Value Valpolicella

This is a very good value Valpolicella. The winery is established in an aristocratic villa from the 16th century, and has a beautiful agriturismo on the estate. The estate totals 400 hectares, including three vineyards on three different hills, with differences in soil composition and orientation.

This wine comes from the Monte del Drago hill, with a total vineyard area of 8 hectares. There are also some young (white) garganega and pinot bianco plantings, but the vines that gives the fruit to the Drago wine is mainly corvina planted in the 1990’s. The exposition is west, and the soil is tuff with white clay.  

The grapes are organically cultivated, and biodynamic techniques are also employed. Corvina makes up the highest proportion of the blend (60%), the rest corvinone, and 5% each of rondinella and, maybe a surprise: barbera. Winemaker Maddalena Pasqua let it rest for 12 months in French oak, which is barely noticeable.

 

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Drago Valpolicella Superiore 2015 (Musella)

Quite dark red, blueish hint. Aroma of dark and red berries (cherry), some herbs. Young, lucious, tasty and with a fresh acidity.

Price: Low

Food: Light meat, pasta, salads, antipasti

Mengoba at Gastroteca de Santiago

This marked the conclusion of a wine trip. Our theme was three wine regions in old Castilla. But we also had some occasional wines from other areas.

The Gastroteca is a wine bar, or restaurant, in a small chain of restaurants and a shop. It’s run by a handful of sommeliers. Tabernero and Matritum are other Madrid wine bars in the chain, and the one with special responsabililty for this place is Juan Carlos Ramos. The restaurant is located on the Plazuela de Santiago, close to the royal palace, and not far from the central tourist spot Puerta del Sol.

The Gastroteca de Santiago is a small restaurant, or wine bar, with only 16 chairs. It has a creative menu that could be described as contemporary Spanish, and the dishes are delivered cleverly and at very reasonable prices. The wine list is quite extensive with a focus on what’s happening in Spain at the moment, and with a nod to classic European regions as well, most of all Burgundy, Rhône and Champagne.

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We had a wonderful unfiltered fino Arroyuelo from producer Primitivo Collantes, a verdejo from Rueda (Tinita 2014 from Soto y Manrique), 25% of it with fermentation and 4 months lees-ageing in oak. Then we chose the unique Monastel from Rioja’s Juan Carlos Sancha (which we will present in a later post).

20171016_103505 Enjoying a good red at the Gastroteca

We closed our session with a wonderful wine from Gregory Pérez of Bierzo, the Castilian region to the north-west bordering Galicia. Gregory, originally from Bordeaux, fell in love with Bierzo, and at a time he worked with Mariano García (of Vega Sicilia fame) at Luna Beberide, another Bierzo winery. He works very traditionally, with natural methods, including native yeasts, very low sulphur – and with a horse. Mengoba is a series of wines, the name made up of the first letters of the local varieties mencía, godello and valenciana with a “b”).

This Mengoba is made from mencía 80%, and the rest garnacha tintorera, also known as the Portuguese alicante bouschet. The mencía is sourced partly from a clone that Gregory revived in Espanillo, at 700-850 meters with mixed soils (80 year old vines) and the rest from 550 meters at Valtuille (30 year old). It stayed 6 months on lees in big foudres, partly with whole clusters. Then in 5.000 liters in the foudres for almost 10 months.

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Mengoba 2015 (Gregory Pérez)

Dark red. Aromas of dark fruit, ink, and plums, a little chocolate. Full on the palate, young tannins and good acidity. With a couple of years more it will probably have reached its full potential, with everything integrated and still packed with lively fruit.

Price: Medium

 

 

Visiting Finca Montepedroso, Rueda

At Finca Montepedroso we met winemaker Lauren Rosillo and Marta Martínez Bujanda (of the family that owns the winery).

Montepedroso is a beautiful farm on a plateau overlooking the Rueda village. It was bought in 2008, and a functional winery built in the typical materials of the area opened four years later.

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They manage 25 hectares of vineyards with an average of 20 years, at an altitude of 750 meters. This is a one wine farm, dedicated to one single variety, the verdejo, and only 120.000 bottles are made annually.

Here are three types of soils: alluvial soil on top of the plateau accounts for 70%, clay soil in the gorge where the oldest vineyards are planted, and a soil with a large quantity of lime and clay sediments.

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We are on the central Castilian meseta, with cold and long winters, short springs with late frosts and hot and dry summers. The vines find water and nutrients deep down the  subsoil, and the wide temperature gives freshness and acidity to the wine.

The fermentation starts without addition of yeasts. Lauren says that for him this is the only way. And worth mentioning here is that the typical features for the verdejo are green apple and grass, and that the tropical aromas found in many verdejos are from added yeasts, according to the winemaker. The fermentation at Montepedroso lasts typically for 19 days at 16ºC. Then the must rests over its fine lees for five months with weekly stirring. The wine is completely dry, but the lees add a sensation of sweetness. Lauren says that he aims for acidity, varietal character – and a low alcohol (here typically 12-12,5).

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Marta and Lauren, with Rueda village in the background

We first tasted the most recent vintage, Finca Montepedroso 2016. This is light yellow with a greenish hint, aromatic with notes of green apple, apricot, fennel, white flowers and hay. It has both volume and structure in the mouth, and a fresh balancing acidity. In sum a personal verdejo, but in a traditional line.

We also tasted the 2010, the first vintage of the wine, to see the development. 2010 had frost during spring, and the production was low. This wine was more golden, still flowery, but with mature sensations of honey and a touch of petrol. Very fresh and appealing.

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We also tasted a few wines from Martínez Bujanda‘s other projects. Their single estate in Rioja is Finca Valpiedra, 80 hectares between Fuenmayor and Cenicero at an altitude of just over 400 meters, where we find alternating Atlantic and Mediterranean influences. This is the only Rioja estate to be included in the organization Grandes Pagos de España. Both wines are predominantly tempranillo, but with presence of other Rioja varieties, such as graciano.

Cantos de Valpiedra 2013 had a cherry red colour, an aroma of dark fruits, blackberry, fennel with slight hints of vanilla. In the mouth it was quite full, and a decent level of acidity gives freshness and contributes to the balance. The Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2010 had a slightly darker, intense black cherry colour. The aroma was complex with red and dark fruits, balsamic, a touch of smoke, and some vanilla, spices and tobacco from the oak-ageing. The tannins are still there, but they are rounded off by age, it’s fresh and delicate, and with a good balance between fruit and wood.

20171015_105231 Lauren and Marta with some of the visitors

During the travels through the many great vineyards of Spain Finca Antigua was a “love at first sight” experience, according to both Marta and Lauren. This is close to where the winemaker lives, in the Cuenca province towards the border of Toledo. We find scrubland, vineyards and forest, and it’s easy to maintain the eco-diversity. It’s a vast farm in Castilla-La Mancha with an altitude over 900 meters, one of the coldest part of the meseta, and extreme variations between day and night. They decided that varieties well-apted for this land were merlot, syrah, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon, together with tempranillo (formerly known in Central Spain as cencibel) and other national grapes.

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The wines have cool elegance and freshness, and the wines improve with age. But even with full phenolic maturity the alcohol levels rarely exceeds 14, not even in the hottest years. The Finca Antigua 2012 (a crianza of 50% tempranillo, and the rest merlot, syrah and cabernet) was a dark, cool wine, with aromas of chalky minerals, almost milky (from the malolactic, I guess), fresh berries, and in the mouth it had a creamy structure and then a wonderful acidity. The Reserva 2010 (70% merlot, complementet with cabernet and syrah) was also a dark and cool wine, with cherries and berries from the woods, balsamic (mint, eucalyptus), herbal (thyme), with a slightly tougher structure than the crianza.

Sidestepping: Please read here about Lauren’s solo project in Málaga, where I met him for the first time.

Coming back: These days when we speak a lot about the changes of Rioja (Norwegian readers can read a couple of articles on these pages), it’s no doubt that the Martínez Bujanda family is in the vanguard. And it’s no better place to experience this than the tasting table where are sitting right now, with a view of the picturesque village of Rueda.

 

 

Nieva, a new chapter

Nieva is a small settlement of some 300 souls in the Segovia province, at the southeastern border of DO Rueda. It’s a cool and high area with predominantly sandy soils, so there are many un-grafted, pre-phylloxera vines, in Spanish called ‘pie franco’. These three factors make it a really interesting place.

Allow me a brief Nieva quality wine history, which is all about the verdejo variety. Viñedos de Nieva was the leading producer here, with Pie Franco as one of the great Spanish whites. Then Ismael Gozalo, from Nieva, teamed up with Javier Zaccagnini (from Aalto with Mariano García, formerly Vega Sicilia) to form Ossian, that gave us the Capitel, a big wine, by many considered among the country’s best wines too. The Brothers Herrero, that we will visit tomorrow, left Viñedos de Nieva when the Martúe group took over. When Zaccagnini sold his part of Ossian to Pago de Carraovejas, Ismael went solo. Now folks, I will not bore you any more with tales of who leaves who.

Ismael works according to nature’s laws, and tries to express the terroir. He uses the old bodega of an old Nieva monastery. He makes a variety of wines, some more on the experimental natural side than others. 

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Rack is a verdejo from pre-phylloxera vines, and organically certified. It’s fermented in steel tanks with natural yeasts, aimed to be reductive and thus self-protective. (The back label says ‘beautiful reduction taken to the extreme’.) It’s bottled without added sulphites, un-filtered and without corrections of any sort. Only 650 bottles were made.

Rack 2015 (Ismael Gozalo, MicroBio)

Deep yellow, cloudy. Aroma of white flowers, peach, mature apples. Opulent in the mouth, with small bubbles, and a fresh acidity that knits it nicely together.

Price: Medium

Summer in South Tyrol

This is a müller thurgau from Italy. It’s not as strange as it sounds. The region bordering Austria, not far from Germany either, has been influenced by both these countries through its Austrian-Hungarian past.

It was surprisingly good though, from a grape variety that we didn’t knew for quality (deservedly right or maybe rather not).

Eisacktal is the German name of the Valle Isarco that runs into the Etsch, or Adige, Italy’s second longest river (that later runs through Verona and out in the Adriatic).

It’s here that cellar master Andrea Huber brings out the one wine better than the other from the 8 hectares of vineyard. They are dry, pure and with a minerality that expresses the land.

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Müller Thurgau Brixner Eisacktaler 2016 (Pacherhof)

Light straw colour. Fruity, green apples, some pears, white flowers. Round mouthfeel, luscious, just enough acidity. Elegant.

Price: Medium

 

Quinta das Bágeiras: As traditional as they come in Bairrada

I have recently been in Bairrada visiting some of the best producers. While I am working on a longer piece (and have indeed finished one for the Norwegian magazine Vinforum) I here give you another wine as our Wine of the Week. Last time I talked about the project of Dirk Niepoort, that together with Filipa Pato can be called the leading “modernist” producers, at least in the subtle, low-alcohol, low-extraction style. Compared to these, Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno can be dubbed “traditionalist”. But they are all “Baga Friends” (as the name of their group suggests), and I would say that the similarities overshadow the differences.

Quinta das Bágeiras produces wine from own vineyards at Fogueira, in northern Bairrada. Fogueira means something like bonfire in Portuguese, and you may have seen the flame on the labels. Mário Sérgio leads the family firm, and his son Frederico is now under education in enology. Winemaker Rui Alves (a defender of traditional expertise) and other good helpers have been with him for many years.

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The vineyards are treated in a natural way, without spraying and fertilizing, no yeasts are added, there is whole-bunch fermentation, foot-trodding in lagares of cement, and ageing on big wooden vats.

Mário Sérgio has always convinced us with the qualities of his colheitas, reservas and garrafeiras, both red and white. Quite recently he has expanded his portfolio with wines called Pai Abel (a hommage to his father, wines from a single vineyard on clay and limestone by Ancas, close to Fogueira) and Avô Fausto, a nod to his grandfather, who established the first vineyards).

I was tempted to chose his Super Reserva Rosé 2011, a super rosé with 12 months skin-contact and five years on the lees, a complex, tasty, herby sparkler. But the red bagas are the most prominent wines throughout the quinta’s history, and we end up with the Garrafeira 2005. It is approaching its peak (where these wines can stay for a long time).

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Quinta das Bágeiras Garrafeira 2005

Dark, deep, showing beginning development. Super berry fruit (cherry, morello), but also some coffee and earthy, darker aromas. And here are enough tannins and acidity for a long life. Power and finesse!

Price: Medium

 

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)

 

Two Portuguese wines at Tati, Lisboa

Back on the Café Tati, near the entrance of the Lisboa river market. (See another report here.) This is a small, not too easy to find, bar with lovely natural wines to wash down the tasty, small bites. This evening there were no live music, so we had to do with Duke Ellington and Van Morrison on the sound system.

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Coming directly from Bairrada it would have been be nice to continue with, say Tiago Teles’ wonderful wine, that he makes in the bigger producer Campolargo’s winery. But there is always something good served by the glass too, so I went for Humus white from the Lisboa region and the Rufia! red from Bairrada’s inland neighbour Dão.

The Humus wines have their origin one hour north of Lisboa, near Óbidos by the Atlantic. It’s an area with cooling sea breezes and high humidity. This ensures a longer maturing period and a good acidity level.

Rodrigo Filipe makes minimalist intervention wines from organic fruit from his family’s 5 hectar estate. He does a direct pressing for the white. Nothing is added to the wine, except maybe a small amount of SO2. All the wines are bottled without any fining or filtration.

Up in Dão João Tavares de Pina is the man behind the Rufia wines. They are made from a 500-550m vineyard in Penelva do Castelo on granite, schist and clay soils.

It’s a low sulphur, low extract, low oak wine. The grapes are jaen, touriga nacional and rufete. He normally ferments the varieties together in open stainless steel lagares without temperature control.  Ageing is done in stainless steel tank for some 9 months on lees, and on to more than 10 years old barrels after malo-lactic.

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Humus Branco 2015 (Quinta do Paço, Encostas da Quinta)

Deep yellow. Aromas of orange peel, citrus, melon, chalky minerals. Full yet fresh on the palate, with a chalky minerality.

Rufia! Tinto 2014 (J. Tavares da Pina, Quinta da Boavista)

Dark ruby red. Lovely fruit, cherry, raspberry. Fresh and juicy in the mouth, round tannins and a good level of acidity.

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…

 

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