Contratiempo y Desvelao: moscateles de albariza

I was unable to make it to this year’s Cuatrogatos Wine Fest – the best yet by all accounts – and in particular as described by Carmen Artola in this great piece from this week. But I didn’t miss out altogether. A fortuitous alignment of the planets allowed me to slip away from Madrid for the traditional pre-winefest dinner with the winemakers in El Arriate.

And it was a cracking dinner too. The most important ingredient of any dinner is the company and in that regard these cats are of the highest quality. There wasn’t all that much technical discussion on this occasion but it was great to catch up and hear the news of a group of people who are not only fun to be around, and utterly admirable, but complete nutters to a man, woman and child. They are and it was a blast.

The second key ingredient – and apologies here to the crew at El Arriate but I hope they will forgive me – is the wine, and there again the night was worth any number of hours in Renfe’s cold, unloving embrace. The assembled artisans produced bottle after bottle of evidence of their artistry – some really lovely stuff too (and there were some bottles from little known regions overseas such as champagne and saumur champigny that didn’t let anyone down either).

But for me the two bottles of wine I found most enjoyable were the two above. Contratiempo and Desvelao are two unfortified table wines from moscatel grown in the same vineyard on albariza by a really charming group of young lady winemakers. It wasn’t the first time I had tried them – in fact I had had them at the previous year’s winefest – but it was the first time I had the chance to try them at dinner and let them sit in the glass, and I found them very enjoyable.

Albariza is all the rage these days for palomino, but traditionally moscatel would be planted on sandy soils, and I had even had the impression that moscatel wouldn’t normally survive and thrive on albariza. But this one certainly has, and the resulting wine has all the sapidity and intense, savoury flavour you would expect from one of the new palominos, with what seemed to me to be just a touch more acidity up front and a really nice fruit/savoury finish.

But almost as interesting as that flavour profile is the contrast between the two wines: Contratiempo big, beefy and “horizontal” – full of flavour and growing in aroma in the glass – and Desvelao, from the same vineyard and vintage but with some time under a veil of flor was finer, fresher and sharper.

I gather there are only very small amounts of this available (if it is available at all), which strikes me as a shame. I for one wish there was more, and if you do get the chance to try them I would recommend you give them a proper go, with a nice dinner and good company. Bravo to Cuatro Ojos Wines and more, please!


#4GWFEST2018 – Part 1 – The return of Antonio de la Riva

Some of the wines I was most looking forward to trying at the Cuatrogatos Wine Fest last weekend were new (and old) wines from an old name: Antonio de la Riva. It is the name of a maker established in the 19th Century, absorbed by Domecq in the late 20th Century and which disappeared as a label not long afterwards, but whose bottles are highly prized by collectors and fans of the older wines. I am neither a collector (except to the extent that winemakers persuade me their wine will improve in the bottle) or particularly big on the bottle aged wines, but even so I was excited about these, because the famous old brand – together with some regal old butts and a supply from some handy soleras and vineyards – has recently been revived under new ownership.  And you have to say it could not be in better hands: the Sobrinos de Haurie themselves, Ramiro Ibañez and Willy Perez.

The wines, which up to this weekend had only been tried by a select few, are expected to be released soon. They include a white wine, from pago Macharnudo (and specifically, the corner of the Majuelo vineyard known as “El Notario”), a fino from wines sourced from Balbaína Alta, and two very senior citizens in the form of a very old oloroso and a very very old moscatel. On the day the lads had brought the fino, the oloroso and the moscatel and given the tiny quantities that were available their presentation in public was discreet – as the photographs above show.

The good news is that the wines are absolute belters.

First, the fino is a classic “Jerez” style (I have written “Jerezano twice in my notes”), with a very mineral, compact structure and sapidity. The nose is stoney and weedy, not big and aromatic haybales but more like the overgrown wall of a churchyard. Then it has a sharp zing to it broadening out into a decent mouthful of slightly bitter almonds before a fresh finish. Closer in style to a Camborio than an Inocente but in that same neighbourhood in terms of class with a good ten years under flor.

After the fino, the oloroso, which according to my notes is from Balbaina Baja and is spectacular (double underlined in the original text). Sawdust and alcoholic sweetness on the nose (I have hazelnut vinegar written here), then all the right kind of woody flavours across the palate: walnut and cedar cigar boxes, bitter chocolate and extremely black, salty and peppery coffee. And an unbelievable concentration and acidity – holding even a small sip in your mouth the heat is incredible.

And then the moscatel, which is another absolute beast. More of the same only possibly even more so. Incredibly dense and dark to look at – took an eternity for the drop above to make its way to the tasting receptacle – but just amazing on the nose and the palate, full of ginger and spices, nuts, chocolate and coffee. Enough acidity to keep it honest and balance up its sweetness and incredibly long. Sensational, and being honest, well beyond my powers of description even if I had taken decent notes.

Remember the name: Antonio de la Riva.

Chiclana power: Primitivo Collantes in Enoteca Barolo


I can’t believe over a month has gone by since the magnificent cata by Primitivo Collantes in Enoteca Barolo. As I said back then he is one of the unsung heroes of the so called sherry revolution and I got the feeling at the time that a lot of people were taken by surprise at just how good the wines – and his presentation of them – were.

One of the most impressive aspects of the night was the emphasis on terroir and viticulture. A first class description of Finca Matalian, its elevation and exposure to the elements (between two “mares” – a joke that is frankly untranslatable and even in Spanish doesn’t work unless you have the accent of the guys in Cadiz) that was followed by explanations of the pruning, the benefits of hand harvesting, the impact on the vine and the effects of a vine under stress, the prohibition on irrigation and importance of the absorbency of the soil. We also had some geology and some talk of abundant diatomeas and then emphasis on the relevance of the location so close (8km) to the sea but high (96m-114m up) – the advantage of the breeze and winds but with the quality albariza. A really top class setting of the scene.

When a winemaker brings two different soil samples you know he cares about terroir. It was fascinating to see these two: from Matalian itself and his other finca, Pozo Galvan. From far away Matalian looked chalky white and Pozo Galvan mottled, but from close to it wasn’t anywhere near as marked. I could try and convince you that they seemed to crumble in different ways but to be honest both were granular: maybe just a slightly finer dust to the Matalian. I did the old TV cop “cocaine” test with the tip of the finger and the diatomeas in the Matalian were immediately apparent. In fact it was clear to me that they were cold water diatomeas* (* these are alternative facts, as far as I could tell they also smelled and tasted the same (and I wouldn’t know a cold water diatomea if I sat on it in the bath)).

Then back to the vine and the yields, and the timing of the harvest in several passes, but thankfully during a lot of this time we were also tasting the wines (which is important, because there is only so much chat you can listen to dry). Specifically, we were supping away at sobretablas from Pozo Galvan and Matalian. A sobretablas is not a mosto – these are fortified and have spent time in a deposit with the occasional little island of flor – but they seem all the more raw for it, and these were spikey and punchy on the nose, with the Matalian slightly more piercing, the Pozo Galvan slightly rounder. On the palate that difference was more evident – the Matalian was that bit sharper and seemed much more direct, straight line, and longer.

After the sobretablas we moved on to two unfortified wines and specifically the Socaire 2014, which in itself is one of those fantastic flavourful palomino wines that stand out, saline but full of herbal, almond, almost-fruit, and then a chance to try a Socaire 2014 Oxidativo, with a touch of further oxidation from an additional 8 months bota ageing. You will have to believe me when I say you could bank those 8 months – I had the two together and the wine is only getting stronger. (Socaire itself means “shelter from the wind” and is a reference to the meteorological conditions on Finca Matalian – again showing how this wine has a clear sense of place.)

After the Socaires, we moved on to two biological wines, the Arroyuelo Fino en Rama and Amontillado Fossi. Now I have had these wines many times but at this tasting they absolutely sang. I had always found the Arroyuelo en Rama exemplary in terms of labelling but I never realized that they were bottled and labelled as the orders came in – with your man to select them. And what a wine it was on the night – a clear inheritor of the beautiful direct line of the sobretablas, but next to the sobretablas (I cunningly kept some from earlier) you could see the progression in verticality, saline edge and vegetable power. A superb example. And the Fossi was at its best too, with direct salinity and honeyed caramel flavour in bags. It is apparently around 18 years old on average already, and Primitivo told us that soon he hoped the average age to bump above 20 years into VOS category. I must say I find that really remarkable for a wine that is as elegant as this one. One of the most underrated wines around.

But however good those wines were there was no doubt about the star of the night: the mother of all moscatels. A frankly beautiful, elegant, light and spritely fifty year old from the “sacristia”. This wine – the grandaddy of the already very good Moscatel Oro Los Cuartillos -was a Fred Astaire of wine, incredibly agile for its content. It had a fantastic menthol quality and lightness and a seriousness of business – like a pianist playing hard with both hands. What a wine it was.

And since then the name of Primitivo Collantes has rung out in Madrid, no doubt. I have never seen the locals so enthused after a tasting – and with good reason. It was top drawer.

Primitivo Collantes in Enoteca Barolo

Primitivo Collantes is one of the true unsung heroes of the so called sherry revolution. He and his wines are from the Southernmost tip of el marco in Chiclana – outside the traditional centres of Jerez, Sanlucar and el Puerto – but the wines are as good as any that you will find from El Marco and on Monday Primitivo himself gave a masterclass on the new wine making in the region to a packed house in Enoteca Barolo.

A really excellent tasting in fact. As you can see above, we had explanations of the geography and climate, sobretablas from different soils, samples of the soils themselves (including from the famous Finca Matalian), wines of different styles and at different stages of ageing, explanations of the major choices made in making the wines and some really neat nuggets of technical wisdom.

Most importantly, the wines were cracking – Socaire, the Arroyuelo Fino en Rama and Amontillado Fossi you may have already heard of, but we also had the chance to try a Socaire with a touch of oxidation from an additional 8 months ageing and a frankly beautiful, elegant, light and spritely fifty year old moscatel.

As always, will take me sometime to write up my notes – for the time being my congratulations to Enoteca Barolo and the man himself. Bravo!



Moscatel Toneles 

Back to this epic old moscatel yet again (not for the first or even second time) and am struck by the bitter black treacle, black chocolate and woody spices of it. I didn’t remember how sticky sweet it was though. It is like a sticky, syrupy burnt Christmas cake in a cigar box.

Really an exceptional wine that you should try at least once.

Moscatel Oro Los Cuartillos

My mother in law enjoys her moscatel so I thought I would treat her to a good one for a change. This is by Primitivo Collantes, one of my favourite makers, and it is really highly rated by the guys on my tweet stream so I was intrigued to taste it too. They are the owners of Finca Matalian and this is yet another wine from that little corner of rich earth. 

It really is good. Rich and lush but has a bit of mineral bite, muscle. Citric sweet and savoury aromas on the nose then a nice citrus freshness, followed by the syrupy sugary moscatel but real minerals underneath. To be honest these sweet wines are not really my bag but this has a nice bit of acidity and minerals – and maybe a bit of alcohol heat – which give it a real character.

And more importantly my mother in law seems to like it too: result.  

Toneles again 

It is always a risk to go back to a wine that has made such an impression the first time. Also, given that only 100 of these are produced a year it seems a little indulgent to have consumed 2%. Nevertheless, since it was Christmas I wanted to bring a showpiece bottle home and well, here we are.

An opaque, black brown in colour it flows out like a fine syrup and coats the glass. I still get a lot of the Christmas pudding, raisins, sweet spices, and chocolate, but coming at it a second time I notice a lot more of that 100 year old wine aroma of pine trees and pipe tobacco.

In the mouth too it is all intensity. Maybe it is the recent experience but I get a syrupy mouthfull of the blackened edges of a Christmas cake – juicy currants and sweet spices in burnt sugar, followed by chocolate, then tobacco, then cedar and a tail of spicey black treacle. It really has immense length – the spicey, bitter black treacle flavours carry on for an eternity.

Not as absolutely bowled over this time. It may be that that first bottle was such a surprise, that it came at the end of a long dinner, or that it was a few degrees cooler on an evening that was a few degrees warmer. It may also be that in the intervening months I have learnt a lot more about the effects of concentration and barrel ageing and that familiarity has stolen some of the wonder. Nevertheless, an absolutely exceptional wine by any standards.

Valdespino Toneles

The bottle of the night – probably of the year/decade – was the little bottle at the end on the right – the Valdespino Toneles moscatel.

It is an almost opaque, black brown in colour and coats the glass and the aromas are superb – Christmas pudding mix up with raisins, sweet spices, chocolate and rum, pine trees, menthol, even pipe tobacco. You can just suck in noseful after noseful.

But that is only a prelude to the main event. It is a wonderful buttery syrup in the mouth with all of the above flavours and then some. It is an amazing mouthful of intense flavour, and has immense length – minutes long – sweet raisin then on to a higher plane – with chocolate  (reminded me of the filling of those old chocolate eclair toffees from when we were kids) taking over.

Really a superb and unique wine. Probably the most amazing I have ever tasted.