Valtravieso: High altitude Ribera del Duero

Valtravieso was a new find on our journey over the Castilian meseta.

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Located in Piñel de Arriba in the Valladolid province some 920-950 meters above sea level it is one of the highest in the DO Ribera del Duero (except for some parts in the eastern Soria province).

The treatments are natural, the land is worked carefully, the farming is dry, and nothing is done that doesn’t need to be done.

-Here is a long ripening processes, which is good for the aromas and flavours and improves the acidity in the wines, explains winemaker Ricardo Velasco. -The long sun exposure gives good colour to the grapes. There are great differences between day and night, especially in summer, when temperature can drop 18º C. This brings more polyphenols, and with it higher antioxidant content.

The soils are poor. Some parts are more calcareous, others have more clay, which also contributes to more polyphenols. In addition some grapes are bought in from Gumiel (over in the Burgos province) and from Soria. The estate now consists of 54 hectares, that count for half of the wine production, but there will be planted at least 20 more.

The farming is organic, not certified though. -But it’s very easy here, with healthy soils and with the wind sweeping through the vineyards, says Ricardo. They will soon make their own compost too.

 

Cabernet franc is preferred to CS, as it is easier to work because of its shorter growth cycle

Ricardo thinks that ideally a malolactic fermentation should be done in barrel, as it’s easier to integrate it. But Valtravieso is a new and relatively small winery, and he choses to be pragmatic, as it’s much easier to do one tank than -say- 44 barrels. But on the other hand, after the wine has stayed one year in barrel the result is practically the same.

Like many Ribera producers, a rueda wine is also made. Ricardo choses to do this in Miguel Arroyo’s bodega in the southern part of Valladolid. This we will come back to at a later occation.

   

The bodega building is air-conditioned at 16 and 18°C.

Ricardo told us about one special barrel, where he kept a favourite wine of his, that he calls “Listilla”. It’s a natural wine, nothing added nothing taken away. -I hope the boss will like it, he says. We tasted it, and we can promise a very pure, fruity, grapey wine, a high acidity tempranillo.

 The Listilla barrel

At Valtravieso they believe in launching the wines on the market when they are approaching their peak for consumption. This is how it used to be all over the country, but in today’s market it’s rather unusual.

Among the wines we tasted were the Crianza 2015 and a tinta fina, also from 2015.

The Crianza is from 60% own grapes, the rest from Burgos and Soria. It’s a mix between tinta fina (tempranillo), cabernet (franc rather than sauvignon) and merlot, aged in French oak for a little more than a year.
Crianza 2015: Cherry red. Very fruity, some coffee, spice, herbs, pine. Rich, but with a fresh acidity, long, and the high alcohol (14,5%) is no problem.

The Tinta Fina is so called because it is from only tinta fina, and 100% from the estate. It’s a single vineyard, which here means from a single parcel of old vines, and with very low yields.

Tinta fina 2015: Dark. Very fruity, with blackberry, pine, truffles, and a flinty mineral character. A lot of structure, rich, somewhat heavy at 15% alcohol, but still the fine acidity shines through.

After a tour in the cellar, with samples, we had a wonderful tasting of some bottled wines in this room. Here is a view of a typical Castilian landscape, a high plain, seemingly not especially welcoming, but of the type that Dutch writer Cees Noteboom said “you have to conquer”. Here we eventually sat down, contemplated to a sip of the Gran Valtravieso.
The best grapes from more than 80 years old vines go into this wine. The fermentation is carried out at a controlled temperature, followed by 35 days of maceration. For this wine the malolactic fermentation takes place in French oak barrels. It used to be aged for three years in wood from three different French forests, but nowadays it stays 12-15 months in concrete.

Gran Valtravieso 2014:
Dark cherry red. Very fruity, cool aroma, with red berries, a balsamic note, hints of vanilla and toffee. It’s rich, yet luscious, with high acidity that contributes to the long aftertaste. I would call it elegant, but due to the alcohol content it’s advisable to cool it down a bit.

Holy wine for the holiday season

When the halls are decked, and the ding dong goes merrily on high, a vin santo can be a perfect wine to the seasons sweets, not least Italian delights such as panettone and biscotti.

As many of our readers would know, vin santo (meaning “holy wine”) is a type of straw wine, as the grapes are typically dried on straw mats, as the story goes, untill Easter. The sweetness can vary a lot, but it’s almost always quite sweet or very sweet.

Badia a Coltibuono (meaning “abbey of the good harvest”) has been a leading Chianti producer for long, with origins back to the 11th century, when the Vallombrosan monks planted the first vineyards in the area. It was finally acquired by the present family in 1846, and now it’s run by Piero Stucchi-Prinetti and his children.

They also make a riserva “occhio di pernice” (‘partridge’s eye’), the rosé version, from typical red chianti grapes. This vin santo is made by the traditional white varieties trebbiano and malvasia, all -both red and white- organically farmed.

The grapes are hand-picked, then dried in well-ventilated rooms, before fermentation is carried out with the help of native yeasts. Ageing is then done for 6 years in big casks and barriques.

Vin Santo 2009 (Badia a Coltibuono)

Golden amber colour. Aroma with figs, roasted nuts, figs and a touch of honey. In the mouth it’s opulent, but not as sweet as many others. It’s balanced by a very good acidity, and the finish is long.

Price: Medium

Everyday Catalan bubbles

A very special day is approaching for the Catalans, the day for the new elections following last month’s incidents. There are many good economic sparklers though, everyday wines that go well with food. Here is one, made by Loxarel, a company that make a lot of good value organic wines, both still and sparkling. It’s not designated as a cava, but a Penedès wine, made from xarel·lo 55%, the rest macabeu and chardonnay.

Loxarel was created by young and talented wine maker Josep Mitjans, in Vilobí del Penedès, just outside Vilafranca. More about him and his wines at a later occasion.

Brut Nature Reserva Vintage 2013 (Loxarel)

Light yellow. Appley, with citrus, biscuits, a bit earthy too. Not much trace of autolysis for a reserva, and the acidity contributes to the freshness.

Price: Low

A wonderful Gregory Pérez’ red

Gregory Perez is a Bordeaux educated oenologist, and his worked with both Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Cos d’Estournel. With roots in Spanish Bierzo, in northwestern Castilla bordering Galicia, he moved there in the early 2000’s.

After his first steps in France, his roots and a friend´s encouragement brought him to Spain, the Bierzo region, to be exact. There he embarked on a project called Mengoba, where he shares a philosphy with many of his generation, which highlights the personality of the various plots, leading to the production of original natural wines.

Pérez has acquired a deep knowledge of the soil and the ecosystem, and the work is carried out with the utmost respect of the land. Use of herbicides is prohibited, and the vineyards are ploughed. He also regards low yields as essential, to ensure ripeness and concentration.

The mencía vineyards are located in Espanillo by the River Cúa, more than 80 year old vines between 700 and 850 meters, and 30 years old garnacha tintorera vines lower down at 550 meters in Valtuille, closer to Cacabelos. The grapes were de-stemmed and crushed, followed by tradicional vinification with pumping over during the alcoholic fermentation in big vats, and aged in the same big vats of 5000 liters for 6 months.

Flor de Brezo obviously takes its name from the area designation Bierzo.

Flor de Brezo 2013 (Gregory Pérez)

Dark red. Aroma of flowers and red berries with herbs. Luscious and juicy in the mouth with soft tannins and a lovely coolness.

Price: Medium

 

 

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

2017-07-01 15.32.50 Joshua_Rioja 2017-07-01 15.47.33

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.

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