As some readers may already know, I recently celebrated my birthday. As a special treat, my better half arranged for us to attend a Pinxos party, pared with wines from the Spanish producer Casa Rojo at the superb and independent TNQ restaurant, located in the heart of Manchester’s bustling Northern Quarter. Its Kitchen headed up by chef Anthony Fielden, TNQ has established itself as a leading light in the area for locally sourced fine dining with a modern Manchester twist. Introducing the wines was David Kelly from Matthew Clark and credit must go to him for a most interesting description of the wines.
What are Pinxos you say? That is a very good question, and I will admit, prior to the evenings events, I had never come across the term before. It is in fact a Basque term that comes from the word “pinchar” which means “to pierce”. Indeed the phrase came about as Pinxos were traditionally served on the end of a cocktail stick. For this evening however, the humble snack food was elevated to a whole new level, with some truly stunning morsels, but more on that later. The scene was completed by a Spanish guitarist and with beautiful accompanying Spanish wines; you could imagine yourself transported to a sunny terrace in the Spanish countryside.
Casa Rojo is a relatively small producer, tracing its roots back to José Rojo’s first wine in 1920. Casa Rojo offers a range of eight different wines from eight denominations within Spain. The youthful and dynamic team assembled has a simple ethos at its core: showcase the very best of each grape by meticulous attention to detail as well as real passion for the wine, something apparent in abundance even before opening a bottle. Each wine – and indeed each vintage thereof, has a unique label created by local artists to reflect the nature of the wine. The end result are bottles that not only look inviting and fun, but actually do bear real semblance to the wine therein as well as reaffirming the commitment of Casa Rojo to the individuals and local folks involved with the growing of the grapes.
Wines Tasted: Moltó Negre Cava, El Gordo (del circo) Rueda, La Marimorena Rías Baixas, Maquinon Priorat, Macho Man Monastrell Jumilla
Wine 1: Moltó Negre
D.O. Cava (Rosé), Trepat/Xarello/Parellada 11.5% alcohol, €19.90 (Casa Rojo)
The name Moltó Negre literally means “very black”. Its image of a black sheep –smoking a cigarette no less! – reflects not only how the producers see the wine on the world stage as being rebellious, but also that the wine was the first of the house to be crafted from anything other than a single varietal. Trepat is used to produce Rosé Cava and Casa Rojo employs a méthode champenoise in the production of this wine, which is typical of Cava.
The wine has a star bright, pale peach tinge with a very fine mousse. On the nose there are hints of fresh strawberries and ripe fruit. It has moderate acidity, on the lower side for Cava and much lower than that of Champagne. Again notes of red fruit dominate the palate with biscuit coming through at the end of a very long finish. Real balance to the wine, but I would’ve liked to see a bit more complexity and depth in flavour. Saying that, it is very easy drinking and, as an aperitif, you couldn’t go far wrong choosing this wine.
Score: 87/100 (MI)
Wine 2: El Gordo (del circo)
D.O. Rueda, Verdejo, 13.5% alcohol, €17.60 (Casa Rojo)
Translated as “The fat one of the circus”, This white wine comprises of 100% verdejo, hailing from Rueda, an area approximately 170Km northwest of Madrid, on the banks of the river Duero. It is described as a “region of fire and ice”, reflecting the scorching summer heats and bitter winters. Verdejo is one of the main varietals found in this region and for many years was used to produce a sherry like wine. Casa Rojo use autoctonous yeasts (yeasts found on the grapes themselves) to create a longer maceration process and add to the body of the wine.
El Gordo is a star bright, crystal clear green-yellow wine. It has moderate viscosity. The wine has a real aroma of tropical fruit – pineapples, melons and mangoes. It was more than a little reminiscent of a Malborough sauvignion blanc. In the mouth, the similarity though ended. The wine had a delicious full bodied mouth feel with just enough acidity to carry the refreshing flavours of green mango peel and soft pears.
Paired with a gazpacho shooter, basil granita, smoked salmon, curd cheese, squid ink and tomato on wafer thin crostini, this wine really came to life, accenting the tropical flavours.
Score: 88/100 (MI)
Wine 3: La Marimorena
D.O. Rías Baixas, Albariño, 12.5% alcohol €18 Casa Rojo
D.O. Rías Baixas sits right out in the north western corner of Spain, battered by the cold, harsh Atlantic winds. It is the coldest area in all of Spain and that is very much reflected in the character of the wine. The predominant grape grown in this region is the albariño grape, thought to have been brought to the area by Cistercian monks in the 12th Century. Winemaking here is a challenge, with the sea bringing frequent hurricanes, frosts and dreaded hail, as well as much higher rainfall than further inland.
The wine is crystal clear, straw yellow, and day bright. On the nose is a complex aroma of green fruits, notably apples and pears, with a faint floral note. There’s a real austere feel to this wine, and in my notes I’ve written simply ‘Chablis’. This may sound mad, though humour me – its Atlantic positioning tempers the climate to something that isn’t too dissimilar to Burgundy in many respects, and the acidity the wine holds is at least to me, very reminiscent. There’s a lovely full body to the wine and a really long finish. It is a wine of excellent structure and was one of my highlights of the night.
Score: 91/100 (MI)
Wine 4: Maquinon
D.O.Q. Priorat, Garnacha, 14.3% alcohol, €21.50 Casa Rojo
The tiny region of Priorat is one of only two wine regions in Spain to qualify for the prestigious D.O.Ca (The other being Rioja). Lying less than 100Km from Barcelona, the region covers approximately 1900 hectares of planted vines (c.f. 1,000,000 for the whole of Spain or 120,000 for Bordeaux). It is famed for its unique geology, being ancient volcanic soils containing large amounts of black slate and quartz.
Maquinon is a deep purple almost black in colour, star bright wine. Immediately the boquet is of an intense, almost sherry like fruity aroma followed on standing by more complex notes of black cherry and peat. What struck me almost immediately upon tasting the wine was an incredibly unusual minerality verging on a bloody, iron like flavour. Initially, I thought this was unlike any wine I had ever had before, however reflecting for a while I remembered a tasting of Mullineux Syrah, and immediately I began to draw similarities, however in this instance, this particular note was far more prominent. Presumably this is a function of the volcanic soils that are common to both regions. Unlike the Syrah however, the much lighter Garnacha (Grenache to the rest of the world) struggles to balance this unusual flavour. Although there is a remarkable amount of tannin it remains to me somewhat unbalanced unless this particular flavour is for you.
In conclusion, Casa Rojo undoubtedly achieve their aim of creating a wine that screams of the terroir. It is very unusual indeed and perhaps worth a look to decide for yourself, however it is not something that I felt was for me.
Score: 85/100 (MI)
Wine 5: Macho Man Monastrell (MMM)
D.O. Jumilla, Monastrell, 14.5% alcohol, €17.60 Casa Rojo
Monastrell, known by the more common name Mourvèdre in France is a grape that is said to like its head in the sun and its feet in the sea. In more understandable English, this means its a grape that flourishes in hot sunny weather with plenty of rainfall. This wine hails from D.O. Jumilla, in the North of Murcia, where Monastrell makes up 85% of the planted vines. The region is warm, with vines receiving over 3000 hours of sunlight a year, but not all that wet. In the modern era however this is easily overcome by artificial irrigation of the vines.
What we are presented with is a star bright claret wine with a spicy boquet with white pepper overlying juicy plummy fruits. There’s a silky smooth mouth feel that gently introduces ripe black fruits with a back note of honey which really balances out the supple tannins. The finish is impressively long and gradually evolves into a smokey note. At 14.5% and really full bodied, the wine doesn’t pull any punches and I think its name is well earned!
Score: 90/100 (MI)
Conclusions: Casa Rojo has produced an incredibly varied and remarkable range of wines, and, true to their word, the terroir is apparent in each of their wines in abundance. There are still three more wines in their range I did not try, however I would be very keen to get my hands on them to see how they match up to the rest of their range. So for now I thank Casa Rojo, I thank David Kelly and I thank all at TNQ for a truly splendid evening and look forward to my next visit.
Photo credits: Casa Rojo