New beginnings

After talking the talk for some years, I’m finally going to make some wine this year. All of this thanks to my friend Fabio Bartolomei (of Vinos Ambiz fame), who is bearing with me, letting me use his bodega, and allowing me to buy grapes from his vineyards in Gredos. I’m of course one of those winelovers who thinks that after reading a lot about wine, and talking to innumerable winemakers, I have some ideas on how to make good wine. I know that’s a delusion, but many really good winemakers I’ve asked whether I should attend a winemaking course or school told me not to; just start and be curious, many of them said. That’s the only way to learn. So here goes. Into the deep.

I’ll be using this blog to document the process. Share my ideas and doubts, the failures and possibly even the successes. I hope to get some comments from people that actually know what they’re doing, but even if I don’t, it will still be valuable to me. And if I fail miserably, it will at least be fun for those people who can then say ‘we told you so’. And I’ll know where I went wrong next when trying it all again next year.

So. This year I will be trying to make two wines; a white based on Albillo real, and a red Garnacha. Both of them in low volumes, between 500 and 1000 litres each. I’m aiming for elegance and finesse. No flabby high alcohol monsters, if possible. And hopefully no vinegar either. I’ll go into more detail of the grapes and intended methods in the next posts. Wish me luck!

Posted in Making wine | Leave a comment

Ribeiro; The other other white meat

Not many people know it, but there’s great white wines from Spain as well. There’s the geeky stuff (like the very mature Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia that I love), but also more ‘regular’ white wines. The one I had with dinner today falls in the latter category. It has the brilliant combination of being both refreshing and full bodied, with a smattering of complexity. Food friendly too.

The bottle in its natural habitat

The wine I’m talking about is the 2007 Lagar do Merens, from Ribeiro. Ribeiro is a D.O. in the North West of Spain, in Galicia. It’s a bit further inland from Rias Baixas where the fresh and mineral Albariño based whites come from. Ribeiro, Galician for ‘river bank’, is known both for its whites and reds. The whites are mainly made from Treixadura, Torrontés and Lado, which is exactly what was used for this wine. A proper Ribeiro white-blend then.

After crushing, the grapes were left to macerate for 8 hours under dry ice (frozen CO2, basically), which gives them time to get all the goodness from the skins, without giving oxygen a chance. After pressing the juice was treated to a cool (17,5 C) fermentation in stainless steel and left on its lees for around 8 months.

The wine itself has a bright yellow colour, with a green tinge. The nose immediately shows a full on liveliness. This is not a wine to be ignored. Besides the pure life force flowing from it, there’s a dominant citrus tone, wrapped in a silky veil that’s coloured with licorice-like spiciness and lifted by mint. Then some shell fish; crab and lobster tones, with saffron. That sounds like a proper starter to match this wine to. Mmm. Fresh and full all the way.

The taste starts very full, but again the crisp acidity bursts through and keeps it fresh and serious. A tiny bit of candy-type sweetness, but that goes very quickly. A full body, glycerol impression, but kept light, again, with the acidity. This keeps it lively right to the mineral end. The after taste is a bit smoky, which matched it perfectly with the griddled swordfish and courgettes we had. There were some good bitters too.  This is one of few whites that you can easily drink after your glass has warmed up to (warm) room temperature. The acidity keeps it fresh, and the fullness and the fruitiness doesn’t get limp. For me that’s the sign of a good wine.

This really is the kind of wine I like. It was properly complex, giving you something to think about. But not in a ‘hey, look at me!’ type of way; it was gluggable from beginning to end. A wine that starts as ‘let’s have a glass with dinner’, and ends with you finishing the bottle. It’s that lip smacking good. It really made me think about the way some wines are and some wines aren’t in fashion. An albariño of this quality would easily fetch double the price of this ‘simple’ Ribeiro. Yet it’s beautiful, elegant and full at the same time. Basically; what we all expect from a good white wine.

The current Lagar do Merens winery was built in 2001, but the remains of the ancient winery are still there.

Posted in wine | 1 Comment

Spain; Syrah, naturally

Moving is a tough job. Moving internationally is worse, I can tell you. First there’s all the packing (everything has to be disassembled. Everything.), but worst of all for a winelover is that you can’t really take your ‘cellar’. Or rather, I didn’t. I left it all in the good hands of my brother who will lovingly drink them all. And save a few for when I visit, I hope.

The other thing with moving is that you don’t know your way around. That goes for everything, including wines. I now live in Madrid, and for the past month I’ve been mostly drinking supermarket wines, because I hadn’t found the time for discovering wine shops. Of course there’s Lavinia in the centre (a temple for wine, or so I’ve heard), but I live up north and haven’t made the journey yet. I however have made some friends lately, one of whom advised me on a small wine shop in a barrio nearby; La Viñeta de Carmelo in Montecarmelo. Today after Dutch-time dinner (tired kid…) I hopped on the Metro and went for a visit.

David, the owner, runs a very good looking shop there, not only with wine but all sorts of deli products. The wine selection is mostly Spanish (as fits a shop like this), but quality stuff only. After I asked for elegant, perhaps unusual wines, he immediately knew what I meant, and showed bottle after bottle. Good guy, speaks English (even though he says he doesn’t speak much), and a nice shop. What I’d call a good find.

One of the finds from there is the wine I opened tonight: the 2005 Lucía Syrah, from Bodega Marenas (bottle 1063/1800 if you have to ask). It’s named after the winemaker’s daughter, Lucía, who was born in 2005. It’s a wine with no D.O., and it’s what I’d call an ‘authentic‘ (‘natural’?) wine. That is to say, both in the vineyard and in the cellar the grapes were treated with respect; no chemicals in the vineyard, hand picked, hand made, no additions in the cellar, unfined, unfiltered etc etc. No sulfites were added, either.

Bodega Marenas - 2005 Lucía syrah

Bodega Marenas - 2005 Lucía syrah

On to the wine itself. It’s a bit like coming home. A wine where the first whiff sends shivers along your spine. In a good way. A good looking, slightly opaque glass of wine, cherry red with a garnet rim. An elegant wine, with depth. Sweet and savoury notes intermingle on the nose; sandalwood, licorice and a meaty note blend in with deep dark fruit. A tiny bit of volatile acidity that gives it an edge. The nose opens up more and more during the evening.

In the mouth it starts opulent, with a good, deep concentration. After that the acidity kicks in, balancing the mouthfeel and keeping it elegant. Very long taste, with medium tannins of the sandy type. These should integrate even further the coming years, and the acidity should keep it going for quite some time.

The Bodega and the vineyards are in Montilla, near Cordoba, Andalucia. They produce red wines in a white wine area; that’s also the reason why there’s no denominated wine zone on the bottle; the D.O. Montilla-Moriles is only for whites and fortified wines.

I know Spain is Tempranillo country. I respect that. But if you see what even relatively young Syrah can do in these areas, it’s amazing to think what you could do with old vines. When I drive through the countryside here, I’m reminded of Swartland, in South Africa. The place I fell in love with earlier this year when doing cellar work at Lammershoek. The climate is very similar, especially the differences between day and night. I think that Syrah, especially at altitude, could bring incredible wines. If you treat the vines right, let them express terroir, force them to dig to get to the (limited) water supply. I for one am definitely going to keep looking for Syrah around these places. Let’s see what’s been made so far. Or make it myself.

Posted in wine | Leave a comment

Fiano – discovering a new grape

I confess. I’m a wine geek. A grape nerd. Or, as a friend called me today; a cork dork (I disagree on that one because of the closures-debate still going strong, but I digress). Basically; I like my wines obscure. Like to try as many different kinds as possible. And pride myself on knowing quite a few grape varieties.

2009 Surani pietrariccia Fiano

2009 Surani pietrariccia Fiano

Yet last saturday, while browsing the Sligro wine-aisles, I found something I’d never come across before: Fiano. The 2009 Surani pietrariccia fiano to be precise. As it was from Salento (in Puglia, way way south in Italy) I had to take a bottle. I’m really intrigued by that area, thanks to Silvestro Silvestori’s incredible blog. Also; it was very affordable, which helps.

Fiano, I learned from the venerable Mrs Robinson, is a “strongly flavoured classical vine responsible for campania’s Fiano di Avellino DOCG in southern Italy”. Campania being the region around Napoli, right on the western coast of Italy, with Puglia in the ‘heel’, on the eastern side. Fiano is also planted in McLaren vale, Southern Australia, and that’s about it.

On to the wine itself. The first impressions reminded me of picpoul-de-pinet (of Languedoc fame). Both are whites from (very) warm regions, made from ‘native’ grapes. The advantage of using these natives becomes very clear in both of these types; they can handle the heat. This leads to well-balanced wines that don’t get overpowered by alcohol. What also reminded me of picpoul in this wine is the nose: Fresh lemon and white fruit tones, complemented by salty liquorice. On the palate it opens well balanced, immediately followed by bracing acidity. This complements the medium-full body very well, leading to a lively and balanced finish. On the long finish, I find some honey and celery-salt. All in all a very refreshing and (here it is again) balanced wine. It clocks in at 13,5% alcohol, but you have to look at the label to believe that.

Masseria Surani is owned by Pasqua, one of the largest privately owned wineries in Italy, which may explain the low price, and the distribution. But this doesn’t make this an industrial wine per sé. Ok; it doesn’t bring loads of individual character, but this isn’t a wine that needs that. If it’s this good on an ordinary monday evening in Dutch early spring, I can only imagine how good it will be with seafood pasta in the full Puglian summer. Heaven in a glass. And even for a wine geek, that’s a pretty good result.

Posted in wine | 2 Comments

Using up Belgian endives

We have a veg-box subscription. This means that there’s a very cool farmer coming by every wednesday, leaving a variety of organic vegetables on our doorstep. And the wednesday after that, and after that, you get the picture. And we’re just 2,5 (well, regarding vegetables, my son counts for less than 0,5, so more 2,1) in our house, so finishing all those veggies can be a challenge.

One of the ‘problem’ veggies has always been Belgian endives. Or chicory. Or witlof as we call it in Dutch. I’ll leave the explaining to wikipedia:

Belgian endive is also known as French endivewitlof in Dutch or witloof in Belgian Dutch, witloof in the United States[citation needed]chicory in the UK, as witloff in Australia,endive in France, and chicon in parts of northern France and in Wallonia. It has a small head of cream-coloured, bitter leaves. It is grown completely underground or indoors in the absence of sunlight in order to prevent the leaves from turning green and opening up (etiolation). The plant has to be kept just below the soil surface as it grows, only showing the very tip of the leaves.

This stuff:

Witlof, chicory, belgian endives, witloof, or what ever you call it in your language

The culprit

Anyway. It’s one of those vegetables that I’ll use up later. And come tuesday evening, it’s still there. I’ll stop the rambling here, because there’s good news. I made a simple dish last night, that was incredible. And I made some more for lunch this afternoon. And all the endives are now finished (oh, and the new veg-box arrived this morning). The recipe:

Griddled endives salad – Ottolenghi stylee


  • endives (obviously)
  • olives
  • capers
  • juice of half a lemon
  • some nice vinegar
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • salt, pepper, sugar

The method:

Start by heating a grill-pan (I use this one, love it to bits) to very hot. This will take around 5 minutes or so. Clean up the endives a bit (they’ve been in your fridge for too long, so make’m look good), then slice them in half, and remove the scruffy bit of the stalk. Make sure the leaves are still connected. Put them in the bowl you’ll serve them in later, and drizzle them with some olive oil (a tablespoon or 2 will do). Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a tiny bit of sugar and leave them until you’re ready to grill

For the dressing, mix up the olives, capers, juice from the lemon and vinegar together until it’s a rough paste. On a board, chop the garlic finely, then add a pinch of salt and mush it into a paste with the flat of your knife. The salt crystals help to destroy the cells, making sure you don’t have any bits of raw garlic in your salad.

The grill-pan should be very hot by now. Put the halved heads of endive onto the grill until they are cooked al-dente, turning at least twice (I turn them 90 degrees halfway through, so that they get a nice pattern). In the mean time, finish the dressing by mixing up the olive paste and the garlic, and put it in the bowl you used for marinating the endives.

Put the flaming hot grilled endives into the dressing, and mix well. This way the dressing will mingle with the endive-juices, and cook the raw garlic that was in the dressing. After a minute or two, it’s ready to serve. You could also leave it to cool to room temperature; it’s still really good.

No picture of the finished dish, unfortunately. It was finished before I got the camera out. Twice.

Posted in food | 2 Comments

Good old Burgundy

You always return to your first love, they say. For me that’s classic white Burgundy. My love for good wine started when a friend blew me away with a Puligny Montrachet at a business dinner. For me that was the first time I’ve ever found so much going in a glass of fermented grape juice. This got me started in the direction I’m going right now, and who knows where it will lead.

Domaine Belleville

Domaine Belleville

I’ve had a craving for classic for a few days, so tonight I opened my second to last bottle of 2007 Domaine Belleville Rully 1er cru “La Pucelle”. It’s one of only a few bottles that I bought en primeur together with the same friend. The wine itself is all that good white Burgundy should be; complex and layered, making you work a little bit without hiding its quality. A lovely smokey cedar cigar box impression that is quite forward, intermingled with appetite whetting minerality, caramel, honey, tart apple and some aniseed. Really inviting to get stuck in.

Tastewise, it’s starting to integrate nicely. Good, juicy acidity as you’d expect with good Burgundy, coated in the rich body of the Côte Challonaise. There’s a fair bit of honey to be found, as well as some hazelnut bitters. Its minerality makes it an almost electric experience to drink, and the fresh and medium long finish makes you want to take another sip. And then another. All in all a wine that confirms the class that good Burgundy can have, even at non-ridiculous price point; this wine was around €13 en primeur.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Top Tip: Bellet (France)

I recently visited a one of the smallest AC’s in France: Bellet. And this region constitutes a Top Tip for wine fans!

It’s part of the Provence wine region (not geographically; that’s Alpes Maritimes), and about as far east as any AC of Southern France, in the hills over Nice. Tiny appellation, and quite uncharacteristic of the south because of the local grapes and the mesoclimate. Makes for a great visit if you’re in the neighborhood of Nice; it’s just north of the city. You do need a car though, as it’s quite remote.

The grapes used here are the local Rolle (with some ubiquitous Chardonnay) for whites, rosé’s are made from Bracquet (known as Brachetto in Piemonte) and the reds are mostly based on the local Folle noire, with some Grenache and Cinsault used as well.

We visited the top houses when we were there (Clos Saint-Vincent & Chateau de Bellet) and were pleasantly surprised. If tasted ‘blind’ you’d never place them this far south. The whites gave the minerality and racy acidity of great Bourgognes, the reds I’d probably place as top Loires, though with lots more fruit. Northern Rhone without ‘fattyness’? Clos Saint-Vincent was easily my favourite, and I spent a small hour with the very inspiring owner chatting about the principles of making great wine, and the way he interpreted them. This kind of attention and tiny production doesn’t come cheap though; Clos Saint-Vincent’s top cuvee will change hands at 50 (white) or 65 (red) euro. Per bottle…

Clos Saint-Vincent's top cuvées

White: Vino di Gio 2007 (100% Rolle), Red: Vino di Gio 2007 (100% Folle noir)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment