Excellent Costa Blanca White Wines!

SHOUT OUT FOR LOCAL PRODUCERS

I’ve recently been tweeting and posting (as well as a Cork Talk a couple of weeks ago) about how it would be good if we could help the smaller wine producers here in Spain. They’ve had, and are having, a very difficult time, so much so that I’m quite nervous about looking at my various wine related news feeds, hoping not to hear of any small, family bodegas that have gone under! So far I haven’t and I’m hopeful that my bringing their plight to readers’ attention may have helped at least a few?

Now, though, I want to bring it a little more local, not by saying the same thing of course – the above, the tweets, posts and my recent article included local producers as well as those throughout the whole country. Today though, I’m going to spotlight just a few local producers by telling readers about some of their white wines that I’ve been so enjoying during the lockdown, from which we are emerging poco a poco.

This idea was sparked by a visit to a local, family owned, independent quite small supermarket in Moraira – Supermercado Algi. I visited a day or two ago, in search of a wine for me to recommend as the Valley FM Supermarket Wine of the Week. I was delighted to see an unusually good selection of wines from which to choose, and even more so when I saw a bottle from the bodega Uvas Cabrera, in Benissa – a ten minute drive from where I live!

Uvas Cabrera is made with 100% Moscatel. The bodega is a small concern making just one wine – but what a wine! We all know dry Moscatel – well if you don’t, you have to get out more! But this Moscatel has a different, musky, mineral edge to it, with little of the characteristic raisin/grape aroma. Floral, with some slight citrus notes in the palate and perfectly dry. (www.uvascabrera.com)

 

When bought from the winery the packaging is great too – the bottle’s label sports a vine with five arms. These represent the five generations of the same family, whose business started in 1895, selling pasas, Moscatel grapes dried in the sun; then developing into table grapes sales as well (and it’s this that gives rise to the unusual boxing of the wine, lightweight wooden boxes that would have held 1kg of grapes, now holding a bottle of wine; and larger boxes for 5kg of grapes but now three bottles!); then into sweet wine production; and ultimately to the present incumbent making the family’s first ever dry Moscatel! Great story, super wine!

 

I’m not entirely comfortable with my recent claim that the dry Moscatel from Bodegas Les Freses in Jesús Pobre, about 20 mins drive away, is the best I’ve tasted. It may be, but the above is very, very close!

 

Les Freses Blanc 2018 is made from grapes grown in the two different soil types that the bodega enjoys. Very pale lime green in colour, elegant, with floral notes of white rose petals and honeysuckle with some lemon and understated raisin aromas. On the palate the citrus lemon notes remain after swallowing. A beautiful aperitif wine, with sufficient presence also to partner delicate fish dishes such as sole, dorada and lubina. (www.lesfreses.com)

Another Moscatel wine in owner Mara’s small portfolio is made from grapes grown on just one of the soils, the white coloured limestone based soil. Quite a revelation in terms of contrasting flavours and aromas, This wine was a touch more acidic, fresh as you like, with slightly more exotic fruit, some white peach and a little apricot – reminiscent of Albariño and Viognier wines, and that’s certainly not a bad thing! Floral again, perhaps more jasmine this time, and a little more weight on the palate. Certainly good with the above fish, but also more meaty fish, plus where sauces are used, and lovely, no doubt with shellfish.

Now, there may be some pedants who think I shouldn’t be including wines from Pepe Mendoza in the category of small local producers! I know what you mean, Pepe is (was, I’m not sure?) the Head Winemaker for the family firm, Enrique Mendoza, whose relatively larger production wines sell all over the world. However, regular readers will also know that in the last year Pepe has opened his own winery. Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricóla is situated in the Llíber/Jalón valley – 15 mins!

Tinajas, amphorae, are the ideal receptacle for making wine under ‘flor’, that’s the thin film that forms over fermenting grape juice when the earthenware tinaja is not filled quite to the top. This is the same method by which Sherry is made, nowadays known as biological ageing (though in Andalucia it’s in barrel, of course), but Pepe’s Velo Flor Ánfora isn’t fortified as is Sherry, it is a dry white wine – and an outstanding one at that!

This wine is made with Moscatel (bet you saw that coming!) and another local variety, though far less well known, Merseguera – honestly, you have to try it! There’s an endearing earthiness to the wine, it’s a textured wine with fresh acidity and a good length combining. Fruit-wise there are citrus notes, lemon and a little grapefruit plus a very slight reference to orange/clementine zest, like you’d expect from an amber/orange/Skin contact wine. I think there is an unmistakable Mediterranean aroma/flavour/feel to the wine, making it a wine of its place paying homage to its terroir. (Search Facebook Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricóla.)

Talking of homage – that’s what I’m doing here regarding local producers, but remember please that whilst these bodegas are local to me, their wines can be obtained where you are situated in Spain, and some will be available in the UK as well!

colin@colinharknessonwine.com Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin Harkness  Instagram colinharkness53

NB My next Wine Show on www.valleyfm. es will be on Saturday 4th July 12 – 13:00 hrs CET

DO CANGAS

DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN CANGAS

One of the best things about the recent Barcelona Wine Week (BWW) that I attended recently, was the opportunity to visit the stands of many of the less famous wine producing areas of Spain. Often quite small, in comparison to the more well known Denominaciónes de Origen (DOs), and generally with a rather more limited production, their wines aren’t easily found. A shame – because they can often be home to some hidden gems!

I’ve been to many of the large/huge wine fairs here in Spain, and in time gone by, in the UK as well. You have to have a plan. It’s definitely best, in my view, to have an idea as to what you’d like to see – and taste. If not, the sheer scale of these events can be just too overawing! Part of my plan for the two half days and one full day in an unseasonably warm and sunny Barcelona was to taste wines that I hadn’t tasted before, from areas of which I had no experience, using grape varieties which were new to me.

DO Cangas ticked all those boxes, as well as some of the taste and aroma boxes that I was hoping to open! Although this beautiful part of Asturias has a long history of wine making for domestic use, the main drink from the surrounding area is, of course, Sidra – Cider, and wonderful stuff it is too.

However, certain forward thinkers realised that there was also a market for quality wines, made on a small, but commercial scale. DO Cangas was formerly inaugurated as recently as 2014 (though it had been working since 2000) has only 50 hectares of land under vine and just eight bodegas! It’s the smallest DO I’ve come across, but my experience suggests it packs a pleasant punch above its weight!

Permitted varieties for white wines are Albarín, Albillo and Moscatel – so nothing new there (provided you are a regular Cork Talk readers!). The reds though, well that’s a different matter – ever heard of Verdejo Negro, Albarin Negro and Carrasquín? Me neither, but these varieties, along with the better known Mencía, are the approved red wine grapes. I couldn’t wait to get started!

There were only two white wines represented on the day I visited. The first, from Bodegas Vitheras is made from all three of the above and was a hit for me! There was a clear apple skin aroma, not the perhaps overly acidic Granny Smith, but something a little softer. Really enticing and it followed through slightly onto the palate too. Medium to short finish, a really pleasant aperitif drink, that I’d definitely buy again.

Cien Montañas, from Bodegas Vidas was made with 100% Albarín, dabbling with a little oak resting on its lees. There was a slight nose of sulphur initially, though some exotic fruit – peach, arrived in the nick of time, along with a blanched almond quality too. I preferred the fist wine, and it started me wondering about oak in Cangas. Is it needed?

The 3rd wine, Valdemonje, was a Carrasquín 2016 monovarietal, indigenous to Cangas, that has had 12 months in French oak and made by Bodegas Monstasterio de Corias. Pale in colour, like a Garnacha or Pinot Noir, and pleasant – but I couldn’t help wondering what it would have tasted like without the oak,

The next red wine, from the same bodega is called Finca Loa Frailes Robles and has had 5 months in French oak. It’s a 2018 and the colour was still quite purple, attractive. Some acidity, dark forest fruit and a little black chocolate on the finish, with tannin a little too pushy.

The next wine wasn’t oaked and it was here that I thought again about the need, or not, to have oak aging in Cangas. Aroma de Ibias is made with Carrasquín, Albarín Negro and Verdejo Negro (I know that you are wondering – but I’m told it’s no relation!), by Señorio de Idias. It’s 14%, quite dark in the glass, which gave a clue as to this wines richness. Blackcurrant chocolate liqueur, invitingly fruity.

Bodegas Chicote makes Penderuyos, which means very steep in the local dialect, and refers to the vertiginous slopes of the vineyard! It’s made with the three above, but with the addition of Mencía. Again there’s no oak and it, too, is on the high alcohol side at 14.5 abv. It’s also rich and dark coloured. I really liked its dark chocolate, damson and blackcurrant fruit and its presence on the palate.

So – is oak not really required in Cangas? Well, I can’t say, as the next wine, Selección Especial, my final Cangas – for now – was from the same bodega, using the same varieties, but it’s had 14 months on French oak, and did I enjoy it! In truth the oak was perhaps a little overstated, but the rich fruit can handle it well. It’s a big wine, meaty itself, so a good partner to game, casseroles, steaks, venison et al.

I’ll definitely re-visit DO Cangas wines!

NB next Valley FM www.valleyfm.es programme is on Tuesday 3rd March – celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and Las Fallas, and will include an interview with British winemaker, Andrew Halliwell!

colin@colinharknessonwine.com Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin Harkness  www.colinharknessonwine.com

WINES ENJOYED OVER CHRISTMAS HOLS!

HOLIDAY HIGHLIGHTS!

Yes, Darling, THE highlight of the Christmas, New Year and Three Kings Holidays was, of course, being with you and the family – goes without saying!

I’m speaking here, purely from a wine point of view!

Just covering myself here – you never know! Well, now the coast is clear, we tasted some excellent wines over the holidays, starting on Christmas Eve and continuing there on in! Some where tasted therefore in December, technically, of course, in 2019 – so they could have been included in the Tope Ten!

However, this is often the case so, because of deadlines I usually tag the late entries onto the next year. Thus, there will be at least one, maybe two, I should think, that will be in the honours list for 2020. I’m sure avid followers of the Top Ten will understand!

I think that Raventos i Blanc Blanc de Blanc Conca del Riu Anoia has to be one of the best value for money Spanish Sparkling Wines it’s possible to find! Priced at around 11€, this Premium fizz, which has so clearly benefited from extra time ageing on its lees, gives everything we require from sparkling wine. It pairs with so many dishes; it’s fresh, dry and celebratory; it has presence on the palate; it enjoys some complexity; and it has a long finish!

I’ve written about Uvas Cabrera Moscatel before (June last year, actually). I really enjoyed this superb dry Moscatel when I tasted it in Jesús Pobre at the annual wine fair (you must go by the way – it’s outstanding!). With an extra 6 months under its belt, it is even better now. Dry and minerally, there’s a pleasing musky edge to it, with little of the characteristic raison/grape aroma, therefore making it seem like a different grape variety all together. Floral, with some slight citrus notes in the palate – limited production, but when you see it, buy it!

I’ve visited Bodegas Los Frailes near Fontanars a few times – this winery, which employs organic and biodynamic vineyard management (when I was last there, the aisles between vines were being ploughed by horse, and there were goats grazing in one of their other vineyards!), produces some great wines, which, if they were from areas more famous would, command twice the price they currently fetch. 1771 is their flagship wine, named after the year that the family bought the finca and its land at auction from the then King of Spain! Thrilling Monastrell!

Gran Crisalys, from the entirely dependable Bodegas Torelló, elegant white wine is made with Xarel.lo and Chardonnay, both of which were fermented separately in oak barrels where the wine rested for four months, with thrice weekly stirring. After regular tasting, only those barrels marked with an X were selected for blending. For me, both varieties handle a little oak perfectly, the result is a white wine that has such a wonderful aroma and flavour that it can be paired with fish, seafood, of course, but also magnificently with turkey! Hint, Hint, for 2020 Christmas!

I was very pleased to present a rosado at my final 2019 Private Tasting (article soon). A real fan of Spanish rosado I was able to convince some doubters that there are some truly excellent rosé wines here. This, in fact, is one of the most expensive, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot to find real quality.

Dominio del Pidio Rosado is made with Tinto del País (DO Ribera del Duero’s preferred name for Tempranillo) and the white variety, Albillo, which, incidentally, has become a favourite of mine over the last two years! It’s a pale, Provençal shade of pink, but if that makes you think it’s a delicate wine for girls – forget it! The must is able to macerate with the black skinned grapes for longer than some similarly coloured rosados, because of the white must to be blended in later. This means that the finished wine benefits from a lot more than just the colour of the red wine variety.

Fermentation is in cement tanks, with four months of ageing on its lees in 225 litre and 500 litre barricas. Full, dry, floral, with some red peach notes to accompany the raspberry and slightly under ripe red cherry, with a little stony minerality too!

And finally, for this article anyway, I’ll finish with an old friend – the Reserva Especial Cava from Bodegas Dominio de la Vega. It’s a long time since I last tasted this iconic Cava Valenciano. Made with Macabeo and Chardonnay, with some of the juice fermented in oak, it’s a Premium Cava that never fails to wine awards and medals, speaking so eloquently for cavas made outside of Cataluña, and indeed for Spanish Sparkling Wines in general!

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Strawberry Fields For Ever!

STRAWBERRY FIELDS

‘Let me take you down, ‘cos I’m going to, Strawberry Fields,’ yes, you got it straight away, the Beatles, and, as a ‘Plastic Scouser’ (not actually from Liverpool, but close!), I’m always up for quoting their songs! In fact, did I tell you that Paul McCartney (he wasn’t Sir, then) dined at my restaurant once  blah blah . . . . . . .?!

So, when I visited Bodega Les Freses recently, I already had the title to this week’s Cork Talk. Les Freses means The Strawberries, in Valenciano (as I’m sure you know) and the bodega at the Hotel Denia La Sella Golf Resort end of the road that cuts through Jesús Pobre takes it’s name from the prior use of the land, which were, of course, strawberry fields, and known to the local as such. A perfect fit!

Now those fields are planted with a glorious vineyard, still young, but looking pristine, and delivering the fruit for some great wines! The fruit is Moscatel grapes, and whilst there is one sweet dessert wine (though owner/winemaker, Mara, would say, cheese wine), this bodega majors in dry Moscatel (including, though you might not believe it, a Rosado!).

The winery is pristine too. Mara, who happily conducts tasting tours on certain days of the week (www.lesfreses.com), took a group of us around the spotless building with its stainless steel fermentation tanks, and the prized tinajas, 350 litre clay pots, responsible for perhaps her flagship wine. I say perhaps, because it’s clear that this charming, passionate winemakers is in love with all of her wines!

There’s a shaded tasting area just in front of the building, but before we sat to taste the wines, we had a short tour of the immediate surrounds. First stop was the old cauldron, common to many once rustic farmhouses, where grapes that had been dried to raisons, ready for export to the UK and Europe a hundred years ago, had been dipped briefly in a solution that enabled them to withstand the journey and arrive in their best condition.

Philoxera, the deadly vine bug which decimated the vineyards of Europe, put paid to that industry, causing untold misery to those whose only income was from their grapes. Fortunately, it was discovered that American rootstocks, resistant to the insect, could be used for grafting, and households were, eventually back in business. Raisons still, but also Moscatel wine.

There are many clones of Moscatel – Mara has 14 different ones planted, cleverly, because each clone ripens at different times so this small winery with limited personnel isn’t suddenly inundated at harvest time! There is a unique microclimate at Les Freses, which also helps.

When Mara first planted her vines a matter of only a few years ago, the dreadful heat of that particular summer filled off a large percentage of her vineyard. She had a watering system fitted, but hasn’t since had to use it. The humidity of the area ensures that each morning the plants are wet during the growing season with enough water to sustain the plant but not so much that the vines over-crop, which would result ultimately in wines of lesser quality. (Green harvesting is also employed, reducing the number of bunches.)

Humidity can also cause problems though. It’s perfect for some vine disease and for vines pests. High intensity chemical praying, I’m pleased to say, is a definite no-no, for Mara. Instead, for example, she buys ladybirds, which live in the grasses and wild flowers and attack some of the pests! Also, the vines, uncommonly in this area, are trellised to avoid fungus forming. There’s more too. Les Freses wines are made from organically grown vines with as little human intervention as possible and fermentation is achieved using the indigenous yeasts of the vineyard.

We first tasted Les Freses Blanc 2018, made from grapes grown in the two different soil types that the bodega enjoys. Very pale lime green in colour, elegant, with floral notes of white rose petals and honeysuckle with some lemon and understated raison aromas. On the palate there are citrus lemon notes which remain after swallowing. A beautiful aperitif wine, with sufficient presence also to partner delicate fish dishes such as sole, dorada and lubina.

Next up was another Moscatel wine (claro!) but this time made from grapes grown on just one of the soils, the white coloured limestone based soil. Quite a revelation in terms of contrasting flavours and aromas, This wine was a touch more acidic, fresh as you like, with slightly more exotic fruit, some white peach and a little apricot – reminiscent of Albariño and Viognier wines, and that’s certainly not a bad thing!

Floral again, perhaps more jasmine this time, and a little more weight on the palate. Certainly good with the above fish, but also more meaty fish, plus where sauces are used, and lovely, no doubt with shellfish. I bought a bottle to bring home and taste again – Mara apologised that it hadn’t yet been labelled, but for me it’s the wine that will do the talking when I open it, plus, there’s always a certain excitement about opening an anonymous wine!

Finally, the aforementioned cheese wine! Designated by many as a dessert wine, I can see that this would be lovely with certain desserts, lemon and maybe orange based, figs too, with some honey, perhaps. Plus, I go along with Mara – it’s great with cheese, medium matured and mature cheese, as well as blue cheese! Honey on the nose with a little orange skin spray and traditional Moscatel whiffs of raisons.

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