Jean Smullen reviews Bodegas Robles Piedra Luenga DO Montilla Moriles Fino and 2017 Le Naturel
Today on Movies & Booze we’re looking at two very different organic wines from Spain. Spain has a very good track record when it comes to producing organic and biodynamic wines, it helps of course that most of their key wine regions has an arid dry desert climate or a Mediterranean one. 90% of organic grapes globally come from the European wine regions, Italy leads with way with organic wines accounting for 15.9% of all wines produced there; Spain comes in second place with organic wines accounting for a total of 11.6% of their total production. Today on Movies & Booze we’re going to take a look at two very different Spanish wine styles. A very modern Fino style of wine from DO Montilla Moriles and a natural wine from the region of Navarra, which is virtually sulphur free.
Bodegas Robles Piedra Luenga DO Montilla Moriles Fino (50cl) €13.00
Stockists: independent stores nationwide
Mary imports some of the finest range of organic wines to Ireland. Her features wines from France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, Argentina and Austria. Her Spanish range is very comprehensive and includes this quirky Sherry style wine from Montilla Moriles.
I met Francisco Robles Rubio in Pamplona at the Five Bio an International Organic Wine Fair featuring organic wines from a number of Spanish regions. The Robles family have been making wines in Montilla since 1927. They are an organic producer and as well as a range of still wines they also produce a Sherry style wine.
Montilla-Moriles in Andalucía lies at the centre of a triangle between Granada and Seville. It is well known for the quality of the wines made from the Pedro Ximenez grape. Although most Montilla wines are not fortified, they are similar in style to Sherry. The key to the quality of the wines from the region is the chalk soil albarinza, which retains water during the dry hot summer months. Pedro Ximenez is the most widely planted grape in the region (90%). The DO which was created in 1932 allows for Solera Wines of natural strength between 13 & 15% ABV. The wines are unfortified and have an ABV of 15%.
Francisco Robles grows his grapes organically; he uses natural yeasts and the wine is totally organic. The sherry style may not appeal to everyone but I love it and it is perfect served as an aperitif and with cheese, nuts or olives; it also partners seafood and rice dishes. Try it with tonic and ice. 15% ABV
The wine is aged in wood using a fractional blending system which basically involves topping up the barrel with a younger wine in order to keep the nutrients fresh and the flor alive. The flor is a living yeast which continues to feed on the nutrients in the crushed grapes.
In Jerez PX is usually made into thick, sweet, syrupy, dark (almost black) wine made only from Pedro Ximenez grapes that have been sun-dried, which is fabulous poured over ice-cream.
Francisco Robles uses PX to make fresh Fino style which is what makes this wine so unique.
2017 Le Naturel €18.99
Stockists: Independent stores nationwide
I travelled to Navarra to take part in Five Bio an international wine show involving Spanish wine producers, international importers from all over the world and a number of European wine writers. The event took place in Pamplona in the Navarra region of Spain in early September, “vendimia” or harvest, was just about to begin so there were lots of interesting things to see in the vineyards. 37 Spanish wineries took part in the event.
Navarra has a long history of innovation, although its wine history is as traditional as many other Spanish regions; back in the 1990’s they set up EVENA in Pamplona to look into wine making in the region through intensive research. Winemaking in Navarra goes back to Roman Times, one of the high points of the trip was a visit to the Villa of the Muses, the ruin of a two-thousand-year-old winery from the 1st century AD originally built to make wine. Tasting wine in the wine cellar which was perfectly preserved and we were surrounded by Dolia, large earthenware jars used to age the wine in Roman times which certainly added to the atmosphere of the place. There were about 60 jars with a storage capacity of 800 litres, so in its day this was a large winery. As well as the jars the wine cellar also uniquely had a Lararium, a small stone altar used for religious ceremonies.
A Seminar and tasting with Alberto Palacios one of Spain’s best-known wine makers and Inigo Crespa, head of EcoVino, was very revealing. Inigo told us that getting wineries to sign up for organic production ten years ago was initially a tough ask; very few wanted to know. Today, it is a totally different story, more and more Spanish wine producers are going down the organic route, simply because they can, and also because they are generating higher income from their organic wines because of the global demand for them. Interesting enough the region of Cantabria is the largest producer of organic wine in Spain with 35% of all its production, this is followed by Navarra at 20.9% and the region of Castille y Leon with 19.7%.
Aroa Bodegas is a pioneering winery from D.O. Navarra using organic-biodynamic methods to cultivate their wines. After the first world war, the introduction of synthetic fertilizers on a large-scale basis for farming deteriorated the soil. A group of German farmers lead by Dr Rudolf Steiner introduced the principal of Biodynamic farming with the aim of returning vitality to the soil by using organic methods to keep it in good condition. One of the people behind it was Ehrenfried Pfeiffer a student of Rudolf Steiner who in 1938 wrote a book about Biodynamic Farming and Gardening. However, they were all followers of Goethe, the scientist and poet who started the ball rolling in 1790 with his book “Metamorphisms of Plants”.
Organic farming is about growing vines without the use of synthetic chemicals. Soil improvement and crop fertilisation is achieved by using decaying organic matter such as manure. Insects are controlled using natural enemies, wees are kept down by mulch and cultivation.
This natural wine is produced by Bodega Aroa from the Yerri Valley, one of the highest areas in the DO Navarra. Navarra was awarded its own DO in 1958. Navarre is one province but within it there are two DO’s. the DO Navarra and the DOCa Rioja, the latter in six districts in the Baja region. Navarra has been working very hard to drag itself out of the shadow of its famous neighbour, and certainly having visited several wineries while I was there, they certainly are making high impact wines many of which are organic and definitely worth a look. This is a region the wine trade here should be looking at a little more.
Aroa is a boutique winery using organic and biodynamic farming. The vineyards are to be found in the highest and coolest area of the region. The key grape variety here is Grenache, the vineyards are located in the mountain ranges of Urbasa and Andia. This wine was made with no added sulphur, so for anyone looking for very low or sulphur free wines this is one to go for.
This wine is also a vegan wine, the nose had lovely hints of smoke and coffee, there was lovely ripe red fruit favours and it was beautifully balanced. Wine needs sulphur to preserve it and the natural wines can have a slightly oxidized flavour. This was certainly not the case with this wine which was beautifully fresh with a lovely balance. In my tasting note I wrote “love it”! and I do.
Wine Diary https://jeansmullen.com/
Lots of great wine tastings taking place in October, details all in the wine diary, including:
L’Atitude Guerrilla Tasting at St Peter’s Cork on October 18th
Greywacke Wine Dinner at Adare Manor on October 24th
SPIT Consumer Tasting, The Chocolate Factory Arts Centre, Dublin 1 on October 24th
A Wine Goose Chase, St Peter’s Cork on October 25th