Saturday 25 May 2013

Two drive-by shootings at English vineyards

Vineyards don't exactly cover the English countryside but it is ever more possible to stumble across them as we did on two trips unrelated to wine earlier this year.

It happened that the vineyards suddenly hoving into view were two of the largest and longest established, Lamberhurst and Three Choirs.

In the case of Lamberhurst we had little time to take a look around so we have fewer shots. It may be unfair to say that Lamberhurst is unwelcoming but it is not listed on the English Wine Producers site as being open to the public and although there were signs of life there, we found no shop or tasting room in our cursory trip down the drive.

The friends we were visiting nearby said it seemed always to be closed and had changed hands more than once. Wikipedia has it that Lamberhurst is noted for Hop growing, a Golf Course and the place where Margaret Thatcher once lived.

Nevertheless there are vines - we know not what type. The Pub turned restaurant, now called 'The Winery' seems to be the focus of the place although it is not part of it.

By contrast Three Choirs is much more of a destination with its own restaurant,

Tasting Room,

Accommodation, Cafe and a Vineyard trail.

There are labels on individual vines showing adoption by people who have bought into a scheme, exhortations to Start Your Own Vineyard, plaques describing various grapes and so forth. All rather reminiscent of American Wineries.

With more and more vineyards being established over Southern England, it may be ever more difficult to avoid them travelling aound the countryside. We wish them well!

Wednesday 22 May 2013

€ 95 Dorona (50cl)

Dorona, Dorona. Get your Dorona here. Only  € 95 for a 50cl bottle!

Well, there are only a very few things you can do when you have an obscure or new grape variety grape variety on your hands.

1. Write its name on a piece of paper and put it in a drawer.

2. Tell 'Wine Grapes' and hope to win a free bottle of wine.

3. Patent it (cf. 'Cygne', the white version of Cabernet Sauvignon found in Australia).

4. Make wine from it and charge € 3 a 75 cl. bottle (cf. Hermanos Lopez Martin Tinta Rome, Archez)

5. Make wine from it and charge € 95 for a 50 cl. bottle (cf Ristorante Venissa, Mazzorbo, Venezia).

No. 5 is what the good folks from the Venissa Restaurant on the Venetian island of Mazzorbo decided to do when they discovered Dorona - an ancient grape used in mediaeval times to make the wine of the Doges and others. You can imagine the reaction of the modern Veneziani. Utter dismissal combined with the statement that Dorona was only Garganega anyway.

Not true according to 'Wine Grapes'. So there we are. The Restaurant Venissa has been built around a vineyard in which this recovered grape has been newly planted. A limited amount of wine is made but even so it is surprising there are enough Russian Oligarchs to drink it.

We decided to take a trip to Mazzorbo and take a look at the vineyard. This is easy to do. Mazzorbo is just the next stop after Murano. Vaporetti go there every 20 minutes.

Like many of the smaller islands of the lagoon, Mazzorbo is very quiet and barely inhabited. It is not especially beautiful being flat and without any distinguishing features but it was a nice idea to build a posh restaurant there in addition to one other which is less posh but inviting. Venissa's season hadn't started but no one seemed to mind us walking around the vineyard or property.

At the entrance to the vineyard is a billboard with information about Dorona and the story behind its revival.

We entered the bar area where some people were preparing an out of season event for some group. We were shown bottles of Dorona. Even in season the wine isn't available by the glass. The only alternative to the 50cl bottle is the 150cl bottle at a price we didn't even register. We even forgot to take a photo of the bottles, probably in fear of being charged.

Walking out to the vineyard, we could see it is beautifully kept and good practises are used with wild flowers, herbs and grasses grown between the immaculate rows.

A canal with presumably rather saline water runs through it. Together with a small Kitchen Garden, it makes a pleasant view from the restaurant's terrace and galleria areas.

Dorona is reputedly rather aromatic and interesting but with hundreds more obscure grape varieties costing rather less, we will not miss finding out for ourselves too much unless this business model proves an out and out winner and suddenly everyone does the same.

The bottle has an original label by the way. It is just a square patch of gold - gold leaf, probably.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Holy grail of Tinta Romé found at last

 Search this Blog for Tinta Romé and you will see that we have been a little bit obsessed with this obscure Andalucian variety for a few years, ever since we came upon a bottle by Dimobe at El Museo Del Vino in Malaga, El Lagar de Cabrera.

This was a pale red, low alcohol wine perfect for pasta. The sheer originality of this Tinta Romé among all the heavy Spanish reds from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Mencia, Monastrell, Moristel & co. was interesting. How often have we heard it said that because it it hot in Spain, wines tend to be high in alcohol. If that is tha case, what about Greece and Georgia we ask?Their wines are not nearly as high in alcohol and yet the climate is just as warm if not warmer.

There were numerous wild goose chases to find more of this lovely wine ending up at the Dimobe depot in Moclenijo, Axarquia

in the hills beyond Malaga where we were given half a dozen bottles free of charge. They were admittedly past their best but still enjoyable.

Our next sortie was to Sedella where an excellent blend of Tinta Romé with Garnacha and one or two others - effectively a field blend but with a majority of Tinta Romé is made by the great Lauren Rosillo of Sedella Vinos. We searched for his vineyard but never found it. No one in Sedella could tel us where it was or even whether the winery had been completed. Rosillo's 'Mediterranean Mountain Wine' is fortunately available at Malaga's Pablo Picasso Airport Lavinia duty free shop.

Our third effort was more productive. Once again we drove past Malaga along the now old Urbanisacions which are of a hideousness as to make Torremolinos look like Bel Air or at least Coral Gables. Keeping our eyes fixedly on the road, we drove past Velez Malaga until we found the road leading up into the hills, nay mountains of Axarquia towards Archez, Competa and Sayalonga, the true home of Tinta Romé.

The weather was unseasonably miserable, lending a dismal aspect to the scenery.

This part of Spain has never been wealthy but as we climbed upwards the number of abandoned terraces told a story of a hard life and grim struggle eventually abandoned. We fancied ourselves as Ruskin before Torcello, overcome with a sort of extasy at the desolation.

Then gradually we came upon the vineyards. Planted on almost purple soil interspersed with olive trees but without a weed in sight, the ancient vines poked their heads above the ground ready to become individual bushes when the growing season began.

How these vineyards are worked is a mystery. As in the Mosel and Ahr, one suspects workers have to abseil down the slopes. Donkeys have been known to assist but it must be excruciating work.

Strange structures we fancied to be raised vegetable beds in gardens could also have been Moorish graves. They are in fact beds for drying grapes for Malaga Dulce.

Archez is one of those villages with streets almost too narrow for traffic. Probably charming and picturesque when the sun is shining but a bit mournful on a day like ours. As in Sedella there was a sudden burst of English this time from a mother and daughter, clearly Ex-Pats.

Municipal Orange trees cheered things slightly. There were attemps at establishing various 'Rutas' (wine, olives etc) to encourage tourism. As they say, one winery is an attraction, five wineries are a diversion and fifteen a destination.

On entering Archez, we had seen inscribed on a house 'Bodegas Hnos. Lopez Martin', the very people fabled still to be producing Tinta Romé.

We had corresponded with them and checked that the Bodega would be open of a Saturday afternoon but there was seemingly no answer to our ringing adjacent bells at the two front doors. Then there was a faint rustling and a quiet voice and eventually a gentleman emerged from the gloom behind one of the doors. We explained our mission. Without wasting any words the brother we shall call Fafner (in the nicest possible way) fetched a bunch of keys and led us down the hill to the cellar winery under the house. Opening the door, he revealed his treasure trove.

Not only do Hermanos Lopez Martin make Tinta Romé but they also make a Rosado Semi Dulce from the same grape and something almost as obscure, a dry white from what is called Montuo as well as Montua on the back label and is otherwise known as Chelva. 'Wine Grapes' has it as either Mantuo or Mantua by the way. Together with these is a Malaga Dulce from Moscatel of course.

 By now, Fafner had been joined by Fasolt, the appropriately more loquacious brother who gave us a taste of all these wines.

We were dumbfounded. The Tinta Romé tasted nothing like the light version from Dimobe. There were some peculiar notes we were getting. We made appreciative sounds but were internally in turmoil. The Tinta Romé from Sedella had also not resembled our first example but we put this down to being a blend with Garnacha etc. The Tinta Romé from Lopez Martin had a small amount of Jaen Prieto according to the label (see note) - but too small to change the very nature of the wine so drastically.It wasn't unpleasant. Drinkable, certainly. Original however. Unsurprising given that its evolution has been almost as separate as that of the flora and fauna of Madagascar. Tinta Romé is hardly available in any shops as far as we can tell. Presumably it is all consumed locally. There is rumored to be another producer or maybe two up the road at Competa...

We bought 3 vintages of Tinta Romé, each with a different Abv;

09/042009                     12.7%
17/04/2007                    14.0%
19/4/2002                      14.3%

Interesting too the fact the very date of the bottling was stated.

Fasolt took our order and labelled the bottles in front of us with a simple old wooden contraption. None of the wines cost more than 4.00. Fafner kindly took our case back up the road on the trolly and so we bore the Holy Grail back to base. (That's enough Wagner - Ed.)

The Rosado Semi Dulce had not been extraordinary. The Malaga Dulce good but not so very much out of the ordinary either. We have transported the reds, the white and the rose back to London where we will be tasting them under different conditions, aerating the wines and having some food to accompany them. Let us hope for a miracle; the lovely Lopez Martin brothers deserve it as well as us.

Note: Jaen Prieto doesn't appear in 'Wine Grapes' but there is Jaen Tinto (a synonym for Mencia), Jaen Prieto Blanco (one of the many synonyms for Cayetana Blanca - strange because Prieto means dark or Black) among other Jaens in the index. Perhaps Jaen Prieto is one of these?