Chile – Gaining new ground

“Those? They are just hills”, Susana, my expert guide for the trip says and points her finger towards the two kilometre high mountains bordering the million city of Santiago, while simultaneously changing lanes on the motorway without looking too much at the mirrors. 

Things are relative, traffic cultures, mountains and seasons. I feel dizzy. Too much coffee and too poor sleep. A day ago, I was enjoying the summer in Finland, but now I’m in the middle of Chilean winter. It seems vague, almost impossible. I slept on the plane like a dog across the Atlantic, only momentarily waking up because of the turbulence, which reminded me of the fate of the notorious Air France flight. I tried not to think about it and tried to find a position that would not kill the back of my neck. 

I feel hungry cause I didn’t eat in the plane. I did open the foil of my dinner but felt my courage leave as I saw the contents. Instead of eating I found myself poking a meatball around with a disposable fork. Eating must wait a bit longer, because I didn’t come this far for nothing. I came to taste wine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is the way my first trip to Chile started. It is today coming to an end, and contrary to my prior assumptions, I found myself inspired by Chilean wine industry multiple times. It made my mind move restlessly, which is why I ended up using the week to understand the details of Chilean wine but also trying to understand my own reaction. Now, sitting at the Santiago airport, my thoughts about Chile are surprisingly lucid.

Am I after the experience a sworn advocate for Chilean wines? I’m not, at least not yet. I’ll give you some examples. The Chile’s most revered wine style, Maipo Valley’s full bodied and minty Cabernet sauvignon still leaves me lukewarm. And I still do not find Carmenere variety very interesting, although it is at its best mouth-filling and luscious (and reasonably often free of bell pepper pyrazines, if harvested in May).

Many producers make very commercial style wines and sometimes unnecessarily so. This means that they don’t manufacture the best possible wines from the grape material, but rather that they manufacture wines, which do not irritate even the consumer with a crappy taste. Because you can’t please everybody, the winelovers end up feeling lukewarm in front of the soft, round and even sweet style (points to Vina Maipo for the fact that even their affordable red wines are dry). At worst, this means ruining good raw material in the cellar. A tank sample can be a reasonable bright and palatable, but the end product modest.

In order to step up its game, Chile should be able to first break away from the gravity of its own image. In the end this will be decided by the consumers in their willingness to upgrade, since wine sector is a similar hostage to the markets as any commodity producing industry.

IMG_8650

On the other hand it is important to ask whether I still feel the same way about Chilean wines than I did a week ago while packing winter clothes for Santiago. The answer is no. During the days, I realised that, in spite of the Chilean wine history reaching all the way to the conquistadors, the wine industry is infact very very young.

The most significant steps in the wine industry are barely 20 years old. It is a short period of time compared to many other wine-producing countries and this makes Chile special. Adolescence means uncertainty and incompleteness, if anything, but offers a great possibility for potential yet actualised, if even found.

Following anecdotes tell the story. When the producing of icon wines became more common at the end of the 1990s, some producers didn’t save any bottles in their own libraries, as is generally customary. The thought hadn’t even appeared to them, since they were happy the people were willing to buy all their bottles, with a nice price tag. This led to an absurd situation. Valdivieso, known for its quality sparkling, reds and whites, had to buy some bottles of their solera style made Caballo loco back from dealers at the market rate. First they produced the wine and sold it for a good profit. Then they end up wasting the profits by buying some bottles back on higher price they got from it in the first place.

Another example I heard from the talented Matia Rios, who’s a winemaker at the organic powerhouse Cono sur. He told that before the year 1999 when Cono Sur started a quality revolution in Pinot everybody were making Pinot noir like it was Cabernet sauvignon. The delicate nature of the variety was not understood and producers were pushing for maximum extraction, colour and weight on the palate. The results some times tasted like onion jam. Tasting the 20 Barrel Pinot noir or their iconic Ocio, this seems like far away past. Ocio does come with body, but it’s at the same time ethereal, focused wine that floats through the palate leaving behind only a tingle of fine tannins as a bitter reminder of the fact, that the delicious wine was, but already went.

It should be noted that although some continue to manufacture the jammy over ripe style, properly produced Pinot has become something of a phenomenon. As a token of the speed of transformation, it is quite telling that they used to produce 1999 Pinot like Cabernet, but 2014 they vinify Syrah like Pinot, in an open top tanks.

IMG_8636

The lighter and more pure trend can be seen in for example in the Pinots of Castillo de Molina which come with bright red fruit and nice drinkability. More interesting than the wines coming from the somewhat warm Curico, are however wines of Maycas del Limari. Maycas, though on paper an operation of the giant Concha y Tori, is a quality focused boutique winery producing annually only 20.000 cases.

I was able to locate four trends that are shaping the Chilean industry at the moment in interesting ways. Since they all seem to be embodied in Maycas del Limari, I’ll present them through their operation in the Limari region.

1. Earlier harvesting time

According to the wine maker Marcelo Papa, the style of Limari has evolved and become recognisable the past few years. This seems indeed to be the case. In the first vintage, 2007, the wines of Maycas represented more ripe style, but it has changed tremendously and for the better, if I may add. The Chardonnay used to be harvested on the first week of March but is now picked already mid-February. So this means three weeks, no less, earlier than just a couple of years ago. This has radical implications in the wine. It means freshness on the palate, piercing acidity and brightness of the fruit. Citric notes instead of tutti frutti tropical mix. In other words, the structure has been enhanced in detriment of the fruit, which has lead, in the case of relatively warm Chile, in to wines with better balance. It’s pretty telling that their Sumaq Chardonnay 2013 is on the palate closer to freshly squeezed lime than papaya, but still dexterous, rich and focused.

Maycas del Limari’s Sumaq Pinot noir 2013 is on its own level in the quality per price charts. In my experience, such quality is hard to find in Pinot noirs from other parts of the wine world. French Pinots from Burgundy, Alsace or Loire are more expensive. Californian Pinot tends to be soupy on my palate on the affordable price range and Pinots from New Zealand sometimes have this tense grape fruit character that puts me a bit off and makes them seem like German Spätburgunders on steroids, which by the way, rarely if ever come in the same price range as Sumaq.

2. Less oak

I remember tasting Maycas del Limari couple of years earlier and though I recognised the quality, I had problem with the amount of oak that seemed to cover the purity of the fruit with a layer of coconut. The situation has obviously changed, because new oak flavours are no longer considered something necessary for a wine to flourish. In their top of range wines, oak is still somewhat too present for my taste, but the direction they are going is nothing short of exciting.

3. Planting varieties where they fit best

Not so long ago Chilean vines were mostly planted to answer to the demand of the market: If consumers were thirsty for Pinot noir, the vines were planted. Sometimes in places where there was only one moment ago Merlot. The end results are not so hard to guess. Limari, cooled down by the ocean and with its limestone soils and morning cloudiness, cannot ripen Merlot. Maycas grows only Chardonnay, Pinot and Syrah (out of which the latter is less interesting than the previous ones). The direction is clear: from market driven to site specific matches to ensure the best possible quality.

4. Finding new wine regions

The Chilean producers have certainly noticed a long time ago that easy growing conditions don’t necessarily translate to refined quality, which is why they are looking for cooler regions. In Chile this means often going closer to the ocean or higher in altitude, mostly on the slopes of the Andes. Montes has an interesting line called Outer Limits, which explores these possibilities. Their Sauvignon blanc from a new wine region near the Pacific is outstanding. Where as Leyda Sauvignon blanc tends to be mostly about the primary characteristics of the variety in a New Zealand Marlborough style, Zapallar version is chalky, elegant, piercing and long in a style more reminiscent of Sancerre, France.

One must also mention Vik, a megalomanic venture started by a Norwegian tycoon in Millahau. They’ve planted close to 400 hectares of vineyard and have a modest goal of producing the best wine in the world. They make only one wine, an expensive red blend nodding in style to the direction of the big boys in Bordeaux. Though a young project, the results are quite impressive and I’m looking forward to hearing what the king making wine journalists in the States will say when Vik is launched to them according to the strategy of the estate.

Movi, the collaborative entity of independent Chilean wine makers is something one cannot bypass in the year 2014. Forget about large crops, high volumes, drip irrigation or consumer friendly expressions. Movi is equivalent of only 0,05% of Chile’s wine exports but works as a peeking hole to the otherness of Chilean wine. In my opinion Movi is something the brand Chile needs to step up its game also on commercial level. Weeds in the garden are sometimes for the benefit of the perfectly trimmed trees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
These four trends are changing the landscape of Chile as we speak, but they are of course not a magic wand. You can harvest earlier, use oak in more refined manner, understand your soils better and find totally new regions, but if the soil your vines are growing on, isn’t suitable for quality wine, there’s not much you can do.

One has to ask whether Chile of the future has to produce in such volume as in today? Maybe fifteen years from now the wine experts raving about new quality regions of Chile have already started to forget that Chile used to be known for volume more than quality? I should certainly hope so. The potential definitely is there. The wine industry is not yet mature, but that can also be seen as a great thing, since an era of discovery means also rapid progress.

One thing is clear: the Chilean winemakers have no intention to be remembered by the history as mostly mass producers. They are too talented, have too much passion and the perfect natural setting for that. For this reason alone there’s no reason to under line with permanent ink the fact that Chile is in between quantity and quality. Chile is still offering uncharted terroirs and untapped potential many more established wine countries can only dream about. If present is the best estimate for the future, Chile’s tomorrow seems bright indeed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Faces of Bojo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Julie Balagny

Yvon Metras

Yvon Metras

Louis-Clement David-Beaupere

Louis-Clement David-Beaupere

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nathalie Fauvin of Domaine Brureaux

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jean-Paul Brun

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jean-Louis Dutraive of Domaine de la Grand’Cour

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fabien Chasselay of La Chapelle des Bois

Louis-Clement David-Beaupere
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cédric Chignard

Photo 15.5.2013 12.02.57

Jean Foillard

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Thirst for Natural Beaujolais

- Back in the day farmers used to spray their fields with toxic chemicals and when their plastic containers became empty, they burned them at the site, tells Christophe Pacalet, shaking his head and laughing.
As an aspiring producer of natural wine, Christophe Pacalet embodies the undiluted version of the Beaujolais region – the one that everybody is currently talking about. The Beaujolais that is about respecting the environment and the local traditions alike. The results are nothing short of stunning, as I’m just about to find out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Monsieur Pacalet pouring his 2012 Fleurie from the barrel

Though Christophe Pacalet carries himself with notable modesty and doesn’t make too much noise about himself, he is not an ordinary farmer guy. Well he is, but at the same time he isn’t. He is the nephew of the late Marcel Lapierre who was considered the pioneer of the natural wine movement which has received a lot of worldwide attention in the past few years. Though originally a chef, when Christophe decided to become a vigneron, he learned the ropes from the best.

The last vintage of Beaujolais, the 2012, was a difficult one with almost all possible problems, from frost to hail and to mildew. A catastrophe from the viewpoint of volume. Some producers, like Domaine de la Grand’Cour, got only 15% percent of the yield they usually get. Jean-Louis Dutraive was able to produce tasty wines, but economically speaking situation is obviously dire. The fact that it was raining cats and dogs most of my time in Beaujolais makes one hope that the 2012 doesn’t repeat itself.

But let’s get back to the cellar of Christopher Pacalet. He pours me a glass of his 2012 from the small cru of Chiroubles, located at a higher altitude than other nine Beaujolais crus. It is a tightly knit and vibrant wine, the kind of firm but succulent interpretation of Gamay that cleans your palate without drying your mouth and is at the same time able to appeal to you in a more thoughtful way. Rare quality in the world of wine, though pleasingly often available with high quality Cru Beaujolais.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

- I want to make the same kind of wines my grandfather used to. That means hands off approach. Well almost like my grandfather. Sometimes his wines turned into vinegar, which hasn’t happened to me, he laughs.

- Back then people didn’t understand the fermentation process thoroughly. Working with the vines was more difficult too. For example, mildew was a huge problem. That’s why they built the chapel on top of Fleurie, next to the famous vineyards of La Madone. They used to pray in the chapel so that mildew would stay away, Christophe explains.

That fact tells you something quite essential about the region in itself but especially about the relation of its people to wine. The chapel on top of Fleurie was built to gain divine protection for the vines, not for the people. I kind of like the idea.

Marcel Lapierre, or uncle, as Christophe calls him, was one of the unpretentious pioneers who were able to change the image of Beaujolais with their own example. Lapierre was among first to travel vastly abroad. It was no coincidence that it lead to a revolution of quality.

- When he came back he was full of new ideas. This was in the late seventies, Christophe says.
As paradoxical as it may sound, the ones who wanted to go back to the traditional methods were the ones who’d been around the world most.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rusty indicator at Domaine de la Grand’Cour

The quiet revolution that was ignited by Lapierre has made Beaujolais one of the most interesting wine regions of France at the moment. Thanks to him and people like Foillard, Metras, Balagny, Brun, Dutrieve and Pacalet, the story in the wine media is no longer one of declining sales of Beaujolais nouveau but of the new Beaujolais, that has gone natural.

- The generation before me didn’t choose. They didn’t decide to become vignerons. They were born into families making wine and become vignerons because of that. That’s the big difference with today. If someone makes wine now, he or she has chosen it independently. It’s not the easiest way to make money, so many of the people who do it today, do it properly, Christopher tells.

Indeed, passion seems to have come back to Beaujolais. The region is full of aspiring producers making interesting wines, like Sunier, Jambon, David-Beaupère and Thillardon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The young guys of Beaujolais

But now that nouveau was mentioned, let’s talk about that for a minute here. Nouveau seems to be the blessed curse of the region. It has made some people rich but at the same time destroyed the quality image of the whole region. I see Beaujolais Nouveau as a typical short term gain, long term loss –situation leading towards all kinds of trouble, but the locals seem to be more forgiving towards it.

- Well it did make the region famous worldwide, says the great Jean-Paul Brun before continuing that it however might be one of the reasons why a Moulin-à-Vent goes for one tenth of the price of a Vougeot from neighboring Burgundy, though they used to be at same price level a hundred years ago. Yes, that might have something to do with it.

Cédric Chignard, the wine maker of the brilliant Fleurie company Chignard making wines with piercing purity and long aging potential puts it the other way around.

- The problem is not in my opinion the nouveau. The problem is the crus. They’ve been badly marketed, Cédric says.

The man does have a point there. The majority of Bordeaux is cheap low quality wine, but no-one thinks that would affect the image of Pauillac crus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Foillard is one of the very best in the region. Here having a lunch with the family

Christopher Pacalet seems to agree with Cédric Chignard, since Christophe too makes nouveau. In fact 50% of his production is nouveua and especially the Japanese are crazy about it. But one shouldn’t confuse his nouveau with the thermovinificated industrial stuff the big houses push out. We are talking here natural nouveau. If it sounds crazy, listen to this:

- I’d want to put my wine into a bag-in-a-box. Why not? Natural nouveau in a box, imagine that, he says.

I try to, but the whole concept sounds almost too out of the box, pun intended. After chewing on the idea for a while, I start to like it. Especially the idea of drinking Pacalet’s nouveau. Maybe this could be my ticket back to world I’ve actively avoided for many years?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yvon Metras is a living legend and a true character. His car on the other hand, is an environment crime on wheels

The low quality industrial nouveau is mostly to blame for the situation many Beaujolais producers are currently facing. Since nouveua isn’t selling anymore like it used to, producers that have grown dependent on it are struggling.

- The markets for giants like Duboeuf are shrinking. Some smaller wineries have two vintages of wine in their tanks, but they are stuck with it because Duboef doesn’t buy it. It’s of course not Duboeuf’s fault. The market just doesn’t need that kind of Gamay in that quantity. The Beaujolais has to concentrate on quality, Christopher says.

The man has a significant point here. The Beaujolais cannot compete on low level markets with international players that have almost infinite access to cheap land and labour. France cannot win that match.

- In my mind the future of Beaujolais is firmly in terroir wines. Authentic wines that are connected to the soil they come from. The region is already making 50% less wine than just 25 years ago, he says.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mathieu Lapierre checking his vineyard in the rain

Mathieu Lapierre, the owner and winemaker of legendary Lapierre seems to agree here.

- You know I did my first vintage 2004 with my father, but before that I worked in different places. In Chile and South-Africa for example. Based on that experience it was obvious to me that Beaujolais can’t compete with them with price. France is expensive. Nevertheless, I’d say 95% of the wine produced in Beaujolais has even today gone through industrial thermovinification. One has to remember that wineries like Lapierre are in the minority, though I do hope more winemakers will start making wines with traditional methods. The problem is that it takes a lot more work and skill and produces less wine to sell, he says.

Among the natural wine enthusiasts Beaujolais is a hotspot offering personal wines and bang for a buck. It is much more than industrial wine consumed once a year. To me two things became clear during my three days stay at the region: first, I think Beaujolais has never been more interesting. And the second thing? I love Beaujolais.

Disclaimer: The trip was partially supported by Beaujolais

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

There it is!

A contract for my next book, all signed and looking fresh. And yes, it will be in Finnish like the one before. But not to worry, the time for English book will come later, I’m sure. Have a good Friday and enjoy a nice glass of wine!
Photo 3.5.2013 14.36.49

Tagged , ,

The third member of the trinity

With this piece I continue to cover the Murcia region which I’ve written about in the previous posts. Now it’s time for Yecla, the third player of the Monastrell-kingdom of Murcia region. It’s a smaller DO than its next door big brother Jumilla but also a younger one. Only 8 producers in total. The few seem to play together well, sitting all around one table and sharing bread; not necessarily a common thing to happen on any European wine region. 

Out of the three Murcia areas I visited, Yecla seemed to be the most savvy when it comes to the business side of the wine. This makes sense when you think about the modern history of Yecla. The region has had winemaking going on of course for milleniums but it was mostly small scale production for local consumption. Farmers making wine on the side. 50 years ago the region was more known for thriving furniture business (in serious trouble at the times of the current crisis).

When producers like Castaño started getting serious about wine, two things happened. First, because Jumilla was already a well known player and Yecla was challenging its reign by producing similar Monastrells, the region needed to push the envelope further to gain recognition and not be left in the shadow of the big neighbour. Enter contemporary label designs, progressive marketing thinking and stylish bodegas with restaurants serving fine dining.

“Out of the three Murcia areas I visited, Yecla seemed to be the most savvy when it comes to the business side of the wine”

Secondly, because of the furniture tradition, Yecla had people who were involved in the international trade. They could use that know how. And unlike Jumilla, Yecla didn’t have extensive bulk wine culture in need of a make over before they could get serious. So jump start for Yecla when Jumilla had to gather its speed more slowly.

All of this means basically one thing: Yecla produces tasty wine brought to you in chic looking bottles.

But time to get honest here folks. How do the wines of Yecla actually differ on one’s palate from wines of Jumilla and Bullas? Beats me, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. My five cents for the three regions would be: collaborate more.

It’s a big planet catering 7 billion people. When you try to get your fifteen seconds of fame (some inflation here), size matters. Small regions lying next to each other but concentrating on their own messages may in fact cannibalise the common objective: the goal of raising awareness and thus selling more Monastrell with better prices.

“It’s a big planet catering 7 billion people. When you try to get your fifteen seconds of fame, size matters”

Since all three regions produce (on my palate) rather similar bold and juicy Monastrell wines and since the notorious generic consumer has probably never heard about any of the regions, why not create one ceiling DO to represent all of the regions? ‘Monastrell from Murcia’ wouldn’t sound too bad to my ears.

From what I talked with the producers, collaboration between the three Monastrell regions is unlikely to happen, since though the producers of one region may get along well, same cannot unfortunately be said about the three regions. It seems the regions live like lone satellites in space concentrated on their own orbits. Jumilla might see Yecla as a cocky new comer and Bullas Jumilla as an old fashioned bulk area and so forth and when they attend international wine events, it’s three different stands selling similar stories with different DO’s. The one getting confused might be the consumer.

“People tend to craft their micro cosmos based on smallest differences instead of biggest similarities”

It has a lot to do with the history of course, since the producers of all three region are very friendly and hospitable people. Murcia used to be an underdeveloped piece of land with little connections to outside world (just like many other regions, mind you). On conditions like this people tend to craft their micro cosmos based on smallest differences instead of biggest similarities. That’s the way humanity seems to work. Therefore if you live on the arid plains of Yecla, you might think you have barely nothing in common with a person living next to the sea in Cartagena though you share the genes, the cuisine, the dialect, the history and the traditions.

Embedded in the local culture, the situation is probably difficult to change. That is unfortunate because the world around has already changed dramatically. It’s a big globe with a lot of competition from powerful brands. The regions are close siblings, so why concentrate on the differences? Especially while trying to challenge the more well known brands.

“The one getting confused might be the consumer”

I do recognise the issue might be a bit of tabu, something one shouldn’t really talk about like this, but I want to make perfectly clear that by no means do I look to hurt anyone’s feelings or piss someone off. But I want to do my job properly. Sometimes it means articulating things that would normally be left intact. Consider about collaborating more folks.

At Yecla, my coverage from Monastrell region unfortunately ends. If you ask from me, the story of Monastrell and Murcia is a winning one. The style of tinto the region produces has lots of potential among eco-friendly European consumers looking for juicy reds produced organically closer to home base than Chile, Argentina or Australia. Murcia, located in the South-East of Spain, is definitely an area to keep a close eye on.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tagged , , , ,

Thinking inside the box in rural Spain

At first sight there’s nothing special. Just a guy filling a bag in a box. But if you think about it in the context I’ve been trying to set up the past two posts it hopefully starts to make more sense. Two worlds clashing at one coop in the rural Spain. The old and the new. The way the guy is filling it by hand (which probably doesn’t really happen at Devil’s rock, you know) with inexhaustible patience is a symbol of the old way. The package format obviously represents the new. Foil would have justifiably meant space technology for the grandparents, nothing less.

I really like this clip. The old and the new collide without violence.

Please click the picture to see the video at Youtube

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 11.12.09 PM

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Rock n’ Roll Jumilla

 – If these vines weren’t here, nothing would grow. I mean nothing. With other varieties, like Syrah and Tempranillo, one needs to nurture and irrigate them or they will die. Monastrell thrives even with barely any water. That’s why local farmers love to work with it. The amount of grapes Monastrell is able to provide is a miracle if the extent of water is considered. It shouldn’t basically happen but every vintage it still does, Joaquin Galvez Bauza of Bodegas Carchelo says and smiles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The man looks distantly like a rock n’ roll professor on a tour. His body language is full of electricity and he speaks about wine with passion. He’s the type of wine maker you want to finish the bottle with. Originally from Chile, he worked for three years alongside legendary Paul Draper at Ridge Vineyards.

- I learned more in three years than during the whole university, he laughs and tells how he learned to analyze the maturity of grapes by tasting the skins frequently with Draper.
After California he ended up in Madrid and eventually landed in Jumilla. Though Jumilla is ten thousand kilometers away from Chile, when you listen to the man talk about Monastrell, you get the feeling that he is here for good.

- Jumilla is pretty much naturally organic. You don’t need to treat the vines during the season. Conditions are close to perfect. Organic wine is not a big thing in Spain so most wines are uncertified. That doesn’t mean that viticulture in Jumilla would be a walk in the park. About once in five years skies open and hail storms destroy most of the crops. That’s why one needs to have his plots spread wide, Joaquin explains.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I follow the man into the winery, where we’ll taste some tank samples. Crunchy wines. They command you to return with a raw stake. Let’s leave them to mature and open a bottle. Sierva 2009 is juicy and dries your palate. The tannins are hefty in amount but finely grained. Tasting the wine makes me yearn for jamon iberico, though it’s only been an hour since the last portion. The big wine is in nice balance.

Joaquin represents the type of winemaker that was probably not present in Jumilla two decades ago. This is why he embodies the regions transition so well. He is eloquent and speaks perfect English, he made his way from the other side of the globe off the beaten track but didn’t stop creating his own path when arriving into Jumilla.

The region used to be known for bulk wines (that some claim was used to give Rioja colour) but has gone through a transformation. Because of that the traditional rustic wine style has been at many times replaced with smoother style produced in bodegas designed by known architects. Quality wine. The end results are able to surprise even a person inclined towards skepticism like yours truly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I leave Carchelo and continue my tour around Jumilla. Over the two days I visit more than ten bodegas. The transformation of the area is best spotted in the coops that have modernized their production, but continue to produce bulk wine as well. You can see gigantic yellow tanks in rows, each filled with half a million liters of wine. Impressive sight. Locals still come and buy cheap wine into their plastic containers. On the other hand the one can hear the progress in the fluent English of the marketing directors of the coops and see it in the chic labels designed by studios abroad.

The best coop on my palate is San Dionisio, hands down. They make pure and delicious Monastrells that sell for ex-cellar as little as 1,5 euros. Talk about bang for a buck! In general my favorite producer turned out to be Bodegas Olivares with their wines that take the purity of Monastrell to the next level. The winery is a prime example of how a traditional family company can reinvent itself and jump from bulk production into quality markets with great success.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In Jumilla one has to also mention Juan Gill, successful winery, with Clio and its big brother El Nido fetching praise from well known American publications. Like icon wines from South-America, these wines are packed in heavy glass bottles and contain full bodied and bold wines that are at the same time serious and ‘hedonistic’. They are easy to fall in love with, no doubt. I didn’t, though we did sip a bottle or two during a wonderful tapas dinner. Enjoyed, yes, but fell in love, no. I lost my heart to more affordable style of Monastrell, with less oak and more freshness. Sometimes it definitely pays off to have a simple taste, as proven once again.

Talking about simple pleasures of life, if you ever have the chance to taste Jumilla Monastrells together with local raf-tomatoes, do not hesitate. They are crazy tasty served with local olive oil and a pinch of salt flakes. Combine them with big sips of Monastrell and you are in food heaven my friend, nothing less.

Let’s hope the success of Jumilla wines on international markets will help to spread the cuisine as well. I for one wouldn’t mind buying a case of Monastrell and ten kilos of raf-tomatoes and not leaving home before the deed was properly executed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADisclaimer: the trip was done in collaboration with the Spanish embassy in Helsinki and the DO

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bullas – Ice wines from Spanish wasteland

- There’s often a generation long gap. Grandpas used to produce wines, but the next generation didn’t continue the tradition. Now the grand children are getting back to their roots with fresh ideas. Crianza, reserva and gran reserva don’t mean much anymore. Wines are bottled and shipped abroad instead of sold in bulk for local consumers, Alfonso García Sánchez of Bodega Monastrell explains.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bodega Monastrell is situated in the middle of a conservation park, in the region of Murcia, in South-East Spain. An odd place to visit, to be honest. Untamed and rugged, yet inspiringly beatiful. At this time of spring the bare vines sprout out of the rocky soils like it was a fertile take on the landscape of moon.

The vineyards are surrounded by mountains. On a hot summer day the air stays still and the temperature rises.

- The temperature can get to a level of unbearable, over the forties, Alfonso says.

During winters it gets freezing and snow regularly covers the vineyards. From one extreme to another. This means tasty wine, as I’m just about to find out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is the Monastrell country. The variety can sustain the conditions where others fail: the hotness of summer, the coldness of winter and the extreme drought of the growing season. The combination of 3000 annual hours of sunlight with a precipitation of under 200 ml is brutal and comes with a price: typical vine can carry as little as one kilo of grapes. That means a bottle per plant. A stubborn variety.

Monastrell benefits from its long history in the area. According to scientific studies it arrived to the area whooping 2500 years ago from the Middle East and spread into France only quite a bit later. Something the producers of Bullas remember to mention.

Even Phylloxera had problems with the sandy soils and though it did break out, many of the vines are still ungrafted.

We are about to enter the winery of Bodega Monastrell. First we have to wait for a while though. Public power grid isn’t allowed at the conservation area and Alfonso has to go and start the generator. Lights turn on and in we go. That is good news since though it’s only April, the sun is able to scorch the skin of a Nordic barbarian. They tell me it was sub zero a week ago, but now it is beyond thirty Celcius degrees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Down in the cellar Alfonso pours me some of his 2010 Monastrell. The wine has a texture gently leaning towards inky, but it comes with a fresh spine and acidity one can only describe lively. It’s a crunchy interpretation of a usually heavy Monastrell. Fruit is pure and isn’t hiding behind layers of oak. The new Spain clearly doesn’t need too much wood to blur its intrinsic character.

Alfonso pops open his rarity. An ice wine crafted out of Monastrell. Yes, ice wine from Southeast Spain and from warm dry lands. Some Spanish wineries produce ice wine with cryoextraction, that is to say by freezing the late harvest grapes in the winery with hi tech machinery, but Bodega Monastrell has no need for these kinds of short cuts. Biting freeze comes in Decemeber regularly enough to make sense out of ice wine production. Wine has a spicy nose, candid fruit character, long taste, and though it is an ice wine, it has delightfully low level of residual sugar. Tannins appear in the end and the slightly bitter finish makes the package truly tasty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wines of Alfonso García Sánchez are one of the few who are leading the way for the Bullas region, looking to export more. 5.500 hectares used to be all about bulk wine, but the latest generation wants to look beyond local markets. According to Alfonso, even today 78% of Bullas DO is produced by one cooperative, and though the coop also bottles its wines and is quality orientated, it’s a clear token of the transition taking place in the region.

The wines of Bullas are predominantly tasty. The key seems to be retaining of the freshness, which has a lot to do with the acidic structure of the end product. Other key factors seem to be the purity of the fruit, sometimes a problem with Monastrell and of course the control of the ABV. 15,5% is most times too much for any variety.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wines of Bodega Monastrell, coming from the middle of mountains, are a proof of the winning concept. The quality of wines is only half of the coin, though. In the times of global markets other half is marketing. When I’m looking the rugged rocky soils and listening to Alfonso talk, I keep thinking about Bullas on a general level and what the distant region is about. I’ll put it for you in short form.

Ungrafted vines producing miniscule quantity of organic wines in extreme conditions with more than two thousands of years of history with its main variety. Phew… How many other regions can claim the same?

Something tells me the story of Bullas is a story we’ll be hearing more frequently in the years to come.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Disclaimer: the trip was done in collaboration with the Spanish embassy in Helsinki and the DO

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Hidden Stashes of Mosel

It’s an exceptionally chilly morning for late March. Random snow flakes are falling down from the steely sky. Spring is late. ”Look around you, there may still be stashes buried in the ground”, the winemaker of Staffelter Hof says, standing on the verge. The vineyard is steep enough to cause vertigo even when viewed from the bottom, not to mention from all the way up. He lets go his signature trait, a booming hearty laughter, and stuffs his hands deep into pockets. Stone’s throw away runs the river Mosel, steadily, the way it has done for generations, just like it should.

883844_10151587635161388_1244594756_o

Mosel is one of the very best, maybe even the best, white wine region in the world. It has cracked the code of success a long time ago. If you compare contemporary scenery to black and white photos of the area, the region appears to have remained unchanged for decades. Immutable to the point of being uncanny in perseverance. The vineyeards continue as far as eye can see, conforming to the shapes of the arduous hills that seem to guard the river flowing through it.

But let’s introduce the man properly before we continue with his story. He is Jan Matthias Klein, the latest generation in helm of Staffelter Hof Weingut that produced its first vintage year 862. Yes, you read correctly, there is no 1 in front of the number. We are talking seriously old school. Think about Crusades, Black Death, Little Ice Age, Thirty Years’ War and many other things written in Capital letters. Staffelter Hof has withstood and witnessed all of them. It is in fact one of the worlds oldest businesses still operating.

Career in wine was never self-evident for Jan. As a youngster he wanted to become a mathematician. Now as a man in his thirties, he works with wine. Gravity of the family heritage, I suppose. While not working in the vineyards, he drives a van around Mosel listening to strange industrial German hip hop with metal influences (and apparently owns only one CD). But let’s not hold these things against him, because he makes great wine and has a story waiting to be told.

IMG_6142 (1)

”The stashes…” he says. ”We have to go back a bit in time to understand. You know, back in the day Mosel wines used to fetch top prices on the markets. Like really high prices. That’s why the impossible slopes were cultivated in the first place. Then something happened. Namely we, starting two World Wars (put here a booming laughter). The prices never quite recovered.

Back in 1945 the Nazi regime was about to collapse and the French troops marched into Mosel. They were a thirsty bunch, cause French know how to appreciate wine. Locals had been making wine through the war as well as they could under the circumstances. When they heard the sound of the boots, they tried to save their stock by hiding bottles in the most imaginative places. Some were hidden behind fake walls, some buried below ground, into the soil, at vineyards. Who knows how many stashes were recovered after the chaotic times?” Klein asks rhetorically. Group of Winelovers listening seem to look around their toes like they’ve just lost something.

IMG_6089

One of the local winemakers tells a story about his grandfather. During the days wine making was a dangerous profession. His grandfather was relieved from the military service for being the oldest son in the family. Nevertheless, without seeing any real trenches, he almost ended up getting shot in front of his own winery. Drunken French soldiers decided to shoot the man cause he didn’t surrender them more wine at late hours.

Now if someone is willing to take a bullet before giving his wine away, he must love his wine enough to dig deep, I think to myself and take another look at the vineyards trying to think like a stubborn German wine maker. Where would I bury my treasure?

IMG_6116

Though Jan tells stories about the regions past in a chattering manner, the weight of history is present in many layers. The fleeting moment at the vineyard kind of crystallises Mosel to me.

Klein, in his thirties, is making organic wine, still considered progressive in Mosel, in a winery that has a track record of whooping 1151 years. That is seemingly a paradox. Like most companies of the region, Staffelter Hof is still family run and relatively small in size, so very much traditional way. Still in his chatter the past intertwines with the present seamlessly. His story and history are the same thing. And while talking about it, he wears a neon green beanie and looks more like surfer than a wine maker. …And it all makes perfect sense.

IMG_6184
Mosel keeps making moreish wines with power, focus and finesse and its people keep finding new ways to express its unique features, whether we’re talking about Thorsten Melsheimer’s hands off natural wines that keep fermenting for a year, Staffelter Hof’s Riesling und Electro parties in the middle of a medieval dorf, the crazy project of Tobias Treis at the red soiled slopes of Sorentberg or Konstantin Weiser’s Riesling with Weiser-Künstler that carries a striking preciseness, structure and freshness. As old as its primeval soils, as young as its beanie wearing winemakers working at the steepest vineyards. This is Mosel.

The beanie generation has no need to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t have to break anything in order to thrive. From a winelovers perspective, the region works like a charm offering superb wines with modest prices. The new kids have inherited the wisdom of the previous generations (Jan also got the booming laughter of his father). But small adjustments, minor tweaks here and there… Definitely, absolutely.

What the future holds for Mosel remains to be seen, since it is in a constant slow transformation without a clear goal, like most wine regions. One thing is clear though: meanwhile the region marches to the fresh beat of the drum of Jan, Thorsten, Tobias, Konstantin and others alike, the mythical wine stashes buried deep into the soils are left lingering in our tickled minds.

885168_510459035679378_255861824_o

The Riesling gang on top of Sorentberg. Photo stolen from Ralf Kaiser at right, http://www.weinkaiser.de

575643_10151585812396388_485467740_n

Jan Klein, Lotte Karolina Gabrovits and Thorsten Melsheimer

Tobias Treis ready to make people climb all the way up the slope

Tobias Treis ready to make lazy winelovers suffer all the way up

902865_10151584777871388_308144229_o

Wild boar. It was finished at a Riesling frenzy of 20 people.

Konstantin Weiser is new in the region, but already enjoys huge respect among his peers

Though a relatively new guy, Konstantin Weiser already enjoys well earned respect

Marvelling the view with port evangelista Andre Riberinho

Port preacher Riberinho and guerrilla communicator Koskelo showing happy faces

Imagine working here? You know what, wines are cheap.

You know what, Mosel wines are too cheap, if you think about the amount of labor involved

906364_10151585995536388_1276565957_o

Panorama from high. Pretty amazing corner of the world.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

To be a wine communicator

I’m greatly honored to have been shortlisted for the IWSC Communicator of the year 2013 award. As a token of gratitude to all the people who have noticed this peripheral wine writer exercising his craft out of all places in Helsinki, I decided to share with you my take on the topic of being a good wine communicator. Hope you enjoy it and share your thoughts with me.

457905_10150915424881388_2064051838_o

To be a wine expert is to take a stance. To form an opinion. To spit it out. To not hold it back.

Let me tell you why. Whether Vin Jaune from Jura, Casablanca Carménère or Moscato d’Asti, one cannot prefer every style out there. Hell, if you like everything, you are probably an alcoholic and would benefit from discontinuing drinking wine. No need to like every style.

Not to worry: the things you don’t prefer can be valuable assets to you. Let me open up this thought a bit for you.

To be an opinion leader is to have opinions. Sounds self-evident (not to mention tautologic) but is unfortunately far from it in the world of wine. As a wine communicator opinions are your most valuable possessions. More lucid, pronounced and articulate, the better. Your palate is fundamental, because you cannot access a wine without it. It is vital that you do not disrespect yourself by not trusting your own palate. You’ve drank a bottle or two. That’s why they call you a wine pro. Stay true to your palate, that is your job.

For example, my palate tells me it doesn’t approve 95% of Sauvignon blancs out there. You see, I dislike most aromatic white wines in general, but find cheap SB particularly nasty. I find it mostly boring and irritating and as far as I’m concerned, producers could rip all the Sauvignon blanc vines off and replace them with something better. Why? Because that’s what my palate tells me after hundreds of samples. I’m not proud about the fact that I have trouble respecting wines that other wine pros find delicious and palatable. But you see, it’s not at all about me being proud or ashamed of the matter. It’s about my palate communicating it to me as a highly subjective fact.

All I have to do is to own it. And that is the most difficult part of being a wine communicator.

To be a wine pro is to not be ashamed of your preferences. Instead of hiding the dislikes, build your personal brand around the things you love and the things you don’t. You are an unique voice in the world of wine. Do not blur that voice by being a forerunner of safe and mediocre. Communicate your preferences clearly so people will know where you are coming from. By accumulating vast amounts of knowledge but not communicating your preferences, you’ll end up being another walking dictionary with little relevant to say. We don’t need those anymore. We have Google for that.

To be a wine communicator is to be fallible, so be mistaken regularly. That’s what evolving is all about and you are not ready. You will never be ready. Allow yourself to evolve through discussion with the world. Don’t fix your position too firmly, allow the world around you to change. It will change no matter what you do. Be sensitive to change. Have a dialogue with it. Embrace the fact that you don’t know everything. Be open to insights from others. If it means eventually changing your position 180 degrees, do not hesitate to follow suit. People who know they are always right are not good wine experts. They are self-righteous schmucks. People who never recognize their shortcomings are disconnected and thus inevitably boring. Be authentic and thus interesting.

To be a wine lover is to share your passion. The more you share it, the more you generate it. Period.

To be more than wine lover, is to form opinions. Whether your perspective is utter bullshit or a valuable insight to some, is not for you to decide. It may be both at the same time. Your task is to form an opinion through your knowledge and not be intimidated by the fact that you are unfortunately not the infallible Pope of vinous matters. Others will disagree with you. They will sometimes think you are an idiot. It is their right, do not try to take it away from them. Let the people decide whether you are onto something or totally clueless, do not strain yourself with the task of being your own judge. Instead follow your instinct.

To be a wine expert is to take a stance. It’s good for you. Sometimes you intuitively hit the mark when you are forced to form an opinion on something you are not sure how you feel about. That’s silent knowledge in action. It forces you to improve your thought process. So go and embrace the discomfort zone. Growth happens outside the boundaries of cosy and nice. Discomfort is your friend. You see, brain is like a muscle. Exercise hurts a bit, but eventually you become a better thinker. That means you will become a better wine expert not to mention a better communicator. And that my friend, is a worthy goal.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers