Author Archives: Vidar Kenneth Johansen

Classic, cheap Chilean Carmenère

Carmenère, of Bordeaux origin, has been found in Chile for more than 100 years – and has in recent times become something of a “national grape”, or at least a point of reference for the country. De Martino (see also here) is said to be the first to bottle it, after its identification as late as in 1991. Their grapes come from the Alto de Piedras vineyard, the same place as the first carmenère was identified.

In this part of Maipo we find a climate similar to the Mediterranean, mild with dry summer. The difference between night and day varies in summer from 14 to 29°C. The soils are alluvial, from the Maipo river.

 Sebastián De Martino, whom I met earlier this year in London

The family has always wanted to create wines that reflect their origin. The wine is completely organic, like all the wines they make, and they claim it’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Nuevo Mundo Carmenère 2014 (De Martino)

Developed red. Aroma of strawberries, as well as fruits from the forest and some spices. Juicy mouthfeel, fresh, but well-integrated acidity.

Price: Low

Food: Light meat, hard cheeses

 

A Swiss project in New Zealand

This is a project that started in the late 80s, formed by Swiss Georg and Ruth Fromm together with winemaker Hatsch Kalberer, all of them with knowledge about the wines of both European and New Zealand. It didn’t take long before they decided to join forces, set up a winery in Marlborough, and the first plantings were done in 1992. The Fromm’s returned to Switzerland some years ago, but Hatsch continues to release one superb wine after another, not least the country’s oldest single vineyard malbec, called “H” for Hatsch.

This wine is a 100% pinot noir. It was spontaneously fermented in steel tanks with a long maceration. 


Fromm La Strada Pinot Noir 2014 (Fromm Winery)

Brilliant ruby red. Fresh on the nose, with raspberries, plums and aromatic herbs. Luscious, rounded mouthfeel, long aftertaste with a well-integrated acidity that lasts all the way. It has stayed on the shelves for some time (2015 also released), and must be near its peak now.

Price: Medium

Food: Veal and pig, duck and chicken, salads, tapas

 

White contrasts

Rita Marques is one of the new Douro comets. She has some terrific reds, such as a very personal take on the red bastardo variety, and some good ports too. But it’s maybe the whites that most of all cought my attention from the beginning, with their purity, freshness and elegance.

She is found by the Teja river, a tributary to the Douro that ends near Symington’s Vesúvio estate.

This wine is made from very old vines, primarily of the rabigato and côdega do larinho varieties (40% each), with arinto.

The must was spontaneously fermented and raised in inox tanks and used oak, with 5 months on the lees. It clocks in at a mere 13% alcohol.

Contraste Branco 2016 (Conceito Vinhos)

Light yellow, greenish hue. Flowery aroma, slightly waxy, with peaches and pears, and herbs underneath. Full on the palate, a salty minerality and with a limey acidity in a long aftertaste.

Price: Low

Food: Grilled seafood, white fish, some bacalhau dishes, salads

Bargain from the “Tierra” of Cuenca

In the Cuenca province, along the road between Madrid and Albacete, we find Dominio de Punctum. When we visited some years ago the Fernández family already impressed with splendid value wines from rather young vines. The quality is steadily improving since then.

Their production comes from their own vineyards, the “Finca Fabián” estate that currently includes more than 200 hectares. Here they have always worked in a traditional organic way, now biodynamic practises mark a further step.

 Visit in the vineyard

This wine, with the denomination Tierra de Castilla, is made from tempranillo 70%, complemented with petit verdot. As many will know, tempranillo is the prevailing Spanish grape, earlier called cencibel here (a fact people seem to have forgotten). Petit verdot is known from Bordeaux, but has long become a classic in Spain. Harvest was done at night, fermentation with natural yeasts carried out in inox between 24º and 27º C, and finally the wine was only lightly filtered.

Dominio de Punctum Tempranillo-Petit verdot 2016 (Dom. de Punctum)

Cherry red with violet rim. Notes of red berries, some blackberry and herbs. Tasty, with rounded tannins, and quite persistent.

Price: Low

Food: Light meat, salads, pasta, hard cheeses (such as the local manchego), assorted tapas

A day for Tempranillo

It seems to be a day for everything. Since 2011 the TAPAS (‘tempranillo advocates, producers and amigos society’) of North America has celebrated this grape, the world’s 4th in extension.

They picked the second Thursday in November, which means the coming 9th November this year. And many of the grape’s many international followers have – followed.

I miss no opportunity to open a bottle of tempranillo wine. They come in many variations, different clones and synonyms too (more than 60 in its native Spain alone), but one clone has the ability to show huge differences in terroir.

Needless to say, there are a huge amount of wines to chose from. I select one from my most recent wine trip, that included one day in Rioja. Here Sandra Bravo has released some magnificent and original wines since 2012. The clayey/chalky vineyards are found at 650 meters altitude between Labastida and the Sierra de Toloño (a part of the Cantabrian mountain range). The wines are kept in a rented bodega in Villabuena de Álava – all this to the east-northeast of Haro, for those who are not quite familiar with the landscape.

 Sandra Bravo in the Villabuena cellar

The wine in question is her “basic” red. It was in fact the first wine in Rioja to be elevated in clay amphora. There are now several vintages on the market. I chose 2014 as I think it has a perfect development right now, though it will keep. The cultivation is organic, the must was fermented with natural yeasts in steel, clay and cement, and it spent some 6 months in used French oak barrels.

Bilderesultat for sierra de toloño 2014

Sierra de Toloño 2014 (Sierra de Toloño)

Dark cherry red. Floral, cool fruit, with red berries (cherry, blackberry), herbs, and a slight dark (roasted, coffee) tone. Very elegant, quite slender, with appealing acidity and developing tannins.

Price: Medium

Food: Red and light meat, game, salads, light stews, hard cheeses

 

Los Patios de Beatas, Málaga

Los Patios de Beatas is a favourite in Málaga, and whenever I arrive in the city it will never take long untill I head for a table in that culinary palace, hotel and cultural oasis.

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Speaking of tables, please allow me a short sidestep before we get back to the restaurant. My wife had since she first saw the tables in the street and in the restaurant been an admirer of the work. So she took a picture of the signature, and looked up a facebook site. We soon found out that the artist lived in Mijas village. So we went to Mijas. There were no signs, no directions. But we didn’t give up: We talked to some locals, knocked on some doors, and suddenly we found ourselves in the artist’s living-room.

Joshua Van Den Eeden is of American and Flemish descendant; his parents met in Torremolinos in the 1960’s, and you have already realized that there is a romantic story that could be told. But we must make a short-cut: Joshua is now established with his home-workshop and gallery in Mijas. His tables are made of concrete, and the plates of copper and calcium. The turquoise colour comes from a reaction with air. Finally a glacier is put on top of it, to keep it from further development.

2017-07-01 15.35.42 Joshua Joshua Van Den Eeden

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Among other projects are benches for the Mijas municipality. So remember, next time you are there you will maybe sit on the artwork that you see here. The wine map to the left is for a friend. Take a closer look, and you will see a more detailed map of Rioja than the current official one. (You can find more info here.)

Back in the old town of Málaga, Beatas is a small street where the people behind the restaurant have rehabilitated two houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, both architectural pearls of historic importance, and both with beautiful patios. This is the background to the restaurant’s name.

2017-01-13 22.17.59 Julián Sanjuán

The driving force behind the project is Julián Sanjuán, who has studied oenology in Málaga and got his sommelier degree from Barcelona, and had already opened málaga wine museums both Ojén and Mijas, small towns in the Málaga province. He established Los Patios in 2012, and last year he also created a professional sommelier association in Málaga. With his network it’s then easy to understand why the restaurant is full of dedicated sommeliers that know how to describe a wine, and has the knowledge to pair wine and food successfully.

In the main floor there are three rooms with open doors between them, two are more normal restaurants, and one cosy bar where you sit on high stools at van den Erden’s tables. You can also buy the bottles that you see around you in the room and bring them home with you. In the next floor there are two dining rooms, a tasting room with natural light from an inside patio, and in the other jazz and flamenco concerts are held once in a while. The familiy also runs a small hotel in the other building.

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Key words are varied wines from all over Spain (and some from outside), and creative dishes based on seasonal products. Worth mentioning, this is snob-free zone, and all the wines are for drinking, more than 500 references in total. Some restaurants with a much shorter wine-list have some show-wines like Vega Sicilias in old vintages that noone has the wallet to buy. Here there are a few really expensive wines, but the difference is -and while we are talking about Ribera del Duero- that the most expensive Vegas and Sastres are a logical continuation of an extensive list of wines from the Ribera. For Andalusian wines I can only think of one contender, Armando Guerras place in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. (Read about him here.) But for wines from the Málaga province you simply go to Los Patios.

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After so many visits it’s difficult to pick just a few wines. I have tasted many local and regional wines, such as Sedella and Schatz from the Málaga province, the sherries of Ramiro Ibañez and Equipo Navazos from Cádiz. Sparklers from Recaredo (Cava), whites from Lagar de Pintos (Rías Baixas)and Avanthia (Valdeorras) and developed reds from Álvaro Palacios (Priorat), Ánima Negra (Mallorca) and Dominio de Atauta (Ribera del Duero) will rarely disappoint.

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My last visit was earlier this year. I will always discuss with the sommeliers, of course, but this is the kind of place that I can let them get the last word, and I can easily trust that the wine will be good and the pairings successful. This time the first wine was Igualado 2014 a red blend from nearby Ronda bodega Joaquín Fernández. Dark, young colour; balsamic aroma (mint), peppery and spicy, with mature tannins, that went well with “ternera con foie” (veal with foie gras), even if I would suspect the wine to be too dominant. Next was “texturas de panceta”, different textures of pork belly, served with green puré and fennel. the different ingredients blended superbly, and the wine that Julián suggested, Vetus 2011 from Toro (dark, red berries, blackcurrant, morello and a touch of minty oak, mature and integrated tannins, a very elegant Toro) was interesting to see with the varying textures of the food.

2017-03-04 14.55.49 Veal with fois, and a glass of Igualado

2017-03-04 15.19.06 The Vetus bottle, and Julián talking to the next table

After numerous visits to central Spain I have learned to know Daniel Jiménez-Landi (now of Comando G fame and a great ambassador of the light extraction garnacha style). Here we could savour one of his earlier offerings, the Piélago 2010. This Méntrida garnacha was quite hard in its younger years, but after some time in Los Patios’ cellar it had mellowed, and it was perfect with the lamb and quinoa dish.

2017-03-04 21.15.13 Piélago with lamb and quinoa

This was a unusual night in that we had only red wines. But you don’t always need to start with a champagne and end with a dessert wine and a grappa, do you? This particular night we ended with the fabulous Acinipo 2006 from a good friend, Ronda wine producer Friedrich Schatz. And this because the party had already wanted to order a plate of cheeses, a selection with predominantly hard cheeses, so I thought why not. Schatz is originally from Süd-Tirol, and the wine is made from the variety lemberger, a synonym for blaufränkisch. It’s quite different from the more northern-eastern wines though. Named after the Roman ruins further down the road, this wine is quite full-bodied with the dryness in the aftertaste that can be found in this producer’s wines, a feature that makes them go well with a variety of dishes.

On your first visit to Málaga, go to El Pimpi and the Antigua Casa de Guardia, because they are picturesque places and important for the city’s culinary history, and you will get decent tapas there. But once familiar with Málaga they are maybe not the places you will keep coming back to. Los Patios is a place that you never get tired of.

Value Valpolicella

This is a very good value Valpolicella. The winery is established in an aristocratic villa from the 16th century, and has a beautiful agriturismo on the estate. The estate totals 400 hectares, including three vineyards on three different hills, with differences in soil composition and orientation.

This wine comes from the Monte del Drago hill, with a total vineyard area of 8 hectares. There are also some young (white) garganega and pinot bianco plantings, but the vines that gives the fruit to the Drago wine is mainly corvina planted in the 1990’s. The exposition is west, and the soil is tuff with white clay.  

The grapes are organically cultivated, and biodynamic techniques are also employed. Corvina makes up the highest proportion of the blend (60%), the rest corvinone, and 5% each of rondinella and, maybe a surprise: barbera. Winemaker Maddalena Pasqua let it rest for 12 months in French oak, which is barely noticeable.

 

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Drago Valpolicella Superiore 2015 (Musella)

Quite dark red, blueish hint. Aroma of dark and red berries (cherry), some herbs. Young, lucious, tasty and with a fresh acidity.

Price: Low

Food: Light meat, pasta, salads, antipasti

Mengoba at Gastroteca de Santiago

This marked the conclusion of a wine trip. Our theme was three wine regions in old Castilla. But we also had some occasional wines from other areas.

The Gastroteca is a wine bar, or restaurant, in a small chain of restaurants and a shop. It’s run by a handful of sommeliers. Tabernero and Matritum are other Madrid wine bars in the chain, and the one with special responsabililty for this place is Juan Carlos Ramos. The restaurant is located on the Plazuela de Santiago, close to the royal palace, and not far from the central tourist spot Puerta del Sol.

The Gastroteca de Santiago is a small restaurant, or wine bar, with only 16 chairs. It has a creative menu that could be described as contemporary Spanish, and the dishes are delivered cleverly and at very reasonable prices. The wine list is quite extensive with a focus on what’s happening in Spain at the moment, and with a nod to classic European regions as well, most of all Burgundy, Rhône and Champagne.

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We had a wonderful unfiltered fino Arroyuelo from producer Primitivo Collantes, a verdejo from Rueda (Tinita 2014 from Soto y Manrique), 25% of it with fermentation and 4 months lees-ageing in oak. Then we chose the unique Monastel from Rioja’s Juan Carlos Sancha (which we will present in a later post).

20171016_103505 Enjoying a good red at the Gastroteca

We closed our session with a wonderful wine from Gregory Pérez of Bierzo, the Castilian region to the north-west bordering Galicia. Gregory, originally from Bordeaux, fell in love with Bierzo, and at a time he worked with Mariano García (of Vega Sicilia fame) at Luna Beberide, another Bierzo winery. He works very traditionally, with natural methods, including native yeasts, very low sulphur – and with a horse. Mengoba is a series of wines, the name made up of the first letters of the local varieties mencía, godello and valenciana with a “b”).

This Mengoba is made from mencía 80%, and the rest garnacha tintorera, also known as the Portuguese alicante bouschet. The mencía is sourced partly from a clone that Gregory revived in Espanillo, at 700-850 meters with mixed soils (80 year old vines) and the rest from 550 meters at Valtuille (30 year old). It stayed 6 months on lees in big foudres, partly with whole clusters. Then in 5.000 liters in the foudres for almost 10 months.

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Mengoba 2015 (Gregory Pérez)

Dark red. Aromas of dark fruit, ink, and plums, a little chocolate. Full on the palate, young tannins and good acidity. With a couple of years more it will probably have reached its full potential, with everything integrated and still packed with lively fruit.

Price: Medium

 

 

Visiting Finca Montepedroso, Rueda

At Finca Montepedroso we met winemaker Lauren Rosillo and Marta Martínez Bujanda (of the family that owns the winery).

Montepedroso is a beautiful farm on a plateau overlooking the Rueda village. It was bought in 2008, and a functional winery built in the typical materials of the area opened four years later.

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They manage 25 hectares of vineyards with an average of 20 years, at an altitude of 750 meters. This is a one wine farm, dedicated to one single variety, the verdejo, and only 120.000 bottles are made annually.

Here are three types of soils: alluvial soil on top of the plateau accounts for 70%, clay soil in the gorge where the oldest vineyards are planted, and a soil with a large quantity of lime and clay sediments.

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We are on the central Castilian meseta, with cold and long winters, short springs with late frosts and hot and dry summers. The vines find water and nutrients deep down the  subsoil, and the wide temperature gives freshness and acidity to the wine.

The fermentation starts without addition of yeasts. Lauren says that for him this is the only way. And worth mentioning here is that the typical features for the verdejo are green apple and grass, and that the tropical aromas found in many verdejos are from added yeasts, according to the winemaker. The fermentation at Montepedroso lasts typically for 19 days at 16ºC. Then the must rests over its fine lees for five months with weekly stirring. The wine is completely dry, but the lees add a sensation of sweetness. Lauren says that he aims for acidity, varietal character – and a low alcohol (here typically 12-12,5).

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Marta and Lauren, with Rueda village in the background

We first tasted the most recent vintage, Finca Montepedroso 2016. This is light yellow with a greenish hint, aromatic with notes of green apple, apricot, fennel, white flowers and hay. It has both volume and structure in the mouth, and a fresh balancing acidity. In sum a personal verdejo, but in a traditional line.

We also tasted the 2010, the first vintage of the wine, to see the development. 2010 had frost during spring, and the production was low. This wine was more golden, still flowery, but with mature sensations of honey and a touch of petrol. Very fresh and appealing.

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We also tasted a few wines from Martínez Bujanda‘s other projects. Their single estate in Rioja is Finca Valpiedra, 80 hectares between Fuenmayor and Cenicero at an altitude of just over 400 meters, where we find alternating Atlantic and Mediterranean influences. This is the only Rioja estate to be included in the organization Grandes Pagos de España. Both wines are predominantly tempranillo, but with presence of other Rioja varieties, such as graciano.

Cantos de Valpiedra 2013 had a cherry red colour, an aroma of dark fruits, blackberry, fennel with slight hints of vanilla. In the mouth it was quite full, and a decent level of acidity gives freshness and contributes to the balance. The Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2010 had a slightly darker, intense black cherry colour. The aroma was complex with red and dark fruits, balsamic, a touch of smoke, and some vanilla, spices and tobacco from the oak-ageing. The tannins are still there, but they are rounded off by age, it’s fresh and delicate, and with a good balance between fruit and wood.

20171015_105231 Lauren and Marta with some of the visitors

During the travels through the many great vineyards of Spain Finca Antigua was a “love at first sight” experience, according to both Marta and Lauren. This is close to where the winemaker lives, in the Cuenca province towards the border of Toledo. We find scrubland, vineyards and forest, and it’s easy to maintain the eco-diversity. It’s a vast farm in Castilla-La Mancha with an altitude over 900 meters, one of the coldest part of the meseta, and extreme variations between day and night. They decided that varieties well-apted for this land were merlot, syrah, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon, together with tempranillo (formerly known in Central Spain as cencibel) and other national grapes.

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The wines have cool elegance and freshness, and the wines improve with age. But even with full phenolic maturity the alcohol levels rarely exceeds 14, not even in the hottest years. The Finca Antigua 2012 (a crianza of 50% tempranillo, and the rest merlot, syrah and cabernet) was a dark, cool wine, with aromas of chalky minerals, almost milky (from the malolactic, I guess), fresh berries, and in the mouth it had a creamy structure and then a wonderful acidity. The Reserva 2010 (70% merlot, complementet with cabernet and syrah) was also a dark and cool wine, with cherries and berries from the woods, balsamic (mint, eucalyptus), herbal (thyme), with a slightly tougher structure than the crianza.

Sidestepping: Please read here about Lauren’s solo project in Málaga, where I met him for the first time.

Coming back: These days when we speak a lot about the changes of Rioja (Norwegian readers can read a couple of articles on these pages), it’s no doubt that the Martínez Bujanda family is in the vanguard. And it’s no better place to experience this than the tasting table where are sitting right now, with a view of the picturesque village of Rueda.

 

 

Nieva, a new chapter

Nieva is a small settlement of some 300 souls in the Segovia province, at the southeastern border of DO Rueda. It’s a cool and high area with predominantly sandy soils, so there are many un-grafted, pre-phylloxera vines, in Spanish called ‘pie franco’. These three factors make it a really interesting place.

Allow me a brief Nieva quality wine history, which is all about the verdejo variety. Viñedos de Nieva was the leading producer here, with Pie Franco as one of the great Spanish whites. Then Ismael Gozalo, from Nieva, teamed up with Javier Zaccagnini (from Aalto with Mariano García, formerly Vega Sicilia) to form Ossian, that gave us the Capitel, a big wine, by many considered among the country’s best wines too. The Brothers Herrero, that we will visit tomorrow, left Viñedos de Nieva when the Martúe group took over. When Zaccagnini sold his part of Ossian to Pago de Carraovejas, Ismael went solo. Now folks, I will not bore you any more with tales of who leaves who.

Ismael works according to nature’s laws, and tries to express the terroir. He uses the old bodega of an old Nieva monastery. He makes a variety of wines, some more on the experimental natural side than others. 

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Rack is a verdejo from pre-phylloxera vines, and organically certified. It’s fermented in steel tanks with natural yeasts, aimed to be reductive and thus self-protective. (The back label says ‘beautiful reduction taken to the extreme’.) It’s bottled without added sulphites, un-filtered and without corrections of any sort. Only 650 bottles were made.

Rack 2015 (Ismael Gozalo, MicroBio)

Deep yellow, cloudy. Aroma of white flowers, peach, mature apples. Opulent in the mouth, with small bubbles, and a fresh acidity that knits it nicely together.

Price: Medium

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