I went to a Tasting yesterday, which I hope to write up next week. What stood out about it was that so many wines were almost identical. Of course, that helped the best wines, the really good ones, to stand out above the rest. On Monday this week Otros Vinos held its Portfolio Tasting of small estate Spanish wines at Furanxo Delicatessen, in Dalston. What made this tasting very different to the other one is that here pretty much every wine was unique.
It makes it so much harder to choose your favourites when you are faced with such diversity, and you can’t just do what I did at that other tasting, “sip-spit-sip-spit” my way through a batch of tannic reds until I found the good ones. You have to give every wine a fair chance. But when you do, in the case of Otros Vinos, what glories you get to taste. In fact such were the many gems on the counter that I can’t leave my conclusions until the end.
For the adventurous wine lover (and bear in mind that caveat – I know most of you are, but there might be a few lovers of more traditional wines reading this), this has to be one of the most exciting small importers in the country at the moment. Many wines are quite extreme in some respects, with plenty made with skin contact, or in amphora. Several are blended from lots of varieties, some grown at very high altitude, and most are natural wines which are not shy of being edgy (I mean in terms of flavour profile, not quality). But that’s where you find fulfillment, out on the edge of our wine galaxy. Most of the producers below work “naturally”, with no, or little, intervention.
Vinos Ambiz (Sierra de Gredos, Madrid/Ávila)
Have you ever been to Ávila. I recommend it, an intact medieval walled city with 80 towers and nine gates in the hills northwest of the Spanish capital. I spent less than a day there once, and I’d love to go back (and it’s not too far from one of my favourite places in Spain, Salamanca).
The wines from the Gredos are getting a reputation. What drew me to Otros Vinos initially was spotting that they imported three fantastic producers I’d only encountered in Spain. I met Fabio Bartolomei in person first at Raw Wine two years ago in London, and then again last year. Since my first encounter with his wines (and again, in Granada in summer 2016), I’ve become even more of a fan. Fabio makes wine in the old co-operative cellars at El Tiemblo in the Sierra de Gredos.
This all makes it really difficult to say which of his wines I like best, because I like them all. But on Monday I tried a wine I’d not had before, Tempranillo Carbonic Maceration 2016. Cloudy cherry in colour, a nose of bright cherry fruit, and then a palate that hits you like a slap in the face. The purest of cherry juice. Total glou-glou, a brilliant wine for when you need to down some refreshment after a long day’s work.
Two of Fabio’s orange wines vie for my affection. Alba 2016 is Albillo, and Doris 2016 is Doré. These are very tiny production wines (I’m not sure about Alba but just 700 bottles of Doris were made in 2016). The latter is savoury, a lovely wine with bitter mandarin orange on the finish. The former (Alba) has less texture and seemingly more fruit. It comes across as more refreshing, but perhaps Doris may be better with food. I call it a tie between them.
If you want to explore further, Fernando at Otros Vinos has some of Fabio’s Airén Carabaña (only 250 bottles made), Garnacha, conventionally fermented Tempranillo, a wild Sauvignon Blanc (which has a taste like peppers), and a very unusual wine called Malvar Tinaja 2016. This is another microvinification, in eight small, unglazed, amphora (as is the Sauvignon). It’s made from 100-year-old vines and sees four months on skins, and it takes savoury to another level. I would not call this wine “entry level” in that respect. I would call it quite inspired, though that caveat above applies especially for this wine.
Bodega Cauzón (Graena, Granada)
Cauzón lies east of Granada, just south of the A-92, on the north side of the Sierra Nevada. The winemaker here is the very talented Ramon Saavedra, who tends vines at roughly between 1,100 and 1,200 metres altitude. Days here are still hot in summer, but night time temperatures plummet, helping to lengthen the growing season as well as providing the benefits of a large diurnal variation in temperature. This is another of the producers I’d enjoyed before I knew about Otros Vinos. Their wines are not too hard to find in Granada.
Up until Monday I had drunk two wines on more occasions than the others – Cauzón Blanco, currently in the 2016 vintage, which starts off very refreshing before a bit of texture comes in on the back palate, on the finish, and Cabrónicus (2016), a delicious pale red. This bottle showed very slight reduction, but I was one of the early birds at the Tasting, and I can vouch for the deliciousness of this wine, which would benefit from a carafe, and serving ever so slightly cool.
My star of the day from Cauzón turned out to be Degraciano 2016. Think cranberry juice but nicer, and a bit more concentrated. A rush of pure fruit makes this a zippy pale red. There was six hours of skin contact, effectively, in that half of the juice was direct pressed and half saw 12 hours on skins. Again, definitely serve cool.
Any of Ramon’s other wines are worth trying, and Fernando has another five. For my own tastes, I’d choose Pinoir 2016 and Cauzón Tinto 2016, which I think is pure Tempranillo.
Clot de les Soleres (Piera, Barcelona)
This estate can be found just southwest of the Muntanya de Montserrat, in Catalunya. Carles Mora Ferrer is now one of my favourite Otros Vinos producers, and Fernando had eight of his wines on show.
One of the stars of the range is the Xarel-lo 2015 “pét-nat”, which is a very fruity sparkler sealed under crown cap. The fruit really seeps through the rapier-like acidity, making for a genuine glugger. If you want a still white, perhaps try the Chardonnay 2015. It’s a very different take on Chardonnay, more like a cross between Jura and Chablis, but in fact that doesn’t do it justice at all. There’s also varietal Xarel-lo and Macabeu from 2014.
My wine of the tasting from Soleres was the new to me Cent 2, 2016. It’s a very pale red (it looks a little like a Rosé des Riceys if you know what I mean), with a bouquet of juicy strawberries and other red fruits. The palate is quite concentrated, and it ends up with both a haunting quality, and a real “zing” as well. It’s another very refreshing wine, but I’d not call it merely simple, not at all. Fantastic!
If you try one other wine from Soleres, perhaps it should be the Cabernet Rosat 2013. This is perhaps more orange than pink, but it dials up the fruit even more. Carles is a bit of a Cabernet specialist, and there was a very nicely evolved Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, and a Cabernet Sauvignon Anfora 2014.
Los Comuns (Priorat, Tarragona)
Los Comuns is a new addition to the Otros Vinos range. Jordi Escoda and Augustí Perelló were childhood friends who got together much later to make pure wines near El Molar, close to the border between Priorat and Montsant, but labelled without either DO. Most of their vineyards contain Cariñena, with some Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon, and production is currently between 3,000 and 4,000 bottles per vintage.
Four wines are imported: Estrem, Bateta, Torts and Carinyos (all 2015). Perhaps begin with Carynos. It has a meaty 13% alcohol, but it’s very fruity to match. The rather stunning Torts comes in at 15% abv, but it doesn’t taste that alcoholic, being in good balance. It’s darker than the previous wine, with plump rounded fruit complemented by a nicely bitter finish.
These wines have little in common with the blockbuster vinos we have come to associate with Priorat, ever since Scala Dei released its 15-16% monsters into the world in the 1990s.
Costador Terroirs (Conca de Barbera, Tarragona)
These are the wines more often called “Metamorphika”. They are almost without exception must try wines, not least for the unusual packaging, but also for the sheer “brilliance” of definition between them. Most of the wines see some time in Amphora (and “Brisat” is an old Catalan word meaning skin contact), and then go into old wood, some of it oak, some of it acacia.
Xarel-lo “1954” 2015 is pale and dry, and a nice take on the autochthonous Catalan variety. Metamorphika Sumoll Blanc Brisat 2015 is a rare example of an extremely rare grape variety. You may find the lovely red Sumoll grape variety vinified as a white wine sometimes, but this is the true Sumoll Blanc, a variety of which there are just a few hectares left in Spain.
There are several more “Metamorphika” wines in their characteristic pots. Neither Metamorphika Chenin Blanc 2015 nor Metamorphika Viognier 2016 taste as you’d expect them to, although the Chenin (from a tiny parcel) has lovely balance, and the Viognier is nicely perfumed, over a chalky texture which grounds it. My own favourite white (ish) wine is the Moscat Brisat 2016, which has changed from a greyish to a black pot for this new vintage. It has a great Muscat nose, is dry, with plenty of that “Brisat” texture, and just 11% alcohol.
Don’t discount Macabeu Brisat 2016, nor Metamorphika Pinot Noir which is a rare 100% amphora fermented and aged Pinot, very different. But my favourite red is Metamorphika Sumoll Negro 2015. Please don’t buy all of this as I don’t have any myself. Sumoll is a minor Catalan grape variety, which also seems to crop up in the Canary Islands. It’s a palish, bright, cherry coloured red with a rich cherry nose and texture. You might be totally nonplussed as to why I like this variety, which I’ve tried from several producers, but I do think it’s one of those strange grape varieties which has real potential. It’s very versatile as well.
I finished with Metamorphika Carinyena Ámfora 2016 which is a bit of a beast (14.9% abv), but it has a degree of freshness which stops it being heavy.
Viña Enebro (Bullas, Murcia)
Just one wine tasted from this producer in Murcia, near the coast, directly southeast of Madrid. Vino Meditacion 2009 is a late harvest wine made from grapes which are hung in a loft to dry for nine weeks. It comes in at 18.5% alcohol, with so much sugar fermented out that it is almost dry. The nose is very concentrated toffee and coffee with a mild cigar note – very complex. Then a very interesting note of almond essence grows (highly attractive to a Bakewell Tart lover like me). Very long! A wine for sipping.
This Andalucian producer may be based in the region for Montilla, famous for Sherry-like wines from predominantly Pedro-Ximenez, but José Miguel Márquez Herrador likes to play with other varieties too. He has some Tempranillo and Monastrel, but Harys 2014 is something very different – try reading it backwards. It’s 100% Syrah fermented in stainless steel, and although it doesn’t taste exactly like the Syrah we know, it’s very nice.
Madiacapa 2015 is Pedro-Ximenez. The destemmed fruit was fermented with no temperature control. It reached 12% abv but still had a little residual sugar, which led to it being bottled under crown cap, in case it refermented. It didn’t become a pét-nat as it happened, but it’s an unusually zippy, dry-ish PX.
Vides Bravas 2006 (that’s not a vintage typo) shows age in its colour, has sweet fruit on the nose and 14% alcohol. It’s a blend of Syrah and Tempranillo from a single site called “Pago Cerro Encinas”, and just under 5,000 bottles were made. A nicely mature red from Southern Spain which somehow tastes more elegant than you’d expect.
I have to mention Asoleo 2015. It’s a dessert wine which I’ve enjoyed before, made from Moscatel, and available in half-bottle. Palish brown, it has a stunning Muscat nose and it tastes so smooth, like sweet liquid caramel. It has just 8% alcohol, so it’s not fortified. Its sweetness means it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s very moreish. I could, on this dull October afternoon, sip some right now with a slice of Madeira Cake or a crème caramel.
Purulio (Marchal, Granada)
Purulio is the third of the wines Otros Vinos imports which I already knew from my forays in Spain, and a very enjoyable night at a pre-Raw Wine appetizer a couple of years ago. Torcuato Huertas was a farmer, but also happened to be the nephew of Manuel Valenzuela, of the famous Andalucian producer, Barranco Oscuro. It was helping with the pruning there in the 1980s where he decided to return to his grandfather’s old vineyard.
He now farms just three hectares in the Valle de Alhama, on the north side of the Sierra Nevada. So the diurnal temperature variation and the acidity-building cool nights in this high altitude location has just the same effect as at Cauzón (see above).
All three wines on show are equally worth seeking out. Purulio Blanco 2016 is sour but fruity. It comes from mainly clay soils at 950 metres altitude. Ten varieties make up the blend (including non-natives like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier along with locals like Palomino, Macabeo and two different Muscats/Moscatels). Everything apart from the Moscatels sees a week on skins, then some juice goes into stainless steel and some into 225 litre barrique.
Purulio Tinto 2014 is, for me, the “drink now” red with a cherry colour, fruity but with some ripe tannins, texture and length. It’s a blend of Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Garnacha and Tempranillo, which see a week’s maceration before pressing and turning into barrique for a year.
Jaral 2013 is a lovely brick red colour which reminded me slightly of Nebbiolo. It’s ageing well, with fruit to the fore but building complexity. It’s from vineyards higher up on the plateau, at around 1,200 metres. Snow is normal up here in winter, and I wonder whether this, just as much as those diurnal variations, gives this lovely red its special character. When I bought some earlier this year, Fernando lamented that it rarely gets given the time to mature. After tasting it again this week, I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold off with mine.
Verdevique (Alpujarras, Granada)
Verdevique is another high altitude estate, this time in the unbelievably beautiful Alpujarras, to the south of the city of Granada. They possess 22 hectares, around half of which is mixed agriculture and the rest is vines. There are nice still wines, Tinto Cosecha 2015 and Jaen Blanco 2015, but for me the star here is the sparkler.
Brut Nature 2012 is, as it says on the tin, a zero-dosage sparkler, bottle fermented, and made from a very interesting local variety, Vigiriego. The vines here are at extremely high altitude, around 1,380 metres. There are several claims to Europe’s highest commercial vineyard (from both Spain and Switzerland), and this is one of them. The vines see very cool evenings and nights, but also good solar radiation in the thinner air. The soils are nutrient rich but mineral (there’s a fair bit of shallow slate here), and whilst rainfall is very low, the vines feast on the winter snow when the thaw comes in spring.
All of this impacts the finished wine. There’s a freshness, purity and bright acidity which, combined with the lack of dosage, makes for a very well defined, dry fizz. The bead is fine as well. There are just 3,000 bottles made of this “natural sparkling wine”, which, with 30 months on lees before disgorgement, has just a hint of complexity to go with the almost bracing freshness in the glass. It’s one of a handful of my favourite Spanish sparklers, for several reasons, not the least being that it’s ridiculously cheap.
If you are thinking of getting a mixed case from Otros Vinos, you’d be happy (assuming that required sense of adventure) if you grabbed a couple of Ambíz (say Alba or Doris, and the carbonic Tempranillo), Cauzón’s Blanco and Degraciano, Clot de les Soleres’ Xarel-lo pét-nat and Cent 2, …then Metamorphika Sumoll Negro and Moscat Brisat, Purulio Blanco and Jaral, Verdevique’s Brut Nature sparkler and whichever takes your fancy from Marenas (I’d probably go for the crown-capped PX). That’s a mixed case to stun your wine friends with, especially those for whom Spain means Ribera del Duero, and those meaty, oaky, Pago wines. Enjoy!