Ordinarily, our Maestrazgo Wine Club tastings have a theme of some sort. Typically a country or specific region to be explored, a grape variety to track across the world or perhaps even a style to discover in several different places. However, with this being the first of two introductory tastings after a 3 month summer break, we’re going to look at some summer discoveries instead. By that I mean a tasting of 6 of the best wines I’ve discovered over the summer period, with a split between the Old World and the New World. I had the good fortune to taste over 150 wines, with some real stand out examples in a variety of different styles and hailing from across the major wine producing regions. 6 wines, 6 regions – vamos!
Veyder Malberg Liebedich Grüner Veltliner
Grüner Veltliner used to really bug me, mainly due to my complete inability to correctly identify it in blind tastings. It’s also surprisingly difficult to get hold of in Spain, despite being one of the great white varieties of the world and the single most important in Austria. As a result, the examples I was tasting were often not that interesting and usually in the context of trying to ensure I didn’t guess it was Albariño in a blind tasting (3 times in a row! Grrr!). However, as I started to dig a little deeper and use different distributors in Barcelona, I discovered that Monvinic Store had a good selection of wines from a producer I’d heard about but never had the chance to taste; Veyder Malberg.
Peter Veyder-Malberg is the founder and driving force behind Veyder-Malberg, acquiring a series of old, terraced vineyards in the Wachau region of Austria as recently as 2008. A little like the Douro Valley in Portugal and our own Priorat in Catalunya, these vineyards are rugged, difficult to manage and full of old vines, many of which were severely under-valued and sadly, were often uprooted in favour of other projects. Having worked as an oenologist in Weinviertel until 2007, Peter had a clear plan for this newly acquired land; organic viticulture, worked only by hand and managed to preserve its unique character. Unlike many other Austrian wine-makers, Peter also eschews botrytis affected grapes, preferring a lighter, more mineral style of wine.
Again, this wine was purchased via Monvinic Store which comes as no surprise, given it’s artisan and minimal intervention style. Veyder Malberg produce a little less than 20,000 bottles a year and for any of these niche wines, Monvinic remain the single best vendor in the city. The Liebedich 2012 is a blended wine from 5 different parcels, all too small to be considered for a single-vineyard wine. As with all Veyder-Malberg wines, there is no oak or botrytis influence and the expression of Grüner Veltliner as a result is a typically semi-aromatic, savoury one. Lime peel and green apple offer a little fruit character, but this is more about the slightly vegetal side of Grüner Veltliner; hints of celery, white pepper and a touch of almond with the 5 years of bottle age. On the palate the acidity has softened slightly and offers a refreshing, crisp and delicious wine with lots of intensity, and a subtle finish. A little bottle age has allowed the wine to gain a little body and the overall effect is lovely; an impressive Austrian wine!
Immich-Batterieberg Zeppwingert Riesling 2012
German Riesling has been one my success stories of 2017; from not being able to tell the difference in quality levels to getting a real handle on what they’re all about and tasting a variety of producers, both iconic and up-and-coming. I haven’t really found a preference on sweetness levels, and instead I focus on the balance between the acidity and the sugar; the tension in the wine. It doesn’t matter whether the flavours are crisp and zesty, or broader and denser, so long as the wine has an energy about it. With the natural acidity of Riesling and the unique growing conditions of the steep, Mosel Valley, it comes as no surprise to find they manage this balance better than anyone else in the world.
Immich-Batterieberg have one of the oldest histories in the Mosel, with the origins of the vineyards dating back to 911, created under the watchful (and slightly hungover) eyes of the monks. Purchased by the Immich family in 1495 and ran by the family for 500 years until 1989, creating a strong identity for their dry and off-dry Rieslings. The style is very much a hands-off approach, with Gernot Kollmann, the wine-maker, preferring to let the 60 year old vines do the talking. The Cru wines are vinified separately in old oak with spontaneous fermentations, low sulphur additions and no acidification/chaptalisation the normal approach.
I tried 3 wines from Immich-Batterieberg including the crus of Steffensberg, Batterieberg (the namesake of the winery) and Zeppwingert. As much as I enjoyed them all, and they were all delicious, the Zeppwingert seemed to have the best balance of them all, with ripe, accessible fruit whilst still maintaining a focus and intensity on the palate. It’s still a zesty, fresh wine with lime zest and green fruits at the fore, with some stone fruit starting to emerge as the wine broadens with a little age. The gorgeous white floral notes of Riesling are apparent, as are the chalky, mineral aromas that so define Riesling from the Mosel. Precise, vibrant and delicious – my kind of Riesling!
Jean Foillard Morgon Cote du Py 2015
Beaujolais has made a global revival over the last decade or so, partly due to the recognition of top quality producers in the area, and partly due to the escalating prices in neighbouring Burgundy. When I first learnt about Beaujolais, it was simply that there was a clear divide between the 10 ‘crus’ of Beaujolais and the generic wines, often made using early-harvested, over yielding vines and subjected to specific yeast strains and semi-carbonic maceration to get a bubble-gum, banana flavour. Ever since, I think I can count the amount of times I’ve drank Beaujolais Noveau on one hand, and none of them have been enjoyable. The wines from the 10 ‘crus’ of Beaujolais, however, are a different story, located to the north of the region and enjoying a better exposure to sunshine and often more favourable soils for Gamay, the champion grape of the region.
Jean Foillard is one of the aforementioned producers whose name has rightly risen to fame for the wines he produces here. A disciple of Jules Chauvet, an early pioneer of the more structured, serious approach to Beaujolais, Foillard farms 14 hectares of the best vineyards in Morgon, considered by many to offer the deepest flavours and structure of the 10 crus. The majority of his vineyards are on the famed Cote du Py, a small rise of volcanic, granitic soil that is believed to be a major factor in the depth and complexity of the grapes grown here.
Beaujolais, like many regions with continental and often marginal weather patterns, is subject to vintage variation. The warmer years create wines that are accessible at an earlier date and have a riper fruit profile, whilst the cooler years often create wines with more restraint and elegance, that sometimes need a little time to soften and come together. 2015 was an undoubtedly warm year for Beaujolais, and most of Europe, and that means a riper, more accessible version of this great wine. Cote du Py, as it suggests, is made from grapes grown on the volanic soils to the south of Villié-Morgon with a mixture of vine ages (10-90 years!), produced in a low intervention style and aged for 6-9 months in old oak barrels. On the nose there’s a gorgeous aroma of ripe red fruits; strawberry, cherry and raspberry, complimented by lilac and violet floral notes. The whole cluster fermentation adds a level of herbaceousness and there’s the traditional earthiness of Foillards wines. Ripe, fruity and juicy with a pleasantly herbal edge – a pleasure to drink now and will be in full flight in around 5 years time!
Francisco Barona Ribera del Duero 2014
Ribera del Duero was one of my first loves in Spanish wine; a bottle of Tomas Postigo Crianza 2010 still stands out as a defining moment for me on a rainy day in December 2014. Hugely popular both locally and internationally, the region has been challenging Rioja for some time as the King of Spanish wine, with both regions largely reliant of Tempranillo based blends. However, whilst Rioja has been able to maintain a good balance between the cheap-and-cheerful wines, ambitious modern projects and traditionalists, Ribera del Duero seemed to lose its way a little bit and almost every wine ended up tasting a little too similar; big black fruits, dark chocolate and a slathering of French oak. With Vega Sicilia the perennial stalwart of traditional wine-making in the region, it’s only recently that the new wave of wine-makers are starting to make themselves known here, often eschewing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec in favour of more traditional, and often much older, vines such as Albillo, Mencia, Bobal and Garnacha.
Francisco Barona is one of the ‘new wave’ in this respect and, as it happens, this is his first commercial vintage! His family has been making wine for generations and after studying oenology in Bordeaux and working around the world; the USA, South Africa and France, Francisco returned to Ribera del Duero where, with some help from his family connections, he was able to source 5 different plots of land. These plots contain not only old-vine Tempranillo but also a general mixture of the other indigenous grapes mentioned above, often from very old, under-rated vines. I’ve generally found that the inclusion of some of these grapes gives the wines from Ribera del Duero a fresher profile, with a strong backbone of acidity and a lighter body. Considering it’s not unusual for wines in this region to hover around 14.5%-15% alcohol, this is definitely for the better!
Considering this is Francisco’s first wine, it’s remarkably well defined. There’s almost always an element of trial and error in the wine world, but to have a wine that’s so well balanced and vibrant at your first attempt is really quite remarkable. It has the same inky, dark colour that so many wines from the region have, but it’s so much fresher on the nose and palate. At this youthful stage, there’s an overwhelming core of ripe, black and red fruits, licorice and lots of powerful French oak; vanilla and baking spices to the fore. Tightly coiled and clearly waiting to open up with a little age, this is certainly a producer and wine to watch! Still, due to the soft, ripe tannins and enjoyable, fruity flavours this is delicious now and will certainly win a few hearts back to Ribera del Duero!
Felsina Fontalloro 2011
We head over to Tuscany next, where a modern approach to arguably the oldest defined wine region in Europe, Chianti Classico, is represented by the wines of Fattoria Felsina. Sangiovese remains the most planted grape variety in Italy and also constitutes a remarkable amount of quality wine around the very different regions of the country, but it is undoubtedly best known for it’s expressions in central Italy, particularly Tuscany. A variety with naturally high levels of both acidity and tannins, this could potentially be a difficult grape to sell on the commercial market but the sour cherry characteristics, Tuscan herbs and subtle, savoury characteristics have given it an advantage over its cousin to the north; Nebbiolo. Chianti and Chianti Classico are two regions best known for the grape, as well as the long lived Brunello di Montalcino, but then the question really lies in style. Leaner, more floral and marked by a herbal characteristic? Long lived and powerful, with layers of flavours evolving over years and decades? As always, it’s a question of personal taste, although Fontalloro certainly leans towards the latter.
Fattoria Felsina has existed since 1966 when a gentleman by the name of Domenico Poggiali decided to invest his money here, at a time when Italian wine-making was not the attractive option it is today. Various new partners entered the business and now, it’s not only an iconic producer of Tuscan wines but a great model for other wineries, proving it’s possible to take a hands-on approach, maintain quality and create a profitable business at the same time.
Out of a broad portfolio of excellent wines, my discovery from Felsina this summer was undoubtedly Fontalloro, their flagship wine. Like so many grapes, I enjoy Sangiovese in a variety of styles but even at high levels of ripeness, the flavours and aromas tend to stay fresh and attractive, so I’m wary of overt oaking and extraction which can disguise these features. Felsina, much like Fontodi, seem to manage their premium oak-aged wines better than most and create a wonderful marriage of the two. Fontalloro is their premium Sangiovese wine and spends between 18-22 months in French oak. Technically an IGT wine as grapes are used from outside the Chianti Classico DOCG, it’s a ripe, powerful expression of Sangiovese that is only just entering its drinking window now! 2011 was a warm year and this is already a wine made from ripe grapes, so the overtly ripe, and slightly dried, cherry aromas come as no real surprise. The herbaceousness of Sangiovese is only just coming through, as the smoky, dark aromas of oak need some time to settle. Powerful and dense on the palate with thick, ripe tannins and a strong core of acidity; this is a castle of a wine! Absolutely packed with potential and I’m glad to have another bottle or two squirreled away for the next few years, where this will bloom into something quite special.
Chateau Vielle Cure 2006
I’ve really come to admire Bordeaux, and I don’t recall ever having tasted a glass whilst I lived in the UK. Frustrating really, as mature Bordeaux is so easy to come by over there whereas in Barcelona, the prices are absolutely disgraceful for the same wines. I have a preference for the Cabernet Sauvignon dominated left bank, with the slowly emerging graphite, earth and leathery aromas a perfect match for winter dishes in Barcelona, but I have come to appreciate the slightly earlier mature right bank, where Merlot and Cabernet Franc take over proceedings. A wine I’ve enjoyed a lot over the summer is a fully mature Fronsac; Chateau Vielle Cure 2006.
Chateau Vielle Cure has a long history in Fronsac, but was taken over and revitalised in 1986 by American owners, bringing in the (in)famous Michel Rolland as consultant for the wine-making process. Limestone soils and old vines come together to create a truly delicious, and excellent value, expression of right-bank Bordeaux, with enough sunshine from the south-westerly exposure to properly ripen grapes with each vintage.
The wine itself is a great example of mature Bordeaux. Incredibly, this is still available, albeit in tiny quantities, for less than 20 euros a bottle in Barcelona. Apparently this wine is still a staple of many claret-lovers in the UK, and it’s easy to see why. At full maturity now, there’s a lovely, deep garnet colour and a huge amount of complexity on the nose. Dried and ripe fruits, black pepper and charred wood, graphite, leather and even a green note of bell pepper; Bordeaux in a glass! There’s still a littl grip to the palate, with a long savoury intensity and finish still in balance, despite the relatively low acidity. A great example of mature, affordable Bordeaux done well.
Our next tasting will be on the 28th September when we look at another 6 wines, this time focusing on the New World wine regions. A similarly varied line-up awaits and whilst all the spots have been taken, should you wish to consider a private tasting do get in touch via this contact form. Until the next time; happy drinking!