Articles

FIRST PUBLISHED IN VINOS DE ESPAÑA AUG/SEPT EDITION

SPANISH/GERMAN ALLIANCE

RESULTS IN SUPER WINES

FROM SOUTH EAST SPAIN!

 What do you get if you cross a Spaniard with a German? Well, if the Spaniard is a highly respected consultant oenologist crafting an impressive portfolio medal winning wines; and the German is a Master of Viticulture, Winemaking, Wine tasting and Marketing with thirty years experience as a sommelier, chef and officially recognised gastronome, you end up with a wine making philosophy and a super end product!

 Bodegas Concepto Vinnó and Bodegas Úvula are the sister bodegas that grew from this philosophy. Pedro Cárcel from Requena and German born Miguel Matthes are our respective protagonists whose ideals ‘Vinos de España’ recently put to the test amidst the beautiful rolling hills and valleys of Requena, where La Communidad Valenciana abuts Castille La Mancha.

 After many years of listening to clients’ comments about their favourite styles and tastes in wine and then blending them with his own opinions, knowledge and philosophy, Miguel had a shrewd idea as to what the wine buying public enjoys in its wines. In the circles in which he moves it was a given that he would eventually meet a talented winemaker willing to take onboard his ideas and who shared his passion for the grapes and the vineyards from whence they came.

 You cannot make good wine from bad grapes and as it is Pedro who controls what goes on in many of Valencia’s vineyards, as well as sharing Miguel’s ideals, there was nobody better with whom to collaborate. A partnership was born.

 Bodegas Úvula makes Vino de la Mesa, Table Wine. But don’t let that confuse you – the fact that it has to be labelled as ‘Table Wine’ is certainly no reflection on its quality. Rather, it is confirmation of the company’s philosophy. Neither Miguel nor Pedro want to have their hands tied by the bureaucratic red-tape that governs all that bodegas do if they want to have the Denominación de Origen (D.O.) stamp of their labels.

 It is Miguel and Pedro’s desire to make their Úvula wines using the best grapes they can find from wherever they can be sourced – this may be a blend of grapes grown within, for example: DO Alicante, DO Valencia and DO Utiel-Requena. Also they want to use a blend of varieties that will best produce the aromas, flavours and styles they require. This may mean, for example: Bobal, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

 Such peripateticism is simply not permitted by the Consejos Reguladores (the DO Regulating Committees) therefore the wines of Bodegas Úvula cannot carry the epithet, Denominación de Origen – nor do Miguel and Pedro want it! New World wine making comes to Old World Spain!

 Bodegas Concepto Vinnó however abides by the rules and makes wines with the blessing of the DO Valencia, therefore they sport the DO’s official stamp. So have our wine partners compromised their beliefs and bowed under the pressure? No, it is simply that the different styled wines of this newer bodega, whose guiding goal is to produce the best possible reflection of the varieties of the region, happen to comply with all the regulations. So why not make a DO Valencia wine?

 The two wines in their small portfolio have dual common denominators – the indigenous Bobal variety and a fascinating use of several different types of oak for their ageing. The younger, vivacious Vinnó has Bobal flirtatiously cavorting with Monastrell, on a bed of French, Hungarian and Caucasian oak; whilst its slightly older sister’s bedfellows are Bobal and Merlot using French, Hungarian, Russian and Balkan oak casks.

 The vineyards we toured with Pedro and Miguel were a picture of health, despite baking temperatures. The Cabernet Franc, Bobal, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Tempranillo vines have roots that search for water, and what little nutritious material they can find, several metres below the parched surface soils. Irrigation is only used if the plants’ vigorous growth starts to wilt, and the vines, accustomed to suffering already, start to demonstrate that enough is enough!

 And what of the wines? Vinnó 2005 is a sturdy wine that has aged gracefully. It is drinking well now and will last still (though the 2007 will be released soon). There are dark fruits from the Monastrell and a touch of minerality from the Bobal, its three months in oak have added depth and a slight roasted coffee bean flavour on the finish. As with all their wines, decanting is recommended.

 Concepto 2005 has had two more months in oak. It’s a, deeper and  richer, well-structured wine with the Merlot adding more concentrated fruit as well as delicate floral, perhaps violet, notes. Sweet, soft tannins and a touch of spice, it’s drinking perfectly now but has the capacity to age a further one or two years.

 Úvula Coupage 2006 has had three months in two different French oaks as well as Caucasian, the varieties are Merlot, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot. The Tempranillo and Merlot take the lion’s share so as you can imagine this is a fruit-driven wine with the Petit Verdot adding herbaceous notes. A wine for drinking on its own or for pasta, cheeses and lighter meats.

 Úvula Selección 2005 blends Bobal, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, a delightful mix of dark fruits, earthy vegetal notes and spices complemented by integrated oak which adds depth, complexity and subtle toasty flavours. It’s a super wine, still very much alive and pleading to be eaten with game, and other full-flavoured meat dishes.

 Finally Úvula Plattum 2005. Only made in very good years this wine is a blend of Bobal, Cabernet, Petit Verdot and Syrah. It’s 14% abv and fills the palate but it has an elegance about it with flavours of dark fruits, black pepper as well as vegetal green pepper, and a touch of liquorice. Nine months in various different oaks have added complexity as well as subtle toasted flavour notes. The finish is a lengthy blend of brambly fruit with earthy notes which speak of its terroir.

 All wines available through parent company: www.cuinare.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN COSTA NEWS GROUP SEPT. 2010

BODEGAS RIBAS PROVES THAT

MALLORCA IS NOT JUST ABOUT TOURISM!

 Not a lot of people know this but . . .  I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Caine has uttered his immortal words about the wines of Mallorca, which in some senses have been a quite closely guarded secret. That is until your correspondent tasted some wonderful wines from this, the largest of the Balearic Islands. It’s just not fair that the locals keep these super wines to themselves!

 Yes it’s true that Mallorca is, quite rightly, known for it’s tourism industry – wonderful, secluded beaches as well as the highly populated sands of the tourist hot-spots; stunning hotels; millionaire-riddled harbours; and A List Celeb-filled restaurants etc. But also take the time to look at the wines, largely made from indigenous grape varieties not grown elsewhere – better still take a taste!

 Two years ago I waxed lyrical about a wine I had been given to taste, Sió, from Bodegas Ribas, Mallorca, established as long ago as 1711! It contained one of the Island’s own grape varieties – Mantonegro, along with globetrotters Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. As I recall it was a super-juicy mouth-filling wine with blackcurrant jam notes and a pleasing touch of spice on the finish. I’ve tasted it once or twice since and it remains in the forefront of my mind.

 At the beginning of this summer I was invited to present a tasting of wines at an Indonesian restaurant in Javea, one of the wines chosen, Ribas, was the from the same stable – using the same varieties, but in different proportions and with 10 months oak ageing. Again a super wine, with a touch of backbone to it and yet finesse as well as excellent fruit presence.

 Clearly, thought I, this is a bodega that needs some investigation! Their informative website put me in touch with the charming Araceli who arranged for some sample wines to arrive the following week. Such is the power of the Costa News Group!

 Bodegas Ribas makes wines under the auspices of Vi de la Terra Mallorca and Vi de la Terra Illes Balears and if any readers are looking for further proof that VdlT wines can be far superior to some DO wines – then simply sample those from Mallorca’s beacon of vinous excellence. For excellent, is the best description of these wines. Indeed their Soma Sioneta Oliver 2008 Blanc Viognier will certainly be in the Costa News Top Ten and is in fact vying for 1st place amongst the white wines I have tasted in 2010!

 I started though with Ribas Blanc 2009 – a wine that combines Prensal Blanc the island’s own variety with the internationally renowned Chardonnay. Grapes were harvested by hand to ensure their quality when arriving at the bodega and then the selection table was used choosing only the best bunches. It’s a good joven wine the floral Prensa Blanca is complemented by the depth of Chardonnay flavour. A very good start.

 Next their Sió Blanc 2007 made with the indigenous Prensal Blanc variety (aka Moll) but also with an eclectic mix of Chardonnay, Viognier and Chenin Blanc. It was partially fermented in oak and then matured for longer in wood with its lees. There is a super creaminess to the wine which adds depth of flavour to pronounced floral and fruit notes. It’s a wine that will be fine as an aperitif but that will also match food, particularly fish and shellfish. I imagine it is de rigeur in the fine seaside restaurants on the island.

 The Viognier (as above) is a splendid wine – the best example of Viognier (a favourite variety of mine) I’ve tasted in Spain, surpassing the New World Viogniers and being more in the style, and equal to, the wonderful Condrieu of its native France. On the nose, when well chilled, it initially has a touch of exotic fruit about it, which, as the wine slowly develops in the glass, becomes redolent of apricots, a typical characteristic of this noble variety.

 But this is not a flippant, frivolous fruit-salad style wine, designed to momentarily titillate before passing into obscurity. Not at all, this is a serious and subtle wine, a wine of depth and complexity. Half of the wine enjoyed 6 months oak ageing whilst the other half was kept in tank with its lees. There’s a slight nutty element, perhaps some blanched almonds or hazelnuts and floral notes too, but always with that apricot, particularly dried apricot, running through it like a seam of gold found in fine granite. You have to try this wine!

 The fourth white wine (how pleasant to find a bodega that pays as much credence to its white wine production as to its reds) is one I should use in the vanguard of my crusade to re-instate dessert wines as an integral part of any special dinner. Sioneta Contrast Blanc Dolç comes in a slightly chunky 50cc bottle . It’s made exclusively from late harvested (and therefore high in sugar content) Moscatel which is then fermented and matured in oak.

 It is one of those classic dessert wines that has the sweetness required for it to be paired with postres but with that crucial lick of acidity too. There are honeyed citrus notes, orange peel particularly, as well as the expected grape/sultana/raison aromas characteristic to Moscatel which makes such super wines in Spain.

 The final wine (following a further tasting of Sió Tinto and Ribas Tinto, above) was their flagship Ribas Cabrera 2006. This is a wine to grace any dinner table. It is rich, deep and complex with aromas that change as the wine develops in glass over dinner – dark forest fruits, combine with an Autumnal, earthy minerality with a touch of liquorice. Made from very old Mantonegro vines which have never been irrigated, whose roots stretch several metres below the vineyard in search of the limited nutrients available, the wine demonstrates all that can be achieved on this island in the sun.

 I’ll be returning to these wines for sure and hope to visit in the future. In the meantime why don’t you hassle your local wine merchants to get some in – he can’t go wrong!

FIRST PUBLISHED IN COSTA NEWS SL SEPTEMBER 2010

WHEN IN PORTUGAL . . .

PART TWO

 If you haven’t read part one you may like to log onto www.costa-news.com and click Cork Talk? Our summer holiday in Portugal this year taught me that it isn’t a bad idea to do as the Portuguese do!

 I wrote about Port, the eponymous fortified wine that is now world-famous – but I dealt only with red Port and I didn’t touch on the regular wines of this other Iberian country. Nor did I mention a perhaps little known, delicious secret! All will be revealed in this article plus a comment on nature, the environment and indeed the planet!

 All this for such a little cost – what a top newspaper this is!

 White Port, whilst not being classed as a secret, is certainly not widely known nor imbibed outside of this, the most westerly European country. No wonder considering Ernest Cockburn’s comment in the early 20th Century (yes that Cockburn!)  – ‘The first duty of Port is to be red!’ It’s a shame as White Port can be a super aperitif.

 Most White Port is quite sweet. It can be made from 30 different white grape varieties, Moscatel being on commonly used. Fermentation is arrested at roughly the same point as with Red Port, but grape spirit is usually used instead of brandy. It has to have aged for 2 years but ageing is almost always in stainless steel or epoxy lined cement tanks.

 However those which are aged in oak take on a different darker colour and lovely different taste nuances. Often such white ports are on the drier side. I had one a few years ago, Churchills I recall, and it was excellent.

 I wish we’d had more time in Portugal as I rediscovered there a fortified wine that I haven’t tasted for over 15 years and had mostly forgotten about! It’s something of a secret in that it is largely left undiscovered in the UK and in Spain, but in Portugal it rocks!

 Madeira is a small island administered by Portugal about 1,000km from Portugal and 750km from Africa. It’s also the name of a super wine whose history is fascinating and whose taste goes from the lovely to the sublime! I was put on the spot and asked to identify it, tasted blind in the wine merchants, Loja do Vinho. Set against a white port, which I did identify correctly, the Madeira was drier, with a faintly brownish colour. It struck a very pleasant chord, but no I couldn’t place it.

 In fact Madeira, which the Portuguese certainly do do not only when in Portugal but wherever they are in the world (Brazil is a big market) is a fascinating wine and subject and will therefore have a column to itself soon.

 So that moves us on to the regular wines of Portugal. Always in the shadow of their more illustrious bedfellow, Port, the wines of Portugal have in fact been in existence for far longer. Indeed it was from the wines of 16th Century Portugal that Port was first made. Records aren’t clear as to when Portugal first made wine but it is known that there existed a healthy wine trade between Portugal and England as long ago as the 12th Century!

 Clearly that’s long enough for the Portuguese to have developed some super wines and often using wholly indigenous varieties. I was recently chatting with Mariano, chief winemaker at Grupo Bodegas Castaño, who is somewhat in awe of the number of varieties that are Portuguese alone and not in fact grown anywhere else.

 Those of us who fear that the world’s wine will eventually be homogenous with only a few different varieties and with little to distinguish between the same varieties grown in different countries would

do well to move to Portugal. Here there has been little influence by the outside wine world, the ubiquitous Cabernet for example has made few inroads into Portuguese wine production. Why should it and it’s like, when Portugal is so rich in its own very individual vines that produce such aromatic and rich, deeply coloured wines?

 There are even vines growing in Portugal that have yet to be identified! But those which are doing very well with huge potential too are for example, for white wine: Alvarinho (yes, Albariño in Spain), Louriero, Fernao Pires and Arinto; and for reds: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Baga, Castelao Frances and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo).

 It’s a question of suck it and see! We tried quite a few in our 10 days there, reds and whites – it’s tough you know, researching wines for Cork Talk! We even tried an Espumante, a sparkling wine in the style of cava – Fita Azul Reserve Brut was refreshing but had little on the nose or palate, however.

 Plan Alto, Douro DO, Vinho Branco (white) Reserva 2009 was quite elegant on the palate if a little lacking in character; but Casal Da Coelheira 2009 from DO Ribatejo using Fernao Pires and Chardonnay was a super wine, though the packaging, I think, need further consideration. Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2009 has a super, inviting fruit laden nose, though on the palate it is a little thin. I think this would be my general criticism of the whites we tried – compared to similarly priced whites from Spain the Portuguese wines were a little thin, albeit pleasant, aromatic and refreshing.

 We tried several reds. I liked the youth and vitality of Marques De Borba 2009 from DO Alentejo; the added depth of Vinha Das Leres, DO Alentejano with it’s cool label; and the equal favourites – Vila real Douro DO Reserva 2007 whose indigenous grapes, several mentioned above, give the wine its deep colour and rich flavour. This wine shared first place with a wine that we brought home with us.

 Meia Pipa 2007 is readily available and doesn’t cost a lot of money but it is a super, deeply flavoured and coloured wine with some treacle and liquorice on the nose, subtle 12 months oaking and a medium long finish.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN COSTA NEWS SL SEPTEMBER 2010

WHEN IN PORTUGAL . . . . .

 . . . . .  do as the Portuguese do, and then continue when you are back in Spain, or wherever you are!

 Our family holiday in Portugal, was exactly that – a family holiday. It wasn’t an excuse for me to go off to Oporto, home of the famous fortified wine, Port. However, I reasoned, there wouldn’t be anything wrong in trying some of the aforesaid nectar whilst there, as well as some regular  Portuguese wines too. I knew I was on a winner here – Claire loves Port and trying different wines, even the children are now used to tasting!

 So, when in Portugal (and subsequently) we made sure we did as the Portuguese do. This, please note, does not mean drinking solely Ruby Port. Like Jerez (Sherry), there are several different styles of Port designed to suit different palates, occasions and food. I was in my element!

 Port is a fortified wine made by adding brandy to arrest the fermenting grape must (juice) resulting in a wine that is both sweet and high in alcohol. It derives its name from the port of Oporto, Northern Portugal, from whence this wine was shipped for over 300 years (and still is) by English merchants.

 Historically Port can trace its origins back to the 17th Century at the time of the trade wars between England and France. This made life difficult for English wine importers to access French wines and then, when King William III imposed punitive taxes on French wines, the merchants had to look elsewhere to satisfy the demand for wine amongst the English nobility. Portugal was the answer.

 Their emissaries settled on the northern coast but found at first only thin white wine (now known as Vhino Verde, though it has dramatically improved over the centuries). However on travelling up river on the now famous Duero, they found local producers making wine by a process of fast fermentation at high temperatures that resulted in a very dark and powerful wine, dubbed ‘blackstrap’ in London. In order for it to arrive in England’s capital in a drinkable condition (via a lengthy voyage) the merchants added a small amount of Brandy.

 However it was (and as a Wirralian, and Liverpool FC supporter I’m proud to say it!) a Scouser (Liverpudlian) who is credited with discovering Port as we know it, more or less, today. He found, on one of his journeys up the River Duero, a monastery where the monks were adding the Brandy during fermentation, rather than after the wine had been made. The result was the delicious sweet drink which is now world-famous!

 Ruby Port is lovely. I enjoy it at the end of a meal either on it’s own as a post-prandial drink or with cheese to finish with a flourish. Claire also enjoys it as an aperitif. It’s one of the least expensive styles of Port therefore making it accessible to everyone. It has to have had a minimum of 2 years ageing in oak but it retains a deep ruby colour (hence its name) and a mulberry flavour and nose. It’s simple and tasty and is often the Port served at the end of Christmas dinner.

 However the Portuguese shall not live by Ruby alone! Tawny Port should be a wine that has been aged in oak for much longer than a Ruby – therefore the wine loses its colour, changing to an amber-brown or tawny colour. However commercial pressures have meant a split in the Tawny camp, between traditional and modern, where ‘modern’ means a port that has a similar age to Ruby but whose colour has changed by leaving it up-river at high temperatures to ‘unnaturally’ mature the wine more quickly.

 Often such wines are made from must that is less intense in colour in the first place (from slightly inferior grapes or from the final press/crush, the best quality juice having been run off already) and sometimes even some white port is added to take away any traces of bright ruby colour. There is a demand for this style of wine, in fact largely from France, where it is often used as an aperitif.

 Aged Tawny, however, is a wine that has been left to age in oak for a minimum of six years thereby changing colour but also taking on a silky character. Such wines may have 30 years ageing written on their labels, which in effect is an approximate indication of their age as in fact Aged Tawny wines are made from blends from number of different years’ produce.

 These wines are of top quality and often have a nutty character which the Port shippers themselves often prefer to drink chilled in the summer and will go well walnuts and toasted almonds.

 Vintage Port is the most expensive style of Port, despite it being so simple to make! Wines from a single year (vintage) are blended and bottled after two or three years in oak. It remains in bottle, often having been bought by the consumer almost immediately, maturing for 15, 20, 30 years or more. The reason for its expense is that it is only made from the very best grapes from the very best vineyards, chiefly found in the Cima Corgo area, after the very best ripening conditions.

 It is a wine that combines magnificently: power, depth of flavour, body, complexity and elegance. It has to stand the rigorous test of the wine maker, who, if he is perfectly happy and indeed confident, then sends it for further analysis to the ruling committee, the IVP, before it can be declared a ‘Vintage Port’. Such wine can be drunk with strong cheeses, the traditional partnership of English Stilton and Vintage Port woks well, but this is also a wine for savouring, in small quantities, on its own.

 Late Bottled Vintage Port (LBV) is a wne made from a single year (vintage), aged in oak for between 4-6 years and then bottled. There are two types – traditional LBV is is made in good years, bottles without filtration and ready to drink about 4-6 years after bottling. I love this style of port.

 The more common LBV wines have been filtered and cold stabilized before bottling to prevent sediment. This filtering can be invasive thereby producing a slightly less fine port than the traditional LBV. It is usually therefore more economical in price.

 Vintage Character Port, is not a vintage port. It has been aged in bulk for 5-7 years and filtered before bottling. Usually it is made from premium Ruby ports so it is a quality port, though the word ‘vintage’ is a misnomer.

 Single-Quinta Vintage Ports – sound like they should be the best. It is vintage port made from a single vineyard. However although it is super, it is usually made in years when a vintage has not been declared so it is not of the very, very best quality – it’s lovely though!

 Crusted Port – is a style popular in the UK with those who like Vintage Port but with a better price! It achieves its name because of the ‘crust’ or sediment it throws as it is bottled with little or no filtration. It is made from produce of a number of different years and can be an excellent alternative to Vintage Port.

 More on my Portuguese Sojourn next week!

 P.S. Spain’s best wine magazine, Vinos De España, now has an English language section which it’s my job to expand and develop. My first article is in the current August/September edition and my next articles will be in the October/November edition. The magazines are also available from: La casa Del Vino, Javea, La Vinoteca, Calpe and A Catarlo Todo, Teulada – with more wine shops being included soon