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Paso Primero

A LITTLE BIRD TOLD ME!

A wren, as a matter of fact! The rather cute emblem of Bodegas Paso-Primero which features on their labels giving a visual clue as to how the name was derived, as well as a sizable hint as the laudable philosophy of this new winery DO Somontano, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Let’s deal with the name first. Paso Primero translates to First Step, indeed the label of their first wines makes this clear as our friend the wren is on the bottom rung of a ladder, looking upwards. Why? Read on!

For me it’s refreshing to hear a British twist on a Spanish winemaking story that I’ve mentioned several times in Cork Talk. I’m not alone in saying that the Spanish wine scene is one of the most dynamic in the  world – Sara Jane Evans MW writes the same thing in her book, ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’, my review archived here (https://www.colinharknessonwine.com/?s=sarah+jane+evans).

There are many young Spanish winemakers, who, with one foot in the traditional winemaking of generations of their family, have stepped with the other, firstly though the doors of higher education at dedicated wine making colleges and/or have taken university degrees in Oenology; and thence into the winemaking of other countries, sometimes including journeying to the southern hemisphere too.

The result is a really comprehensive knowledge of how wine is made, from so many different perspectives, including that of their father, and, in true Monty Python style, that of their Father’s Fathers and so on! Well, our British winemakers, Tom and Emma Holt, once co-workers in Tanners famous wine merchants in Shrewsbury, UK, have, sort of, done the same! Their passion for wine started whilst in the retail trade, took them to Plumpton College, the UK seat of higher wine education which is developing an enviable reputation in the wine world, and then on their travels to New Zealand and Canada to make wine, of course.

Keen on making wine in what was once invariably referred to as ‘the Old World’, in wine terms at least, they finally settled on the idea of making wine here in Spain. To be specific in DO Somontano, where they joined forces in a collaborative project with *Batan de Salas. Paso-Primero was born (www.paso-primero.com). It’s good to hear of such Spanish/British entente cordial (the more so in these difficult times!) – each winery, working within the same buildings, using the same vineyards and equipment, has its own identity, yet each ‘partner’ contributes to the other’s winemaking.   

Their artistically labelled (www.lynevansdesigns.co.uk), Paso-Prima Chardonnay, the first of three wines sent for me to taste on behalf of Cork Talk readers, gives us a heads-up re the philosophy of Paso-Primero. 25% of the profit from the sale of this wine will be donated to the British Trust for Ornithology (www.bto.org), which is wholly compatible with Tom and Emma’s insistence on their project being sustainable, Responsible winemaking, and some!

I spent time thinking about the title of this week’s column – toying with, ‘It’s Chardonnay, Jim, but not as we know it!’ inspired, claro, by my impressions of this, the first wine of the triumvirate, and hoping to add some Trekkies to my weekly readers!

I’m not sure I would have picked this out as a Chardonnay at a blind tasting, and that’s a compliment, not the reverse! I guess a lot of one’s perception of Chardonnay depends upon which generation one belongs to? Baby Boomers like myself (yes, I know, I look a lot younger!) may remember, with splinters, the over oaked, well, disasters, of the 80s, floating on a log raft from Australia and California. Generation X may remember some occasionally too austere examples, made in an effort to redress the balance. And Millennials will hopefully remember Chardonnays where the majority of winemakers got it right!

Perhaps Tom and Emma’s Spanish Chardonnay will be quoted as exemplary by the current Generation Z (who invents this stuff?) in future such discussions? Too high a praise? Well, probably, but it’s certainly a lovely wine, with some fresh citrus notes, a combination of browning and already brown Autumn leaves on the nose and subtle tropical fruit, mango for me, on the palate.

30ºC temperatures are not conducive to tasting red wines with a 15% and 15·5% abv, respectively! However if you chill down Paso-Primero 2018 and its older sister, Paso-Prima 2017 during such hot weather you’ll be surprised how effective it can be! I really enjoyed them both!

Made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo, this wine reflects the best that was possible for the 2018 vintage – again wholly in line with the bodega’s philosophy. Their website explains all – ‘ . . . each vintage being a completely unique snapshot of history. Wine should be a wonderful combination of a sense of place and sense of time . .’ They don’t promise that the following vintage will have the same blend, there won’t be a constant style for this wine, it will depend on the grapes harvested following the year’s growing conditions, which is just right in my book!

A touch of vanilla on the nose, combines with good fruit, though difficult to determine exactly which are the dark berries that come through, plus a pleasing autumnal aroma of browning leaves and already fallen leaves. On the palate the fruit finishes nicely with a little liquorice at the end. UK price under 9 pounds, Spain under 10€ – very good value!  

The Paso-Prima 2017 Vino Artístico is made with Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon and has an aroma of well done wholemeal toast with a touch of black pepper, blending perfectly with brambly blackberry fruit (I’ve just tasted a large juicy blackberry then the wine!). It’s a 6€ or so step up in price, though certainly worth it. Ripe sweet tannins and some acidity will ensure a few more years of fine drinking.

*www.batandesalas.com – watch this space!

colin@colinharknessonwine.com  https://youtu.be/8qyhmj4hnqu

Twitter @colinonwine  Facebook Colin Harkness www.colinharknessonwine.com

JAMMY GIT!

If you knew my brother you’d guess this was going to be about him! He’s led a charmed life, has ‘our Al’, but no, this is actually about a lucky find, here in the south of England, where, as I write, we are still enjoying our time in delightful Dorset!

The wines of Bordeaux, using a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc became very popular in England when Henry Plantagenet married Eleanor d’Aquitaine in the 12th Century. Apart from the lengthy setback of the 100 Years War (which lasted from 1337 – 1453[?], you do the maths!) between France and England, the British have enjoyed a long, tasty and lucrative association with probably the world’s most famous wine region.

Centuries later, you can imagine the delight on the faces of the BinTwo Team (www.bintwo.com), of Padstow, Cornwall, who, whilst visiting nearby Knightor Winery (www.knightor.com), stumbled upon some wines at different stages of development, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, here in the UK!

BinTwo is an independent wine merchant and coffee shop, overlooking Padstow harbour, and somehow I have to engineer an opportunity to pay them a visit – it looks fantastic!

As you’ve seen from the photo atop this article, the name of the wine made in Cornwall, but from grapes grown in huge greenhouses in Gloucestershire, is eponymous and, when you’ve tasted the wine, perhaps apt as well! I was of course very pleased to receive a sample bottle which we tasted in the sunshine, not for the first time commenting on climate change and how there were at least some benefits to the rather worrying global warming scenario.

BinTwo stocks well chosen, famous wines as well as their own label wines – Jammy Git – they’ll vary in aroma and taste profiles, of course, but they all have one thing in common, they are chosen for their quality as perceived by the Team. In fact this wine is Jammy Git II, the first Jammy Git, was a Bordeaux blend made in Bordeaux, with adjustments from the Team.

Jammy Git 1 sold out and when they came across a Bordeaux type blend in their home county, well, they couldn’t resist the opportunity to make another, with a British twist.

The wine is actually made from three different vintages. It’s an unusual idea these days, though regular Cork Talk readers will know of one or two wineries in Spain who are doing similarly. Plus, of course, such alchemy is used to rather good effect in Champagne!

In this case it’s a quite complex operation – there’s not only the blending of the different vintages to be considered, but also the actual grape variety blend. After several sessions the winning formula was: 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, coming from 42% of the 2018 vintage, which had a good fruit delivery, though lacking body; 40% of the 2017 which had the structure but was a touch thin; and finally just 18% of the 2016 vintage which had spent some time in French oak, therefore adding depth and complexity to the finished product.

Jammy Git II is a lightly coloured red wine, looking at first a little like a Pinot Noir. The colour is a pointer to the style too – it’s a light to medium bodied red, quite fresh on the palate, despite its barrel ageing. I couldn’t resist it when it arrived so tried it first only a few hours after its journey.

Whilst I agree that it does sound a bit precious, wines are best left a while, 24 hours really, before they are consumed if they’ve travelled a distance. This even applies after the trip home from the wine shop, though in that instance just a few hours will suffice. (NB there’s currently some debate about this ‘travel shock’ notion, in fact initiated by Mike of Bin Two – shows how on the ball the are! I usually let the wine rest, no matter what the scientists say, to be on the safe side.)

That first tasting revealed a shy wine, not really deserving of being called jammy, in the sense of an obvious ripe fruit presence. However, the day after, when the bottle had been retrieved from the cellar, it had opened up quite nicely. Apart from a pleasant, slight menthol, wood and wine aroma it was still reluctant to give much on the nose, but it was on the palate where the wine started to shine.

Brambly fruit, a little earthiness with ongoing minty notes – I wonder how Jammy Git II would have compared with those lightly coloured clarets that Henry II and his Queen of Aquitaine so enjoyed.

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Wines Made Under Flor

WINE UNDER FLOR

Thinking about it now, all those years later, I find it quite unbelievable that I didn’t study Science at school! I’m the first to admit that, despite my Mum being a pharmacist and my brother doing well at Science and Maths at the Grammar School, across the fields from us Sec Mod types, I was, at best a slow learner, science wise, at worst, and probably more accurately, pretty useless.

But to just give up on me, as well as the other half dozen or so, and create a nonsense subject called ‘Rural Science’, beggars belief, these days! The more so, when in fact, Rural Science, meant watering the school plants more than anything else! I’m laughing as I write – but, honestly, it’s a disgrace!

So, I know that, had I ever embarked upon the arduous course to become a Master of Wine (MW, of which there are fewer than 400 in the world), it would have been the science aspect that would have held me back – sin duda! That’s not to say, I should point out immediately, that I consider that I have all the other attributes necessary to achieve such status, but it’s for sure that I’d have failed, even if the rather apt ‘Rural Science’ had actually been a course worth following!

So I had to turn recently to two of my friends and colleagues for their advice about making the eponymous, wine under flor. Andrew Halliwell (@ADHalliwell) is an award winning winemaker, consulting for wineries here in Spain; Fintan Kerr (@Wine_Cuentista), also based in Spain, is a nascent Master of Wine, currently well on his way to achieving that hallowed title. Both are mines of information, to whom I unashamedly turn when the need arises! Thank you both!

Flor is a film of yeast that can form on the surface of a wine that’s fermenting. If you’ve ever been on a tour of a Sherry House it’s likely that you’ve seen it in a demo barrel whose ends are glass rather than wood. In fact this is probably the most famous use of flor, when it is involved in the making of Sherry.

However, it has also traditionally been employed in the production of Vin Jaune, French wine made close to the Swiss border and Tokaji, prized dessert wine from Hungary. as well as some other areas of wine production. Occasionally, right now, one hears of wines made using this method – for example, Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola is experimenting (read on!). https://www.facebook.com/pepemendozacasaagricola/

Whilst eating sugars in the liquid (wine in progress), Flor protects it from oxygen, which would turn it into vinegar. Containers are not filled to the brim, allowing the flor to form. Usually the base wine is high in alcohol  with a low ph (quite high acidity). Tinajas are an ideal receptacle for making wine using this method, so it’s no surprise that Pepe Mendoza used them to make the wine I recently tried, as it is these earthenware pots that he uses to make his excellent Orange wine, Pureza.

Indeed, there are aromas and flavours in his Merseguera variety, Vino Flor, similar to those found in some Orange/Amber wines – which, in an instant endeared the wine to me, for sure! But, Pepe’s unnamed wine (it’s an experimental wine, which I for one hope will become part of his portfolio of wines made at the new bodega in Llíber/Jalón, Alicante – the subject of a recent Cork Talk and archived here www.colinharknessonwine.com click Articles) has a lot more going on!

My wife, the lovely www.clairemarie.es was ecstatic about this wine, picking up immediately the Vin Jaune notes and declaring that we really must taste it again sometime, paired with cubed Compté Fruité, which is traditional in the home of Vin Jaune! Well, why not?

I also found an aroma, and to an extent, the taste, of ‘en rama’ sherry, the subject of another Cork Talk (https://www.colinharknessonwine.com/2046/#more-‘), again, this is a very endearing characteristic!

There are some lemony citrus notes, with a brief, but reoccurring ripe apple aroma and it’s got plenty of presence on the palate, with an engagingly long finish. As you can see the experimental ‘label’ on this experimental wine has rubbed off a little and there’s no sign of an abv figure, but, judging by its mouth-feel I think the wine is quite high in alcohol, perhaps 14ª – though I don’t know, of course.

All in all, this wine is close to being sensational! Loved it!

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Furleigh Estate

ENGLISH WINE – ANOTHER VISIT TO DORSET!

Twenty two years ago (this week, actually) when I left the UK for a new life in Spain I certainly didn’t expect to be returning, all this time later, with a choice of top quality wineries to visit back in Blighty.

It wasn’t even possible to call English and Welsh wine production a nascent industry in the 90s when I left. There may have been perhaps 300 small producers at the time, a rather insignificant number anyway, and in fact it was seen largely as a hobby, a pastime, perhaps for rather idiosyncratic people. But there were those who persevered – perhaps they knew something then that most of the world didn’t, and indeed some deny to this day. Climate change was happening and was very likely to continue!

In the early years of the new millennium those producers who had been stoically making sparkling wines started to achieve some recognition, and success in various wine competitions. English Sparkling Wine competed with Champagne and other quality sparklers – and occasionally won! The wine world began to take notice – just as the British summers began to get hotter with more sunshine hours.

In 2004 Furleigh Estate, Salway Ash, Dorset, was established – and they haven’t looked back since! Their website (www.furleighestate.co.uk) tells of the dinosaur bones that helped make the soils of the rolling land in which their vines are planted, and it was this comment that actually made me choose Furleigh for this visit, from the several that had been recommended, thanks to my Twitter wine friends. And it wasn’t a coincidence that when we went home we watched an old Jurassic Park film!

Our excellent guide, Nick’s optimistic (we now know!) estimate of the time it would take us to travel from where we were staying, differed somewhat from Mr. Google, so we opted for a blend of local knowledge and technology. We were late! Never mind!

Furleigh Estate wines are made with originally German and French varieties – Rondo (unknown to me) but a black grape with coloured flesh, like SE Spain’s Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouchette); and white wine variety, Bacchus, the variety that figures in most English and Welsh wineries. And from France, of course, the Champagne triumvirate of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The soil, excellent for making sparkling wines, is largely sand and crustacean based (plus the dinosaurs!) – and it’s not only the vines which like it. Deer often roam freely over the vineyards, occasionally nibbling a few leaves, plus there are badgers and rabbits. In fact, the rabbits can be a problem, to the extent that Nick joked, that when we leave we can take away the Furleigh fizz glass, and a rabbit too, please! Funnily enough right on cue, one jumped out of the hedgerow as we left!

Furleigh has 23,000 vines planted over 18 south facing acres on site, plus a further 30,000 vines elsewhere in Dorset. The difference in the terroir of the two different vineyards gives joint owner (with his wife, Rebecca) and winemaker, Ian, more options when he is making is final blends.

The vines are trellised, all are in pristine condition, and are quite high – the growth is kept a little above the ground to avoid frost damage. Harvest has usually been in the second week of October, when more workers are brought in for the job, but in the most recent years harvest has occurred perhaps two weeks ahead of the expected schedule – you know why, it’s Climate Change once again!

The tasting room at Furleigh Estate has a lovely view over the surrounding land, lit up by beautiful sunshine when we visited. Dorset is such a delight!

Our first wine was actually my favourite of the session – an unusual, quite rare, in fact, white wine made from black Pinot Noir grapes, therefore a blanc de noir. This style has always excited me – most usually seen in sparkling wines, but still uncommon, it has the freshness of a chilled white allied to the depth and body of a red. Furleigh Estate’s White Pinot Noir 2018 had all of this plus some lovely citrus and baked apple aromas and flavour. Great start!

Our next wine, white again, was made with Bacchus plus just 4% Chardonnay. Lovely elderflower perfume emanated from the bottle the moment the screw top was opened. There are also some earthy and herbaceous notes on the nose, with some orchard fruits on the palate. Slightly sweeter than the first white, though not at all a sweet wine, the Bacchus Dry 2018 will suit SE Asian cuisine very nicely!

The Classic Cuvée 2014 English Sparkling Wine is made with the three Champagne varieties, 40% Chardonnay with 30% each of the other two. It has a fine mousse with tiny bubbles speeding to the surface. On the palate there is elegance and on the nose some patisserie notes along with some faint ripe pear fruit. I couldn’t find the melon suggested in the tasting notes, but there was a nice reference to lemon (same letters, different order!). It’s a Brut Sparkling Wine, though at 11 grams of residual sugar, it’s at the sweeter end of the spectrum. Try this wine with Chinese food and I can believe it’s just right, as it says on the tasting notes, with smoked salmon served with some horseradish. I’d love to try it with sushi with a lick of wasabi too!

Finally, because we were such a nice group (Nick, you smooth talker you!) we were able to taste the Sea Pink 2018, traditionally coloured rosé wine, which had a noticeable slight sweetness to it too!

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