Monthly Archives: June 2015

Mountain wine off Granada’s tropical coast

We took a trip from Almuñécar on Granada’s tropical coast and found Bodega H. Calvente in the village of Jete just 15 minutes inland. Here Horacio Calvente and his wife Josefina makes organic red, white, rosé and sparkling wines from two main vineyards in the sheltering mountain ranges Chaparral and Almijara. They ferment them with natural yeasts, and they play with the temperatures to achieve the desired qualities. The lights and whites are simply delicious. The reds are on the oaky side, but I believe that they have the power to come around.

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When we were there on San Juan, a public holiday, they obviously had other plans. Still they kindly opened the doors for a brief visit. It’s wonderful actually that everywhere you turn there are small scale producers like these who love their land, their work and their wine. 

The wine of this week is their signature white wine. Made from 50-120 years old moscatel de Alejandría grapes in the Guindalera vineyard at 750 to more than 1000 meters in the Sierra de Chaparral.

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Calvente Guindalera (mountain wine) 2014

Light straw yellow. Expressive aromas of peach and pineapple, white flowers, some tropical fruit (chirimoya). Full on the palate, a slight hint of bitterness, and with moderate acidity, all this typical of the grape.

Price: Low/medium

Food: Fish, shellfish, chicken, fruits. The picture is taken at Almuñécar’s Los Laureles restaurant, where we had a blue cheese and cured ham salad, and it also went well with the chicken main and a strawberry, cream and peppermint dessert.

Serious Beaujolais

Jean Foillard was one of the disciples of Jules Chauvet, one of the fathers of modern natural wine. Foillard’s Morgons are from nearly 100 year old vines from the family domain grown on granite and schist soils. They are made according to strictly organic principles and with very little SO2, but there is nothing «strange» about them, and I suppose anyone can like them. Though accessible and delicious when young they have an ageing potential of several years too. They undergo a traditional whole cluster beaujolais fermentation for 3 or 4 weeks. Then are aged in old barrels, but oaky is clearly not a word to describe these wines.

 

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Jean Foillard Morgon 2013

Young red colour, dark for a beaujolais. Lovely perfumed scent of raspberries and cherries. Delicious, juicy taste, still good concentration and just a slight touch of tannin. Good length. Complete finesse – Serious fun!

Price: Low

From the wine oasis

Château Musar is quite popular these days. But the Hochar family has made high quality wines from high altitude vineyards in the Bekaa Valley since its foundation in 1930, organic before organic wine was «labelled», and natural before natural wine was «invented» – all this despite wars and unstableness. The blend is French because of its founder’s fascination for Bordeaux –and his son Serge Hochar’s studies there– and the grapes are hand-picked by local bedouins.

2011 was a very dry year in the beginning. Heavy rainfalls compensated it in april and may, but the result was one of the latest ripenings in the history of Musar. I appreciate the variations in vintages, that comes partly from Hochard’s approach to winemaking.

And I particularly like the version that comes from younger grapes, that I feel is somewhat between youthful fruityness and more complex seriousness. The grapes are French (in 2011 50% cinsault, 35% syrah and 15% cabernet sauvignon), but the wine is also unmistakably «foreign», with a warm touch. In a sense it parallels its multicultural place of origin. It’s made from natural yeasts, the vinification has been carried out in cement tanks, and the wine had 9 months ageing in steel before it was bottled, unfined, unfiltered.

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Musar Jeune 2011 (Ch. Musar)

Deep red. Aroma of red fruits, blackcurrent, flowers, plums, some spice. At first some barnyard, but it disappears with airing. It has a raisiny character from the many long days of sun, but also some coolness from the breezes and the snowy mountain ranges. The taste is fresh and fruity, with round tannins and a spicy aftertaste with a touch of warmth.

A serious tax-free wine!

Price: Low

Food: Red meat, game

Verdejo in the wind

I was invited to speak about the wines of Rueda in a wine club on the windy Norwegian southwestern coast. Jæren Wine Club is one of the most active and ambitious ones in the area. They have monthly tastings with invited speakers, and they also arrange an interesting annual wine and food fair. The tastings are held in an extraordinary cultural project, Hå gamle prestegård (Old Vicarage), home to events like concerts and exhibitions.

Hå gamle prestegård

Although the grape variety verdejo has existed in northern Castilla since the 11th century it rose to prominence from the 1970’s on. Today it’s almost a synonym of DO Rueda. So popular has it become that it’s maybe the white wine you are most likely to be served almost anywhere in Spain. The influx of external actors on the scene is enormous (though only a few have established their own bodega), and there are many commercial brands hiding almost identical steel tank wines these days. Still many producers fight to keep the quality up, there is interesting work being done.

Here I have picked four wines from the tasting. All these were made from organically managed vineyards and fermented with natural yeast. The first one is splendid value for money, the three others (at least in theory) contenders to the Spanish white wine throne.

A typical dish to go with these wines is ‘cochinillo’, the suckling pig so popular and delicious in the provice capitals of Castilla y León.

Menade 2013 (Bodegas Menade)
Light yellow. Fresh, green, with a touch of citrus and nettle. Quite full on the palate, with a lightly citric taste, and good length

Price: Low

El Transístor 2012 (Telmo Rodríguez)
Telmo Rodríguez, originally from Rioja, is famous for restoring of old vineyards in partnership with vintners in many Spanish regions. The name of this wine is inspired by the a special form of biodiversity: a radio blasting in the vineyard to keep the wild boars away.

The wine has a light straw colour. Mature apple and white fruits on the nose, some citric tones. Round, tasty and concentrated, some acidity and a lightly green finish. Just lovely. Fermented in oak, cement and steel, that only adds to the complexity.
I would say near its peak, but will keep.

Price: Medium

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Barco del Corneta 2012 (Beatriz Herranz Sanz)
Today Beatriz has two projects, she’s doing verdejo in Rueda (or rather: Castilla y León, as the wine has the designation ‘vino de tierra’), and another interesting grape variety named juan garcía in Arribes. Formerly she was also working with garnacha in the Gredos area.

This verdejo has a light straw colour. Citric aroma with hints of herbs, minerals, it has a yeasty ‘sobre lías’ (on lees) character, but very, very clean. It has some more Though a bit more ‘lees’ than the previous wine it’s also very elegant, and I would say a bit tough more acidity. Fermented in barrels, but it’s by no means oaky.
Excellent drinking now, but will keep.

Price: Medium

Ossian 2012 (Ossian Vides y Vinos)

This wine is from the most southeastern corner of Rueda, and higher than the others (almost 1.000 meters as opposed to around 700). The tiny village of Nieva has only three wineries, all of them owners of old ungrafted verdejo grapes. This one has spent 9 months in new and used oak.

Pale and clear. Vanilla on the aroma, some apple, apricot, and a touch of honey. It’s full on the palate, nuances of citrus, and at this stage, quite oaky.
It clearly needs to mature, but will it ever come around? Maybe, maybe not. And though from the coolest part of Rueda, another question is if it has the acidity to accompany it along the way. One has to buy some bottles to find out.

Price: Medium

Gold on the Costa Blanca

Interesting things are happening at the unlikely place of the Costa Blanca, the most heavy tourism and holiday home strip along the Spanish coast. From head-quarters in Bigastro, between Oriuhela and the infamous Torrevieja, Rafa Bernabé makes wines from grapes sourced from a rather big area from the coast and towards bordering Murcia.

This week’s special wine is aged in clay jars (in Spanish called tinajas) made in La Mancha. Perhaps more sensational, it is grown within the borders of La Mata national park in the municipality of Torrevieja. Bernabé is one of the many who have left their respective DO’s lately, so the wine is classified as a table wine (Vino de Mesa). The vineyards are situated near sea level, and they are organically treated. They have a high proportion of sand, so the vines are also predominantly pre-phylloxera, ungrafted. The ageing has been carried out in jars, without stirring, no SO2 has been added, the yeast are all natural, and there has been no filtration.

The wine has an orange colour one can expect from a «white» wine that has spent a prolonged time in contact with the skins (30 days maceration), but it has also a red hue. Why is this, I first asked myself, especially when the only grapes listed are the white merseguera 60% and moscatel 35%. But then, there are also 5% «others». So I asked the producer the same question. And yes, the wine also includes five red varieties that already existed within the old vineyards, and they are esclafacherre, plantamula, forcayat, valensi and parrell. (Say them one more time, as fast as you can!) Rafa says the old folks liked the colour that red varieties in small quantities gave the white wines. But he says that he also thinks the higher proportion of polyfenols adds to the ageing potential to the wine.

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Tinajas de La Mata 2013 (Bernabé Navarro)

Golden orange colour, with a light touch of red, and with «long legs». Aromas of flowers, white fruits, orange peel, and with a salty tang; some barnyard at first, but it disappears with airing. It’s quite full, with some tannin, and a mellow citric acidity. All in all a lovely, stimulating wine.

Price: Medium

Food: Fish and shellfish, foie, a variety of cheeses, and – why not – paella

Master tinajero in Albacete

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I took a day off and left Madrid for a trip through Quijote’s manchego land, passed the beautiful windmills in Mota del Cuervo. And soon I found Juan Padilla’s place. Not where the map showed me, but some people at a nearby restaurant knew the way. I had no appointment, and I was prepared only to talk to somebody in the reception, and take a walk around and take some pictures. I knew it was right when I came to this closed door.

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So I phoned the number, and who else came and let me in but the master himself. He showed me around, and explained the various stages. Very rarely I have had so few questions to ask, I must admit.

During the last few years I have been aware that containers made of clay can provide a serious alternative, as it lets the wine breathe in a way that stainless steel cannot, without affecting the taste of the wine in the same way that oak barrels do. But I am only beginning to see behind the initial fascination and to understand a little bit. I knew there were many old ones around. I also know that there is an 8.000 year old unbroken line in Georgia, and some very good producers. And the number of wines made in these vessels, big Georgian kvevri or smaller amphorae (in Roman times made for transport), seems to be increasing every day. When I attended a kvevri seminar at the RAW fair in London 2013 Emilio Foradori presented a fabulous wine, for me best-in-show (see here), and I was amazed when he told that this was the only one not made in Western Georgia, but in Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. In Spain they call them tinajas, (the big ones tinajones) or simply barros (barro meaning clay), and the makers are tinajeros.

I contacted Emilio when I planning to write this article, and he tells that for him «Padilla is the last real wine-clay artisan, the quality of his clay is outstanding and above all others I have tasted (lowest percentage of metals)». I also contacted COS, who inform that when they started to use amphoras in 2000 they had also tried jars from Tunisia as well as from their native Sicilia, but they preferred Padilla’s tinajas.

So here I am, walking around Padilla’s pottery in the outskirts of Villarobledo, Albacete. He talks about the process, and shows me his workshop, where he has started on many new tinajas.

2015-05-08 15.31.17 New tinajas

In short, the clay is grinded, then it’s mixed with water and kneaded. It’s widened, then left to rest overnight, and it’s kneaded again the day after. He forms the jars with two metal blades, before it’s scratched so as to avoid marks between the numerous overlapping rolls of clay used.

Padilla paleteando … formed by two blades

Once completed, it is dried slowly, in various periods like autumn and early spring. In May the jars get in the wood oven and once baked, they are finally ready and can be shipped, to Italian producers like Foradori and COS, or some Spanish wine producer (or gardener) will eventually come and pick them up. So you see, it’s not much rush about this.

20150508_153606 Another small building where he keeps the oven

La Mancha is the historically the big center of the jar industry in Spain. You can read about it in Cervantes novel, and nearby El Toboso, where Quijote’s virgin lived (according to himself), was one of the most important villages. In more recent times, between 1915 and 1930, Villarrobledo had 72 active producers.

2015-05-08 15.34.51 Holes for the fire

At the natural wine fair in Madrid I tasted some really delicious wines from the interior of Galicia, the red ones from mainly garnacha tintorera being raised in tinajas. Nacho González tells that his wines called La Perdida are made in clay a little more porous than the ones from Padilla, but they share some of the natural characteristics. Some clay containers are covered inside with epoxy, beeswax or other elements. «For me this is like losing some of the essence of the clay», says Nacho. «I am looking for a natural element for the wine to ferment in.»

Several winemakers, like Nacho González, refers to Rafa Bernabé for his long experience with the use of clay. He is located in the village of Bigastro on the Costa Blanca tourist and international holiday home strip. Rafa informs that all his tinajas has been new and aquired from Padilla. He has now more than 100 tinajas with a capacity between 200 and 400 liters. He works with Padilla «for many reasons», he says, «but mainly because of his artesan character, having learned the skills from his grand-father, for the rigorous selection of the clays, and for the way he dries and blends them». The way he heats it up, in his wood oven (horno de leña, in Spanish), is maybe the most important single factor, according to Rafa.  He says he likes the finish and roughness, probably the only jars of the world that do not require to be lined inside with epoxy or other materials. Still, having said this, Rafa Bernabé stresses that he is not looking for anything in particular when it comes to making wine in jars, because «after all the most important is the vineyard and the grape, that must be shown respect and given freedom. I think we should intervene as little as possible so that these wines can be the very expression of the landscape, territory, its vineyards and its people.»

And here we are back where we started, the most important is the potential of the grape, and the land where it’s grown. And it’s here that clay offers an interesting alternative to both steel and wood.