On an unseasonably sunny weekend in April, we headed to Shoreditch to meet Rachel and Rubén Everett at Merchants Tavern.
We first met the mother and son duo that make up L’altreVi at Raw Wine the month before, and it was one of the encounters that stuck with us most. The pair, from Oxford, set up shop roughly seven months ago with the intention of introducing beautiful Catalan wines to the UK market for the first time.
Their approach to wine in general resonates with us very strongly, especially when it comes to changing perceptions. “Certainly in my generation, some of my friends are a bit scared of wine,” says Rachel on the subject. “They think of it as something that they can’t understand and it’s not for them; rather than being something that’s relatively everyday. Beautiful, but everyday.
“So I suppose we’re coming from a different angle than a lot of people do. We just want to share the view that this is a lovely thing, it’s a beautiful thing, everyone can enjoy it, it’s accessible. It doesn’t have to be this elitist product that you use special words for, you don’t need to know that you’re supposed to like this or that.”
Rachel went on to explain that the name ‘L’altreVi’ translates as ‘the other stuff’. This reflects their celebration of the unpretentious, down to earth appreciation of wine – an alternative to the traditional and formal approach that many people associate with it.
Generally, there’s a weird dichotomy in the UK when it comes to wine. On the one hand, it’s seen as very upper class and exclusive by some, whilst on the other; people will speed through a bottle of Chardonnay on a Friday night at the pub with the sole intention of getting rat-arsed.
Growing up in Catalonia, Rubén is aware of the social differences: “It was definitely interesting coming back from Spain and observing this culture of “Let’s go down the pub and get wasted”, and then ordering 10 pints.
“For me it was a case of growing up in a world where all of my friends made wine. Yes, we all skateboarded together and we kind of went out and did our own thing, but at the end of the day we’d go out in Barcelona, or wherever it might have been, and we’d catch up over a bottle of wine. Similar to going out for a beer with your mates.”
This is definitely a social interaction that’s becoming more and more popular in the UK – at last! “The artisanal beer movement and rise of microbreweries, often serving tastings and food pairings, seem to have spearheaded this new wave of restaurants and bars that are treating wine in the same way,” says Rubén.
“People will share a bottle of wine to accompany tapas-style plates, not necessarily caring about the vintage or how it was made, but enjoying the fact that it’s really palatable and enjoyable. The conversation can then be about the day to day, what you’re doing with your lives and building those friendships. That, for me, is what it’s all about.”
So now, onto the wine! We were taken on a flight, starting with a beautiful Cava and then exploring a couple of the classic Cava grape varieties; Xarel.lo (pronounced cha-rello) and Parellada (pa-rey-yada). Rubén opened the five bottles, to let them breathe, while James ordered some sharing plates from the restaurant bar. You’ve got to lead by example with these things, right?
First, the Massana Noya Cava Mil.leni 2012. Prosecco has become the Brits’ fizz of choice, but we’re missing a trick by not giving Cava the attention it deserves. Made using exactly the same technique that’s practised in Champagne, Cava has great depth in flavour, the same mousse-like bubbles as champers and a good bottle is often available in the same price bracket as Prosecco.
Bodega Eudald Massana Noya’s biodynamic vineyards are located in Penedès, a region near Barcelona renowned for its Cava, where all of the day’s wines are from. Penedès central, where the bodega (or winery) itself is situated, is hot in the summer and cool in the winter, without reaching the extremes of other parts of the country.
Taking a sip of this beautiful, refreshing wine on a sunny day in London filled me with total joy and, on closing my eyes like the wanker I am, I could imagine sitting on a roof terrace in Spain, soaking up the sun. 40 – 48 months of maturation in the bottle means that you’re delivered those yeasty, biscuity notes that you associate with Champagne. We were told that we should revisit the Cava at the end of our tasting, to see how different it would taste after some exposure to oxygen.
Next, we tasted three different examples of Xarel.lo, curated in order of altitude.
The first, and nearest the ground at 200m, was Xarel.lo Amfora 2015. Fermented and aged on the lees (dead yeast cells) in clay pots, the bottles are sealed with beeswax from the family’s own hives. As with many natural wines, I could detect the distinctive aroma of hay, which ties in wonderfully with the raw method of production. We loved the playful touch of putting a piece of clay on the bottle, in place of a label. It might not be the best way of labelling for commerical success, but works perfectly in an intimate tasting situation.
We travelled 40m up to family farm, Can Tutusaus, which despite the poor, thin soils resulting from its situation in a rocky landscape, riddled with fissures; produces a fucking glorious Xarel.lo. Valldolina was my personal favourite of the day, in case the profanity didn’t make it obvious. We were told that this was the most typical expression of the grape, rather than being heavily stylised. Lovely floral notes with a great balance of citrus and tropical flavours, and the softness of vanilla – I could happily share a bottle of this without food. It was the perfect level of acidity for me.
We then zipped back to Eudald Massana Noya, at a similar altitude to Can Tutasaus, for their Xarel.o offering, Avi Ton 2013. Thank god James had ordered the Deep fried oysters with pickled ginger & chilli, and oyster cream – they paired perfectly. This was undoubtedly the more interesting bottle of the three. It had great depth and complexity; a mixture of tropical fruits, floral notes, fennel, and hints of herbs like rosemary. It was offset perfectly by the subtle saltiness of the oyster and the sharpness of the pickled ginger. (A trip to Merchants Tavern HAS to include the deep fried oysters. You have been warned.)
Our final bottle of the day explored another one of the typical Cava grapes, Parellada. Tuets is located at an altitude of 500 – 600m – towering above the other vineyards from our flight. This means that the temperatures are much lower at night, allowing them to create extremely crisp, refreshing white wines. Their focus is on allowing each wine to fulfil its potential by preserving the natural balance of the grape in each bottle. They have a strict no-electronics policy at the winery, where you can stay and enjoy the wines free from the distractions of modern life. When can I visit?!
The Tuets Parellada 2015 is an ideal summer drink. It’s almost reminiscent of a dry cider, providing you a with a real punch of apples on the nose and on the palate. It’s smooth and makes for very easy drinking, with hints of pear and quince.
We then revisited the Mil.leni. It had definitely changed since our first sip! The brief exposure to oxygen had deepened and matured its aromas and flavours, almost giving it the richness of a whiskey. Patience is certainly a virtue and you’ll be rewarded if you can leave yourself a little in the bottle for later.
All of these wines are available through L’altreVi so, if you’re keen to explore the wines of Catalonia, it’s definitely worth getting in touch via their website (www.laltrevi.com).
We left the tasting in a haze of happiness. The kind of happiness that can only come from being absorbed in conversation, with new friends, surrounded by food and wine. That’s what wine is truly for, in our eyes and L’altreVi’s.
L’altreVi will be appearing at the Oxford wine fair on 8th and 9th September this year (2017). Visit https://www.oxfordwinefestival.org/exhibitors for more information.