Wednesday 27 June 2012

In search of the elusive Tinta Romé


Ever since our first bottle of Dimobe's Tinta Romé - obtained from the excellent Museo del Vino in Malaga, we have been trying to find out more about this native grape variety found only in the Sierras de Malaga area. We had not found any other bottling or even a new vintage: a pity since this is a wine to be drunk young and the 2006 was already fading.

We could read that Tinta Romé is grown in Axarquia, perhaps the most interesting division of this appellation. The entry is worth reproducing in full;

ROMÉ TINTA La romé es una variedad de uva tinta propia de Andalucía, autóctona de la zona de Málaga. Su cultivo se da principalmente en la comarca de la Axarquía, en la Denominación de Origen Málaga. Los racimos son medianos y poco compactos, con pequeñas uvas redondas de color granate. Los vinos suelen tener buena graduación alcohólica, pero a veces les falta acidez. Suelen ser intensos en color, con notas vegetales y frutas rojas en nariz, también flores azules y vainillas, expresivos y cremosos si han pasado por barrica. Es una uva de la que se saca un vino excelente con un sabor muy peculiar. Autorizada para la comunidad autónoma de Andalucía por la Orden APA/1819/2007, por la que se actualiza el anexo V, clasificación de las variedades de vid, del Real Decreto 1472/2000, de 4 de agosto, que regula el potencial de producción vitícola. Se cultiva en la zona de Alhama de Granada. Existe una variedad romé blanca.

In particular, reference to Romé Blanca was fascinating to us at Slotovino!

So we called Dimobe and were told they had a few bottles of Romé Tinta if we came to the Bodega Munoz in Rincon de la Victoria, the other side of Malaga at 17.00 the next day, we could pick some up.

Taking the afternoon off, we decided to drive up to Moclinejo where the Dimobe Cellars are situated and take a look at the area which is about 15 minutes inland from the coastal town of Rincon de la Victoria. This was fascinating for three reasons. Firstly for the vineyards of bush vines growing as steeply as anything we had seen in the Ahr Valley,

secondly for the incredible narrowness of the streets of Molclinejo which are arranged not just to deter outsiders from getting around or even out but actually relieving them of the will to live

and thirdly because it is the beginning of something called the Ruta de la Pasa, a 62 km Weinstrasse of great antiquity along which grow the Muscat and Moscatel vines for Malaga Virgen, Malaga and so forth. These wines were as famous as Madeira and Marsala in their time but were obliterated by phylloxera and never really recovered their position as in so many cases. Only recently has there been a modest revival.

On the board at the entrance to Moclinejo there was an explanation in English and Spanish as to what the Ruta de la Pasa was;

Moclinejo is situated in the interior of La Axarquia on the slopes of the Cerro de Piedras Blancas offering a landscape of steep hillsides mainly covered with olive and almond groves and vineyards.

Known as the Gateway to the Raisin Route grape cultivation is once again the basis of the local economy, together with the production of olive oil in keeping with time honoured traditions. The town offers a spectacular sight when seen from the road which zigzags its way up from the coast.

From certain parts of the town it is possible to see the sea through the corridor of the Benagalbon Valley.

The 62 kilometres of this route pass through the municipalities of Totalan, Comares, Cutar, El Borge, Almachar and Moclinejo, a region with uniique weather conditions which enable the proliferation of the vineyards used to make raisins. 

This ancestral trade which harnesses the power of the sun is carried out in raisin beds, the characteristic paseros which are always oriented towards the south and positioned on the hillsides and slopes of the Axarquia landscape. The traditional manner of making this fruit is a unique feature which gives rise to festivals in honour of this highly valued product, such as the Ajoblanco Festival in Almachar, the Vineros Festival in Moclinejo and the Raisin Festival in El Borge.

These very raisins are applying traditional methods to make the famous "Moscatel" sweet wine which is as famous as it is appreciated. This wine has a characteristic floral aroma typical of this grape variety, due to certain essential oils which are found in the surroundings of the film around the pips thereby differentiating it from other sweet wines.

Within these traditional Moscatel wines, mention must be made of the Verdiales wines of Comares which may be distinguished from the other two styles (Montes and Almogia) due to the faster method of preparation. The pandas de verdiales (verdiales music bands) of Comares are deservedly famous for the quality of their performances and constitute a reference for the entire Axarquia region. There are also other festivals which take us back in time such as the Monfi (Moorish Bandit) Festival in Cutar, where A\ndalusian culture takes centre stage, visitors being invited to participate by wearing the clothing of the period. Another event held in Totalan is the festival of the chanfaina, the town's typical dish made with kid and almonds.

The unique landscape of these towns served as a refuge for bandits such as "El Bizco del Borge" one of the most legendary renegades of the province. We recommend that you follow the footsteps of this bandit, always with raisins to hand as provisions, and abandon yourself to the undiscovered landscapes and beautiful and enchanting towns with Muslim origins which are to be found along this route.

Charming indeed and we made a note to take in this Ruta de la Pasa another time. Meanwhile, also at the entrance to the town was the Dimobe Cellar building. We had been told not to go there as wine was not sold at the Cellar Door, so back to Rincon de la Victoria we went in search of Bodegas Munoz where we were to find our Tinta Romé.

At 17.00 the shop was still closed, so we indulged in some minutes of window shopping before getting a cold drink at the bar next door. 

Eventually the Bodega Munoz opened and we asked for our wine. The people behind the counter had no idea what we were after and apparently had never heard of Tinta Romé. A call to Sr. Munoz cleared up the situation. We were to go back to Dimobe in Moclinejo for the wine.

We decided to go along with this and drove back up the mountainous and winding road. This time we drove right in to the Dimobe forecourt where a succession of ever more uninformed fork lift truck drivers and depot workers scratched their heads until eventually Sr. Munoz hove into view. 

Charm itself he explained that there had been a misunderstanding. He also told us that the Tinta Romé he had made in 2006 was with bought-in grapes from a local grower and he hadn't decided to make another vintage. Nevertheless, the wine had been so popular that he had used the same label design to sell his Syrah in subsequent years! Of the Romé Blanco, he had never heard.

He tried to interest us in various wines. Dimobe make quite a few varieties and Bodegas Munoz is a general wine and spirit distributor and soft drink company. He also offered to show us around but we were only interested in our Tinta Romé. So eventually he disappeared, returning with a case of 6. Examining one of the bottles he noticed the shoulder has rather low so he went off again and re-appeared with a better bottle. Asking how much to pay for these 6 bottles, he waved his hand, perhaps in view of the circuitous route we had had to follow in search of our wine, it was gratis

After many protestations we accepted the gift and that night sampled one of the bottles. Guess what dear reader, it had not faded any more than the bottle we had tried a couple of years before.

While grieving somewhat for the practically extinct Tinta Romé - the last of which had been given away, we stumbled on a wine called Sedella, "Mediterranean Mountain Wine" at Lavinia in Malaga Airport. Asking what grapes this might be made from - the label only tells of 'uvas autoctonas' from 'los venedos mas altos de la Axarquia malaguena' we discovered they were Tinta Romé and Garnacha. So all is not lost.

Monday 25 June 2012

A new one on us

Tuesday 19 June 2012

The Real Wine Fair, London May 20th - 22nd 2012

This was only one of three important wine fairs taking place in May this year, the other two being the London International Wine Fair at ExCel and the third being RAW, the other Natural, biodynamic wine fair dedicated to Artisan wine producers.

All this activity was a bit of a disaster for us because we managed not even to hear about RAW until it was over and forget completely about LIWF having printed out our entrance badges months ago. Another Slotovino disaster.

All was not lost though because we spent the most rewarding couple of hours imaginable at the Real Wine Fair, meeting the actual people behind some of the wines which we have been following over the last few years:

Biondi (Sicilia)
Le Briseau
La Stoppa

and many others. We imagine these were also represented at the two other fairs which were being held at the same time or shortly after The Real Wine Fair.

With our usual limited time we concentrated on the less familiar grape varieties starting with Georgia. There must be more undiscovered varieties in Georgia than anywhere else and we were not disappointed.with opportunities to try rarities such as Kisi and Khikhvi

from the Alaverdi Monastery ("since 1011") who had been kind enough to send along a real live monk, Pheasants Tears which we had been reading about only a short time before

(Chinuri, Shavkapito, Tsolakauri and Mtsvane) and the wonderfully named Iago Bitarishvili who specialises in Chinuri.

We tasted most of these but as in our Slotovino tasting in January 2011, it was Mtsvane which stood out as being the most pleasurable to drink. Others had unique flavours and as such are well worth having.

 Some of the varieties are down to a very small acreage indeed. We wish these young and optimistic producers all possible success and can't wait to visit Georgia and experience these fascinating wines in more detail.

On our way through the Italian section we came across Corinto Nero, albeit in a blend called Nero Ossidiana. Corinto Nero is grown if at all around Messina and in the Aeolian Islands, particularly Salina, one of our favourites of these enchanted islands. We look forward to tasting a Corinto nero in purezza if possible one day.

There was also a Canaiolo Nero Rosato which was something of a curiosity.

In Room 1, we found a surprisingly large number of wines made from Terret blanc, a grape new to us grown mainly in the Languedoc. It is used in (white) Minervois and Corbieres and is a descendant from Terret noir as is Terret Gris. Here are three of them including one from Thierry Navarre of whom more right now.

Here among the Burgundies, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone etc. - Bordeaux being conspicuous by its absence - we encountered two of our heroes in real life, Thierry Navarre of Domaine Thierry Navarre, St. Chinian and Christian Chaussard of Domaine le Briseau. It was an extraordinary pleasure to meet both of them and in the case of Thierry Navarre, the opportunity to discover a Mega-Star among obscure grape varieties, Ribeyrenc.

 This goes immediately to the top of the list together with the likes of  Persan, Pineau D'Aunis, Poulsard, Grignolino, Ramisco, Encruzado, Gringet, Croatina, and a very few others among our current favourites. Ribeyrenc and Co. are varieties which beg the question as to why they are not as popular as the ubiquitous international varieties. On the strength of one sip of Thierry Navarre's Ribeyrenc, it became for us the star of the show.

M. Navarre himself is modest and charming. We have long been admirers of his Vin d'Oeillades, a wine which proves that low alcohol need have no correlation to a wine's weight of body. Oeillade is related to Cinsault but tastes quite different. Thierry Navarre characteristically champions this overlooked variety as he does Ribeyrenc and Terret Blanc no doubt among others. If we were vignerons, we would like to be Thierry Navarre!

At the moment of our encounter with Christian Chaussard, we were alone at his stand. Surely not for long. Domaine Le Briseau is responsible for two marvellous Pineau D'Aunis reds, 'Les Mortiers' - a top of the range serious example of this ancient and marvellous variety and 'Patapon' a more frivolrous and fun version as the name suggests. His third wine 'Kharakter' is his Chenin Blanc.

Perhaps undiplomatically we related our story about our French friends' negative reaction to a bottle of Patapon but M. Chaussard just noted, with baleful look that his compatriots were rather conservative. We needn't feel sorry for Domaine Le Briseau, their wines are appreciated internationally. We first encountered then at the Gramercy Tavern in New York.

For us amateurs, the opportunity to encounter these wonderful people, discover so many remarkable wines and learn such a great amount all in a short time without making long journeys was pure gold. Next year, we will not fail to visit RAW and will definitely remember the LIWF, not to mention the English Wine Fair which we also missed this year.

Sunday 17 June 2012

A funny thing happened at the Pot Still - again

The Pot Still is a pub specializing in Whisky in Hope Street, Glasgow. They have a self-imposed repertoire of 365 varieties. Years ago we went in there and with time to kill, asked the bartender if he had a whisky which Scottish people drank and which was not known or unavailable south of the border.

The following dialogue ensued;

Bartender; Och, we've got one here called Glenlivet ye might like

Slotovino; No, I meant something you can't get in England - something only known here in Scotland.

Bartender; Well in that case hoo aboot this one: it's called Macallan?

Slotovino; You can get Macallan in every high street and duty free shop. Something really rare we haven't heard of.

Friendly inebriate at our left elbow, addressing his remarks through the Chair (i.e. Bartender); Hey, Jimmie give 'im the Arrghewoo (unintelligible).

Bartender, (ignoring friendly inebriate); What aboot this one, it's called Lagavulin

Inebriate; Jimmie, gi' im the Arrghewooui!

Slotovino; Maybe you could give me the one this gentleman suggsests?

Bartender, looking at the 3 walls of whisky; I'll hae ta get it fra the cellar.

Inebriate (after Jimmie has opened a trap door and disappeared and observing a decent pause); Ay, that's the stuff.. Ah used tae have a standing  order fer half a dozen bottles every fortnight!

Editor: Please note, 6 bottles a fortnight, not 12 bottles a month! Bartender returns with a bottle of Abelour - then unknown in England, now available in every High Street and Duty Free Shop. Pours us a measure. We taste.

Slotovino; Wonderful.  How much for a bottle?

Bartender; This is the only bottle we have.

Slotovino; I don't mind, how much is it?

Bartender; But it's been opened and it's not full.

Slotovino; I know. I've had a measure from it but I don't mind. Just tell me how much you want for it.

Bartender; But you don't understand. If I sell you this bottle we'll only have 364...

With this fond memory in mind we returned to the Pot Still on the occasion of another visit to Glasgow to ask the same question. Given the fact that perhaps 20 years or more had intervened we expected they had forgotten the first time of asking even if we hadn't. This time the scene was as follows;

Slotovino; Do you have a which Scottish people drink which is not known or unavailable south of the border?

Bartender (not the original Jimmie); Ay, well here's one. It's Dalmore.

Slotovino; We have all kinds of Dalmore south of the border.

Bartender; What kind of whisky do you want? Speyside, Island? Highland? Lowland?

Slotovino; It doesn't matter - just something really obscure that's unknown in England, something rare...

Bartender, rubbing his chin and looking mighty puzzled; Just a minute.

Bartender ascends ladder in corner and goes to the very top shelf. Brings down a dusty bottle and pours a measure; Hae ye ever heard o' Benromach?

No we hadn't heard of Benromach but we liked what we tasted - unlike anything we had ever had before. Aromatic and interesting.

As he turned to the cash till to get our change we couldn't help noticing Bartender was wearing the Benromach T-shirt......

A Chambers St. Dozen

Here's our answer to the Sunday Times Wine Club. A mixed case from our current favourite wine merchants, Cambers Street Wines of New York. Not only our favourite. The shop gets really crowded. Here's the queue to check out on a Saturday afternoon.

We assembled this Dozen on a recent visit to New York and were complimented on our choice by a friendly member of staff - hardly surprising as we had spent a long time being tutored by the knowledgeable experts that make this wine merchant so much more than just a place to buy wine.

Here's the list: Grape varieties are in bold

1. New York Finger Lakes Dry Riesling, Silver Thread Vineyards, 2010 (ABV n/a)

2. New York Finger Lakes Bloomer Creek, Moorhouse Road Vineyard Riesling "Tanzen Dame" 2009, 10%

3. New York Finger Lakes Eminence Road Elizabeth's Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2010, 12.7%

this back label is also common to

4. New York Finger Lakes Eminence Road Auten Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, 12.7%

5. New York Long Island North Fork Paumanok Cabernet Franc 2009, 12.5%

When Chambers Street Wines finally make a selection of New York State Wines one has to sit up and take notice and so far these have proved excellent.

6. Le petit Domaine de Gimios Cuvee Rouge de Causse (a field blend of no less than 16 varieties including Cinsault, Alicante, Grenache, Carignan, Aramon, Syrah and Muscat. We will try to bring you the other 9 soon). Rousillon (Minervois) 13%

We were disappointed by the same grower's 'Rouge Fruit' which only included 6 of the above varieties. Perhaps more are needed!)

7. Tajinaste Tinto Tradicional Valle de la Orotava Listan Negro Tenefire Islas Canarias 2010, 13% 

8. Rossese di Albenga, V. Bastio, Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC 2010,12.5%.........................................

9.Crna Cotar Sparkling (red) Teran (Refosco), Komen, Slovenia 2009, 12%

10.Vina Zaneta Marmajuelo (white) Ycoden-Daute-Isora DOC, Spain, 2009 12.5%

11. Vini Biondi "Outis" (Nessuno - no one - no name) Etna Bianco Cateratto, Carricante, Minnella, Malvasia and Moscadella dell' Etna, 12.5%

10. Nibias Vinedo de Alta Montana Albarin Blanco, Cangas Asturias (white) NV (?) 14%

Albarin Blanco is a separate grape and has nothing to do with Albarino

Many of the above are Natural, biological or Bio-dynamic as befits Chambers St. Wines.