Monthly Archives: February 2016

Poggio al Vento Riserva 2007

A recent tasting of Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino showed a great variety of styles, from the classic wines of Banfi, the structured Fonterenzas, the “wild” Il Paradiso di Manfredo, some top end, and some old…

This was one of the best, but definitely not the most expensive. Located by the Sant’Angelo hill in the extreme south of Montalcino, Col d’Orcia has delivered good value organic wines on the fruity side for many years now. This is a special reserve that originates in a special vineyard in a (as the name suggests) “windy ridge” overlooking the river Orcia.

Grapes from the different parts were kept separate, the alcoholic fermentation was carried out in stainless steel and the malolactic in concrete. Then followed four years in big oak barrels.

Poggio al Vento Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG
Poggio al Vento Riserva 2007 (Col d’Orcia)

Dark, deep colour with hints of development. Fruity, quite cool with cherries and morello, some spice and balsamic notes. Full, lots of soft tannins, a matching acidity, and a long and lightly spicy aftertaste. Delicious now and, for me, the next 5 years or so. Good airing recommended.

Price: High (not for a brunello riserva, but generally speaking)

Food: Wild boar and a lot more

Fair notes on Rioja

A while ago I was invited to speak about Rioja at a Norwegian fair. Originally the speech should have been done by one of the big Rioja companies, and it was already sold out. After some hesitation I said that if I should speak about Rioja it would be my way, presenting my opinions, and the wines from the company the participants had submitted to would not be present.

I love Rioja, the food and the culture and the scenic landscapes, the shifting soils and the many well-managed vineyards, many of them really old. But I also think that Rioja is in serious trouble, and hopelessly out of fashion, at least out of sync with the discriminating wine lover. I am aware that I am in danger of getting myself some new enemies by saying this, and I beg for understanding. And it’s not my intention to be snobbish either, in fact I am also speaking against many wine nerds in my own country. Leonard Cohen sang “I like handsome men, but for you I will make an exception”. Many people accept Rioja as “something different”, and let the the Rioja “industry” get away with a lot of characteristics you wouldn’t have accepted from another region that claim greatness: Too much oak, that one is well known, nearly identical wines (especially in the crianza and reserva categories) in spite of coming with different labels and from different companies, the domination of cooperatives (including huge bodegas that act as such), blending of grapes from all over to make millions of liters of the same wine. The list could go on.

Bilderesultat for rioja Time to move on!

No surprise that something like the “Artadi case” should come up, it was just a question of when. In this case the ‘death’ was ‘foretold’, and it’s difficult to see that the conflict couldn’t be solved. We ought to take a closer look at this case later, but in short it’s about Juan Carlos López de Lacalle leaving the DOC Rioja because of regulations don’t accept mention of specific vineyards nor villages on the label, and the back label only promoting the word Rioja as a brand name. It’s easy to agree with his opinions. On the other hand there are people who don’t agree with the way he acted in the process, and “who was he to do this”, after all Artadi is also a quite big company that has sold wines to supermarket brands (more specificly the Valdepomares label to Marks & Spencer). Then comes the geographical-political side of it: Many fear, and the Consejo Regulador (the wine authorities) really should, that Artadi will label their wines as Vino de Álava (or the Basque name: Araba), and that many others will follow. Then the old question will come back: Why are villages like Ábalos and San Vicente part of La Rioja, not the Araba province? Many travelers from Haro on their way to Laguardia have wondered why they’re driving in and out of that province while staying on the same road. And if I haven’t mentioned it before, the only official distinction in Rioja Alta, Baja and Alavesa… Well, it’s nothing but useless. For those not familiar with the Artadi case, here is an article where the decision to leave is announced. And for a brief introduction in English, where the Consejo also is allowed to hold the microphone for a while, look here.

Now to the tasting. In Norway one can chose among some 400 available Rioja wines, of which I have tasted most of them. Still I only managed to come up with less than 10 that fit my few and simple specifications: The viticulture should be organic, and the yeasts should be natural. One should be able to trace the wine back to a specific place, and the wine should have no disturbing trace of oak. Other than that it should only be good drinking. It’s possible that I am ignorant about wines that could have met my specifications. But the Rioja regulations and labelling doesn’t help much either, when many of them says “viña” or “pago” (words for vineyard), and it’s not. Readers of this blog will have noticed that I am no fan of huge, oaky, overextracted wines, so many of the big names were disqualified, with the result that my selection was less than half the price of the organizers’ budget. There is a group of modern growers that call themselves Rioja’n’Roll. At times in this process I felt that I could have belonged to it, and somehow I was eager to see whether I were booed out or not.

These were the wines:

Ad Libitum 2013 (Juan Carlos Sancha) – The only white wine in the selection, made from white tempranillo, a variety that was officially recognized in 2007 and that is genetically speaking 97% same as the red. Sancha owns 5 hectars in Baños de Tío Tobia in the Najerilla valley. This is among the coldest parts of the whole DOC; high-lying, southfacing vineyards (around 600 meters) on low-yielding calcareous soils.

Straw yellow. Typical aromas of gooseberries and fennel, along with some white flowers, and a slight hint of apricot. Quite full, mellow, but good fruitiness all the way.

Navarrsotillo Tempranillo 2013 – Best Buys Organic Series (Navarrsotillo) – Andosilla is in the region of Navarra, and the vineyards are in a radius of 10 kilometers from the bodega – in Andosilla, San Adrián and Calahorra (the last two over in La Rioja). The Serrano Arriezu brothers call this the “Rioja Mediterranea”). Here are cold winters, mild and wet springs and autumns, and warm and dry summers. The soil is calcareous, but also with sand, clay and stone, that gives wines with soft tannins, but can also give a freshness to the wines. This one is especially made for their Norwegian importer. Only tempranillo, spontaneously fermented and matured in inox.

Bright red. Earthy, mature fruit, herbs. Not very concentrated, but enough to reflect its origin.

LZ 2013 (Telmo Rodríguez) – From Lanciego/Lantziego, towards the east of the Alavesa road, past Laguardia, a cool zone with predominantly clay and calcareous soils. Telmo claims that Lanciego reflects the contrasting influences between the Atlantic (that is closest) and the Mediterranean (whose influence is brough up by the Ebro river). The wine is made from tempranillo, graciano and garnacha, grown “en vaso” (bush wines). For this wine there is to a lesser extent a collaboration with local growers, carrying out traditional viticulture (pre-conventional), and all the grapes were picked by hand and fermented in cement with natural yeast and aged 4-6 months in cement.

Quite dark with a violet hue. Dark berries, fennel, with notes of licorice and some balsamic, a bit earthy. Medium body, good tannin grip and a nice acidity.

Ad Libitum Maturana Tinta 2011 (Juan Carlos Sancha) – While his white wine was all tempranillo this hasn’t a drop of that grape, but in-stead the variety mentioned in the wine name, maturana tinta that originates from Rioja. Sancha is a professor of enology at the University of La Rioja. He and his collegues were instrumental in the rescue operation of this grape and others in the region (like trousseau, bastardo and red verdejo).

Dark red. Balasamic notes combined with red berry fruit. Just the right amount of tannins for good drinking now, and matching acidity.

Rayos Uva Vendimia Seleccionada 2014 (Olivier Rivière) – Rivière, from Cognac, was a consultant for Telmo Rodriguez from 2004. By then he had started to buy vineyards. He works organically, ploughs regularly, uses a minimal amount of treatments (organic too). Altitude is important for him, for freshness in the wines. This wine is made from tempranillo and graciano in equal parts (some times he puts in some garnacha) grown around 6-700 meters over sea level in the hills over Aldeanueva de Ebro. The wine was only gently macerated in inox before fermentation. He likes to ferment with stalks to achieve a wine that has a fresh feeling to it, but is nevertheless not light. After a 10 months ageing on lees, and only slightly sulphured, it was brought down to Aldeanueva to be bottled by Bodegas Lacus, where Rivière has also consulted.

Dark red. Dark fruits, blackberries, lightly balsamic (menthol). Soft tannins, a juicy, luscious feel, and just that right touch of inspiring acidity.

Bilderesultat for olivier riviere rioja rayos uva 2014

Predicador 2011 (Benjamín Romeo) – OK, I admit it, I decided to give something to the people who had come for a “Rioja” tasting. Predicador 2011 was made of Benjamín Romeo, formerly at Cosecheros Alaveses (eventually known as Artadi), but left for his own “garage” project in his native San Vicente de la Sonsierra, altogether 7 hectar of vines in alluvial soils, calcareaous clay and sand. When I visited him some 10 years ago it was under very humble circumstances, but with ideal storage in 800 years old underground caves. I think he was going to build a new bodega, but I don’t know if it’s done. It didn’t seem to me that impressive bodega houses are among Benjamín’s focal points. But he is a true cosechero, he makes the wines he believes in, and he has many followers these days. His Predicador white was tested, and left out, but the red (from 89% tempranillo, 10% garnacha and 1% viura) passed the test. I don’t dare to think what disaster could have happened to this wine without that 1 decisive per cent of viura…

Dark red colour. Red berries, blackberries, a touch of vanilla. A smooth velvet texture, quite full and concentrated.

6 very nice, serioius, and quaffable wines. There could have been a few more, but honestly there ought to have been many, many, many more to chose from.

Malvasija, spelled the Slovenian way

Here is a really lovely orange wine, and it’s not produced in one of the countries that we would call “classic”. But not far away either, because both sides of the Italian-Slovenian border share many winemaking principles, such as the “classic” ones of organic cultivation, prolonged skin contact for white wines, and maturing in clay vessels.

This wine has been a favourite for several years, and when I met Vasja Čotar at RAWfair a couple of years ago I took the opportunity to taste through most of the range, wines made from vitovska, friulano, teran, and some merlot, cabernet and such – and a very interesting passito from refosco too. The Čotar family has been in the forefront of organic winemaking in Slovenia since they started in 1974, in the small town of Gorjansko in the hills of the Karst region, close to the border against Friuli. All of them express the limestone ground with its red, iron-rich topsoil, where the cool winds from the coast some 5 kilometers away have a temperating effect on the climate. There are also quite harsh winter winds struggling to have an impact on the wines.

 

IMG_3168 Vasja Čotar at RAWfair, London

The 2006 from malvasija istriana underwent an 8 days fermentation with skins in open vats, matured in big wooden vessels (2000 liters). Needless to say, no added yeast, enzyme, sulphites…

 The whites bear Vasja’s fingerprints

Malvazija 2006 (Čotar)

Deep yellow, towards orange. Aroma of mature apple, citrus, dried apricots, and a hint of sweet spices. Full on the palate, grapey and quite smooth, but with a touch of tannin, and with a saline farewell.

Price: Medium

 

Els Bassots, a Catalunya chenin with character

There is a huge clay vessel at the entrance of the Escoda-Sanahuja winery in Conca de Barberà, that gives us a hint of what to expect. I have reported on Joan Ramón Escoda and his wines several times, so I will make this short. Let me just say that I simply love this wine. Made from all chenin blanc, fermented spontaneously, matured in 720 liters amphorae, un-fined and un-sulphured. Light and full of taste at the same time, delicious on its own or with almost any food. It’s one of those wines that I really feel have a story to tell, but where the plot is somehow hidden in some mysterious cloud too, one of the wines that make me want to quote long passages from some favourite novel, and where title of the so far un-written tale The bearable lightness of being is especially apt.

I would have called it an orange wine, as it smells like “long skin contact”, but the colour is quite light; yellow, just on the verge of going over to orange. Smells of red berries, flowers, yellow tomatoes… Concentrated yet light, grapey, long and dry, with a hint of salty minerality. 

Price: Medium

Food: Delicious on its own, for meditation… But try it to almost any kind of food, from the shells of the sea to the partridge of the forest, or the thrush that bathes in the puddle (that I believe is the translation of bassot)….

 

A varietal graciano from Rioja

Positive news from Rioja: Another terroir-oriented company, this time David Sampedro and DSJ Vineyards, a man and a company with projects in several Spanish DO’s such as Rioja, Navarra, Valencia and Rías Baixas. Common for these wines are indigenous varieties, organic farming, little intervention along the way and wines that express their terroir.

This one is a 100% graciano from the high Elvillar area in Rioja Alavesa. In this project he is now working to get a biodynamic certification. The company is also called Bodegas Bhilar, from the Basque word for Elvillar. The Lágrimas is the only varietal in the portfolio, made with purchased grapes.

Lágrimas de Graciano 2014 (Bodegas Bhilar/ DSG Vineyards)

Dark red with a violet tinge. Fruity with aromas of red berries, some blackcurrant, aromatic herbs, a hint of lickorice too. Luscious with a slight tannin grip.

Price: Low