Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Los vinedas de Ronda

While in the area we thought we would have a look at the vineyards of Ronda, having enjoyed some of the wines made in this new frontier region and remembering what a lovely place Ronda is to visit.

Assuming vineyards would be visible on all sides when approaching the perfectly preserved small town on its vertiginous crag, our first disillusionment came thanks to the new road which actually descends into a plain strewn with light industry and social housing.

No vineyards to be seen anywhere and just the back end of Ronda of which we had been previously blissfully unaware.

Ploughing through the town (much larger than suspected) we finally came on the Centro Ciudad and missed any Bodegas and the local branch of the Museo del Vino we somehow expected would be on hand, soon finding ourselves going out the other side. Still optimistic, we pressed on through nothing but olive groves on side roads and the small road signposted 'Algeciras'. Time was against us by now so we stopped at a 'Mirador' and surveyed the horizon without success. There was a small patch of lighter green near the ring road from which we had come so we drove towards tha,t again without success.

So finally we had to ask at a roadside bar. The caballero looked mystified but then suggested we took the road for Sevilla and turn off after a few Km. towards Ronda Vieja.

And so it was that we finally found our Vinedas de Ronda, discretely tucked away, almost apologetically among the olive groves and various other farming enterprises.

Decidedly vine-growing in Ronda is still in its infancy.

Our favourite producer, Schatz was the first property we came upon.

It was so much smaller than we imagined and there was no sign of life, let alone a Cellar Door shop or a Reception Area. Herr Schatz is a Swabian who set up here some years ago and brought Lemberger vines with him, hence his popularity in our pages. He must have been looking for somewhere pretty wild and isolated; the contrast with German wine villages where the vineyards are part of the town couldn't be more stark. Huge birds (Buzzards?) wheeled overhead and masses of other rather exotic tiny ones seemed to spring up on our approach. They can't be a pest in the vineyard because we didn't see any netting.
The vineyard itself is immaculately kept and large solar panels lead one to believe the Ecological tag must be serious. There was one other vineyard signposted at the Ronda Vieja turn-off: Dona Feliza 'Chinchilla'. Finding this was no easy matter as we careered down the wrong road clearly signposted as far as we were concerned but not intended by whoever planted the sign. Never mind - we happened by some small plots planted with vines - hardly enough to make more than boutique or even garage quantities.

Retracing our route through this beautiful and very Spanish counryside, we drove through what we fancied might have been a valley of Cork Trees

(identifying trees is not one of Slotovino's greatest accomplishments) and finally reached Chinchilla,

only once again to find the place deserted and firmly barred to visitors.

There must be other areas under vine around if not in Ronda. We are sure the Museo del Vino arranges guided visits. Our little disorganised trip was valuable however in putting the wines in context and understanding the tiny scale of wine production in this beautiful and wild part of Andalucia. Where else might you find fields with Donkeys or families of black hogs, Buzzards or Eagles circling overhead on your way to a European vineyard?

Monday, 1 August 2011

Catedral de Leon

It is difficult to find Spanish wine below 13% and even these seem to be in a minority these days with 14.5% making an increasing proportion of wines on offer - especially new wave reds. Do the Spanish really drink these winter-warmers in summer? 'Joven' and 'Verano' wines do not offer any mitigation in terms of alcohol it seems.

So when in El Corte Ingles we like to try to find the lowest alcohol wines just out of interest. There are a few styles of white which are satisfyingly low including Treixaduras from Ribeiro, the dreaded Zalemas in Condado de Heulva (Cadiz), a wine from Sevilla which looked nicely obscure and indeed some Verdejos from Rueda at 12.5% etc. The reds posed a greater challenge. At Casa Pablo in Marbella we had been warned not to expect anything from Ribeira del Duero and had been steered towards Rioja of all sections but there was tiddley squat under 13%.

So it seemed that the only place to look was on the bottom shelf at El Corte Ingles among the cheapest wines and lo, for E. 1.69 there was a 12% -er, the bottom of the class - with a satisfyingly cheap but decidedly uncheerful label "Catedral de Leon". The back label is one of those which tells you that the wine is made in our winery, that the colour is red and that it goes with appetisers, meats, roasts and cheeses etc. Not a word about the variety or varieties from which it is made of course.

We bought this bottle anyway, as much for the mystery as for the low alcohol and put it on ice while we logged into the producers' website www.bodegasvinosdeleon.es' There, in sharp contrast to the back and indeed front labels was a very well presented and informative descriprion of this excellent operation and its wines. We were thrilled to discover that the major constuent of our bottle was PRIETO PICUDO, one of Slotovino's recent additions to our hallowed Hall of Fame for rare grape varieties and a standout at our January tasting.

And so it was: the wine was delicious and excellent chilled with a lunch including Gazpacho and prawns, salad etc. So what was going on? Obviously the people responsible for marketing this excellent wine decided that the words Prieto Picudo would spell commercial death to their bottle and furthermore, only a crap name and design would persuade anyone to buy it, priced as it was at the bottom end of the spectrum with the lowest Abv in the shop. Marketing triumphs again, no doubt. Perhaps they sell masses of this wine. Good luck to them. We are sure the consumers don't complain. It's just a pity they may never know their enjoyment comes from Prieto Picudo and another opportunity to advance the cause of diversity is lost.