Tag Archives: natural wine

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

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 finning 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.

The Real Wine fair I: A lovely bubbly start

The Real Wine fair is a two days event with focus on naturally made wine, where many of the leading producers in the genre come from all corners of the world to gather in London, this year at the Tobacco Dock in the eastern part of the city. The activities are not restricted to these two days either, as the arrangers (most importantly importer/distributor Les Caves de Pyrène) have collaborators all over the UK with their own arrangements in the weeks and even months leading up to the fair itself.

This is a very nice place to be, with so many nice people (both producers and visitors) contributing to the atmosphere. And about the wines, I say ‘natural wines’ for short. But there are so many different interpretations of the theme, and add to this the variations in terroirs, grapes and producer personalities, so there are not two identical wines here.

There were maybe not that many sparkling wines on show, but it struck me that here were some of the leading producers of naturally made sparklers in many categories. So here are a few.

Let’s begin in Champagne. Pierre Gerbais is located in the Côte des Bars area in southern Champagne, and has been certified since 1996. Their vineyard consists mainly of the dark marl called kimmeridge. They use the most traditional grapes of the region, but they are also noted for making the first 100% pinot blanc called L’Originale.

IMG_4219 Aurélien Gerbais

From the fresh Cuvée Réserve (24 months on lees) I tasted my way through the five champagnes they had on offer. Among the more special treats were the aforementioned L’Originale (officially NV, but from 2011 grapes): 100% pinot blanc, mostly from a vineyard planted in 1904, in white clay soils: A concentrated wine with aromas of yellow apples, some toast, salty minerals and it’s drying off. L’Osmose Extra Brut (also white clay, also from the 2011 harvest) made from chardonnay: Light colour, quite complex, with apple, some nuts, a nice acidity, and a dry aftertaste. In contrast, L’Audace (2011) is from pinot noir and from darker soil. Here is no dosage, no sulphur added. It’s darker yellow than the others, apples, strawberry, toast, and a mineral finish.

Finally the Grains de Celles Extra Brut, made from 50% pinot noir and the rest chardonnay and pinot blanc and with 36 months ageing on lees, is the most complex of lot. More toasted, aged notes, but some freshness too, yellow apples, mineral, with a slightly sweet fruit balanced by its concentration.

IMG_4218 Ton Mata

Antoni “Ton” Mata Casanovas now leads Recaredo together with his cousins Josep, Carles and Jordi. If there is one emblematic cava producer it is this one, second to no sparkling wine producer from anywhere. They practise dry farming with biodynamic principles, and only work their own vineyards high up in the Alt Penedès.

I have visited them in Sant Sadurní (Catalunya) and tasted through the whole range. Here most cavas were represented. All their wines have a great concentration of flavours, from low yields and prolonged ageing on lees. They don’t have any dosage, and all of them long exceeds the ageing requirements for a gran reserva. They have more focus on the xarel.lo grape than most cava producers. This is the grape that shines most brightly of the cava grapes given a few years of ageing.

Terrers Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2010 has slightly more macabeu than xarel.lo: Aroma of mature apples and a touch of apricot and peach, some balsamic notes and some toast too, and a fresh appearance in spite of the ageing. The Finca Serral del Vell Brut de Brut 2007 is made from approximately even shares of xarel.lo and macabeu. The colour is light, it’s complex, with fresh pineapples aromas along with some toast, some balsamic, and a surprising freshness after 8 years on the lees; the aftertaste shows a stony minerality. According to Ton this is because of the calcareous soil on top of the hill. Further down the same road is the Reserva Particular 2005 (also a gran reserva despite the name), that can be considered one of the purest expressions of Mediterranean sparkling terroir wine (even if Recaredo themselves makes another fantastic cava only in some years), with a xarel.lo 55%/ macabeu 45% blend: Dark straw colour, some lime, smoke, concentrated, rich, and remarkably fresh for its age (almost 10 years on yeast). Worth noting is also that their Brut Intens Rosat 2012 (garnacha/monastrell, a little pinot noir) har all the charms of a sparkling rosé, but is also clearly in the family of aged Recaredo wines.

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Then there is Franciacorta, in the hills near Brescia in the Italian region of Lombardia. The only producer presented here was 1701 Franciacorta, the first certified biodynamic producer in the area. They never use any dosage and sulphur only when absolutely necessary.

As an ouverture there is the low-pressure (3 atmospheres) Sullerba, that is outside the appellation. It’s a light and lovely, yeasty and appley, super easy-to-drink wine. Made from chardonnay in steel and amphora with 12 months on its lees. Their Rosé is lovely, from the 2012 vintage (these wines are also officially NV), fresh with raspberry notes, and a good balance between the fruit and the aged qualities. The Satèn from the 2013 vintage is a chardonnay with 30 months on lees; fresh, not too complicated, but delicious drinking. Maybe the most “serious” (among these wines, all of them obviously serious) is the Vintage 2011 Dosaggio Zero, a 90% chardonnay, the rest pinot noir (pinot nero in Italian), 42 months on the lees, 20% in barrels. Here is a perfect balance between ageing and fruit character, with some toast, mature apples, and a balsamic touch. Long curve. 1701 was a nice surprise and a producer that I didn’t know before.

IMG_4237 Rhona Cullinane and Federico Stefieni

Talking about fun: Prosecco is often marketed as such, but alas, like for many others the vast majority doesn’t give me much of that. But luckily Casa Belfi was in the house!

Casa Belfi (or: Albino Armani) works according to biodynamic principles and there is no fining or filtering involved, nor any addition of SO2. 6 months on lees is typical. I have tried all the wines before, and they are truly joyful wines to drink. I think especially the normal Colfòndo Frizzante 2015 has a good value, with its expressive, pure fruit. It’s yellow/orange, cloudy with a super and fresh apple and citrus peel aroma, notes of bread, and a dry finish. The Colfòndo Anfora 2015 is darker after 7 days of skin contact and 4 months in clay. It’s still fruity, with mature apples, a spicy touch and a citric aftertaste. Talking about fun, the red Raboso Frizzante 2015, from the grape variety by that name, has all the playful expressiveness you can ask for. Red with a dark rim; red berries, earthy notes, and lovely fruit all the way.

IMG_4229 Nicola Zuliani

Casa Coste Piane was also there. This is an estate that dispose of many old vines, some pre-phylloxera, and like Casa Belfi the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, dégorgement is not carried out, so some cloudiness is inevitable. At this point it has not the same expressive qualities as its neighbour, but has more subtle citrus and minerality, and it’s definitely promising.

A couple of days before the fair I visited Will Davenport in his winery in Rotherfield, East Sussex (a short article will follow).

IMG_4200 Will Davenport

Davenport Vineyards, or Limney Farm, is the biggest organic producer in the UK. The winery is small and modest, but it’s fully equipped to make both still and sparkling wines. Therefore they give services to other producers in the area. I love their still white Horsmonden White, but as this piece is about sparkling wines we shall take a brief stop at the Davenport Pet Nat (you know that wine that everybody makes nowadays that can do it, a welcome trend, in my opinion), aged 3 months before disgorging: Light in colour, very aromatic, mature apples, some citrus. Then there is the Limney Auxerrois Sparkling 2014, from a vineyard near the farm, 18 months on lees: Rich yeasty character, stony minerality, and a fresh and delicate touch too. And lastly the Limney Sparkling Rosé 2014: salmon pink, some autolysis character on the nose, plenty of fruit, raspberries and a citric touch.

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Lisa Harvey and Ian Hardwick, volunteers for the Forty Hall project

I was about to say that Forty Hall Vineyard makes the wines with the shortest travel, from Enfield, North London. It’s not quite true that it’s the one with shortest travel, because it has travelled down to Davenport’s winery in East Sussex, and back again, because Forty Hall is among the producers that get some help from Will Davenport.

Forty Hall is a 4 hectar organic vineyard, the first commercial producer in London since the middle ages, led by volunteers as a non-profit organization to support the community.

The London Sparkling Brut 2014 was delicious, beautifully balanced with lightly yeasty character, rounded fruit (mature apples and a touch of citrus) and just enough acidity to match.

Apart from this there were some occational bubbles from producers that aren’t primarily makers of such, both fully and half sparkling wines from Loire, from Italy, and from elsewhere in the world.

 

A thrill from an Alicantina hill

This is delicious, unpretentious wine from Bodega La Encina, whom I visited last week. It’s called a varietal, but it’s made from garnacha, monastrell and merlot. La Encina is a small artisan bodega just north of Villena (Alicante, bordering both Albacete and Murcia). The farming is organic and biodynamic, and they work completely without additions.

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Cero Tinto Jóven 2016 (Bodega La Encina)

Dark red with blue tones. Intense young berry-aromas; blueberry, cherry, flowers, pine, and maybe some ink. Fresh, young taste, with a refreshing acidity, and some stalky bitterness that I find appealing here.

Food: Pizza, pasta, vegetarian, (green) tapas. Without food is also nice

Price: Low

Stavanger fair II: Spanish reds

In part two I will present just a few highlights among the red wines on the fair. Here you can read about the white wines and some other stuff.

A few words about Rioja: There were many of the old style riojas represented, from crianzas to gran reservas, with their aristocratic names, and gold threads around the heavy bottles. I really have nothing against this style, and once in a while I still enjoy tasting a ‘historic’ wine several decades old. But about this style in general, let me be honest: I have “been there, done that”, as they say. The wine that was selected the best wine of the fair in the high end category was a wine of this sort. I must appologize then, because I didn’t taste it.

I did taste a few riojas though. And in my opinion, what Rioja should do now is what nearly all other regions do, let the vineyards speak, and allow their names to be printed on the labels. If not, dear DOCa. Rioja, you will see many more than Artadi ride away and disappear into the horizon. I will come back to recent Rioja politics in another post. Meanwhile those who are interested can read about a lecture I gave at another Norwegian fair here.

Olivier Rivière is a Frenchman in Rioja (sounds like an echo from the old days maybe, when producers Riscal and Murrieta sought for help and inspiration). Rivière has been a consultant for Telmo Rodríguez, but at the same time he started to buy vineyards. His Rayo Uva 2015 is made predominantly from tempranillo, with some graciano and garnacha grown near Aldeanueva de Ebro, near the Navarra border. It’s a wine made in a natural way, low sulphur, and it has some carbonic. I was tempted to say it has a wild or raw fruitiness, with emphasize on blackberries, cherries, a slight balsamic touch, and it’s as usual very drinkable with a lovely acidity from high altutude vineyards.

Rodríguez himself was also represented by his cheapest rioja wine. When I last visited him in Ollauri he was making the unoaked, fruity, blackberry-focused LZ (here in 2013 vintage) in a very modest winery, and the grapes were partly from Ollauri, partly higher up in Lantziego in the ascendent to the Sierra Cantabria. As I understand at least in 2015 there are only Lantziego grapes used. As you understand both LZ and the Lanzaga wine names (not represented at the fair) are inspired from Basque for the Lanciego village. Only bush wines, handpicked grapes, vineyard selection, only native yeast, fermentation and maturing in cement tanks… Quite unusual for a “commercial” entry-level wine!

All right, I admit that I also tasted the Barón de Chirel 2011, from the historic Marqués de Riscal bodega, as if only to greet an old friend. This was maybe the first of the “high expression” wines that once promised a new dawn for Rioja.

IMG_3978 Óscar Alegre from the Telmo Rodríguez company

From tempranillo country over to where that beautiful, underestimated garnacha grape is queen. Sierra de Gredos is a mountainous country in the border-zone between three regions, Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla y León. This region, where once the first of the “paradores” (the state-owned tourist hotels) was opened, is now working towards a DO Cebreros, named after one of its villages. I had the pleasure to travel around this area together with Alfredo Maestro, leader of the Garnachas de Gredos group during a few winter days two years ago, when the termometer showed -13 Celcius in his own vineyard in the Ávila province.

On this trip I met Dani Landi and his Comando G (for garnacha) collegues. The wines from these people have a truly original interpretation of the grape. They would maybe deny this, as they believe they are just bringing out what the terroir and the grapes comand. Anyway, the wines are always highly expressive, often light in colour, very floral and smells of red berries and with a lovely acidity. Las Uvas de Ira 2014 (Daniel Landi-Jiménez) and Rozas 1er Cru Garnacha 2015 (Comando G) were both among the absolute highlights of the fair. Producer Bernabeleva’s wines (sourced from San Martin de Valdeiglesias village, Madrid) are generally less “wild”, though there is a bear on some of the labels. The Navaherreros Tinto 2014 shown here was quite light in colour, ruby red, with super fruit dominated by dark berries and some spice, and with a mineral aftertaste. Telmo Rodríguez is present in Gredos too, in fact I don’t think it’s wrong to say that he has paved the way for the other producers we talk about. He makes two versions for his Pegaso label in Cebreros, one for each of the predominant soils in the area, granite and slate (‘pizarra’ in Spanish). The Pegaso Granito 2010 is somewhat darker than Landi’s wines, but still only cherry red, with lots of red fruits, fine tannins, generous alcohol and a mineral aftertaste. It’s worth noting that the garnachas from Gredos is quite different from the ones from Aragón/Navarra and the montainous parts of Catalunya.

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Enjoying the moment in the busy, bustling atmosphere

Speaking of Catalunya, Terroir al Límit of Torroja, Priorat made a lasting impression, for the reds just like their white wines. They presented two wines made in exactly the same way in 2013: cariñena, old vines (80-90 years), two years in old oak. The only difference was exposition, whereas the Arbossar is from south-faced vineyards the Dits del Terra is north-faced. While they shared many of the characteristics, red berries, flowers, some balsamic notes and minerality, the latter clearly showed a cooler style. Les Tosses 2013 was the most expensive wine, way above the rest at NOK 1.300 (150€/125£). At this point it was quite reductive and needed air, but one could sense both flowers, dark fruits and some balsamic underneath. In the mouth it was powerful, but not overwhelming. So seen in context with the high quality of the rest of their line, I have no reason not to believe that this will be very good indeed.

IMG_3968 Luís Romero with Ivan Zednik of importer Vinarius

From the interior of Galicia we must talk about a couple of wines. Dominio do Bibei is located in Bibei subzone of Ribeira Sacra. This project started some 15 years ago when a group of enthusiasts came together to join forces. They found this wonderful place with chestnuts and oaks, lavenders and chamomile, vegetation that can be brought back to memory once smelling the wine. They did not want a monoculture based on mencía. In respect of their predecessors they opted for a blend of indigenous varieties, so that they could add complexity and elegance to the mencía. And with a range from 200 to 700 meters there are optimal conditions for all of them. Their Lalama 2012 is made from mencía, with a 10% of garnacha (the garnacha tintorera/ alicante bouschet version, I think). I often find that mencía alone too has more freshness here compared to the ones over the Castilian border in Bierzo, maybe it’s because of the Atlantic influence, and many of the vineyards are high uphill too. This wine is a little spicy and shows some trace of wood, but it’s by no means heavy, and has an appealing acidity.

While I have known this wine through some vintages the next one was new to me. Just 30 minutes up the Bibei river we enter into the small community of Santa Cruz within the Valdeorras DO. It has a similar approach, and it’s again Telmo Rodríguez (who deserves a special prize for bringing out wonderful wines from so many regions). As Cabarcas 2013 (T. Rodríguez): one of the revelations of the fair. I know Telmo, I know Valdeorras, and I know that he’s working there. I knew about the red and white Gaba do Xil, but this one – no. And what a wine! Dark, blueish, young, fresh, natural, very luscious, great drinking! The vineyard has many of the same grapes that Dominio do Bibei posesses, and here they are present in the blend too: mencía, merenzao, sousón, garnacha, brancallao, and even the white godello.

From Jumilla (Murcia) there was a wine from non-grafted rootstocks (there are some of this kind in Jumilla, we have also known Julia Roch’s version for many years). The grapes for Pie Franco Monastrell 2015 (Altamente Vinos) are grown 900 meters above sea level. The wine is a typical young monastrell; dark and blueish, spicy, with hints of both dark berries and is a real mouthful. Aged in concrete it’s free from disturbing oak too. One of the people behind Altamente is Fernando Barrena, from Navarra and one of the key-figures behind the company Azul y Garanza. They were represented at the fair too, with two wines, among them the always fruity and lively Fiesta de Azul y Garanza, now in the 2015 vintage. One red from the islands, namely Tenerife: 7 Fuentes (Soagranorte, aka Suertes del Marqués), has been a favourite during the last few years. The 2014, from 110 years old listán negro vines in the cool Orotava valley, aged in cement, is as good as ever before: dark and red berries, flowers, herbs, it’s a little peppery too, a lusicious, fruity taste that rounds off with a volcanic minerality and a charming acidity.

IMG_3966 Many happy faces in Stavanger. No wonder!

 

Black Friday

The grape saperavi is so dark in color it’s called black in Georgian, according to producer Pheasant’s Tears. During the last few years I have tasted quite a few saperavi wines, and the colour varies from very deep, dark red to opaque black. This one is probably the Georgian saperavi most widely found outside its homeland.

Georgia has a 8.000 year long unbroken history of fermenting and ageing the wines in qvevri, big clay vessels lined with beeswax and buried under the ground, where the temperature is stable. All Pheasant’s Tears’ wines are made according to this tradition, and with a low-interventional approach.

As pointed out in many blogposts I appreciate this way of making wine, without any oak to disturb the natural flavours of the grape. One could also say that the way the beeswax is treated, or whether it is applied at all, is also a topic (and a discussion too long for this post), but generally speaking clay is more respectful to the grape than wood.

pheasant-t (photo: courtesy of Pheasant’s Tears)

Pheasant’s Tears is found in the Kakheti region. Here in the eastern part of the country, besides the snow-covered Caucasus, the family of winemaker Gela Patalishvili has been making wine for more than 8 generations. In summer there is more than 14 hours of sunlight a day, and the evenings are cooled down by the breezes from the mountains. The soil has limestone, chalk and dark clay over sandy loam mixed with gravel, that gives good drainage.

Though the family has been farmers for a long time it was only in 2007, when American John Wurdeman joined forces, that the modern company came to being, and 2009 was the first vintage to be bottled.

The must underwent a spontaneous fermentation, 10 days maceration with skins, and the finished wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered. Just a slight amount of SO2 (10 mg) was added before bottling.

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Saperavi 2013 (Pheasant’s Tears)

Black as ink, as a november night, dense. Ink, peppery, raisiny aroma. In spite of the black colour saperavi wines are often juicy, grapey, with not at all the extremely powerful body and tannin structure as indicated by the colour, nor a very long aftertaste. This one is just like that, surprisingly drinkable. Highly personal, deliciously different!

Price: Medium

Food: Lamb, pig, fowl and game. Try with mature, hard cheeses

 

Ch. Ste. Anne, a natural Bandol classic

This week’s pick comes from a winery that never converted to organic growing. It wasn’t necessary because it has always been, as they count on a history of five generations and 200 unbroken years of making natural wines. They were also key figures in establishing the AOC for Bandol during the German occupation. François Dutheil (father to current owner) was one of the people behind AVN (l’Association des Vins Naturels), where Marcel Lapierre of Beajolais participated and soon became a leading figure. The only ingredient except for the grapes is SO2, only in tiny amounts and only in the vineyard against fungus.

img_3373 Raphaël Etienne

The vineyards of Bandol lies for a great part on south-faced terraces in the in-land from the seaside town that gives the wine its name. As for the rest of the region rosé is dominating in quantity, around 80% even here. And much wine is classified as Côte de Provence. Myself I am drawn towards the red wines of the region, often a bit mystic, not lightweight, neither heavy and «clumsy». They can have a fresh fruit, but they are never sharp. They have long oak-ageing, often more than the obligatory 18 months. But the best will never smell of wood, as they are subject to a treatment in big, used foudres that make them «breathe». At Ste. Anne, red is the most important wine.

The mourvèdre grape is king. Just like its equivalent monastrell on the Spanish Levante coast Bandol is one of the few places where you can be sure that the grape will mature. But still the general alcohol levels in Ste. Anne’s range of wines are low. This is due to the special microclimate below the Gros Cerveau peaks, that gives very cool summer nights. The cold air is accumulated because of special metheorologic phenomena between the mountains in the area. The tannins are soft and rounded. Mourvèdre is harvested later here than other places, around mid-October. It must be fully ripe, otherwise the wine will be hard and bitter. A way to understand when the time is right, according to Raphaël, is that the skin is no longer elastic and that the pips are brownish.

The Bandol 2010 is made from 60% mourvèdre, and equal parts of grenache and cinsault. This is their main wine, and 30.000 bottles are made. Their bandol stays 20-22 months in foudres, and the various vintages are released when they are considered «ready». As a result the 2003 was released after both ’04 and ’05.

 

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Bandol 2010 (Château Ste. Anne)

Deep purple in colour. Very complex aroma of red fruits (raspberries), flowers, balsamic notes (red lickorice), combined with some mineral notes. There is a slight touch of volatile acidity too, that is by no means disturbing, but in my opinion it adds to the freshness. Medium to full body. When I last tasted this wine, at the winery before the release, the tannins were more evident, now everything is in perfect harmony. Mature, but will keep.

Price: Medium

Food: Beef, game, duck and other full-flavoured meat. Cheese, both manchego type and some blue cheeses. Fiona Beckett writes about steak pie that red bandol can be a perfect choice. The possibilities are endless.

 

Matassa’s Cuvée Alexandria

There are some posts from Southern Spain these days, and the bulk is yet to come. So a French wine is this week’s pick.

Tom Lubbe, originally from New Zealand, makes wine in the French part of Catalonia, in the hills of the Coteaux du Fenouillèdes, to be precise. The altitude is 450 meters, quite high for this region, and the soils are granitic. Biodynamics are practised, and the winemaking is as natural as possible.

Nowadays his grapes are picked early, and musts from aromatic grapes like muscat are often given a long contact with skins and stems – here 30 days.

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Matassa Cuvée Alexandria 2015 (Dom. Matassa)

Orange-brown, slightly cloudy. Smells of orange peel, apricot and aromatic white flowers. Medium full and concentrated, yet light (in the meaning uplifting), light tannins, quite refreshing, and with a salty, mineral aftertaste. Delicious.

Price: medium

New wine bar with top artisan beer in downtown Oslo

For a year the name of this cosy new bar was identical with the title of this post. The new name is En Trapp Opp, that translates to something like One Step Up (trapp means stairs). It’s headed by Jonas Jonsson, and has quite close ties to Norwegian importer Falchenberg & Nærlie, where Jonas is himself a partner. This means that the bar offers a wine selection from this particular importer, but by no means exclusively from them. Today they have some 50-60 different wines on offer, and they use Coravin (you know the needle that takes the wine out through the cork and replaces the empty space with gas, to keep the quality intact). They have also other activities, like visits from wine producers and importers, and you shall not be too surprised if there is some ecclectic downstripped live music in the room either.

20160617_165837-1 A hidden pearl in the centre of Oslo

Their aim is to present wines as natural as possible, in other words from organically grown grapes, made with natural fermentation, without excess oak treatment, or without too much treatment of any sort. However, there is little fundamentalism here. If the producers want to protect their wines with a little sulphur they can still have a place in this bar.

The food is made by Thomas Moen, who has a long experience from the gastronomic scene in town, and who also work for the import company towards horeca. I visited twice during last weekend. The first time I had a cockerel confit with a lot of delicious vegetables that was meant to be part of their new takeaway offer.

20160617_154852-3 Jonas

 

20160621_125745 Jonas in front, Thomas in the shadows

Here are some of the wines I tasted: It was only natural to begin with Falchenberg & Nærlie Riesling 2015 (Blasius), the importer’s own brand. This Rheinhessen riesling has become a relative bestseller, and deservedly so. The new vintage was even more generous than the previous, with a more focused fruit, and a smooth yet stimulating, and fruity taste. Trebbiano 2014 (Casale), from the Chianti area of Toscana, is a “prolonged skin contact” wine, light brown-orange in colour, and quite interesting for this relatively neutral grape.

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We discussed the Coravin concept. The reason for this was that Jonas had been in doubt whether the bottle variation of some wines was due to just that – bottle variation – or if the device could have its limitations. The Red Car Pinot Noir 2012 from California’s Sonoma Coast was for some reason lacking in fruit richness. But the second bottle was better, and when I returned the day after it was in a very good shape, with all its cool, fresh pinot character intact. We also tasted two bottles of Langhe Nebbiolo 2014 (Elio Sandri), where the first bottle was little more than tannin structure. The second was delicious, with a much richer fruit, some of the usual underwood aromas, and where the structure only added to the complexity and typicity of the style.

On the second day (or more accurately: late night) I got the chance to taste the 2014 vintage of Karl May‘s Spätburgunder, a very luscious and refreshing German wine with a slightly “pétillant” feeling on the tongue.

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Completely wrong, according to some people’s etiquette, I had a champagne after this, the pure and lovely Pierre Gerbais Cuvée de Resérve, made from 50% pinot nois, and the rest pinot blanc and chardonnay. This one is quite dry at 6 grams of sugar, and has rested three years on its lees. Very good ageing character, with freshly baked bread, and in the mouth it’s quite rounded, though the continental terroir shows through in the steely acidity that is inside. Interestingly enough I rounded off the whole séance with a cider from the western Norwegian fiords, Aalholm Cider Medium, a round and mild drink that was delicious with the shrimp cocktail, a leftover from a Swedish party earlier that night.

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En Trapp Opp will hopefully be known to a lot more people in the future. In the long run it will maybe benefit from the waiting time, as it’s now probably more fit to meet a wider market.

 

 

More surprises at Egget, Stavanger

Egget (The Egg) didn’t come first, only around a year ago. But it managed to bring new concepts to the already varied gastronomic scene in Stavanger, a Norwegian town with more than its fair share of cafés and restaurants. This is mainly because the country’s most important culinary educational institutions have been located here. Add to this the nearness to the oil industry and university students from across the country, and I think you are beginning to get the big picture.

What is special then? The obvious features are the facts that the responsibles at Egget don’t have written menus, nor wine lists – and they don’t take bookings. Other than this they seem to have a rather holistic approach, and I doubt they have fixed prices for every dish or every wine.

But maybe the most important: I can’t think of any other restaurant in the area with extremely high ambitions in wine and food, without being formal and pricy. One of Egget’s nearest neighbours just up the street, the first one outside Oslo to receive a Michelin star, can exemplify this. (No offence, that one is excellent too, but more “formal-normal”.)

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Left to right: Diego Gimeno, Roy Klausen, Benoît Berthail (not present that day: head-chef  Anthony Orjollet, creator of most of the dishes)

This time I visited at late lunch-time with a friend. And when we sat down at a table of our choice the relaxing reggae music was turned down to a perfect level. We shared tapa-sized dishes throughout the meal. Our waiter, Ben, made it clear that it was squid day, as the food is always based on today’s catch, and the squid was especially good that day. So along came squid in its own ink, in a salad – and a dish that looked like a chocolate cake, but it was in fact a risotto that included squid with ink as well. There was a ceviche of cod, and a hot dish made with skate (you know that fish that looks like a kite in the water), fermented carrots, grilled milk-marinated lamb… The ingredients and techniques are taken from anywhere in the world, but quality and creativity are common denominators.

The wines are what I like to call natural wines; you know, artisan, low-intervention, organic wines, even without added sulphur, and they are without exception served by the glass. For me Egget is a place I go to get surprised. Sometimes I want to discuss a few options with the waiter, but most often he will suggest a wine, and I will say “ok”. And what to serve with the wines? Well, the kitchen is absolutely free to chose. The food is always superb, often with a creative twist, and with the wines they serve here it has never struck me that the food and the wine didn’t match.

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When you enter the place, you notice oak barrels from Rioja producer Muga in their yard. But you better look upon them as tables, as the wines served are neither oaky nor old-fashioned (and with all respect, Muga is not in the avant-garde of Spanish wine any more, if they ever were).

The first wine this time was the white Amphibolite Nature 2015 from producer Joseph Landron in Loire’s Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine. Landron disposes of 45 hectars with varying soil. Amphibolite is the name of the stones that can be found in this particular vineyard, containing magnesium and iron silicate. When the mélon de Bourgogne vines are rooted deep in this soil it can transmit very mineral character to the wine. The wine was slender, citrusy, mineral and structured.

Next was a light red grenache-based wine, Cuvée Romanissa 2014 from Domaine Matassa, on the French side of Catalunya. The grapes are grown in schistous soils rich in iron, and it’s very luscious and fresh, with aromas of red berries and herbs.

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We were also offered the Flotsam & Jetsam Cinsault 2015, from Hemelrand (Alheit Vineyards) in South Africa’s Darling region. Also light coloured, this one had more roundness, and a sensation of sweetness from the cinsault grapes. Strawberry is maybe the dominant aroma, but it showed some spiciness too.

Éric Texier’s Chat Fou (Crazy Cat) is a long time favourite, now in the 2014 vintage. This time we ended with this lovely unfiltered Côtes du Rhône, with its blend of 50% grenache, the rest a mix of four other Rhône grapes, including the white marsanne and rousanne. It was the darkest wine of the lunch, but still deliciouis, luscious summer drinking – yet concentrated and with a hint of spices. Éric isn’t one who uses many tricks to make his wines darker, fatter, more tannic… On the contrary his minimal intervention philosophy seems to maintain a perfect balance in his wines.

Egget_logoYou never know what is coming out…

This was a few days ago, when everyone was preparing for Norway’s national day. I bet many people were crowding up on that day too. Lucky the ones who managed to get one of the 5 or 6 tables. New surprises. Hooray!

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