I will check, but typical, and recommended in DO Rueda are verdejo and palomino fino), 65 year old vines. The wine rested one year under “flor”, and was then transferred to “damajuanas” (big bottles, demijohns in English). It arrives naturally at 14%, and is not fortified. It has all the yeast, almonds, dried fruits aromas that one night expect, and in the mouth it’s glyceric – and more fruity than its sherry equivalents.
Makatzak Wild Wines is a Basque project found in Aia (Guipuzcoa), near Zarauz, that really has impressed me. Here is no talk about conditions “not favourable for organic growing in our region”, as we often hear. Aitor Irazu Alonso started the winery with his cousin. Here he manages the Sorgintxulo vineyard, that after being abandoned for 5 years now is restored. It is an ecosystem of 3 hectares of vineyards, whose main variety is the hondarrabi zuri. Atlantic climate with high rainfall, mainly southern exposure, steep slopes and slate soils are the main characteristics. The work is based on ecological, natural, regenerative and biodynamic agriculture. Makatzak are now receiving their organic certification, and will later aim also for a biodynamic one.
Sorkin 2021 is light in colour, has an aroma of green apple and bright citrus, and comes with a wonderful acidity. It’s a natural txakolí that’s “impeccably clean”, I imagine the classic British writers would have said. A prime example of the growing natural wine scene in Spain.
The rain in Spain falls… and falls. I’ve come to Barcelona to attend the Vella Terra fair. Walking from my hotel through the square outlined part of the Eixample district, when entering the quiet and pleasant Sant Antoni neighborhood, the sky is wide-open. What is then better than to take refuge in the Garage Bar, that opens right now after the daily break. In the bar I am welcomed by Stefano Fraternali, co-owner. Soon after Ale Delfino show up at my table. Ale is Stefano’s wife and chief organizer of the fair. The theme is thus set.
I let Stefano chose. He served four wines to the small, well-made dishes Pan amb tomate (the Catalan bread classic, here fermented dog 24 hours), marinated olives (own recipe marinade), vitello tonnato (veal with tuna-mayonnaise served cold) and their own burrata (mozzarella on toast, here with champignons, red onions and truffle oil), the two latter maybe a nod to Stefano’s Italian past.
These were Ephraim Mel2021, a gentle skin-contact garnacha blanca (Sifer Wines, Catalunya), Le Glam Cab du Bled, a fruity, peppery carbonic maceration gamay/ cabernet franc (Laurent Lebled, Loire) and Aldo Viola’s light, raspberry-fresh Saignée Rosso 2019, made from nerello mascalese/ perricone/ syrah (Alcamo, Sicilia).
But first he served this week’s pick. This is born from a duo of grapes, each from their vineyard. The xarel.lo vineyard with the name Cal Tusac, that was planted in 1955, and a macabeu vineyard planted in 1974. We are in Santa Margarida i els Monjos in Penedès, Catalunya. The soil in the first one has marl and chalk, and is northeast-facing. The second, nearby, but over in Vilafranca del Penedès, is south facing, flat with clay and lots of sunshine. Two quite different vineyards, in other words. The viticulture is organic in both. The grapes were hand-picked early September, then very lightly pressed. Then spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, before stainless steel for ten and a half months while doing battonage. After almost a year the two wines were brought together and finally bottled unfiltered.
Cal Tusac Vinyes 55+74 Xarel.lo i Macabeu 2016 (Cal Teixidor)
Light straw. Yellow apples, pears, a herbal touch (thyme). Good acidity, long, and also with a mineral note. A wonderful duo of grapes, fresh for a 16.
Food: Grilled fish, tasty shellfish, rice dishes, pairing, soft and semi-cured cheeses, a variety of tapas
While Norway changed government with parades and speeches, an interesting tasting took place just across the street at the Grand Hotel. This tasting in Oslo was the first official Corpinnat tasting outside of Spain.
To be short, Corpinnat (meaning born in the Penedès, after Roman etymological roots) is a group of Catalan producers of sparkling wine that has left DO Cava. All ten producers with wines in the market were represented. Leading the tasting was Carles del Amor, export director of Nadal, one of the six founding members – together with Liora Levi, Norwegian sommelier and wine writer.
The tasting showed a variety of styles. Some wineries contributed what they consider the more typical from their range, while others offered “top” wines. There were examples of restrained, mineral wines, while others were more on the fruity side. Some dominated by the xarel.lo grape (also varietals), others with more parellada. One rosé.
There will be a longer report that I will link to here. Now I will just present one wine in the ever ongoing Wine of the Week series.
Since Carles is here (on behalf of Corpinnat, that is) I still want to focus a bit on Nadal‘s contribution. Their Brut Nature Reserve 2015 was maybe the most flowery/fruity of the lot. This can maybe be seen from the grape composition; parellada 57%, xarel.lo 22%, macabeu 21%. While xarel.lo is a variety with a lot of acidity and preferred in wines made for ageing, parellada contributes more finesse and aroma. This said, Carles tells that they have a project going on, trying to prepare parellada for more ageing, for example by moving higher up towards the Pyrenees. By doing this they also prepare themselves for new, hotter times. The wine has an ageing of 60 months on the lees, is a non dosé obviously organically grown (as is mandatory without Corpinnat), and it’s degorged 21st June 2021 (also obligatory information within the group).
Here are other posts about members of the group (search the site for more):
I met Ramón Jané and his wife Mercé at a fair in Penedès a few years ago and was very impressed. This can also be said about a third member of the team, Toní Carbó, and his side project with an even more natural approach (read here).
Mas Candí disposes of 55 hectares organically farmed vineyards near the Massif del Garraf in Alto Penedès. They are now members of the Corpinnat group, that seeks to reestablish a faith in Spanish sparkling wine by differentiating between the various soils, promote organic farming and otherwise holding strict rules in every aspect.
This sparkler comes from a vineyard planted in 1955 on chalk and fossil ground. It’s a varietal xarel.lo. Minimum ageing on lees for Corpinnat is 18 months. Total sulphur is less than 30 mg/L.
Segunyola Corpinnat Brut Nature 2016(Mas Candí)
Light gold colour; citric with green and red apples and a hint of yeast and almonds; creamy mouthfeel, medium full with good acidity, finishes dry.
Loxarel I have met at a couple of artisan fairs, in Barcelona, and as far as I remember, in London too. Masia Can Mayol, the official name, is Josep Medios, fifth generation. When he got in charge of the family firm at a young age he changed the philosophy of this old winery. He started bottling wines, converting to organic, then implementing biodynamic techniques. (Here is another good sparkler from the house.)
The winery is located in Villobí, on a plain not far from Vilafranca del Penedès, but they have also plots in El Pla de Manlleu, higher in altitude and a bit further west.
This winery is among the many that are now abandoning the DO Cava. Among the reasons for this can be a challenging reputation that the appellation has gained over the years, and the fact that it is not dedicated to one specific geographical area. More about this in a future article.
This particular sparkler is made up from xarel.lo 55% (now widely recognized as the best of the “usual suspects” for ageing), then macabeo 30%, parellada 5%, and the rest chardonnay, a grape that I have nothing against, even not here, even not native. I interpret the name a pèl +18 as the time spent on lees (and not skins).
A Pèl +18 Brut Nature 2016(Loxarel/ Masia Can Mayol)
Light straw, greenish tones, creamy mousse. Mild Mediterranean smell of aromatic herbs, yeast, mature lemons and yellow apples. Creamy, tasty, rounded but dry.
Food: Apéritif, Iberian cured ham, light fish and shellfish…
Clandestina travels from Catalunya to new destinations with accordingly named labels, such as Blanc Fugitiu (fugitive), Orance Censurat (censored), Ancestral Confiscat (confiscated). Read more about these here in an article from the cancelled Rawfair this March, where I met winemaker Ferrán at wine bar WineO in London.
This week’s wine, Blanc Sense Papers 2019, has made it all the way to my northern local wine shop. It originates from a more than 50 years old xarel.lo vineyard. The grapes from the three plots were harvested seperately at different times to ensure perfect ripeness, the different harvests are fermented in steel and aged in demijohns for different periods of time, and the last harvest kept in oak for 4 months, before blending it all and bottling unfined and unfiltered. -I base my wines on acidity, says Ferrán, -and I like Bourgogne Aligoté, he answers to my question what he tries to achieve. And acidity he has managed to retain. It really is acidic. I am not sure if it has the body to match, but time will show.
Blanc Sense Papers 2019(Bodegas Clandestina)
Yellow with green and grey hints, slightly turbid. Aroma of green apricot, flowers and grapefruit. Fresh and luscious, dry, good acidity, good length.
Time to celebrate. Maybe not the year that lie behind us, but rather a toast to life, art and good wine itself. There are many possibilities; champagne, crémants, cava… Cava? All right, listen.
Agustí Torello Roca (AT Roca) belongs to the family that gave us Kripta and other great great cavas and wines from Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. While Agustí Torelló Mata (ATM) has turned to organics AT Roca goes further; with a more natural approach, and has also joined the ranks of those who leave the very strange DO Cava, that in reality stands for a way of making wine rather than a sense of place.
Agustí Torello Roca and his father and aunt Agustí and Lali founded AT Roca in 2013. One of the first priorities was to join DO Classic Penedès, a subdivision under the DO Penedès formed in 2012. It started with just 10 members, and has been growing ever since. DO Classic Penedès is perhaps the first governing body that requires organic certification in order to be a member. In addition to the farming requirements, 15 months aging on the lees is the minimum (while only 9 months within DO Cava), and all wines must be made by the traditional method and vintage dated. AT Roca goes further by only using indigenous yeasts and harvesting 100% of their grapes by hand.
For their single vineyard wines, they ferment in used barrels and age the wines on the lees under natural cork instead of crown caps, both of which are rarities in the region. Sulfur is only used once to block malolactic as an effort to retain the acidity. All their wines are zero dosage. They only work with indigenous Catalan grape varieties, with a focus on macabeu.
AT Roca Reserva 2016(AT Roca)
Yellow with greenish hints. Aroma of fennel, lime, breadcrumbs. Good body and concentration, nice acidity, and a salty dry finish.
Food: Good Spanish ham, light meat, salads, dried fish and tasty shellfish
Oníric and Entre Vinyes marks a new organic project from Maria and Fernando Barrena, also partners at Azul y Garanza, with headquarters in Navarra.
The Catalan word oníric means a dreamer and denotes the dream that the couple had, to take over and rescue old parcels and vines that had belonged to their family.
The grapes for this wine come primarily from an old vineyard in the the Baix Penedés with poor soils and naturally low yields. The grapes were pressed before a fermentation in steel tanks. After a 20 days fermentation the wine rests on lees for 6 months. It also undergoes a partial malolactic fermentation. Then it’s bottled with a small addition of sulphites. Unfined, unfiltered.
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.