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Thursday, 16 December 2010

Gothic Underground Tasting

Following hot on the heels of our Technical Tank Tasting two weeks ago, last Monday 13th December we organized another tasting - along completely different lines.

It was held in the basements (dungeons) of the former State Tabacco Factory in Madrid. And therein lies a tale! This emblymatic building was abandoned in the 1990's when the Spanish state tobacco monopoly was privatized, and there it lay for over a decade.

Then last year (2009) it was squatted ('okupado') and is now used by over 50 different collectives to carry out their activites. The majority are focused on art and culture (photography, film, theatre, drawing, painting, etc) but they also do things like skateboarding, computer programming, gardening, there's a kindergarten, a library, a café-bar and restaurant, and more.

And what's all this got to do with Vinos Ambiz? Well, apart from all the above activites, it's also the place where about 10 different 'Organic Produce Consumption Groups' meet. These are groups of poeple who get together in order to buy directly from different producers of all types of organic products: bread, cereals, legumes, fresh fruit and veg, milk, eggs, meat, cheese, yogurt, you name it, and of course, wine! I'm a member of one myself (BAH) and I've been delivering wine to them for years, so there was no question, really, of where to do our main tasting this year.

The place is enormous and there are literally hundreds of rooms and open spaces available for activites, but even so I had to book the space for the tasting weeks ago; I was actually a bit worried that things would get out of control, due to the numbers of people in there at any given time, but everything turned out fine; maybe it was because it was a Monday, or because we were in the basement, along a long passageway and around a corner. Any way, about 40 people turned up, which was perfect for the amount of wine and number of wineglasses we brought!

It was joint tasting with two producers: ourselves (Vinos Ambiz) and Bodegas Pincelada, ie the same Juan from Morata de Tajuña, who is letting us share his winery this year.

Wines tasted:

Vinos Ambiz:
  • young white Airén 2010
  • unoaked Garnacha 2009 (these are the only two wines we have available right now which are ready for drinking)
  • young white Airén (with a touch of Moscatel)
  • young red Tempranillo (with a touch of Airén)
  • the star of the show, a Crianza 2006 (100% Tempranillo)

The tasting was scheduled to start at 20:00, but the first guest only turned up at 20:30 (and Juan himself at 20:15); but that was OK because there was a conference happening in the room which I'd booked and they didn't vacate it till 20:30 anyway! The conference was on biodynamic agriculture and some of the participants stayed on for the tasting, even though my wines aren't biodynamic.

Still working on a natural winemaker pose!

So people kept on arriving in dribs and drabs, so I opened a bottle of Airén and we did a pre-tasting (strictly for quality control purposes only of course!) while we were standing around chatting and smoking and waiting.
At about 21:15 a critical mass of people had arrived so I stood on a chair, rang two empty wine-bottles together and called the meeting to order! I managed to speak uninterrupted to a silent and listening audience for about 5-10 minutes. There were even a few questions which I answered and which everyone could hear.

The first wine (our 100% Airén 2010) was rather cloudy in appearance, and there was a question about that. I explained that we don't filter our wines because we believe that filtering removes 'good' tasty and aromatic things, and that simply decanting the wine wine once from one tank to another is enough to get rid of any possible 'bad' things that might spoil the wine. There was also a question about why it was fizzy and tasted like champagne or cider! I answered that I thought it was because there was still some residual sugar in the wine which hadn't fermented into alcohol yet and was actually fermenting in the bottle as we spoke!

Someone also asked why the wine had such a long finish or after-taste (for a white wine), and I didn't really know what to answer there. I was too shy and/or modest and/or nervous up on that chair to say that it was because we make such awesome wine and know how to extract all the aromas and flavours and express the variety and the terroir perfectly :)
Then came the second wine - Juan's 2010 Airén+Touch of Moscatel. But I lost my audience! In the time it took to pour the second wine for 40 people, they had broken up into little groups, and were all talking among themselves. If you can't beat them, join them! So that's just what I did. I circulated and chatted to lots of people and answered questions and topped up glasses. The two young reds got hopelessly mixed up, but we did manage to keep the Crianza 2006 for the last.
There was one experienced taster present in the audience, who was taking written notes, and I recommended that he post them to the Adegga wine site.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Technical Tank Tasting

Last Friday 4th December we organized an informal tasting of all our 2010 wines with a bunch of wine-lovers, including some experienced tasters, again at La Cave du Petit.

    pending: photo 1 (have misfiled photos of tasting)

The purpose was partly social, ie to spend a pleasant evening talking about and drinking wine in good company; the purpose was also partly technical, in that I was hoping to get some feedback on the wines in general and specifically on which wines would be suitable for oaking and which best drunk unoaked, and also opinions on any possible interesting blends of varieties.

So a few days before I bottled one bottle of each wine straight from the tanks.

   pending: photo 2 (have misfiled photos of tasting)

Also, to make things more interesting, I made a special label for each bottle with a number on it, and was only going to reveal the variety at the end of the tasting. I thought it would be more fun that way and make everyone think more while they were tasting!

Here's what we tasted:

1. Airén. Normal fermentation; our 'flagship' wine that we've been making every year since we started 8 years ago

2. Airén. Carbonic maceration; an experiment

3. Airén. On skins; an experiment (orange wine)

4. Tempranillo; grapes bought in from organic neighbour

5. Tempranillo; our own; our other 'flagship' wine that we've been making for 6 years

6. Graciano; grapes bought in from organic neighbour

7. Shiraz; grapes bought in from organic neighbour

8. Petit Verdot; grapes bought in from organic neighbour

9. Garnacha; grapes bought in from organic neighbour

Why so many grapes bought in? Several reasons: firstly, we were bored making only Tempranillo and Airén year after year, and we wanted to experiment and try new varieties. Life is short! One thing leads to another! So we may or may not do buy in grapes again next year. We are feeling our way forward. We need to expand our production while maintaining quality, and buying in grapes was a way that we wanted to try. We've also taken on a second vineyard this year which we'll be managing ourselves, which is another way. We'll try anything once!

   pending: photo 3 (have misfiled photos of tasting)

   pending: photo 4 (have misfiled photos of tasting)

Conclusions? Feedback? Well, things didn't quite work out the way I'd visualized them playing out. I'd imagined that we'd all taste the first wine, then that each person would comment one at a time, and that I'd have time to write it down; then onto the second wine, etc. Then I'd summarize my notes and post a beautiful tasting note post. How naive! And me living in Spain for 15 years! What happened of course was that everyone started talking at once, split off into little groups of 2 or 3, wandered off to talk on their cell-phone, to change the music, to go to the toilet, to get something to eat, etc; then we tasted the bottles out of order and started making blends in our own little groups, and generally being chaotic, and having 3 conversations at once across the room! Basically, we had small party as opposed to a tasting, and of course a great time was had by all!

    pending: photo 5 (have misfiles photos of tasting)

The minimum, lowest-comon-denominator feedback I've been able to synthesize after 3 hours of partying and tasting (with no written notes whatsoever) was this:

Whites: Airéns (1) and (2) can be drunk now, but Airén (3) needs more time. Some liked Airén (1) because it's slightly pétillant, and is very fruity in the nose and mouth, and with a surprisingly long finish. Others didn't like it because they thought it lacking in acidity and that it had too much residual sugar.

Reds: None are ready to be drunk now. The one closest to being ready and which most people though would be good drunk young and unoaked was the Tempranillo (4). The only other consensus with a majority was that the Garnacha (9) would also be fine unoaked as it was the most distinctive.

So, now what? Well, nothing, for the time being! We're just going to let all the wines sit there over the winter, to settle and to evolve, and in February or March we'll have another tasting party and maybe decide what to do after that!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Who or what ate my grapes?

Our sparkling wine experiment has suffered a setback.

Look, no grapes!

The aim of this joint experiment, in collaboration with Alfredo Maestro, was to make a few hundred bottles of sparkling wine, using our white Airén grapes. We (Vinos Ambiz) would provide the grapes/wine and Alfredo would provide the special facilities needed for sparkling wine (cooling equipment, racks for placing bottles upside-down, etc) and the knowledge of how to actually make the stuff!

The idea was to set aside some of our normal Airén wine (which we've done) (see #1 below) and then ALSO do a late harvest and ferment a second lot of wine separately. This wine would have a higher alcohol content and would also contain residual sugar which is needed for the 2nd in-bottle fermentation that takes place in sparkling wines.

Look, more no grapes!

Well, as you can see from the photos, there's no grapes!!! We suspect that they were eaten by little animals (rabbits, birds) and/or insects. It hasn't really rained a lot in Madrid since the harvest, except for a few heavy downpours, and night-time temperatures have reached around -8ºC; but the rain and the cold wouldn't have affected the grapes that much anyway. It must have been the animals.

Look, still no grapes!

But all is not lost, and we still have options open. The main thing for me now is to carry on and actually produce some sparkling wine somehow or other and to learn for the experience - after all, that's the reason we're doing all these experiments! And I've been looking forward to doing this since last June when the idea first came up, so I'm not giving up now!!!

Basically we need a source of sugar for the 2nd in-bottle fermentation. And these are the possibilities that have ocurred to me so far (in order of preference):

1. Grapes from our own vineyard (Not possible now)
2. Organic grapes from a neighbour (difficuclt, if not impossible)
3. Conventional grapes from a neighbour (almost impossible)
4. Organic grape juice or must (?)
5. Conventional grape juice or must (?)
6. Bog-standard chaptalization like they do in France (?)

I don't really like any of them. But I don't know; maybe there are other options that I don't even know about (yet). Maybe we don't even need residual sugar at all and can do without? I dunno! I'll have to read up a bit on the subject, and not let poor Alfredo do all the brain-work, as he's done up to now!

In any case, next year (because we'll definitiely be trying again next year) we'll have to think about it more carefully and have some kind of contingency plans in place.

Look, yet more no grapes!
Note #1: Our 'normal' Airén, which we've been making now for 8 years has turned out really good this year. (We organized an informal tank tasting last Frinday (post coming soon) and it went down really well!) We're presenting it and releasing it at a Tasting Event that we've organized for Monday 13th December at 20:00, in Madrid (CSO La Tabacalera, Glorieta de Embajadores, 1). See Event on FaceBook: Natural and Organic Wine Tasting
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