Category Archives: Wine of the Week

Happy Grenache Day!

No it’s not Mother’s Day, not my name day (probably not yours), and no king or queen I know about was born on this day (you don’t need to notify me if you happen to know one). An American group has in fact dubbed it National Double Cheese Burger Day, but that we must cover some other time. Ladies and gentlemen: It’s the International Grenache Day again!

A new opportunity to celebrate that wonderful grape: Light in colour, fleshy, low in tannin, high in alcohol… Some years ago it was very un-fashionable. But times they are a-changing. Now it’s gaining ground even compared to tempranillo in Rioja.

Some have learned to tame this grape, and to make the best of it. This blog is full of garnachas, just push the green garnacha button to the right (try grenache too), and you will see.

IMG_4190 Dani and Fernando Dani (left) and Fernando

Pick of the day: Fernando García and Dani Landi’s Comando G (that in this case stands for garnacha). What could be better? In the Sierra de Gredos they use low yields, natural fermentation, low extraction (but long maceration), no additions, 5 months in big vats, no filtration nor fining… This is pure garnacha elegance, and the most direct expression of place that you can think of.

La Bruja de Rozas is made from several plots in and around Las Rozas de Puerto Real, in the (Madrid) province of the Gredos mountains. The soils are granitic.

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La Bruja de Rozas 2015 (Comando G)

Light cherry red. Lively perfumed fruit, raspberry, white flowers. A “dancing” acidity that forms a fine structure together with a touch of tannin. Light, pure, expressive. Don’t ask for more!

Price: Don’t care (all right, luckily it fall into our medium category, less than 20€ at Spanish Vila Viniteca or Lavinia, less than £20 at Swig and similar, UK, and 235 NKR at Vinmonopolet, Norway)

 

Vino de Paraje… de Bierzo

This is not primarily a political blog. But while waiting for next move from big Spanish wine locomotive Rioja I was delighted when Bierzo announced exactly what I hoped for from the big brother. That is a new classification based on the “Burgundy model”, a project that Priorat had also embarked on, and is about to fulfill.

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Moncerbal is one of four parajes (places) from this producer in the villa of Corullón

In brief, Bierzo has launched a four category classification where paraje (vineyard, or: place) is the most specific, and villa (village) the next level.

This wine is a 100% mencía from a vineyard of 1,74 hectars between 60 and 90 years old in the “paraje” of Moncerbal in the village Corullón situated between 610 and 730 meters’ altitude.

The alcoholic fermentation was carried out in open wooden vats with a 48 days maceration. Spontaneous malo-lactic in big wood too, before 19 months in new French oak.

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Moncerbal 2009 (Descendientes de J. Palacios)

Deep red (crimson). Aromas of cherries, plums, eucalyptus, and only a slight hint of tobacco and chocolate. Full on the palate, fruit with both sunny and cool elements, good acidity. Nice concentration. Good with food now, but will keep for many years.

Note: Some find this wine at its peak now. I prefer a few years more in the cellar. We may “sacrifice” some fresh fruit, but the integration of the wood will be complete.

Serve lightly chilled, just enough to keep the alcohol (14,5) in check.

Price: High

Food: Red meat, game, stews, pasta…

Baga in a different direction

I am in Baga country, Bairrada, with a bunch of dedicated wine people.

There are various styles from that grape, reds, rosés, sparkling, and big variations between each of them. I believe that baga and Bairrada could have been marginalized, almost forgotten, had it not been for the revitalization of the classical styles a couple of decades ago – and now the “Baga Friends” group, seven producers with a real passion for that grape (some of them also the main players behind the revitalization I talked about). Baga is difficult to grow, the climate in Bairrada is challenging, but when all is under control the wines can have a great personality, rich in tannin, acidity, and with a unique aromatic profile – something unique in the wine world.

20170902_154703 Dirk Niepoort talking to journalists in the cellar

Today we visited Quinta de Baixo, in Cantanhede. I visited this southern Bairrada winery some ten years ago, just after the former owner had raised the yellow adega building. In 2012 Dirk van der Niepoort acquired it, and is now taking it in a different direction.

-Bairrada does not need to rely on power, says Dirk Niepoort, -I believe the baga wines from limestone soils can have light colour, low alcohol, good acidity, chalkiness and elegance. So from the beginning we decided to work with earlier picking, no extraction and with a lot of whole bunch pressing. And he continues: -With baga it’s important not to play too much with oak (and that’s good music in my ears…).

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Baga from a more than 100 years old vineyard just above sea level at Cantanhede

Poeirinho refers to the former designation of the baga variety and is a tribute to the Bairrada wines of the past. Those were were light in colour and low in alcohol, but still with ageing potential.

Poeirinho 2015 was vinified in lagares for 4 weeks, and it stayed in the same large, used vat through alcohol- and malo-lactic fermentation and 20 months ageing, before it was bottled unfiltered.

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Poeirinho 2015 (Quinta de Baixo)

Light red with violet hints. Expressive aroma of cherry, with a touch of spice and some chalky elements. It’s a pure and juicy wine with elegant tannins and a refreshing acidity, concentrated yet pleasant to drink now, with a low 12% alcohol (the previous one had only 11).

Price: Medium

Food: Red meats, roasted lamb, suckling pig, sausages, ham, cheese, bacalhau, salads…

 

Pflüger of Pfalz

I met German winegrower Alexander Pflüger at a tasting yesterday, and tried the five wines that he had brought. Pflüger took over the family estate in 2010, fine-tuned the viticultural practise and started exporting. All the work had been organic since the 1980’s, but some biodynamic principles were introduced, and there is still a constant work to maintain a healthy biodiversity.

20170825_110542 Alexander Pflüger

The farm is found in Bad Dürkheim, in the central-north part of Pfalz. All the wines are authentic, full of character and tell about their origin.

The vines grow on a terrace in Michelsberg vineyard. The St. Michael chapel is located at the top of the vineyard, and there has been winegrowing here since the 17th century. The vineyard faces south, and the soil consists of fossil limestone and a mixture of red and yellow sandstone. The must is macerated for about fourteen hours, and there is no filtering nor clarification before the spontaneous fermentation in large 2400 liters old wooden vats. Batonnnage is carried out over a six month period.

Pflüger Pflüger’s Pferd in Pfalz…

In Pfalz vintage 2016 gave generally fruit-driven, elegant wines. This one is certainly no exception.

Michelsberg Riesling Trocken 2015 (Weingut Pflüger)

Light yellow, a touch of green. Clean, fruity, appley with a touch of lemon and canteloupe melon. It’s a relatively rich wine, but with a steely structure that keeps it wonderfully together in a perfect balance. It’s still young though, and I expect that it will continue to reveal more layers over the next few years.

Price: Low-medium

Food: Fish, shellfish, light meat, cheeses…

 

A new chapter at Ainé

It was some thirty years ago that I wandered through the legendary Chapelle vineyard in Hermitage. Little did I think at the time about the level of organic practice. Since then I have tasted an occasional wine, and to my taste many have been good, especially during the latest years.

And it was around ten years ago that the Frey family purchased the property, and Caroline Frey took over as the new oenologist. They started converting the estate vineyards to biodynamic principles.

This Côte du Rhône has its background from 40 years old vines of grenache 55%, syrah 35 and mourvèdre 10. The yields were low and it was finally raised in steel tanks.

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Biographie 2015 (P. Jaboulet Aîné)

Dark purple red. Fruits from garden and woods (raspberry, black cherries, blackberry), and an amount of typical spices. Quite fresh with decent acidity.

Price: Low

Food: A variety of produce, from meats to tasty salads, hard cheeses…

 

 

This is not Cava

Much can be said about Cava. The Spanish wish for not to be compared to the more famous and more glamorous Champagne will be left aside this time. But Cava is not a wine DO (meaning designated area) like others, in fact the map is a real labyrinth denoting production method rather than geography. During the last couple of weeks we saw both the Rioja contigent announce that they would leave DO Cava and label their sparkling wines under their own geographical name, and the Cava council has declared 12 vineyards to be of an extraordinary quality. It remains to be seen what effect this can have.

The vineyard where this wine comes from is not among them. Why? Manuel and Pepe Raventós, father and son, decendants of the founder of Spanish sparkling wine, left DO Cava some years ago. One can maybe say that this was to get away from the general poor reputation of Cava, but surely they wanted to focus on the positive side: To create an interest in the river basin where the wine is born. It’s called Conca del Ríu Anoia, which is different from any other sparkling wines.

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The estate totals 90 hectars between the Montserrat massif and the coastal ranges, where respect for the existing biodiversity is paramount, and the land is worked biodynamically.

The Textures de Pedra is an expression of the local black varieties xarel.lo vermell, bastard negre and sumoll, the Penedès climate and a stony soil, and the result of long ageing on the lees. The name suggests the stony origin in the vineyard called Vinya Més Alta (‘the highest vineyard’) that is found on top of the Turó del Serral, which is the highest point of their estate. Raventós explains that the roots have to dig deeper into colder layers, thus the concentration and structure in the wine. The wine was aged 42 months on fine lees.

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Textures de Pedra 2011 (Raventós i Blanc)

Deep yellow. Clear evidence of autolysis (toasted bread and nuts), baked apples and a citric note. Concentrated fruit, completely dry and with inspiring and food-friendly acidity. Talking about textures, it has a dry mouthfeel and the expected stony minerality.

Price: Medium

Food: Light meat, lamb, carpaccio, a variety of fish dishes, and the best serrano hams

 

From the dramatic interior Galicia

From the steep slopes of Ribeira Sacra in the interior of Galicia comes this charming white wine. These canyons are some of the most dramatic you can think of.

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The Carballocovo vineyard by Doade (Sober municipality) overlooking the river Sil (photo: Algueira)

Amandi, one of the five subzones of DO Ribeira Sacra, is essencially a small canyon by the river Sil. It has schist and slate-rich soils, vines planted on “solcacos”, small terraces and an extreme Atlantic climate.

Fernando González and Ana Pérez run 11ha of old vines in Amandi. And so they have done for more than 30 years, but it was only in 1998 that they started to bottle their own wines.

I have tasted the wines of Algueira at a few occasions, and I like their reds and whites, all from autoctonous grapes. This one is from godello, hand-picked, spontaneously fermented, and treated in inox tanks.

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Brandan 2015 (Adega Algueira)

Light yellow with some green. Stony, perfumed aroma, citric notes, some herbs. Full in the mouth, with yellow fruits and good level of acidity.

Price: Low

Food: Fish, shellfish, cheeses…

 

 

Chénas for shorter ageing

This is a wine that my local dealer said I must try. And I am glad I did!

Chénas is one of the northernmost crus of Beaujolais, it sits on sandy soils on granite, and like its neighbour Moulin-à-Vent it stands for quite structured wines.

Paul-Henri Thillardon, and his brother Charles (who joined his team some five years ago), come from a family of growers in the south of Beaujolais. The 13 Chénas hectars are all certified organic, and some biodynamic techniques are also employed. Always macération carbonic. The grapes for Les Blémonts grow on clay, and will always give a fresh taste to the wine.

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Chénas Les Blémonts 2015 (Paul-Henri Thillardon)

Purple colour. Cherry fruit, a light touch of orange peel, some earthy notes, mushroom, and a bit reductive. Good weight in the mouth, young tannins.

Price: Medium

Food: Veal, game, stews, hard cheeses

AmByth, a biodynamic Californian estate

Paso Robles, named after the town El Paso de Robles (“Pass of the oaks”) is regarded as something of the wine industry’s wild west, not only for its landscapes, but for the creative spirit (tendency to break rules, if you like). In fact this is the fastest growing AVA in California, with over 200 wineries, as opposed to 50 only fifteen years ago.

AmByth is the first and only biodynamic certified estate here. Their vineyards are dry-farmed and head-trained in steep hillsides in Templeton. In the cellar only native yeast are employed, and the wines are unfined and unfiltered. No additions, no corrections, they use themselves the term “natural winemakers”.

Proprietor Phillip Hart is Welsh, and AmByth is a Welsh word meaning ‘forever’. Phillip and his wife Mary see this as a legacy; they give honour to the past, but they farm with the future in mind, so they can hand over a land in healthy condition.

Being eager cooks, they make wine with food in mind. Here they are going against the stream, as the typical Paso wine is rich, alcoholic, with a slightly sweet fruit. The dry farming (the practice of not irrigate, the term most often used for warmer climates) helps to keep the alcohol down. This week’s wine, a 54% sangiovese / 46% tempranillo, has 12,4% alcohol.

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Venustas 2011 (AmByth Estate)

Cherry red, shows signs of development towards rim. Aroma of red berries, herbs, a bit earthy, mushroom, some dried fruits. Full in the mouth, some cherry stone, good acidity. Mature, but will keep.

Price: Medium

Food: Red meat, lamb, game, hard cheeses…

 

Plácet, the white Rioja Baja

I must admit that I am a sceptic when it comes to oak, whether it is ageing or fermenting. But it is a question of knowing how to use it, a controlled oxygenation, or balance if you like.

This white wine has been one of the region’s white wines of choice for many years. Now when Álvaro Palacios of La Ermita fame has returned to his native Rioja Baja it hasn’t faded.

The Plácet is a white fermented viura aged on oval casks, once made by Álvaro’s younger brother Rafael in the mid-90’s. This was his debut as a maker of white wine, ten years before he became a godello expert’ in Valdeorras.

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Plácet Valtomelloso 2013 (Palacios Remondo)

Light yellow. Lightly spicy aromas, hay, wax, with yellow fruitiness. Quite full on the palate, medium acidity and slightly bitter finish.

Price: Medium

Food: Smoked fish, light meat

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