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Wednesday 28 April 2010

Another Tasting for Bloggers, in Aranda de Duero (Spain)

This time I ‘only’ drove 140 km for a glass of wine. This time to Aranda de Duero, the main town in the DO Ribera de Duero wine region.

This was the second stop on the On Tour series of tastings planned for all over Spain. It was held in a nice place called Arte & Vino in collaboration with Cristina Prat from Ruta del Vino de Ribera del Duero.

The ceiling decor at Arte y Vino

Again, I let my arm be twisted by blogger Ignacio Segovia who again kindly offered to pick me up, drive there and back and then drop me off at home. This time we were joined by TV producer, specialized in wine, Eduardo Benitez

Just like in Utiel, 2 weeks ago, there was an impressive array of bodegas offering us their wares, including some that I suspect I could never afford to actually buy! See the links below for a comprehensive list of wineries and wines and tasting notes.

The tasting table

Just like in Utiel, and still not being an experienced taster, what can I say? I liked all of them! They were all based on Tempranillo, so I suppose that makes me a little biased as that’s what I work with and am used to drinking! I’ll leave the detailed tasting notes and opinions to the experts, which you can read if you follow the links below.
After the tasting went for some tapas and more wine to a few places along the main pedestrian street in the centre of Aranda. Under the bar-restaurant "Lagar de isilla" is the most absolutely incredible underground bodega-cavern-tunnel complex I’ve ever seen. It was like being in Moria in the Lord of the Rings!!

There were only four of us, guided by the owner's daughter beatriz: Juan manuale, Eduardo, Ignacio and myself. In such company I didn’t bother taking many photos of the actual caverns themselves, just of the bloggers themselves in action. I figured they'd be able to take much better photos and videos than me, so I just relaxed and enjoyed (and took photos of them taking photos!)

Juan Manuel Gozalbes (Catavino) taking a photo

Ignacio Segovia ( taking a photo

Beatriz, the owner’s daughter, who led us through the caverns, told us that some of the passageways date back to the 12th century!!! Ansolutely incredible!

The links:

1. Catavino: (list of and links to all 13 of the bodegas present) (in Spanish)

2. WineBookClub (in English)

3. (video of underground caverns)

4. (in Spanish)

5. Ruta del Vino de Ribera del Duero

Other links mentioning this tasting (mostly in Spanish):



Tuesday 13 April 2010

A Tasting for Bloggers, in Utiel (Valencia)

Last Wednesday 7th April I drove 300 km for a wine tasting, and 300 km back to Madrid! It was in Utiel (Valencia) where they specialize in the Bobal grape variety.

Organized by and the Denominación de Origen (DO) de Utiel-Requena

I was a crazy thing to do really and if I were a ‘sensible’ person I wouldn’t have gone. Firstly, I was really tired that day as the night before I was up really late, working hard at networking in a winebar (ie, drinking wine and chatting!) in the Malasaña district of Madrid. Secondly, even though the Bobal variety is interesting, I don’t see myself growing it up here in Madrid. Thirdly, I allowed my arm to be painfully twisted by wine-blogger Ignacio Segovia ( who convinced me of the utmost importance of participating in this event, and who offered to pick me up in Madrid and drop me off at home. How could I refuse?

Well, we set off in good time. We had arranged to meet in the Plaza Alonso Martínez at 4 o’clock, which would give us 3 hrs to drive the 290 km to Utiel. Even though I’ve been living in Spain for almost 20 years, I’ve been unable to integrate completely into Spanish society because I just can’t lose this British punctuality thing I have! So I duly arrive at 5 to 4, and imagine my shock/horror/surprise at seeing Ignacio already there waiting for me! It was the first time that had happened to me in 20 years of meeting Spaniards, who usually turn up 20-30 minutes late! As we were clearing this incident up (I demanded an explanation, and it turned out that he had made a mistake and had arrived early quite unintentionally!) we managed to take a wrong turning and found ourselves heading towards Burgos (north) instead of towards Valencia (south-east).

Anyway, we made up lost time and at 3 mins to 7 we were driving into Utiel (a biggish village with about 12,000 inhabitants), and with the aid of Ignacio’s ‘Navigator’ (Tom-Tom) it directed us straight to the address of the tasting. Impressive.

The tasting was at Bodega Redonda, the HQ of the DO Utiel-Requena. It’s a circular winery, built in 1891 and designed by the Valncian arquitect Demetrio Ribes – a student of Gustave Eiffel. Really nice setting for a tasting. Downstairs there’s a wine museum, but we didn’t have time to see it.

Juan Manuel Gonzalvo (right, from
and the President of the DO Utiel-Rquena (left)

There were about 20 bodegas, about 16 of which had exclusively Bobal, either young or aged in oak. The remaining few had Bobal blended with another variety, and there was one white wine made with a rather uncommon variety called ‘Tardana’, an autochthonous variety from the Valencia region, and also known as ‘Planta Nova’ and ‘Tortozón’. It is a late-ripening variety, hence the name Tardana (tarde = late, in Spanish).

The tasting table (20 bodegas approx)

I’m not an experienced wine-taster so I’m not going to attempt to provide tasting notes here. I’ll just say that I was really impressed and surprised by the quality of all the wines we tried. Bobal (like Airén) has a bit of a bad reputation as far as quality is concerned because historically it was used for blending or for making table-wine, as opposed to quality wine in its own right.

The Utiel-Requena DO is working hard to promote its quality Bobal wines and I wish the all the best. It’s well worth trying this wine, if you can get your hands on it.

Here are some English language links:

1. General article, nanes of 20 bodegas and their wines, plus brief tasting notes:

2. Zev Robinson, artist, blogger and film-maker has made a documentary on the history and current situation of the Bobal grape variety:

3. And from wine-taster and connosseur, Richard Wigley:

There are many more Spanish language links, with photos, videos and detailed comments. See the Spanish verion of this blog if you are interested.

Thursday 8 April 2010

Intense Three Days of Vinous Activities - Day 3

Sunday 28th. Next morning I slept in ‘late’, ie till 9 o’clock and was totally refreshed. I’m usually up by 7 every morning so it was lovely. We had a nice leisurely breakfast, went out to walk the dog, had a coffee on a pavement café next to the Sagrada Familia, then back to the flat to pick up the wine samples and head off to the ‘Salón de Vinos Naturales’. Aargh! Then I realized that the clocks had gone forward 1 hour during the night, so I arrived later than planned, ie at 12 o’clock new ‘real’ time.

View of the Sagrada Familia

I was so exited because for the first time I was going to meet face-to-face a whole bunch of fellow producers of natural/organic/whatever wine from Spain, who I’d been in contact with for a year or more over the internet, via blogs, forums, twitter, etc. Amongst others there were:

Cloister of the Convent Sant Agustí

- Laureano Serres (founder and current president of the PVN (Association of Natural Wine Producers), and the man who encouraged me to make the effort to come to this event in Barcelona)
- Samuel Cano (from Cuenca, maker of ‘Patio’ wines)
- Lorenzo Valenzuela (Barranco Oscuro, Granada)
- Ramón Saavedra (Bodega Cauzón, Granada)
- J. Miguel Márquez (Bodega Marenas, Córdoba)
- Jordi Sanfeliú (Tárrega)

At the fair (1)

At the fair (2)

At the fair (3) - Samuel Cano pouring his 'Patio'

And a few others, who I forgot to take their cards from! Very unprofessional of me! There were some non-producers there too, ie people related to and interested in natural, organic wines:

- Malena Fábregas (Obsevatorio del Vino)
- David González Martin (Adictos a la Lujuria)
- Joan A. Fradua (Aldespy)

At the fair (4)

And again a few others who I also forgot to take cards from! I also spoke to some members of the general wine-loving public (who didn’t have cards for me to forget to ask for!) and we promised to meet again. There was a significant French (and to a lesser extent Italian) presence at the fair; in fact I suspect there were more French producers than Spanish ones. The French also have a natural wine association: AVN. There was even a Chinese producer (Jing Jing Yuan): I was intrigued but didn’t have time to chat with him, and find out if he had come all the way from China or if he lived nearby! In fact I didn’t get to meet any of the foreign producers as I was so busy with the Spaniards. I had to leave at 4 o’clock to catch the AVE back to Madrid. AGAIN I missed a great dinner organized by the producers that evening. I really must organize my timing better next time so I don’t miss all these lovely meals, where no doubt is the best part of the day and where we producers talk about all the things we producers are supposed to talk about!!!

At the fair (5)

I didn’t have a table/stand to myself as a producer, this year, because I was too late to apply but I did take samples with me (2 young whites, 2 young reds and 2 Crianzas) which I opened and shared out. I think I tried almost every wine, and even spat some of them out! What can I say? I’m not an experiences wine-taster or wine-writer; I liked most of them, a very few I didn’t like at all, and one or two I liked a lot. Unfortunately I can’t remember which ones they were! – again, very unprofessional of me!

Well, that was my first experience at a wine fair, and I loved it, loved it, loved it! And I can’t wait for the next one I’m going to go to, as soon as possible! I can’t believe that I’ve been making wine for 6 years and never done this before. I think I’ve just made contact with Planet Earth, ie other people who are doing the same thing as me (more or less) and who understand where I’m at, coming from and going to!

There could be a lot of topics for discussions or for more specific posts here, ie What is this ‘natural wine’ thing all about anyway? I’m sure that there are people out there who don’t know. I myself don’t know, and I make the stuff!!! Or How is it different from organic wine? Or IS it different from organic wine? And the organic certification issue: at one point during the afternoon, I was taking part in overhearing a conversation between a wine importer and a producer that went like this: Importer asks: “Why is this labelled as table wine?” and “Where’s the eco symbol?”. Producer answers: “I don’t give a d*** abour DO’s, symbols or anything!” Wow, heavy stuff! I’d thought that thought secretly to myself before, but would I dare to go down that route? At the moment I’m not certified organic, because my production is so small that it’s not worth my while. But I would like to certify next year, if and when I can up my production to a certain critical level. But who knows? Maybe both routes are possible?.

And lastly, some insider news/gossip which hasn’t been officially released yet! I’m so happy and on such a roll right now that it’s making me even happier to think that you all read this here first! And the news is… that another similar event is being planned for Madrid in June. The details are still pending, but possibly it might be in the centre of town (in Lavapiés district) with all the usual Spanish and French suspects producers invited.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Intense three days of vinous activities - Day 2

Saturday 27th, up early again for a two-hour drive up the mountains behind Madrid to La Puebla de la Sierra, for a combination of talks/conferences by organic producers from Madrid Region (including wine, but mainly fruit, veg, cheese, meat, yogurt, etc) and an organic farmer’s market in the plaza.

Panoramic view of Puebla de la Sierra

The event was organized by the co-op Los Apisquillos, who raise sheep and goats (organically of course) and also make cheese and yogurt. They are also the ones who kindly give us all their manure which we spread around the vineyards every few years.

Loading up manure (back in 2006)

At 10 o’clock there was a series of short talks by organic producers, focussing on the difficulties of distribution and sales of organic products, with topics ranging from the absurdity of applying legislation designed for multi-nationals, to small artisan setups, eg, a cheese producer has been trying to obtain permits for over two years!

The village hall

I listened to about 5 producers then (along with a fellow wine producer) wend down to the plaza to set up our tables – it was 12 o’clock and that means ‘aperitivo time’! So, shooting the breeze with the other organic producers and the few tourists who were passing through, tasting each others’ products and buying from each other! While chatting over a glass of wine I met by chance an expert pruner, who lives in a nearby village, and (I volunteered him!) he volunteered to come and help me finish off the pruning next week!

Me and my table in the plaza

Then, at 1 o’clock the speakers and listeners came down for a breath of fresh air (and wine and cheese!) and then off they went back upstairs for more speaking and listening. A 3 o’clock they all came down again for more wine and tapas before heading off for lunch together. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for lunch as I had to catch the AVE (Spanish High-Speed Train) to Barcelona that evening at 19:00. So at 4 o’clock I packed up my things (minus several cases of wine that I sold!) and by 6 o'clock I was back in Madrid, where I packed up more wine samples, a toothbrush and a sandwich and by 7:30 I was on my way to Barcelona.

Closeup of my wares

What a contrast of worlds: from a deepest rural Spanish village to 21st century, hi-tech, anti-gravity, maglev (or whatever) train in the space of a few hours! I was most impressed by the AVE. It took just over 3 hrs to cover the 620 km (400 miles) to Barcelona, and it takes you from city centre to city centre (ie no extra time/expense getting to/from airports) and no need to check in, just arrive 2 mins before departure. No big deal really, it’s just a train, but compared to my previous train experiences from 20 yrs ago, it was like living in the Culture! Anyway, arrived at 11 and by 11:30 I was having late dinner at a friends house who kindly offered me his sofa for the night.

On the AVE platform at Atocha Station

... more tomorrow about the Natural Wines Fair

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Intense Three Days of Vinous Activities - Day 1

Last Friday 26th March I got up early so as to get to the winery as soon as possible because I knew I had an intense 3 days ahead of me. First I had to bottle and cork about 100 bottles of assorted wines: some young white (2009, 100% Airén), some young red (2009, 97% Garnacha 3% Cab Sauv) and some Crianza (2008, 100% Tempranillo). Thankfully the Crianza was already bottled last year, so I only had to pack it up in boxes.

Crianza Labels

The day before I had prepared sticky labels to distinguish it from the young red – as all our bottles are recycled/reused it’s difficult to tell one from the other as all the shapes, sizes and colours of the bottles are used randomly among all the types of wine!

Crianza labels close up

This is what we call in Spain a ‘chapuza’, ie a quick-n-dirty highly unprofessional job done very quickly (and perhaps effectively).

Crianza bottles being labelled

More Crianza bottles being labelled

On the way to the winery I wanted to stop off in Tielmes at the laboratory where they’re doing an analysis of some of our wines, to ask when the results would be in, but it was closed - Easter holidays started early for some! So, on to the winery, or rather on to the bar for a coffee and sticky bun, before starting the bottling.

I needed all those bottles for an organic trade fair in Puebla de la Sierra (Madrid) – more on this event in Part 2 of this post. Well, the bottling was quite straight-forward, as I’d soaked and scraped off the labels beforehand. While I was at it, I bottled a couple cases for some consumers and on the way back to Madrid that night I dropped them off in Perales.

State of the vineyard on Friday 26th March

It was now about lunch-time and time to go to the vineyard to do some more pruning. We STILL haven’t finished, but there’s not much left to do. After munching down a ‘bocadillo’ and a swig of wine in the vineyard, I managed to do quite a lot of pruning; when till the sun started to set, it got chilly and a cold wind came up, so I decided to call it a day even though I could have carried on for another hour or two before it got too dark to see. And besides, my back was sore.

Another view of the vineyard
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