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Lupinc, the character of the Italian Carso

I had the chance to enjoy a few glasses of wine with Matej Lupinc. His wines, actually. He is a very nice guy with a paused way of talking. His wines are simply amazing. Wines you can drink forever. His winery is located in the backcountry of Trieste in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy. Prepotto is a small village not far from the Gulf of Trieste. The funny thing about Matej and Prepotto is that it is in the very heart of the Carso, a small strip of land where winemakers work the white varieties macerated on the skins. Castello Di Rubbia di Nataša Černic, Matej Skerlj and especially Paolo Vodopivec are not far from here. In Prepotto, Matej’s village, we can find two of the most well known Orange wine producers of the area as well: Benjamino Zidarich and Sandi Skerk.

I was saying “funny thing” because Matej doesn’t macerate his white wines on the skins. Rather, he works them in the dry way, not something we can easily find around with the exception of Edi Kante.

Matej owns as well a small B&B business that sits besides the winery. A few rooms in a very peaceful village where you can be hosted while enjoying not only the surrounding wineries but also the remains of WWI trenches. This was an area in which terrible and deadly battles took place and the rests can still be seen and visited here.

The soil in the Carso is the famous Terra Rossa that you can see in the pictures below. Red limestone full of marine sediments and with a rocky layer just below the surface. This rocky layer conveys into the wines the typical Carso personality found only here.

The Carso-Kras DO in Italy, established in the 1990s, has its Slovenian counterpart in the Kras Wine District. Both of them sit atop the Karst Plateau, that strip of land aforementioned running from Trieste to Gradisca D’Isonzo parallel to the Gulf of Trieste, and from here inland till it reaches the limits of the Vipavska Dolina DO in Slovenia. Over a 400 square kilometers with barely 60 hectares of vineyards.

My local heroes here work with the Vitovska and Malvasia Istriana in the white side of wine and with Refosco (Terrano) in the red land of wine. Matej produces a single varietal wine with each of them and also a blend of Vitovska, Malvasia and Friulano called Stara Brajda. B y the way, I said Matej doesn’t macerate his white wines but Stara Brajda is the exception.

I have been stating in many articles and wine tastings about the longevity of a white wine having gone through skin contact. The properties of the skins are transmitted into the wine, allowing it to go long distances in the bottle.

Matej obtains the same results without the maceration time. Sat in his backyard with a glass of Malvasia and some homemade prosciutto, we were discussing about this. Then we went into the guts of his cellar. There, in a bottle container in a corner, he took a bottle of his Malvasia 2008. Opened it ten years after the vintage, the wine was absolutely alive, with a nose, a body, an acidity that made my body shiver. A perfect balance, complex and elegant, one of those wines you can enjoy forever. Regretfully, the bottle seemed to contain way less than 75cl because we downed it effortlessly. An amazing wine indeed.

His Vitovska is also a wonderful wine. I have come to love this variety since I started enjoying it by means of the wines of Natasa, Benjamino and especially Paolo. All of them with time on the skins. For this reason, Matej’s Vitovska is absolutely amazing because Orange wine masters surround him yet he works greatly well without the skins. His Vitovska has a pale soul, limpid yet full bodied, aromatically intense and silky character.

Finally, Stara Brajda is an adorable blend. Each of the elements found in the previous two wines are present here, with the adding of the Friulano, another local variety that was formerly known as Tokai Friulano now only as Friulano. What can I say about this wine? I also love it. As mentioned, with a short time on the skins.

His white wines undergo an ageing of approximately nine months in oak, depending on the vintage.

Besides these three wines, Matej works with the Terrano, a subvariety of the Refosco. This is a very tannic, rustic grape. It requires masterful hands to work with it because if not controlled, it can produce wines that are very hard to drink. Refosk is its counterpart in Slovenia and Croatia, in the Istria area. Here I found some examples that were melting the glass due to its extreme rusticity. In places there is a small confusion about this grape as its name is Refosco (Refosk) but the name of the wine is Terrano (also Teran). Again, Terrano is a subdivision of Refosco.

I haven’t tasted Matej’s Terrano wine as it is a grape I don’t particularly favor, though. Natasa and Marco Felluga are producing very interesting Terrano wines as Giorgio Clai is doing in Croatia. This is another reason for visiting Matej again.

Finally, he produces two sweet wines, one with Terrano and the second with Malvasia.

Lupinc is a wonderful small winery. Matej’s wines are amazing for me. He produces around 15,000 bottles per year. I love white wines with body and structure, complex and appealing as his wines are. His B&B is also a very nice place to stay for visiting the area. In any case, a must-do visit.


Tantaka, Juanjo Tellaetxe’s wines in the Basque Country

I have always been against chauvinism. This thing that what’s mine is the best only because it is mine is a concept that I cannot understand. And I don’t share it either, of course. There are some aspects in which I defend “what’s mine” but only because after trying “others’ stuff” I see that I like “what’s mine” more. This is the case of Txakoli. I have tried Txakoli made in Bizkaia, in Gipuzkoa and some of what is made in Araba. Logically I have not been able to taste everything because there is a lot. But after what I have tasted, my preference is the Txakoli made in Bizkaia. Obviously I have tasted some interesting Txakoli from Araba, but rather they were just exceptions.

It should also be noted that I do not have a deep knowledge about the differences in production of each province. I’m sure there are, but I admit that I do not know them. However, I have always found more interesting the Txakoli of my home province.

Thanks to my dear Giacomo, a Txakoli from Araba came within my reach one day. Having tasted several wines that I found a bit dull, even tasting different labels and vintages, I decided to give it a try. The truth is that there were certain biographical notes in its winemaker that I considered appealing. And what a discovery!

Juanjo Tellaetxe is that person behind a very very good Txakoli from Araba. Juanjo produced two white wines under the Tantaka label; one that we can refer to as entry level or basic called Tantaka and another that Juanjo calls Tantaka Selección. Juanjo also makes a small handful of bottles of a Txakoli Beltza, a red wine.

But before talking about the wines, we must talk about its creator. Juanjo Tellaetxe has a main job and that is a priest. Making wine comes later. He manages the family vineyards that surround his basque country house located in Artomaña, a small town located in the Valle de Arrastaria. Like every valley, it is surrounded by mountains that protect it from the inclemency of northern weather, although on its north side it has a small gap where the wind usually creeps in. This valley includes geographically the Biscayan city of Orduña. And I say city (ciudad) because in Bizkaia it is the only town that receives this distinction. Bilbao is a town (villa), not a city.

If Orduña is a Biscayan city, how is it possible for Juanjo to make Txakoli from Alava? It turns out that the Arrastaria Valley belongs to the province of Araba. Inhabitants of both provinces here are known for having an outstanding relationship between them. It also turns out that the some of the agricultural plots of the Tellaetxe family are distributed between the two provinces but the vineyards are mainly located in Araba.

Juanjo vinifies his wines in Amurrio, which is indeed Araba. In his winery he works with stainless steel tanks and no barrels, though when I visited him he had just received a couple of 400 or 500-liter barrels to work with in the future.

The Hondarrabi Zuri is the star of Tantaka wines. The basic wine uses it 100% while the Selection adds 20% Petit Corbu. It also has some Riesling planting and if memory serves me well, a little bit of Chardonnay. It also has some Hondarrabi Beltza for its red wine, which I have commented he produces well under a thousand bottles a year.

Juanjo works his wines very well. Giacomo always tells me that I have to talk about the wines. I am not about making tasting notes or giving aromatic descriptors of the wine, but rather saying what I like and what I don’t. In Juanjo’s case, I really enjoy his wines. I have enjoyed the 2017 and 2018 vintages in bottle and the 2019 out of the tank. Tantaka is a different Txakoli from the usual ones, from any province. Juanjo said that its elaboration was more in the Biscayan style, and I believe it. What I know is that it is very good.

Tantaka Selección is absolutely different from Tantaka, and absolutely wonderful. The Petit Corbu gives it a very distinctive touch that makes it have and silky yet powerful taste and above all, an opulent mouth. Nothing of a wine with little flavor that quickly fades away. Selección remains with a very well achieved acidity. Perhaps at first for a more classic Txakoli drinker, so to speak, it may be very surprising, but precisely there is the grace, right? At least for me. I like that my wine surprises me, and Tantaka Selección surprises, and pleasantly, until the very end of the glass and the bottle.

For the 2019 vintage, Juanjo will add a new wine to his portfolio while he will change the name of other two wines:

  • Tantaka 2019, the basic txakoli, with a white wax closing.
  • Tantaka Beltza 2019, with a dark wax closing.
  • Tantaka Diapiro 2019, Hondarribi Zuri and Riesling, with a green wax closing
  • Tantaka Diapiro 2019, Hondarribi Zuri and Petit Corbu, former Tantaka Selección, with an orange wax closing.

I can’t speak much about the Txakoli Beltza because we only tasted it out of the tank in 2019, but I was left with the desire to try it, to taste it and enjoy it more calmly. I hope that moment will come when I get my hands on my 2019 assignment, because from now on I am a fan of Juanjo’s work.

Soon we will talk to Juanjo Tellaetxe about his work making Txakoli.

Teo Legido: “I can’t understand wine if not like a work of art.”

Some time ago, perhaps two vintages, we talked about Teo Legido and the work he is doing in a small corner of Ávila. It was a real discovery, both he and his wines, and without having any other reason to visit him than to spend a good time together, we saw each other on a quiet afternoon this past July.

We won’t speak specifically about his wines today, La Bovila and El Rosal, both red, or his Verdejo, which is a fabulous white wine. We won’t even talk about that 32-liter demijohn that he has in his living room with a Verdejo that is developing a velo de flor. Today we will talk about his winemaking philosophy. Teo works his vineyards, barely four hectares (both his and one of his cousin’s), organically. He also works biodynamically and last year he was accepted by one of the, in my opinion, groups of most exclusive biodynamic producers. Maybe not very exclusive, because if you meet their requirements, they can accept you as a member. Firstly, you must be certified as working following the biodynamic principles at least for three years and then your wines have to go through a tasting panel. I consider this group exclusive, or perhaps rather prestigious, because it is Le Rennaissance des Appellations, the group created some years ago by Nicolas Joly. This group emerged as a handful of French winemakers who defended the organic and biodynamic farming and nowadays it has already surpassed two hundred members worldwide. In Spain, the producers part of this club are just a dozen.

Teo comes from the world of artistic jewelry so, with this background, it is not surprising that Teo conceives wine as an art. But rather than being me talking about it, I think it is better for him to share his thoughts.

Good morning, Teo, and as always, it is a pleasure to be able to talk with you. What made you jump from the world of jewelry to making wine?

There was a period in my life when I did both at the same time, both artistic jewelry and winemaking, but slowly and for different reasons, I ended up dedicating only to wine. Possibilities for further working on jewelry were becoming scarce, due to reasons like the increasing price of gold and the changing culture of artistic jewelry losing its importance.

What do jewelry and wine have in common?

Both professions share artistic and creative elements. Wine for me is a work of art, and I completely moved to understanding the creation of wine, not seeing it only as a production. I cannot understand wine in any other way than as a work of art.

What elements do you consider crucial when making wine?

There are several fundamental aspects for understanding wine, all of which are interconnected. They are the pillars on which my way of understanding great wine is founded, the one that is at the top, the quality wine that when it is in a glass tells its story.

Mastering the oenological and viticulture technique leads you to obtaining a good raw material that you can work with without defects.

The organoleptic construction of the wine is the second important aspect for me: that it has structure, intensity, balance and length, basic principles of wine tasting.

The culture of wine includes the place where the vineyard is located, how vines have gone through times.

Finally, the intellectual or creative scheme of who makes the wine, those creative principles that you follow when making a wine. What steps do you want to follow, what style do you intend to look for, how do you deal with the personality of the wine. I believe that the personality of the creator is represented in the wine. Wine terroir has four pillars: the soil, the landscape, the culture of the place where it is made, and the length of the wine, not only when tasting but also its longevity. The ageing capacity of a wine is very important to consider that a wine is well made.

How important is the style of wine for you?

Style must be defended for a few reasons. You can copy a style, such as Bordeaux, but you have to be clear about why you copy it and how you adapt it to your wine. If that doesn’t work, the wine won’t work, and it will show up quickly.

You work your vineyards organically. Why?

For me, organic farming started when I was working with my father in the vineyards. We did not use oenological products, or any chemical product. My decisions have always gone this way.

In my area, all this organic and biodynamic work was left behind, it was abandoned, being replaced by the pressure from the agricultural and cereal industries. Since nothing of this exists anymore, I had to learn everything on my own, looking how viticulture was working at the end of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, all the way to the 1930s, which is when everything started to change.

And from working organically you also stepped onto biodynamic farming.

This has been a cornerstone in the way I work. Right now I am at the beginning of my way of working this type of agriculture. It is a constant learning and I am still taking my first steps in biodynamics.

What has it been like to being accepted by the association of Nicolas Joly’s?

I sought to enter it because of the benefits of biodynamics and wanted to delve deeper into that philosophy, to learn more. I found people with more than 40 years of experience working this way. It required having a natural grape that reflected the soil it comes from, where this grape is grown. And biodynamics was the way for me to achieve this. Searching everywhere I could, I found that the members of this association were doing what I wanted. I tried to get to know them, knocked on their door and struggled to meet the conditions they asked me to do. Once admitted, and with years of work behind me, I see the results in the vineyard, obtaining a more natural grape. From the point of view of positioning myself in the market, for me it has been a lifesaver, because I have been able to reach European markets that I would not have had access to otherwise.

Your production is around 2,000 bottles per year nowadays.

My long-term goal is to reach 5,000 bottles per vintage. It always depends on access to more grapes. Currently I have a vineyard of just two hectares of Tempranillo,Syrah and Verdejo, and I have a vineyard of my cousin two and a half hectares planted with Garnacha. One day at a time we will take the necessary steps.

How do you see the future of wine and what surrounds it?

I believe that the future of winemaking involves reaching the level of artistic conception that gastronomy has. Now we can see that a chef obtains a national award for the artistic quality of his plates. Nobody disputes that gastronomy is an art anymore. When we will have achieved that the winemaker also reaches this recognition, everything will change a lot. But first we need to understand that the fundamental basis of every creation is the pursuit of beauty in the end of the road. This road, this path, is inalienable for me. Harmony, balance of a wine, must be put on value. We have to find a narrative scheme to make it understandable. We as winemakers must be very clear that we travel in this path, to be measured by our creation. Let a glass of our wine explain what we want to tell about our work.

Thank you very much for your words, Teo. It has been a pleasure talking with you.

#garagewine, the wines of Jesús Toledo in La Mancha

Small productions have their charm. For me it means that the person behind them has put all his passion to make these wines. I do not mean, far from it, that whoever makes wines for hundreds of thousands or even millions of bottles does not put all his passion. However, I am much more attracted to those people who make a few thousand bottles, or even a few hundred bottles. It is a way of working much more personal, more passionate.

Jesús Toledo is one of those people. You haven’t probably heard of Jesús or his wines, which he produces along with his cousin Julián Ajenjo under the name #Garagewine. If so, and if your wine style is the one I usually talk about in my articles, his wines should be on your to-do list.

In honor of his surname, Jesús and Julián winery is located in Toledo, in small village Quintanar de la Orden. On it, they make several labels to add some eight thousand bottles of the 2019 vintage. A quantitative jump from the previous vintage when they did just a shade over five thousand bottles (5,265). Jesús works mainly with red varieties, many of which are indigenous in this area, and he also works some magic with the white ones. He makes an Airén white that when I tried it I really liked it. It is a variety that did not attract me much because what little I had tried had not made me very happy. However, the one Jesús produces, Airén 2018, in this case, I really liked it. Airén 2019, the latest vintage, has 1,061 bottles on the market.

He also makes an Orange Wine, which is another aspect for which I like Jesus so much. To do this, he uses the Verdoncho variety, another indigenous grape. The must goes through a maceration period with the skins of sixty days. It seems a lot, but I have to say that when I spoke to Jesus about this wine I told him that to have been with the skins for a week or two, it was fine. My surprise was even greater when he told me about the 60 days. Verdoncho 2019 is the wine we are talking about, fresh out of the oven, with 609 bottles.

This is what Jesus does with whites. In reds he has a broader repertoire. A red that I really like is Garnacha Tintorera, one of those varieties that, like Airén, I have tried little and I have not liked what I have tried. However, Jesús makes a very cool one with 1,326 bottles of the 2018 vintage with 14 months in barrel. The name of the wine is the same of the varietal.

Another very rich red of his is La Forastera 2018, Shiraz 100%, with 11 months in barrel and 695 bottles. It is a very surprising and very tasty wine.

If I had already commented that Jesus works with indigenous varieties such as Airén and Verdoncho, he could not stop making a red, or rather two, with the most emblematic red variety of CastillaLaMancha, the Cencibel. With it he makes two wines, 6 de 7, with 11 months in oak and 1,102 bottles from the 2018 vintage, and the properly named Cencibel, without aging and with 992 bottles in 2019.

Brujidera is a local variety that names another of Jesus’ wines. A wine without aging and the one with the highest production, with 1,861 bottles in 2019 (1,714 in 2018).

To end the #Garagewine portfolio, you have to be aware of its solidarity side. To contribute to the Association ASPRODIQ in its help with people with disabilities, the last year Jesús has made a wine without aging with another indigenous variety: Tinto Velasco, of which he has made 598 bottles.

As you can see, Jesús Toledo works mainly with indigenous varieties, and I have to say that in my opinion he works very well. I really like their wines, since they are clean and frank wines, without added stuff or strange things. Highly recommended as they give great pleasure when drinking them. I recommend them, and as you can see, it produces very few bottles of each one. The numbers will go up as they will have more success. Please be advised: you have to hurry, because their wines are very worthwhile.


Paolo Vodopivec, the Master of Vitovska

When it comes to talk about Orange Wines, everyone knows Josko Gravner. He is the Godfather of Orange, or as he prefers, Amber wines. His wines are everywhere, articles about him are posted all over specialized magazines and the Net. Not far from his winery, though, there is another not so much known producer, not so much recognized one but at least in my opinion, a winemaker producing unbelievable white wines macerated on the skins.

He is Paolo Vodopivec.

I don’t personally know Paolo. I have tried three times to meet him to no avail. He is a very kept-to-himself person. Pictures of him are very, very, very scarce. I have a winemaker friend who tried to visit him and buy his wines but in the end his mother, not Paolo, attended him.

Paolo lives and works in the Italian side of the Karts Plateau, a tiny piece of land going from Trieste to Gradisca D’Isonzo, for around 40 kilometers, and inland from the Gulf of Trieste to the limits with the Vipavska Dolina DO in Slovenia, for barely 12 kilometers. Here he works with a very unknown variety that only grows in this area, both in the Italian Carso-Kras DO and in the Kras Wine District in Slovenia. Vitovska is the queen of grapes here and Paolo is the master chief of it. You might read this article about the Vitovska.

The area is famous for its Terra Rossa soil, a rocky limestone land rich in marine sediments. Here the stone is the soul of the Vitovska. Local producers have excavated the rock to build their wineries and also employ stone tanks for fermenting the wine. Stones are an intrinsic part of the Carso.

As Paolo believes, “the Carso is the land of truth. Harsh, unpleasant, difficult. In a word, true. Land of stone and wind, of Nature strong and vigorous. Land of the seasons with dreamy colours, of air terse and pungent.”

Paolo started years ago his wine adventure with his brother Valter. They wanted the soil to reflect its spirit in their wines using clay amphorae for ageing the wines. They used in the beginning Spanish amphorae but not very happy about them, they visited Georgia, the original birthplace of Amber or Orange wines. They decided to transition from the Spanish ones to the amphorae produced in the Caucasian country. Now they have their terracotta vessels buried underground, where the temperature is constant helping their wines go through life.

In this area, almost every producer uses Vitovska, Malvasia and Refosco. Paolo only uses the first one. His production varies from vintage to vintage so one year he might produce three labels, some other year only one. On average, he is producing one or two labels per year. In 2008, for instance, no wine was produced due to heavy rainstorms during the growing season. One distinct year was 2012, when he was able to produce the four labels he has. Fermentation and maceration take always place at lower temperatures, thus fixing bright golden colors. He follows two ageing traditions: that of the oak and that of the amphorae.

Vitovska 2012, white label, six months in amphora on the skins, 24 months of ageing in big Slavonian botti.

Vitovska T 2012, white label, six months in amphora on the skins, then 30 months of ageing in the same amphora.

Solo 2012, white label, single vineyard Vitovska with six months in amphora on the skins, 24 months of ageing in big Slavonian botti.

Origine 2012, black label, produced in special years. 15 days of fermentation in oak, then 30 to 36 months of ageing in Slavonian botti.

Paolo follows the organic viticulture and also biodynamic methods. One of them is setting his oak botti forming a circle inside his winery. He also works naturally, not using chemical products, herbicides or pesticides. Nothing that could alter the cycle of the grape. He doesn’t irrigate the vineyards, not even in drought years, when the plants might slow down and stop their life waiting for better years. In the end, he believes man is just an observer, a learner of what Nature, the man’s mentor, does.

Paolo’s wines are perfume, Mother Nature, rocky soil, character, passion, truth, soul. Carso. No dresses. No makeup. Grapes accompanied throughout their life to adopt the shape of a bottle filled with sublime nectar. That’s Paolo’s wines. That’s Paolo’s Vitovska. The expression of a land, the character of a terroir.

Marilena Barbera di Cantine Bardera in Menfi, Sicily

Back in the day, all labor was done by hand; there was no pressing machine, no automatic destemming machine, nothing you could plug into a wall for operating. It was the only way to work in a winery, doing all the processes by hand. Is wine affected by the way these labors are done? Maybe no, maybe yes, but there are an increasing number of winemakers going back to the original roots of winemaking. Organic farming, natural winemaking, pruning, canopy management, green harvest and defoliation performed manually… we are lately seeing this more and more. And we have to say that we are enjoying it a lot.

We have a deep passion for Orange Wines and wines aged in amphora and we can find them almost everywhere. Today we travel to Sicily where one woman pursuing her father’s dream is making wine and among her wines there are two Orange wines. Marilena Barbera elaborates the first of these special wines with a variety we normally see in the Passito di Pantelleria wines, Zibibbo, an autochthonous Sicilian white grape. Ammáno is this wine, and its name says it all. 100% handmade, from the moment the grapes are picked up in the vineyard, when the grapes are hand-pressed, to the moment the wine is bottled. Seven days of skin contact. It is indeed a craft orange wine. No technology, no additives, no correction, filtering or clarification. Some times she doesn’t even use electricity for working. As Marilena says: ‘only grapes and hands, and the strong personality of Sicily.’

The grapes come from the Vigna di Torrenova vineyard planted in 2010 with clay soil and a limited amount of limestone. After being destemmed and squeezed by hand, the must stays seven days macerating with the skins in small steel tanks with no temperature control. At the end of the fermentation, the wine is transferred to French tonneaux where it remains for five months. Three more months in the bottle and the wine is ready to make our palates enjoy.

The second Orange wine Marilena elaborates is Arèmi, a Catarrato Superiore Menfi DOC made with Catarratto grapes grown in a small 35-year-old vineyard. According to Marilena: ‘Arèmi is one of the most elegant expressions of Menfi’s terroir.’ The Catarratto is a noble variety with antique Greek origins that has been used in Western Sicily for a long time.

Deep flavored and with an intense golden yellow, Arèmi’s grapes are destemmed and then they undergo a spontaneous fermentation in contact with the skins for around seven days. The wine is kept on its fine lees for at least one year in small stainless steel tanks, with weekly manual batonnages. Non-fined, non-stabilized and just barely filtered. After this period on the tanks it stays another three months in bottles. Vigna di Belìce a Mare is the vineyard where the Catarratto has been planted since 1980, with a soil clay rich in iron ore and rounded stones.

We will also talk about a red wine, Ciàtu, a Alicante Menfi DOC wine. Alicante is a Spanish grape that was probably introduced in Sicily around the XV-XVI centuries.

After destemming and crushing, the skin maceration takes around 14 days, a bit less than a typical red wine, with two-a-days manual stirring of the cap and no pumping overs. Fermentation is spontaneous, with indigenous yeast, in a big 30 hectoliters Slavonian oak tank where it remains for around six months and then it is refined anther six months in the bottle.

Vigna del Pozzo vineyard planted in 2000 with an alluvial soil, mainly clay with sandy components and good fertility.

Marilena Barbera is a passionate winemaker who believes in organic farming and creating wines that reflect the land they come from and that have no machinery intervention. As she says: ‘nothing’s more effective and sensitive than human hands for a careful and respectful viticulture.’ We will speak to her soon about her philosophy and her winemaking in Sicily.

Vitovska, the Queen of the Carso-Kras

Recently I wrote an article about my beloved Ribolla Gialla/Rebula. I said it was my favorite grape varietal. I love it as I explained in that article. Close behind comes the Vitovska, especially when it is about white wines macerated on the skins. The Ribolla is a very versatile variety as we can find it in many vinification styles: fresh, aged, macerated, sparkling and even sweet. The Vitovska, on the other hand, is not that versatile. So far I have only tasted it in the fresh and macerated version. I only know of two wineries producing a non-macerated Vitovska wine, but hey! That’s the good thing about wine! I need to keep on doing my research!

The Vitovska grape grows in a tiny strip of land located between Slovenia and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy. This geographical area is called the Karst Plateau, going from sea level to up to 650 meters, though the average altitude is around 330 meters. The plateau has an extension a shade over 400 square kilometers that goes from the outskirts of Trieste all the way to Gradisca d’Isonzo, running parallel to the Adriatic Sea coast. From the Gulf of Trieste it goes inland towards the Alps until reaching the limits of the Vipavska Dolina DO (Vipava River Valley) in Slovenia. In the Italian side it comprises two provinces, Trieste and Gorizia. The Karts Plateau is part of a greater geological area called Karst that extends from here all the way to Croatia and Kosovo, but we will stay within the Plateau.

The Karst is a very particular piece of land. Originated in the Eocene period, the movement of the tectonic plaques pushed from the bottom to the top a rocky substrate with marly-sandstone lithology soil rich in marine sediments. It also contains high levels of iron oxides and minerals, which mixed with the limestone and carbonate soil creates what the locals call Terra Rossa, a fertile soil with a bright red color. The Karts is also famous for its caves, with more than 10,000 making pleasure for speleologists. Grotta Gigante is the most famous one in Italy while Velinica Cave is its counterpart in Slovenia.

The breeze coming from the Adriatic Sea keeps the vineyards fresh and dry, helping them staying healthy and avoiding the use of fungicides. In the back, the Pre-Julian Alps offer their protection against the currents blowing from the continent. A third factor that makes this land special is the Bora wind, one of the most brutal winds in the continent, which sometimes gusts up to 200 kilometers per hour.

The Vitovska grape is a crossing between Prosecco and Malvasia Bianco. It is not an ancient variety such as the Ribolla, which dates back from the XII Century, but rather it was recently when local producers started using it in the 1980s. Some families, though, has been using it for up to 200 years. It wasn’t until 1996 when the Carso-Kras DOC region was established in Italy and later on the Kras Wine District was established in Slovenia. As with the Ribolla/Rebula, this variety also has two names: in Italy is known as Vitovska whereas across the Slovenian border is recognized as Vitovska Grganja. Two different grapes for many researchers but more commonly accepted as one single variety. A particular characteristic of the Vitovska is its thick skin, which suits it perfect for longer maceration periods. The cultivated land extends to around 60 hectares summing both countries.

Coming to talk about wine, the Italian Carso counts with an association of producers called Associazione Dei Viticoltori Carso-Kras with a membership of a score of wineries. In general, they produce Malvasia Istriana and Vitovska in the whites and Refosco in the reds, with some blends in many cases. My heart has room for many of these producers whose wines I have tasted, enjoyed and loved. There are two producers doing a non-macerated version of the Vitovska, Edi Kante and Matej Lupinc. Matej is a master. I can’t forget a 2008 Malvasia that I absolutely loved (I tasted it two years ago). His Vitovksa is incredible, as well as his white blend with Vitovksa, Malvasia Istriana and FriulanoStara Brajda. Delicious. And this one, by the way, is a macerated wine.

Lupinc is nested at Prepotto, Trieste, as there is another village sharing the name in Gorizia. The other two famous inhabitants of Prepotto are Benjamino Zidarich (Azienda Agricola Zidarich) and Sandi Škerk (Azienda Agricola Škerk). Now we are entering maceration country. Both Benjamino and Sandi produce unbelievable wines using the two aforementioned varieties, but especially Vitovska. The stellar Vitovska of Benjamino is Kamen, with 22 months of oak after fermentation and maceration in a stone tank he especially built for this. Kamen in Slovenian means stone

Not far from Prepotto we find Azienda Agricola Skerlj, where Matej Skerlj also produces great Malvasia, Vitovska and Terrano (Refosco subvariety).

Another winery in the Italian Carso that owns a piece of my heart is Azienda Agricola Castello di Rubbia of Nataša Černic. Nataša works incredibly well with the same varietals (her Malvasia is an outstanding wine), but her Vitovskas are a masterpiece. Trubar is the name used by her for some vintages while in others she uses just the name Vitovska. In some vintages, where the grapes are of top quality, she produces Bianco Della Bora, a blend of Malvasia and Vitovska. Her 2002 is one of the best white wines I have ever tasted. Besides the wine, Nataša is a classical musician and she loves to mix both music and wine, and also art and dance. Her jam sessions make a great experience for those in attendance.

Finally, secluded in his winery in Carso lives Paolo Vodopivec, for me the head magician when it comes to the Vitovska and also to Orange Wines. In his winery, Paolo only works with the Vitovska. He produces two or three wines depending on the vintage called VitovskaVitovska TOrigine (with a black label) or Solo. Some vintages he produces all of them, some other times he only produces one. The basic one has a short period of maceration (around 15 days) and close to 36 months of ageing in big Slavonian botti. His most especial wine is Solo: a six-month maceration-on-the-skins wine, fermented in underground amphorae and then two years in oak.

I love Paolo’s wines. I have tasted a few vintages of Origine, Vitovska and Solo. I believe they are some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted when it comes to Orange Wines. He is a very close-to-himself guy. I have tried to visit him three times to no avail and you can barely find any information or pictures on him in the net. Or everywhere, for that matter.

We will cross now the border to Slovenia. In the backcountry there are just a handful of wineries, family business all of them with a short production. Branko and Vasja Čotar are father and son. Their business started with a restaurant where they made wine for their customers. Then they expanded to making wine in a bigger scale. They are natural winemakers, not adding anything to the wine because in the old days of the Iron Curtain, everyone was so poor they didn’t have money for buying enological or chemical products. Therefore, macerating the white wines as they did with the reds was the solution for protecting their wines. Nowadays they also use Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and their Vitovska is brilliant.

Joško Renčel is another Vitovska producer in the Kras District. Small winery, buried amphora in the backyard, amazing wines. He is very worth paying a visit. Now he is helped by his son-in-law Žiga Ferlež. Their work is wonderful, as it is their Amfora wine or the white blend Vincent.

I remember one time visiting my beloved friend Jean Michel Morel from Kabaj in Goriska Brda. We were talking about other local wineries and he said I should visit two of them: Sebastijan Stemberger and Marko Tavčar. I haven’t been able yet to visit them but they are at the top of my to-do list. If Jean says they are good winemakers, they must be great winemakers for sure. Both of them work with the Vitovska, so that for me is a must. Sebastijan also works with the Malvasia, Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot. Also with Zelen, which is a variety most found in Vipavska Dolina, not far from here. Marko works with the usual Kras varieties: Malvasia, Vitovska and Terrano under the label of Vina Pietra. Both are high quality winemakers. I was able to get some bottles of Sebastijan’s. Marko’s will have to wait a bit.

The word in the wind says there is another producer in the area whose wines are amazing. His name is Marko Fon and he is the Slovenian version of Paolo Vodopivec. Hard to find wines, hard to find winemaker. He mainly works with Vitovska and Malvasia producing only a handful of thousand bottles per year (7,000 bottles in the 2015 vintage). He also produces a Terrano called Lui with around 1,000 bottles. If you are able to get of them, you will be a lucky son of a gun. Wonderful wines with no added anything. I have his Vitovska Selekzija 2016 that was a great example of his work with this variety.

Something else remains to be said. This article is devoted to Vitovska from Carso-Kras, which is the native place where the Vitovksa is religion. But my beloved Kristina Mervič from JNK is also producing a Vitovska wine in recent vintages. In fact, I was surfing the Facebook during last year’s harvest time and I saw a post of hers saying her Vitovska was ready to go. I almost fell from my chair to the ground!! If I already was in love with Kristina’s wines, especially her Rebula, now a Vitovska!! I can hardly wait to taste it. She is not in Kras, but in Šempas in Vipavska Dolina. In a straight line she must be not over 30 kilometers from the villages the other guys are. Being as they are windy roads running around so many small hills, it takes a bit longer to reach her place from the others. But no road is long enough to keep you from visiting anyone of them if you love this kind of wines.

The Vitovska is a highly interesting grape if you like Orange wines. It grows in this tiny piece of land. Outside here you cannot find it. Its character, its personality, the wines it produces, all of it are reasons worth for giving it a try. These wine producers, as well as others I still have to know, have mastered working with it, obtaining a great result that will please any winelover.

Photos © Castello di Rubbia

AT Roca and Anima Mundi, old style enjoyment

98 days of maceration on the skins are to blame. On top of that, both fermentation and maceration are carried out in clay amphorae of maestro Juan Padilla. And if that wasn’t enough, we will add two months of ageing in French oak barrels.

But well, as much as I like these data, that I do, and as good as the wine was, and it was, this article would not have come to life if it were not for the man behind the wine. As my loyal reader, you already know that what most excites me about a wine is the people behind it. For me, this binomial must always go hand by hand. Good wine and good people means better end result. If either leg fails, I fall from the chair to the ground.

My friend Yolanda told me a long time ago that there was this orange wine that I had to try. It was duly noted on my to-do list but so many moons span around and I still didn’t find the time for tasting it or making a visit to the winery until recently. Once the planets aligned, off we went.

Agustí is a nice guy. The more articles I write, the younger the people I get to know (I seriously need to think if there is a connection here or not). I met him at a wine fair and though very brief, the conversation was very pleasant. We finally got together more calmly on a Saturday morning and it was much better.

Agustí Torelló belongs to the cavista family of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Penedès. For a few years now he has established on his own creating the brand Agustí Torelló Roca, or AT Roca as it appears on the labels of his wines. He still keeps his facilities separated. Some he has rented, some others belong to his family, but as things continue developing according to the plan, it is his intention to unify everything. Agustí is also at the helm of another more personal project called Anima Mundi.

The day was sunny though slightly windy, one of those autumn mornings in which under the sun you still can be talking about vineyards, soils, viticulture for hours, especially if you have in your hands a glass of a sparkling wine made by Agustí. From our private watchtower, we had in front some of the vineyards that Agustí works in Sant Sebastià dels Gorgs, in the region of Alt Penedès. One of them is a Macabeo vineyard planted in 1969 called Vinya Sobre Casa. The land, of extremely calcareous soil, conveys into their wines a very strong personality It is from this vineyard one of his most special wines comes from: Pells. Moreover, the vineyard has a north exposition so the acidity joins the chalky character to create great wines.

Agustí follows the family philosophy of working organically and he is also adopting several steps of biodynamic viticulture. He knows the lands of their vines as the back of his hands, how they influence the grapes they produce and the wines that are subsequently produced. When he is talking, you feel the passion he shares for the location of its vineyards, by the influence of the wind streams coming from the Mediterranean Sea. He talks about Geologywith the same passion as well, about the horseshoe shape this area has, the protection of the surrounding hills originated millions of years ago that over the centuries have created a soil rich in marine nutrients.

Later we went into the cellar, where we continued talking and tasting the base wines of his sparkling wines. Agustí is in love with these calcareous notes in his wines and we tasted different plots that showed an increasing level of calcareous intensity. The truth is that the chalkier the plot, the more personality the wine has. All of them go through oak, some 225-liter barrels, others 500- or 600-liter ones. And there, sat in a corner, were the two amphorae I mentioned at the beginning. In them inhabited the Macabeo that later will be Pells. In the picture you can see that many grapes are still intact though they have been living inside the amphora a couple of months. Tasting this wine right there was delightful. It still has nearly two months of maceration ahead and another two months in barrel, but the wine was delicious and I only felt envious of what must have been the childhood of Obelix.

After so many questions, lots of answers and especially a lot of conversation, we went to the part of the cellar where he keeps many, many sparkling wine bottles of a good handful of vintages. At the far end of it there was a small room where we started tasting more things. The two sparkling wines made under the label of AT Roca are Pedregar and Esparter. The first is a rosé with 85% of Garnacha Tinta and 15% of Macabeo with 7 months in barrel and 30 months of ageing in Rima. The second, oh the second one, is wonderful. For those of you who don’t like sparkling wines before, you need to tast this one. Then you will love them. Singlevarietal of Macabeo with 7 months in barrel and 40 months in Rima. I liked the first one too but Esparter seemed wonderful to me. Both wines are made with grapes coming from organic viticulture.

After this explosive start, we turned to Anima Mundi. A few lines above I commented that it is a more personal project of Agustí. It is a return to the old ways; the style wine was once made. Here he has produced two sparkling wines, Camí dels Xops and Noguer Baix. The first one is Macabeo and Xarel·lo with fermentation carried for both in old French oak barrels and steel tanks. Noguer Baix is Macabeo singlevarietal and ferments in 600-liter clay amphorae. Both are practically bottled at the end of fermentation and both are made under organic and biodynamic methods. I’m sure you know which one I liked most, right?

Finally, two more wines. Anima Mundi Xarel·lo, in contact with the skins for 24 hours before pressing. The fermentation takes place both in old 500-liter French oak barrels and amphora. It subsequently has a 6-month period on its own yeasts. Anima Mundi Pells is the wine whose description began this article. A luxury of orange wine in the Penedès that gives you pleasure to taste, drink and enjoy. And share with friends. I have already commented the philosophy that these wines have. They are completely natural. Agustí works them with autochthonous yeasts and without adding absolutely anything that might affect the soul of the wines. And as he likes to highlight, the grapes with which they are made come from vineyards whose soils are extremely calcareous.

Having the opportunity to visit and meet Agustí is a true pleasure. Not only because he is able to explain his knowledge and give you a master class without you noticing it, but also because he transmits all his passion that has been in his family for so long. And his wines are made with that same passion and with lots of love. There will be those who do not like cava or sparkling Penedés wines, but first you have to try what Agustí makes and then make up your mind and decide. I like his sparkling wines very much, both in the region’s more traditional style and those made according to more ancestral styles. And his still wines are delightful. Pells is simply wonderful.

Soon we will talk to Agustí Torelló Roca about everything he likes when it comes to making wine.

Rodri Méndez and what we call “author’s wines”

I love Rodri Mendez. Well, I love his wines, OK? I was recently talking with my good friend Beti about wines (what else) and we arrived to the topic that in some wine regions in Spain they call “author wine”. There are wineries producing a young red wine, then one with a bit of ageing in oak, then the Crianza, the Reserva and the Gran Reserva. At the top of this pyramid there is still another wine that many wineries call an “author’s wine” and in some cases it is just an excuse for charging you with more dollars for yet another wine. Yes, this one is more special than the others, coming either from a particular plot, a particular blend or just producing a handful of bottles. But its author is the same as the other wines, so that naming lacks a bit of content for me.

In our conversation we commented that an “author’s wine” must be a wine you refer to by the name of its producer, because he is the one producing this wine. Then you add the name of the wine, something as you do when buying a book: ‘Hey, do you have Moby Dick? Herman Melville’s book?’ Same here: ‘I would like to have a Rodri Mendez’s wine. Do you have O Raio da Vella?’ And that’s where we got to talk about “authors.” I also brought up this topic with a group of friends and it was pretty cool. Friends I have lunch, dinner or tastings with, who have more or less this same criteria. Of course, none of them, not even me, refuse to drink one of those wines I was talking about at the beginning, but at least in my case, my preferences go in the direction of drinking a wine whose producer I know.

These steps took me to these lines. I think I have already commented on this issue on some occasion, so now we will go a bit deeper on it. For the record, to identify which authors or producers I favor, the most important thing is having tasted many wines and many vintages. If not, there is not a body of work to choose from. It is not worth saying that this producer is your favorite because that 2010 that you tried the last New Year’s Eve was fabulous. Same thing if you have only taste eight or ten of his wines in a tasting (well yes, I do tastings with more than six wines). I require to have at least tasted everything or almost everything they do and also several vintages of almost each wine they do.

Under that premise, and speaking exclusively of Spanish producers, I have created a somewhat special podium. The first place is occupied ex aequo by three winemakers. We have already spoken about Ricard Pasanau and also conducted an interview with him in my other website www.miamigoelvino.com. Ricard is a great producer from Priorat whose wines have fascinated me for almost twenty years. Finca La Planeta is the wine I have most tasted, practically every vintage except perhaps one or two, but it is still a work in progress. Everything I’ve tasted of El Vell Coster is a luxury, as well as Los Torrents, with just seven years of history, or the incredible Les Myriams/Dànae, whose 1998 is one of the best white wines I’ve ever tasted. La Morera de Montsant has mythical vintages, such as 2003, 2006 or 2012, and Ceps Nous is a blast when it is made without oak ageing, such as 2017.

David Sampedro shares that first place of my podium. Everything I have tried of his work also drives me nuts. All of his Rioja’s Phinca reds are frankly good; his whites Rías Baixas, especially the one aged in oak for two years, Costa de Santa Mariña, is a wonderful wine. Phinca Durmiente, the Rufete Blanco of the Sierra de Salamanca is amazing. The Rioja whites are unbelievable; I’m dying for them. Thousand Mils is a great wine and Phinca La Revilla, well; there are no words to express the way this wine makes me feel. And then David shows up with an unlabeled bottle of a white wine that he is doing as an experiment and I would buy all the bottles he would make of this wine. No questions asked.

Finally, and the reason for writing these lines today, the third person sharing the first place of my particular podium is Rodri Méndez. I have tried many of his wines and also many vintages. Rodri makes wine in Forjas del Salnés, a winery located in Rías Baixas where he produces different labels: Goliardo is a series of red single-varietal wines elaborated with native varieties (Espadeiro, Loureiro, Caíño). Using Albariño, there is a white Goliardo called A Telleira, and then we also have Leirana Albariño, Genoveva, María Luisa Lázaro, Cos PésA Escusa, among others.

Under his own name on the label (Rodrigo Méndez and also Rodrigo Méndez Bodegas y Viñedos) he produces Cíes (white and red), O Santo Do Mar (white and red), O Raio da Vella (white and red), Tras da Canda(white and red) and also Bastiónde la Luna and Sálvora, all of them in Rías Baixas.

El Barrero is a red wine made in El Bierzo using Pinot Noir and Mencía. Then, along with Raúl Pérez, he also produces As Covas in Rías Baixas, a fabulous and rather special single-varietal Pinot Noir.

Rodri produces many more things, but for the sake of this article, the mentioned wines will be enough. What is of interest here, at least to me, is that the wines I have tasted of his have always made me enjoy a lot. And destiny has led me to be lucky enough to get in touch with Tensi López from Vigo, who has recommended me and provided me with some of Rodri’s hidden treasures and vintages that made me discover a new world.

Giacomo told me once that I should talk about wines, express what they make me feel. Let’s see if I get it done. If I had to choose my preferred Rodri’s wines, I would start with the white wines, which on the other hand are the ones I treasure most. Among them, (though I like them all) I remain faithful to Cos Pés, a wonderful orange wine made with Albariño. Depending on the vintage, it takes more or less time of maceration with the skins but in cases it has reached up to two months. It is one of those wines that make me put my left elbow on the table (I am right-handed), lay my head on my left hand, while with the right hand, I dedicate myself to smell the glass and taste it sip by sip. Smell, sip, smell, sip, if possible without removing the nose from the glass and trying to block any external interruptions, such as sounds or conversations.

Cos Pés is a great wine that, along with David’s La Revilla, sits atop of the best orange wines in Spain.

María Luisa Lázaro is another incredible wine. Five years of aging for this Albariño that we are enjoying now the 2013 vintage. We have had to wait a long time to taste this wine, since the previous vintage was 2005. This wine is a silky experience, with an elegant body and complexity, intensity and aromatic. A fine experience.

O Raio da Vella and O Santo do Mar are also wonderful Albariños with a limited production. The best buy whites are Leirana Albariño and Cies, wines that even though they are very affordable, they will make you enjoy a lot. Rodri, incidentally, is the guilty part of my beginning to enjoy Albariño wines, since virtually everything I had tried before, save for a few exceptions, smelled of pineapple juice, and that’s something I cannot stand.

Among Rodri’s red wines, I will settle with El Barredo and As Covas. I enjoyed a bottle of As Covas 2017 with Giacomo this last Christmas that was amazing. I have enjoyed 2010, 2013 and 2015 of El Barredo. Goliardo are also another wonder, with a very cool rustic character. The Caíño is brutal, with 2010, 2014 and another unidentified under my belt. I have also tasted Espadeiro 2009, 2010 and 2014. Another beautiful wine.

Because all these wines and vintages, I consider David, Ricard and Rodri (in no particular order) my favorite Spanish authors. I always know that a wine of theirs is going to be a sensorial pleasure and also, what the hell, very enjoyable. That’s the reason we drink wine: to share and enjoy them.

Before wrapping up these lines, I also want to name other wine authors that I like very much, though unfortunately I have not yet been able to try many labels or many vintages. As I said, this is a marathon, not a sprint. I do not consider these authors of a lower than the previous ones, but I have not tried as many of his wines as of the three mentioned above. I have an enormous respect for their work.

In the second echelon of my podium, also ex aequo, I have Sara Pérez, Melanie Hickman, Javier Arizcuren, Orly Lumbreras, Daniel Ramos, Teo Legido, Raúl Pérez, Juan Piqueras and Pepe Mendoza. And I don’t want to forget Juanjo Moreno.

The third place on my podium would be for those of whom I have tried around five or six wines but who have a style that I like very much. Here there are many more authors than in the two previous places. Any of them could be higher, there is only one reason for this place: I have not tried enough of their wines yet. I intend to do so. Since this category is open for many producers, I will only mention a few whose wines made me experience a lot of emotions: Laura Lorenzo, Germán Blanco, Marcial Dorado, Rafa López, Alberto Nanclares, José Crusat, Rubén Salamanca, Goyo García Viadero, Pepe Raventós, René Barbier, Juan Carlos Sancha, among others.

All of them are people who give me the required guarantees to order a wine that I haven’t tasted beforehand. Just because they are all authors of great wines, or if you prefer, authors of wines that have made me and will make me enjoy the experience of drinking and sharing them. Because there is a source from which a little happiness comes, and that is to share their wines with my family and my friends.

Las Galgas 2019

Las Galgas 2019

Bodega La Bovila. Castellanos de Zapardiel, Ávila.
Winemaker: Teo Legido.

Paraje Los Majuelos, in the wine region of Madrigal de las Altas Torres. Las Galgas is a 0.95-hectare vineyard with 900 vines. Harvest was September 9th, 2019. Fermentation was done using 10% of stems. Six days of maceration on the skins. 12-month ageing in an Inox tank. The total production of this vintage is 500 bottles.

Verdejo 100%. Organic and biodynamic agriculture.

Teo Legido is member of the association Le Renaissance des Appellations.

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