First published Costa News SL October 2011




 You have to hand it to the French. There’s many a maiden who can testify to the power of Gallic charm and persuasiveness, of course. But it’s not just the fair sex which has a history of being taken in by heavily accented French Lotharios.

 The wine buying consumers of the 60s/70s were desperate to drink Beaujolais Nouveaux following a Napoleon-scaled (I’m referring to his egotistical expansion plans, not his height!) advertising campaign which saw famous Thespians/Models/Celebs racing to bring back the first bottle direct from the vineyards of Beaujolais in: a vintage Rolls Royce, a Hot-Air Balloon (perhaps inflated by the instigator of the campaign!), an F1 racing car of the era, you name it!

 And the quality of the wine? Well, the French didn’t want it – say no more! The stuff that was shipped over to us ill-informed Brits was the dregs of the barrels, made from the last percentage of juice from over crushed grapes which had been ejected at the selection tables where only the finest Gamay grapes were chosen to make the super and at times, excellent, Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Cru wines.

 But Nouveaux and Cru did have one thing in common – they were made by the Carbonic Maceration method, a way of making wine invented and perfected by the French and producing, for Villages and Cru standard et least, a remarkably fresh, brightly-coloured, light-bodied, fruity style of wine, adored by the French themselves and by those Brits who weren’t taken in by the hype!

 Carbonic Maceration is where whole bunches are carefully placed into fermentation tanks so that the skin does not break and release juice. Carbon Dioxide is then pumped into the tank to expel oxygen and provide a different atmosphere in which the grapes macerate and where the still whole berries start to develop ethanol and various attractive flavour compounds. Fermentation then takes place but with the juice and grapes surrounded by Carbon Dioxide instead of oxygen. The result is a distinctive wine as described above.

 It’s not just France that uses this method, Spain is doing the same. A number of bodegas intent on keeping their heads above the rising tide of shrinking sales are looking for ways of maintaining, and hopefully expanding, their market share. In these days when lighter bodied, fruit-driven red wines are in vogue, Carbonic Maceration wines are seen as a beneficial addition to the bodegas’ portfolio.

 I’ve tasted lots here in Spain, all properly crafted and using grapes of the regions but for me, they mostly don’t reach the same pleasure levels as those made from the Gamay grape back in Beaujolais. Perhaps it’s a personal taste thing (though as an impartial and professional wine taster it shouldn’t be) or maybe it’s that the grape varieties used just are not as happy with the method as Gamay clearly is.

 However there are exceptions where winemakers have managed to produce wine in a similar style to good Beaujolais using the same, or maybe slightly adapted Carbonic Maceration method, but with a different spin provided by the variety used. I’ve tasted some good ones too.

 For me the best in Spain, by a distance, is Bodegas Fariña’s Primero, from the DO Toro, where Tinta de Toro is the variety used as it too seems content with this ‘foreign’ fermentation method. However, I need to add a rather odd codicil here.

 On the back of the Primero label they proudly proclaim that this wine is available in the November following the harvest in September, that’s just two months from vine to glass! It’s quite remarkable I know, but for me this is not the best time to drink Carbonic Maceration wine. I tasted Primero 2010 very early last year, I think in December. I liked it but it didn’t quite seem to be the finished article.

 In June this year I tasted another bottle, and wow, it’s lovely! As is said, the best Carbonic Maceration red wine in Spain!

 The wine has a combination of red and dark red fruits (loganberry with blackberry) which remain in the mouth long after the wine has been swallowed. This is the mark of a good wine, but usually one that has had some oak influence. This makes Primero all the more remarkable as it has seen no oak. It is simply the evolution in the bottle that gives it this rounded, full-flavoured and yet light-bodied taste, feel and length.

 And there’s another clue too – the 2010 vintage was excellent in most wine producing areas of Spain following a year of practically perfect growing and harvesting conditions. Obviously the grapes used for Primero 2010 were as good as it gets!

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