Tuesday 30 December 2014

2014. We make wine ourselves for the first time.

'Never again', so said Vince in 2011 on delivery of our Rose from Triomphe d'Alsace. Quite understandable as Vince is a busy man at harvest time making award winning wines for  Stanlake Park and a myriad serious professional vineyards in the Thames Valley in quantities many times what we had to offer and from much better grapes.

a bit of summer pruning
Three years passed in which we made lovely grape juice but no wine. In one year at least we didn't bother even to do that such was the washout on the weather front. Nevertheless we turned our attention to the Cinderella of our hobby vineyard, the white grapes - Bacchus and planted all sorts of others as an experiment (GM1807-3, Solaris, Goldriesling, Johanniter, Rondo, Regent, Dornfelder, Pinot Noir, Wrotham Pinot and Fruehburgunder. We killed the vegetation between the vines with Round Up and fed the vines with fertiliser for the first time. We also started to spray against Powdery and Downy Mildew and did some radical spur pruning.

clean and healthy Bacchus

Our Bacchus seemed to like all this attention and produced grapes - some of them healthy - for the first time in 2013. This year, they produced grapes - most of them healthy - in profusion so we went back to Vince in case he had had a change of mind. He hadn't but being a positive kind of chap he asked 'Why don't you make it yourself?'

Bacchus with some botrytised berries

As the time approached we thought it might be worth making an experiment and trying to produce a 'vin naturel'. After all, you didn't really have to do anything. The less you did, the better. If it all went horribly wrong, too bad! We would be no worse off than before.

So in September we hurriedly got a few items from homebrew shops and started watching 'How to' clips on You-Tube and reading up on how to make natural wine. This was confusing to say the least as every recipe was different. Being entirely clueless we had to decide which elements to adopt and which to ignore.

We had actually made a false start in 2013 by crushing our Triomphe and then trying to ferment it as a white wine. It didn't work. This time we had gleaned that there is no danger of oxydisation while the grapes are fermenting. All you have to do is crush them and then leave them for a week or so to ferment by themselves. 

We also learned not to press the grapes too officiously as the press wine was less good anyway and we could spare ourselves the considerable effort by using a potato masher in the basket rather than the screw.

We also decided to make two versions each of the Red and the White, one with manipulation including added yeast, fining agents such as Bentonite and Isinglass and SO2 and the other completely without any of these things.

We bought a nice big 60 litre Fermenter with a tap at the bottom which we thought would be handy in racking off the wine from the lees. 

When the great day came to harvest the Bacchus we were helped by two itinerant workers and passed through the vineyard taking more or less all the healthy grapes. This was 1 week later than our neighbours at Oaken Grove Vineyard and we thought we detected the odd bit of botrytis on our grapes which hopefully would prevent them from producing undrinkably acidic wine. We put the best grapes through the crusher and put the juice into a fermenter. We then put the solid matter into the basket press and squeezed out more juice with the potato masher. 

We had left the less-impressive grapes to do separately. We gave them the same treatment and left them in a separate fermenter.

A wiik later we picked some of the red 'Triomphe' grapes. This time we were without the help of the itinerant workers so it was just us. 

Our Triomphe d'Alsace harvest. 1 man 1 morning. Treading and putting in fermenters in the afternoon.

Triomphe grapes from a single vine
The grapes were still in good condition; sweeter than ever before but not having yet been attacked by wasps or birds. The grapes looked blacker than ever and the juice was darker.

Triomphe trodden by foot.
This time, not least because no one was looking and inspired by Alice Fering, we decided to tread the grapes instead of putting them through the crusher. We expected the sensation to be both painful and unpleasant but quite the contrary! We then just left the crushed grapes in fermenters. 

At the same time we tasted the white wine and decided that fermentation might be underway so we combined the two bins and poured the contents through a fine filter into the big 60 litre fermenter to keep the juice airtight from now on. There was quite a lot of juice left over wich we put into little 5 litre demijohns. At this stage the juice was still a pretty disgusting grey-green colour.

Rather more than a week later we anxiously checked our babies, punching down the caps of the red. There was evidence of fermentation but not of the turbulent kind as so frequently described. On tasting it seemed that things were progressing so we decided to leave things a bit longer. Another week passed and this time the decision was literally to press on and remove the juice from the fermentation bins and potato-mash the solids in the basket press producing enough juice to fill a 25 litre carboy and half another of the same size. 

Triomphe Rose 2010 looks better than it is.

Then we had an inspiration and opened almost all the remaining bottles of Slotovino Rose 2010 and poured them into the 2014 fermenting juice - same grape, same provenance, just a different year. We could call it our 'NV'.

At this point we made a concerted effort to use the hydrometer we had bought to measure the alcohol level. This is important because you don't know if the fermentation has stopped until the alcohol has reached at least 9 degrees or so. This can only be measured if you have taken readings from the start and can then calculate what progress has been made.

As in all our actions, we were really swimming in the dark. Taste was the best indicator and what we tasted was encouraging - to us at least. Just for an experiment we added the yeast and Bentonite to the 'control' batch of white. 

Mango juice?
And so it went on with a bit of racking of the white and even at one stage the use of a special yeast for stopped fermentations just in case. When things seemed to have slowed down and the white had cleared to an extent we bought some bottles and corks together with a corker and started bottling. We were sure we were doing this too early and the corks would pop and make a mess all over the place but we were keen to make the wines as 'nouveau' as possible. 

The whites had the character of 'Federweisse' or 'Sturm' as the new wine is called in Germany and Austria respectively and we wanted the Triomphe to come out with as light a touch as possible as every attempt to make a beast of this beastly grape had seemed doomed as far as previous efforts were concerned. 

a beast even as a baby
In fact we have never liked any wine made from Triomphe even as lesser part of a blend. Why were we growing it? This would be its last chance.

So what about the results? Opinion had swayed back and forth as to which of our wines might succeed. In the end, only the absolutely natural white was drinkable and not in everyone's opinion. Perhaps we should have given the wines more time in the fermenters? Perhaps we should have put them in oak barrels for a number of years? The red reverted to type after a brief moment of not tasting like Triomphe. It was surprisingly good as Sangria and Gluehwein though. The 'manipulated' white is more acidic then the natural one surprisingly. It went quite well with Thai food (seriously). 

The natural white has acquired an amazingly orange colour. It's acidity it also rather overpowering but there is a sweetness there at the same time. The two haven't got together to make a whole but perhaps they will marry up in time?

Alvarelhao/Brancellao - the sequel

Our onward journey from Porto involved an early flight to Madrid and a connection by one of those marvelous Spanish fast trains that seem to have sprung up while we in the UK have just been dreaming of such things. This left us free to take a look at some important wine shops in the capital and we were not disappointed.

Madrid has Lavinia of course. Smaller than the one in Paris but in the same style. Lavinia is fine but it shows the signs of having pulled in its horns and re-trenched since the heady days of stocking wines from as many types and origins as possible. There is a bold sign for Hungarian wines for example but none on show.

Of Spanish wines, all the regions may be represented but the choice from Galicia for example only seemed to prove that you had to go there to find anything out of the ordinary.

Burdeos, not such a new region.
From the rest of the world, the selection seemed similar to what may be found in the Boulevard de la Madeleine but for a moment we thought we had found a new region altogether called 'Burdeos',

Our weird grape detector did pick up one extreme rarity however. Mando. Never heard of it? Perhaps in its alternative form - Mandon? No? Spain has the ability to surprise but as we always say, it is kept well under wraps. This rarity of rarities originally comes from guess where: North West Spain, Bierzo in fact. Its origins are still shrouded in mystery despite DNA testing. Graciano seems to be one of its parents and the finger is pointing at Heben, an almost extinct Andalucian variety as the other. 'Wine Grapes' helpfully informs us that this would make Mando/Mandon a half-sibling of Gorgollasa from Mallorca and Macabeo from Catalunya.

In 2008 statistics showed only 1 hectare in Castilla la Mancha but amazingly there have been new plantings in an attempt to halt its disappearance. This example from Valencia by Costera del Alta seems to be the only one using Mando other than in a blend. Their back label refers to it as 'relic of our ancestors'. Hats off to everyone concerned especially the unnamed persons responsible for the new plantings just so as to halt Mando's disappearance.

Enoteca Barolo, Calle del Principe de Vergara 211, Madrid
Looking a bit like Daniel Barenboim, Angel is the maestro of Enoteca Barolo. He has a large repertoire and knows each bottle thoroughly. He is also an enthusiastic evangelist for everything he thinks might interest you.



His stock is as varied as it is wide-ranging. Why 'Barolo'? Only because his colleague who founded the shop is a Barolo enthusiast. Just goes to show there are people in Spain with tastes in wine beyond Rioja.

An hour with Angel was indeed like a term at wine school. If it wasn't for the fact we were already weighed down with bottles from the Minho and Galicia we could have found a dozen equally interesting and rare wines to take with us. Enoteca Barolo alone would be worth anyone's trip to Madrid.

As it was we did fall for a couple of bottles including this Rufete from La tierra de Castilla y Leon. Rufete is in fact a Portuguese variety from the central eastern part of the country.'Wine Grapes' points out Rufete's connections with Touriga Nacional from the neighbouring Dao region and a grape called Puesto Mayor from Rueda and Prieto Picudo from Tierra de Leon in Spain. Whereas we assumed that such far-flung ancestry or relationships would be due to deliberate breeding by human hand. 'Wine Grapes' says 'These geographically distant relatives suggest that Rufete is a very old variety that spread out from Central Portugal to Spain a long time ago.' Perhaps this goes for Mando too?

Rufete is not as rare as some grapes (there are over 2,700 hectares in Portugal alone) but it is not often to be found. Winesearcher suggests it is about as frequently available as Vinhao for example.

and another fantastic blend of uber-obscure varieties. This time Brancellao, Ferrol (aka. Ferron), Caino Longo and Caino Redondo.
We also bought this blend from Ribeiro. Now at the risk of overly exciting some and rendering others catatonic, we have to say that one of the constituents, Caino Redondo is none other than Camaraou Noir. Camaraou Noir we hear you exclaim. yes, nothing else but the red variety originally from the Basses Pyrenees, (like Manseng Noir above). 'Wine Grapes' (what a marvelous book that is) adds that Camaraou Noir is not a mutation of Camaraou Blanc just in case you were wondering. It's something else altogether.

Jose Vouillamoz, the walking Swiss encyclopedia, is able to tell us further that 'Quite unexpectedly, comparison of the DNA profiles of Caino Redondo and Espadeiro in Galicia, Spain (distinct from the true Espadeiro in Portugal), shows they are identical to Camaraou Noir. Not being scientists, we ask if that means we can say this Caino Redondo is Spanish Espadeiro?

As a PS, we should add that it is quite common for people in one area to claim that their version of whatever variety is different from that in another region. We thought this was just a bit of chauvinism but maybe not.

Of Caino Longo, there is no mention in 'Wine Grapes'.

Enoteca Barolo also has an excellent website. Go see!

Vinoteca La Tintoreria, Calle Gurtubay 4, Madrid.
There was time to take in one more Bodega. La Tintoreria seemed interesting and so it was. Unknown to us it is something of a specialist in Galicia.

This section was devoted to North West Spain and was full of fascinating stuff. Again, we could have walked or rather stumbled out with a case without too much trouble in the selection.

this one looked familiar
La Tintoreria has a representative selection from elsewhere in Spain and abroad despite having a much smaller stock (237 wines) than Enoteca Barolo (1789) or Lavinia (2055). Nonetheless, size isn't everything and La Tintoreria is to be commended on having the interest and diversity of a much larger shop. It is a relatively new venture set up by young people with noble intentions to source genuine wines from small producers, sustain the environment and do well by doing good. We wish them well and will return here next time without doubt.

We can't leave La Tintoreria without mentioning that there was a bottle of 100% Merenzao there. Merenzao was nominated as one of the Cepas Galegos on the poster in the Vitivinicola Ribeiro we visited at Rivadavia (see previous post) but is none other than Trousseau, aka. Bastardo. For that matter, Mouraton is Juan Garcia. We just thought you might need to know that one day because some of the wines we had been collecting on our quest for Alvarelhao/Brancellao were not cheap and some of the bottles of the 'naughty' kind to quote Jancis Robinson (i.e. heavy) so a mistake could be costly as well as weighty.

And so we concluded our enquiries into the vinous  hot-spot of the Minho/Galicia for the moment. No doubt it could repay a lifetime's study. Where to next? The rest of Portugal offers limitless possibilities. As for Spain, Catalunya might be our next area for investigation but as mentioned gems are lurking beneath the surface in so many areas, just waiting for Slotovino to uncover them. You have been warned.

Monday 29 December 2014

Alvarelhao/Brancellao - a preliminary skirmish

Ladies of the Adega de Moncao checking on grape varieties in their Vinho Tinto

There are wines one never forgets. Forlorn Hope's Alvarelhao ("Suspiro del moro") is one of them. We liked it so much we made it Slotovino Red Wine of the Year 2012/13.

Ever since we have kept our eyes open for other wines made from this grape. We learned that in Spain it is known as Brancellao but until now we only ever found it in blends.

During these researches an unsettling piece of information surfaced which we need to disclose: Californian Alvarelhao is most likely Touriga Nacional. Now we love Touriga Nacional (who doesn't?) but it would be a pity if the Moor's last sigh was more the Moor's last laugh.

Thanks to Winesearcher we tracked down a bottle of 100% Alvarelhao in London. It is by Campolongo of Bairrada - not the Minho or Douro which are the usual home of Alvarelhao. Thanks to Tony of Portos - a very nice Portuguese Wine Bar and Restaurant in St. John's Street, London, we obtained a bottle for a tasting. Although coming out well enough it didn't have the impact of the Forlorn Hope Alvarelhao, nor could we say its characteristics reminded us of it particularly.

Shortly after this tasting the opportunity arose to make a quick trip to Porto from where we were determined to call in on Moncao - the most likely part of the Minho to have wines made with Alvarelhao and then over the Spanish border to Ribadavia and Ourense in the Ribeiro region for Brancellao.

Our enquiries started at Vini Portugal in Porto but amazingly they only had one Vinho Verde there (a white). So close to the Minho (the Vinho Verde region) and yet so far.

Estimates for driving from Porto to Moncao varied from 1 - 2 hours. In fact the border at Valenca can be reached  in 1 hour and then Moncao is only 17km along a local road.

Driving up the A3 motorway there was barely a vineyard to be seen. Very pretty and atmospheric hills and mountains with typical Atlantic pines and vegetation reminiscent of Cardiganshire in the weather on that particular day. Off the motorway there were quite a few vines planted in gardens but only a couple of vineyards.

Moncao feels remote both in distance and time. It is a frontier town with ancient fortifications against Spanish incursions. One of the first sights we saw was a shepherd driving a flock of sheep across a road very near the centre of town.

 also not far from the centre was a small vineyard.

We often find that in towns in the centre of wine-growing areas it is particularly difficult to find a shop selling wine and so it was in Moncao. Having heard of the Co-operative Adega de Moncao, we headed there.

The Adega de Moncao is rated as one of the best co-operatives in Portugal. At around 4.00 in the afternoon it was very quiet with only some ladies in overalls, gloves and hairnets hovering around the retail window. We asked if we could buy wine and they said we could. There were about half a dozen different whites on view and only one red. Expressing interest in the red, we asked what varieties it was made from. This caused a general mobilisation as can be seen in the photo at the head of this post. Eventually the answer came;


Normally Vinhao might be the largest constituent but Moncao being the centre for Alvarelhao, that took the lions share. Pedral is described as being rare in Portugal but now more common in Spain where t is also known as Verdejo Colorado. A Portuguese synonym is Alvarinho Tinto.

We asked how much a bottle of this wine might be and were told it could only be sold by the half case. Not wanting to carry 6 bottles around and rather worrying if it was any good in any case, we made our most doleful face and explained that we had come all the way from London and would not be able to take so many bottles back on the plane etc. At this the nice ladies relented and handed us the bottle. Asking how much we owed them, they laughed sweetly and made it clear it was a present. What a great Adega - giving it away!

It turned out the ladies knew what they were doing. This was a really delicious and interesting wine which we can heartily recommend.

From the Adega to the Spanish border was only a short hop. The Spanish wine region immediately over the border is the Rias Baixas as can be seen in our maps above. Although there is no sign of the border, both Portugal and Spain being Schengen countries, the Minho and Rias Baixas are not a cross border wine region. Such a thing exists in the Carso or Kars between Italy and Slovenia. Rias Baixas is concentrated on Albarino which is originally from Portugal (Alvarinho) as we know. In fact most grapes of the Minho are cross-border varieties as we have seen with Pedral. Others include Borracal/Caino Tinto, Loureiro, Trajadura/Treixadura, Vinhao/Souson and of course our Alvarelhao/Brancellao. Those which didn't cross the frontier include the Portuguese Azal of which more in a moment.

The scenery on the Spanish side is very similar to that of the Minho not surprisingly. We followed signs to Ourense. We had planned to stop at Rivadavia but there had been no signs to there until suddenly and unexpectedly an exit titled Rivadavia presented itself.

We immediately found ourselves presented with the Vitivinicola de Ribeiro co-operative; a handsome building with the winery machinery visible from the outside through large glass windows. Breezing in we were given an old-fashioned look by the girl at reception. Funny because business hours as posted on the door said open until 6.00pm and it was only 5.00pm. Then of course we remembered that we were in Spain and local time was one hour later than in Portugal.

The magic words 'comprar vino' secured extra time so we were invited to enter the organization's handsome tasting rooms and retail counter. Many of the wines bear the name' Costeira' familiar if not common from UK winelists and merchants. Thoughtfully, as if expecting our visit, there were three handsome posters celebrating 'Vides Galegas' on the walls. Immediately we wanted to buy one of each to put alongside similar posters of the 'Symphonie des cepages de Chateauneuf du Pape', Napa grapes etc. Sadly we were told they were no longer obtainable.

Red varieties include Souson, Caino Bravo, Merenzao, Brancellao, Mouraton, Espadeiro and Mencia.

White are Albarino, Treixadura, Godello, Luoreira, Torrontes, Caino Branco and Dona Branca.

while Albarino, Loureira, Treixadura and Torrontes are recommended to have with your shellfish

A kindly gentlemen in a lab-coat immediately found an interesting red for us made from Caino Tinto, Brancellao, Souson, Ferron and Mencia. Wow! Ferron by the way is also known as Manseng Noir which needless to say is unrelated to Gros Manseng or Petit Manseng. Manseng Noir pops up in Southwest France. There are 3 hectares in the Pyrennees Atlantiques, 4 hectares in Spain and 10 hectares in Condom between Bordeaux and Toulouse.

The rule at the Vitivinicola de Ribeiro was a minimum of 3 bottles so we allowed ourselves to be advised on a Treixadura. and another white from a blend.

Buoyed up by the high serendipity count, we plied our way onwards to Ourense, provincial capital and gratifyingly far from the tourist trail. It turned out to be a rather charming bustling city which seemed on the surface at least to be economically rather better off than the part of Spain we are used to (viz. Andalucia).

After entering a bit of a serendipity-free zone, normal service was restored by our coming upon Tenda Santorum, an Ourense institution without doubt.

Although small, it had everything as far as we were concerned, with plenty of shelves devoted to the local wine specialities. This is never a given. We learned this thanks to many an experience where these are shunned. Only now for instance can you buy a reasonable selection of Malaga wines in the Sierras de Malaga region.

There was even a blogger on hand who also served in the shop called Daniel Marin (ivinourense.blogspot.com) a very knowledgeable person dedicated to the same aspirations as us and keen to share them with as many people as possible.

This Brancellao from Valdeorras was tough and sadly disappointing. Perhaps too young to drink right away?

We're looking forward to this. Zarate's Espadeiro was a big find.
Albarello is yet another synonym for Brancellao/Alvarelhao. Let's hope this one hits the spot.

Back to Porto with our swag and a dinner of chicken gizzards on the departure level of the airport. Now which other airport has a concession serving chicken gizzards? We hope not too many!

We were not quite finished with the Minho. Francesco de Sa Carneiro Airport has an excellent selection of Vinhos Verdes. Good for them and for us. We added two rather more usual but nice examples to our collection a Vinhao (Quinta do Outeiro de Baixo) and a Loureiro (Casa Vilacetinho).

Also from Casa Vilacetinho was  a 100% Azal Vinho Verde. 'Wine Grapes' is not encouraging about Azal. Much reduced in plantings in comparison with days of old, it is written off as one of the least interesting Vinho Verde varieties. At the same time 'Wine Grapes' acknowledges that it produces 'delicate, fresh wines with flavours of lemon and green apple. Fear of rot sometimes spurs growers to pick too early, resulting in screeching acidity.' That was not the case here. The Casa Vilacetinho Azal was a major find. Azal in the right hands is welcome to the august Slotovino Hall of Fame.

What an amazing skirmish this had been not only with Alvarelhao/Brancellao but so many other 'cepages modestes' as rare grape varieties are condescendingly called in French. Alcohol levels are almost uniformly reasonable. Now on to Madrid to see what the country's capital made of Rias Baixas, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei, this almost Tempranillo-free zone of utmost diversity and interest.