Varieties – Albarín and Prieto Picudo

. . . devotees (as if!) of Cork Talk will also know that I’m a great believer in the indigenous grape varieties of this country, my home for the last 23 years.

ALBARÍN & PRIETO PICUDO – AN ENGAGING DOUBLE ACT IN CASTILLA Y LEÓN

Firstly, the area – Vino de la Tierra Castilla y León is a huge wine making area, North, North West and North East of Madrid – yes, it’s that large! In years gone by VdlT wines were considered the poor relations of DO wines, Denominación de Origen. Largely, in those days, they deserved the description – the wannabe DOs.

Then new wave thinkers came along, believing in the raw ingredients – the indigenous grape varieties, often not found elsewhere, and in the climate, soils, the terroir of certain locations within those geographical areas. Regular Cork Talk readers will know that I’ve often mentioned wines from VdlT areas of Spain, praising them and championing the fact that these areas are nowadays producing wines every bit as good as those from DOs, and often, better!

So, that’s my first point – if you don’t see DO, but you do see VdlT on the back label, don’t be put off at all!

Next, again devotees (as if!) of Cork Talk will also know that I’m a great believer in the indigenous grape varieties of this country, my home for the last 23 years. I first learned of Monastrell living in the South East of Spain, adding to my knowledge of course of Spain’s most famous variety, Tempranillo from Rioja, as well, of course, as its synonyms. Albariño was new to me until I can to Spain, and Verdejo was new to everybody, apart from those living in Rueda, until about fifteen years ago! And so on.

Perhaps you also remember my writing about Bobal when it certainly wasn’t fashionable to do so, and Godello, plus several other varieties, which at the time were not at all so well known? I’m not blowing my trumpet here, suggesting that it’s me who’s made these varieties better known and more available. I’m simply letting you know that I’m on the case – I love hearing about, and then, of course, tasting Spanish grape varieties that have yet to achieve fame.

Undiscovered varieties, sometimes almost extinct whose continued existence can be attributed to just a few devoted believers. Occasionally even just one person, whose passion, perhaps for his great grandfather’s remote vineyard leads him to continue his ancestors’ work, honing their bequeathed winemaking ideas, adding new technology and advanced international learning.

I’ve recently come across the white wine variety Albarín (not to be confused, as it often is, with Albariño); and the red wine variety Prieto Picudo. (Youtube  www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqF4_SiZjj8 and www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5PSKgvBwKw&t=21s. I’ve enjoyed white, rosado and red wines made with these varieties, by a relativey new producers (10 year anniversary in 2020) in VdlT Castilla y León, Leyenda del Páramo. www.leyendadelparamo.es

Albarín makes a fragrant, fruit filled wine, and El Aprendiz, has to be one of the best examples. There’s a refreshing citrus note on the nose, along with a suggestion of ripe banana, with the citrus notes of grapefruit and lemon continuing onto the palate with a little soft apple in there too. Herby notes follow with perhaps a little nuttiness too, blanched almonds. We paired it with Perch in a puff pastry parcel, and I can see it being just right also with other fish and seafood. Another plus here – it’s a lovely dry white for just drinking with friends, it’s happy with food, but it doesn’t need it!

El Aprendiz Rosado is made with Prieto Picudo. Its delicate strawberry aroma and flavour draws a veil over a quite meaty rosé wine, a pink wine with presence! Fish is a good pairing and I like to use similar colours, so I’d try this with trout or salmon. Plus, of course, a Valencian Paella, seafood and mixed with rabbit and/or chicken, will be nicely covered with this wine.

El Aprendiz Tinto is made with 100% Prieto Picudo. The variety has a natural acidity, making it fresh in the mouth. There aren’t many hectares (btw a hectare is about the size of a rugby pitch!) of this variety, it’s therefore necessarily a limited production. This wine has had 3 months in oak, and was my second favourite of the reds. Some forest fruits and a little earthy undergrowth, fresh and lively. A lovely BBQ wine and for lighter meat dishes.

My favourite wine was El Médico 2014, with its cool, inviting label! Again 100% Prieto Picudo, this wine is aromatic with soft red fruit initially morphing into darker brambly berries. It’s had 9 months in oak, for me, apparently the optimum time, as the Músico, their final wine in this portfolio (there are others – watch this space!), with longer in barrel, was losing its fruit (though this may be because it was a little older?), with the oak being central to its aromas.

El Médico, was just right – balanced, elegant, with good fruit on the palate, some depth of flavour and a little complexity. A good wine for turkey, venison, lamb and pork dishes – simply roasted, casseroled or served with a sauce as its pleasant acidity will cut through the sauce and freshen the palate!

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It’s a gamble, but I reckon Nicola Thornton, co-founder of Spanish Palate, the Spain based wine producer and négociant/distributor, is in the Tractor Ted generation! What leads me unequivocally to this conclusion – well, firstly she’s miles younger than me, and secondly Spanish Palate have named one of their smaller portfolios of wine, Mí Tractor Azul, My Blue Tractor. Classic TV influence!

TRACTOR WINES

Any readers who have student grandchildren (great grandchildren?!) studying Social Science and the like, who are stuck re their PhD Thesis? Well, I may have the answer here – pass it on!

Forget the generations so often referred to in the media these days (why?!) – you know, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennials, Generation Z (your grandchildren will be in one of the latter two). Popular belief is that we are defined by our generation category (I’m a Boomer, btw [this modern text abbreviation designed to make me look a ‘cool, Boomer!]), but, and here’s the PhD Thesis bit – I wonder if we are actually defined by the TV programmes we watched as children?

Who remembers ‘Watch With Mother’ and the ‘Flowerpot Men’ –  maturing(?) to ‘Blue Peter’, ‘My Favourite Martian’ and ‘Mr. Ed’? If you do, well you’re with me – Boomer through and through! However, if your go-to programme was ‘Tractor Ted’, well, you’re a lot younger – for a start, and likely to have a wholly different consumer profile.

It’s a gamble, but I reckon Nicola Thornton, co-founder of Spanish Palate, the Spain based wine producer and négociant/distributor, is in the Tractor Ted generation! What leads me unequivocally to this conclusion – well, firstly she’s miles younger than me, and secondly Spanish Palate have named one of their smaller portfolios of wine, Mí Tractor Azul, My Blue Tractor. Classic TV influence!

This of course, is all conjecture! So is my thought that Nicola and co are doing what so many other Spanish (and international) wine producers are doing – trying (and in this case, certainly succeeding) to engage with a younger generation of wine drinkers. These days youngsters who have reached the legal age to consume alcohol (that’s a strict 18 yrs here in Spain, with it being illegal to buy your 17 yrs old an alcoholic drink/share your wine in a restaurant, unlike in the UK), are able to enjoy such a wide diversity of drinks available to them. The result of this is that amongst the 18 – 25 yr olds wine consumption in recent years has been falling.

It’s a concern for producers, in fact a double whammy (this now old but still annoying phrase also identifies me firmly in the British Boomer!) – sales to this generation (Millennial/Gen Z, if you’re wondering!) have been decreasing, with the knock-on effect that it’s likely that when they reach middle age and older, they’ll buy less likely wine than those of us at that age now. It’s a worrying scenario that many, forward thinking wine producers are addressing right now. Spanish Palate (www.spanishpalate.es) is one such producer.

As yet there are but two Mí Tractor Azul wines in the portfolio (told you it was small!), but they certainly do what they set out to achieve and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were plans afoot to add to the range. The first I tasted was from Toro (you can see it here www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o6PlRrxL9I and listen to my thoughts about it).

It’s made, as you might expect, with the DO Toro favourite variety, Tinta de Toro, the local name for Tempranillo – the same variety, which has, with perhaps a century, and more, of growth here, developed some slightly different characteristics than Tempranillo from its original home, La Rioja.

Fruit First, and bags of it, is the mantra of this line of wines. However, that doesn’t mean grapes harvested from just young vines – Tractor Azul wines are made from vines that are a minimum of 40 years of age, grapes so mature that they are usually destined for Crianza and Reserva wines. Instead, the rich, gently pressed juice is fermented, and then bottled without any oak. You are therefore enjoying the purity of the intense fruit, with no other influence!

There are immediate black cherry notes on the nose, with some blackberry and a touch of its brambly undergrowth too. Although not aged in oak, the wine is easily rich enough to partner meaty dishes, though this isn’t at all necessary – enjoy it as a super fruit-charged vibrant wine, with your Generation Z grandchildren and their pals!

The other wine in the portfolio is Mí Tractor Azul Almansa. Readers may remember my recent article on the wines from Almansa (www.colinharknessonwine.com/articles/) – an impressive area of production, emerging from the shadows and this wine will help!

Grown for centuries in Almansa (and surrounding areas of production) Garnacha Tintorera (not to be confused, though it’s understandable, given the name, with Garnacha) is also known as Alicante Bouchet (again, confusing – we are talking Almansa here, not Alicante!). It’s quite a variety! One of the world’s very few grapes whose flesh is also coloured – in this case a pinky red, which, when macerated with the skins, gives very dark coloured reds, often of high alcohol.

Spontaneous fermentation using natural yeasts occurs in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, with bottling soon after – a total absence of oak. Therefore we enjoy primary fruit flavours and aromas of dark berries with some herbal notes too. It’s very fruit orientated, full, with fresh, lively acidity – a wine for the sofa, watching re-runs of your favourite children’s TV programmes, perhaps! Ah, nostalgia’s not what it used to be!

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Drinking Off-Piste Wines

Were I a skier, I’d prefer off-piste; a parachutist, it would be freefall; had I the courage, I’d be a ‘Dangerous Sports’ exponent! . . . . When I hear of a winemaker doing something different, something revolutionary, I need to try her/his wine!

FIGURE LIBRE – FREESTYLE WINES

On occasion the atmosphere in our Methodist (yep, that’s the one that generally ‘bans’ alcohol!) house when I was growing up was a touch claustrophobic – we lads had to toe the line! I didn’t like it at all.

So, whenever there was a chance to break free, we took it with both hands (I needed them both to hold a pint at that age!). Yet it was exactly that morally correct upbringing that, fortunately, stopped me from doing anything more than simply appreciating from afar the Hippy movement and all its ‘charms’(!) as I became older, rather than taking a hike and joining them!

Yeah man, that ‘armchair wannabe Hippy’ feeling has stayed with me, in as much as I’m naturally drawn to anything slightly off the wall, a little, and more, rebellious. Were I a skier, I’d prefer off-piste; a parachutist, it would be freefall; had I the courage, I’d be a ‘Dangerous Sports’ exponent!

Oddly, you might think, it also applies to my appreciation of wine. When I hear of a winemaker doing something different, something revolutionary, I need to try her/his wine! For example, it’s not exactly passé, but it is now fairly common to find wines that have been fermented and matured, not in traditional 225 litre oak barrels, neither in 3,000 litre foudres, but in ‘concrete eggs’. When I first heard of the phenomenon – guess who was front of the queue at the tastings!

That’s why, when I heard of the Freestyle French Wines from the Pays D’Oc area in southern France, made by the free spirited wine makers of Domaine Gayda (https://www.gaydavineyards.com/en), well, I had to taste some, man!

You can imagine how my interest was heightened even further when I read the following on their website:

Figure Libre Freestyle is the name given to an ambitious range of wines designed to shake up conventions and break new ground for expressing the inherent style of Languedoc and Roussillon. Turning its back on appellation rules, it favours freedom of choice in terms of varietal range, both single varietals and blends. Figure Libre Freestyle reflects a desire to think outside the box and bring together grape varieties that would otherwise never have met in the same bottle.

Right on, man!

Making wine under the auspices of a Denominación de Origen in Spain, and an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée in France can be useful, of course, but it also means certain constraints. Many winemakers are happy to go along with this, believing the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. However, some prefer an alternative. It seems that those at Domaines Gayda fit into this category.

I thought both the wines they kindly sent me were very good and I’d certainly buy them again, looking also for others in their range – if these two are representative, then you can buy with confidence!

It’s a long, long time since I tasted my first wines from the Languedoc area. I was teaching myself about wine – using, although I didn’t know it at the time, the Robert Parker way of learning about wine. Taste, make notes, ask questions, repeat! My interest piqued, I went on to tutored tastings, lessons. exams and I was off on my wine journey!

I was thus introduced to the white wine varieties, Marsanne and Roussanne and I really enjoyed them in those days. I’ve yet to see them here in Spain, so I was pleased when I saw that Figure Libre Freestyle Blanc included these two as well as Grenache Gris, along with the Spanish varieties Macabeo and Garnacha Blanca (Domaine Gayda rests in the foothills of the Pyrenees, quite close to Spain). I really liked the wine.

Part fermented in different sized oak barrels and concrete egg, this rounded wine has a complexity that not so many white wines enjoy. On the nose, and the palate, there’s a combination of blanched almonds, a faint whiff of marzipan, citrusy lemon notes, as well as melon, its palindrome (Python style anyway!), with herbs sorrel and thyme too. Mouth filling with a lengthy finish it also has a contemplative elegance too.

The Freestyle 2018 Vin Rouge also pays homage to a Spanish/French version of Entente Cordiale regarding its blend – Syrah, Carignan, Garnacha and Mourvèdre (aka, Monastrell, as many readers will know). Another very good wine, easy to drink certainly, but with depth of flavour and a little layered complexity.

It’s a bright, attractive wine, whose nine months in barrel (French, no, really?!) add structure and presence on the palate. On the nose a little herbal, with super, forward fruit – dark and light red, plus a touch of liquorice. Syrah plays the leading part in this mix and it’s that typical French Syrah spicy black pepper flavour that contributes significantly to this wine’s ability to pair with meaty dishes, as well as making it a great drink as is, with friends and family!

I loved them both!

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DO Somontano Masterclass

Personally, I’ve not tasted a below par wine from DO Somontano. So, when I was able to secure a place at the recent Masterclass, presented by the Consejo Regulador, Ruling Council, of the DO itself, I was, of course, delighted. I was keen to learn more as well as have my expectations confirmed. I wasn’t disappointed!

DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN SOMONTANO

Personally, I’ve not tasted a below par wine from DO Somontano. So, when I was able to secure a place at the recent Masterclass, presented by the Consejo Regulador, Ruling Council, of the DO itself, I was, of course, delighted. I was keen to learn more as well as have my expectations confirmed. I wasn’t disappointed!

This was the second DO Masterclass of the Wine Professionals Sector tasting day organised by Verema (https://www.verema.com/), whose tasting session I also attended last year. I’m hoping to be there again next year and into the future too – they are excellent!

In direct contrast to the presentation by DO Almansa in the earlier session, DO Somontano’s was, typically, very professional. Although the DO isn’t that old (established 1984, where DO Rioja, for example, was founded in the 20s) they are nevertheless experienced old hands at promoting their wines and their member bodegas.

DO Somontano isn’t shy about the number of varieties they allow for their wines – fifteen in total, eight red wine grape varieties and seven for the whites. Whilst there is a fair showing of indigenous Spanish varieties included, championed perhaps by the almost uniquely grown Moristel, there is also a significant contribution from international varieties such as Cab Sauv and Gewurztraminer, the latter being particularly loved here.

The first wine up, though, was a Chardonnay, which I identified before seeing the label – noted here, not to brag about my ability in such matters, more to boast on Somontano’s behalf about their ability to recreate classic Chardonnay characteristics, when this variety is so far away from its natural home in Burgundy, France! Fresh with bright acidity though rounded too, with food friendly buttery notes as well as a slight banana skin nose. Bodegas Viñas del Vero 2018. Good start!

Gewurz was up next, from Bodegas Enate. A lovely wine with a mandarin/clementine spritz on the nose aiding and abetting the typical fresh lychee aroma of this German/Alsace variety. Plus, as an added bonus, there was slight bitter lemon (as in the drink) flavour on the finish. Oh how I wish that the Chinese restaurants in our area were aware of the pairing possibilities of this variety with their cuisine!

The above two varieties were in tandem in the next sample, but with the very interesting addition of Pinot Noir (18%, a black grape, of course, therefore a touch of the blanc de noir about this Bodegas Sommos wine). The varieties were fermented separately and when blended together they underwent a touch of French oak barrel ageing for good measure. Some complexity and depth of flavour with a Chardonnay nose and a little spicy Gewurz, plus presence on the palate from the Pinot.

There aren’t many 100% Moristel wines, it being used more to blend – perhaps the offering from Bodegas Pirineos gives us a clue as to why? Cherries and black pepper on the nose, there was a slightly burnt wholemeal toast aroma, pleasant, but unusual, given that there has been no oak contact? For me it was a little too acidic. So, maybe best to use it to add freshness to other ripe varieties, rather than use it as is?

The next wine was outstanding! Old vine Garnacha from Bodegas Obergo, a new winery to me. It’s the 2015 vintage which has clearly enjoyed its year in mostly French oak, with regular stirring of the lees. There is some menthol on the nose, with forest fruits coming through. It’s a deeply flavoured, textured wine with pleasing complexity, perhaps understandable, given the vineyard’s close proximity to those of Secastilla, an honoured wine from this DO.

The next wine is the only Gran Reserva wine in the DO. Made by Bodegas Sers, this Cabernet/Merlot/Syrah from the 2012 vintage has been kept for 24 months in medium toasted French barrricas, with a further 40 months in bottle. It’s a big 14·5% abv, though with a touch of subtlety as well. A great mouthful, very meat orientated food friendly too.

The final wine of this very impressive tasting was the 2011 Grillo, which had been aged in 100 French oak Barrels, following its fermentation in 4 hectolitre capacity French oak foudres, and making use of Syrah, Cab Sauv, Garnacha and Merlot. Almost black in the glass, this opaque wine retails at about 35€, but it’s worth it, for sure! You’ll find figs and liquorice on the nose and palate too, with earthy undergrowth notes and a long, thought provoking finish. Excellent wine! Super tasting all round!

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