"And if the great terroirs wine had not all been discovered?" The only global wine inventory ever made - 3 years of travel to discover the 92 wine producing countries in the world - Yes 92 ! And share it with You
“Palestine was rich in vineyards long before Europe, and wine was produced here in all parts of the country”. It was with these words, filled with joy and a deep love for this great welcoming land, that we were receive by Sari Khoury, winemaker and founder of the Philokalia estate, at the gates of Bethlehem.
THE OLIVE, THE VINEYARD AND THE WHEAT
I was looking forward to visiting Palestine. I have always wanted to visit here. This viticultural home full of promise fascinates me. A millenary terroir for the vine – less known than the Caucasus region, for example – but where wine and olive oil were already exported to Egypt 6000 years ago, for their recognized qualities. Which means that wine existed here before.
“The olive tree, the vine and the wheat have been domesticated for 7000 years in Palestine, especially in the Jordan Valley, where these plants did not grow naturally before“, according to Nasser Soumi, Palestinian artist and writer, who designs the labels of Philokalia.
The agricultural history of the country is great, as is the history of wine, full of forgotten native grape varieties, real treasures of the local wine heritage.
Today, there are a dozen small estates in Palestine, half of which would market their wines. We set our sights on the most promising of them.
PHILOKALIA, FROM DREAM TO REALITY
Revive the Palestinian vineyard through forgotten indigenous grape varieties. A very nice idea. This was originally the dream of two men : Nasser Soumi, recognized for his historical work on wine in Palestine, and Pascal Frissant, a French winemaker established in the Loire and Languedoc.
“They shared this dream for almost 30 years. It only remained to find the person who would want to carry this project at arm’s length. I decided to make it a reality in my hometown“, Sari Khoury explained with stars in his eyes.
Sari was born and raised in Palestine. He studied architecture in the United States, then in Paris, at the School of Ponts et Chaussées, before becoming a renowned architect, in his country and abroad.
If he puts on a winegrower’s hat for part of the year, it’s first of all for the love of wine and his country. “I like to explore the unknown with these forgotten grape varieties, and at the same time discover a little more of my own culture“. Although Sari has become a winemaker only recently (it’s his 3rd vintage), he knew exactly where he was heading from the start. He has chosen to call his project Philokalia, which translates into the love of beauty, the love of good. All a symbol.
WORKING WITH CONSCIENTIOUS FARMERS
The vineyards with which Sari works are located in the Bethlehem/Hebron region, between 870 and 930 meters above sea level, and seem to harbor an invaluable cultural heritage.
Recent genetic tests have revealed about 23 endemic varieties, just in this region, with more research to be done in the future.
Sari surrounded himself by only a handful of farmers, chosen for very specific reasons. For their techniques of ancestral viticultural culture, undocumented and transmitted orally, first of all, but also for the autochthonous varieties that they cultivate. “I develop my wines exclusively with native grapes, on old ungrafted vines“.
Sari also pays farmers in advance, to develop a long-term relationship of trust with them.
In a country with permanent instability, where land can be confiscated overnight and for no apparent reason, it is also a way to help one another and to view the future together in a positive light. “The sooner the financial aspect is settled, the sooner we can focus on the production and quality of the grapes“, Sari summarized.
Strolling through centuries-old vines, growing naturally in goblet on soils untouched by any treatment, in the middle of older olive trees, I realized how ingenious this ancestral system was.
The vine, with its protective foliage, adapts perfectly to the arid climatic conditions of Palestine, where it is impossible to irrigate. In the end, some grapes will be more ripe than others during the harvest.
And it is this natural balance between the over-ripeness of some grapes on one side and the acidity of some greener grapes on the other, which will give the wine its complexity, texture and unique character. Beautiful.
THE BLACK JARRES OF BETHLEHEM
Entering the garage of Sari’s family house in Bethlehem, where he built the cellar of the Philokalia estate and in which a few hundred liters of wine sleeps, gave me immense happiness. Everything here is thought of with simplicity and ingenuity.
“My goal is to work using black jars for both the fermentation and the aging of the native Palestinian grape varieties I use, in order to preserve the balance between these wines and the local cuisine, too spicy for barrel-aged wines“.
I wondered, however : why use black jars? “In the past, wine and olive oil were kept in black jars like these. It’s made from the same earth and the same material as the classic jars.
Except that the temparature during its production differs from the classic jars: instead of 800°C, it rises up to 1100°C, which significantly reduces the porosity of the jar and gives it an excellent seal, offering the wine natural protection against oxidation“.
The results are incredible. No doubt, Philokalia is on the right track and puts Palestine more than ever on the world wine map!
Palestine is a wonderful land, full of hope, humanity and promise, notably with wine.
The potential for great wines is undeniable, especially if they are made from indigenous grape varieties, whose names are for the moment a carefully kept secret. This is normal. Palestine, we will be back soon. For your welcome and your good wines.
Thank you to Sari Khoury and his family for their warm welcome. Thank you also to Nasser Soumi for welcoming me to his home in Paris to tell me more about the history of wine in Palestine. Finally, thank you to Clément Marcorelles, for having so kindly put me in touch with Sari Khoury a few years ago. The world is beautiful and we are all brothers, with the same rights.
From the ruins of Byblos (one of the oldest cities in the world continuously inhabited), through the enigmatic cedar forest, Beirut’s thrilling nightlife, or the picturesque charm of mountain villages. Not to mention the vineyards, from north to south, lovingly shaped by the hand of man, I literally fell in love with Lebanon.
Discovery of one of the oldest vineyard cultures, with indisputable terroirs and many native grape varieties. A country that has proudly risen after many wars and now produces 8.5 million bottles a year from 2,000 hectares. A “small” but recognized vineyard, 90% of which is concentrated in the Bekaa Valley. And in addition, one of the most beautiful ones in the Mediterranean… or even in the world.
The indigenous grape varieties, the future of the Lebanese vineyard
Thanks to the vine cultivation in Lebanon for ages (since around 7000 BC), indigenous grape varieties are innumerable in the country.
Legend has it that Noah, whose tomb is in the mosque of Kerak (Bekaa), stopped on Mount Sannine and planted vines there. However, due to a lack of preservation of these grape varieties, “we are still experimenting with wine”, Fabrice Guiberteau, from Château Kefraya, who is actively working to revive many missing grape varieties, said.
Two white grape varieties, however, Merwah and Obeidi, traditionally used in the production of arak (an aniseed wine brandy), seem to play their part.
“These grapes have incredible aromatic profiles and deserve to be vinified. They represent the identity and the future of the Lebanese vineyard”, Maher Harb, from Sept Winery explained.
These delicious grapes, can be found for example in the top white wine cuvée of Château Musar. “Here, the wines spend up to 7 years in bottles before going on the market for our top cuvées”, Gaston Hochar, one of the two sons of Serge Hochar, who took over the torch, confided us.
The visit of the cellar, dug in the rock under the domain, was a real spectacle in itself. Long alleys, as far as the eye can see, filled with wine treasures!
Sept Winery : never stop dreaming…
One Sunday, last October, I discovered with happiness Sept Winery, the estate of my friend Maher Harb, a young winemaker on the Lebanese scene and already so talented.
With one hectare of vines at the moment, planted by Maher in the village of Nehla, in northern Lebanon (Batroun region), to reconnect with his roots. Portrait of a self-taught man who struggles to breathe new life into Lebanese viticulture – and who, objectively speaking, all friendship and emotional judgment put aside – most certainly represents the future of wine in Lebanon.
In 2009, while he was a consultant in Paris in the banking sector, he saw himself in the reflection of the window of the metro line 13, clumped by the crowd, in his suit, like a sardine trapped in a box.
The electroshock. He left everything and returned to his country: with the desire to reconnect with nature. At the end of 2011, he planted 1 hectare of vines (mainly Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) in extreme winter weather conditions.
No choice at the time : he just received his vines and had to plant them before leaving for two years to Saudi Arabia, in order to save some money to realize his dream of becoming a winemaker. In 2014, he traveled around the world of wine with the OIV MSc (the master of the OIV(1)) and returned in 2016, full of ideas with a lighter spirit, for his first vintage.
I tasted his wines. Incredible. Full of fruit, freshness (remarkable for Lebanon) and already very promissing… It just shows you must never stop dreaming.
Château Kefraya, on the Yammouneh seismic fault
For many years, I have been waiting impatiently to visit Château Kefraya. Why? Because it is one of the major wine estates of Lebanon. Because its 300 hectares of terraced vineyards, 1000 meters above the Mediterranean Sea, on the foothills of Mount Barouk, in the Bekaa Valley, have always made me dream.
Because I had the opportunity to taste the wines of the estate several times in the past. And I must admit that vintage after vintage, the wines become more and more elegant.
But as you know, tasting a wine at home and understanding it deeply by visiting the estate itself are two very different things. And I was even more impressed to discover, feel and touch this large mosaic of soils : clay-limestone, sandy and gravelly soils, combined with an exceptional solar exposure, all without any irrigation.
“The vineyards of Château Kefraya are located on the Yammouneh fault (the Great African Break in Lebanon), in the extreme south of the Bekaa, resulting in unique weather in Lebanon, with 1000mm of rain a year and more moderate temperatures than elsewhere in the country”, Fabrice Guiberteau, the winemaker of the estate explained. Probably one of the most beautiful terroirs in the world. Everything to make great wines.
The Bekaa, a breathtaking panorama
Looking for the “best view of the Bekaa Valley”?! We found it for you! At the top of the Château Qanafar, a property of 17 hectares planted at 1200m altitude, you can admire the beauty of the Bekaa Valley as a whole.
An incredible landscape and a beautiful way to understand the uniqueness of this wine region. Eddy Naim, the oenologist, who took over the work from his father in 2011, explained how the construction of the current winery (still in progress) had begun.
“We invested everything we had for the construction of this place, because we wanted the best for our production. We started small. In a garage in the city center.
Then we had to extend, because we got a little bigger. We rented a second small garage next to the first one. Then production increased again and we had to rent a third one… Then a fourth!
Finally, it was a critical size and we decided to create our own winery“. We stopped at the old cellar. Amazing to see the evolution of the estate in just a few years. Conclusion: if you ever create your winery, never start too big. Be patient, like Eddy, otherwise you could burn your wings.
And best of all, the wines of Château Qanafar are delicious. Like the 2013 Syrah… An explosion of gluttony!
Conclusion with Château Marsyas
We ended our stay in Lebanon by visiting the Château Marsyas. Quoted by Pliny the Elder, “Marsyas” is the ancient name of the Bekaa valley, located on the foothills of Mount Lebanon.
Perched at an altitude of 900m, the domain is the initiative of the Johnny R. Saadé family, also owner of Bargylus, in Syria (which we hope to have the pleasure to visit one day!).
The red soils that we see here show the presence of iron and white stones forming a very nice clay-limestone profile, favorable to the vine, on which Cabernet sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot in red, as well as Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay in white are planted.
The cuvée Château Marsyas Blanc 2014 (Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay), a wine full of freshness, with citrus and ripe white fruit aromas was a nice discovery.
It is impossible to close this Lebanese chapter without mentioning Vinifest, the annual Lebanese wine fair, held at the Beirut racecourse every year at the end of October. Three evenings of festivities around wine, where each guest has the possibility, for a very reasonable entrance ticket (<$ 30), to be able to taste all the Lebanese wines present ; a vast majority of wineries.
An incredible organization, a large and conquered public, talented winemakers and the testimony of a real craze for wine in Lebanon! A question now animates me : when will I be able to return to Lebanon? I already miss the country…
Thank you to ChâteauMusar, Sept Winery, ChâteauKefraya, ChâteauQanafar and Château Marsyas for their warm welcome. Special thanks to Fabrice Guiberteau from ChâteauKefraya, for his invaluable help during our stay. Finally, a huge thank you to Maher Harb, from SeptWinery, for having accompanied us throughout this trip and for having shared so deeply the love that he has for his country.
(1) OIV : International Organisation of Vine and Wine
What a beautiful discovery the Luxembourg vineyard was! Postcard landscapes, beautiful parcels of vines planted on the hillside, charming vine growers. And to top it off, a very nice production of white (and red) wines! We were seduced.
Of course, Luxembourg is a small producing country, with 6 million liters of wine produced in 2016(1) (0.03% of the world production), but it is full of nuggets. With 1,280 hectares and 42 km long, the Luxembourg vineyard extends from Schengen to Wasserbillig, mainly along the Moselle. Visit of one of the northernmost and oldest wine regions in Europe.
A vineyard first made for white wines
On the way to Luxembourg, our friend Geoffrey Avé joined us to film a bit of the Luxembourg vineyards.
We visited the family estate Bastian Mathis et Fille, a beautiful property of 18.5 hectares in the town of Remich (nicknamed the Pearl of the Moselle), along with Anouk Bastian, the owner of the place. “Luxembourg is a little treasure, you just have to know how to find it”, she told us, smiling.
Because we must face the facts: hidden between the vineyards of Alsace and the German Moselle, the Grand Duchy vineyard is struggling to make a name. Wrongly.
It has a great terroir, with calcareous soils in the north and clay marls in the south. Which, combined with the freshness of northern Europe, present a perfect equation for the production of great white wines, especially from Riesling, Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc grape varieties.
The Bastian Mathis et Fille estate produces innovative and very precise wines, such as a combination of Riesling, Auxerrois and Gewurztraminer, a blend of two vintages (2015-2016), for more complexity.
An initiative to highlight, for a gourmet wine. We loved it!
Different styles of wines, different approaches, but always with irrefutable proof that Luxembourg plays in the big leagues. We met with Abi Duhr, a Luxembourgish vintner of character and owner of the Château Pauqué – in his family for 350 years – Abi is a true artist.
A lovely person, as intriguing as attaching, producing among the greatest white wines of the country (and elsewhere). Abi completely impacted our spirits and made us travel the time of an unforgettable tasting. “I have a weakness for the Auxerrois grape variety, it ages like a Grand Chablis”, he confided.
Abi has given acclaim back to this little too neglected grape variety. A great moment of sharing and some beautiful emotions on the wine side, after having tasted 24 white wines, one more interesting than the next.
We even touched the stars with an old vines Riesling. An invitation to meditation.
Luxembourg, from surprises to discoveries
The good thing about the vineyards of Luxembourg is that although we only talk about their white wines, they also produce incredible sparkling wines and a few red wines that are worth a visit. Example with two great successes.
Domaine Alice Hartmann, an estate located in Wormeldange and created in 1850, proved to us (as if it was still needed) that Luxembourg is a leading player with its crémants. Under the direction of André Klein, this 15-hectare estate has some of the most beautiful terroirs in the country, on the slopes of the Koeppchen, all around the chapel overlooking the valley.
Alice Hartmann‘s sparkling wine cuvée, 100% Chardonnay, aged three years in barrels, then five years in bottle, is a pure delight.
Domaine Henri Ruppert, in the municipality of Schengen (world famous for the treaty on the abolition of controls at European borders that was signed there in 1985), is now famous for its Pinot Noir.
Henri Ruppert, 8th generation of passionate winemakers on the estate (which dates back to 1680), works with 18 hectares. His red wines made from the Pinot Noir grape variety are models of finesse and delicacy.
“A good wine is not the result of chance, it is planned. Its quality depends entirely on the vine that gives it life, with the production of ripe and healthy grapes”, Henri rightly summarized.
Ahn, charming village par excellence
We fell in love with Ahn, probably the prettiest village in Luxembourg. At least the one which has impressed us the most.
At the estate Madame Aly Duhr, a family property of 13 hectares, the two brothers, Max and Ben, develop wines of a more contemporary and innovative style for the country, with longer aging in barrels. As a result, beautiful wines, at the antipodes of those produced by their uncle Abi Duhr (Château Pauqué), and which mark their own signature in the Luxembourg wine landscape.
5th generation on the estate, Max and Ben lost their dad very early and wanted to take over as soon as age allowed them.
Walking through the vineyard, Max showed us their oldest plot of 0.5 ha: Riesling planted in 1972. The harvest is expected to be early but beautiful this year.
Luxembourg is a wonderful wine country and I highly recommend a visit. “A small jewel full of resources and with nearly 400 wine farms”, enthuses my friend Dominique Rizzi, a renowned sommelier, in charge of the wines of the European Court of Justice.
Only 4 hours drive from Paris, let yourself be charmed for a weekend, for example.
Thank you to Bastian Mathis et Fille, Château Pauqué, Alice Hartmann, Henri Ruppert and Madame Aly Duhr, for their warm welcome. Thank you also to Dominique Rizzi, figure of the luxembourgish and international sommellerie, for her lighting on the vineyard of Luxembourg. Finally, a big thank you to André Klein, from Alice Hartmann, for his precious help in our research.
With 837 km of coastline(1), sumptuous forests (oak, pine, carob), cities one more beautiful than the next (Porto, Lisbon, Madeira, Sintra) and a generally temperate climate with an Atlantic influence, Portugal is a country that you can only fall in love with.
Currently the 11th largest producer of wine, the Portuguese vineyard covers 190,000 hectares of vines(2) and represents some 600 million liters of wine (2.24% of the world production). Let’s embark together on a journey from north to south – between the 42° and the 36° parallels north – aboard our motorhome, also ready for adventure.
The vineyard of the Upper Douro valley, a student’s dream
Known all around the world for its Port wines – of which France is the world’s largest consumer by volume by the way – the Upper Douro produces two appellations of origin, Port and Douro (for still wines).
Why did we stop here you might ask. Because since I entered the world of wine ten years ago, I dreamt of discovering the magic of the first delimited and regulated wine-growing region in the world, classified as a world heritage site by the UNESCO since 2001, with its steep terraced vineyards, plunging into the water of the Douro.
So if you are in the area, stop at Vila Nova de Gaia, just in front of Porto. In addition to its old pedestrian streets, its small hidden restaurants and its colorful port, visiting a cellar is unavoidable here.
Indeed, the large estates of the Douro – the quinta – have always had a cellar in Vila Nova de Gaia for the aging of their wines. Its strategic position, along the river, has been the main route of the wine trade since the 17th century, under the impetus of the British.
We visited the Ferreira wine cellar, the only Porto winery to remain in Portuguese hands since it was founded in 1751. Built on the foundations of a former convent, Ferreira is one of the most special cellars to visit. A bewitching smell of wet wood, mixed with that of very sweet wine, reigned in the atmosphere throughout our visit. A nice addition to the pleasure of tasting the white and red Port wines of the domain.
There are many ways to discover the Upper Douro region: by road, like us, by train, by boat, or even by helicopter. Arriving from the north, we stopped on the right bank of the river, between Regua and Pinhão, at Quinta do Crasto.
A magnificent property of 135 hectares overlooking the Douro, 74 of which are planted with vines. Dating back to 1615, Quinta do Crasto enjoys exceptional conditions for the production of fine wines (and extra virgin olive oils).
The tasting of the wines had shown us that the region is not only a land of Porto, but also a great terroir for the production of elegant, solar and well-structured red wines.
Bucelas, prince of Portuguese wine
Going down to the south, we stopped in Bucelas, near Lisbon. Here, the vineyard is nicknamed the “prince of Portuguese wine” and is famous for its production of dry white wine from the Arinto grape variety.
A grape cultivated and developed locally by the Romans for more than 2,000 years. It was also the only white wine in Portugal for many centuries.
Welcome to Quinta Da Murta, a small paradise of 27 hectares, lost in the hills of Bucelas. “The land of Bucelas is unique, with its limestone and marl soils and a hill facing south-east, ideal for the production of fresh and tense wines”, Franck Bodin, the owner of the estate, explained. Quinta Da Murta favors biodynamic and natural winemaking, using indigenous yeasts. The grass grows naturally between the rows of vines.
And only the manure of the neighbor’s horse is used to improve the health of the vines. The Arinto wine of the estate, crispy and fresh, was delicious. You can even book the venue for your wedding.
The Setúbal peninsula, a promising oeno-touristic destination
We could not visit Portugal without going along its coastline. Nothing better than a sea breath full of iodine, mixed with the caress of the sun and a glass of wine in hand, to recharge your batteries!
We decided on visiting the peninsula of Setúbal(3). This region, whose vineyard has gained renown in recent decades, also has a unique nature, with the Arrábida and Marinho Luis Saldanha National Parks, as well as the Sado Natural Reserve. All the ingredients to make it a favorite oeno-touristic destination.
Grape seeds dating from the eighth century BC. J.-C. have even been found there, attesting to the ancestral culture of wine in the valley.
We discovered Serras de Grândola, a family estate of 6.5 hectares, just 13 km from the beaches.
Here, Jacinta, the oenologist, and Manuel, her husband, combine wine and tourism to the delight of visitors. “Slightly hilly soils made of sand are perfectly suited to the production of white grapes”, Jacinta explained. Their Verdelho, a delicate white wine aged in stainless steel vats on its lees, is a delight.
Then discover the six rooms of the complex, for a change of scenery guaranteed. No neighbors for miles around, the place is perfect for a moment of relaxation out of time.
Quinta dos Vales, “the winemaker experience“
Welcome to Estombar, in the south of Portugal where we met with Karl Heinz Stock, founder of Quinta dos Vales.
Former banker in real estate, of German origin, Karl completely changed his life a few years ago, becoming a recognized artist, with his sculptures of generous curves and bright colors. In 2006, he had the idea of combining art and wine and planted a vineyard of 20 hectares on his property ; where many of his art pieces are exhibited. A very nice idea! Quinta dos Vales was born.
But the concept does not stop there. “We all have to be proactive and stay ahead of the market, so I have been working on a new project”, Karl said. A concept he named The Winemaker Experience.
The idea : to give the possibility to any person having no prior knowledge of wine to produce his own wine by attending classes throughout the year… living on the estate, in his own individual residence!
“The concept is for any budding winemaker whose dream is to wake up in the morning with a view of his vines, in an atmosphere that only a vineyard can offer, and to relax at the end of the day, with a glass (or two) of his own wine ».
The concept has just been created. To follow.
Quinta Do Francês, the nice story of the French of the Algarve
We ended our stay at the Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal, to discover a French couple as passionate as they are charming. Fátima Santos and her husband Patrick Agostini, are the founders and owners of Quinta Do Francês, created from scratch in 2002 with 8 hectares of vines.
Patrick, the oenologist and winemaker of the estate, has a fascinating history. Being a doctor specialized in research against cancerous diseases, his specialization (rare in Europe) led him a few years ago to move his suitcases to Portugal with his wife. A country from which they never left. “It’s a country we both love for its calmness and joie de vivre, and where I come from”, Fátima told us.
Very quickly – and as passionate about wine as he was – Patrick decided to look for a plot to plant a vineyard. He found a valley with unique soils for the region: clay, limestone, sandstone and shale, perfect for the elaboration of great red wines.
With perseverance and learning, he became a talented winemaker… and at the same time succeeded in keeping his activity as a researcher in cancer diseases. Impressive! His iconic red wine, a blend of Trincadeira, Aragonês, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, is a delight. A wine made for aging many years.
Portugal is definitely a great player in the world of wine and is full of wines as generous as they are varied. So go (re)discover this vineyard with a thousand facets.
Without forgetting to lose yourself in the oak forests, these trees with a famous bark, which alone, produces the corks of 75% of the bottles of wine in the world using this material.
Thank you to Quinta do Crasto, Ferreira, Quinta Da Murta, Serras de Grândola, Quinta dos Vales and Quinta do Francês for their warm welcome.
(1) The Portuguese coast has 837 km of coast without the islands, but 1,793 km with Madeira and the Azores.
(2) Source OIV 2017 – Portugal had the world’s 11th vineyard in 2016 and the 5th in Europe with 190,000 hectares. The cultivated areas are in strong reductions as the country still had 231,000 ha of vines in 2012.
(3) The peninsula of Setúbal includes the Appellations of Origin Palmela and Setúbal and the designation of regional wines “Península de Setúbal”. The name “Setúbal” is reserved for Moscatel wines from Setúbal and Moscatel Roxo.
Should we still present Spain, the world’s largest vineyard in terms of size, with almost 1 million hectares(1)? The answer is : yes, of course ! Despite its imposing size (13% of the world’s vineyards) and its leading position (3rd place in the world rank of wine producers since 2014), Spain is always full of surprises and discoveries.
In a country with 1,250 grape varieties and more than 60 denominations of origin, no one could pretend to know everything. It is besides, according to me, the country par excellence where you can find the best quality/price ratio wines at less than 6 euros, especially in red. From north to south, let’s discover some winemakers who have surprised us, both by their originality and their typicality. Everyone has a story that deserves a visit.
Txakoli, emblematic wine of the Basque Country
Do you know txakoli?
Originally produced on the farms of the Basque Country in a traditional way, the txakoli (DO Getariako Txakolina) is above all a friendly and usually a white wine(2), produced from the local varieties Hondarribi Zuri (white) and Hondarribi Beltza (red). Its peculiarity : it is made from grapes harvested slightly green (which gives it some acidity). Also, txakoli wine is slightly carbonated (fizzing).
It is served in a traditional way by pouring long threads of wine from the bottle to the glass, see directly from the tank, as here at Ameztoi!
Be careful not to splash your feet… it takes a bit of practice…
The finest Spanish bubbles have a name
Welcome to the Raventós i Blanc estate, in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, a region famous for Cava(3). Winegrowers since 1497, Raventós i Blanc has one of the longest documented wine traditions in the world.
We fell in love with this estate, which decided in the early 1870s during a market crisis, to no longer make still wine, and created the first cava. To differentiate itself from the wines of Champagne, the estate honors autochthonous grape varieties : Xarel-lo (used since 1888 by Manuel Raventos Doménech), Macabeo (introduced in the 1920s) and Parallada, which will all three become the basis for the production of cavas. Today, Pepe Raventós, who represents the 21st generation, assisted by his father Manuel, works the 90 hectares (divided into 44 parcels) without irrigation, using biodynamic methods, horses and other animals (pigs, sheep…).
A beautiful property, 200m above sea level, with fossil limestone and marine soils formed more than 16 million years ago.
Here sparkling wines are aged on the lees for 18 months to 5 years for the top cuvée. We are absolute fans : the estate undoubtedly produces some of the most beautiful sparkling wines in Spain… or even in the world. Indisputable proof that Spain can produce incredible bubbles.
For the anecdote, the Raventós family withdrew a short time ago from the Cava appellation, not without deep reflection and with a lot of courage, in order to define its own, more strict(4) rules.
Parés Balta, in the heart of the natural park of Foix
Discovering Parés Baltà estate, another green nugget from Penedès.
From the pollination of the vines by the bees of the estate during flowering, to the sheep grazing among the vines once the grape harvest is over (removing weeds and offering natural fertilization), the Parés Baltà estate is 100% ecological. Its great diversity of soils (limestone, clay, marine fossils), with vines between 170 and 800m above sea level, allows the development of very beautiful wines, such as the Cosmic cuvée, blend of Xarel-lo and Sauvignon blanc.
“Here, wine is exclusively a women’s business!”, Joan and Josep Cusiné Carol, brothers and current owners of the family estate, laughingly told us.
Indeed, the vinification is solely in the hands of Maria Elena Jimenez and Marta Casas, two talented oenologists… and their wives!
Visiting the vineyard with Gemma Muray, in charge of the oenotoursime, the opportunity was offered to me, on the heights of the natural park of Foix, to sabrage a bottle of sparkling wine with a sword. A big challenge, which I had already tried to achieve three years ago with my friend Jonathan, from Champagne Louis de Sacy, in Verzy. At the time, I completely failed.
This time, I did it! Thank you Gemma for the lesson. And cheers, a glass of the cuvée Cava Brut in hand!
Ton Rimbau, the winemaker who ages his wine in ceramics
Ton Rimbau, winemaker and founder of the Casa Rimbau estate, in Penedès, is one of the most charismatic characters I have encountered during the project…
Beyond organic and biodynamic viticulture, Ton Rimbau is a strong advocate of “permaculture”. A method of ancestral and natural culture, with the goal to keep the vines as if they were a forest, with the least possible amount of intervention. This system does not use pesticides or chemicals, as the ecosystem maintains a balance that allows plants to grow healthier and stronger. Spiders – whose vital role in Ton’s vineyard has earned them an effigy on bottle labels – also prevent the proliferation of plant pests, such as cetain types of moths. Finally, the weeds, after being flattened, form a protective layer for the soil, preventing UV from entering and affecting the quality of the soil. All a symbol!
And that is not all. Add to that the fact that wines are exclusively aged in ceramic bottles… And that the (superb) sparkling wine of the estate is aged under water for two years (!), in Ton’s garage. Here you have a more complete overview of the unique style of this unclassifiable character. To better understand the cuvées of the estate, exclusively white, Ton Rimbau invited us to consult the lunar calendar. Lucky for us, our visit fell on a “fruit day”. I am an absolute fan!
Enric Soler, the quintessence of Xarel-lo
We met with with EnricSoler, in the Penedès – one of my favorite regions of Spain, as you may have noticed – for a lesson in winemaking with the Xarel-lo grape variety.
Mainly known for cavas, Xarel-lo has only been vinified as a still wine for about ten years. “It’s a misunderstood variety, with extraordinary qualities, that can give great results as a still wine, when you know how to take care of it”, Enric explained.
Professor of oenology at the University of Barcelona, EnricSoler is a winemaker as we like them: discreet, always smiling, humble and so talented. When his grandfather passed away, he had the opportunity to take over his small vineyard, with 70-year-old Xarel.lo vines.
A real treasure, which once in his hands, was bound to become a revelation. With 2 hectares cultivated biodynamically and with 3 different micro-cuvées (from soil of sand and clay, different altitudes and aging between stainless steel vats, concrete eggs and barrels) as original as it is delicious, Enric produces spectacular wines of complexity and elegance, which invites meditation.
Bodegas Moraza, a different approach of the Rioja
In Rioja Alta (north-central Spain) we visited the BodegasMoraza, a family estate of 18 hectares, full of charm.
Why a visit to this beautiful and famous Spanish region? Because the winemakers Julia Moraza and Patricio Brongo, goes against the current of what is being done in the region. “Our wines are made in stainless steel tanks, to keep the freshness and typicality of the terroir”, Julia explained. An alternative to encourage, in a sunny region where harvests are more and more precocious, year after year, with the risk of over-matured grapes.
A beautiful story, started six generations ago by Julia’s family, in the village of San Vicente de la Sosierra, a border area between the legendary kingdoms of Castile and Navarre.
Located at the foot of Mount Toloño, their vineyard, spread over eleven plots between 400 and 650m above sea level, is mainly composed of clay and limestone. An ideal playground for the native varieties of Rioja such as Tempranillo, Grenache and Graciano, or Viura, in white. Another face of Rioja… that conquered us!
Sanlúcar de Barrameda, paradise of manzanilla
To the question “what wine would you take to a desert island?”, I could answer: a bottle of manzanilla, among my three favorite wines. Served very fresh, this delicious dry white wine, with its aromas of fresh walnuts and its incredible salty taste, bewitches me every time.
Made from the Palomino grape variety, it is produced exclusively in the cellars of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, in the province of Cádiz. Why? Because the particular location of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, on the estuary of the Guadalquivir River, offers cool temperatures (very windy) and high humidity, conducive to the development of flora. This yeast develops in the form of a thick veil on the wine, aged in 3/4 filled barrels. The action of flora? It naturally protect the wine from any contact with the air, giving it a unique fresh and delicate aspect.
Let’s discover two wineries that excel in the production of manzanilla. Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, founded in 1792 by Don José Pantoja Hidalgo, has been managed by the same family for eight generations.
The estate uses grapes from its own vineyards, located in the plains of Balbaina and Miraflores, considered as the best terroirs of the appellation. “The criadera consists of a stack of barrels at several heights. The first level, on the floor, is named solera. The other levels are named first and second criadera…”, Fermin Hidalgo explained.
A very technical part, but essential to understand the evolution of the wine. Adding : “at the end of aging, the wine is withdrawn from the solera.
The quantity of wine removed is replaced by that of the two barrels above. And so on until the maximum height which is filled with young wine. This system enables, besides aging of the wine, good homogenization of the production between the vintages and each one of the barrels of the criadera”. Result : non-vintage wines, blends of many harvests. The Spaniards like to say that with this system, the old wine educates the young.
Visiting the cellars of the Bodegas Baron was another rare and unforgettable moment.
Located in the upper area of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, facing the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, the caves are directly exposed to the Atlantic breeze. Welcome to Bodegas Baron, where the Rodriguez Carrasco family has been making wine with the same family roots for 400 years. A very special iodine fragrance bathed the atmosphere, making it almost mystical.
Exactly what we needed to be in the right mood to taste manzanilla from the barrel. Unfiltered, the wine is served directly using a venencia, the traditional tool consisting of a cylindrical container attached to a long stem (formerly made of whalebone).