Over the past few years there has been a genuine widening of what wine lovers are prepared to consider exciting and ground breaking in the world of wine. The natural wine movement has drawn attention to hundreds of small time artisans making wine without recourse to many of the teachings of the big wine schools. Commercial production and artisan winemaking are moving apart. This is probably also true of the kind of cerebral wine which collectors favour and the “glouglou” glugging wine favoured by the younger frequenters of the kind of bars that are doing so well in the world’s most vibrant cities.
Rather like politics in Europe, there seems to be less of a consensus, in this case as to what wine should be, and those who hold tightly to the certainties of the post-1982 Parker era often get very upset at all the “faulty” wines being glugged by “ignorant” young people in those city bars throughout the continent. But even in the natural wine world there are extremes. A few brave merchants in the UK, like Tutto Wines and Gergovie, have been brave enough to explore the fringes, where natural wine means “additive free”, and additive free means a very strict attitude to sulphur additions.
We all know that Spain is one of the exciting frontiers of European wine. A country which promised so much, but really failed to deliver something genuinely new when focused on “modern” techniques. Yet in its “new” old regions and its young winemakers, it has begun to forge a massive reputation for natural wine. This is where the importer under the spotlight here has stepped in.
Otros Vinos may be a relatively small importer of wines, mainly from Southern, Central and Northeastern Spain, but it is right at the forefront of that new frontier. It is hard to argue against the suggestion that this is one of the most adventurous lists in the UK. The producers are not doing anything particularly unusual. Okay, some are utilising Amphora and Tinajas, but just as many work with stainless steel. Equally, there are a few grape varieties you won’t have heard of, but there are plenty of “international” varieties as well, including lots of good Syrah and Cabernet, not to mention Viognier and Chenin. Sulphur is certainly banned by many. But more than anything, these wine producers all make wines of genuine character and personality. That is what you find here, in abundance.
Eleven producers were shown at the Otros Vinos Spring Portfolio Tasting at Duck Soup in Soho (London), some old favourites and some new. There was a good spread of regions and sub-regions, with clusters of producers close to Barcelona, and around Granada in the broader Sierra Nevada, dominating the show.
VINOS AMBIZ (Sierra de Gredos, Madrid)
Gredos has been a bit of a secret for many decades, and the high altitude vineyards of Spain’s central plateau, perhaps made famous by Daniel Landi and friends, and their Comando G project in particular, have only recently joined those to the southeast (near Toledo, where the Marques de Griñón’s Dominio de Valdepusa is now a pago) as somewhere to watch carefully.
I’ve written many times about Fabio Bartolomei’s domaine in the village of El Tiemblo. Brought up in Scotland of Italian parents, Fabio works mainly (but not exclusively) with some pretty rare local varieties. His wines are some of the most singular in the Otros Vinos range.
We begin with the darkish coloured, smooth, Airén La Carabaña 2015, which like several wines to come, proves just how much personality can be extracted from one of the wine world’s most disparaged varieties (along, perhaps, with the likes of Ugni Blanc/Trebbiano Toscano).
Doris 2016 made from Doré is more fragrant with a touch of bitter pineapple. The label is exquisite. I’ve enjoyed a bottle of this quite recently, but yesterday I was feeling the love for the next two wines.
Malvar Tinaja 2016 is fermented in clay jars (which are plentiful in El Tiemblo as there was a tinaja factory there until the 1950s). It’s a pinkish-orange hue with a real “skin contact” nose – you can almost smell the clay and the tannins. Lovely.
Tempranillo 2016 is a total contrast, in grape variety and production – it’s made by carbonic maceration. It has a vibrant light red colour, like raspberry when in the glass, which is where the fruit is heading until a little bitter note creeps in to ground it. Concentration and fruity acidity rule, a classic summer tipple you’d think. Indeed, you are going to knock this straight back, but do beware. The abv reads 14%.
BODEGA CAUZÓN (Graena, Granada)
Ramón Saavedra is a cult figure in Spanish wine, perhaps in some ways in the same vein as Stefano Bellotti in Italy’s Gavi region. All you really need to see is a photo of the snow up here at 1,000 to 1,200 metres in winter to know that this is extreme winemaking in every sense. Saavedra is a bit of a guru (I know he’d be cross at me saying this) who makes wines with genuine soul.
Cauzón Blanco 2017 is a nice blend of varieties, including Macabeo, Sauvignon Blanc, Garnacha Blanco, Chardonnay and Torrontès. Whilst I’ve most often concentrated on the reds here, this was my Cauzón wine of the day, 2017 being a brilliant rendition, the best so far.
Mozuelo 2016 is a pale cherry bomb with a luminescent pale red colour to die for. Duende 2016 is made from macerated Syrah which just sees stainless steel, and has more weight. Pinoir 2016 (Pinot, of course) is a 12% cherry glugger with a touch of tannin. It’s another thing altogether, not remotely “Burgundy”. For me, Cauzón Tinto 2015 is still a little tannic (revisit next time).
The top red on show was Iradei 2017. This is a blend from the oldest ungrafted vines. In the past Ramón has aged this in old wood, but the 2017 is the first time he’s opted for stainless steel. It is smooth and rich, but equally, restrained. It should age nicely.
CLOT DE LES SOLERES (Piera, Barcelona)
I sampled these wines last at Raw London, and if anything they were showing even better yesterday in the lovely cool basement at Duck Soup. This producer makes some nice sparkling and white wines, but unusually with this producer it was a pink(ish) wine and two reds which grabbed my attention on this occasion.
Cabernet Rosat 2013 reminds me a little, in its scent and bouquet, of the orange-coloured Fox’s Glacier Fruit sweet, which I admit may not strike a note of immediate recognition for most readers, but perhaps will provide a pleasant Proustian moment for a few. It is just off dry, and age has given it some gentle complexity. It hit the spot, flavoursome but also thought-provoking.
Cabernet Sauvignon Amfora 2014 is a lovely wine, with the added interest of treating Cabernet to a totally different upbringing to what we usually see from this grape. Latour it isn’t, but you won’t find many Cabernets which taste like this. It only sees twelve days on skins though. Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is made and then aged in stainless steel for a year before further extended bottle ageing, but it gets a longer twenty days on skins. The year in stainless steel seems to impart a freshness that passes into bottle, so that it is quite sprightly for a wine which is just short of seven years old. There is lovely sweet Cabernet fruit here too.
LOS COMUNS (Priorat, Tarragona)
In many cases I love the slate terroir of Priorat but balk at the alcohol levels, which even the freshness of the wines cannot always counter. Ever since my introduction to the region, via the wines of Scala Dei back around 1990, I have found it hard to get to grips with. These wines are a little different. They do seem more “alive”, but that’s not to say that you don’t notice the alcohol in some bottles.
Estrem 2016 is a blend of “Carinyos” (Carignan, 30%) and “Petxanga” (Garnacha, 70%). It’s a dark wine weighing in at 14.5%, but half of the cuvée is made via carbonic maceration. There is certainly some tannin in this young wine, but freshness too. I preferred it to what is a more expensive parcel wine, Bateta 2015, which undergoes a normal maceration over ten days. Torts 2015 is a little out of my comfort zone (Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon coming in at 15%), whereas the tasty Carinyos 2015 from the same vintage is noticeably lighter at 13.5%.
Of all the Otros Vinos wines on show, these are the ones least to my own personal taste, yet they are rightly proving extremely popular with those looking for a bit of heft with accompanying freshness, so do taste them for yourselves.
COSTADOR TERROIRS (Conca de Barbera, Tarragona)
This might not be the smallest producer in the portfolio, but it has consistently proved one of my favourites. I cannot really conceive of buying wine from Fernando without including some from Costador. This makes an objective assessment difficult, but I will begin by mentioning a wine I’ve never bought, Xarel-lo “1954” 2015. As you will have guessed, this is made from very old vines. There is white Xarel-lo, and the rare red version, in the mix, harvested from two plots both within 2km of the sea. The method here is direct press of whole bunches, then ageing in acacia. It’s massively fresh, yet the old vines seem to add another dimension.
The Metamorphika range comes in clay flagons. The idea is that as the wines are made in amphora, they should continue to grow in the same medium. As Fernando says, the idea is slightly whimsical because the clay “bottles” are in fact glazed inside. But as with some of the Austrian wines which use the same idea, they do look amazing. Thankfully they also taste wonderful too.
There are white amphora (“Brisat”) cuvées made from the rare Sumoll Blanc, Chenin, Viognier, Muscat and Macabeu. Of these, I always love the Sumoll Blanc Brisat (2015 on show), and yesterday the Chenin Blanc 2015 spoke to me in a way it hasn’t done before.
Metamorphika Sumoll Negro 2015 was just about my pick of the two reds. It has lovely fruit and length. There’s just something about Sumoll I love. But the savoury Carinyena Amfora 2016 isn’t far behind. If you buy some of these you will never want to throw out the empties. Buy them you should.
VIÑA ENEBRO (Bullas, Murcia)
This is a producer I’ve not tried before. Two very nice wines were on show. El Batiburrillo 2016 is a frothy pink sparkler made from Monastrell, which probably needs to settle down a bit (a lot of the new wines were shipped about two weeks ago), but I think it will really hit the spot. Acidity is restrained, there’s a bit of body, but the fruit is light and easy.
Blanco de Negra 2016 is a very fresh white, freshness achieved with direct pressing of whole bunches to avoid skin contact. Forcallat is the variety. I’d never heard of it, but it certainly produces a lovely aromatic wine. Juan Pascual López is a young man to watch.
The Enebro pair with a couple of Ferrer gate crashers
VINYA FERRER (Terra Alta, Tarragona)
Otros Vinos’ newest producer is based in the south of Catalonia. Childhood amigos Marcel Carrera and Ramón Viña came together to make wine around their home village of Bot. They only have a couple of hectares or so and everything is done simply. Plastic containers for fermentation and ageing in stainless steel, and production is tiny, just a couple of thousand bottles or so.
All the wines were lovely, Nar i Tornar Blanc 2017 especially. Nar i Tornar Roig 2017 is a parcel of very clean tasting Garnacha, and it is a close run thing whether I like this more than Bye Bye 2017, a light but textured red of which I can find pretty much no information, but it speaks well enough for itself – fruity, but with texture and a slightly savoury/bitter quality, plus a bit more grip. Although the reds are mainly Garnacha, there is also a little Cariñena and Morenillo, a very rare local variety which a few Terra Alta producers are trying to revive. It may be no coincidence that those who are doing so are those that also have a reputation for quality. Perhaps Morenillo may become the local “Sumoll”?
MARENAS (Montilla, Cordoba)
Eight wines were on show from Marenas, a producer I often forget to buy (my loss), and I’m going to mention four of them. Here in Montilla the grapes get their character from the sandy clay soils and the Atlantic breezes which come in off the coast. These breezes are all that ameliorate temperatures which can reach 50 degrees in summer (harvesting takes place between 2.00am and 8.00am at Marenas). José Miguel Márquez fashions quite remarkable wines in these conditions, but at least disease is not something he often has to contend with. This is why he is able to make the most natural, non-intervention, wines possible.
Mediacapa has often been my favourite wine here. It is made from 100% Pedro-Ximenez (PX). The 2015 is tinged pale orange and it is just off-dry. Whole bunch pressing into stainless steel makes this a very refreshing wine, very different from most other PX table wines in so many ways. Delicious.
Laveló 2015 is 100% Tempranillo, quite tannic and 14% abv, but it has a bit of zip to it as well as the grip. Vides Bravas 2006 shows what this terroir is capable of. Okay, it also manages 14% of inebriation inducement, but it is maturing beautifully and is ridiculously cheap for the quality (£12 to trade). Only 4,950 bottles were produced of this Tempranillo-Syrah blend.
I’ve previously tasted a sweet Muscat from Marenas, and Asoleo 2016 is in a similar vein. Sweet Syrah at just 9% alcohol. It’s smooth, very sweet indeed, almost without structure, but not at all heavy and totally, and decadently, moreish. The texture of cough medicine, but with none of the yuck! On the contrary!
VINOS PATIO (Mota del Cuervo, La Mancha)
Samuel Canos is a fourth generation winemaker in charge of his family’s 35 hectares in La Mancha. The region had a reputation as Spain’s wine lake workhorse, and Airén is certainly Spain’s workhorse grape (still covering about 30% of the country’s vignoble).
Nine wines were on show. Of the four Airén with black labels in the photos below, I most liked the Aire en el Patio “Salvaje” 2011-2015. The “vintage” can be explained by the fact that this is a solera wine. Only 200 bottles are filled every year from a solera started in 2011, and this is from the 2015 batch. As time passes, the wines in the solera will get older. This is very fresh, with just a touch of soy.
The oddest wine of the whole tasting was Aire en el Patio “La Tarancona” 2016 which, for me, had notes of digestive biscuit and the weird Japanese Umeboshi pickled plums you get for breakfast there. Fernando agreed that this is a bit weird and needs time to settle down.
My pick of the Patio wines was Atardecer en el Patio Rosé 2017, made from Tinto Velasco (the V is pronouced as a B, as one does down there). It is beautifully scented, gently floral. The palate blends a raft of savoury notes with underlying fruit of the purest kind.
Paeriza 2015 comes mainly (80%) from the same variety and is zippy, with sour notes adding a savoury quality. Into the Tinto Velasco is blended 20% of Syrah, Graciano and Petit Verdot. It sees a year in cement. The same blend (roughly) makes up Patio 2015, but this is more structured through a year on skins.
There are two sweet wines here. Another dessert Syrah, Atardecer Al Sol Del Patio 2015 has amazing scents and a hint of maturity, but in my view it was eclipsed by Atardecer Al Sol Del Patio “Airén” 2016, a wine harvested in December. Wow! 6% alcohol, pineapple, peach, a hint of fig, and rather a lot of sunshine, with great length. Luscious in the extreme, it probably should be censored and banned.
PURULIO (Marchal, Granada)
Another great name of Granada viticulture, Torcuato Huertas, is behind this label. Here we are back to the tiny production of 3 hectares of mountain vineyard on the north side of the Sierra Nevada, between 900-1,050 metres above sea level. There are two plots, the higher of the two being very exposed. Days in summer are hot, but nights are cold. That’s where you get the purity which these wines have in abundance.
Fernando showed just two wines. Purulio Blanco 2016 has the colour of a skin contact white wine, but with unusual delicacy, made from an array of different white varieties (there are 21 grape varieties planted in these two tiny plots). It’s a wine I really should buy, but I’m more often swayed by the reds. In fact Purulio is one of three producers I knew before I discovered Otros Vinos, and that was what drew me to Fernando’s portfolio.
The red which was not shown, Purulio Tinto, drinks nicely when young, made from grapes in both of Torcuato’s vineyards. But Jaral (2013) comes just from the highest plot, up on the windswept plateau. Seeming to blend the scents and flavours of two very different fruits, pomegranate and blueberry, it is a wine rarely given enough chance to mature. This 2013 is tasting good now, with a savoury undertone, but there is structure and tannin. I’ve cellared a bottle of 2012 which I bought a year or so ago to see how it develops.
VERDEVIQUE (Cástaras, Las Alpujarras, Granada)
Anyone who has visited Granada and had the opportunity to drive into the Alpujarra Mountains will know that it is one of the most attractive landscapes in Europe. Visiting here is the only reason I would ever be stupid enough again to take a car into Granada (where car parking knocked me back €50-a-day).
The Garcia family has a fairly decent 22 hectare holding here, with vines, many up to 110 years of age, planted between 1,100 and 1,400 metres altitude. Some of the very highest in Europe. Rainfall is very low, but altitude, along with the proximity of the Mediterranean, means that temperatures don’t get as high as you might expect, not as high as at Purulio, further north.
In some respects my favourite wine here has always been their delicious 11%, bottle fermented, Brut Nature “Garcia de Verdevique”. This 2012 is more weighty, and perhaps serious, than much Cava, and its orange tinge is unusual, but it is also very fresh (and dry). It’s made from a really interesting autochthonous variety which Verdevique champions, called Vigiriego. Also grown in the Canary Islands, Vigiriego was often used as a table grape, but there can be no argument that it makes a really interesting wine.
Verdevique also makes a couple of interesting still whites, from Jaen (nicely scented, smooth, but 14%) and Vigiriego. Vigiriego Barrica 2015 merely adds to the interest in this variety. The wood seems to add colour but is not, to my mind, intrusive. The reds (Tinto Cosecha 2015 and Tinto Crianza 2010) were both a little tannic for me, but then age will mellow them.
All of these wines, like in fact the whole Otros Vinos portfolio, are remarkable value, especially as so many of them are made in such tiny quantities. I kind of feel it is my mission to get people to try these wines, and more importantly, to stock them. The best retailers to try (best telephone for availability) are Burgess & Hall in Forest Gate, Theatre of Wine (Greenwich, Tufnell Park and Leytonstone) and Furanxo in Dalston. A list of restaurants which may list some of them appears on the Otros Vinos web site (see below). Outside London you might find it tough to track them down, but if you have a sense of adventure (both private customers and trade), and if any of the wines I’ve described sound exciting, do contact Fernando.