Back in the last century it was pretty simple if you liked wine. You had your own “wine merchant”, a decent fellow, one hoped. If you wanted “claret” then you took what he recommended, what he had. Likewise Hock, and Burgundy, and Champagne, and that was about it. The 21st Century Schizoid Man (or woman) has a multitude of problems not faced back in those days. There are now so many really interesting importers that loyalty to even half a dozen, let alone just one, is impossible. Just when you think you have your wine purchases limited to a just about manageable dozen or so, another comes along whose wines you just cannot resist. Otros Vinos is one of those. I knew three of their producers already, so at Monday’s Vaults Tasting (at Winemakers Club, Farringdon) they were the first table I hit.
OtrosVinos is a very small outfit. They only have ten or so growers, and are based over in East London. They have their wines in a number of smart restaurants around the capital, but their main retail outlet is Furanxo, the Dalston deli co-owned by Xavier Alvarez, chef and himself co-owner of Tagállan, the increasingly well regarded Spanish restaurant in Stoke Newington, and Manuel Santos (Santos & Santos Imports). OtrosVinos piqued my interest because, as I said, I already know three of their producers (from both Raw Wine, and my trip to Granada last summer).
The three I know already are Ambiz, Fabio Bartolomei’s wonderful estate from El Tiemblo in the Sierra de Gredos (see Part 2 of my 2017 Raw write-up for my most recent comments on this producer), and two Granada names, Cauzón (from Graena) and the excellent back to the future wines of Purulio (Torcuato Huertas’ 2.5 hectares of magical terroir near Marchal, on the north side of the Sierra Nevada). The wines I tasted on Monday proved that the rest of the portfolio is just as good. If you like wild wines from Spain…and they are quite wild! Anyway, I’m putting my own money where my mouth is…
Clot de les Soleres – This is a small biodynamic producer from Piera, close to Barcelona (about 45 minutes by jeep). The soils are limestone with quartz, and like so many of the producers here, altitude and the cool nights it brings, helps to ameliorate daytime temperatures, further assisted by sea breezes off the Med.
Xarel-lo Ancestral is a delicious pet-nat style of gentle sparkler with a nice line of mineral freshness, but just a little residual sugar too. It’s a fantastic wine, one of the best in the pet-nat style I’ve drunk this year. And only 10% alcohol.
Macabeu (Macabeo in Spanish) is the entry level still white. In contrast to the sparkler, where only 400 bottles were made of the 2015, this 2014 is more plentiful. It’s aged purely in stainless steel, but it does have texture along with an appley freshness (but not too much acidity).
Cabernet Rosat is Cabernet Sauvignon, made from a gentle whole bunch direct press. There’s a slight effervescence, and it’s more orange than pink (or at least appeared so in the relatively dark light of The Vaults). This wine has really nice texture, and a sort of sweet and bitter thing going on for the finish (almost honeyed, but dry). The flavours linger.
Costador Terroirs Mediterranis – This is a producer in Conca de Barberà, near Tarragona. Old vines (60-110 years old) and altitude (400-800 metres) produce grapes which retain their acidity. Old oak and amphora are the preferred vessels for ageing.
Metamorphika Sumoll Blanc/Brisat 2015 blends two rare grapes (I know the red Sumoll grape variety well, and love it, but the white version is almost extinct). The Sumoll Blanc here are 80-year-old bush vines, pressed as whole bunches in amphora for just six weeks (as with whole bunch fermentation in Beaujolais, the grapes on top press the grapes on the bottom by their sheer weight, which also adds a touch of skin contact). Following that, the wine spends seven months in 500 litre oak foudres. This is a fairly complex still wine with real personality despite its youth, but even after the skin contact and amphora fermentation, it tastes very clean.
Metamorphika Moscat/Brisat has a floral, Muscat grape, nose but tastes dry on the palate. Tasted blind, this is not only exceptional, but again has real character. Not your usual simple Muscat. Then, when you see the bottle…(the one below, on the left).
Marenas – makes wines in one of the hottest parts of Spain, Montilla. José-Miguel Márquez has six hectares of vineyards on the sandy clay soils of this part of Córdoba Province. You get around 3,000 hours of sunshine in a year here, and temperatures can reach fifty degrees centigrade. But there are cooling breezes (without which the flor on the traditional Sherry-like Montilla wines would not form), and by harvesting in the early hours, freshness can be retained.
I tasted Mediacapa 2015, made from 100% Pedro-Ximenez. The wine is aged in stainless steel without skin contact, yet seems to have lots of dry extract. It’s dry on the nose, but there does seem to be a tiny bit of residual sugar on the palate, adding a touch of richness. Alcohol is a very creditable 12%. The colour might look a bit dubious for a still, unfortified, wine (see photo to the right of the Clot de les Soleres wines above), but think of Equipo-Navazos Florpower. That should be enough to tempt some of you.
Cerro Encinas is 100% Monastrel given ten days’ maceration with stems. A smoky wine with hints of dark fruit and liquorice, but retaining a crispy freshness. Finally, Asoleo is a Moscatel, picked early in July, after which the berries are dried. Then the grapes are fermented in stainless steel before spending a year in 200-year-old oak. It comes in a half-bottle. A stunning wine with great concentration without losing freshness. There’s caramel and toffee, but it isn’t cloying, and there’s only 8% alcohol, which results in that lifted lightness above the concentration. Very sensual.
OtrosVinos import six other wines from Marenas, a list worth exploring further.
Cauzón – Ramon Saavedra farms around six hectares at around 1,100 metres or so altitude near Graena, on the northern side of the Sierra Nevada range. The soils are mineral rich sandy loam, and although the summers are hot, the seasonal melt from the snows, which make these mountains so stunningly beautiful throughout the year, helps to provide essential irrigation. Nevertheless, yields are very low. I met Ramon a couple of times in 2016 and he’s a great guy, quite a force of nature (in a good way), as are his wines.
I just tasted one wine from Bodegas Cauzón on Monday, Cabronicus. This is an earthy red made, as the name suggests, by carbonic maceration from a very windy high altitude vineyard (1,200 metres) on red sand. I said “earthy”, but it’s also light and fruity.
Have a look at Ramon’s Blog here. One of the fascinating things you’ll see in the photos are the traditional caves where wines were habitually made in the past, perhaps some of the first attempts at a version of cool fermentation!
Verdevique – this is another Granada Province producer, based at Cástaras in the beautiful Alpujarras. The García family farm 22 hectares at between 1,150 and 1,400 metres altitude (famous for being among Europe’s highest vineyards). This elevation means that, contrary to what you might think, temperatures rarely exceed the low 30s centigrade. The soils up here are pure slate, with almost no organic matter to bind the roots, which survive by burrowing deep and, again, waiting patiently for the melting snows to bring life.
This is an estate which champions rare autochthonous varieties, but Tinto Cosecha (2014) is their entry level red, made from a blend of 60% Tempranillo and 40% Garnacha. But the twist is 25 days’ skin contact, which gives a wine which is full in the mouth, with grip and presence, softened with sappy fruit (and reaching 14.5% alcohol, but you would never know until, presumably, you stagger a little on finishing the bottle).
Purulio – Torcuato Huertas has a very interesting social media profile. He appears to be a prolific poster on Instagram (where I’ve followed him for some time), although Fernando at OtrosVinos did point out to me that it’s not him who does the posting – I’d guessed as much. It’s hardly surprising when, without appearing to insult Torcuato’s considerable abilities, you see him in these photos. You can tell that he is completely wedded to his tiny plots of vines and to making some special wines. His family traditionally made wine in the once again fashionable terracotta tinajas, but he prefers to age his own wines in oak.
OtrosVinos import three wines from Purulio: a Blanco, a Tinto, and the red Jaral, made from the highest parcels of vines which are often covered in snow in winter. Fernando was showing just the Purulio Tinto 2014, which is blended from vines in both of Torcuato’s plots at 500m and 950m. The wine is a blend of seven co-planted varieties which undergo 25 days on skins before spending around nine months in old oak. Wine like this is not intended for lengthy, complex, tasting notes. It’s fruity with grip, simple as that. I’ve tried several Purulio wines and they are all very much alive. Old fashioned in some ways, perhaps, but they don’t conform to any preconceived idea of what wine from Southern Spain tastes like. They speak of their beautiful but tough surroundings, and of a life in which their bringing to fruition is frankly tough as well.