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My Thoughts on Natural Wine


My Thoughts on Natural Wine

Discussing the virtues or follies of the natural wine phenomenon and its cult like following has been a favorite pastime for wine professionals for a couple of years now. Lately it has also spread to consumer magazines and wine aficionados pounce on the opportunity to finally take a stance (which is mostly expressed in poorly worded pastiches on Facebook along with much virtual back-slapping). There is little, if any, real discussion. Frankly, I am bored to tears with the whole thing, and in a way torn as to whether or not I should delete this whole tirade and ignore the topic, instead of adding fuel to anyone’s fire. But on the other hand, if I can just publish my views I can just refer to that and move on to more interesting discussions next time I meet someone in the wine trade, who without a doubt will bring the topic up within the first ten minutes of conversation.

During the last MAD symposium, where luminaries in the world of gastronomy descend on the town for cutting-edge seminars and happenings, I heard the following repeated almost ad nauseum by big-shot international chefs, winemakers and sommeliers who just had to visit all the “cool” restaurants while they were here:

“What the hell is going on in Copenhagen? The food is spectacular; delicious and intellectually challenging, but why is everyone serving undrinkable wine? Of course, I have to remain diplomatic and would never say it out loud.” Some of the more wine-savvy visitors lamented, “They’re not even serving any good natural wine! The more obscure and faulty the better!”

Copenhagen, where I live and work, has in the last few years become a Medina (not quite up to Mecca standards) of natural wine. This is, of course an effect of Noma becoming the most talked about restaurant in the world a few years ago. Noma’s dogmatic approach to rediscovering and interpreting local ingredients resulted in a light, vegetable-driven cuisine with overtones naturalistic purity. Creativity through constriction, you could say. The same radical dogmatic applied to the wine list results in a selection of exclusively European wine, made by using methods of biodynamic agriculture (or at the very least organically, if the farmers beard was deemed long and raggedy enough) without additives, including sulfur dioxide.

Sulfur has been used as an anti-microbial and anti-oxidative agent in winemaking since Roman times. It can be added at various stages in grape growing and winemaking. Without it, wine is prone to spoiling, losing their aromatic freshness and turning brown. However, sulfur is an irritant and there are limits set on its usage. Most winemakers agree that it should be kept at a minimum (optimally only used at bottling), and a few brave souls work without it, or with extremely small quantities. Especially wine made for export usually needs to be protected, unless it can be shipped carefully in refrigerated containers and trucks, which adds a significant cost, and frankly doesn’t happen very often.

Now, back to Copenhagen, via Paris. Although the natural wine scene had been slowly stirring ever since Jules Chauvet convinced a handful of Beaujolais winemakers change their ways in the early 1980’s, it was only 20 years later that the movement gained enough critical mass to really make itself known. Paris especially became a hotbed of wine bars and restaurants featuring only vin nature. These places were edgy, cool and contrarian. They had a clear message and a very black-and-white view of the world: either you were with them or against them. Perfect for anxious foodsters.

Paris is a given on the top list of destinations for any restaurant professional searching for inspiration. Ambitious young chefs and sommeliers everywhere sucked it all up, and by 2007 there were major vin nature outposts in London, New York and Copenhagen. Aforementioned Noma and Bocuse d’Or winner Rasmus Kofoed’s Geranium, also a natural wine outpost, were the hottest places in Copenhagen, booked for months in advance and attracting fledgling and determined volunteer staff from all over the world.

Some more or less natural wines that everyone could and should enjoy!
Some more or less natural wines that everyone could and should enjoy!

Let’s get personal. Back in 2008, when I started my career as a sommelier for real, I was quite drawn to the idea of vin nature. I was (and am still) attracted by the philosophy itself. But it was also a way to be radical and rebellious, to take a stance, seem cool and score all the hippy wine chicks (no, not really, they don’t exist). I read a lot, tasted a fair bit, bought a little and sold almost nothing. Perhaps I was in the wrong, way-too-uncool place. Either way, the interest was not quite there. What did best was those wines which even in classic renditions play around with oxidation; especially Champagne, Loire valley whites and wines from the Jura Mountains in France. The wines made by small, environment-conscious producers here, with minimal intervention clearly had a sense of life and intensity about them that their more conventional peers often (definitely not always) lacked. On the other hand, I never got into the more aromatic white grapes vinified without sulfur (like Riesling). I also generally struggled with the taste of many reds, which often end up with drying, rancid hazelnut-like tannins on the finish. This seems to be a clear sign of oxidation and a sensation that can ruin a wine for me, even though the flavor otherwise might be clean.

Two styles of wine more than any other drew me back from the absolute abyss though. German Riesling with residual sugar and Sherry. These wines literally cannot be made with completely natural principles, both requiring additions of different sorts. Despite this, they are undisputedly unique and belong to the pantheon of the world’s greatest wines. So if I had to forgo the beauty of a Mosel Kabinett with its unparalleled capacity for transmitting terroir, to fully embrace the vin nature dogma, something was seriously wrong. Even though my wine lists today are made up of 99% conventional wine, I still keep some vin nature favorites on there, (admittedly mostly for myself and other sommeliers). Usually I go for “the classics”, wines that won’t offend and stay true to the typicity of their appellation, but still offer personality and a good story. When I dine out I have natural wine on a regular basis, but I am very picky with what I choose and I have learned to stay far away from wine pairing menus, where I commonly find too many blatantly faulty and unpleasant wines.

Back to the restaurant scene in Copenhagen. Those hard-working poor souls who managed to live through years of brutal 80-hour weeks have now graduated, and Noma-alumni restaurants are popping up like mushrooms. With them follows the wine philosophy they’ve been steeped in, accentuated by the radicalism of youth (and freedom?); sulfur is not just unnecessary but plain evil. White wine is supposed to be brown, or at least orange. Red wines are supposed to foam a little. Champagne is for philistines; you should have (and enjoy) some Grolleau based pet-nat from the Loire. The more muddy sediment that ends up in the iso-glass (chosen with calculated nonchalance) the better.

And here is the crux. The sommeliers that run these lists often lack proper wine education, and points of reference to conventional wine (for lack of a better term). If a classic Meursault somehow crept under their radar, they woulnd’t know how to relate to it. They have worked for their entire professional career with only vins natures and have effectively missed out on 99% of the world of wine. They have been infused with the dogma that everything else is not only different, but it is stuffy, without interest or just plain evil. Their view of what wine is supposed to be is skewed so far away from mainstream that they lose all connection with reality and the palates of their guests. But bolstered by trend-sensitive media and anxious foodsters they feel invincible. It is a perfect parallel to that classic Danish tale of the emperor and his new clothes.

These “sommeliers” may never have tried a classic Bordeaux, and in fact many of them scoff at the notion. I have heard statements like “Cabernet Sauvignon is a shit grape”, “Real wine can not be made outside of Europe”. They fake sneezing attacks when you approach them with a glass of wine with added sulfur (yet somehow manage to drink Perrier or San Pellegrino water on the side without any issues, both of which are high in sulfur). For them, there is no need to try a wine from South Africa. It is inherently bad.

Now, I may be too harsh, but I have simply been served too much decidedly faulty wine in otherwise respectable establishments to let this slide, and then been chided when I pointed this out. No, maderization or rampant volatile acidity is not a sign of terroir, and it never will be. In fact, if all your white wines taste like lambic, no matter where they are from, why not serve beer instead?

That faulty wine is being served to such a degree is creating an unfortunate polarization. Where a few years ago the naturalists (sic!) were the aggressors, today they take a more actively defensive stance. Late-to-the-party winelovers exclaim their hatred of natural wine, scoff and laugh at biodynamic practices, wear “I heart SO2”-teeshirts and in general dedicate way too much time on social media talking about something they could as easily ignore.

Because, really, there are magnificent natural wines and it would be an equal shame if passionate wine drinkers take the contra-contrarian stand and dismiss the whole genre based on a few bad experiences. The wines of Pierre Overnoy in the Jura, of Dard & Ribo in Rhône, Catherine & Pierre Breton in the Loire along with many others deserve to be on as many great wine lists as possible.

All of this conflict because we don’t understand the virtue of moderation. No matter what you think of the most hardcore natural wine, you can not deny that the phenomenon itself has been great for the world of wine as a whole. When I meet winemakers in South Africa, Portugal or even the epicenter of evil wine capitalism; Napa Valley, they all express the desire to use as little intervention as possible and make pure, lively wine. Organic and biodynamic practices are becoming de rigeur everywhere, and for the right reasons too. You would have to be totally daft to think that that is bad in any way. In a way, the natural wine movement has also helped propelled the new interest in traditional wine. All of a sudden the wines of Bartolo Mascarello, López de Heredia, Gentaz and Clos Rougeard are back in style. It is long overdue.

The most undervalued wine in the world today?!? More great natural (although I am sure some will debate that...) wine from Muscadet in the Atlantic Loire valley.
The most undervalued wine in the world today?!? More great natural (although I am sure some will debate that...) wine from Muscadet in the Atlantic Loire valley.

I prophesize that the term natural wine will fade away over the next ten years, to be replaced by something infinitely better and more powerful. The trend has certainly peaked, and the fact that we cannot yet agree upon what natural wine really is shows how fickle it is. It is also time for the naturalistas to grown up and drop their elitist and borderline racist (again, remember good wine can not be made outside of Europe) views. I hope and think that we can shift focus to something much more important: wine with soul and personality. Let’s leave the devil in the details. If we need a label we could call it authentic, artisanal or just real wine (by the way, when was the last time you had some unicorn wine). It would include the best of the natural group along with classic producers like Vega Sicilia, but also leave room for Eben Sadie and his friends in South Africa, Araujo in Napa and Pontet-Canet in Bordeaux. Hell, we can even find a way to bend the rules to allow Penfold’s Grange in there somehow I am sure, despite its apparent lack of terroir. Let’s be inclusive for once and accept the fact that multitudes make the world a fun (and tasty) place to be.

Let’s end this rambling mess with some quick tips.


  • Stop being elitist.
  • Help yourself to a proper wine education. Read the books and drink the wines. If you decide to limit your knowledge to 0.1% of the world of wine, you don’t have the right to call yourself a sommelier. I’ll even help (with the drinking part)!
  • Don’t buy wine on good stories or length of winemakers’ beards.
  • Don’t try to pass on faults as terroir. You should at least be questioning yourself and your palate if someone sends a bottle back.
  • If you’re going to sell un-sulfured wine, invest a properly cooled cellar. I bet this is actually the cause of a majority of the faulty wines you’re serving.


  • Drop the polemic bullshit.
  • Give natural wines a chance. Go for the producers that have been doing this since before there was a term and a trend for it. As with anything else, they are usually the most consistent.
  • Be thankful for all that the movement of organics, biodynamics and natural winemaking has done for the world of wine. It's brought another level of consciousness to conventional producers as well.


  • Enough with the sensationalism. If things seem black/white it’s only because you don’t know better.
  • Dare to criticize, even if your peers are praising.
  • Realize that in today’s world, you’re powerful. Take responsibility and act accordingly.


  • Realize that you’re in a bubble before it’s too late and get your shit together.
  • Your French witticisms really aren’t all that funny. The naked girl on the label doesn’t exactly help neither.


Europe's Best Sommelier - My Story (part 2)


Europe's Best Sommelier - My Story (part 2)

Find part 1 here. The waiting is the hardest part. I drew the worst possible number going in to the semi-finals, 10, meaning I would have to wait until all the others were brought in behind the closed doors to perform whatever evil tests they might have devised for us. So there I sat, for about three hours, going through every possible scenario, and trying to stay calm. The brusque Italian ladies who were cleaning the halls at the Casino in San Remo would not allow me to use the bathroom, which definitely did not add to my comfort, but probably did add to my speed in the practical parts of the tasks to come.

This is where describing the test gets tricky. It might sound deceivingly easy. Trust me, it is not. When you know you are working against the clock and the test is set up to confuse you and see where you slip up, your brain somehow says farewell and stays behind.

Product placement. I humbly await millions in royalty... - Photo by Pictures Jean Bernard
Product placement. I humbly await millions in royalty... - Photo by Pictures Jean Bernard

First, the practical tests:  I enter a room with three tables set up, each with two persons. Other than that there is a small table with a glass and a plate of cheese and a long service table set with glasses, decanters, candles, coasters, wine cradles and everything else necessary to perform decanting and other parts of wine service. There are also several bottles of beer, spirits, water and wine, amongst them a bottle of wine in an icebucket. Serge Dubs, the chairman of the Technical Commitée of ASI and previous winner of both the European and World competitions present the first task, while handing you a piece of paper which looks like a list of everything on the service table:

“You are the head sommelier of a restaurant. Last night you asked your trainee to prepare this mice-en-place for you. You have a table of two guests here. The lady has asked for a glass of white wine and after that they would like to share a bottle of red wine. You have five minutes.”

I get stuck on the list, somewhere on line three “Non alcoholic beer…” I am expecting a trap, but it is time to move! I quickly scan the table. There is only one white wine, in the icebucket, a 2012 Gavi from Piemonte, Italy. The bottle has been opened, plastic cork lying in front of the icebucket. I grab it, wipe it off and turn around, about to move to the table. “STOP! IT’S A TRAP!” my brain yells (thank you Brain!). I edge back, grab a tasting glass and pour a sample. I have to taste it twice to get it. It’s suble, but the wine has a TCA fault(commonly referred to as “cork”) . There is no other bottle to be found.

“The wine is faulty. Would you like me to proceed with serving it?” I ask the judges.

“Move on to the red wine.”

Phew. Dodged it! I (admittedly very sloppily) decant and serve the red wine, a 2010 Chianti Classico, not realizing that the list I was handed said 2011. Damn! My brain is about halfway across the room laughing at me now.

“Time! Next task: Taste and discuss the combination of these two cheeses and this beverage. You have three minutes.”

I sit down by the small table. On the plate are two servings of cheese, a mozzarella and a parmesan. In the glass a pleasantly familiar beverage – a sake of pretty decent quality! Score! Unbeknownst to the judges of course, I do work with sake quite a lot at Umami in Copenhagen. And I am lucky enough to have inquisitive, curious students.

Last year, after service at Umami one of them asked “What about sake and cheese – wouldn’t that work?” Honestly, I did not know, but it was worth a try. We went over to our French sister restaurant Le Sommelier and got a bunch of classic cheeses. As it turns out, sake served chilled is probably one of the most universal good matches with cheese. It tackles creamy cheeses, also the sharper ones based on goat’s milk by playing on it’s suave texture and roundness, while it allows saltier cheeses to shine through while kind of coating them in an oddly refreshing layer. And somehow it works magic as a palate cleanser. The only problem is selling the match. Most people will react with skepticism. My solution would be to serve it in a black glass and reveal the combination after the fact.

I tried to express as much to the judges, and I think I got the message across. I found sake and parmesan especially to be a good match. With the mozzarella it was just smoothness with more smoothness, but the parmesan and the sake was fun combination.

Then it was time to move on. With sake and parmesan still on my palate, I went on to the blind tasting. Same format is in the quarter-finals: two wines and three “beverages”. But this time it was an oral presentation. Ten minutes in all. I won’t bore you with the whole thing. You're basically trying to descibe the wine, recommend how to serve it and with what and draw a good conclusion on what it is. The first wine was a rosé, pink in color and young and fruity. I placed it in Navarra, Spain with a Garnacha base, mostly due to the color. The red was a pretty elegant wine with dark fruit and eucalyptus-toned spice. I went with Victorian Shiraz, even though the high acidity didn’t quite fit in. I was later told by another candidate who had managed to get word out from a judge that the rosé was indeed Spanish Rosado and the red was a South African Shiraz. Pretty decent.

Oral blind tasting - Photo by Pictures Jean Bernard
Oral blind tasting - Photo by Pictures Jean Bernard

On the spirits I did not do as well. I struggled with the first one, again showing how difficult it is to work with taste under pressure. It was a Vieux Prune (a an aged plum distillate). I went for old Calvados. The second was an aged Tequila. Score on that. And the last was obviously a Bitter, but light in color. I went for Italy, but it turns out I really ought to have known it – being a national Danish treasure – Gammeldansk Bitter!

I will admit, I felt like I was not quite sharp enough on the practical part, as I got on the bus that would take us to lunch and touring in Monaco. I felt like I had blown it. But all candidates seemed to have a sense of dread about the whole test. Only two or three had picked out the corked wine. Silent glee! Maybe I was still in the game!

Part 3 coming soon….


Amazing Aussie Pinot


Amazing Aussie Pinot

Who would have thought that a wine trip to Australia would end up being a Pinot Noir trip? Sure, we knew that there were a few outliers making stellar wine, but to find the level so high was a surprise, and the very best wines were in a class that can compete with truly great Burgundy. I know it may sound improbable to many of you and I really hope we will be able to put together some fun blindtastings to try this thesis.

Of course there was great Shiraz (especially Jasper Hill and Craiglee stood out), tremendous old Sémillon (Yarra Yering), elegant Cabernet (Mount Langhi Ghiran and Yarra Yering) but the Pinots have really made the deepest impression. Below is a light profile of two of the visits that affected me the most. Common to them both is the location in Victoria state, close to Melbourne and the windswept coastline.

By Farr (Geelong, Victoria State)

We were a bit nervous driving up to meet with Gary Farr. Everyone we had met with before that had warned us that he was a ”grumpy old bastard” and it was a wise move to get the first verbal crack in to get him off balance right away, or he would run you over. This prooved to be unneccessary. Retirement (at least in practice) seemed to be working well for him. Today, his son Nick takes care of the vineyards and winery.

Nick Farr in the vineyards
Nick Farr in the vineyards

Moorabool Valley in Geelong was the most prominent wine region in Australia at the turn of the last century. Swiss immigrants were the first to plant grapes here, and they brought their beloved Pinot Noir with them. Sadly enough, phylloxera ruined everything and as opposed to in South Australia, no old vineyards from that period remain. Gary Farr was the first to make great wine here again, at Bannockburn Winery, in 1978. When the owner died, Gary left and started his own winery, aptly named By Farr. Gary worked thirteen vintages at the famous Domaine Dujac in Burgundy, and his style of winemaking was always very influenced by the great Jacques Seysses (although many would say that the Dujac style has changed lately). The wines are elegant and floral but with a serious edge to them, imparted by a high proportion of whole clusters in the fermentation. Most producers today choose to destem and vinify only with the grapes, but at By Farr anywhere between 30% and 100% whole clusters go into the wine. This is a tricky technique that requires perfectly ripe bunches. When done right, the result is a herbal, floral style of wine with lighter color but great intensity of structure. The wines demand air and time to open up. All the wines here, from Chardonnay to Shiraz and Viognier are recommended, but the Pinot Noirs stand out. The top cuvée 2011 Tout Près (single vineyard of densely planted vines, 100% whole cluster and 100% new oak) was perhaps the best wine tasted on the whole trip, but it also took 12 hours to really open up and shed some of the initial austerity and blossom into a hauntingly beautiful floral and herbal masterpiece. This, I believe is on the level with the very best Burgundy Grand Cru, and in that light it is really exceptionally good value. I can’t want to surprise this to my francophile friends and guests with this, and I will certainly put away a case or two for myself as well.

Very Aussie vineyard map
Very Aussie vineyard map

Bass Phillip (Gippsland, Victoria)

The visit at Bass Phillip is one of the most surprising ones I’ve ever undertaken. I had never tasted the wines before, and truth, the only thing I knew was that they are some of the most coveted in Australia, and fairly expensive. The way I had had the whole thing explained to me, I was expecting a luxury project with a fancy designer winery and unlimited resources. I was also told that Phillip Jones was an eccentric with a bad temper. In all honesty, on this beautiful Saturday, I was more in the mood for shopping in Melbourne. But all right, let’s go out and taste the wines really quick and get back I though. I ended up staying the whole day tasting (I should say drinking) wines with Phillip and his wife (and her fantastic homemade chicken noodles) in the rather messy office/kitchen whilst spitting into a chipped coffee cup.

Phillip Jones in the Bass Phillip Winery
Phillip Jones in the Bass Phillip Winery

The landscape in Gippsland is at this time of year green and lush. The rolling hills and dotted with sheep and cows. This is dairy country. Not a whole lot of wine around here. Actually we didn’t see any other vineyards except Jones’.

I might have gotten ahead of the story, but when we got there it was obvious that there was nothing luxurious about this place. I have rarely seen such a small and frankly, quite messy little winery. It’s not Henri Bonneau, but it’s up like a down under version! Old tractors, broken vats and even a couple of old caravans lined the outside. Inside there was barely enough room for the barrels, that were covered in blankets to keep malolactic fermentation going. Bottles (in cases or just standing around; closed open or broken) are everywhere. Jones himself is almost the caricature of a wine grower, and I could easily see him heading up a radicalist Roussillon cooperative instead. We taste a huge array of wine, and the choice is either to swallow or just spit on the concrete floor in the winery. Is there a toilet? Just go in the vineyards, boy. There is crisp Chardonnay, restrained Gewurtztraminer (it was misspelled on the label of the first vintage, but Jones liked it so he kept it), serious Gamay and a line-up of Pinot Noirs that manage to shake my understanding of wine. How is it possible to make such delicate yet intense Pinot Noir out here, in the outback? Talent might be part of it, but hard work probably makes up the lion’s share. Everything here is handmade. Nothing else works in vineyards where the density tops out at 17000 vines per hectare. 17000! Usually when you talk about dense plantings in the new world, 8000 is the norm, and I only know of a handful of French vineyards that can topple the density at Bass Phillip. This can yield as little as 150 grams per vine, just enough to make a little under 20000 bottles in all. Sure, the wines are not cheap, but in terms of production costs they are a bargain, especially when measured against the competition from the rest of the world.

Casual winetasting at Bass Phillip to say the least
Casual winetasting at Bass Phillip to say the least

The style here is a bit more juicy than at By Farr (100% destemming is the norm here), but still very elegant and structured. The alcohol level sits comfortably between 12% and 13%, remarkably low these days. These are wines that will hold for a long time, and the better cuvées certainly demand it. We taste wines all the way back to 1992 (in halfbottle at that) that are stunning and actually feel like they need even more time to show the full potential.

It doesn’t seem like there are many visitors here, which is perhaps why we’re treated with such great hospitality and honesty. The reputation is probably enough to scare most people away, and if not that then the looks of the place. This is nothing for the faint of heart. But the wines are absolutely world class. Don't be afraid of the price tag!


Travelling man: Galicia Part III – Valdeorras


Travelling man: Galicia Part III – Valdeorras


Part three of this Galician travelogue brings us Valdeorras, which definitely marks the high point of the whole trip for me. Over the last years I had tried a handful of wines from this area that have been stunning, but I was nonetheless surprised about the level of quality that I encountered. And the people who make these wines left powerful impressions. Perhaps the quality potential is as great or greater in other parts Galicia, but at this moment, Valdeorras benefits more than any other region from the combination of an obviously noble, yet still fairly unknown grape and the bubbling enthusiasm and ambition of a young generation of winemakers. Valdeorras straddles the border between Galícia and Castilla y Léon, with the region on Bierzo on it’s immediate east. Bierzo and Valdeorras share the red Mencía grape as well as the white Godello, athough in distinctly different proportions, with red grapes dominating in the much more continental Bierzo. Both of these grapes are quickly proving their worth in a market that is demanding more elegant, light wines as opposed to alco-juice with too much makeup.

The key difference in the climate and potential for grapegrowing lies in the Sil valley corridor that stretches all the way to the Atlantic ocean, allowing cool winds and 1000 mm of rain annually to reach Valdeorras. Most of the classic vineyards lie on the fairly flat Sil valley at an altitude up to 450 meters above sea level, but some, including Rafael Palacios as well as Spanish superstar winemaker Telmo Rodriguez have planted at altitudes as high as 750 meters. This is something they might have regretted in 2013, when frosts decimated the potential harvest by as much as 70%. Spring frosts and hail are major issues, as is rot and mildew during summer. In short, making wine here is not a simple, stress-free life.

Soils in the region are varied, but there is a high proportion of black and grey slate, as is evident from the roof tiling of the houses. Valdeorras is in fact Europe’s foremost producer of slate.

The name Valdeorras comes from ”Valley of Gold” and even though many might want to associate that to its wines, it really refers to ancient roman mining activity in the area. The miners needed something to drink, and as a result, Valdeorras can lay claim to being the oldest winemaking region in Galicia. Over time, the vineyards fell into the hands of monastic orders and it is only in the last 30 years that the huge potential here has been realized.


In the pretty little village of Portela in the north-west of Valdeorras, you find Valdesil, vintners for seven generations, who have been instrumental in bringing the fantastic potential of Godello into the limelight. In fact, José Ramón Gayosa, ancestor of the family that runs the winery, was probably the first to really see something special in the grape and planted a whole vineyard exclusively to Godello, unheard of at a time when field blending was the best way to insure a harvest every year. His work still lives on today, in a vineyard called Pedrouzos filled with healthy and still productive vines dating back to 1885, making them the oldest Godello vines in the world, and the genetic source of much of the Godello that is being planted by quality-minded vintners today. All of Valdesil’s young vineyards are propagated with massal selection from this vineyard.

Valdesil's Pedrouzos vineyard. Godello dating back to 1885.

The fruit harvested at Pedrouzos goes into a special bottling of a couple hundred magnums, and is unfortunately not among the wines tasted. Judging by the quality of the other wines tasted, I would jump on any opportunity to taste it.

Almost needless to say, no systemic treatments are used in the vineyard and cover crops are used throughout to create competition for the vines and keep the soil from eroding away.

We tasted these wines in the old family home. And by old I mean 14th century, although there have been additions over time. Just being in this wonderful old house, with different rooms and areas representing different centuries of construction, was a majestic experience in and of itself. The close quarters made it very hard to capture on film, so I can only recommend a visit Valdesil, and hope that they bring you there.

As a general statement, I think these wines are amazing. They are pure and fresh, with a great sense of place and honesty about them that I admire. They also represent astonishing value, and I recommend them wholeheartedly.

The labels at Valdesil do a good job of portraying the different soiltypes in an artistic way

2011 Valdesil ”Godello sobre lías” A

30 year old vines from several plots, vinified individually and blended together. Aged for four on lees in steel vats without malolactic fermentation. Intense, stony minerality on the nose. Ripe citrus and cool orchard fruit. Soft, creamy lees-driven palate, without becoming dull. Finishes with a herbal, fennel-like note.

2008 Valdesil ”Godello sobre lías” A

Very soft, leesy nose, like fine Chablis. Riper fruit notes, such as apricot and white peach. Rich, opuent palate, but surprisingly fresh, mineral finish.

2010 Valdesil ”Pezas da Portela” AA

Selection of 11 ”pezas”, or plots, from the slate soils of Portela. Plots vinified individually and aged for 6 months in French oak vats of different sizes, and then 6 months in steel for integration. No malo.

Very dusty, reductive nose – wet stones, liqourice and hard, green fruit, along with a touch of toasty oak. Creamy, smooth palate. Very Burgundian in style. Perhaps a bit less “distinct” when compared to the steel/sur lie Godello, but extremely pretty, and will age very well no doubt.

2009 Valdesil ”Pezas da Portela” A

Dusty, autolytic nose. Herbal notes with anise and dried rosemary. Fresh acidity and a mineral sense. There certainly is fruit here, but this is very much structure-driven. Beautiful.

2011 Valderroa, Mencía

Clean, light. Very floral. Berry character on the palate, with a prickly hint to it on the tongue. Finishes with fennel and violets. Complex for such an affordable wine.

Rafael Palacios

“Rafa” Palacios has all of a sudden become a superstar in the winemaking world. His story has been retold so many times in the last year that I am almost reluctant to do it again. Wine flows in Rafa’s blood. The Palacios family comes from Rioja Baja, where they still have the Palacios Remondo estate. Older brother, Alvaro makes some of Spain’s most prestigious red wine in Priorat, and nephew Ricardo is responsible for some equally great Mencía in Bierzo.

Rafael Palacios

Rafa however, is a lover of great white wine, as is evident from the bottles lining the shelves of his office. Grand Cru burgundy, Lopez de Heredia, old Maximin Grünhaus, Didier Dageneau and many more. I have said it before, but one of my must trusted ways to estimate a winemakers character and personality is to ask what he drinks. When you know that a winemaker drinks truly great, iconoclastic wine, it’s a safe bet that he himself will make something interesting and unique.

Rafa discovered Godello almost by an accident, and instantly saw the potential.  After a stint with Valdesil he began acquiring small plots on the side. In 2004, he vinified his As Sortes Godello for the first time. The name refers to a Galician hat, sorte, from which is was customary to draw lots to settle inheritance, leading to the fragmented vineyard that is evidente all of Galicia. Today, 26 plots and little over 20 hectares, all in the subregion O Bolo are under his control. The landscape here is more mountainous and rugged compared to the lower altitudes towards the Sil river. We are in fact in the part of the region more influenced by the Bibei river, just around the corner from the Quiroga-Bibei subregion of Ribeira Sacra and the topography reflects that.

As we drove up towards the vineyards, it was evident that Rafa, although welcoming and passionate, had more important things on his mind than to cater to visitors. He was noticeably distressed and gloomy. Slowly, he begun telling us about the terrible frost that had hit his vineyards in May. The frost lasted for five hours, rendering all of his expensive protection systems useless. He estimated that 60%-70% of the potential harvest had been lost already, and flowering was not going well, adding to his problems. He even feared for the life of his oldest vineyards, which at 93 years of age had not tackled the frost well. Seeing the look in his eyes as we inspected the vines was gut-wrenching. Not only may his whole years harvest be in ruins, but imagine having to grub up and replace vines with such a history? For someone who may have romantic notions of becoming a winemaker, take a second to think about that. I am not sure I could take that level of stress.

Vineyards in the Bibei Valley of Valdeorras. Notice how many new vineyard plots are being carved out.

(I have since, heard that flowering in fact has gone better than he originally feared and that the damages may have been overestimated. Joy!)

Rafa’s wine represent the pinnacle of Spanish white wines for me. They have a level of refinement and that paradoxical combination of power and elegance that is found in truly great Burgundy. The fact that he has only been doing this for a few years makes it even more remarkable. The wines are still affordable and fantastic value, especially the medium-level Louro do Bolo. I recommend all wine lovers to seek these wines out, especially in the 2011 vintage. They drink fairly well now, but do show a reductive streak, and will do well with a few years of cellaring.

2011 Rafael Palacios “Bolo”

Entry level, steel fermented. I have not been terribly impressed by this in the past, but I feel I have to re-evaluate. It has always felt too primary, too much like “generic white wine”. Perhaps I have just been tasting it too close to bottling, because this is pretty good! More more real wine, with great body and acidity with just a hint of that pear drop aroma spectrum. Recommended, but perhaps go for the second-latest vintage?

2011 Rafael Palacios “Louro do Bolo” AA

Fermented in 3000-L oak foudres from Normandy (because of the tightness of the pores and neutral flavour). This has been one of my go-to wine for quite some time now.. I liked the 2009, loved the 2010 but 2011 is head and shoulder above in terms of refinement and balance. What a beauty. This is subtle yet rich. Powerful yet sleek. Juicy yet mineral. A bit reductive on the nose, leave this for a year or two or decant before serving. A contender for “best value wine in the world”.

2011 Rafael Palacios “As Sortes” AAA

Fermented in 500-L barrels. Smoky, reductive Burgundy-like nose. Great acidity and powerful, bold flavours of citrus and orchardfruit. Dense and complex. Finishes on a mineral, almost salty note. This is perhaps the most immediately impressive of the wines, even more so than the O Soro, which is definitely harder to taste. A beauty. If you call yourself a wine lover and you’re not drinking this yet, you’re doing something wrong.

2011 Rafael Palacios “Sorte O Soro” AAA

From a single vineyard, on sandy soils, biodynamically tended. This is one of the highest plots, at 740 meters altitude. This somehow feels lighter than As Sortes, but I think it is a question of acidity playing a trick on me. It is so complex and dense, yet weightless in a paradoxical manner. The minerality is almost fierce and so intense that is induces eye-brow sweating, like a great Chevalier-Montrachet. My notes on this are barely coherent, and I have made no mention of fruits or other actual flavors. This is a true sophisticated beauty, and will need a few years to really show what it has to offer, but I believe there is true greatness here. There are a little over 2500 bottles made. Please, try to get your hands on a few.

Now, go get some Godello!


Wine(s) of the week


Wine(s) of the week


As someone who has spent most evenings working in the restaurant trade, I take every chance I can to cook and spend quality time with people around me. Sometimes its relaxing, sometimes it is stressful (like when I decide to make one of my all time favourite dishes, kokotxas al pil-pil, for the first time ever and serve for the in-law family, going by a video tutorial only), but either way I just love sourcing ingredients and combining them into simple, but flavorful dishes. The result was far from perfect, but on the porch with the sunlight in your face and a good glass of Meursault, it was good enough. Here are some tasting notes of other great wines I’ve enjoyed with good, simple homemade food this last week, or simply when cooking.

N.V. Equipo Navazos "La Bota de Fino #35 - Macharnudo Alto", Jérez, Spain

This has been my cooking companion for the whole week, and I've been able to have it mostly to myself. For this, I am both thankful and a bit sad. Sherry is no doubt an acquired taste, and this is a "take no prisoners"-sherry . The wine was originally sourced from the cellars of Valdespino by the good people at Equipo Navazos who are doing a great job at bringing sherry back into style - at least in some quarters. The grapes come from the Macharnudo Alto pago, generally regarded as one of the very best vineyards for the palomino fino grape due to the very high proportion of pure white albariza chalk.

The wine has a rather deep, golden color and this is more of a fino amontillado than a pure fino. The nose is intense, saline and angular with both apple, nuts and pungent cheeserind crowded together. Not much flor character. The flavor is bold, mineral and lasts for a very long time. I'd like to say it is an intellectual pleasure, but at the same time, I enjoy it immensely. A stellar bottle.


2010 Gerard Boulay "Monts Damnés", Sancerre, Loire, France

When was the last time you had to select a dozen bottles of wine for a week and went for a Sauvignon Blanc? I will be the first to admit not taking Sancerre all too seriously, it’s one of those wines that sell by name alone and takes very little effort. But this is something else, and definitely ranks up there as one of the best and most unique interpretations of this grape and terroir I have ever had. It comes from what is perhaps the most priced vineyard in the whole appellation, literally translated into ”damned mountains” in the village of Chavignol. The soils here are terres blanches, white limestone, much like in Chablis. The incline is so steep that it makes mechanized labor impossible.

Boulay is only of the top producers of the area. He works without pesticides and herbicides in the vineyard (one of the steepest plots of Monts Damnés), and in the winery he is one of very few to work with natural yeasts and without manipulations like adding enzymes to fermenting musts to promote those aromas many asssociate with Sancerre. This wine is fermented in large old barrels and is not filtered before bottling.

This makes for a very intense, bright wine, so full of life and energy. There is a serious minerality and structure to it, but this just dances on the tongue, so vibrant and sublime. Oak fermenting has given it a smooth texture, but it still has fierce acidity all woven together in perfect balance. It finishes on that mystical dusty mineral note so often found in wines from limestone soils – I will leave it to others to try to explain the concept of minerality in wine, but I will not deny that it is there.

This is so open and lovely now, but I would be interested to see where it is at in 4-6 years as well. I reckon it might have moved away from the initial fruity and floral state into something more brooding, but equally pleasurable.


2010 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey St-Aubin Cru "Les Muergers des Dents de Chien", Bourgogne, France

What a delightful surprise is was to find a great selection of wine, including this one in a small bistro in a tourist-trap town. Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey might have one of the most confusing names in all of Burgundy (there is a plethora of Moreys, Colins and variants of the two), but he is certainly one you will want to remember if you dig great white Burgundy. Pierre-Yves used to make the wine at his fathers famous domaine, Marc Colin in Chassagne-Montrachet, so he is far from a rookie, even though his own label is only 8 years old. If I could summarize his style briefly, I would say that it is sleeker, more mineral and perhaps more austere than many of his neighbors’, but at the same time intensely floral and aromatic. I love it, and without having experimented with aging the wines myself, I think they will keep beautifully, and some cuvées definitely demand at least a few years.

St-Aubin is a commune which is known for a high and consistent minimum level of quality and good value wines (in terms of Burgundy). The exceptional sites are few, but this is one of them. The vineyard names Murgers des Dents de Chien lies high up on the Mont Rachet with a southerly exposition. The name refers to the rocky nature of the soil (Dents de Chien being the the “dog’s teeth”, and Murgers (or Muergers as Colin-Morey spells it) being a local name for stone walls). It lies a mere stones throw from Chevalier-Montrachet, but further up the hill, but the exposure is more southerly).  What is has against it is altitude and the cool breeze from the valley that flows down from the valley that leads up the village of St-Aubin. But with climate change, perhaps we will regard this vineyard more highly in 100 years?

This is not a wine for cowards. If tastebuds had asses, this wine would kick them. Judging the nose alone, you might expect an anemic, lean figure – it is pure citric fruit and white flowers. But the palate has the composure of chiseled marble statue, so powerful and weigthy, yet smooth and beautiful. It might make me a masochist, but I love drinking wine like this, wine that hurts a little. Especially in a vintage like 2010, with its fierce acidity. So, if you're into that, drink now or over the next 2 years, otherwise, keep for up to 10 years.


2008 Domaine du Collier, Saumur Blanc, Loire, France

Antoine Foucault is son of Charly, who together with brother Nady runs the legendary Clos Rougeard in Saumur, who make what many regard as the pinnacle of Cabernet Franc (although their white Saumur "Brézé" is stunning). Antoine worked there for four years, but at the young age of 26 left to purchase a few hectares of vines in Chacé, the commune of Saumur, which is most famous for its white wines, based on Chenin Blanc of course.

Antoine runs this domaine together with wife Caroline. They farm without fertilizers and chemical pest treatments in the vineyard, and the winemaking is non-internventionist with only native yeast and sulfur only at bottling. The cool cellars are key, much like at Clos Rougeard. I wouldn’t put Domaine du Collier the “natural wine” camp, but this style of winemaking is for me ideal in terms of balance between nature and man.

Now, I have never tried the other white wine Antoine makes, Saumur “Le Charpenterie”, from 100+ year old vines (the ones that go into the regular Saumur Blanc are 30-70 years of age), but for me this epitomizes what Chenin Blanc is all about. It jumps out of the bottle, so fragrant and ethereal, with yellow apple, honeysuckle and sweet spice. The palate has a lovely sense of paradox: density and weightlessness at the same time. The acidity lifts this huge mass of concentrated flavor and carries it all the way through. There is a touch of sweetness in the finish, but I feel like it is less than in recent vintages. This has perfect balance, is an immensely usable wine, this can tackle richer fish and shellfish dishes but also lighter meat courses much better than any Chardonnay. Although I see no immediate reason to age it, I am sure it will keep for a very long time.



Travelling man: Galicia Part II – Ribeiro & Ribera Sacra


Travelling man: Galicia Part II – Ribeiro & Ribera Sacra


On the second day of our exploration of the wines of Galicia we headed to the inland region Ribeiro, which is quite unlike coastal Rias Baíxas ( The night was spent at the fabulous countryside manor at Casal de Armán, which cannot be recommended highly enough. This old priest manor dates back to 1727, and now houses an ambitious enoturismo along with restaurant and winery. Ribeiro is the most historically prominent of the Galician wine regions. Today around 2700 ha remain, but the whole region used to be covered with vineyard. The ancient romans first planted vines here and for centuries Riberiro was famous for its tostadas, dense sweet wines made from dried grapes. Another synonym for these wines was Ribadavia, which is also the name of the main town, situated by the river Avía, one of the hitherto unofficial subregions of the area today, and also where Casal de Armán is located.

The region is topographically diverse with the better grapes grown in hillside vineyards, and high yielding grapes like Alicante Bouschet and Palomino on the flatter valley floors. Soils are mostly rich and sandy with granite subsoils. There is a certain Atlantic influence, but much less compared to Rias Baixas, and higher diurnal variation to show for it.

Albariño grows here but the focus lies more on the Loureiro and especially Treixadura.

Loureiro literally means laurel, which refers to the distinct herbal character this grape can impart to wines. It is likely to have originated in Minho, in northern Portugal. It is much more widely used in Vinho Verde (keep an eye out for the powerful wines from Quinta do Ameal for a good example), where it yields very fresh, flowery wines.

Treixadura is also of probable Portuguese provenance, and is known as Trajadura across the border. The wines made from this thin-skinned grape are much lower in acidity than Albariño with a distinctive fatty mouthfeel combined with fresh orchard fruit character.

There are a multitude of other varietals allowed, with Souson and Caiño being the most important for red wine. Dull, high-yielding grapes like Alicante Bouchet and Palomino are also widely planted, but thankfully on the decrease.

Ribeiro, seen from the courtyard at Casal de Armán

Casal de Armán

Although the building housing the restaurant and rooms dates back to 1727, the winery is fairly new, dating back to the end of the last century, although the family behind the bodega has been growing grapes and making wine for local consumption for much longer. Winemaking here is straightforward, yielding honest and distinctive wines. As we tasted the wines throughout a lovely dinner involving more delicious Polbo á Feira, I do not have any real tasting notes, so a general comment will have to do. Although the reds were juicy and well made, I generally preferred the whites here. The basic Casal de Armán Blanco is an almost varietal Treixadura with a touch of Godello and Albariño. It is fresh with aromas of grapefruit and white peach, with that rich mouthfeel Treixadura imparts. The Finca Os Loureiros is a pure Treixadura (the name, perhaps confusing, comes from the laurels planted in the vineyard), fermented in larger barrels with lees stirring for five months. The wine is rich yet fresh, with a delicious creaminess imparted by the lees.

Coto de Gomariz

Like Casal de Armán, Coto de Gomariz is located in the Avia zone of Ribeiro. The soils here are mainly granitic with sandy topsoil, but there are outcroppings of schist not found elsewhere in the DO, which certainly makes for some interesting wine. Here Ricardo Carreiro and Xosé Lois Sebio make some of the most idiosyncratic wine in Galicia. The vineyards are farmed biodynamically with inspiration from Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming principles, such as abstaining from fertilizing and tilling, although I am unclear as to what degree (among other things, Fukuoka also recommends not pruning, which seems nigh impossible with grapevines), and at the time did not quite have the wherewithal of mind to inquire further.

Tasting the great wines of Coto de Gomariz

Xosé presented us with most of the current portfolio, again referring to his wines as “proyectos”, implying that there was a lot more to be had as well. Generally speaking, the quality level is extremely high, as is the value in most markets. Their entry level label “Flower and the Bee” is lovely in both red and white editions, and the white wines were spectacular all-through. I found a few of the reds a bit constructed and overly rich and oaked, but nonetheless on a high level.

2012 Coto de Gomariz “Flower and the Bee”

Treixadura. Intense, waxy orange fruit character with medium acidity. Still maintains freshness and even finishes on a mineral note. Great value. Would like to see this in a few more months.

2011 Coto de Gomariz “X” A

Albariño + 5% Trexiadura from a single vineyard on schist soils, which is rare in Ribeiro. This is rich, opulent and really sunripe, but in combination with high acidity. Drinks like great Pfalz Riesling, with that eyebrow-sweat inducing mineral intensity.

2011 Coto de Gomariz A

70% Treixadura + Godello, Loureira & Albariño, fermented in steel. Wonderfully complete, aromatic and rich. Flavors of ripe stonefruit, orange and grapefruit. Creamy mouthfeel.

2010 Coto de Gomariz “Colleita Seleccionada” A

A blend of 12 grapes, but primarily Treixadura from a single vineyard “Finca O Figueiral”, planted in 1978, fermented and aged on lees in barrel. Rich, waxy, golden and intensely mineral. Not oaky at all. Fantastic

2010 Coto de Gomariz “Salvaxe“ A

Old vine seleccion of local grapes like Lado and Silveiriña, together with the usual suspects. White flowers and stone fruits. Intense and powerful with great acidity and dusty minerality. Drinks like a great dry Vouvray.

2011 Coto de Gomariz “Flower and the Bee” Tinto

Sousón. Dark colour, typical of the variety. Soft with light berry flavors. A bit prickly on the tongue, like a serious Beaujolais.

2010 Coto de Gomariz “Abadía de Gomariz” A

Sousón, Brancellao, Ferrón, Mencía, matured in second fill oak barrels. My favourite of the reds, both in terms of drinkability and unique personality. This is dark in color, filled with blackberry and spicy oak notes on the nose. The body is surprisingly light, very elegant and fresh. There certainly is structure, but the tannins are well tamed here.

2007 Coto de Gomariz “VX Cuvée Caco”

Sousón, Caiño longo, Caiño da terra, Carabuñeira (Touriga Nacional), matured in new oak. Still very young and bright. Oaky spice notes and dark cherries. Good purity and elegance. Certainly a good wine, but not all that exciting.

2007 Coto de Gomariz “VX Cuvée Primo”

Sousón, Carabuñeira, Caiño. In new French oak for 30 months. Dark, opulent, dense. Very powerful stuff. Roasted coffee and spice notes and tough tannins. Would impress and please a lot of people.

2008 Coto de Gomariz “Seica” A

Sousón, Garnacha, Carauñeira. The first vineyard that was converted into biodynamics, vines trained en vaso. Only one barrel made of this. Opaque. Opulent, roasted nose with dark fruit aromas. Palate is leaner and drier than the nose would imply, with a lovely peppery greenness. This really carries the oak better than the previous wines. This will need time.

2009 Coto de Gomariz “HUSH”  A

Very old vines. Blend of local grapes, primarly Sousón. 14 months on 500-L French oak previously used for white wine. Dark. Dense nose with dark fruit and a powerful floral element – violets. Smooth palate with great purity.

Ribeira Sacra

I had expected the landscape to gradually become more dramatic as we headed towards Ribeira Sacra and its notoriously dramatic steep vineyards, but the change was rapid, and all of a sudden we were just there.

Riberia Sacra - the view from Adegas Mouro towards the Miño

This region covers the rivers Miño, Sil and Bibei and the vineyards that hug the steep slopes on their banks. The name of the region literally means “sacred riverbanks”, and it is easy to see why. Much like Ribeiro this region used to be covered by vineyards, many of which are abandoned now. It is a powerful sensation gazing into the deep forest on an impossibly steep slope and seeing the roman terraces everywhere. But phylloxera and nematodes destroyed the winemaking business and many abandoned the vineyard. Today 2500 hectares remain divided by 2800 growers. Much of the expertise that the historic people had has been lost in and it is only in the last decade that talented producers, many of them foreign to the region have begun mastering the expression of the Mencía grape here.

There is a distinct backwater feeling to Ribeira Sacra. You can feel the poverty and the backbreaking work that goes into living here. Again and again we heard the story of young people moving as far away as they possibly can. Maybe the economic crisis will change that, much like it has in Greece, where youth disillusioned with cities, education and “the market” return back to the countryside.

Mencía is a difficult beast to tame. It combines rather fresh aromatics; it has been likened to both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc in the past, although with tough tannins and a propensity for high alcohol. Hardly a recipe for success. And perhaps more devastatingly it was forced into an image it could never live up to for many years, when winemakers made dense, opaque wines marred by heavily toasted oak, essentially making a bleak, austere copy of the wines of Ribera del Duero or Toro. It seems now that Mencía is finding its place, making fruity, middle-weight wine with lovely floral and spicy aromas. The comparison with Cabernet Franc is not entirely valid, but there are at least parallels to be drawn on the aromatic spectrum.

Regina Viarum

Our first visit was at Regina Viarum, in the central Amandi subregion of Ribera Sacra. This producer controls some of the best vineyards, and certainly one of the best views in Ribeira Sacra (if not the world!). This is a giant in comparison to most of the smaller ventures here, and there were plenty of domestic tourists pulling up into the courtyard as we enjoyed the imposing view over the river with proprietor Iván Gómez Veiga.

No doubt Regina Viarum, with their fruity, easy-going wine have turned a lot of domestic wine-lovers on to Ribera Sacra wines. However, these are mass market wine, and even though they are decent value and well made for their category I did not find the wines here of particular interest and will abstain from boring you with the complete notes. The best wine was an organically grown Mencía in a striking engraved black glass bottle, aged for a few months in barrel. This wine is fresh and aromatic but with a substance and structure I felt lacked in the other wines.

Adegas Moure

José Manuel Moure is a grand old man of the appellation and head of the Consejo Regulador. His bodega lies in the subregion Chantada, in the northwest of the appellation, overlooking a bend in the Miño river below. The winery was founded in 1958, but the family had been growing grapes for as long as anyone could remember.

When we met up with José he was noticeably distressed, on and off the phone with what my rudimentary Spanish led me to believe was a cork supplier. Apparently a batch he had received was no good. One of the many situations on this trip where my romantic notions of winemaking got reality-checked.

José lightened up during the tasting, and his wine, although a tad rustic, expressed a lot of life and purity.

2011 Abadía da Cova, Albariño

30 year old vines. Includes 15% Godello. Burly and rich nose, jumps out of the glass. Ripe and big on the palate, yet with piercing acidity. Almost feel acidified.

2011 Abadía da Cova Mencía

Purple. Plum, blackberry on the nose. Ripe and pure. Zingy acidity and a touch green on the palate.

2011 Abadía da Cova Mencía “Barrica”

6 months in barrel. Lots of oak on the nose; coconut and vanilla. This is opulent and rich, with juicy sweet fruit flavors. Pleasant, but simple.

2011 Moure de Autor

90% Mencía + Tempranillo. Top wine of the estate, and usually highly among the topwines of the region. This has plenty of sweet notes, but is fresher and more distinct than the previous wine. Well balanced in that classic Spanish style with plenty of oak notes. Might age well, into an elegant balsamic, dried herb state.


Unfortunately we did not get to visit Guímaro, but instead we tried these wines with Raul Perez the day after in Valdeorras. Raul makes his Ribera Sacra wines (El Pecado and La Penetencia) with Pedro Rodriguez Pérez at Guímaro, and was instrumental in making Pedro realize the huge potential there was in his family’s old vines.

Pedro is one of the young that have returned to the country, in what is now Spain’s demographically oldest region. He works his family’s old vineyards in the Amandi subregion, some of them with a steepness of 50 degrees, together with his parents Manolo and Carmen. It is hard to fathom working vineyards like that on a warm day (or any day, with my fear of heights).

Guímaro - image from their website

The bodega was created in 1991. Until then the wine was only made for local consumption. It was one of the first to join the D.O. when it was created in 1996. They are now working on organic certification.

In the winery, traditional methods reign; wild yeast fermentation, foot treading of grapes, inclusion of stems and predominantly old barrels. This gives a lighter, more elegant style of Mencía compared to the ones from Bierzo and the modernists in Ribeira Sacra. All in all, lovely, expressive wines that I would love to see more of, although the production is very small. I think they could seriously change the way many perceive Spanish red wine.

2012 Guímaro Blanco A

Godello and Caiño Blanco from 50-70 year old vines. Aromatic, mineral. Loaded with flavor and already now drinkable and expressive, although I would love to see this with more age. Finishes with a steely, mineral acidity.

2012 Guímaro Tinto Joven A

Un-oaked Mencía from ~40 year old vines. Heady, clean nose loaded with red fruits and oriental spice. Lovely purity here.

2010 Guímaro “Finca Meixeman” A

Mencía from 70 year old vines in a single 1.2 ha vineyard on schist facing south-east. This is dark and rich, with fairly potent alcohol, darker fruit character and floral notes. Very serious stuff. Not quite as pleasurable as the simpler wine, but will age beautifully.

Next up in this installment, my favorite part of the trip: Valdeorras.


Travelling man: Galicia - Intro


Travelling man: Galicia - Intro


We circled the airport in Vigo three times before landing. It might have been due to scheduling issues, but me and my travelling partners at least theorized that the ruggedness of the green but mountainous landscape below had something to do with it. And sure enough, once we actually touched ground on that short airstrip, the pilot hit the brakes so hard that I had to catch myself from smashing into the seat in front of me. After leaving our bags at the hotel, we headed out to catch the last hours of sunshine and some decent food, which was well needed after having spent 5 hours waiting at the dreadful 2G-terminal at Charles de Gaulle. I am absolutely convinced one of the circles of hell is an exact copy of 2G. No extra hellfire needed.

Unbeknownst to us, there was some sort of traditional spring festivity going on in town. For all my Google-fu, I have not been able to figure out what it was all about. But the music, and white clad women wearing flowers made for a nice welcoming. We sat down at one of the few open on this special Sunday, ordered the first of countless plates of Polbo á Feira (Galician classic: octopus with olive oil and paprika) and other lovely creatures from the sea. With that, some fresh, tangy white that went perfectly with the seafood. No tasting notes this time, the table could not have fit my notebook even if I had brought it. A calm set it, and I started getting that longing feeling which still lingers, weeks afterwards; this is one of those places I could live and be happy. And it was only going to get better, the coming morning we headed into wine country.

To call the wines of Galicia a novel experience would be somewhat of an exaggeration. For many years (decades at this point) this region has been touted as the most exciting winegrowing region of Spain, by some of the more competent wine writers and savvy sommeliers. And even though there in some circles is a certain hype, these wines are still a tough sell to the end consumer. You will get a suspicious stare recommending a Spanish white wine to most restaurant guests, and all of a sudden you have something to prove. Grüner Veltliner used to get the same treatment, and I know our sommelier elders fought the same battle with German Riesling. With older guests, that battle is still very real.


Luckily, at this point, with quality and price being where they are, championing the wines of Galicia is an easy cause to adopt, and I would dare to call it a righteous one. If I was convinced about the level of quality of wines before visiting the region, I was coming back positively in love.

Disclosure: The trip, which took place in May 2013 was organized by ICEX, the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade. Transport, accommodation and most meals were paid for as a price for winning a competition organized in Stockholm, Sweden concerning knowledge of Spanish Wine. Thus, we visited a selection of producers representing all tiers of quality.


Also: I am not a wine critic; I have no intention of reporting on wines and producers I did not find interesting, so do not look to me for any kind of conclusive or comprehensive report. I can only hope to motivate someone else to take up that investigation for him or herself.