Wednesday 26 August 2015

Tasting: A lost corner of Tuscany, the least Spanish province of Spain and others

This tasting was a bit of a rat-bag. It started out as a study of two grape varieties worthy of better recognition, Barsaglina and Brancellao. Massaretta and Alvarelhao might ring more bells but they are just respective synonyms.

Alvarelhao had reached us in the form of Forlorn Hope's marvelous Suspiro del Moro which won the Slotovino Best Red Wine of the Year. Our researches into this grape which is called Brancellao in both Portugal and in Galicia turned up the worrying suggestion that at least some Californian Alvarelhao is actually Touriga Nacional. Certainly none of the Spanish Brancellaos tasted anything like the Alvarelhao from Forlorn Hope.

Massaretta/Barsaglina seemed a better bet somehow. Wines with this in the blend had impressed us hugely on recent visits to the Versilia, (in particular the Lucca/Viareggio area). Not that these wines from what Rosemary George has described as a forgotten corner of Tuscany are to be found in that area. We had stumbled upon them in Carrara quite by chance. They are so obscure as to be fantastically difficult to find even in the area of production - fantastically difficult to obtain them even from the producers themselves as it turned out.

One of our experts at the tasting preferred the Spanish wines to the Italians in general and also noted that not all obscure grape varieties are good. Of course we agree with that but this Blog has found enough good and even great varieties which are also obscure and crying out for recognition.

So it was in this tasting as you will see. First, a couple if surprises. Wines from both Spain and Italy included in the tasting were remarkably robust once opened and improved not just after a few hours but in some cases over a few days after opening - especially the Barsaglinas! The other surprises were the Polleras - preferred by experts over the Barsaglinas in general and a major discovery for all present as it had been to us, the wines of Palazzo Tronconi, in particular the red from 100% Lecinaro.

First, a small table with some token whites and our find from Oenorama last year, Domaine Glinavos's Paliokairisio - a natural wine from a white grape, Debina and a red, Vlahiko - a speciality of this producer. We even had a white especially made for the occasion in response to a friend's lament for a true natural sparkling Bianco di Candia.

WHITES, ROSES (or light Red) wines from Spain and Italy and an ORANGE wine from Greece


Loxarel LXV Blanc de Vermell, Penedes DOC. 2013.  11.5%. XAREL-LO VERMELL

Discovered at Vini Veri, Cerea in 2013. Xarel-Lo Vermell is a distinct and rare grape variety. We're not sure Loxarel are making this as a monovarietal white  wine any more. This was not as much a standout as we had expected.

Bier e Vino Shop. Nazzarno, Carrara. 'Brio'. Vino Bianco Frizzante. Metodo ancestrale. 2014. 12%. VERMENTINO

This has been specially made by our correspondent in Carrara, Paolo Borsalino and friends for Lino  Mannocci who is from Viareggio and who lamented that the real naturally sparkling Bianco di Candia could no longer be found. to quote: " the 'real' Candia. A white with natural bubbles impossible to find."  Lino seemed to like it.

Giancarlo Giusti. Novecento. Massa.. (Candia dei Colli Apuani DOC). 2013.  12.5% VERMENTINO (bottle fermented). 

Paolo Borsalino insisted we tried this and he was right. A traditionally made example of Vermentino from the Tuscan coast, bottle fermented. We loved it but others found it hard going.


Podere Benelli. Oppilo di Pontremoli, Toscana. (Val di Magra IGT).​ 12%. DURELLA

Durella is next to Vermentino one of the common white grapes of the area. It is from the North East between Vicenza and Verona and is found in Lombardy as well as here. This example wasn't a great ambassador in our book but again others found it interesting.

Podere Garfagnana. Vini da montagna. Riana. 2013. 12%. BALSOINA, VERDOLINO

They say 'La Garfagnana e un niente' as far as wine is concerned, so how come they have their own indiginous grapes there? We know of at least 4 (these two and 2 in the Podere Garfagnana's red 'Fopola' also included in this tasting) which  is more than some continents. We love this 'Riana'. It's named after a village, nor a pop star. Podere Garfagnana's stated aim is as follows:

'fa ritornare a vita vigneti ormai abbandonati e coltivare vitigni locali sconosciuti. E stata una bella soddisfazione.'

Riana didn't make a big impression on this occasion.

Palazzo Tronconi, Fatia,  (Frusinate PGI). Arce (Fr). 2014. 12%. PAMPANARO, MATURANO, TREBBIANO

The Palazzo Tronconi wines (there are 2  whites and 2 Reds) are included as a bonus in this tasting, not coming from our particular area of interest but further down the coast south of Rome. We say bonus because they are made organically from very, very obscure varieties and are delicious we think. This was universally appreciated.

Palazzo Tronconi,  Fregellae, (Frusinate PG1). Arce (Fr). 2014. 13%.  PAMPANARO, MATURANO, CAPOLONGO (aka. CAMPOLONGO)

Marco Marrocco who owns Palazzo Tronconi  and makes the wine bought the estate recently because it had been in his family for generations and he remembers it when it was owned by his grandfather. It was subsequently sold. Marco is a fully qualified Engineer but went on to study Oenology and work in  Bordeaux. Look out for his two Reds further on! The experts considered this even better than Fatia (above).


Familia Lopez Diaz-Alejo, 6 Elemento. Venta del Moro, Valencia. 2013. 14.5%.  ROYAL

We found this wine at the fair at Villa Favorita near Verona two years ago. The delightful Lopez  Diaz-Alejo family were on hand to show this and their Bobal. We asked if this grape, Royal was the same as the Rojal used by Bernabe Navarro (to the left). They hadn't heard of Rojal or Bernabe Navarro although the wineries are under 150km apart. The answer  remains a mystery. 

This wine was great at the Villa Favorita but when we drank it back in the UK we wondered if it hadn't been a 'holiday hit.' Further acquaintance didn't improve matters but strangely, it shone once more at this tasting. One expert found it 'Definitely odd'.


Domaine Glinavos 'Paliokairisio' Zitsa, Ioannina Sparkling (Orange?) wine.  2012. 10.5%. DEBINA, VLACHIKO

This was a stand-out at Oenorama, Athens in March last year. With fantastic (bureaucratic) difficulty  we managed to bring 12 bottles in. Opinion is sharply divided but apart from one bottle which was 'off' we like it. Debina is a white grape, Vlachiko (a speciality of Domaine Glinavos) is red. The wine may be Orange but the colour is nearer brown. Paiokairisio  means Old Times. The name refers to the method by which this sparkling wine is made.

Testing has resulted in divided opinions; people either love it or they don't. Comments included 'Very, very unusual' and 'Lots of fun.'

Spain: Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra and  others


Adega Algueira.(Ribeira Sacra). 2009. ALBARELLO (aka. BRANCELLAO)

Our obsession with Brancellao or Alvarelhao as it is known in Portugal, comes from the fantastic  Alvarelhao ('Suspiro del moro') by Forlorn Hope, California. The problem is that none of the Alvarelhao/Brancellao wines we tasted from Portugal or Galicia resembled in the slightest the Forlorn Hope wine. Subsequently, it emerged that a lot of Californian  Alvarelhao is Touriga Nacional. 'Rich and moreish' was one opinion.


Resultado de imagen de cachin peza do rei

Bodega Cachin: Peza do Rey (Ribeira Sacra). 2014. 13%. BRANCELLAO, CAINO  TINTO, MERENZAO (aka. BASTARDO, TROUSSEAU), MENCIA.

Brancellao is most often to be found in blends with other local grapes. This is a Tempranillo-free zone though. Hooray! 

Peza do Rey went down rather well with the cognoscenti.


Vina Costeira, Alen da Istoria (Ribeiro). 12%. BRANCELLAO, CAINO TINTO,  SOUSON (aka. VINHAO), MENCIA. 

Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra in Spain and Vinho Verde in Portugal is really one cross-border area. Brancellao  is grown on both sides. The Portuguese even use the name Brancellao as well as Alvarelhao  and the  Gallego dialect is near to Portuguese. Mencia is the dominant variety of nearby Spanish areas such as Bierzo, Monterrei and Valdeorras. It is known as Jaen in Portugal. Vinhao is the most common grape of Vinho Verde red wines. There are more than a dozen Cainos or Cainhos but most are synonyms for something else such as Borracal (in this case), Pedral, Amaral, etc. The only true Caino is Caino Blanco, a white grape of course. 'Meaty'.


Luis A. Rodriguez Vazquez. A Torna dos Pasos. (Ribeiro). 2011. 12.5%.   BRANCELLAO, FERROL (aka. MANSENG NOIR), CAINO LONGO, CAINO REDONDO.

The two Cainos are obscure to say the least. Caino Longo is not mentioned in 'Wine Grapes' and Caino Redondo is actually a grape called Camaraou Noir which has its origins in South West France. 'Characterful'.

Resultado de imagen de adega sameiras

Adega Sameiras, (Ribeiro) Tinto 2012. 12%. BRANCELLAO, CAINO TINTO, SOUSON  (aka. VINHAO), (each 30%), MENCIA (20%).

This one is available in the UK. 'A touch rustic.'


Anselmo Mendes 'Pardusco' Vinho Verde Tinto 2012, Melgaco, Portugal. 12.5%.  VINHAO, PEDRAL, BRANCELHO, BORRACAL

This one is also available in the UK. Note the inclusion of Pedral and Borracal. We These  two varieties are also grown in Spain. Pedral is also known as Cainho dos Miagres or Cainho Espanol and Borracal is also known as Caino Tinto or even Espadeiro Redondo. 'Moreish'.


Cordula. Costera Alta. (D.O. Valencia). 2012. 13.5%. MANDO (aka. MANDON).

We found this in Lavinia, Madrid. Mando is an 'endangered' variety according to 'Wine Grapes' so we had to include it. Get your last Mando/Mandon here! 'A wild quality.'


Ismael Gozalo. Rufian. Vino de la Tierra. (Castilla y Leon). 2012. 12.5%. RUFETE

Rufete is not so rare but we didn't know it so it is included here. This bottle comes from a wonderful  wine shop in Madrid called 'Barolo' which is presided over by a very knowledgeable Daniel Barenboim look-alike called Angelo. 'Lively aromatic'.


Finca Moratilla. (Vino de la Tierra Ribera del Jiloca). 2009. 14.5% VIDADILLO.

Vidadillo or Vidadillo de Almonacid is 'almost extinct' ('Wine Grapes'). It comes from the Zaragoza area (Aragon, North East sPAIN). Amazingly enough this bottle comes from Laithwaites. They don't only sell wine by price. 'Ripe but fresh.'


Bernabe Navarro. (Alicante). Ramblis del Arco. 2012. 13%. FOURCAYAT  (aka. FORCALLAT)

Bernabe Navarro showed his wines in London two or three years  ago and some of them are available now from Les Caves de Pyrene. We salute his work in reviving 'Heritage' grape varieties and making such great wine. 'Lively and zesty'.

Monasterio de Corias. Seis Octavos. Joven Seleccion. (Cangas, Asturias).  2012. 12%. CARRASQUIN, VERDEJO NEGRO (aka. BASTARDO, MERENZAO, TROUSSEAU), ALBARIN NEGRO (aka. PRIETO PICUDO), MENCIA.

We found this in Flatiron Wines of New York and couldn't resist the blend. 'Distinctively wild.'


Bodegas Aruspide; El linze. Vino de la Tierra,  (Castilla la Mancha). 2008. 13.5%. TINTO VELASCO, SYRAH.

Tinto Velasco is obscure enough to be included here but we think there is a majority of Syrah so  it may not show. Expert opinion didn't find much of Syrah though either in taste or feel. '...undergrowth/earthy characteristics of maturity are probably dominating the varietal character here...'

Bodega Pirineos,  Seleccion. Somontano 2008 MORISTEL (NB. not MONASTREL/MOURVEDRE)

We love Moristel. It is surprisingly  difficult to find in Spain. The Spanish keep their treasures well concealed. This one was from Selfridges. 'Fresh tang...minty.'

Italy: Candia dei Colli Apuani.  Val di Magra, Liguria di Levante plus others from the Garfagnana and Campagna

Azienda Cima: Candia dei Alpi Apuani. (Toscana IGT). 2012. 13.5%. MASSARETTA

As with Brancellao in Spain and Portugal, Massaretta is an obscure grape mostly found in blends.  It is named after the town of Massa (the Massa near Carrara, not Massa Marittima further down the coast). Cima is one of the most prominent names in the area and is run by an energetic chap eager to make his wines more widely known. Sadly this bottle was corked.

Azienda Agricola Roberto Castagnini. Cybo. (Candia dei Colli Apuani DOC).  2011. 12.5%. MASSARETTA

Massaretta is difficult to grow. D'Agata says it has thin skin which makes it prone to botrytis, oidium, sunburn, and has poor adaptability to drought. It also tends to drop its leaves. It  seems to do best in the Massa-Carrara hills and Alpi Apuani. Amazingly,  it is unknown to people outside this area and even within it! These wines are incredibly difficult to find. Even our agent, Paolo Borsalino took a long time to source these bottles. 'A bit of a bruiser.'

Monastero dei Frati Bianchi (M.F.B.);   Toscana IGT. 13%. BARSAGLINA (MASSARETTA)

Also known as Barsaglina, we came across  this bottle in a little place called Soliera between Aulla and Fosdinovo, Tuscany, near the border with Liguria. The shop is called 'Vino Estremo'.
Barsaglina/Massaretta was down to a few vines when a certain Paolo Storchi rescued the variety with the help of Pier Paolo Lorieri of Podere Scurtarola. There were fewer than 30 hectares in 2000 but like Vermentino Nero, also rescued by Sr. Lorieri it seems to be making a return. 'Firm tannins, needs food to help it along.'

L'Aurora di Francesco. Terramarina. Colline di Candia. (Rosso di Toscana  IGT). 2013. 12.5%. MASSARETTA, SANGIOVESE, VERMENTINO NERO

Massaretta is mostly found in blends with Sangiovese, Vermentino Nero as here and also perhaps with  Cilegiolo. L'Aurora di Francesco also sell it as a 'Vino Sfuso' (draught wine) in their shop in Marina di Massa. 'Lots of flavour.'

Azienda Terre Apuane: (Candia dei Colli Apuani). Formarossa. 2013. 13.5%. MASSARETTA (80%),  SANGIOVESE (20%)

We met the delightful Emanuele Crudeli and visited his vineyard last week. He is another soulful vigneron devoted to his heritage and to the difficult terroir of the Colli Apuani and its grapes. 'Gentler than the other Massarettas tasted so far.'

Azienda Terre Apuane; (Candia dei Colli Apuani). Monte Sagro. 2012. 14.5%. SANGIOVESE,  MASSARETTA, VERMENTINO NERO

Emanuele Crudeli believes in plots facing the sea. He says the light reflected from the sea makes  a difference as well as the moderating influence on the climate. 'Dominated by the Sangiovese.'

Azienda Agricola Il Tino. (Toscana IGT). 2012. 13%. MASSARETTA, VERMENTINO  NERO.

Another difficult-to-find wine of the area. None of these wines is available in Lucca 20km away! 'Great freshness.'

Nardi, Paolo Armando. Vino Biologico Rosso. (Liguria di Levante). 2013. 13.5%.  MASSARETTA (50%),  MERLOT 'and others'.

Sr. Nardi inherited his vineyard from his father after having made his career elsewhere as an engineer. The 'others' in his vineyard are a mystery. He says his father obtained other vines from here and there and didn't worry what they were as long as they were red. 'Dry and lively.'

Elvira Milani. Rubecchio. (Candia dei Colli Apuani DOC). Carrara. 2013.  13%. BRACCIOLA NERA, SANGIOVESE, VERMENTINO NERO, MOSCATO D'AMBURGO (aka. MALVASIA NERA in Liguria among many other aliases).

The blends of this area don't have to include Massaretta. This one has Bracciola Nera which Emanuele  Crudeli of terre Apuani values greatly. It also has Black Hamburgh - a mainstay of British garden centres but also known as Schiava  Grossa as well as Malvasia Nera. Some say Malvasia Nera is Tempranillo! 'A bit lean for comfort.'

Podere Benelli. Oppilo di Pontremoli, Toscana. (Val di Magra IGT). 12%. POLLERA

Just on the border with Liguria, Pollera  takes over from Massaretta as the local red grape speciality. We think Pollera (pronounced with the stress on the first syllable) is a great discovery too. 'Scented palate.'

Monastero dei Frati Bianchi (M.F.B.);  Toscana  IGT. 13%. POLLERA

Bought from the little shop in Soliera 'Vino Estremo' as well as the M.F.B. Barsaglina. 'Delicious juicy dark fruit...fragrant.' This was quite a hit.

Produttore Lorieri. Massa. 'Venero'. (Toscana IGT). 2008. 13.5%. VERMENTINO  NERO

Pier Paolo Lorieri is the outstanding personality of the area having brought Vermentino Nero (and Massaretta) back  from obscurity. Just see how many of these blends include it! His property is called Scurtarola which is a local word for Short-Cut. The property is mid-way between Massa and Carrara. 'Very interesting.'

Podere Lavandaro. Vignanera. Fosdinovo. Toscana IGT. 2013. 13.5%  MERLA,  CANAIOLO.

Canaiolo Nero used to be the main grape of Chianti before phylloxera. Now it has been roundly superceded  by Sangiovese as it is harder to grow and can be astringent. Here in this corner of Tuscany it holds its own sometimes under the synonym Merla. Local gowers insist Merla is slightly different from Canaiolo, hence the inclusion of both names here. 'Definitely a wine for a blend.'

Terenzuola Merla della Miniera. (Toscana IGT). 2011. 14%. UVA MERLA (aka. CANAIOLO  NERO). 

Terenzuola is one of the best producers of the area. Some local properties  which used to make wonderful wines of their own such as Tenuta Palatina have sold up to Terenzuola. We found this wine at Enoteca Marcucci (Sting'sfavourite restaurant) in Pietrasanta. '...pretty tannic...time does not seem to have softened it.'

Terenzuola + Paolo Parisi & Michele Marcucci.  Cinta.. Fosdinovo.  (Toscana IGT).  2012. 13%. TINTORETTO (aka. TINZIN, COLORINO? CANAIOLO NERO? See D'Agata 'Native Wine Grapes of Italy' p. 221)). 

Enoteca Marcucci aslo acts as Negociants as you can see by this wine commissioned with them from  Terenzuola for their Restaurant and Enoteca in Pietrasanta. Check out page 221 if D'Agata's book (on the table) for an insight into how complicated things can get in identifying grape varieties in Italy. 

'Smells more 'modern' than many of these wines.' 

Azienda Agricola Il Posticcio. Terre del Posticcio, Valle delle Spino Secco.  Rosso Secco. (Val di Magra IGT).  2012. 13%. MERLOT, CILEGIOLO, ROSSARA.

We included this blend because it includes Rossara which we have encountered in purezza and  liked. This bottle was considered a bit tough.

Podere Garfagnana.  Vini da montagna. Fopola.  2013. 135.  PIGHETTA, FARINELLA

See our notes to the white wine of Podere Garfagnana. We make no claims for this red which if memory  serves is rustic but not in a good way. On the other hand you'll probably never find a Pighetta/Farinella blend again. Expert opinion was quite the opposite: 'deliciously fresh and scented.'

Again, Podere Garfagnana has something touching to say about their area:

'Una zona che fino al allora non era considerata fertile per la produzione.' They charmingly refer to their grape varietis as 'alcuni vitigni autoctoni non riconosciuti.'

Palazzo Tronconi, Zitore,  (Frusinate PGI). Arce (Fr). 2013. 12.5%.  LECINARO

See our notes also to Palazzo Tronconi's  whites. Lecinaro (or Lecinara) isn't to be found in 'Wine Grapes' but made it into 'Native Wine Grapes of Italy' where it receives the thumbs up from Ian D'Agata. It seems to us to be a winner! Our focus group agreed: this was the only bottle to be finished - always a good sign. The experts were also enthusiastic with comments such as 'Deliciously fragrant...lively...delicate...lovely scent on the persistant finish.'

Palazzo Tronconi, Donnico, (Frusinate PGI).. Arce (Fr). 2013. 12%.  OLIVELLA (aka. SCIASCINOSO), LECINARO, MATURANO NERO

A blend from Palazzo Tronconi including two other obscure varieties as well as Lecinaro. We predict a bright future for these wines from Marco Marrocco, Palazzo  Tronconi. 'Like the above...but here is a touch of the savoury olive...'