We had the opportunity, invited by Casa Rojo, to learn how one of the most prestigious wines in its family of products is produced and shaped. Casa Rojo is one of the most interesting wineries in recent times. Interesting for their youth, for their courageous way of entering the market, but special, and this is the most important thing, for the commitment they have acquired to make a wine that is nothing more than that: wine. Wine of an excellent quality, produced with all the love of the world.

The Alexander vs. The Ham Factory project is a high-end wine born from the union of two families, Casa Rojo and the Miguel Sanz brothers. Out of a unique terroir, this project unites tradition with modernity, trying to present the world with a new way of understanding this prestigious Denomination of Origin: Ribera del Duero.

This is how Alexander vs. The Ham Factory was born, a red wine in the heart of Ribera del Duero, on the property that the winery has there: 12 hectares distributed over 4 vineyards, 10 of Tempranillo, and 2 of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, with an age of around 20 to 45 years. The layout of the vineyards in different forms makes it possible to approximate the Tempranillo harvest with the French varieties and thus make this process easier for the winery.

In Casa Rojo they have it clear, and the vineyard is not about a bunch of grapes that are drained of juice and then fermented. There is a feeling for doing things properly and all the elements that are part of the wine equation are taken into account: the date of harvesting, the time of day, the grape selection, the barrels where they are going to be left… A care that will make the final product something very special.

The prestigious winemakers Patrick Meraz and Begoña Miguel Sanz are the people behind all the decisions that shape ‘Alexander’. Patrick has consolidated his prestige in Bordeaux, and his hallmark seems to be present in the typically French varieties that join the Tempranillo grape, adding a touch of distinction that can be appreciated in the final result from the very first moments. The Malbec variety has almost been lost in Bordeaux, but has been recovered in Argentina.

The year 2017 has been difficult climatologically and the yield of the vineyard has been low, but the criteria for selection of the grapes in the creation of’ Alexander’ are strict and yet bunches have been left on the plant. But although production has been low, the result looks promising. In situ we witnessed the traces left by last year’s late frosts on the harvest: complete rows of vineyards burned by the ice. It was not a classic frost, but movements of a lot of cold air that destroyed everything in their path, like a beam of light under a magnifying glass that burns everything it passes through.

The vineyard now rests after a full season under the Ribera sky and the naked vines reveal small bird’s nests that settle in the twisted trunks: undeniable proof of the organic certification they have. Enrique Pascual, president of the Regulatory Council of the Ribera del Duero Designation of Origin, accompanies us on our visit. He looks at the sky and silently prays for rain, or snow, because he knows like no one else that the climate is the best ally for the producers in the area, but sometimes it can be the worst enemy.

But these extremes are the ones that endow ‘Alexander’ with its beauty; extremes that are translated into flavours, to which we must add thyme, rosemary, even acorns, and which we come across in our walk around the farm.

It is easy to damage a great grape if the harvesting process is neglected. And everything influences it. Including the transport of the vineyard to the winery once cut, which is done with boxes of 10 or 15 kilos, which won’t crush them. The grape is a fruit that starts to oxidize from the first minute and keeping its skin intact helps us stop this process.

The first selection is made in the plant by a team trained to collect only the promising bunches. A second selection is then carried out in the winery, before entering the destemmer, where the stalks are eliminated, and from there they enter the winery by gravity, entering the OVI.

They don’t crush the grape, they leave the grape as it is. Gravity is what does its job to transport the grapes to the tanks, where they ferment. Cold and hot water pipes keep these tanks at the right temperature to accompany the juice in its transformation. Thanks to a bridge crane, gravity can be used as a method of transporting grapes from one side to the other. In this way, the grapes are not broken aggressively, leaving unwanted flavours in the final product. This produces the velvety tannin so characteristic of’ Alexander’.

Finally, ageing must be done with respect for the wine you want to obtain. With the quality level of the terroir and the wine that is made, Casa Rojo has opted to let the wine rest in French oak barrels, from 150 years old trees. A wood of the highest quality that adds personality to this high quality wine.

The result can now be enjoyed by everyone. A wine that transports us to another level and that perfectly accompanies a good roasted lamb cooked slowly in the oven, or with some cured meats, such as the famous Burgos blood sausage. With food the wine achieves its maximum expression.

Alexander vs the Ham Factory is not a fortuitous coincidence, it is the result of the stubborn determination of José Luis Gómez and Laura Muñoz to do things well.

 


This week Roque and Luke head back to the land of Quixote to finally take on the world’s largest wine-growing region: DO La Mancha. They share a rather impressive bottle of Finca Antigua Merlot. All goes normally until Roque drops the biggest surprise in the history of SWE. Enjoy!


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To celebrate our 10th podcast Luke and Roque turn to the home region of Madrid. They drink a red from Señorío de Val Azul, Fabio, and after a special report from the field, a white from Jesús Díaz e Hijos. Expect the usual drunken behaviour.

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Rioja. A word everyone knows. A word that conjures the image of shining glasses full of deep red wine pulled from the sun-soaked fields of Spain. For many, for most, Spanish wine is Rioja. Depending on the shop, other words, other regions, have started to drip into the marketplace: Ribera del Duero, Albariño, Priorat. And of course everyone knows sherry and Cava. But what of the rest of Spain? There are sixty-nine official wine regions and where are they represented? Where are they championed?

Madrid is Spain. A big melting pot of peoples and cultures stretching back to its founding in the 9th century by the Moors, who attacked and ruled the Iberian peninsula for a few hundred years. They brought rice, sugar cane, lemons and oranges, almonds, spinach and aubergines. They also helped to refine the gastronomy. But what of wine?

The Romans started it, exporting rough amphorae-fulls back to Rome. The Moors gently forbade it for drinking, but continued to tax the production. Then the Reconquest happened and the ruling Christians reopened the country to international trade, introducing wine to the British market for the first time. Things were going well until the 19th century when an epidemical plague of phylloxera ravaged Europe’s vineyards, bringing production to the brink of extinction. After the vines recovered in the 1900s Spain quickly became one of Europe’s leading winemaking countries. Madrid has been making wine since the 1300s but only received a Denominación de Origen (protected status, like for Champagne or Barolo) in 1990. They are young guns. Pretenders to the throne.

They are usually dark, youthful and full of rustic flavour when red; there are of course whites and rosés too. They can come from any of three subzones. So, just to get technical for a minute:

Sub-zone 1: Arganda – home of cutesy village Chinchón and UNESCO town Aranjuez. Located south east of Madrid. Sedimentary limestone soil; extreme winter and summer temperatures.

Sub-zone 2: Navalcarnero – home of the pretty town of the same name. Located south west of Madrid. Flat, sedimentary, loose soils of farmland origin.

Sub-zone 3: San Martin de Valdeiglesias – home of the Gredos mountains. Located in the extreme west of Madrid. Rugged zone, warmer and more humid temperatures. Granite soils on slopes and foothills.

These Madrid wines can be hard to track down internationally – we’ll put a top 6 selection of humdingers at the bottom of this blog – but within Spain they are gaining traction. The whole joy of wine is tasting the variety. Nobody wants to be that person who sticks to two or three bottles their whole lives ‘because they like it and trust it’.

There are 44 wineries in Madrid alone, so there is no excuse to not try them when you visit. The bars are also slowly but surely getting behind the Madrid wine train and are stocking them with more regularity. A lot of them are small, family-run or cooperative ventures without a lot of money to export on a massive scale. But they’re getting there; and my goodness are they friendly and welcoming. Coupled with a recent drive to export to the U.S., you could be seeing bottles of Vino de Madrid on the shelves sooner than you think!

A few of our favourite bodegas to check out:

  1. Bodega Regajal – Las Retamas (Tempranillo)
  2. Bodega Marañones – Treintamil Maravedíes (Garnacha)
  3. Bodega Bernabeleva – Navaherreros (Garnacha)
  4. Bodega Señorio de Val Azul – Fabio (Syrah, Cab Sav, Merlot)
  5. Bodega Las Moradas de San Martín – Initio (Garnacha)
  6. Bodegas Andrés Díaz – d’Ório (Tempranillo/Garnacha/Cab Sav)

From us here at SWE, salud!!