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  • Tasting natural, biodynamic and extreme Spanish wines
  • Tasting natural, biodynamic and extreme Spanish wines
  • Tasting natural, biodynamic and extreme Spanish wines
  • Tasting natural, biodynamic and extreme Spanish wines
  • Tasting natural, biodynamic and extreme Spanish wines
  • Tasting natural, biodynamic and extreme Spanish wines
1. La Renaissance des Appellations at Mercat del Born (Barcelona). 2. Ester Nin with her amphora-made red. 3. The Extreme Wines Tasting. 4. Some labels. 5. Fabio Bartolomei pouring his Vinos Ambiz. 6. Sexto Elemento. Photos: Amaya Cervera


Tasting natural, biodynamic and extreme Spanish wines

Amaya Cervera | May 25th, 2015

Biodynamic, low-intervention and a growing focus on terroir have brought a new generation of wines to Spanish consumers. Three recent tastings have allowed us to experience quite a few labels that fall into these categories. 

Over 75 worldwide producers (only five were from Spain) travelled to Barcelona to take part in La Renaissance des Appellations, a biodynamic fair created by French winemaker Nicolas Joly in 2001; meanwhile Madrid hosted the first edition of Salón de los Vinos Radicales (“radical” can be translated as extreme or “originating from the roots”), as well as the more modest, hippy-ish encounter of natural producers conducted by PVN, a Spanish association of natural wine producers. 

RAW, which is now the leading natural and artisan international wine fair, happened to be held in London a few days ago, so it appears that all these unconventional wines are here to stay.

Natural and biodynamic 

Trying to define or classify them can be tricky though. RAW requires fair participants to comply with several rules: total sulfite levels should not exceed 70 mg/l; producers must submit a technical sheet of each wine containing information about viticulture and winemaking practices which is then published on RAW’s website, as well as total sulfur contents and whether the wine is suitable or not for vegans.

Some wine merchants distinguish between natural (nothing added at all with sulfite contents occurring naturally during fermentation) and artisan wines, which may imply minor intervention and small quantities of sulfite added. I’d rather use the word natural in its purest sense. I believe there is no greater challenge than turning healthy and perfectly ripe grapes into wine with no help at all apart from natural factors like temperature, carbon dioxide generated during fermentation or naturally low pH levels to protect and stabilize the finished wine.

Complications in this process are endless. The wines often show high volatile acidity levels (when a wine smells like vinegar), oxidation or brett (the yeast responsible for leather and barnyard flavours). So hats off to any natural wine capable of dodging such obstacles. Sometimes, flaws can feel less annoying if the wine offers well-defined fruit or a distinctive character, but perception matters in the natural world. A wine that I may find undrinkable or unpleasant could well appeal to other tasters.

Tolerance levels vary enormously. Those willing to learn more about the philosophy and wine making practices behind natural wines can have a look at the Spanish natural wines association’s (PVN) website.

Approaching wine from a holistic point of view, biodynamics is a rather different story with vines grown according to lunar and cosmic rhythms. It also differs from organic practices in the use of special preparations and plant infusions. La Renaissance des Appellations is the main group advocating for biodynamics. They choose to display ingredients on wine labels, favour the use of natural yeasts, and try to keep their soils alive and kicking. Members adhere to a Charter of Quality with three different levels of commitment. Many of them are certified by Demeter, the international biodynamic certification authority, but this is not a compulsory requirement to join the association.

Joly himself acknowledged in Barcelona that Spanish wineries haven’t so far shown much enthusiasm in being audited. I would add to that that they have neither actively fostered the creation of clusters or showed an interest in joining international associations. In fact, with the sole exception of Mas Estela (Empordà), the remaining four Spanish members of La Renaissance have entered the group in the past two years.

A wide array of wine styles

These days most Spanish producers avoid classifications. They’d rather use the most effective methods available to obtain better grapes and wines, whether they are organic, biodynamic or traditional practices.
The Salón de los Vinos Radicales (Radical Wine Fair) reflected this eclectic mood quite accurately.  

The idea came from Sindicato del Gusto, a group which includes wine writers like José Peñín and Federico Oldenburg. The name created controversy: organisers assured the word “radical” should be understood as “related to the  roots”, but its more common meaning in Spanish is “extreme” so many attendees found it somewhat sensationalist. Despite linguistic nuances, the event managed to gather a bunch of interesting producers from different regions thus showing a wide array of styles (including some natural and biodynamic wines), grape varieties and flavours.

It’s worth noting the limited availability of most wines poured at the three tastings since many of them hardly reach a few thousand bottles. The reason is that they are usually linked to specific plots, rare indigenous grape varieties or very specific winemaking methods including fermentation or aging in amphorae.

We have put together a selection of wines specially suited for adventurous palates. In terms of natural wines, I have gone for the cleanest and most distinctive examples.

La Renaissance des Appellations

Vinya Selva de Mar 2014 White (Empordà). This wine is made by Mas Estela with Garnacha Gris and Muscat grown on schist soils. Only 4,000 bottles are produced but it is reasonably priced. Stone fruit notes, with Muscat playing its role and herbs (lavender) adding complexity followed by a round, mellow and enjoyable palate. €13.20 at Vinissimus.

Ratpenat 2013 White (Penedès). This barrel-femented Macabeo with a further three months aging is part of Celler Credo, the still wine venture owned by top Cava producer Recaredo. Ratpenat, which means bat in Catalan, is part of a project to recover the role of bats as insectivores bringing many benefits to wine growers. This white displays herbal notes and a slight smoky character. Its nice texture makes it quite versatile to pair with food and the project on the label is definitely an interesting conversation topic. €14.55 at Vila Viniteca.

Nun Vinya del Taus 2013 White (Penedès). Winemaker Enric Soler presented his new single-vineyard Espenyalluchs Xarel.lo (the name is a bit of a mouthful!) but I find his former Nun Vinya del Taus a great wine to develop with time. Winemaking has changed as he is not working his Xarel.lo with lees anymore so wines are less creamy and have gained length. I found fine smoky, citric and floral aromas on the nose with a well-built, vivid palate showing bright acidity and crispness. €36.95 at Decántalo.

Latitud 40 2013 Red (Table wine). This is a brand new, singular project based in Toledo and focused on Graciano (inspiration coming from nearby Carlos Falco’s top red AAA). A natural biodynamic red with no sulfites added. Saturated purple color as you’d expect from a young Graciano with no oak at all. Balsamic and toasted skin aromas, somewhat vinous but intense and packed with fruit, just as if it were pure grape juice. €12.5 at Madrid-based wine shops Reserva y Cata and Solo de Uva

Planetes de Nin Garnatxes en Ámfora 2013 Red (Priorat). This flawless, amusing red is a great introduction to both natural (no sulfites were added at all) and amphora-made wines. Vivid, sweet red fruits and Mediterranean herbs aromas are followed by a tasty palate and an earthy edge that adds character. There’s plenty of work behind as you’d expected from Ester Nin, winemaker at respected producer Clos Erasmus, who also runs her own family winery in Porrera. €21.80 at Vila Viniteca

Salón de los Vinos Radicales

AA Bruel 2013 (Cava). This is Alta Alella’s former Privat Nu which has now turned into a natural Cava. Very clean nose with apple and fennel aromas; balanced palate offering fruit, herbs and a pleasant mature character. I guess this will please almost everyone since it drinks very easily. €14.50 at Vila Viniteca. Other options via Wine Searcher.

Loxarel Xarel.lo Àmfores 2014 Blanco (Penedès). This is a skin-contact white offering the same fresh and herbaceous edge that you’ll find in many whole bunch fermented reds. There’s some white fruit and hay on the nose but it really shines on the palate: crisp, packed with herbs, citrus and even a hot spicy note; you’ll also get some tannic texture as it usually happens with orange wines. Only 4,000 bottles were made but this is an affordable wine, which is worth trying. Find it at Decántalo (€11.25) or via Wine Searcher.

Finca Calvestra 2013 White (DOP Terrerazo). This is the second vintage of a wine marked by the distinctive character of indigenous white grape Merseguera, which was grafted onto Bobal vines. A barrel-fermented white displaying a good combination of white fruit and preserved citrus aromas followed by a juicy, well-delineated palate that finishes with a fine bitter edge. Serious stuff and 4,000 bottles made by Mustiguillo, a winery bearing its own single-vineyard appellation. €15.90 at Ideavinos.

T. Amarela 2013 Red (VT Extremadura). Working in remote locations like the Canary Islands or Galicia, the Envínate guys have brought a breath of fresh air to the Spanish wine scene. This whole bunch fermented red is made in Extremadura from Tinta Amarela indigenous grapes (Trincadeira in Portugal). The stems add lots of freshness and character (herbaceous notes which lightly remind of vermouth, violets). This is something you would have never expected from Extremadura: a juicy, crisp red that makes you salivate. €16.95 at Reserva y Cata. Other options via Wine Searcher.

Alpendre 2013 Red (Ribeira Sacra). Although hard to find and grown in tiny quantities, Galicia is home to many indigenous grape varieties which have been recovered over the past few years. Ronsel do Sil makes this evocative Merenzao in Ribeira Sacra, where vines are grown on dramatic slopes stretching down to the river. Fresh, herbaceous, sloe, blackberry and black pepper aromas are followed by a juicy, briny and earthy palate. A light ruby colour yet highly distinctive red. €37.77 via Wine Searcher.

La Viña Escondida 2010 Red (Méntrida). This wine comes from an almost magical plot located in El Real de San Vicente, a small town in the province of Toledo and one of the highest in the Gredos mountain range. A 100% Garnacha, it is fermented with stems in oak vats and aged in foudres. Lovely scented, it offers rose, sour cherry, eucalyptus, ink and spicy aromas. On the palate this is a mouth-watering Garnacha combining sweet fruit with an elegant bitter edge. Behind a seemingly frail structure lies a wine with grip, depth and length. Only 2,200 bottles were made. €25.30 at Vinopremier. Other options via Wine Searcher.

Siuralta Antic 2012 Red (Montsant). Vins Nus is the latest venture launched by architect and winemaker Alfredo Arribas in Tarragona after his projects in Priorat (Portal del Priorat) and Montsant (Trossos). It is focused on high altitude vines on the Montsant mountain range. Siurana Antic is made from two Carignan plots with distinctive calcareous soils and was partially fermented with stems. It’s extremely fresh (violet, lavender, blueberries), well-structured but not overwhelming. A serious, vivid red suitable to keep in the cellar. €26.90 at Gourmet Hunters.

Salón de Vinos Naturales PVN

Anyet 2014 White. This is a blend of White and Gris (locally called “roja”) Grenache made by Can Torres in Alt Empordà (Girona). It is macerated for about 20 days with skins placed inside a bag just as if were a pot of tea. It displays herbs and syrup fruit aromas together with a rich, tasty texture and dried fruits flavours on the finish. Good value. The 2013 can be bought at Araterra ( €7.14 ) 

Vinos Ambiz Albillo 2014 White. This wine comes from vineyards located in El Tiemblo in the province of Ávila within the Gredos mountain range. On this vintage the wine spontaneously developed a layer of yeast, similar to Jerez’s flor but much thinner which gives the wine a completely different style. Orange colour. Pungent nose marked by flor with an oxidative character. Tasty, bone dry and briny with creamy and vanilla nuances on the finish, it is definitely an experience in itself. €12.10 at Monvínic Store. More information to find it worldwide at the producer’s website.

Wiss 2014 Red. This Carignan from Montsant made by Vendrell-Rived is packed with fresh fruit (raspberry, blackberry). Pleasant to drink, it has a slight tannic edge on the finish that should disappear if paired with food. The 2013 vintage can be bought at Vila Viniteca (€11,95).

Sexto Elemento 2012 Red. This Bobal comes from vines located in Venta del Moro (Valencia) that are no longer fertilized so yields have been considerably reduced. Aged in oak barrels for one year, it offers ripe fruit (bramble, blackberry) and kirsch aromas along with an earthy character. This is a well-made natural wine, displaying good balance between tannins and acidity and capable of softening Bobal’s trademark rustic edge. Laudable but you’ll have to pay for it: €16.90 at Bodega Vila and from €18 vía Wine Searcher.

Mozuelo 2014 Red. A blend of 80% Garnacha and 20% Garnacha Tintorera made by Bodega Cauzón, on the north face of Granada’s mountain range. Deep purple colour with fresh and vivid fruit. This is a youthful, rather acidic red capable of instantly refreshing your palate, although some people may find it a bit extreme. It isn’t cheap either: €17.93 via Wine Searcher.

La Perdida 2014 Red. This is a blend of 70% Garnacha Tintorera and 30% Mencía coming from an isolated estate (“perdida” means lost) in Valdeorras (Galicia) which lies outside the appellation. Fermentation takes place in clay vessels with additional aging in oak barrels. Garnet colour with ripe fruit, roasted skins and inky aromas on the nose and robust tannins coming from Tintorera, yet they might soften up with some cellaring. The 2013 vintage costs €16 at El Sumiller.


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1 Comment(s)
rita mertens wroteJune 13th, 2018Dear Sr., Md., we are looking to visit a biodynamic winery in the region of Alicante ? could you please recommend one. Thanks in advance, Rita
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