A Season in the Life of a vine – Part Fifteen
Subtitle – Oh, to be in Jalon, now the harvest’s gone! (With apologies to Robert Browning!)
Well, I started Part Fourteen with some Fake News – so I thought I’d risk it again! I won’t make a habit of it, though – or you-ll start doubting the accuracy of this blog, largely like I now doubt the accuracy of any news feed! Sad, isn’t it!
The above, as you’ve guessed, is not a photo of Jalon/Lliber vineyards – in fact it’s Rioja. However, the following photos are, firstly of ‘our’ vine, the subject of this blog, and then another from a nearby vineyard –
Botanists will be able to tell me why, but, here in the south east of Spain (Rioja is way to the north, and east, of course) we don’t get to enjoy the stunning beauty of autumn colours in the vineyards.
It’s as if dealing with the searing heat of summer here, up until the harvest, is just too much for the poor leaves, which, it seems just give up the ghost, when their vines have given up their grapes, and simply whither and die.
Next for our vine will be the dropping of the leaves, which, like the green layer of dazzling, green weeds between the rows of vines stimulated into growth by the recent rains, will be ploughed into the soil to act as a natural fertilizer and to add a little nitrogen to the earth.
In the meantime, the sap, as seen on the first photo in this blog (please see well below), will slowly start its descent to the foot of the vine, where it will sleep until awakened in Spring 2019!
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Fourteen
And here it is – a bottle of the wine to which our Giró vine in the Llíber/Jalón vineyards contributed! Yayy!
Err, well, ok – I admit it, as Fake News seems to be a buzz-phrase these days, I thought I’d get in on the act! The sharp eyed amongst you will see that it says 2017 on the label, so it’s obviously from last year’s vintage, for a start.
Also knowledgeable readers (that’s you, for both, right?) will know that there will, as yet, be no red wine from this area’s 2018 vintage as the grapes that have been harvested so far will probably still be fermenting, and even if fermentation has finished for some batches, the resulting wine will certainly not yet be released.
Plus, those who know the Jalón Cooperativa will know that there is absolutely no chance of being able to identify a single bottle, amongst so many thousands, that holds some of the fermented juice that came from our vine!
And speaking of the co-op:
The above is a photo of inside the Cooperativa de Jalón – where the 225 litre barrels and far larger foudres are doing their part making the finer wines offered by the co-op. There’s a wide selection of wines, with several available for tasting, and olive oils plus other local products. It’s worth a visit, for sure!
Currently, between downpours, there is a race against time here – those who believed their grapes were ripe enough for the harvest and therefore picked, days, even a couple of weeks ago (see below) will be pleased that their resulting wines will not suffer any dilution from rainwater – there was none at the time!
However, those who waited, either hoping for an extra sugar content, or those whose grapes simply were not ripe enough, are now worried that their grapes will be collected wet, or, far worse, damaged, if the storms bring with them hailstones as well! Who’d be a grape grower?!
And it was certainly the case that some of the vineyard’s vines’ grapes were not fully ripe when I went nosing about the other day:
In the pip above you can see that it has browned nicely – on this side at least.
However, its underside, seen above, shows a little greenness still, indicating that the grapes on this vine were not yet fully and evenly ripe. So, a delay was necessary before they were harvested – I do so hope that they weren’t/won’t be caught out by the weather!
As I said, who’d be a grape grower?!
Thanks for reading!
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Thirteen
At last! Today I chatted briefly with a vineyard worker, who knows very well ‘our vineyard’ and I can now confirm that ‘our vine’ is, as thought, the Giró variety. Plus, that’s not all – my educated guess earlier on in this blog, that the vine was about 30 yrs of age, is in fact correct.
So, nine years before I came to live in Spain, the vineyard I have visited so often since March this year, when I first started the blog, was planted and, following the first couple of years it spent establishing itself, our vine, the subject of the blog, has been furnishing its owner with grapes!
I can also confirm that the grapes did make their way to the local Cooperativa, and that, not long now, they will be contributing to the 2018 vintage!
I’ll be including some photos of the inside of Jalón Cooperativa soon, and I intend to also continue the blog, right up to the end of the ‘Season’ in question!
Thanks for reading!
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Twelve
Subtitle: Here today, gone tomorrow!
Well, as you can see from Part 12 below I may have been the first to Break the News that the harvest in Jalón/Llíber Valley was starting – and it continues as I write! And Guess what:
So, there you have it, readers – the grapes from our wine have been harvested!
As it’s not really practical to camp out in the vineyards(!) I missed the harvesting! What a shame!
However, if you read the post below, Part Eleven, you’ll note that I said that it was curious that the black grapes (Giró? We still don’t know, but I’m on it! I’m hoping to see a vineyard worker, sometime – though perhaps not until pruning down to the trunk for the winter sleep!!) in the vineyard, in fact that’s almost all of them, seemed to be more or less ready for picking; whereas the odd green grape vines (probably Moscatel!) planted here, perhaps by mistake 30+ years ago, were not yet ripe, which is unusual, as it’s normally white wine varieties that ripen first.
Well it seems my comments were correct, as the Moscatel hasn’t yet been harvested.
Although lots of other Moscatel grapes are already in the cooperativa, and continue to arrive:
More soon – including some photos of the cooperativa, and if we are very lucky, a bottle of wine to which our grape contributed!
Thanks for reading!
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Eleven
It’s all excitement here in Jalón Valley, well if it’s not yet, it soon will be: BREAKING WINE NEWS – The 2018 Harvest is underway!
I’d actually just been visiting ‘our’ vine – you’ll see evidence in a moment – when I came across this lonely, single tractor with, as you can see, a full burden of green grapes, which I’m sure will be Moscatel. Note also, that they are contained in what I guess to be 20kg capazos, containers, the like of which are used for a multitude of jobs here in Spain.
This is a good sign and could mean that these grapes are destined to make better quality wine than just the run of the mill – why, well because the weight of the grapes above should not be sufficient to crush the ones below, thereby starting an early, uncontrolled fermentation. Grapes collected and dumped into lined tractors until they are full will certainly suffer this fate and will likely be used just for table wine quality.
The juice in the bottom of the tractor, crushed out of the bottom layer of grapes by the pressure of the weight of those above will start to ferment of its own accord. The natural yeast present on the skins of the grape will delight in consuming the sugar withing the juice, the more so with the high temperatures that we have here – and hey, that’s fermentation, where the chemical process that transpires from this action turns the sugar into alcohol!
But what of the grapes on our vine, the black, Giró variety. pictured above? Well, firstly can you see the evidence of my visit today? A touch naughty I know, but I had to taste one grape, didn’t I? And for a very good reason too.
You can see where I pinched it from (as well as one of the grapes below which has been damaged), but this was for scientific reasons! I wanted to test the sweetness of the grapes and to inspect the pips within – just has thousands of winemakers in the Northern Hemisphere are doing right now or will be about to do.
Yes there are little machines that reveal the sugar content of the juice when a grape is squeezed, a Refractometer, but it´s used by experienced winemakers only to confirm what their taste has already told them, when they have selected a grape from the same bunch and bitten into it. The Refractometer is a useful field assistant, but that’s all!
He’ll also look at the grape seeds, the pips inside the grape. If green and very bitter, it won’t be time to harvest; if browning, less bitter it won’t be long now; and if brown, not bitter and the juice is as sweet as you like, then get those secateurs out!
Curiously, in the row where our vine is located there are two Moscatel vines, amidst all the Giró. So, I thought I’d have a taste of one of those grapes too. There was a surprising difference – the Moscatel juice was as aromatic as we expect from this variety, the juice sweet, but not very very sweet, and its pips were green and quite bitter.
However our Giró, was, it seemed to me, the correct sweetness and its pips were largely brown, and not bitter. I’d therefore draw the conclusion, inexperienced though I am, that the black grapes were nearer to harvest time than the white! Curious, as I said!
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Ten
So, who agreed with me that there was perhaps a slight change in the colour of the grapes on our vine, indicating the onset of veraison?
No matter, of course, but we were right – it’s official, our vine is certainly a black grape!
However, although I believe it is Giró (see Part Eight below), I’ve yet to have this confirmed – and looking out of the window right now, it’s not likely I’ll be seeing the grower today – it’s pouring!
Now, whilst the rain is of course good – we need it here in parched Alicante province, but it brings with it some problems for grape growers and wine makers. The growing is done now, it’s only the sunshine that the vine needs in order to fully ripen the grapes (and change their colour to the final purple/black that we’ll see when they are harvested).
The spring saw more rain that is usual, so the vines wouldn’t have been in any danger if we hadn’t had the recent sustained rain. At this stage, the rain isn’t a benefit – particularly if it arrives via violent storms! And it has!
The main problem with such heavy rain (the more so it it includes hailstones) is the likelihood of damage to the grapes. I’ve just read a sad lament from a grower in La Rioja who has suffered a 50% loss in his Garnacha grapes for the same reason – that’s a whole year’s work don’t forget!
The next problem with heavy rain is that, if harvested now, there would be too much water content in the fermenting wine, meaning diluted, insipid wine. Harvesting of the black grapes wouldn’t normally be starting now, so, with a change in weather and some drying wind, this shouldn’t be a problem for our vine’s vineyard.
However, it’s normally around this time that the green grapes, mostly Moscatel hereabouts, for white wine, of course, would be harvested. So, growers have to make decisions – delay the harvest (or perhaps it’s better to say, wait until the normal harvest time of perhaps a decade ago, before climate change made such a difference?), and risk disease (always more likely with wet grapes and warm temperatures) and maybe further wet weather; or harvest soon as the grapes are at their optimum ripeness, and hope that the rain holds off and some drying wind materialises!
Who’s be a grape grower/wine-maker?
More soon – please don’t forget that your comments and questions are most welcome!
13th July 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Nine
Is it just me, or do you also detect a slight change in colour from the last photos of our vine?!
Perhaps not so much here in the photo, but I’m pretty sure that in the vineyard the first signs of ‘veraison’ are starting to appear! Veraison is the onset of ripening, or the gradual change in colour of the grapes and I believe that the dark green of the early weeks of berry formation is now changing to a slightly more yellow colour – the start of the grapes turning black!
In the post below, Part Eight of this blog, I refer to my newfound ability to better identify the varieties in the vineyards in the Jalón/Llíber valley – it’s rather primitive I know, but, as I said below, I’m told that the small berried and shorter bunches are likely to be Giró, the indigenous red wine variety of the area. The larger berries on the far longer bunches will probably be Moscatel.
And it’s these latter grapes that further help re the notion of varaison – they don’t seem to have changed colour recently! Well, they wouldn’t would they, if they are going to be the green, white wine variety, Moscatel!
Well, we’ll know for sure when I write Part Ten – I’m away for a while and when I return the colours will certainly have changed – of the red wine varieties, of course!
ALSO, and rather exciting – I heard just yesterday that the great, internationally renowned Spanish Wine Maker, Pepe Mendoza, of Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, has just signed a 25 year lease for an established vineyard to increase the capacity of his bodega and, no doubt, to make further innovations in his excellent portfolio of wines. And, blog readers – guess where this vineyard is situated; yep, you got it – it’s in Llíber!!
More on this when I meet Pepe in October, at the aforesaid vineyard to chat about his plans!
27th June 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Eight
A week later than Part Seven – but little external development to observe. However, whilst I still haven’t been able to speak with a vineyard worker, busy on ‘our’ plot, I believe I am, mas o menos (more or less), able to confirm that ‘our’ vine is in fact the local, indigenous variety, *Giró!
Looking at other vineyards there are vines whose grapes are rather larger than those on our vine and others in the same plot. I’d thought that this was probably because they were better developed as they would be the ones to ripen first, and therefore be harvested before ‘our’ vineyard. In other words, knowing that almost the whole of the valley is planted with Moscatel and Giró, the more developed grapes at this stage will almost certainly be the former.
It seems I was correct. I spoke yesterday with a worker ploughing a nearby vineyard, who confirmed this, also adding that another way to tell was that not only are the Moscatel grapes larger at this stage, their bunches are longer too, with Giró being smaller grapes on shorter, more compact bunches. A few stops on my walk seemed to confirm this.
There’s another way to tell, also – though unless you have a very keen eye, I think you really have to be an expert. I referred, at the start of this blog, to Ampelogrophers – botanists specialising in grape vines, and it’s their trained eyes we need right now! So, if any readers whose expertise is Ampelography, can help us out with the following photo – please don’t be shy, put us out of our misery!
Of course, in July, we’ll at least be able to tell if our vine is a black grape variety – it will change colour!
*Please note: interestingly, I’ve just received the Guía de Vinos y Aceites 2018 (an impressive, bilingual [Spanish/English], impartial guide to the wines and extra virgin olive oils of Spain, categorised by grape/olive variety). Looking under Garnacha, I found Giró, listed as a synonym!
I believe there are a number of bodegueros in Jalón who would dispute that assertion! Me? Well, I’m staying out of that one!
P.S. I’m happy to receive comments/suggestions/questions – thank you for reading!
20th June 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Seven
Again it’s been some time since I last blogged! Same reasons – we are so busy at the moment, but as the school term drudges to a finish and wine tastings/judging end for the Summer break, I should be able to find time to continue with this blog, encouraged by the interest shown by those who called/texted/e-mailed me – thank you!
Well, although I’ve yet to meet anyone tending the vineyard, somebody who can confirm the variety (we think it’s the local, indigenous Giró, black grape) and the vine’s age, it’s clear from the photo that progress is being made. Taken a couple of weeks ago, you can clearly see the burgeoning grapes – whatever variety they are!
Since this photo the grapes have increased a little in size and remain green, a colour which will eventually change (if, indeed they are destined to be black grapes!) during the period known as veraison, the transition period from grape growth to grape ripening.
Standing back and looking at the vineyard as a whole, it’s interesting to note that, although this was the first vine to show any sign of coming back to life after the winter, the reason why it was chosen, it’s now by far the saddest looking one – that’s if we don’t count the dead one nearby!
A measly three bunches, with not that many grapes per bunch, will not be making that great an impact on the wine made from this plot. Never mind though, I’m nothing if not loyal!
Weather-wise it seems we are now into the heat of the summer, the growing season, after a most peculiar Spring and I wondered if our vine had ever experienced such an odd season, in its, what, 30 – 40 year life? It has certainly been the wettest Spring I can remember in the 21 years I’ve been living in Spain, with several thunderstorms, which I’m happy to say, our vine ‘weathered’ rather well, with practically no damage to the plant nor its precious grapes.
More soon – thanks for reading! Please also remember that I’m happy to receive comments/suggestions/questions – interactive, that’s what I’d like this blog to continue to be!
31st May 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Six
At the end of Part Five of this blog, I perhaps should have said – don’t hold your breath regarding waiting for the next one! It’s been a long time – what with presenting wine tastings/pairings, wine judging, Youtube recording (the latest here: https://youtu.be/RggtnJNtuP0), helping with the organisation of various of my lovely wife, Claire-Marie’s concerts and musical events (www.clairemarie.es), plus a dreadful attack of ‘man-flu'(!), I’ve been rather slow in keeping up with A Season in the Life of a Vine!
And a lot has happened in the meantime!
Yes, on my birthday I went for a walk to our vineyard and was delighted to see the long-awaited flowers almost in full bloom. It’s from these flowers that the grapes eventually develop, so our vine is progressing nicely!
Only two later, I must have just missed the grower for I came across a nicely ploughed vineyard, with the smell of the soil still in the air. There was also a very slight vegetal smell – not new-mown grass, which has its own distinctive, and to me, very attractive, evocative fragrance (I learned my tennis on grass courts many years ago!), though similar in that the aroma was clearly freshly cut vegetation.
A glance at the rows and then the vines revealed what the grower had been up to – he’d taken off some of the leaves on various of the vines. This, I’m pretty sure is indicative of the eventual use for the grates from this vineyard. It’s likely, I think, that grapes harvested here are probably destined for the local co-operative.
This is where the photo should be to support the above and the following, but my computer tells me it’s too large to load, though the same size as the above! So, I hope you’ll just believe me!
Why? Well the, just over 200m above sea level, at which these vineyards are located is not sufficient altitude for the vines to have the benefit of a dramatic drop in temperature during the night. This is considered rather crucial in fine wine making in hot climate countries. So it could be that the farmer is moving some of the leaves to help ease the heat by allowing any passing breeze to refresh the vines, both in the daytime and at night.
However, I doubt it. I think it’s more likely that he (I’m not being sexist here, I’ve yet to see a lady tending the vines in this area!) is making the leaf canopy smaller to allow more sunlight to affect the grapes which will soon appear. This is in fact the antithesis of what would be happening for the making of fine wine – in these days of climate change.
Some winemakers, with the wherewithal, in Spain, Torres is an excellent example, having been buying land at greater altitude as well as increasing leaf-cover in their existing vineyards – to give the vines extra shade from the heat!
Here in Spain, the grapes will ripen – it’s a given. There always has been enough sunshine anyway, nowadays there’s even more. The more sunshine, the more sugar in the grapes, and ultimately, the higher the levels of alcohol – just right for the bulk wine market, and generally, the local co-operative. Methinks this farmer is after quantity rather than quality!
More very soon!
28th April 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Five
Whilst it’s not exactly been the sustained period of sunshine and warm temperatures asked for in Part Four, below – it’s not been too far off. Therefore our Giró(*we still think, but haven’t yet had this confirmed!) has developed since the photos included in Part 4.
The very closely knit ‘bunch’ of nascent grapes of previous photos has opened out a little, as you may be able to see here. Each ‘grape’ has its own space now, making it clearly defined from the others, though, of course, in time they will grow, become larger and be closer again.
To give some orientation I’m including this next photo – you can see that our vine is close to the the very low wall that divides the vineyard from one of several caminos (small lanes)that service the whole valley floor, wherein we find our vineyard and vine.
We can also see something of the owner’s, shall we say, relaxed, attitude to vineyard management (*I’ve yet to see him to ask if we are talking Giró here, up if I’m barking up the wrong vine!) . It hasn’t been ploughed for some time, there is sparse vegetation between the rows, with dead weeds making it look unattractive and an occasional clump of such deceased weeds, taken up by the wine and rolling along between the vines, as if in a spaghetti western of years ago!
It made me look recently at the other vineyards adjacent, over the road and a little further afield – it’s interesting to see the different owners’ philosophies. Some have their between-vine land ploughed to a fine tilth, leaving the soil almost powder-like. Others plough less energetically, preferring the soil to be left in small to large ‘chunks’
Between rows on some of the vineyards there are a lot of wild grasses, weeds and some lovely flowers too. These are left deliberately – the grower wants to make use of the the insects attracted by the flowers, for they can also be insects that attack some of the vine pests, reducing (hopefully eliminating?) the use of pesticides. Later when they have served their purpose they too will be put to the plough in a final, beneficial sacrifice – they will be ploughed into the soil to become natural fertiliser, adding also, nitrogen to the soil.
Still no flowers – watch this space!
14th April 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Four
Each of the days I’ve checked our vine this week, it’s been rather windy. There’s been no damage to the vine, but I was unable to take a photo of the development since the post below. However, it’s been an advantage as the development is now a little more pronounced – i.e. you can see it quite clearly now, albeit still small.
The buds are tiny, the flowers won’t be much bigger either, when they arrive – and when’s that going to be? Well, firstly we’ll need a period of sustained sunshine, bringing warmer temperatures.
I’m on it – so whenever our flowers do eventually deign to join us, I’ll bring them to you, so to speak!
Thanks for reading – remember, please, all comments/suggestions/questions are most welcome – please e-mail me at email@example.com.
7th April 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Three
Having returned from my travels (IWSC judging in Guildford; family holiday in Paris) I was up early this morning and in the vineyards of Jalón – on a mission!
It’s about time we knew the variety of ‘our’ chosen vine!
I suspected that work would be done on the vines as the mists cleared this grey and overcast day, I was right, and wrong! In the vineyard next to ‘our’ vine’s home a lonely worker was doing some (late?) pruning – with electric secateurs, no less!
His vines are old Moscatel, which he uses mostly for eating, though he does make some wine for home consumption – no doubt as his family have done for generations!
And yes, he did know the variety of our vine – Giró, seguro (for sure); though ‘our’ vineyard was deserted!
Well, that’s good enough for me, although I will confirm it whenever I see the vineyard being worked.
So, what is Giró? Well you can read all about it in my Costa News article to be published on Friday 2oth April, and online too www.costa-news.com click Cork Talk.
If you look clearly at the first of the above photos, both of which were taken at the same time, you’ll see that ‘our’ vine (in the foreground) has been joined by a host of others, now well into leaf. In fact, ‘our’ vine, is looking a little sorry for itself when compared to some of the others, despite it being the first to show!
But hey, there’s loyalty involved here – so I aint changing!
22nd March 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Two
At then end of Part One of this blog (below) I alluded to the naming of the vine – don’t worry, I don’t think of it as a pet! I love wine, but not that much! Perhaps better to say, identifying, the vine, rather than naming it!
As I mentioned below I’m not an ampelographer and couldn’t, therefore, identify the vine by looking at its leaves. That’s actually quite a skill, and one that I don’t own. So, I’ll make an educated (well, fairly educated) guess as to the identity this particular vine, from the many Spanish vine varieties grown on the Iberian peninsular.
My first thought was Tempranillo. It may continue to be my belief, but it may not! Let me explain – Tempranillo is known as an early ripener. In the large expanse of vineyards in Jalón V alley, this along with its neighbours in the same vineyard was the first to come into leaf. My guess is that the first vines to leaf, will also be the first to ripen during the season. So, in this case Tempranillo seems like a decent guess.
However, guess is what it has to remain. And, there are a number of factors conspiring against it too. Historically (vines have been grown here for hundreds of years) Tempranillo is not a common variety around these parts. Girò is preferred – a variety which has its own fascinating history.
That said, there are growers in the valley and further inland to Parcent and beyond who have been experimenting over at least a couple decades, planting different varieties to see how they fair in these soils. Perhaps this vineyard, which, for me, has the look of being between 20 – 30 yrs old, was planted with Tempranillo by a forward thinking grower, perhaps with an eye on the prices that Rioja was achieving, with with Tempranillo being the darling of those vineyards!
It could be Girò. Covering lots of vineyards in Sardinia, Girò is well used to parching temperatures and isn’t too fussed about altitude. However, it’s considered to be a mid to late ripener – there at least.
Garnacha? Well, this Spanish variety, known in France as Grenache, is grown here. In fact there are those who think that Girò is really Grenache – all part of the fascinating story referred to above, and which will be revealed in Cork Talk in the Costa News, soon. But Garnacha is a late ripener, so, as this vine is one of the first to break into leaf around here, I doubt it.
Or, perhaps it’s not even a black grape variety! Certainly the white Moscatel grapes grown in the Jalón valley ripen early, and there’s a large production of Moscatel wines, here, many sweet wines, but not all.
So, a conundrum, until I come across a vineyard worker who’ll be able to advise me. Watch this space!
NB There will be a two week or so gap now before Part Three, when we’ll be able to see how our vine has developed further as well as what’s happening in the vineyard as a whole, and those surrounding it.
20th March 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine!
With a novel about 60% completed (and an interested Literary Agent waiting for further chapters – following the initial five, with synopsis); plus three nascent short stories, one of which may move into the Historical Novel genre, depending on the success of the nearly(?) completed novel above, and my therefore having the time, and the confidence to elevate it thus; and, of course, my various on-going projects in wine presentations, writing, tourism etc, this may not seem like the most auspicious time to start a lengthy blog!
And lengthy it’s likely to be, as you’ll see from the title – I’m going to be talking about the life of a single vine in a vineyard, in fact in the basin of Jalón Valley, watching it’s progress over the whole of the growing season, from the rising of the sap at the start of Spring 2018 (though you wouldn’t know it, as it’s still pretty cold, with uncharacteristic rain and wind right now), to the grape harvest, when the vine’s work will have been done!
So, lengthy yes, but don’t worry, it will be served up in bite-sized morsels – so as to continue to engage with the reader. If you like wine in general, and in particular, Spanish wine; if you are also interested in finding out what goes on before the wine ends up in your glass; if you know and appreciate the fact that the most important part of the wine-maker’s art is that which he oversees in the vineyard; and if you are interested in nature, then this blog is for you!
Now, I’m no ampelographer (a botanist specialising in grape vines) whose skills in ampelography enable him/her to identify a grape variety by the study of its leaves, and even if I were, it’s unlikely that I would be able to do so until the leaves are more mature than this, my first photo of the vine in question, which follows another photo of a tiny drop of sap emerging from a nearby vine and about to drop to the soil.
Well, I say ‘introduce’ in the caption below the photo, but in fact we are not yet on first name terms! More on this later – told you the entries on this blog, ‘A Season in the Life of a Vine’ would be bite-sized!
Alimentaria Anecdotes – continued, Day Two!
Well, Alimentaria, and the exhibitors present will be pleased with the second day of the large* wine/food fair held every two years in Barcelona. The number of visitors has increased from the first day and the aren look busy!
However, the * above will help keep feet on the ground! I’ve substituted the word ‘Huge’, used in the fist Anecdote, preferring instead the word – ‘large’. It seems to be related to the law of diminishing returns!
My blog yesterday was about how there were fewer exhibitors than in previous years – this has been highlighted again today by a further trip around the Intervin Hall today. Too much unused space (therefore revenue-less!) and too many extraneous stands which, really should be in the food halls. I wonder why.
Well, having asked others – it seems I got it right yesterday. It’s too expensive to exhibit and the demand for stands at Fenavin, the competition may well exceed the space available. A source said, “It’s [Alimentaria] dying!”, for these reasons.
But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. VinorumThink – is an excellent innovation, as I said yesterday. High profile speakers are presenting tastings of high quality, and they are all organised very professionally. Plus, those exhibitors who have arrived are very pleased to talk and present their wares.
I went to two Vinorum presentations on Day Two. The first was ‘The Best Wines in Spain’ according to the Proensa Guide. This followed yesterday’s final presentation, which I also attended, with the same name – but according to Guia Peñin! So who’s right?
Well, it’s not really like that – each publication has its highest pointers and the presenters selected 9 for us to taste – there could have been more, of course, and I think there had been a deliberate attempt to make sure that wines were not used in both tastings, despite their probably figuring in each guide. Sensible – and better for the tasters who attended both!
There was some controversy, in my book at least, re the Proensa tasting. I follow this guide, if not like the Bible, at least very closely. But I’d take issue with Señor Proensa’s declaration, for example, ‘To talk about natural wines means that all that we have tasted today are unnatural.’ And, for another example – ‘Bio-dynamic production is just a marketing argument.’
I also went to Victor de la Serna and Juancho Asenjo’s presentation ‘ The evolution of Spanish Wines’ – as perceived by their magazine El Mundo Vino. This was an excellent opportunity to taste super wines from various different locations – including, near to my base, Utiel-Requena and Alicante!
I also like to attend here the tastings organised by Cataluña – smaller, but alwyas interesting and well planned, with good speakers too.
Tomorrow the final day – with more reflections, more anecdotes!
Photos from all three days to follow!
THE ALIMANTARIA ANECDOTES
This biennial wine/food fair is always a must in the wino/foodie’s diary. I think this is my 7th time in Barcelona for this event and after the first day I’m pleased to say that I’m enjoying the experience as always. Albeit, that there seems to be a change afoot – although it could be a one-off?
I know the halcyon pre-la-crisis days (before the Spanish recession) are gone, maybe forever, but I have to say that the encouraging signs that Spain is coming out of that dreadful economic blight, as witnessed in my area of the Costa Blanca, where the phoenix-like real estate agents proliferate once again, are not so noticeable here.
The rise and rise of the popularity of artisan olive oils is evidenced by the noticeable increase in the number of stands devoted to them, in a marked contrast to the number of wine stands this year. Furthermore, in the Intervin Hall, where two years ago for example, not even in pre-la-crisis times, there have to be the fewest wine exhibitors I’ve seen, but the most wine related (sometimes tenuously) other stands offering for example, snacks etc to accompany wine, and boxes in which to place the bottles.
And if that’s not worrying enough (for the hosts) there are several areas where rough seating has been arranged, occupying spaces that should have been filled with wine exhibitors. In past years the exhibition area has been full to bursting with wineries all trying to tempt the press and, more importantly, buyers too.
Indeed I wrote one article several Alimentaria’s ago entitles ‘The Changing Face of Alimentaria’ – a reference to the increasing number of Chinese buyers who were being feted by all and sundry in their attempts to break into the, predicted burgeoning Asian market. The aisles were packed – today not so at all.
So what does it mean? That the quality of Spanish wine is on the wane? No – far from it. I’ve just returned from a José Peñin led tasting where impressive statistics were shown, indicating, nay, proving that the standard of Spanish wine is currently at an all time high.
So exactly what is the nature of the problem, perceived by me at least?
Is it perhaps the competition? Fenavin, another Biennial fair, held usually in Ciudad Real, where I was last year, seems to expand year on year – is this a reason for an apparent decline in numbers exhibiting in Alimentaria? Or, maybe it’s the prices charged by a perhaps slightly arrogant Alimentaria?
A new friend of mine, a ‘natural wine’ maker was asked if he’d like to exhibit at Alimentaria 2016n as poart if a group of similarly disposed winemakers. His reasons declining were firstly the cost, and, admittedly, the perceived public’s indifference to the notion of ‘natural wines’.
Or is the decline simply a matter of a gradual loss of Alimentaria’s magnetism – are fewer people drawn to the event?
I suspect it’s a combination of all the above. And maybe it’s just a one-off, perhaps a cyclical thing, with a bigger and better bounce-back in 2018?
Well, rather a minor-keyed intro to Alimentaria 2016 above – there are also lotsa good things about this year’s event too!
The ‘Vinorum Think’ concept, a new innovation this year, is excellent. I’ve been to two of the ‘cata’ (tasting) events so far and I’m planning on a few more too – as they’ve been excellent! Luminaries such as José Peñin (he of the Guide) and Guillermo Cruz, sommelier extraordinaire have presented exemplary catas with extraordinarily fine wines (e.g. a horizontal tasting of Rioja’s from the 2001 vintage; and a sample of the wines given top marks in the Peñin Guide 2016).
So, there’s plenty more to come here at Alimentaria 2016 – and another Anecdote later!
IN ALL ITS GUISES
MAKING YOUR CHRISTMAS MERRIER!
At this time of year (for those coming late to my blog, it’s approaching Christmas 2015!) perhaps more than any other, I’m sure we are all considering our wine choices for Christmas.
I’m also sure that sparkling wine figures quite strongly in your deliberations! There are many different sparkling wines to choose from, of course. This also applies here in Spain, sparkling wine is not confined to just cava on the Iberian peninsular. Spanish fizz takes many forms – and there’s lots of quality, top quality too, that is not cava.
However, this blog is all about cava, though perhaps not the cava with which readers are conversant? Whilst presenting a recent Cava Dinner (I’d been asked to promote DO Cava by the Consejo Regulador – it wasn’t a difficult decision to accept, with delight, and not a little alacrity!) it came to my notice that there were many at the dinner who, if not in the dark regarding cava, were at least only in the twilight.
I’m sure that the assembled 85 people, the maximum that the Swiss Hotel Moraira wanted for this night, were in many ways representative of wine and sparkling wine drinking ex-pats in Spain, as well, I’m sure, as many Spaniards too. It made me think that now is the time to shed a little more light on the wonderful drink that is Cava!
A wholly unscientific straw-poll was taken on the night – a simple show of hands, but nevertheless very revealing as arms reaching for the ceiling were practically unanimous. I asked if I was correct in presuming that most will go to wine shops and supermarkets during the festive period seeking simply a Brut Cava. Apparently I’d hit the cork on the head. There were some, like myself, who probably prefer a Brut Nature, or it that’s considered just a little too austere, an Extra Brut, but Brut was the most popular choice by a distance.
And that was that. A Brut cava please.
There were few who were thinking out of the case – who were looking for something more. In fact, I’d say that thoughts about the age of the cava does not enter most peoples’ minds. Generally, Brut is all that we look for, without realising that it’s almost certain that the Brut we come away with is a young cava. Well, those who attended the event will, I hope, now take a different view.
Don’t get me wrong here, I love a young sprightly, vivacious Brut – it does what you expect of it (not what it says on the can!) and hey, long may it do so! I think we all love the celebratory nature of such a cava. If there’s a wedding, a new baby, an exam result, a house move, a business success etc, the first thing we reach for is the fizz. Sparkling wine equals party time, so for Christmas it’s also the go-to drink. And that’s fine.
However, when we are thinking about that special Christmas Dinner and that elegant New Year’s Eve Dinner Party, we really should be thinking in depth, or rather, about depth, the depth of flavour that other styles of cava can offer.
Our recent Cava Dinner paired different styles of cava with different dishes, highlighting the fact that, whilst older cavas should still have that celebratory fizz, this is not their only raison d’etre. The alluring, wholly different aromas; the depth of multi-nuanced flavour; the weight on the palate; the length; and the texture of Reserva and Gran Reserva cavas sets them apart from their young cousins, adding immense extra value.
These are attributes on which dinner party hosts can capitalise. Those attending cannot fail to be impressed by these different styles of cava. If needed, take a moment of indulgence and ask guests to spare a few seconds’ thought about the cavas they are drinking and how they work with the various courses. I’m certain there will be nothing but approval!
Why? How does this sea-change come about, it’s still cava when all is said and done?
Well, aged cavas are made in the same way as young cavas, but more so! The minimum amount of time that a cava must spend on its lees (resting on the now dead yeast, which was used to provoke the second fermentation in the bottle) is nine months.
Sadly, millions of bottles of cava are sold on perhaps the first day of the 10th month, or so it seems! Presuming, of course, that all producers are obeying the law, these are the cavas which you will see at this time of year being offered for under (sometimes well under) two Euros! Don’t be tempted – these are nothing like representative of the quality that is available when buying cava!
Producers of ‘joven’, young, cavas of quality almost invariably leave their wines to age on their lees for longer than the minimum. This extra time adds depth of flavour to the wine with added mouth-feel and changing aromas – i.e. better quality.
Mostly, Reservas are the same, but more so. However, we are now moving up the quality scale. Often (though not always) the grapes used to make the base wine, that which will be bottled, eventually to morph into cava after the extra yeast is added and the bottle capped, are of a higher quality than those chosen for the young cavas.
A selection table can be employed where well trained and highly experienced staff watch over the conveyor belt like hawks, ready to swoop onto any bunches that have a number of damaged or insect attacked grapes. These are withdrawn and either used for younger style cavas, or pressed with the resulting juice being sold to other wine producers.
Thus the base wine for Reservas can often be of better quality to start with. Then there is the matter of time on lees. The minimum time spent ‘en rima’ where bottles are up-ended with the wine resting on the lees, which are gradually travelling down the bottle to its neck, is 15 months. Most Cava Reserva producers leave their wines like this for well over this minimum – and generally the longer left, the better the finished article.
These wines are something else – “Cava, but not as we know it!”. As my colleague, Master of Wine John Downes puts it, in his recent article for www.snooth.com.
With such wines you’ll find a pleasing extra texture on the palate, greater weight, but elegant too. They’ll retain the celebratory nature of the drink, whilst adding more for your money (though don’t worry about this extra charge, it’s not a dramatic hike, although those who compare a Reserva price with the under two Euro price, spat out above, will be in for some apoplexy, for sure!).
You may note aromas of white flowers and cider fragrance, rather than green apple from the Macabeo. You’ll find too the same patisserie notes often gleaned from Champagne along with a little earthiness. Plus there will be other nuances, depending on the grape varieties used, the traditional three Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel.lo, as well as other Spanish varieties less well known, plus the Champagne varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
So, the next step up, and whilst I do appreciate that these different styles are just that, and therefore shouldn’t really be judged against each other, for me the Gran Reservas are a different class.
The minimum time ‘en rima’ (no extra charge for the Spanish lessons, by the way!) for Gran Reserva is 30 months, though almost all Gran Reservas are aged for well over the minimum – e.g. the generic Gran Reserva that was enjoyed by so many at the Cava Dinner, had been aged for 46 months.
The selection table can be employed to great effect here. The grapes for these fine wines are often sourced from the best vineyards where the vines are the oldest, the soils the most apt for each variety and the micro-climates and aspect to the sun are most favourable. Plus, the hawks are more demanding for these premium sparkling wines.
Gran Reservas can be matched with a host of meat driven dishes – we found an excellent ‘maridaje’, pairing (again, this is gratis!), with slow roast lamb and Port sautéed pears. And think of the festive birds you may be considering cooking this year – really this style of cava has to be a winner, enhancing an already special meal!
Look for that earthiness, with some citrus elements remaining. You’ll also find an endearing nuttiness too (think chestnut stuffing!) with a slight, sometimes more than slight, meatiness as well. The best (though to be honest I haven’t tasted a poor Gran Reserva cava) will have great presence on your palate, laced also with elegance and finesse. They will have the body to withstand and indeed complement the dinner and I’m sure you’ll be delighted with the comments your guests will make.
I’d suggest that you may like to serve a glass of Gran Reserva Cava as the first drink with the main course, and then perhaps revert to a well chosen red wine, which will, I’m sure, keep everyone happy!
I’d recommend therefore that from now on when thinking of cava, don’t be satisfied with just a standard or even a really good quality young Brut, choose, according the the menu (and this applies to apertifs and starters) from a selection of Reservas and Gran Reservas.
And if the wine shop doesn’t have them, ask them why not – as they are doing a dis-service to cava!
LA VIE EN ROSÉ
PROVENÇAL ROSÉ – VARIATIONS ON A THEME?
Well, no, actually – colour-wise, they’re all the same!
Let me firstly say that I am a keen fan of Provençal Rosé. During our very recent Provençal sojourn I tasted well into double figures of different wines and whilst I had my favourites, it’s true to say that I enjoyed them all.
There’s nothing quite like tasting iconic wines in situ. This year (summer 2015) there have been record temperatures to go along with a record number of sunshine hours. So much so that wine producers will be picking early this year as the grapes are reaching optimum maturity and ripeness at least a week earlier than has been normal for decades.
Indeed I know of one producer who has serious concerns about the survival of the new vines he has recently planted, because of the climate change and, of course, its attendant lack of rain. It’s all very well for the teeming tourists, but for farmers there are serious worries.
Now, a change of tack – but the course will revert back to the Rosés of Provence.
I was at a major wine tasting earlier this year where I was talking to a Spanish producer whose wine’s I’d just tasted. One of them was a very pale pink rose petal coloured rosado which I enjoyed. I asked him about the rather dramatic change in colour, considering the rosados that they have produced in the past, which I’ve also enjoyed.
As I expected he replied that this colour change was a response to the current world-wide demand for rosado wines made in the Provençal hue, the very pale pink that is so typical of rosé wines from Provence.
An interesting, similar experience occurred at another tasting this year where a producer was presenting the bodega’s first rosado of the same pale hue. It was ironic, for me, that there were far more negative comments about this wine than positive, from the Spanish tasters. In some respects Spanish consumers are a step behind what’s going on in the rest of the world, re wine. (Another example is Spain’s delay in embracing screw-top bottle closures).
The pioneering bodega which had decided to launch this new (for Spain) shade of rosado was also responding to the international demand for oh-so-pale rosé. They sell all over the world and were not surprised that the wine wasn’t (as yet) popular in their area, and indeed in Spain in general. A profit in his own country . . . .
Today (2nd week of August 2015) I received my copy of what is for me Spain’s best wine magazine, PlanetAVino, whose largely pink front cover suggested that there was a major article about rosado wine inside, before the headline confirmed it. A sub-heading in the article itself reads: “Clarete, Rosado y ahora, Rosé” – (Clarete, the very darkly coloured style of Spanish rosado; Rosado, the various and many variations on the ‘pink’ theme; and now, Rosé – essentially referring to the very pale, Provence style rosés). ,
The article’s author, the owner-editor of the magazine (as well as the excellent Guía Proensa, Spanish Wine Guide), Señor Andrés Proensa is making the point that now in Spain there is a huge choice of rosado wines, in terms of grape varieties, of course, some of which include white wine grapes, as well as in colours.
And this is where our two tacks converge. There are many different grape varieties used for Provençal Rosé wines (this number is smaller than those for Spain, of course, as Provence is a relatively (to Spain as a whole) small area of production. However, though I’m no artist and cannot really note any infinitesimally slight change in shade, when it comes to the colour of Provençal Rosé, they are all the same!
On supermarket shelves there is a vast array of rosé wine in Provence – understandably, as in the towns and villages there are signs proudly claiming that they have a 2,600 year history of making such wines! But, in terms of colour – there’s practically no difference!
I’m sorry, mes amis, but as a spectacle, it’s boring!
I just wonder if there is a producer in Provence who has the guts to break the mould, like the two Spanish producers mentioned earlier. A revolutionary who is prepared to take some flack, who wants to make rosé of the same undeniable quality as that which is made already, but, for heaven’s sake, rosé with some colour in its cheek!
I know – the answer is a rhetorical question: ‘Why change a winning team? If it aint bust, don’t fix it!’ Plus, of course, the evidence in the international market suggests that this pallid rosé is what the consumer demands. Our two Spanish pioneers (along with a few others who’ve also always made their rosado in this style, regardless of fashion) have decided to [join ’em] rather than try and [beat ’em]. So Provençal producers must have it right!
Well, let me leave you with a thought, alluded to already in the paragraph above – consumers are notoriously fickle. The international demand for pallid-pale coloured rosés is nought but a fashion. A mode that will reach its zenith and then, like colour in the wine, fade. As with many fashions it will come again, but for me, it’s variety as well as quality that counts.
This is where Spain (see above) wins out!
I feel a bit of a fraud here, really – I’m not a big fan of U2 (though I do like this particular song), so I’m not perfectly comfortable with this tiny piece of plagiarism. However, it fits both sides of this blog so I’m sure the U2 members will approive when they read it, avid followers of colinharknessonwine.com that they are!
The two sides of this blog are namely: wine orientated (well, you’d hope so, wouldn’t you?); and politically orientated. Diverse corners, I agree, but linked, I think!
I’ve recently signed what amounts to a ‘political ‘ petition, most unusual for an apolitical person such as myself. Indeed, my signature has nothing at all to do with any political party’s view on the subject. By definition, I clearly have no knowledge of any such views. It’s plain common sense to me, albeit that I don’t fully understand the financial implications involved, I admit. (Perhaps some would think this lack of understanding makes my opinion worthless, but I’d argue that it isn’t just about finance).
The Costa News Group, for whom I have been writing the wine column, Cork Talk, for 18 years now, is running a petition , in the probably forlorn hope(?) of making a change in UK Law to allow those of us who have been living out of Great Britain for over 15 years, the right to vote in the forthcoming UK referendum regarding Great Britain’s membership of the European Union.
I presume that the right to vote in UK elections generally has been taken away from the hundreds of thousands (I’ve no idea of the actual number, though believe it to be at least 200,000, pence the plural!) of us because it is believed that as we have ‘abandoned’ Great Britain we no longer have the right to have a say in what goes on there. I have to admit, I do have some sympathy with this view.
However, membership (or not) of the EU does impact upon all Britons living within its boundaries, therefore, for me, rightful ownership of a British Passport should entitle us to a vote in a referendum which will seriously affect our lives, rights and status!
Personally, in case you ask, I’m in favour of continued membership, albeit with perhaps a re-think re its rules and regulations. Safety in numbers, is relevant, I think, but that’s not all – it just makes more sense to me to be working together for the common good, rather than perhaps/probably against other European countries with a worryingly nationalistic, in my view, myopic, agenda.
However, my view is of no consequence. It’s my right to vote that is important, I believe, as is that of every other British ex-pat living within the EU, of course.
Now, a walk on the wine side (a play on words and another piece of musical plagiarism!).
Thinking of the way in which wine making is organised here in Spain and (here’s an aforementioned ‘link’) indeed in the rest of Europe and in particular about the government sanctioned Denominación de Origen controlling system – is it better to make wine with, our without the auspices of a DO?
I’ve written Cork Talk articles before referring to this debate. There is a mounting body of evidence which suggests that there are increasing numbers of wineries that are opting out of the DO system.
Their reasons vary – but it’s all really about a level of dissatisfaction within the DO concerning: their self-policing regulation by the Consejo Reguladores; degenerating quality standards; financial considerations; lack of incentives for innovation; permitted grape variety restrictions; harvest yields; and more. Whilst probably not, ‘never ending’, it’s certainly an exhaustive list!
In the North East, DO Cava (although now strongly fighting back with their new designation about to be improved) has suffered an certain exodus; there are/have been stirrings in DO Valdeorras in the North West; similar changes have occurred in the South East, in the Valencia region; and even in the hallowed pastures of La Rioja discontent has reared its challenging head.
Bodegas which have presumably being trying to effect change from within whichever DO to which they’ve been affiliated, have had enough and decided to go their own way. They’ve wanted to make distinctive, singular wines, in their own way and according to their own passions and beliefs and have decided, no doubt after much heart searching, to quit their respective DOs.
But it’s a big, cruel world out there! Consumers are accustomed to the DO system and it will take a generation before entrenched attitudes are broken down. Some, not necessarily larger, but certainly very well established, famous wineries with a strong fan-base will survive the split and probably prosper too. Others are not finding it so easy.
Plus there are signs (DO Cava for example) that now it has come to the crunch, there has been a considered, positive reaction to some of the criticisms leveled at the DOs/Consejo Reguladores. Change, albeit late, perhaps too late, is happening. This may cause some of the rebels a fair degree of apoplexy as well as, perhaps, regret, even though it was their actions that precipitated the change!
But there’s a way around that too, for the go-it-alone gang – it’s in the phrase, ‘gang’. It’s not easy to be a lone-wolf (mixing metaphors is a problem of mine, I admit!), and it’s certainly expensive having to promote yourself without any backing. So bodegas have been ‘clubbing together’ – for example in DO Penedés, a large wine making area which is included in the DO Cava, several bodegas which defected from DO Cava, still make sparkling wine but under the name of ‘Classic Penedés’, a separate category under the wing of DO penedés.
Thus they are now no longer going it alone – safety in numbers (another link!).
Similarly, in a way, there are bodegas in Spain which have opted out of their DOs and joined/formed other groups. There is, for example the very prestigious Grandes Pagos de España organisation which makes wines of top quality, some of which are no longer made under the rules and regulations of the DOs to which they did, or still do, though more tentatively, belong.
There’s another ‘organisation’ too, though it’s name is a little confusing. Pagos status is granted to some bodegas which apply according to a number of criteria, one of the main ones of which is a proven, consistent history of fine wine making and a certain individuality of soil makeup and climate. The Pago designation has the same level and importance as a DO, with, of course, many of the approved bodegas insisting that it is of a higher quality.
Plus, there is still the possibility of remaining ‘with’ a DO and achieving change from within. I know of one bodega whose top wine did not conform to the regulations of the DO under whose auspices all their other wines were made. This resulted in the bizarre situation where the bodega’s flagship wine (it’s excellent quality and always to be found in my ‘cellar’) has to be termed a ‘Table Wine’!
After some considerable lobbying, a rule change was implemented, allowing the wine in question to be permitted. Labels were changed and it is now accepted as one of the top wines of its Denominación de Origen!
So, often it’s with you or without you – as long as the ‘you’ can either the the same, with change, or another group entirly. Solidarnosc – and that’s the final link!
Go on then, one more – things can only get better!
All comments welcome!