Monthly Archives: May 2015

Handmade in Menfi

There is more in Sicilia than Etna, much in fashion these days. The southwestern coast faces the ocean, and there are beaches with beautiful sand dunes and a fresh breeze. On these beaches there are flowers, and there are beetles, turtles, and all sorts of birdlife. And close to the ocean there are vineyards that take in the salinity from the ocean breeze and warmth of the Mediterranean sun, and the temperature changes between night and day brings both ripeness and a cool acidity to the grapes.

The small town of Menfi is located on this coast, some 3 kilometres inland, and not far from the Marsala growing area. And here is Cantine Barbera, that makes wine from local and regional white grapes like inzolia, grillo and zibibbo, and reds perricone, nerello mascalese, nero d’avola, and some occational international intruder like merlot (in fact a very interesting wine, and the first one I tasted from this winery around 10 years ago).

Bilderesultat for cantine barbera menfi

Marilena Barbera has a “more than organic” approach to winemaking, these wines are made in an artesan way, handmade. This week’s special wine is just that: handmade and truly special. Ammàno means handmade in local dialect. But it’s more: In Marilena’s own words, “it’s totally hand made, and by totally I mean it”. This statement implies that no electricity operated machines are used, the grapes are hand harvested and hand crushed, and all winemaking is carried out only with manual tools. Bottling and corking is also manual, and even the labels are handwritten by Marilena herself (as you may want to see here).

It’s made from old zibibbo grapes. There are no industrial additives, the wine is not filtered, and bottling and corking is done manually too. No industrial additives are used during winemaking, and sulphur is used only to disinfect the barrels. Free SO2 is a mere 13 mg/L.

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Ammàno #2 2014 (Cant. Barbera)

Light golden with a greenish hue, bordering of being unclear. Extremely aromatic with strong tones of grapefruit, and some rhubarb, gooseberry and a salty touch. Full in the mouth, cidery. Yes, it has grapefruit taste too, but it’s a well-rounded, almost ripe and highly attractive bitterness coming through towards the end. Great personality!

Price: Medium

Food: White fish, cooked and grilled, tuna and sword fish, light meat and, I believe, many of the Arab influenced dishes of western Sicilia

Bearable lightness

One of the most memorable wines from RAW fair a couple of years ago was this one. Emilio Foradori of Trentino, Italy presented it at a kvevri seminar. I had serious trouble to describe it, but the title of Kundera’s famous book came to my mind, in the opposite meaning though, because this was absolutely bearable, not to say “uplifting”.

This one was different from the other wines presented. It was lighter, it had another texture – and it was aged in a clay container – from Spain! I had to investigate this further, and I will tell you more about this soon.

Nosiola is a grape variety without a very distinct character of its own. The name is thought to have something to do with hazelnuts (‘nosiol’ in local dialect), and it sounds likely. In the past it was usually made with long skin-contact, and it’s associated with the production of dessert wines. I imagine that this is a grape variety that is applicable for expressing terroir. More about the producer and the techniques behind the wine later. Here is a brief description.

 

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Fontanasanta Nosiola 2012 (Elisabetta Foradori)

Light yellow. Aroma of flowers (jazmine), orange peel, peaches, nuts (closest to hazelnuts, in fact). Quite dry texture, integrated acidity, and an unbelievable combination of lightness and concentration.

Still in the same vintage as presented at the fair, but there’s no wear and tear about this true, true wine.

Price: Medium

Natural wine fair in Madrid

Madrid was the place to be for natural wine enthusiasts last Sunday, as the Salón de Vinos Naturales was arranged after an initiative from the Productores de Vinos Naturales. Among the exhibitors were some of their own members, like Barranco Oscuro, and Marenas, whose proprietor José Miguel Márquez is the actual leader of the organization. There were other Spanish producers too, and a few from abroad. The wines were all made by small, artesan producers, almost without exception with natural yeasts, without sulphur added, without much else added either, all in all with minimal intervention.

I tasted something like three fourths of the wines, spoke to most of the producers, and I also met some visitors whom I knew or had met before. For me this is a real fun fair, as you meet a lot of nice people, and everyone is open-minded and willing to share opinions without having to defend anything, and there are no points given. There are just so many delicious tastes, healthy products, and conversations about how all this came about.

I warmed up with some white wines at the stand of Fabio Bartolomei and his Ambiz wines. First a couple of airéns, where the 2012 strangely was lighter than the 2014. But this is the way it is, as Fabio said, these wines chose their own path. I also tasted his Doré 2014, an expressive wine from the grape of the same name, and the Sauvignon 2013, nothing like the commercial Sancerres. It’s aromatic though, with some flowers, yellow apple and a tropical hint. The Albillo 2014 is also full of character, quite rich, with some tannin, and with the balsamic note of the variety.

2015-05-10 10.45.42 Fabio Bartolomei, Vinos Ambiz (right)

Samuel Cano was there with most of his portfolio of Patio wines aged beneath the old-fashioned windmills in Mota del Cuervo (Cuenca). Between Aire en el Patio 2014 (literally Air in the Patio, the never-disappointing airén wine) and Al Sol del Patio 2013 (To the Sun of the Patio), there was a wine from syrah grapes harvested as late as end of December in 5 degrees below zero. He had brought his airén-petit verdot Rosé too, and some delicious reds. If I should pick one it could be the Kabronic this time, a 50/50 syrah/graciano, where the latter has been subject to carbonic maceration, showing very fruity, red berries, some balsamic notes, a touch of CO2, and fruit all the way.

2015-05-10 11.55.19 Samuel Cano

From the area not far from Madrid came also Julián Ruíz Villanueva of Escencia Rural. I know he has several good things, in different styles. This time I only tasted the red De Sol a Sol, a dark wine from the variety velasco, quite special, rich, with notes of coffee, aromatic herbs, and a touch of raisins and plums.

Lorenzo Valenzuela served many of his Barranco Oscuro wines, from the highest vineyards in Europe, more specifically Cádiar in las Alpujarras (Granada). I visited some 3-4 years ago, and I have tasted these wines several times since, but I never miss an opportunity. Among all the excellent wines I will this time mention the ultra-fresh and typical Sauvignon (a completely different interpretation than Fabio’s), and the wonderful Garnata, a very fruity, herb-scented and personal garnacha. Fellow Andalusians, Cauzón and Marenas had several interesting wines, like Mazuelo 2014 from the former, and Vides Bravas 2006 from the latter. Being located in Montilla, Marenas has also wines aged under flor, like the one with the descriptive name Bajo Velo PX (that I didn’t taste here).

2015-05-10 13.56.34 Lorenzo Valenzuela, Barranco Oscuro

Viña Enebro of Bullas had a varied table. A white wine from black grapes, adecuately named Uva Negra Vino Blanco, a fresh, floral, clean wine, the Rosado de Aguja from monastrell, a fruity wine, a little bubbly of course, but quite structured too. Then there were also the Viña Enebro, the one with the pink label, a 100% monastrell, quite light for the variety, some plums and red berries, a lousicious character, but with a nice tannic grip as well. The Quercus came in both 2010 and ’11. See the post about wine bar Solo de Uva for more.

2015-05-10 11.05.40 Juan Pascual López, Viña Enebro

A nice surprise came from Galicia. La Perdida of Larouco in the Valdeorras area served a doña blanca and a godello, but the reds based on garnacha tintorera, one with mencía, were among the highlights for me. Maybe most interesting of all from this producer, also with the name La Perdida 2014, a garnacha tintorera (70%) and sumoll (30%) aged in tinaja (amphora), on granite soil, with splendid clean fruit and a solid tannic grip.

2015-05-10 11.41.42 Nacho González, La Perdida (right)

From Catalunya I tasted some nice wines from Can Torres, Empordà, a vinous garnacha blanca from sandy soil over granite ground, and among the reds the interesting Idó 2013, a garnacha from quite old vines on alternating slate and granite, aged in used barrels, a relatively light-coloured wine with aromas of red berries, plums, a rich wine with an appealing texture. The Ambre was one of the specialities of the day, from garnachas gris and tinta, aged in some kind of solera system. The colour was the same as its name suggests, aromas of figs, nuts, a slight touch of raisin, and the alcohol level was very nicely balanced.

2015-05-10 13.59.31 Bárbara Magugliani, Can Torres (left)
Among the «foreigners» I didn’t taste the wines of Frank Cornelissen this time, as I know them quite well, and the Spanish were my main focus this time. But I visited the table of Château Lamery of the village St. Pierre d’Auirillac, by the Garonne river. Here Jacques Broustet makes wines that are clearly at home in this locale, but distinctly different from what we think of as Bordeaux. His only red wine Autrement 2011 was luscious and juicy, with a slight tannin, and a lovely fruit all the way.

2015-05-10 12.15.06 Jacques Broustet, Ch. Lamery

Domaine Thuronis near Carcassonne in Languedoc had some interesting stuff too. The Esprit Vendangeur 2013 is a sauvignon blanc made naturally, and came with super fruit, yellow apple, melon and some peach, and a trace of CO2 (and the 2012 was in the same line, but a little more developed). There was also a sauvignon made in steel and also a time on the lees of chardonnay in barrel. This was a bit darker, yellow with a brownish tinge, some CO2 again, a creamy texture and a very nice acidity.

There was more than this, and the aforementioned wine bar Solo de Uva was serving home-made bread, tasty tapas, and proprietor Carlos Campillo was filling the room with good vibes. He also hosted a dinner in his restaurant that same evening. I was not there, but it couldn’t be bad.

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Passionate Australian post-punk

The organic wine movement (not unlike the musical scene) can be said to have two extremes: one comformist/opportunistic approach that seeks to meet the demand of growing consumer groups and to obtain the certificates, and the punks who wants to rock the establishment. There is, as always, a way in the middle too. Here we are in an artistic landscape that borrows from punk, call it neo- or post punk, but Some Young Punks follow the rules, and they behave. So there is no anarchy in Australia, though they don’t care about the stamps of official recognition either.

I have tasted many of their wines over the last months. They have all real character, marked by the hot Australian climate, but why shouldn’t they? Many of us want the wines to express local landscape and weather conditions, so these wines should not be burgundies. But they have also moved away from our Australian cliché: over-extracted, over-oaked, and generally boring wines in appealing packages.

Nic Bourke, Col McBryde and Jen Gardner are the Punks’ names. Their focus is in the vineyards, and they want their old vines, many of them pre-phylloxera, to be used in personal quality wines in-stead of ending up in the big players’ blends. In 2005 their first vintages of «Passion has red lips» and «Naked on roller skates» were released, then followed wine titles like «Quickie», «Monsters, Monsters attack!» and «The Squid’s Fist», all with labels inspired by old cartoons and paperbacks.

Passion_has_Red_Lips_large

This passion-wine is made at Nic’s winery in McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, South Australia. They use natural yeasts, quite long maceration with skins, short oakageing, and many vineyards are treated biodynamic, not by religious conviction, but because they see that it works.

 

Passion has Red Lips 2013 (Some Young Punks), McLaren Vale, South Australia

Shiraz 76%, cabernet sauvignon 24%.

Dark, deep purple. Warm, almost jammy fruit, with dark berries, spice and some balsamic «after eight». A rich, silky texture, nice acidity.

Price: Medium

Food: Excellent with grilled meat, roasts and casserole dishes.

A PS from the Punks themselves: -Turn, splash and savour. Unfiltered confessions follow as the sin glows red and passionate like those lips.

Only from grapes, Madrid

Some may remember Le Petit Bistrot on one of Madrid’s central plazas. Well, they moved northwards near the Berlin park, one block from Santiago Bernabéu. Now they are changing the name too. Still you will see the old one in the window on Príncipe de Vergara, but during this year they will change everything to Solo de Uva.

This brings it more in line with what the restaurant, or rather: wine bar, is about. This is the temple for natural wines in Madrid, focusing on wines that are made from grapes, and nothing but the grapes, «solo de uva», nothing added, nothing taken away (as the adage of the natural wine movement goes). The wines will come along with simple, but savoury, local produce.

This was my third visit this year. I came in last Saturday afternoon (before Real Madrid vs. Valencia). The kitchen had closed, but owner Carlos Campillo put together a delicious selection of cold tapas, including a tomato creation, a paté and some unpasteurized cheeses (still French, I guess this will also change in a not too distant future).

2015-02-05 23.22.26 Propietor Carlos Campillo and Fabián Herrera

The wine list will obviously change quite often, as all producers are small, and the wines are not made in big quantities. Many of the producers are regulars though, from the Madrid and Gredos area they include Alfredo Maestro and Vinos Ambiz, from nearby La Mancha we find Samuel Cano and Julián Ruíz Villanueva, and among the southerners are Juan Pascual Céspedes (Murcia), Bodegas Marenas (Córdoba), Cauzón and Barranco Oscuro (both Granada). There are also some northern producers, believe it or not from Asturias, and some foreigners too.

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This time I had four wines by the glass, mostly chosen by Carlos: Aire de Patio 2012 (Samuel Cano, aka Vinos Patio), a rich orange wine from the airén grape, Blancas Nobles 2012 (Barranco Oscuro), a charming and expressive, powerful yet elegant wine from the highest vineyards in Europe, made from grape varieties vijiriega, along with sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and riesling, that most would claim to be more noble varieties. Straw yellow, and definitely lighter than the previous wine. Then came Patio Selección 2013, a wine that was used with a selection of cheeses at a winemakers dinner a few weeks ago, at the same place. Indeed I think that these red natural wines could be worth exploring with soft cheeses where ordinary reds normally would lose. I would believe that it has most to do with the special texture caused by the CO2 that may be left in some of these wines maybe. Anyway along with the slightly carbonic mouthfeel this wine has also very nice aromas of dark fruits, sweet morelloes, and a balsamic note. Based largely on petit verdot (85%), but with several other grapes such as syrah as well. Last came Viña Enebro Quercus Red from Bullas, Murcia. I couldn’t see any vintage on the label, but I talked to producer Juan Pascual López Céspedes the day after, who showed me there was a code on the back label. I tasted both the 2010 and ’11, and concluded that the vintage at the restaurant ought to be 2011. It’s 100% monastrell, dark in colour, with aromas of dark fruits, some plums, herbs and coffee. Less ripe/warm feeling than the former wine.

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During my two visits in February I tasted among others the following four white wines: Lovamor, a rich and delicious, a bit balsamic albillo that I had together with its creator Alfredo Maestro, the Malvar (Vinos Ambiz), a wine aged in tinajas (Spanish amphorae) and with an orange, almost brown colour, and Bajo Velo Seco (Bodegas Marenas), made from the variety pedro ximénez and aged under flor, as is usual in Montilla, Córdoba and nearby Jerez de la Frontera. The bodega makes it in two versions, one semi-dry, but this was the dry one, and it is surely marked by the flor character. I found it right to round off with a French wine, and the choice fell upon Nature (Domaine Julien Meyer), a very nice Alsace wine from sylvaner and pinot blanc, made by Patrick Meyer, whom I had met in London a year before, at the RAW fair. Interestingly his cellar grows flor too, as he mostly will not top up the barrels. Then there were also some reds, some of them I have already mentioned, or will mention in a new post, where this restaurant also plays a role.

Meaty mencía

Raúl Pérez is one of the dynamic, driving winemakers in the Spanish wine landscape. But here he is at home at Bodegas Castro Ventosa in El Bierzo, towards the boarder of Galicia where the mencía grape reigns. I could name numerous ambitious wines from famous bodegas in celebrated regions beginning with R that never “came around”. Here the fruit-oak balance works fine already, and it will continue to evolve.

It’s made in the village of Valtuille de Abajo, as the name implies, from a hundred year old vines. The mencía grape is native to this part of the country. While it may have a more slender character and more acidity over in bordering regions as Ribeira Sacra, here in El Bierzo the wines are often rounder, more ripe and with a bit more power. The content of slate and granite in the area helps to give some minerality, much in demand nowadays.

The grapes are harvested manually. It’s given a very gentle pressing, and after fermentation in stainless steel it has spent some months in French oak. It’s not filtered, nor cold-stabilized.

Cepas Centenarias Valtuille Bierzo 2009

Valtuille Cepas Centenarias 2011 (Castro Ventosa)

Deep purple, not showing much age. At first closed, compact and concentrated, with plums, dark berries, some balsamic notes – and a slight touch of vanilla. In the mouth it has a silky texture, and some acidity. Will evolve positively during the next 4-5 years, and will keep for many more.

Price: High

Food: Would pair well with heady dishes, such as the stews from the Spanish inland, and with tasty meat-dishes of many sorts. Game too.

Vinho Divine

A former furniture designer and student of architecture, pedagogy and sculpture, and with an early inclination for metaphysics and myths, Vasco Croft has been in the avantgarde of Portuguese biodynamic wine since the turn of the century.

The base is the family estate from the 17th century, Casal do Paço near Ponte de Lima, a 20 hectar quinta with four hectars of vine, the rest chestnuts and forests. The wine cellar is as old as the estate itself.  The estate is now, in Vasco’s own words, «committed to the preservation of its ecosystems that not only include the vines but entire forests of acacias, oaks, eucalyptus and century-old trees, the home of wild boars, foxes and eagles».

There are many tales of how Aphrodite, goddess of love, was born. One tells that when Cronus cut of Uranus’ genitals and threw them into the sea, she arose from the sea foam, which is called aphros in the Greek language. From Vasco’s family estate near Ponte de Lima arises a wine that is as fascinating as inspiring, slightly bubbly, and if not truly divine there is a certain uplifting feeling to it.

Aphros Loureiro 2013

Aphros Loureiro 2013

Light straw-colour, and a clean aroma with a touch of citrus and flowers. In the mouth it has a creamy texture, it’s not bone dry, it has some minerality and an acidity that’s well wrapped in fruit, and it comes with notes of lime and melon too. This wine is light, yet it’s concentrated and serious, and it’s very, very appealing.

Price: Medium/low

Food: Shellfish, grilled or fried fish, bacalhau, salads, fruits and -why not- sushi