Articles

From Costa News SL (www.costa-news.com) March 2010

LA RIOJA UNDER FIRE!

REVOLUTIONARY FORCES MOUNT

SUSTAINED GUERRILLA ATTACK!

 It seems it’s ‘backs to the wall’ time in La Rioja, that bastion of

old-school, tried and tested tradition. Quoting Oscar Wilde who said,

 “Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who

has read history, is man’s original virtue.

It is through disobedience and rebellion

that progress has been made.”

 the forces of rebellion are on the attack and apparently making ground.

 Not content with being the primary movers and shakers behind DOCa La Rioja’s, perhaps begrudging, acceptance, a couple of years ago, of three ‘foreign’ white wine grape varieties, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo, the revolutionary guerrillas want more. And, from what I saw at Barcelona’s wonderful wine fair, Alimentaria, a couple of weeks ago, the wine consuming public are solidly behind them!

 So what’s it all about? Well a fascinating story unfolded when I sat and chatted to José Miguel Arambarri over some chilled glasses of said ‘guerrilla’ wines. There are those, and I number myself amongst them, who believe that white wine from La Rioja is the rather poorer cousin of the reds for which the area is, for the most part, rightly famous.

 I’ve said before, and even quoted Juan Muga of the world-famous Bodegas Muga who said the same thing, Viura, the principle white wine grape variety of the region ‘needs some help’. The rules adopted just over two years ago allow for the above varieties to be included in any Rioja white wine, provided that Viura has over 50% of the share. I understand their reasons for not going any further, they want to protect the integrity and identity of Rioja white. However I feel that, given the revolution, the percentage rule will change – watch this space!

 Señor Arambarri and his fellow revolutionaries have decided to create an area, within the geographical limits of the Communidad La Rioja, that is dedicated to making white wines only – it’s the only such area in Spain. It is their belief that the micro-climate, soils and altitude of certain parts of La Rioja, some of which have never before been considered as possible vineyard areas, are in fact ideal for top quality white wine production.

The Rebels ready for their assault on the old guard!

 And they’ve put their money where their mouth is! A huge investment, which is on-going, has been made in an area, Valles de Sadacia, described as a region of ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ – seemingly similar to Vinos de la Tierra (VdlT). This area makes only white wines.

 It was all started it seems by Bodegas Castillo de Maetierra who re-discovered and essentially brought back to life an ancient variety, Muscat à Petits Grains, which had died out in La Rioja 100 years ago when Philoxera hit the area (that nasty vine pest that decimated the vineyards of Europe at that time). The results of their first wines were more than encouraging and thus the Libalis range was created. The one I tasted was off-dry with a slight residual sugar content making it sweeter than dry, but not sweet – lovely.

 This success gave them the confidence to experiment, whilst their sales gave them the impetus and the wherewithal. They wanted to see which of the world-famous white wine varieties would adapt best to the Rioja conditions. So far they have settled on 8 varieties: Chardonnay (in both oaked and unoaked styles), Riesling, Viognier (which is slightly oaked), Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, Albariño and Muscat à Petit Grains. I think we can expect more and it wouldn’t surprise me if we eventually see some blending too.

 So how have the establishment responded – the dyed in the wool traditionalists? Well with some, I’m told there has been hostility, some have shown indifference and a small proportion have, thus far at least, shown some measure of support. Some are, in my opinion mounting an offensive.

 Whilst at Alimentaria I attended a tasting given by Señor Peñin (more on this in a later article), the famed founder of the Peñin Guide, Spain’s best wine guide and mentioned often in this column. I was fascinated to meet him and also to learn from him. I was also interested in his subject – the white wines of Rioja Alavesa. It seems to me that the status quo in Rioja have decided that they need to bring up some big guns to defend their traditional white wines.

 This suggests to my investigative journalist’s nose that there is some concern in the corridors of Riojan power! The more so, I’m sure, when they will have witnessed that at the same time that Señor Peñin was giving his informative talk to perhaps 16 people, there was, I’m told, a huge crowd at the tasting of the Guerrilla Wines, given by the winemaker. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the timing was a deliberate tactic!

 The label designs certainly are a deliberate tactic. The designers, the Mongarro brothers of the Brosmind Studio, had already established a name for humour and fantasy and their cartoon characters, a different one for each variety with various revolutionary style uniforms and weapons, have won several awards.

Cartoon Labels, but Grown Up wines!

 My own view, and this is really my only criticism of the whole project, is that whilst these designs may work well initially, the ideology is in fact now a little passé. For example the weird and wonderful names and labels from California and Australia, which turned people’s heads and contributed massively to sales are now perhaps a little too Nineties!

 Flippancy is fine, at first, and the labels will certainly promote sales. But I think that if the wines are to be considered serious in the future, this style will need to be changed, perhaps retaining the cartoon character, but on the back label, with a more grown-up motif on the front.

 Well it’s all very well making such a publicity splash (and of course this article is part of the fuss) but it comes to nothing if the wines aren’t up to scratch. No point in fighting for a lost cause.

 Well they needn’t worry on that score, in my view – all the Guerrilla wines I tasted were clean, fresh and characterful. Whilst there were traces of the varietal characteristics that you would expect there were also other nuances, often with herby notes. The vines are young and as the years go buy and they become more acclimatised and more mature I’m sure these wines will develop, perhaps into a new breed of acclaimed white wines from Spain!

QUESTIONNAIRE RESULTS BRING ABOUT CHANGE

Article from Costa News (www.costa-news.com) March 2010

Wine Questionnaire Results Bring About Industry Change

CHANGE AFOOT?

WINE DRINKING QUESTIONNAIRE

STIMULATES BODEGA RE-THINK

 I’m writing this on the eve of my biennial trip to Barcelona, Catalunya’s capital which also becomes the focal point for Spanish wines every other March as the itinerant Alimentaria organisation once again takes a grip on this, perhaps Spain’s most vibrant city.

 This year, no doubt mostly because of the current financial crisis that continues to darken bodegas’ doors this normally humungous fair is now only huge, taking just one of the massive pavilions rather than the two of all the previous years that I’ve been attending. However someone needs a slapped wrist, or worse, as in fact there is also another famous wine fair going on at the same time, ProWein in Düsseldorf!

 Bodegas are stretched enough financially without expecting them to have a significant presence at both events. The enormous expense of exhibiting at these fairs has to be budgeted for and when the anticipated expenditure forms land on the accountants’ desks with a resonant thud – well it can be considered as a stand too far!

 That said there will nevertheless be an enormous presence in Barcelona where all the DO’s of Spain will be represented and where there will be hundreds of bodegas showing off their wares. I love it – it’s a chance to meet up with old friends in the business to see what they are doing new, but also to see what other bodegas and areas of production are about too.

Six years ago I came back with the news that there was a major change in the Spanish wine world. Here there has never been any arrogance shown about making and marketing wine. A healthy marriage of time-served tradition and modern innovation continues to exist in Spain where fathers who learned from their fathers before them are advising their sons (and daughters) who in turn are adding their newly learned methods and technology – it’s very much a reciprocal relationship. The result is that Spain rides in the vanguard of modern European winemaking as well as in modern marketing techniques.

 Three Alimentarias ago there was a noticeable change in the labels that bodegas were using for their wines. Gone were the gothic lettering and drawings of old churches, often all covered in wire too. New eye-catching designs were all the rage then and they continue to be so – with different colours being used and all manner of ways of convincing the consumer that this wine is the one to choose before the others. Look at the wine shop and supermarket shelves. The graphic designers and artists have been given their head and wine bottles really are attractive nowadays, enticing us to buy.

 However the results of a questionnaire I recently asked people to complete suggests that wine label design needs to be revisited. I’ll be emphasising the point whilst I’m there and as with my recent revelations about how wines under five Euros can easily be found in bodegas (resulting in a concentrated advertising campaign to attract clients away from the supermarkets and back to the bodegas) I expect that changes will be afoot.

 34% of respondents said that they read both the back and front labels of wine bottles before they bought. Presumably the sometimes flamboyant and certainly almost invariably visually attractive front labels attract us in the first place but then for more information we go to the back label. However for me it is quite a shock to learn that 54% only occasionally check the back label. Clearly it is the front label that sells the wine.

 So how does this affect the marketing men and women? Well whilst it is  important to make the bottle stand out it is also clear that all other producers are doing the same. So how can we be convinced to choose one wine over another, when it is apparently only the front label that we are considering?

 It seems to me that more information has to be given on that front label, to better inform the consumer. Wine made from old vines for example is often an advantage as Cork Talk readers will know, because old vines produce fewer grapes but those that do appear are all the richer for it, creating deeply flavoured wines. Usually this information appears on the back label.

 Wine is often matured in oak casks, this can be: semi-crianza (less than 6 months in oak; crianza (at least six months in oak); reserva (at least a year in oak) and Gran Reserva (a couple of years in oak as a minimum plus further bottle-ageing). Also different oaks French, American, Hungarian etc impart different flavours and nuances. Plus there is toasting to consider, how long was the wood kept close to the fire as the cooper crafted his barrica – this too makes a difference to the wine.

 But hang on, whilst we want to advise, we don’t want to bore the client and give too much information! As you can see it’s a marketing nightmare, a dilemma that has to be addressed. Bodegas that want to sell their wines will have to have a look at their label design to see how they can continue to attract the consumer whilst also giving at least some of the information that is on the oft ignored back label!

BAY RADIO ON-AIR WINE TASTING

Bay Radio's Presenter, Noelle, enjoys a wine with her recipe of the week!

“This eclectic chicken dish has both savoury and sweet fruit elements which opens the door to both a white and a red wine. ‘Balsámico’ is a Spanish word used to describe aromas emanating from a wine that has been aged in oak in a hot area (Balsamic vinegar has of course undergone a similar ageing). However there’s nothing vinegar-like in the two wines I’ve chosen this week!
 
The red has to have a good fruit presence so I’ve gone for a very young wine from DO Toro, Primero 2009, which has been made by the Carbonic Maceration method which accentuates the youth and vitality as well as the fruit content.
 
My white wine choice is a super wine I’ve just discovered – Recato, a Sauvignon Blanc fermented in barrel with understated oak (too much oak would be a negative for this dish) and good grassy green fruit aromas.
 
Enjoy!”
 
Saludos,
 
Colin

MONASTRELL SURELY A KNIGHT AMONGST SPANISH GRAPE VARIETIES!

Taken From Costa Vibes eMag, March 2010

SIR MONASTRELL!

ARISE SIR MONASTRELL

NOBLE KNIGHT OF SOUTH EAST SPAIN!

 Many, many years ago a group of French travellers was dining, with wine, naturellement, in a small village just outside Valencia. Being French they were knowledgeable about wine and were, initially incredulously, impressed with that which they were drinking. (France then, and still today produces top notch wines and don’t let anybody tell you they don’t – it’s just that you have to pay handsomely for them!).

 Sacrebleu! We are in Spain ‘ow can we be enjoying ze local wines? – I paraphrase of course! They summoned the owner (Garçon, with a Gallic click of the fingers?) and enquired about the wine, what is it and where is it from? The rather nonplussed owner shrugged his shoulders (he could do Gallic too!) ‘Mourvedre’, was his answer, in fact to both questions.

 Our French friends returned to France with cartloads of the local vine from the village, Mourvedre, mistakenly believing that this was the name of the grape variety, not the village. The result was that the vineyards of France over the next few generations became a living testament to the quality of the grape variety that they had discovered in Spain.

 The village of course was Mourvedre, and the correct name of that excellent variety? – Monastrell!

 Ask those in the wine world about what they call ‘noble grape varieties’ and they’ll tell you France has Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Ask them about Spain and the answer will be short and sweet – Tempranillo, and that’s it!

 Well I’m using the platform of the Costa Vibes On-Line Magazine to start what I hope will ultimately lead to the elevation of Monastrell to the hallowed ranks of those varieties which are deemed ‘noble’. Monastrell is an excellent grape variety producing: as a single varietal, superb, deeply coloured, rich, full flavoured and complex wines; as well as similarly beguiling, opulent wines when used in a blend. Monastrell rocks. The French thought so, all those years ago and it’s about time this recognition was worldwide!

 So what defines ‘noble’? Does it mean, that it makes wine of top quality? Look at the wonderful wines of Bordeaux with their huge price-tags, most use Cabernet Sauvignon, generally accepted as a noble variety (although it should be noted that this is almost invariably when it is in a blend with others). So yes, if a variety is responsible for excellent wines, then it must be considered as a noble variety.

 Look at the Peñin Guide to Spanish Wines, probably the best wine guide in Spain (now also available in English – www.grupopenin.com) and look at the points awarded to wines made with Monastrell. This super-variety consistently registers 90-96 points out of a hundred, be it in a blend or on its own. Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux can’t boast such a claim, as it usually shares its plaudits with its bedfellows!

 Does noble mean that it is also widely planted? Well Airén, the La Mancha variety produces the largest single varietal volume of white wine in the world – does that make Airén noble? I don’t think so! It’s true that Cabernet Sauvignon is ubiquitous worldwide, but it’s that which is produced in Bordeaux that gives claim to the title ‘noble’.

 Monastrell produces stunning wines in South East Spain in DOs (Denominaciónes de Origen, legally demarcated wine producing areas): Valencia, Yecla, Jumilla, Alicante, Bullas and Almansa. Surely this qualifies it as noble in the same way that Bordeaux does for Cabernet?

 Just what does a grape variety have to do to be taken seriously by the wine writing fraternity? And why is Monastrell, in some traditionalsts’ minds still not even the bridesmaid, and certainly never the bride? In short I don’t know, but I can hazard a guess.

 Historically it has never been considered noble and therefore the two aren’t synonymous in minds that can best be termed inexperienced in Monastrell and at worst, closed, like a wine that should be great but in fact doesn’t open to reveal its heart.

 I think it may also be due to the fact that the areas to which I’ve referred have never, historically again, been considered havens of top quality wine and therefore wines from these regions, no matter how great they are (and I use the word ‘great’ deliberately), are consistently overlooked.

 So perhaps I can be a touch impertinent, perhaps, and attempt to enlighten those whom I need to lobby to realise Monastrell’s rise to the ranks of the nobility that it clearly deserves.

 Firstly take a look at the Peñin Guide for the DO’s listed above – whilst on the flight to Alicante! Then go to those DOs, guide in hand and taste the top rated wines (most have charming Casas Rurales nearby and some bodegas own or are associated with lovely small hotels). Also ask the winemakers (call me and it will be a pleasure to translate for you if required!) which other wines they themselves believe haven’t been given the credit they deserve by even Peñin, and taste them with the men, and women, who crafted them adding both their passion and their forefathers’ tradition to the final blend.

 Taste: El Nido and Clio from Bodegas El Nido (Bodegas Juan Gil), DO Jumilla; Casa Castillo Pie Franco and Las Gravas, Bodegas Casa Castillo, DO Jumilla; Alma de Luzón, Bodegas Luzón, DO Jumilla; Trapío and IV Expresión, Bodegas La Purisima, DO Yecla; Barahonda Summum and Heredad Candela, Bodegas Señorio de Barahonda; Castaño Colección, Casa Cisca and Castaño Monastrell Dulce(!) from Bodegas Castaño, DO Yecla; Valche, Bodega Monastrell(!), DO Bullas; 3000 Años, Bodegas del Rosario, DO Bullas; Les Alcusses, Celler Del Roure, DO Valencia; Rafael Cambra Uno, Bodegas Rafael Cambra, DO Valencia; Trilogía (organic) Bodegas Los Frailes, DO Valencia; the whole range(!) at Bodegas Bernabe Navarro, DO Alicante; El Sequé, Bodegas y Viñedos El Sequé; Estrecho Monastrell, Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, DO Alicante; Mira Salinas, Puerto Salinas and Salinas 1237, Bodegas Sierra Salinas; Atalaya, Bodegas Atalaya, DO Almansa; La Huela de Adras Joven, Bodegas Almanseñas; – for example

 

–         and now tell me I’m wrong! Arise, the eponymous Sir Monastrell!

 From My Cellar: As I’m clearly in such a promotional mood I’d also like to champion the cause of those who make dessert wines. Gone are the days when a sweet wine to accompany dessert was considered an integral part of fine dining, but I’d like to bring them back! Provided that the wine isn’t cloying, that it has a backbone of acidity running through the sweetness, a dessert wine is sweet pleasure in a glass.

  I’m in the middle of a 50cl bottle (sweet wines keep a little longer in the fridge than dry wines) of Bodegas Porsellanes’ Organic Paratella Moscatel Ecológico. The light brown colour of this wine makes it looks like honey, and the analogy doesn’t stop there, this beautiful raison and grape perfumed and flavoured wine has honey on the nose and palate too. Just for fun, try it as an aperitif as well!

 Colin Harkness