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Whats is that thing of intervention in wine?

Many times we hear that a wine is made with “the least possible intervention”. We hear this saying from some producers and also from some fans or wine lovers when they complain that their wine has “a lot of intervention.” What is this “intervention” thing anyway? Sometimes it seems to be a great unknown.

First of all, we must start from the basic concept that wine is a drink made by human beings. Without intervention of whoever is making the wine, there is no wine. Nature does not make wine, Nature makes grapes. This means that the wine needs the intervention of a person to exist. Once this is laid down, we can talk about so many things. Since there are many aspects in which a person can intervene when making wine, today we will only talk about a couple of them because otherwise this conversation would take a long time. Though surely we will talk about more than two topics. There is a lot of ways we can intervene in the wine.

We already talked about the use of wood, and that is an aspect in which the intervention can be absolute, to the point of completely changing a wine. To begin with, it is not the same using French, American, Slavonian or Hungarian oak, to name a few. As for oak of French origin, for example, there are several forests where different styles of oak come from producing different styles of barrel. You can also use chestnut or acacia wood. The latter, for example, is a very neutral wood that has no contribution to wine, especially if not toasted. Speaking of toasting the barrel, there are different types of toast levels and the higher the level of toasting the more aggressive the final result will be.

The container we will use for wine aging also has a great influence. There is big difference between a traditional 225-liter barrel and a 2,000-liter barrel. In many cases we see that different regions favor a type of barrel. It is rare to find non 225-liter barrels in Rioja or Ribera del Duero, and it is rare to find this same type of barrel in Barolo or Valpolicella in Italy, where the common practice is using barrels of 10, 20 or 30 hectoliters.

The influence of the vintages a barrel has been used, as in the previous case, is accentuated with its capacity. A first-year-of-use 225-liter barrel has a radically different contribution than the same barrel five vintages down the road. Moreover, it also influences the level of toasting, whether it is light, medium or high.

In each of these cases, and mixing every possibility, the outcome will be completely different and the difference will come from the choice we make in each of those aspects.

Another issue we can discuss is the use of autochthonous yeasts or selected yeasts. This is an area in which intervention on wine has a tremendous influence. Yeasts are microorganisms living on the skin of the grape and when they are mixed with the must, they feed on the sugar it contains. The result of this action is the transformation of said sugar into alcohol and a clear contribution to the flavor that the resulting wine will have. This process is called alcoholic fermentation and usually starts when there is a small amount of must and its temperature favors the beginning of this process. The winemaker can intervene in this by modifying the temperature of the must. Raising the temperature favors the beginning of the fermentation and lowering the temperature slows it down, stops it or even prevents it to start.

The autochthonous yeasts are those living in the grape skin and in the vineyard from which they come and that we can also find them living in the winery and in the equipment used to work with the grapes. We might say they are the best yeasts to make the fermentation because they are the ones belonging to the grape and the vineyard, though it is true that in the vineyard we can also find yeasts that are not always suitable for our wine. Many producers, especially those who work in organic, biodynamic and/or natural principles, prefer to use the autochthonous yeasts (also called native or wild yeasts) because they are going to endow the wine with the particularities of the variety, vineyard, etc.

Normally, a small cellar or a cellar with a limited production works with the autochthonous yeasts, which in general are the ones that give the wine its character, as we have seen above. A bigger winery, or a winery holding different plots distributed over the area and not necessarily adjacent one to the other, will otherwise work differently to the first one. It is possible that the winemaker prefers the yeasts of one of the plots, or that he simply prefers to use a yeast created in a laboratory that better adapts to the style he is looking for and that homogenizes the final wine. The first case, the one of the small winery, is about employing autochthonous yeasts for the alcoholic fermentation, which is also called spontaneous. The case of the large winery is the example of selected yeasts that, when poured into the must deposit, start the alcoholic fermentation in a process known as inoculated fermentation. In this case, the final result will be the one that this selected yeast, which has been created in a laboratory, exercises on the wine.

It may seem a bit strange, that a laboratory yeast can change a wine, but as for everything in this life, what is written is proof of everything and when laboratories sell their products, they indicate the benefits of each yeast in their catalogs. As an example, there is a laboratory yeast whose name is BM45 and whose influence in wine is “contributing to greater acidity, less astringency and better body in the mouth. It brings aromas of jams, rose petals and liqueur cherry, with notes of sweet spices, licorice and cedar.” According to this laboratory, this yeast is “indicated for the Sangiovese grape and is perfect for creating wines with a traditional Italian style.” As we can see, a perfect tasting note of a wine made only on what the used yeast provides and not what we find in the vineyard.

I think that after reading this description we can realize that by using a particular yeast we are exercising such an intervention on the wine that there was nothing left of what was originally in the vineyard. We can also see why there are so many cold climates that offer white wines with aromas of tropical fruits.

Another day we will talk about how we can intervene in wine through our actions in the vineyard, for today is already late.

The Paella Club, total gastronomic experience in Barcelona

On this website I always talk about the wines that I like. For me it is important that when you read the byproduct of my brainy stuff you can appreciate the wine, the cellar or the person whom I’m speaking about are of my liking, because you can also appreciate when there is no passion in what I write. That’s why I only write about what I like. If I do not like a wine or a cellar, I prefer not to write about them at all.

I do not have advertising on this website either. However, today I am going to make some advertising but I hope that you as my faithful reader will indulge me, as I am going to talk about my brother Asier (Alex in his company) and about the business he has created right from scratch. Obviously, it has to do with wine, though it is not his first calling.

The Paella Club is located on Doctor Dou 5, 08001 Barcelona, just behind the Boquería Market on Las Ramblas. The site is more than a cooking school where you go to learn how to make paella, as you can surely tell by its name, and then enjoy it in the same place. Around the paella, a completely gastronomic experience is created that begins as soon as you enter the premises with a welcome glass of cava. From then on, it is all about enjoying the food in an environment in which Alex my brother and Alex the cook give all their best effort to offer us this experience. There are three different experiences, depending on the time you want to be there and what you want to eat and drink. The paella is always the base and around it you will enjoy some tapas, escalibada, pan con tomate, good Penedès and Priorat wines, desserts, coffee, etc. There are four daily sessions and you can go in groups from one person to groups of up to 16 people, having also the possibility of hiring the whole premises for a private party. Each session can be arranged to be conducted either in Spanish, Catalan or English. Everything according to your needs.

The paellas are cooked by pairs, whether they are two people who go together or separately. When the group is large, let’s say 10 people from different groups coming together, each pair makes a different paella so that when they finish cooking and it is time to sit at the table to enjoy the result of the cooking, you can try all the different paellas that have been made: vegetable, meat, chicken, seafood, etc.

The interaction between the participants, even if they did not know each other beforehand, is always cherished by both Alexes. And of course, eating some delicious paellas (I’ve been there twice already, so I know what I’m talking about) accompanied by luscious white and red wines from Catalonia always helps fraternizing and sometimes making everlasting friendships with people from around the globe. It is very usual to share your paella with fellows from other EU countries, USA, China or Japan, just to name a few.

I highly recommend the experience of going to The Paella Club and let yourself be led by the two Alexes. I’m sure you won’t regret experience this.

Get in touch with them at:

Web: www.thepaellaclub.com

Facebook: The Paella Club

Instagram: The Paella Club

And if you tell them that I have recommended you to go, I’m sure they’ll offer you a glass of some great Priorat wine.

Of wood and natural wines

The other day I tasted a wine whose back label description said it showed notes of ripe fruit and new wood. As promised, once you tasted the wine the wood was so much prominent in the nose and also in the mouth. Some time ago I started to develop more passion for white and orange wines over the red wines, since it seems to me that the first two styles have a wider field of play and offer many more possibilities of vinification rather than the latter. Of those, white and orange wines, I like them to go through some wood ageing, but the good thing is that this wood is in most of the cases a used barrel and/or above all, vessels of large capacity, barrels of twenty or thirty hectoliters. For me this makes a huge difference over red wines.

My thinking is that wood should be a container that provides oxygen and helps ageing the wine. The wood must accompany the wine in its journey through life, not being a big part of what we will finally find inside the glass. I do not like that you can taste wood in the wine or that it gives you a sensation of being able to chew it. When the wine smells and tastes like wood, I do not enjoy my glass. And as the saying goes, life is too short to drink wine that does not make you enjoy.

I have been fortunate to visit wineries in Barolo and Valpolicella and the winemaking work they do with large used barrels seems to me excellent. As an example, Tommasi Viticoltori produces an Amarone Classico and an Amarone Riserva. Both of them stay at least a three-year ageing period in these big barrels. The difference is that the Riserva spends a fourth year in 225-liter barrels, which are otherwise in their third use. Thus, the contribution of wood to these wines is not the same as in other places where a wine with two or three years of ageing has gone through French barrels of 225 liters in their first or second use at most. Or a mixture of both. This is a winemaking style that has many followers, both in number of wineries and in the number of loyal customers, but I like to find different things in my glass. This is why I prefer orange or white wines, whether they have been fermented/aged in barrels or not. In these cases, the wines have a tannic structure that goes very well, taking into account that there are cases of orange wines with three years or more of ageing in wood. To find red wines without this marked wood, we have to look for a lot, because for me there is too much of that “wine has notes of new wood”. I Clivi in the Italian Collio produces a Merlot with no wood whatsoever and it is indeed a luscious wine.

If I ever make wine, my philosophy will be that the wood must accompany the wine only when necessary and to help to its ageing, not that it becomes part of the wine. Obviously,  a winery needs to buy barrels to replace those that deteriorate with the use and the passage of time but you can maintain a good balance between the used and new barrels so that the number of new barrels at the time of making a wine is less than the used barrels. In the end, I think that the wine should smell and taste like fruit, the rest is interventionism. Although this thing of interventionism is a topic for another day.

And all this came up to my mind reading an opinion about natural wines. They are wines that are still publicly insulted with the argument that some producers use the excuse that they make natural wine to cover defects in the making of their wines. This does not stop being something absurd so much on the part of the elaborador as on the part of those who criticize it. No one says that a traditional wine is poorly made because the machine that makes PING is poorly calibrated. Speaking recently with a winemaker, we agreed that the important thing is that you have to work well in the vineyard, work well in the cellar and maintain clean facilities, among other things. This will be more important than how many milligrams of sulfites you put in the wine, be it either 10, 20, 30 or 180. And we can find badly elaborated wines both among those who make natural wines and those who make traditional or technological wines. Making wines from the latter kind is not a guarantee that the wine is good or we will like it, no matter how many controls and tests are done. I think that in the end, what counts when the winegrower goes to the vineyard is the grape and not the tests outcome.

This past winter I have organized several wine tastings and most of the wines we tasted were natural wines, either red, white or orange. And with one exception, it was very difficult to know which wine was natural and which one was not. They were very well elaborated wines. You could like it or not, but you could not say that they were poorly made wines. Maybe it’s time to have less prejudices when it comes to tasting wines. And above all, you have to taste wine blindly. This is a big challenge. Not a challenge to our knowledge about wine, but to be able to decide if we like a wine by what we perceive in the nose and mouth and especially for what we enjoy tasting it, not because of what we read in the label.

In the end it’s about finding the balance: not just wine made under one style or the other. There is so much wine to taste and enjoy…

Struggling Vines, a life journey through life

The day woke up cloudy and rainy, the weather you might expect in late winter on a Sunday morning beneath the slopes of Sierra Cantabria in Rioja Alavesa, some hilltops covered in snow; the wind was noticeable touring around the vineyards. You could point your nose towards it and feel it in both ears. Not an easy morning, but having the chance to walk around with Melanie Hickman made the weather bearable. We were strolling over Hapa’s vineyard, from its highest point slowly going down till we reached the horses’ shack. We were talking about Melanie’s life journey and how she ended up here in a tiny village in Rioja Alavesa. It has been a long journey, from her hometown Prospect, Ohio (population 1,000) in the United States, and then spending most of her adult life in the Hawaiian Islands where she worked for many years in the corporate world, which in her words “Hawaii fed her soul but the corporate world did not”.

Melanie is a very positive person, one of those who are always happy and smiling. One day she decided it was time for her to build a new life on the opposite side of the world leaving behind family and friends. Rioja Alavesa is the place her new life started back in 2011, though that’s a story for another day.

Hapa’s vineyard is a very special piece of land for her. She named the vineyard after the American Bulldog she adopted when she was living in Hawaii that never made it to see her new mission in life. This is a west-facing vineyard located in the outskirts of small-town Elvillar, Álava, with an altitude of 646 meters and a total of 2.9 hectares of white chalky limestone soil planted in 1967 with Tempranillo and Viura. An Old Roman road runs parallel to the vineyard. She fell in love with it the first moment she laid her eyes (and feet) on it. She knew she wanted to make wine with the grapes growing there, but the previous owner was not selling. Melanie had to wait to make her dreams come true. She was already married to Spanish winemaker, David Sampedro, and helping him running their boutique winery Bodegas Bhilar. She was entertaining thoughts about making her own wine. WSET-certified as she was, it was time for her to transition to winemaking. This time on her own, not just as sidekick to David. Hapa’s vineyard turned out to be the place she wanted, as she explained to me, she felt deeply connected to this particular vineyard. Nevertheless, back then in 2012 it was not yet her time. Some years later, opportunity knocked on her door, as it happens to those who stay on the path of pursuing their dreams. The vineyard was finally for sale. It was time to make one of those decisions that mark one’s life: she had to decide whether to pursue her dreams and risk investing all her life savings in that piece of land. And she went for it.

As a person connected to nature, animals and who shares David’s philosophy, she works this vineyard following biodynamic methods. They plough the land with the help of a horse and no machinery whatsoever is used. Out of this vineyard come two wines: Phinca Hapa Blanco and Phinca Hapa Tinto. She also produces another red wine, Phinca San Julián from the homonymous vineyard. San Julián is a small 0.6-hectare vineyard located on a steeply graded hill. It is a very secluded plot, away from the road and prying eyes. If you don’t know where to look, you will never find it. Pure limestone soils and an east-facing orientation keep the vineyard fresh and cool.

These are the two vineyards she works for her three wines. She is part of Bodegas Bhilar along with David, but these three wines come to the market under a label of their own: Struggling Vines.

Phinca Hapa Blanco is the white wine is 82% Viura, 12% Garnacha Blanca and 6% Malvasía. The grapes ferment with the skins in a 2,000-liter concrete vat for over two months. The wine is then pressed and placed in 600-liter French foudres for one year. In 2016, she produced 2,300 bottles.

Phinca Hapa Tinto is the red wine. A blend of 94% Tempranillo and 6% Graciano. Full clusters are fermented in concrete vats with indigenous yeasts. Following fermentation, the wine is pressed and matured in 500-liter French oak barrels for one year. In 2016, she produced 7,332 bottles.

Phinca San Julián is a blend of 77% Tempranillo, 14% Graciano, 2% Garnacha and 7% Viura. The grapes are hand selected and placed in open top barrels with the use of 40% full cluster. The wine is foot crushed and fermented without the addition of yeasts. It matures in 225-liter French barriques for one year. In 2016, she produced 960 bottles.

The production of these wines is the same: hand-harvest in 10-kg cases following a rigorous selection in the vineyard. A small amount of sulphur is only added prior to bottling.

I had the opportunity to taste the three wines and instantly fell in love with them. Melanie always loved David’s style of making white wines, which were, unbeknownst to them ‘Orange Wines’. They didn’t know the term ‘Orange wine’ until a visit to present their wines in NYC in 2014 and whilst David was explaining how he crafts one of his white wines, a sommelier told them they are making ‘Orange Wines’. After the appointment they did a google search to understand the meaning. Melanie wanted to take this one step further and make her Hapa wine with extended skin contact beyond fermentation. Hence, the two months of maceration that makes tasting this wine a silky experience. The wine is very fine and elegant, with barely a noticeable touch of wood and with a structure and tannins I simply love. Hapa red is also a very nice wine, well-balanced with the use of concrete vats and big barrels that make the wine show a distinct and particular soul that you can just adore. Finally, in a glass of San Julián you can discover the soil it comes from, the minerality and the spirit of a biodynamic wine.

Melanie’s wines are really good wines and also hard to find, due to the limited production that is mostly exported. But more importantly, they reflect the passion and drive of a person who crossed half of the world pursuing her dreams, not only about winemaking but about finding a new life.

Soon we will talk to Melanie Hickman about her wines and winemaking philosophy.

Pepe Raventós: “Natural wines are here to stay.”

We recently talked about the wines Pepe Raventós is doing on his personal project based in the garage of his Catalonian masia Mas del Serral in the Penedès: Vinos Naturales by Pepe Raventós. Today we will talk with him about this project and his passion for biodynamic viticulture.

Good morning, Pepe, and thank you so much for your collaboration. You have always been linked to wine and cava through the Raventós family winery. What made you decide to start a project as personal as Vinos Naturales by Pepe Raventós?

Four years ago, my passion for innovating constantly led me to start making natural wines vinified in my garage. During my years of transition between New York and San Sadurní and, as the works of rebuilding the old Masia to make it the home of my family continued, I began to experiment with making wine as pure as possible. I wanted to recover the traditional Penedesian farmhouse and create in it authentic and experimental wines.

What are the hallmarks of Vinos Naturales by Pepe Raventós?

Purity, sincerity, courage and rigor. Rigor in the vineyard, courage to show what Earth is giving back without makeup, sincerity in the truest expression of our varieties, our soils and our climate. Purity by the minimum intervention we employ.

Two still wines (single varietals Xarel·lo and Bastard Negre) and an ancestral sparkling wine (Xarel·lo). Why these three wines?

I wanted to recover the old traditional winemaking style. Learn from our ancestors, let nature speak for itself. I experimented with amphorae, concrete and skin contact and obviously the ancestral method, which is the way old sparkling wines were produced, with minimal intervention but with varieties that we know well and are deeply rooted in our culture and our area.

The Xarel·lo grape allows us to experiment and innovate with different types of containers: ceramic, fudre, bottle…

The Bastard Negre, a variety almost lost that we are trying to recover on the farm, allows us to experiment with skin contact.

What does the Xarel·lo offer to work with in these two styles?

The Xarel·lo is our native variety by excellence of the area and the one that best adapts to our Mediterranean climate. It is a very austere variety, which shows all the prominence of the soil, an almost unique soil that transmits the great expression to all our wines.

How does the Bastard Negre function and why did you decide to do a single varietal with it?

The Bastard Negre is the variety that had historically been planted on the farm; we thought it was Monastrell and from the latest microsatellite analyzes (DNA), we discovered that it was synonymous of Morastel, Monastrell Verdadero or Monastrell Menudo, among other names. Of this variety of uncertain origin, the biggest part of its production is in Rioja and Navarra, but we find this variety throughout the Mediterranean. Our BN vineyard was planted in 1974 and the plant material is a mass selection of the farm.

It is a very interesting variety that maintains very good acidity and low pH, with many facets that allows us to innovate and experiment under different winemaking styles.

In Can Sumoi, a Raventós property, you also elaborate organic white wines. What is the difference between the wines of each project?

We can say that Raventos i Blanc only produces sparkling wines. In fact, it is the only winery in the area producing only sparkling. We have acquired an estate to produce still wines; the farm is Can Sumoi, in the Bajo Penedès; an estate located 600 meters above sea level, with autochthonous varieties and with a unique soil origin.

It all started in 2012. This year marked a before and after in the family Raventós i Blanc; we put aside the Cava appellation of origin to immerse ourselves in a new dream for our sparkling wines: Conca del Riu Anoia. That’s where our willingness to find an origin for our still wines came from. After years of transition and search, our viticultural passion finally took us to the Can Sumoi farm, to elaborate natural wines with an identity and accompany them on their lifespan obtaining a faithful reflection of the land where they are born: the Serra de l’Home.

Vinos Naturales by Pepe Raventós follows the principles of biodynamic viticulture. Why is this so appealing to you?

Live it day by day! Living in the farm, we learn every day from it, and this makes the biodynamic viticulture we apply going beyond following the Demeter principles to obtain a certificate. The outcome is exciting. Only after you have spent time practicing this type of viticulture you are able to see the life that it generates, in the soil, in the plants, in the animals, then you do realize its importance. The natural requires the natural. In the farm, everything we take out of the land, we return it. There is an everlasting balance.

How is biodynamics reflected in your wines?

Biodynamics is almost a philosophy of life; it seeks a better balance of the global ecosystem; and consequently, it improves the quality of the wine and its personality. For sure the wines have more life, more energy.

How is working in the field with a horse instead of modern machinery?

It is wonderful. Walking through lanes with Bru, Nora or Françoise, to feel the soil, the vineyards, getting to know them one by one, taking care of not damaging them, pampering them after almost 80 years of life. It is listening to the sound of nature, no interference whatsoever.

The first vintage was 2015 for dry wines and 2014 for ancestral wines. What has been the evolution from 2015 to 2016? How is 2017 looking like?

We continue experimenting and innovating. This is a miniproject in which we allow ourselves to take maximum risks. For example, we did the Xarel·lo 2015 with concrete vats and terracotta vessels. In 2016, we used oak fudres and terracotta vessels. Each container gives us something new, and that is the constant discovery that captivates us and makes us continue to grow.

You present your wines at various international fairs such as the Raw Wine in London and New York. How does the public accept your style of wine?

The public is increasingly interested in natural wines, it is more than a fashion, it is something that has come to stay. And this is just the beginning. People are willing to try everything presented to them, much more if it is organic or biodynamic. Our natural wines are not radical at all and the two vintages we have brought to the market have enchanted us.

Is there a difference with the acceptance of your wines in Spain? Does the public associate them somehow to Raventós cava?

With this project we are going step by step. The first vintages were all sold almost outside Spain, I cannot assess how the Spanish public has received these wines. But sales reflect a good acceptance.

Is natural wine better understood by the public nowadays?

Everywhere there are experts and everywhere there are people who want to learn. But perhaps is in countries like France or Germany, where its boom started earlier, and in markets like New York, where natural wines are present for years now and there are many restaurants with ample and important natural wines only wine lists.

Why do natural wines have a bad name in Spain?

Do they have a bad reputation? I think that we have great natural wines producers. If they have a bad name, this will change.

The production of your three wines is very limited. Do you have plans to increase it or will you keep it in those low numbers?

No, as I said this is an experimental project, we could even say that it serves as a relax project. My main projects are Raventós i Blanc and Can Sumoi.

Will we see any new variety incorporated to your project?

Why not? As long as it is an autochthonous variety, but since there is nothing like the Xarel·lo and the Bastard gives us so much versatility, so… Let’s leave some mystery, ok?

What style of wine do you like to drink when you are not working?

Lately I am enjoying so much natural wines.

Thank you so much, Pepe!!

Pequenos Rebentos, Orange Wine discovery in Portugal

As my faithful reader, you know that I am always searching for new different wines; wines that make me vibrate when drinking them. I love orange wines, and each passing day I like better natural and biodynamic wines, though I’m not a Taliban of them and I drink many other things vinified the traditional way with sulfites without my skin turning red. However, I do not enjoy that much too radical or extreme wines. I like well-made wines, with a good balance and a good structure, though I know this a rather very general description.

You also know that I really love the wines of Friuli in Italy and the area of Goriška Brda in Slovenia. There is where I found my paradise, both orange and dry white wines that elevate me to the highest levels of satisfaction. And let’s not forget about their red and sparkling wines. I always tell my friend Richard that I could spend the rest of my days drinking only the wines from these two areas.

Nevertheless, we must continue discovering new horizons, looking for new goals and trying new wines. Sometimes, though, wine knocks on your door. Or mine, to be more precise. This is what happened to me recently with a Portuguese producer from the Vinho Verde region. It turns out that this producer is making an orange wine and he offered me the opportunity to enjoy it, and of course, who am I to say no to an orange wine from Portugal?

Márcio Lopes is this producer. He began his career working with maestro Anselmo Mendes in Melgaço (a sub-region of Vinho Verde located in the north of Portugal) with the Alvarinho and later he traveled to Australia. Since his return in 2010, Márcio works in two Portuguese regions where he has his own projects: Pequenos Rebentos in Vinho Verde and Proibido, Permitido and Anel in the Duero. Since 2017, Márcio has another project in the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia (Spain) that has just started and whose wines are being aged in oak barrels.

In the Vinho Verde region, Márcio works with Alvarinho and Trajadura varieties within the Monção and Melgaço sub regions. In 2016, he started working with the varieties Loureiro, typical of Lima Valley, and Avesso, in the Tâmega Valley. He also makes red wine with the varieties Cainho Tinto, Pedral and Alvarelhao (Brancellao). The vineyards in Melgaço are over 80 years old and they are trained under the pergola system. In Azal, where the vines are over 90 years old, they are trained according to the “Vinha de enforcado” system, the oldest viticulture system in the region, where the vines can reach 8 meters high. This is where Márcio has used amphora for the first time to age his wines and he is expecting to release his first vintage to the market this same year. Currently, he has 5 hectares of vineyards that he is working organically. In addition, this is where he is trying to recover very old vineyards.

The Proibido and Anel wines are elaborated in the Douro and the come from vines between 40 and 80 years old. In this region, Márcio is always looking for varieties that have been long abandoned, trying to make them live again and producing new different wines. Here he is working with the varieties Donzelinho Tinto, Rufete, Bastardo, Mourisco, Amor nao me deixes and Souson among others for Proibido Tinto, and Rabigato, Verdelho, Terrantez (Folgazão), Codega, Dona Branca for Permitido Branco. Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca are the varieties used to make Anel.

As Márcio says, working in the Douro, in Vila Nova de Foz Côa, near the border with Spain, is very hard and everything is done by hand and with the help of a horse. Nothing else.

Another particularity of Márcio is that he makes just very few bottles of each label. The Vinhos Verdes are the ones with the highest number of bottles per vintage, currently 55,000 bottles per year, while in Douro he makes about 15,000 bottles.

And we were talking about his orange wine. It is made in Vinho Verde and is called Pequenos Rebentos À Moda Antiga, of which I have enjoyed so much the current 2016 vintage. It is a wine made with Alvarinho grapes 40%, Avesso 30% and Arinto 30%, from a granitic soil vineyard located in Amarante. The must fermented and then macerates on the skins for about six days, and then it ages on its lees for nine months in used oak barrels.

When tasting it, this wine answers to the criteria I mentioned in the first paragraph. It is a very well made wine in which the skins are just barely noticed, just the way I like it. It is very limpid and fine, a light touch of white stone fruit, silky tannins and not very marked, with a good acidity and an ample body in the mouth. In short, a wine that is does not show the vinification process and would make you think is a very fine Vinho Verde wine.

In Márcio’s opinion, this wine has “a strong varietal character, rustic and fresh, with the minerality that I appreciate in these varieties, reflecting the ancient taste. I like to experiment and experiences must be shared.”

Pequenos Rebentos À Moda Antiga will always be a special edition, bottled in a limited amount of bottles (1,265 in 2016) provided that the quality will match the requirements.

Soon we will talk with Márcio Lopes about his wines and his winemaking philosophy.

Photos (C) Márcio Lopes

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Klinec, first growth village in Goriška Brda, Slovenia

Medana is one of those small country villages you instantly fall in love with. It is a nice place, of course, very small and in the top of a hill, as many villages in this area of Goriska Brda in Slovenia. But what drives your attention to this area is that it has almost as many great quality wineries as houses. And that’s really something.

Simona and Aleks Klinec are the owners of one of these wineries that also include a bed and breakfast and a restaurant. It all makes a great experience, as besides the magnificent views from the terrace where you can appreciate the Italian Collio all the way to the Adriatic Sea, you can comfortably sleep in location before or after doing a very special wine tasting with them.

Medana is located right in front of San Floriano di Collio (Italy), barely separated by a few kilometers. In the front, the Adriatic Sea is not far away from here, barely 22 kilometers in a straight line, and in the back, we see the Pre-Julian Alps. The soil in the vineyards is the typical limestone marl originated in the Pleistocene and rich in marine sediment known as Opoka (Ponca in Italian).

Medana is also one of the premier areas in Slovenia for producing quality wine. Back in 1787, during the reign of Maria Theresa, archduchess of Austria and queen of Hungary and Bohemia, wife and empress of the Holy Roman emperor Francis I, a new Cru classification was created ranking the best winemaking places. In a range from I to VIIII, Medana was classified as I, the equivalent of a Grand Cru. The label of their wines show in the background the document of this classification.

Aleks’ philosophy in the vineyard and in the winery is completely organic. All he does is respecting Nature and the true character of his wines. He barely uses sulphites, and only so before bottling to make the wine ready for the long distance trip to its final destiny, as a big part of his production is sold overseas.

Aleks produces five white wines and two red wines. Before you ask me, yes, they are simply wonderful. All of them. The whites are all macerated on the skins. Four of them are single varietals and one is a blend. Did I say wonderful wines? Ok, they are amazing. The two reds are blends based on Merlot.

My visit started very seriously. Aleks asked me to sit at a table in the restaurant and he brought some homemade prosciutto and cheese. Then he brought two bottles, went away, brought two more. In the meantime I was appreciating the sunset, which was very nice as it was the first day we could see the sky and not only clouds and rain and snow. It was cold anyway, but it was a beautiful peaceful sunset.

We started with the Rebula 2014. In Goriška Brda/Collio I still haven’t found a wine producer doing anything other than a masterpiece with this variety and Aleks is another example of this. Great wine indeed. It was followed by Jakot 2014, the local Friulano variety that since 2007 cannot be called Tokaj Friulano because of the legal dispute with the Hungarians for the use of the term Tokaj. Therefore, many producers use the work Tokaj written the other way around. Another great wine followed, this time the Malvazija 2014. A variety that expresses its best character in the Istria region, including parts of Slovenia, Italy and Croatia. The fourth white single varietal wine was an amazing Pinot Grigio. As I go tasting this variety I am enjoying more and more the wines produced with it. Aleks’ wine is simply amazing. It was the Gardelin 2013, as he did not produce thsi wine in 2014.

Now Aleks opened his most special wine. We might say it is a wine he does not produce every year, or only when the grapes are the right ones. Rather than that, in the last 12 years he has only produced this wine twice. Ortodox 2006 is a blend of Verduzzo, Rebula, Malvazija and Friulano. Aleks only has a small quantity of Verduzzo vines, which is the base of this wine. When the vintage is not that good, he keeps the wine for the next and so on until he blends it with the other grapes. The following vintage he produced the Ortodox was 2013. Nothing ever since.

After sampling the white wines in the restaurant, we went down to the cellar. Aleks has big botti for ageing the wines and more importantly, the wood is Acacia and not oak. The white wines stay there for three years before being bottled. We sampled the white wines still in the wood from the 2015 and 2016 vintages, and even a few samples of the 2017. Then in a nearby room, we enjoyed, and enjoyed is a word that barely describes what happened, his red wines. Both red wines are Merlot 60%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30% and Cabernet Franc 10%. We enjoyed first Quela 2011, which was really a great wine, with three years of ageing in Acacia barrels. But the true expression of the Merlot in this area is Mora 2009. Outstanding wine with two more years of ageing in wood.

Aleks is an amazing host. He was very kind, very instructive and he told so many tales that made my visit a great experience. He even managed to get that beautiful sunset as welcome while I was waiting for him. Absolutely amazing.

Soon we will talk to Aleks Klinec about his wines and his winemaking philosophy.

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Giorgio Clai and the love for Nature

Giorgio Clai. Dimitri Brezevic. Two great guys to share a glass of wine with. Sometimes, that’s all you need to enjoy life. A conversation about life, a conversation about nature, how to combine nature and life to make wine worth working with. And yes, it comes with a bit of prosciutto and cheese. And it turns into a great experience when you see through the window and outside it is snowing while inside is warm and cozy. Then is when you realize how good life is when you can share some quality time with people like them. Because that’s what life is about, isn’t it?

Ninety-minute drive under heavy rain and snow is quite a challenge. Even if it is a Saturday morning in February, the A4 highway running across the Piedmont, Veneto and Fruili Venezia-Giulia goes inside Slovenia through Koper and then it takes you to Croatia, going past its border when you still have to clear customs in a long line of cars. There are many trucks even in a weekend, and if you check on license plates, you can see trucks from countries far away from home.

As you approach your destination, roads get narrower. From two-lane highway to one-lane, then side roads, then narrower side roads. You start thinking if you missed a turn somewhere, but the navigator keeps you pointed in the right direction. When you see signs with the name of the winery, you know you are good, even if the road has become just a patch of concrete through the countryside with trees all around you.

Clai Wines sits there, in the top of a small hill or better said, with views to vineyards extending below the building, forming small terraces down into a small valley. The snow starts covering the ground, the sky ceiling gets lower and lower and you cannot see farther from 100 meters because the clouds are thick and low. Then you realize you need to go back on time for the afternoon’s event so better the snow stops soon or returning will be tricky.

Dimitri is half-French half-Croatian, but hey, nobody is perfect. He did not choose to come to this world in France. However, he is a great guy, notwithstanding. He was there welcoming us with a big smile even if the roads, the snow and the trucks had caused us to be, uhmm… a bit late. The main room was warm, which was perfect with the weather outside. And it was so great to be there at last. Not only in this day, but because we had collaborated months ago on writing the article about the winery and the wines, and then with the interview with Giorgio. Dimitri is Giorgio’s right-hand man. He started helping in the winery a few years back, then his role expanded and his significance in the winery grew. He is winemaker and a good one too.

We started talking about wines and the winery and sometime later, Giorgio arrived. It was very nice to have him with us. He is one of the most respected winemakers in Croatia, if not the most. Around the table, with some food, we opened the first bottle: Sv. Jakov 2015 Malvazija, their wonderful Malvasia Istriana I had previously enjoyed other vintages. Amazing wine, so elegant and so wonderful. The must goes through maceration on the skins for a period between two and four months, depending on the vintage, in open vats without the addition of selected yeasts and enzymes. Then the wine ages in large wooden casks of 25 hectoliters. In 2015, the production was 6,000 bottles.

After this wine, we could just go home, good as it was, but Dimitri opened a bottle of one of their red single varietal wines: Brombonero Refošk 2015, produced with local Refosco grape. Same vinification as the Malvasia and with a production of 4,000 bottles in this vintage. I never was a believer of the Refosco/Teran grape. Now I turned into a true believer. Thank you so much, Dimitri and Giorgio!

Finally, Dimitri opened a bottle of their sparkling wine PjenuŠavo Vino, elaborated with Malvasia Istriana, Chardonnay and Plavina. This wine is produced under the classical method of fermentation in the bottle and it ages for 24 months on the lees.

Oh, and we also tasted the homemade oil they produce. Amazing.

Giorgio talked about how important, how paramount is for him to make wine in a natural way, with no use of systemic products, no chemicals, no machinery, no manipulation of wine. He is proud to say he can walk through his vineyards with his grandchildren and the kids can pick up some grapes and eat them right away, no need of cleansing them with water, as they are pure clean fruit. He also believes in doing the works in the cellar and in the vineyard when they have to be done, not when they fit us better. He mentioned how many times he had slept in the cellar because some duties had to be done during the night. Now it is Dimitri’s time to do these duties and sleep in a mattress in the cellar.

The conversation and the cellar tour continued, the sky cleared and it stopped snowing. Unluckily we had to go back for our appointment for the Malvasia wine tasting in Friuli, but we made sure we would be back with more time to enjoy together. And with more wine too, both theirs and Spanish ones.

Life at its best. Thank you Dimitri, thank you Giorgio. We will meet again sometime soon in the future.

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Kmetija Štekar, life moves nice and easy in Slovenia

Rural Slovenia, a glass of wonderful Pinot Draga, some slices of homemade prosciutto with cheese, wine conversation and also, American football conversation! Imagine that! Being in small village Kojsko with Janko Štekar talking about his wines and my beloved passion American football. Isn’t it paradise? Then he says he used to pull for the Oakland Raiders, and well, uhmmm, yeah, well, I never said Janko was perfect…

Janko is a natural guy doing natural wine. His kingdom, Kmetija Štekar, is halfway between the Pre-Julian Alps and the Adriatic Sea, in Goriška Brda, a small town called Kojsko, a place so well protected from the cold jet streams coming from the north and with the help of the Burja wind coming from the East that contributes avoiding humidity when it is more important not to have it in the vineyards. Vineyards, by the way, placed in terrace and worked in organic way. Janko cuts the grass twice a year and once cut he leaves it there. In this area, rain is very strong, and the erosion it causes in the vineyards sometimes makes the ground to lose as much as 15 centimeters per year, therefore protecting the floor is necessary, not just a modern tendency.

Janko’s business is not only wine. Along with his wife Tamara they run a bed and breakfast, and as it is very common in Slovenian wineries or countryside homes, they also make their own prosciutto and ham. A room in the cellar serves as ageing place for the wonderful products they make.

As for the wine, Janko as a natural producer, as we mentioned, and he is very passionate about making wines this way. He can talk for hours about how this is the proper way of doing wine and not just doing a technological wine. He uses just a small amount of sulphites as their wines need protection when they travel overseas. Slovenia is a small country and most of his production is sold outside.

The vineyards are in front of the house; set in terraces that you can walk around, very interesting seeing the way he has to work with them. Small plots for each variety that you can easily imagine they require a hard work when harvest comes. There is a small mud road to use a small vehicle to transport the grapes to the cellar, but they are steep terraces anyway. The view from the house, especially in clear days, is something. You can see behind the snowy top of the Alps and the sea. Just an amazing view.

The cellar is rather small too. Janko uses chestnut and cherry wood barrels, no oak. Different sizes for different varieties. He has two lines of wines, a fresh line with no use of maceration on the skins and the reserve one with maceration. The maceration periods are very short, four to five days for the Malvazija, Chardonnay and Pinot Draga (Pinot Grigio), up to fifteen days for the Rebula.

After walking around the vineyards and the cellar, it was time to replenish our energy levels. Wine and prosciutto, or it was the other way around? In any case, the day was sunny and warm, so we continued our conversation round a glass of wine and some homemade prosciutto.

We opened it with two wines of the fresh line: Rebula 2016 and Belo 2016. The first one reflects perfectly the soul of this important variety in this part of the world: the Rebula or Ribolla Gialla in Italy. Non-macerated wine, you could easily drink the entire bottle while the cheese and the prosciutto lasts. Very fine wine, all natural, and so much enjoyable. We followed with the fresh white blend: Belo has a 50% of Chardonnay and the other half is split between Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon and Rebula. Both a fantastic examples of natural fresh wines.

The second part of the tasting was for the macerated wines, and believe me, Janko makes masterpieces in this. We started with the Jankot 2016. This is the local Friulano grape. As my faithful reader, you know that this variety was named Tokai Friulano in this area, but in 2007, the Hungarian wine producers sued them for the use of their name Tokaj, so they had to cease using it for their wines. Therefore, you can see Friulano in the labels, though some producers use the work Tokaj spelled the other way around: Jakot. But our hero today, Janko, only adds a letter to his name, Jankot, creating this way a nice wordplay with the word Tokaj.

The Jankot was followed by his Re Piko 2013. This is a blend of Riesling and Picolit. Yes, Riesling, you read it well. Janko has a Riesling vineyard and with it, he produces a wonderful wine macerated on the skins for 25 days. Then, Tamara showed up with a bottle of their Malvazija 2013. Fascinating wine. And every fireworks show ends up with a big bang and Janko left the big bang for the last: Pinot Draga 2011. I had already enjoyed this wine and this time it was simply amazing. This Pinot Grigio is amazingly great.

We bought some wine and packed it in the bags for going back home. Unluckily, the Rebula 2016 broke inside the bag. This had to occur, as this is very common way to bring great wine home. When I heard the noise of the broken glass inside the bag I feared the worst. Bottles broken, all content staining the clothes and all, but hey! Janko produces natural wines, did I say that? No single stain in all the clothing. Just perfect.

Soon we will talk to Janko about his wines and winemaking philosophy.

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Roxanich Vina, natural wines in Istria, Croatia

Sometimes you earn the best rewards when arriving to your destination takes time and effort. Isn’t it true in life anyway? When you are in another country you have never been to, you have to rely in your navigator. Timesaving invention, as no matter how far-reaching your destination is, you never get lost. Or almost never. We were in the countryside of Croatia, a narrow barely-paved road going away form a small village named Kosinožići and we passed by Roxanich Vina because we did not see the sign in the front of the building, so we kept on going even if the navigator said we had already arrived. We turned around when the road ceased to be a road, and on the second pass we finally saw the winery sign and eureka! Arrived!

Two hours of driving under rain and a bit of snow was time enough to be in the need of getting warm and replenish our energy levels. Marjan was there waiting for us and he welcome us warmly. We entered the tasting room and in front of our eyes laid a nice collection of Roxanich wines. We thought: “Wow! Great! Nice nice display!!” but then, Marjan kept on bringing more bottles, so our eyes were wildly open, like those of a kid in front of a candy shop. He also offered some prosciutto and cheese, so we just relaxed and got ready to enjoy.

The tasting consisted of four sections, each offering different styles of wine. Marjan was explaining about wine, vinification and many other things we wanted to know about. He was extremely patient with us. We started with the fresher wines, those in which the maceration period with the skins (because here all the white wines are macerated on the skins) was just a few days.

Draga 2013 is a Pinot Blanc with two days of skin maceration. It was the opening wine and it was a great wine, very well done, fine and very tasty. Mirna 2013 is a Sauvignon Blanc with also two days on the skins. Very surprising and fine wine. These two wines stay two years in steel tank. SoRelle 2013 is a Chardonnay with four days of maceration; 10% of the must stays three years in barrel and 90% in steel tanks.

Normally, you begin a tasting nice and easy, just stretching your muscles getting ready for the long run, but rather we started with a full sprint. Such an amazing way to begin with. Wonderful wines indeed.

Then followed serious white wine stuff: wines made for the hardcore fans of the macerated white wines. These three wines have an ageing period of six years (six, 6, six) in oak barrels of different big sizes. Antica 2010 is their flagship white Malvazija wine with six months on the skins. Milva 2010 is the Chardonnay with also one week of skin contact. Two single varietal wines that pleased us so much. Finally, a white blend, and as Marjan said, a blend of grapes. The grapes are harvested then they go together through the vinification process. Ines u Bijelom 2010 is a blend of Verduzzo, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano, Riesling Italico and Glera. Seventy days on the skins and six years in wood. After these three wines, we were in absolute awe.

If the first three wines were good and enjoyable, the following three were just amazing. So much intensity in the glass coming from the skins yet at the same time very elegant wines that made you want to taste more and more. And then a bit more.

After a brief pause to meditate on the previous wines, we started with the red wines.

The first one was their flagship red wine; the one that Marjan said is their best-selling wine. In fact, they had run out of this wine and they only had a few small 0,375 ml bottles left, with all the magnums and regular bottles long gone. SuperIstrian 2009 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 40%, Merlot 40% and Borgonja 20%. It is a great wine indeed and once we finished the tasting we came again to this wine for another sampling and we understood why it is their best seller. The second red blend is Ines u crvenom 2008, not as grape blend as the Ines u Bijelom 2010 but rather a wine blend, where each variety is vinified on its own and then they are combined. The grapes are Syrah, Barbera, Lambrusco, Malvasia Nera, Cabernet Franc and Borgonja.

Next were the three single varietal reds: Merlot 2008, Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 and Istiranac Teran Ré 2008. We have stated in previous occasions we are not fans of the Teran grape, but the one Roxanich produces made us rethink our position about this variety. Very good wine, as well as the other two. Very enjoyable all of them with six years of ageing in different-size wood vessels. Smooth, elegant and enjoyable wines.

This was part three of the tasting and we were not finished yet, but before continuing, we opted for strolling around the cellar for knowing more about Roxanich Vina. This is an organic winemaking company, with traditional elaboration methods and a biodynamic farming belief. Technology, as well as mechanical and chemical intervention, are not used in any phase of elaboration. They own wood vessels of 35 hectoliters and 55 to 70 hectoliters, as well as barrels of 600, 500 and 225 liters. The bottling of each wine is always performed under a waning moon. It was in November 2008 when their first three wines, Teran 2005, Teran Re 2005 and Merlot 2005 came out to the market. Nowadays their annual production comes around 50,000 bottles.

After visiting all the premises, the day still cold and humid, we went back to the tasting room where two bottles of sparkling wine were waiting for us: Les Bulles Brut Nature white, a Malvazija wine, and Les Bulles Brut Nature rosé, produced with the Teran grape. Really great wines to finish the visit with.

Our first ever visit to a Croatian winery couldn’t be better than to Roxanich. Marjan was an excellent host, the wines were really enjoyable and the place was very nice. The leading man of the company, Mato Matic, was held in Ljubjana, Slovenia, due to a snowstorm so we could only talk by phone, but hey, now we have another reason to go back and thank him for all their kindness. Besides, Spanish wine is always welcome in the follow-up visit and we are true ambassadors of our wines when we go abroad, so some wines are due next time.

On the other hand, who needs an excuse to visit such a great winery as Roxanich Vina? Finding great wines as these ones is a wonderful thing, but finding people like Marjan and Mato is way much better. They overwhelm you with their attention and their kindness.

We will talk soon to the Mladen Rozanic owner and winemaker of Roxanich.

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