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Sunday 22 January 2012

A nice happy trivial post

A strange thing happened to me on the way to the forum the other day.

I was having lunch with some friends in Madrid, and as it was such a lovely day we decided to chance it outside on a terrace. A typical Menú del Día (set menu) at €11 for which you get a 1st course, a 2nd course, dessert or coffee, plus bread and a bottle of table-wine and ‘Casera’ or ‘Gaseosa’ (a fizzy sweet lemonade-type drink to mix with the wine).

So we ordered the ‘vino y Casera’ and when it came, we tasted it first before mixing in the Casera. We always do that, as a sort of anti-tasting, and talk about the nuances of the disgustingness and undrinkability of these wines! Well, shock, horror, and will wonders never cease!!!! The wine they served us yesterday was actually drinkable, not at all unpleasant and even had some aromas and tastes of a decent wine. This was not due to transitory madness, phase of the moon, or irrational exuberance as they say; there were three of us and we all agreed on the wine’s drinkability. We suspected an error at the bottling or labeling line, but we finished the bottle without ever adding any Casera.

So after lunch I checked out the wine on the internet. More surprises. It turns out it’s made by a winery called Bodegas Virgen de las Viñas, from near the town of Tomelloso, in the middle of La Mancha. It’s a co-op of over 2,000 (that’s two thousand!) grape-growers, with a total of over 23,000 hectares (about 55,000 acres) under vines, and they produce over 150 Million liters of wine. They have a website in English, but it doesn’t seem to work:

The wine itself was called “Viña Tomilla Tinto”, and is a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha. It retails at €1,38/bottle plus shipping.

Spanish Table Wine - No 'casera' required in this case!

I was surprised that such a massive cooperative winery could produce such a nice drinkable wine. Co-ops that size usually churn out undrinkable wines that have to be mixed with ‘Casera’. This is true – it’s not just me being elitist!!! At any restaurant in Madrid where they serve a Menu del Día, you automatically get a bottle of fizzy Casera to mix with the wine.

I was also surprised that they had a website in English, even though it doesn’t work. The site in Spanish doesn’t work very well either!

The food at the restaurant was also really good – much better than the usual fare at such places. It’s called “El Ibérico” and it’s on the Glorieta de Ruiz Jiménez next to the taxi rank. Intersection of C/San Bernardo and C/Alberto Aguilera, behind the taxi rank. It doesn’t have a webpage and I couldn’t find any reviews of it in the usual sites!

So if you’re passing through Madrid, hungry and on a budget, … you know where to go!

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Pruning, Pesticides ... and Natural Wine Dogmas


We've gotten off to a good start with the pruning this year. We started right after New Year and have finished the small upper plot of the Carabaña vineyard - about 250 vines (all white Airén variety). It took so long to do because apart from the actual pruning, we also hoed up the earth around each vine to remove the grass and plants and to aerate the soil a bit.

Panoramic view of the small top plot in Carabaña
We don't plough up the vineyard between the rows like all our neighbours do - instead we let all the grasses, plants, flowers and thistles grow, and we just cut them back once or twice a year when they get too high. We also leave the canes from the pruning and chop them up into little pieces; and all this organic matter returns to the soil, improving its structure and fertility.

Close-up of vine before pruning it
This way of doing things has its advantages and disadvantages. The main disadvantage, I think, is the competition for water and nutrients from the grasses and plants. But, on the other hand, grass and plants have relatively small short roots, while vines have very long deep ones, as well as surface roots, and they seem to manage fine; also the vines we have, Airén and Tempranillo, are well suited to the climate and don't need a lot of water.

Close-up of vine after pruning it
The main reason for leaving all the grasses and plants is to provide a habitat for insects that all predate on each other, so no one species ever becomes a problem and attacks the vines or grapes. We've never used any pesticides in all the years (9) that we've been cultivating the vineyard.

Fabio hoeing up the soil around the vines
Yet another reason for not ploughing is that there will never be any residues of pesticides on the grapes or in the wine. I understand, from reading reports and articles, that all conventional wines made from non-organic grapes have traces of pesticides in them. Some people say that these residues are insignificant and harmless, but I have my doubts. I think that, like in many other issues, once you have the actual real facts and hard data available to you, it still boils down to a question of belief!

Fog in the vineyard in the morning
In this case, the facts are:
- There are traces of pesticides in wine
- Experts tell us that the quantities are insignificant and safe for human consumption

BUT, here are a number of doubts (or 'beliefs' if you prefer) that are important enough for me not to use pesticides:

Lovely earthworm - sign of a healthy living soil :)
1. It's happened often enough in the past that a chemical or substance has been banned at a certain point in time, because it was discovered that it wasn't safe after all! I believe that the same could happen this year or next with any product that is currently permitted. I also believe that this is because the authorities pay more attention to corporate lobbies than they do to consumer/safety lobbies.

2. These products may well be safe for human consumption, but what about the runoffs that go into the soil, underground aquifers and rivers? I don't think they're safe for micro-organisms, flora and fauna, or for the environment in general. It's also a fact that the world's pollution problem is caused by industry and agriculture.

3. Even though each individual pesticide may be considered harmless and safe for human consumption, what about the 'cocktail effect' of many pesticides combined. There are no studies showing that they're safe in combination with each other.

Tools of the day - hoe (or is it an adze?), gloves and pruning shears
Anyway, 250 vines down, 1000 to go - in Carabaña. Then we have about 3000 vines in Villarejo (Malvar variety) to prune too. The deadline is around March when the vines wake up from their winter dormancy and the sap starts flowing. It's not a good idea to prune after that happens, because you'd be removing valuable nutrients from the vine. The same applies if you start pruning too early, ie before the vines go into dormancy around November/December.

Rabbit droppings - at least they left something nice behind
 after eating 20% of our grapes!


Not much happening in the bodega these days. Just checking and tasting the wines to see that they're coming along OK. Basically, they just sitting there and the cold of winter which helps them to settle down. The most pressing task at the moment is to do some bottling. We have several wines in oak barrels that need to be bottled, otherwise the oak will dominate too much.

Crates of recycled de-labelled wine-bottles, ready for washing
The other day I soaked and delabelled about 100 bottles. Sinse the harvest back in September, we've managed to delabel about 1000 bottles; now we need to wash them and fill them.

Poor bat
I found this poor bat lying at the bottom of an empty crate. No idea what could have happened. They usually fly around at night in the patio of the bodega, and inside the bodega itself too, snapping up insects. This is especially useful during fermentation when myriads of tiny fruit-flies appear.


Not much happening on this front either in general, though there have been two very interesting events recently. The first was our annual Vinos Ambiz tasting where we presented our new 2011 wines and a couple of older ones too (see this post). This year it was on 16th December and held at CSO Casablanca, an 'occupied' (ie squatted) social centre in Madrid. Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos until the very end, and no-one who was there has sent me any that I can use :(  That'll teach me!

The second event was a lunch last Sunday with some wine-people at Los Asturianos restaurant in Madrid. It started off being just a tasting of my new wines between me and my US importer, José Pastor, but as time went by (and Spain being Spain!), things escalated and complicated themselves and in the end there were 7 of us with over 40 wines to taste!!! We were: José Pastor (US natural wine importer), Victor de la Serna (Spanish journalist and winemaker), Alice Feiring (US natural wine writer), Alfredo Maestro (Spanish natural winemaker), Richard van Oorschot (Dutch wine aficcionado), Nacho Bueno (Spanish wine aficionado). And these were the wines:

- Niepoort-Navazos 2009 Palomino Fino (Non-DO)
- Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Num.32 (DO Jérez y Manzanilla)
- Ximénez-Spínola Exceptional Harvest 2010 (Non-DO)

- Vinos Ambiz 2011 Airén (Non-DO)
- Lovamor 2011 Alfredo Maestro (VT Castilla)
- Vinos Ambiz Malvar 2011 Carbonic Maceration

- Albariño de Fefiñanes III Año 2007 (DO Rías Baixas)
- Reto 2010 Ponce (DO Manchuela)
- Níspero 2009 Eufrosina Pérez Rodríguez
- Picarana 2010 Marañones (DO Vinos de Madrid)

- Picos de Cabariezo 2010 (VT Liébana)
- Ganko 2009 Olivier Rivièr (DOC Rioja)
- Finca Sandoval Signo Garnacha 2009 (DO Manchuela)
- El Puño 2007 El Escocés Volante (DO Calatayud)
- Vinos Ambiz Garnacha 2010
- Vinos Ambiz Coupage 2010 (Tempranillo Graciano Sirah)

- Ultreia 2008 Raúl Pérez (DO Bierzo)
- Tilenus Pieros 2002 Bodegas estefanía (DO Bierzo)
- Finca Sandoval Signo Bobal 2008 (DO Manchuela)
- Ponce PF 2009 (DO Manchuela)
- Alfynal 2009 Bruno Prats (DO Alicante)

- Casa Castillo Pie Franco 2006 (DO Jumilla)
- Tres Patas 2007, Bodegas Canopy (DO Méntrida)
- Malpaso, Bodegas Canopy (DO Méntrida)
- Guimaro
- Jarrarte Maceración Carbónica (DOC Rioja)

Apart from the above wines (as if they weren't enough!) Alfredo brought these:

Lovamor 2011
Amanda 2011
Viña Almate 2011
Garnacha 2011
Garnacha 2010
Viña Almate 2010.
Viña Almate LA OLMERA 2009
Viña Almate LA GUINDALERA 2009
Tinto Castrillo de Duero 2009
Gran Fausto 2003

and José brought these:


I have to say that it was too much for me. I loved all of them, but I didn't have enough time to savour them and talk about them. I was surrounded by experts who could do 2 wines in about 5 minutes (we tasted them in pairs). So I'm not going to post any tasing notes here, firstly because I didn't take any (!), secondly because I'm sure the other 'comensales' will post some comments, and they're all more experienced tasters than me. The only ones I managed to savour were a few unfinished bottles that I stuffed into my rucksack as we left the restaurant, which I thoroughly enjoyed over lunch and dinner at home on Monday and Tuesday :)

I was also looking forward to a nice chat about natural wines, but that didn't happen either :(   Too many people, too many wines, too many conversations going on at the same time. But hey, I'm not complaining - I really appreciated the chance to taste so many quality Spanish wines, at the same time, and surrounded by such knowledgeable people. Quite a lot of corners of Spain were represented at our table that day!

Sorry, I forgot to take photos!
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