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24 June 2010

Spain: Llopart, al Límit, Ijalba, Parra-Jimenez, Parxet/Alella/Tionio, Bonastre, Ètim, Palacio Vega, Raimat

Llopart Cava - Upper Penedès

Or "Alt" in Catalan: the Can Llopart wine estate is indeed lost up in the Penedes hills a few kilometres south of Sant Sadurni (and about 45 minutes west of Barcelona, or two hours if you time it wrong traffic wise like I did) with vineyards planted from 370 to 420 metres altitude (1300 ft above sea level). The elegantly landscaped winery and old family villa lying a little higher up, surrounded by 85 ha (210 acres) of handsome terraced vineyards (planted with Catalan and French varieties), do make a pretty picture as you'll see from the sumptuous photos on their website (link at bottom. This peaceful spot has lovely views all around, and you quickly forget you're not that far from the not-so-pretty western side of Barcelona with its big airport, heavy industry, towering new development etc.
Llopart is still very much a family affair - they all appear to have a role whether office, cellar or vineyard - as I discovered in late June 2010 when tasting with Jesi Llopart i Llopart (the full family name) and soon met her brother and dad. There's a 14th Century Latin document displayed on the wall mentioning an ancestor (Leopardi, whose name's used for one of their Cava cuvées: see notes below) who was allocated some vineyards here; and they first made bottle-fermented wines in the late 19th Century. Fascinating stuff, I hear you say, but what are the wines like now? I first tried their Cava range back in 2008 and was very impressed, so it was good to have the opportunity to call in and taste them again in situ; confirming they really do give you quality and style (and hence the prices starting at €10 a bottle in Spain).
"We're now almost entirely certified organic," Jesi added, "but we've always only ever used sulphur and copper sulphate treatments (sanctioned by organic viticulture regs) in the vineyard." She continued: "We usually start picking in mid August, which is later than elsewhere in the region... the Cavas are aged from 18 months to five years on the lees, with an average of about three years (i.e. longer than most), and we shake up the lees half way through (adds extra flavour complexity)." Their Brut Nature styles (= "zero dosage"), which I'm particularly fond of if done well, are very dry and even the Brut Cavas have half as much residual sugar (RS) as many producers' (and Champagnes too, by the way). US importer Fine Estates from Spain in Massachusetts lists the Leopardi and rosé; and some of their wines are available in Belgium, Germany and Japan (but not the UK at the moment unfortunately).
2009 Vitis (Xarel.lo, Subirat Parent, Muscat 12% alc.) - juicy lees-tinged and aromatic with banana and grape notes; turning to greener fruit edges with crisp juicy and gummy mouth-feel, quite zingy finish although not so dry. 80+
2009 Clos dels Fossils (mostly Chardonnay + Xarel.lo 12.5% alc.) - very light creamy oak vs peachy and slightly exotic fruit; zesty and crisp with subtle lees notes, refreshing and quite elegant finish. 85+
2007 Cava Reserva Brut Nature (Macabeu Xarel.lo Parellada Chardonnay, 11.5% alc., 2 g/l RS, 2+ years lees-ageing) - subtle toasted oat cake vs aniseed notes; clean crisp and intense palate with attractive subtle acidity, turns a touch toastier and richer to finish vs crisp and very refreshing. 89+
2004 Leopardi Gran Reserva Brut Nature (Macabeu Xarel.lo Parellada Chardonnay, 12% alc., 4+ years, 2 g/l RS) - enticingly toasty oily nose, richer and "sweeter" profile than above (although not sweet) vs still very crisp vs oily finish; has more flavour perhaps but somehow a bit flatter too in the end, lacks the poise of some of the others. 89+?
2005 Imperial Gran Reserva Brut (Macabeu Xarel.lo Parellada, 3.5+ years, 5 g/l RS) - pretty toasty with fruit cake and chocolate aromas/flavours vs fine and intense with refreshing acidity; quite mouth-coating and textured yet still surprisingly nimble with only 11.5% alc. Nice balance and class. 90+
2004 Ex-Vite Gran Reserva Brut (old vine Xarel.lo & Macabeu, 12% alc., 5+ years incl. some barrel ageing and reserve wines, 6 g/l RS) - rich and creamy nose and palate, oily and rounded with yeasty bite and again fresh acid underneath; delicious oat cake and chocolate finish vs elegant cut, wow. A foodie Cava: dessert or main course even I'd say! 94
2006 Microcosmos Reserva Rosé Brut Nature (85% Pinot Noir 15% Monastrell, 12% alc., 2+ years, 2 g/l RS) - attractive mix of yeasty intensity, ripe red fruit cocktail and cherry cake; tight crisp mouth-feel with light red fruit bitter twist, long and lively finish. Delicious. 92+
2007 Rosé Brut (Monastrell Garnacha Pinot Noir, 11.5% alc., 18+ months, 7 g/l RS) - lovely fruity style, a tad sweeter than above although still lively and quite crisp; nice strawberry and oat biscuit to finish vs intense and refreshing. 89+
2006 Castell de Subirats Tinto Selección (Merlot, Ull de Llebre = Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon 13.5% alc.) - touches of coconut and vanilla oak on the nose vs maturing savoury notes, smoky vs cassis and soy sauce too on the palate; fairly concentrated and soft textured vs a bit of grip with nice balance; attractive style with "sweet/savoury" finish and underlying oomph too. 88+
Previous vintages of Llopart here (Cava guide). www.llopart.es

Terroir al Límit - Priorat

This 15-ha (37-acre) estate is in its final year of converting over to organics and is comprised of spectacularly located parcels of old Grenache and Carignan, which clamber up the slopes around the village of Torroja up to 800 metres altitude (2600 feet). It's owned by Dominik A. Huber and leading South African winemaker Eben Sadie. Tasted at Millésime Bio organic wine show 2010:
2007 Torroja (Garnacha, Carineña 14%) - a touch of wood on the nose but quite elegantly done actually, showing attractive "sweet" vs floral fruit and spice; fairly full and long finish. 87
2007 Arbossar (Carineña 14%) - again has background oak notes, leaner and firmer palate although feels bigger too; still enough of that enticing ripe blue/black fruit lingering vs tight length. 88
2007 Dits del Terra (Carineña 14%) - a tad more oak still, although this one's more concentrated and lush vs solid tannins and refreshing bite too; also has that characteristic tense long finish. 89
2007 Les Manyes (Garnacha at 800m, 14%) - more liquorice and spice notes layered with more wood, nice concentration vs tight mouthfeel; less charming now perhaps and a bit punchy on the finish, but once again I like that freshness and taut edge. 89+
2007 Les Tosses (Carineña at 650m, 14%) - wow, tight and crunchy vs punchy mouthfeel; a tad more oak too vs lovely thick fruit coating and very intense, taut, youthful finish. 90+

Viña Ijalba - Rioja
Founded by Dionisio Ruiz Ijalba in 1975 on the site of an abandoned mine, I'm told, the estate now comes to a sizeable 80 ha (200 acres) of organically farmed vineyards lying around Logrono, San Vicente and Valle del Oja. Peculiarities include plantings of, and varietal wines made from, the indigenous and virtually vanished varieties Maturana Blanca and Tinta, which apparently are referred to in written records dating from 1622... so, you can put that one in your wine-geek fact-finding notepad. The modern wood and brick winery (pic.) is also certified as "environmentally friendly," man. Discovered at the 2010 Millésime Bio show in Montpellier, these wines are distributed in the UK by veteran organic house Vintage Roots and via these importers in the US: Small Vineyards (WA), Baron Francois (NY) and Wine Wise (CA).
2009 Genolí white (Viura) - nice intense juicy green vs exotic fruity with yeast-lees edges, "sweet" vs crisp finish. 85+
2009 Maturana Blanca - more intense still with crisp and juicy vs fatter mouthfeel; unusual. 87+
2009 Aloque rosado (Tempranillo, Garnacha) - fruity and crisp with creamier gluggable finish. 85+
2008 Livor (Tempranillo) - a touch 'reduced' on the nose but has lively crunchy berry fruit vs sweeter liquorice notes; attractive bit of grip and more savoury / peppery on the finish. 87
2005 Dionisio Ruiz Ijalba (Maturana Tinta) - more savoury nose with a dusting of coconut oak; rich ripe liquorice flavours with spicy smoky tones, dark fruit vs dry texture and solid firm finish. 90+
2007 Graciano - funky peppery nose, quite concentrated palate with smoky dark fruit adding nice lush mouthfeel, light oak tones and fair power too. 89+
2005 Crianza (Tempranillo, Graciano) - more "modern" with obvious coconut and vanilla vs lively berry and smoky / savoury flavours too. 87

Bodegas Parra Jimenez - La Mancha

Aka "vinos ecológicos de autor," as it says on their website, or "signature organic wines" guessing from my very mediocre Spanish. Brothers Francisco, Javier and Luis Parra-Jimenez (pictured) started the ball rolling by converting their vineyards over to organic farming in 1993, which was virtually unheard of in the Castilla-La Mancha region at the time. So, 1996 marked the first "officially organic" vintage from their substantial holdings in Las Mesas area, which lies roughly between Madrid and Albacete and directly west of (although a long way from) Valencia. Finca Cuesta Colorá is comprised of 46 hectares (114 acres) of 30 year-old Tempranillo; Finca Arriburra has 5.5 (14) of former Airén vineyards replanted with Sauvignon Blanc (strange choice perhaps given the climate here?); and Finca Entresendas, at 900m altitude (nearly 3000 feet above sea level), is planted with old-vine (60 y-o) Tempranillo and Graciano, plus a trio of more or less predictable French varieties (see below), with a further 50 ha devoted to growing organic garlic and truffle trees! The brothers originally made their wines in the old family cellar but then built a new pink-terracotta winery called Cuesta Colorá, with a few neoclassical swirly bits in case it wasn't loud enough, full of shiny stainless steel and oak barrels... I tried these promising wines at Millésime Bio wine show in Montpellier, January 2010:
2009 Sauvignon Blanc/Moscatel - refreshing clean and aromatic green vs grapey flavours, simple dryish and crisp. 80+
2009 Camino rosado (Tempranillo) - lively and crunchy fruity, nice juicy red fruits vs zingy dry bite. 85
2004 Reserva (mostly Tempranillo) - attractive maturing leather and meaty notes vs ripe dark plum and coffee; turning sweet/savoury on the finish with firm vs rounded tannins, drinking quite well now although should last a bit longer yet. 87+
2001 Gran Reserva (Tempranillo, Graciano, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) - "sweet" maturing nose with light tobacco and spice; still solid mouthfeel vs plenty of dried fruits, enticing "traditional vs modern" style (to use that cliché). 88+
2004 "OM" Crianza, Manuel de la Osa (Tempranillo, Graciano, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot)  - toasty vs dark ripe fruit, liquorice vs leather tones; pretty concentrated/extracted with toasty chocolate flavour/texture, but also has appealing lush sweet fruit layered on top and a bit of controlled oomph too (14.5%but carries it well). About €30 in restaurants. 90

Parxet / Marqués de Alella / Bodegas Tionio - Catalunya & Ribera del Duero
The Parxet group's head office and Cava cellars are found (although not that easily, it's better to approach from the motorway than the coast road from the south, otherwise you can miss the only sign and get lost in the town's old backstreets. I'm told clearer signposting is on the cards along with the future new shop and tasting room) in Tiana, which is just northeast of Barcelona above, although merges into, the town of Mongat. The latter also virtually merges into the Barcelona suburbs and, going up the coast, into El Masnou, which in turn merges into Alella itself behind it. So you get a rapid condensed layering of beach, train, road, town, hills and vineyards that remarkably characterises this coastal stretch and the compact Alella wine region within it. Thanks to gradual urban expansion, its vineyards only amount to about 300 hectares (750 acres) nowadays; although, once you start exploring away from the sea, the landscape quickly turns less populated with very steep roads (sometimes just earthy tracks so watch out when there are storms, these quickly turn into downhill streams!) winding through woodland and elevated vineyards, even if dissected by motorway.
Parxet has 200 ha of vineyards, all in DO Alella so basically two-thirds of the planted area, in a few different sites from nearer the sea up to Santa Maria de Martorelles at a few hundred metres altitude, where their Marqués de Alella winery is located producing three distinctive white wines. By the way, a little red and rosé Alella are made by others but the area's justifiably better known for its whites. Otherwise their grapes are transformed into pretty classy Cava sold under the Parxet label, named after this charming 18th-Century Mas. The story goes that the Suñol family has been making wine there since then, although Cava production is relatively youthful having started in 1920; today Ramon Raventós runs the show. They also own 22 hectares near Peñafiel in the heart of Ribera del Duero country, with a cellar in nearby Pesquera de Duero; and more recently have gone into partnership in Rioja to make a red called Basagoiti (I've not tried this yet).
Click here for tasting notes on Parxet Cavas or here for more info on all their wineries: www.parxet.es. These wines were tasted in situ in June 2008:
2007 Marqués de Alella (Pansa Blanca = Xarel.lo 12%) - aromatic, gummy and zesty with hints of yeast-lees and grapefruit; crisp v rounded mouth-feel leading to off-dry, attractive finish. About €5. 85-87
2007 Pansa Blanca/Xarel.lo Marqués de Alella (13%) - leesier and riper, concentrated and peachy too with complex yeasty undertones and incisive bite; nice balance and style, richness v crisp length. 88-90
2004 Tionio Crianza, Ribera del Duero (Tinta Fina = Tempranillo, 14 months in French oak) - attractive maturing rustic and savoury tones v vibrant blackcurrant/berry; more obvious spicy coconut oak on the palate, but it's lush and concentrated enough with firm fine tannins; good depth v grip, maturing fruit and length. 90+

Can Bonastre winery & resort - Catalunya
I don't know who owns Finca Can Bonastre de Santa Magdalena, to give it its full title, but they've certainly spent a fortune on this superb looking winery and hotel complex. I've not been there but the glossy brochure says it all: I thought I'd try their red wines, when I came across the flash stand at Alimentaria in Barcelona (March 2008), to see if there was any substance behind the money. As you can see from my notes below, the answer is yes; I'll have to follow up with a visit. This 50 hectare (120 acre) vineyard - plus the same again of woodland - nestles up in the hills, at 300 metres (950 feet) altitude on average, near a place called Masquefa quite a few km northwest of Barcelona, off the long road to Lleida, Montserrat and the Pyrenees. The 5-star hotel has twelve rooms, a restaurant, spa and heliport too, in case you were thinking of taking your chopper for a spin. More info at www.canbonastre.com.
2005 Nara Crianza (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah 13.5%) - rich colour with dark fruit and smoky/cedar oak on the nose (but not much); quite extracted although it has plenty of fruit to counter those pretty firm tannins, tight and powerful length. Needs two to three years to blossom. 90
2006 Can Bonastre Pinot Noir (13.5%) - perfumed and smoky/savoury notes mingle with very ripe lush fruit v fresh bite of acidity; quite solid and powerful v perfumed cherry and violet flavours, nice wine and a bit different. 90
2005 Can Bonastre Crianza (Merlot, Cabernets Sauvignon & Franc, Syrah 13.5%) - a touch more cedary but has lots of ripe plum and cassis fruit with smoky edges; firmer palate showing trademark power v 'sweet' fruit and background oak, more concentrated perhaps although has nice balance and style. 88+
2004 Erumir Crianza (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo 13.5%) - lightly smoky with herbal cassis notes and a touch of oak; quite firm and powerful, has an off-putting slightly reductive character or something similar? 85

Ètim - Catalunya
Otherwise known as Agrícola Falset-Marçà, two small town co-operatives that merged nearly ten years ago to form this go-getting winery in the very up-and-coming Montsant D.O or appellation, found a bit to the west of and inland from Tarragona. The Montsant region seems to be positioning itself as the new Priorat, without the elevated prices hopefully, which it borders and has a few things in common with its better-known neighbour: namely plenty of old-vine red Garnacha, or Garnatxa in Catalan (Grenache obviously) and Carineña (or Samsó, Mazuelo or Carignan) and suitably wild hilly terrain.
Ètim's range, including delicious olive oil as well, is pretty impressive overall, which I sampled at Alimentaria in Barcelona, March 2008, although they need to be careful with the new oak on some of their reds IMHO. The wines are gathering rave reviews across the Atlantic (shipped by Olé Imports, NY) - funnily enough my ratings are similar to those on Robert Parker's website, by pure coincidence - and are available in the UK via their agent/importer Bibendum, based in London. More info at www.etim.es.
2006 Ètim Blanco (white Grenache 14%) - lightly yeasty toasty notes with rich spicy exotic fruit on top, rounded and full-on finishing with a touch of fresh 'chalkiness' v fat texture. 87+
2007 Ètim Rosat (mostly Garnacha plus a splash of Syrah 14%) - very deep colour and light yeast lees on the nose, mega fruity with lush raspberry and cherry, serious weight and a touch of dry tannin too. Wow: food is required! 90
2004 Old Vines Garnacha (+ 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% alc.) - aromatic oak underpinned by lovely Grenache fruit, showing liquorice and tobacco on a firm powerful palate, but it has nice ripeness and depth and subtle cedar tones too. 89+
2004 Castell de Falset (Garnacha Carignan Cabernet Sauvignon) - again shows that cedary oak supplemented by rich smoky fruit, concentrated mouth-feel with lush dark fruits and pruney edges, very grippy yet rounded and long. 90-92
2004 L'Esparver (90% single vineyard with mixed plantings of 90+ year-old Garnacha Carignan plus Merlot and Cab Sauv) - rather oaky but it's very concentrated and lush with tobacco, ripe cassis, plenty of oomph but overly cedary finish. Another wow wine, although pity about that wood. 90+
Oli d'Oliva Extra Virgin - gorgeous rich golden colour and fresh ripe olive flavours, perfumed and tangy on its pure tasty finish.

Palacio de la Vega - Navarra

One of the leading Bodegas in northeast Spain, Palacio de la Vega has been a personal favourite for many years; although I was surprised to find out from their annoying 'Flash' website that it's only been going since 1991. The winery's now owned by mega giant Pernod Ricard, which isn't necessarily a bad thing when you look at some of their other wine brands (Champagne Mumm, Etchart in Argentina, Australia's Wyndham Estate as well as the slightly better-known Jacobs Creek). Anyway, I haven't yet visited PDLV's vineyards and cellars - must pop down to Navarra one of these days - but thought the wines below, bought in various Spanish supermarkets, were worth sharing (if you can still get the 99 Reserva in the UK or US?). They also show that a mix of Spanish and so-called international varieties can work well together when grown in a suitable environment, which seems to be the case in Navarra. Tasted Sept-Dec 2006:
2002 Crianza (Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5%) - slight sulphide (?) aromas when first opened but it develops nice smoky cassis notes underpinned with cedar oak; full, quite rich & rustic mouth-feel v tangy tight length, quite powerful yet balanced, firm tannins v maturing fruit. 87-89
2005 Rosado (Garnacha Cabernet Sauvignon, 13%) - full-on chunky raspberry and strawberry fruit, ripe and rounded v subtle acidity and tight length. 87+
1999 Reserva Tempranillo (13%) - enticing developed earthy peppery notes v light vanilla and black cherry; concentrated blueberry fruit with background layer of oak, nice texture and maturity v still firm-ish tannins and fresh bite. A complete wine showing balance and style, drinking now yet I think will improve for another couple of years; try with pasta in a cépes & aioli sauce. €6-7 90-92

Raimat - Catalonia
Raimat, owned by the Cava group Codorníu, practically invented the Costers del Segre DO zone in Catalonia. The adventure began back in 1914, when the Raventós family bought 3200 hectares of barren land in Lleida...
Tasted between Oct 2005 and Jan 2006:
2001 Clamor red (Cabernet Sauvignon & Tempranillo, 13%) - smooth maturing style that nicely mixes traditional Rioja and Bordeaux, smoky silky Pinot Noir-like fruit with firmer, leather-tinged yet vanilla-rounded finish. €5-6 89
2004 Rosado (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon & Pinot Noir, 12.5%) - unusual and superb rosé, with full bodied quite fat strawberry palate leading to balanced classy finish. 89
Brut Nature Mètode Tradicional (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Xarello, 12%) - this really quite fine and flavoursome sparkling wine, shaped by similar production methods to Champagne, comes from outside the Cava area. Fairly rich, buttery and tropical fruit gives way to developing yeasty complexity with fresh, dry and elegant length. Brut Nature means no added dosage, i.e. not sweetened with less than 5 grams natural residual sugar; so pretty dry to you and me. 90+Tasted June 2006:
2005 rosado/rosat Casal Raimat (Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot, 13%) - not sure if this is just the new vintage with change of name and packaging, or a different wine. Anyway, it's good stuff as usual, quite rich and full yet aromatic and fresh. 87+
2005 Casal Raimat blanco - distinctive white, nice mix of juicy fat fruit with yeast-lees intensity and crisp length. 87+
Tasted July 2006:
2003 Clamor crianza (Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Tempranillo 13.5%) - again shows that subtle mix of smoky rustic tones and complex berry fruit, silky mouthfeel, although firmer and bigger than the 2001; all layered with not too much vanilla oak flavour. €5+ 89+ Tasted October 2007:
2006 Casal Raimat
rosado (Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot, 13%) - vibrant raspberry and blueberry fruit, weighty with light grip even v fresh and zesty. 87+

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.