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BODEGAS S’AMFORA

. . . lower their 300 amphorae to a depth of between 10 – 15 metres below the water in the Ebro Delta, where the magnificent River Ebro meets the Mediterranean Sea . . .

GONE FISHING!

Does it still count as plagiarism if it’s your own words you’re pilfering, and from a different medium?

I ask because today’s Cork Talk title was used by myself to introduce a wine I was about to taste on my recent radio show on Valley FM (you can still catch it here – (https://soundcloud.com/user-789233062/valley-vibes-5-sept-the-wine-show/s-Suv4mRL4QGO). I’m doing the same now.

Readers will perhaps recognise that the words were originally Chris Rea’s (or whoever wrote the song). It’s a good song in itself – but it’s also relevant, though you may think it a little peculiar, to a certain wine I’ve recently had the good fortune to taste. I followed the music with an exclamation – ‘and oh boy, what a catch!’

Let me explain. There is a winery, Bodegas S’Amfora (www.samfora.com/en-gb) nestled in the hills, about 400 metres above sea level, roughly in the Tarragona area, which in wine terms is in the DO Terra Alta region. It’s an area which is really making waves (continuing with a similar metaphor!) across the dynamic ocean that is the Spanish Wine scene these days. Putting quality first, winemakers in Terra Alta are upping the ante in this area of production gently nudging it to prominence.

The triumvirate of founders of this modern winery intent on linking the present and future with the past have the benefit of modern technology, the latest winemaking information and of course their shared passion and interest in history in boldly making wine in a very different and yet historically familiar way.

Take, for example their extremely limited production Mudéfer white Garnacha wine that, Jaume, my contact at Bodegas S’amfora sent me. Firstly, as you may have guessed – this wine is not housed in a bottle. Instead it comes in a beautifully charming, custom made 75cl clay amphora. Just as would have happened in Roman and Phoenician times. Fascinating in itself – but there’s more!

White Garnacha grapes harvested 30 years old vines undergo a vineyard selection, then on closer examination back at the winery only the very best, healthiest bunches are chosen for fermentation. Post fermentation the wine is placed in French oak barrels, for a period of 4 – 6 months. Nothing unusual here, so far. However, then the wine which has gained a little golden colour goes into the amphorae for several months.

Here it ages, just as it would have done in those historical epochs, taking on more mature notes as the wine develops, as well as some slight mineral/earthy influence from the terracotta in which it rests. But hey – it’s not finished yet!

You may remember that in 2010 there was a 170 years old shipwreck found off the coast of Finland which still contained some of the goods that were being transported to Russia. You may also know that Russia in those days was one of, if not the largest importer of Champagne. Ocean Archaeologists and wine experts alike were fascinated to hear that there were a good number of Champagne bottles that had withstood the chaos of the wreck and subsequent plummeting to the bottom of the sea remaining intact, their contents, hopefully undamaged.

There was a small but rather grand tasting and indeed it was found that the Champagne remained perfectly drinkable (though, actually made in a wholly different, far sweeter style than is the norm nowadays). The experts started to draw the conclusion that, in some way perversely, aging under the ocean’s waves had benefitted the wine.

In fact it’s not too hard to imagine – it’s is very dark down in the depths, there’s no noise, it’s mostly perfectly still, save for perhaps a very, very gentle rocking, and of course it’s silent. Perfect conditions for ageing wine on dry land. Of course there is the fact that sea water itself is a harsh environment for wine – it would ruin it immediately should it enter the bottle. However, the cork in the bottle, permeable as it is, had been protected by the foil in which it was wrapped, secured by its metal clasp. Not one of the lucky tasters made a reference to any saltiness!

Fast forward to 2018/19 and our intrepid friends make the bold decision to take advantage of such conditions and lower their 300 amphorae to a depth of between 10 – 15 metres below the water in the Ebro Delta, where the magnificent River Ebro meets the Mediterranean Sea! Rather than leaving it there for 170 years, of course, these pristine amphorae are left to the gentle rhythm of the sea for a period of 6 months.

When they are returned to dry land the barnacle-encrusted amphorae have a faint layer of salt water silt on them, looking exactly like they have indeed been left at the bottom of the sea! Fantastic!

And what of the wine? Well, I wondered if the contents could live up to the story – and I was delighted to see that it does! Slightly golden in colour the wine is bright like a precious liquid jewel in the glass. The immediate aroma as the amphora is opened is similar to that of a fino or Manzanilla sherry, soon to be joined by some citrus notes, lemon and to a lesser degree yellow skinned grapefruit.

On the palate the fruit makes way a little for a slightly saline and earthy note along with almendras crudas that have perhaps been dry-fried for short period adding a faint toasty nuance.

It’s a multi-layered, intense and concentrated fine wine, thought provoking for sure and one that will be paired perfectly with oysters (our first thought) as well as seafood in general. We really enjoyed it with calamares pequenos quickly sautéed with garlic, thyme and chilli infused olive oil. What an experience!

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P.S. My next Wine Show on www.valleyfm.es is on Saturday 7th November 12.00 – 13:00 hrs CET – shining the spotlight on wines from DOP Alicante!         

A BEAUTIFULLY BUCOLIC BODEGA

PART TWO – THE WINES

Like a number of wineries in Spain, Bodegas Vera de Estenas makes wine under the auspices of two different domains. A long time member of Denominación de Origen Utiel-Requena, following owner, Felix Martinez’, application this leading winery was also elevated to Vino de Pago status.

Readers who caught last week’s article (Part One, obviously!) will know that wineries are granted Vino de Pago status by being able to prove consistently high quality wines coming from particular vineyards within their land.

When we consider that the first Vera de Estenas vineyards were planted in the second half of the 19th Century we can see that there is plenty of history on the side of the application, Plus, of course, I’m not the only one who has recognised that over the years the wines resulting from these vineyards have always been excellent. Promotion the Vino de Pago status was obvious!

Two weeks ago we stayed overnight at their atmospheric, rustic Casa Rural where we really enjoyed (along with 80+ others) a splendid dinner served with three of their flagship DO Utiel-Requena wines, following a tutored tasting of three of the Vino de Pago stars, by owner/winemaker Felix. It was quite a night!

Lidon Chardonnay Fermentado en Barrica 2019 Vino de Pago DO is as fresh as a Chardonnay can be. It’s the latest vintage, brought out specially for this event. The fact that it is fermented in oak with not so long aging in barrel means that you have a lovely combination of crisp lemon fruit with some vanilla oak overtones, plus, when leaving the wine on the palate to warm slightly the taster is rewarded with some fresh paraguyo fruit too. Spanish FB Chardonnay at just about its best! I will be very interested to se how this wine develops over the next 3 and more years.

Martínez Bermell Merlot Vino de Pago DO, is made with 100% Merlot from the 2017 harvest whose malolactic fermentation was in new French oak barrels. Figs and plums do a gentle jig on the palate as some of the toasty vanilla notes come to join the party. There’s a floral, violas, note on the palate too. It’s a balanced wine with fresh acidity making the fruit stand out nicely. On the finish there’s a pleasing note of dried dates to mix with the plum and fig blend. Lovely wine!

The final Vino de Pago DO wine, Vera de Estenas Reserva Bobal 2016 is a limited production wine with a deserved price tag of 40€. The grapes come from the Bobal vineyard first planted in 1882, with these vines being 100 years old – and the wine’s pedigree comes through on the nose and palate. It’s an elegant wine with some power and no doubt longevity too.

On the nose there are black cherries and dark forest fruits, with a little dark chocolate, as if the wrapper has just been taken off the chocolate and the first whiff floats upwards. This dark chocolate develops on the palate into a sensuous, long dark chocolate cherry liqueur note on the finish, to follow a mid palate of dark and lighter cherries. There’s a little earthiness in there too, making this wine a classic, a perfect expression of Bobal!

With dinner we moved onto the DO Utiel Wines, the fist being a little known white variety named Tardana, indigenous to Utiel-Requena. There are a few bodegas in the area giving this variety some support and this is a very good, inexpensive example. It’s been fermented in tinajas, clay amfora, and the resulting wine carries a little of this minerality, in common with all other tinaja wines I’ve tasted. Again it is properly balanced with fresh lemony, green apple acidity, a little blanched almond nuttiness and a mid length finish. Just 7€ btw!

The Casa Don Ángel Bobal DO Utiel-Requena 2016 is drinking perfectly now. The Bobal fruit, picota cherries and bright red cherries too, are really upfront, the aroma hits the nose as you bend towards the glass. As with all the wines we tasted there is always a balanced fresh acidity working perfectly with the intensity of the fruit, with elegance too. Again this wine displays some black chocolate notes to mix with the fruit and there is also a lengthy finish. Well worth its 18€ price tag!

The Estenas Crianza DO Utiel Requena wine is made with Bobal (of course!) and Cabernet Sauvignon – consequently it’s a very dark colour. On the nose there are the oak notes of toast and vanilla with a little cigar box in there too. On the palate the blackberry fruit comes through first with dark cherries following. Acidity and mature tannin give structural support and complexity and there is a good fruity medium-to-long length.

Our dinner wasn’t over yet though. Regular Cork Talk readers will know that Utiel-Requena is also one of the areas outside Cataluña where it is permitted to make cava. Yes – our final wine of the night was a super fresh, palate cleansing and refreshing young Brut Nature cava, with a slight spin! Made with the fresh apple flavoured Macabeo as well as a little slightly oak aged Chardonnay – this wine has a lot more to it than normal young cavas.  (https://veradeestenas.es/)

NB Don’t miss my next Wine Show on Valley FM www.valleyfm.es 12 – 13:00 hrs (CET), Saturday 3rd October – I’ll be tasting and chatting about great wines and playing brilliant music, as always!

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WINES TO DIE FOR!

“Our wines are a blend of the traditional and contemporary and genuinely reflect the outstanding characteristics of their unique and distinct personality.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself!

I’ve said many times in Cork Talks of the last few years that Spain is such a happening place when it comes to winemaking. There is so much going on the Spanish wine scene that it has to be one of the most dynamic winemaking countries in the world – and I’m so grateful that we are right in the middle of it!

The ‘traditional’ part of the quote above refers to the history of winemaking here in Spain. Often this comes as second nature to young winemakers who are now taking over the reins of the family wine business. Parents are happy to bow out (well, mostly, though so many retain the right to still come to work each day, helping by just being there!). The new incumbents, a welcome increasing number of females included, of course, have learned from the parents as they did form theirs and so on, back through generations.

Add to this the fact that this new generation has had the opportunity to study formally at various universities and wine schools, adding great swathes of knowledge to family traditions, and you can see that things are bound to improve. Then bring in the fact that so many have had the wherewithal to travel and therefore learn from others in the industry. Often this has included working vintages in different European wineries, as well as in different countries in, not only the northern hemisphere, the USA for example, but also in the likes of South Africa, South America New Zealand and Australia.

Now, I’m not sure where the folk behind Winery On Bodegas have done their learning and experience gaining, but it’s clear from the quote above (lifted from their website https://www.wineryon.com/en/) that they are making wines in a modern style, using traditional know-how as a solid foundation. As I said in my recent radio programme (you can check it out here, Demuerte being the final wine tasted on the show https://soundcloud.com/user-789233062/valley-vibes-4-july-12-july-wine-show), Classic, the wine I enjoyed so much, is very much a DO Yecla wine, with a modern spin.

Demuerte Classic is one of a small portfolio of, I think, six different wines, all featuring variations on the same label theme. It’s a label that immediately captures the attention of the consumer, designed as it is with the shape of a skull! It certainly tempts you to buy it and, importantly of course, the contents behind the label will make you buy it again too!

It’s made with Monastrell, the staple variety of DO Yecla, and one that I very quickly came to love when I first moved here to South-East Spain so many years ago. However, it’s a blend – Syrah being the bedfellow that is popular in Yecla and perhaps even more so in nearby DO Bullas. There seems to be a certain symbiotic relationship between the two varieties. They fit!

Firstly, you’ll find wonderful plum/damson fruit on the nose as well as the palate. Not very prevalent, but present nevertheless, there’s a faint dark chocolate flavour on the finish. Well, that’s all very Monastrell. The syrah makes its mark by adding some cherry notes to the flavour, with a delightful, though faint, black pepper spiciness and just a whiff of black olive.

It’s not a big blockbuster of a Monastrell with brooding dark fruit and lots of oak – it doesn’t want to be. It has had some ageing in barrel, French for about 9 months as it happens, but it has also elegance. The oak is integrated, hardly noticeable, adding a little flavour and aroma, as well as depth. It has 14.5 abv, but it’s subtle and entirely in keeping with the concept.

I couldn’t wait to try it when it arrived, so opened it that evening. It offered more the next day having fleshed out a little – suggesting once again that wines are better for resting after a journey. I think a little breathing before tasting will also help you to enjoy the full benefits of this wine.

I’ve only tasted Classic, which has made me want to try more. I think readers will feel the same!

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NB My Wine Show is available the first Saturday of each month – next programme Saturday 5th September from 12:00 hrs – 12:00 hrs (CET). Listen live here www.valleyfm.es

HACIENDA LOPEZ DE HARO

The tasting went well, so I’ve always had a soft spot to Bodegas López de Haro

RETURN TO RIOJA – BODEGAS LÓPEZ DE HARO

I’ve lost count of the number of wine tastings I’ve presented in restaurants over the years! I’ve really enjoyed them and, judging by comments I’ve received, they’ve gone down well with those in attendance, plus the restaurants concerned and the bodegas whose wines we’ve tasted!

I’ve worked with these restaurants to help bring in new customers, to introduce people to eateries that they hadn’t previously visited. I guess that for some clients it was a one-off experience, but I know for a fact that many returned, making themselves into regulars. Everyone’s a winner again!

When selecting the restaurants’ wines for the tasting I’ve taken care to ensure that usually at least one of the House Wines was included in those scheduled for the tasting. Being honest, mostly in days gone by, there have been some restaurants where I decided not to do a presentation as the house wine selection, particularly, wasn’t of the quality that I knew my usual attendees would expect. Far more often than not though, House Wines were good enough to be spotlighted at such a tasting.

However, there has to be a balance – people should be able to taste the quality of the wines selected by the restaurant as their house wines, but new clients also would like to taste the quality of the fine wine list. All of this has to be within a budget framework that makes a profit for the restaurant on the night (albeit that the larger profit will be the addition of new clients), so they can’t let me loose on all the most expensive wines!

When asked to present a tasting at a restaurant in Moraira (now no longer in existence, so maybe I wasn’t that good?!) I was proudly presented with their red House Wine, a wine that they definitely wanted to us during the dinner. I’d not seen López de Haro wines before that, so I was keen to try it, the more so as they were obviously delighted with it.

I don’t remember the year, of the tasting or of the wine, but I remember thinking that this was a good start! The tasting went well, so I’ve always had a soft spot to Bodegas López de Haro. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never tasted anything other than their reds, so I was pleased to recently receive a white and a rosado as well as their Crianza and Reserva reds.

Part of the Vintae Group, about which I’ve written recently, Bodegas López de Haro is a Rioja winery that uses grapes grown in various different regions of the DO. In this way they look to bring the best of the differing terroirs of this, the most famous of all Spanish winemaking zones.

I’m going to start, not with their reds, as readers might expect considering my first experience of their wines, but with their white wine. At just 5.50€ this is a pretty good buy! It’s made with Viura (aka Macabeo in different parts of Spain) which, I’ll be honest, wouldn’t automatically endear it to me. I’m not a big fan of a lot of Viura, though I’m aware that in the right hands it can be very good.

Viura generally needs some help. This may be from the addition of another of the historically permitted varieties, or indeed from one or more of the varieties only recently brought to the party. Or, as has been the case for many years, it can be supported by some oak fermentation and or ageing. Lopez de Haro’s Viura has a helping hand from the latter, French oak as well as European oak, probably Hungarian(?).

Only a part of the total of harvested grapes are fermented and thence aged in oak and for only a short time. The rest is fermented in small stainless steel tanks where it is kept with its lees until the oak barrels have done their job. Then it’s blended. If this wine was a House Wine I’d be rather pleased. It was my preferred wine of the four!

A close second was the Lopez de Haro Reserva 2015. This Reserva red wine has had 10 months in French oak barrels, with extra ageing in bottle. Made with Tempranillo and Graciano, it has the glorious whiff of Rioja wine – you’d recognise it anywhere! It’s drinking perfectly now. Dark red fruit revolved around a sturdy structure of oak aromas and a little flavour. It has some depth and complexity, matching meat and BBQ dishes, though we also enjoyed it with a rich mushroom risotto, in which I’d poured a little when cooking!

Finally onto the rosado wine. Very dry, this isn’t a frilly rosé, it can stand up for itself (we also tasted it with the risotto!) and will be a good match for paella. It’s quite pale in the glass, though not the anaemic shade of lots of rosé wines these days. It’s made using the black grape Garnacha from old vines with the addition of some Viura, the white wine variety mentioned above. It’s a good aperitif wine too.

NB my next Wine Show on www.valleyfm.es is tomorrow, 4th July, starting at 12:00 – 13:00 hrs (CET). Great music as always and, of course, good wines tasted, with associated info & chat! I hope you can listen in!

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