Independent thinkers add a drop of soul and character
Good wine may be from good grapes, but who grows them? Our critic meets the faces behind the bottles that make drinking a true pleasure
»What makes a wine? Grapes, of course. The place where they grow – its soil, climate, exposition.
What happens in the cellar– use or not of oak barrels,
perhaps. History – practices
over decades or even centuries.
Legislation – requirements of the particular appellation, for example.
But there is something crucial missing from that list: people.
Individuals give wine its character and a soul, which bottles from big brand producers very rarely have. And, if you know the people, that adds hugely to the pleasure of drinking a bottle.
I was reminded of that a couple of weeks back at a very big trade tasting. There were scores of tables ranged with bottles ready to pour and behind almost every one was the person involved in making the wine. Perhaps that was one reason why the room was heaving with tasters and noisy with constant chatter.
For me, it was a time to renew
old acquaintances – in one case someone I had encountered
in the very earliest days of my involvement in wine writing – and make new ones.
The happiest encounter was with José Maria Fraile,
whose Tandem operation –
with wine-making partner
Alicia Eyaralar and a small
group of family and friends
– is set in hilly northern Navarra on the pilgrims’ route
to Santiago. I first met him
at a tasting of lots of the region’s wines where his were
The three wines shown then remain the core of the business – silky, elegant reds
from Spain’s classic tempranillo grape plus cabernet sauvignon and merlot – and over the vintages they have subtly improved.
Everything, says José, is in the grapes. Just grow them with care, pick them at the right time and do the minimum in the cellar.
I was treated to an early
sample of a delightful innovation – Tandem’s first white – but that won’t be available for a while yet. The very reasonably priced reds, though, are at web sellers and in restaurants
– see below for details.
It was such a pleasure to
talk again to a grower with
so much – justified – enthusiasm for his wines. I’ll enjoy them more for that.