About bobales, mersegueras and other varietals

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Getaway to Utiel-Requena and Valencia 

With the return of spring, a new impetus embraces Guía Peñín’s tasting team as we face a mad period with trips day in and day out. From now on and until the month of July, no rest is allowed. But we will not shy away from this challenge and as brave long-distance runners we eagerly discover new vintages every week. After all, not everybody may become wine taster and we enjoy every piece of it!

Some weeks ago, we visited the denominaciones de origen Utiel-Requena, Valencia y Manchuela. Every year we gather these three production regions in order to monitor the development followed by bobal and to compare mediterranean shaped wines, with the permission of Manchuela who is also exposed to the influence of fresh, moist wind from the Mediterranean Sea, although in a lesser degree. However, for once, we will make an exception and publish a first co-ed about Utiel-Requena and Valencia and later, an article on Manchuela. Tasting notes and ratings from Utiel-Requena and Valencia are already available under online subscription to Guía Peñín 2019.

The two denominaciones de origen Utiel-Requena and Valencia, geographically so close, are condemned to reach an understanding even though relations between their regulatory boards are not the best. The appropriation or misappropriation of a number of municipalities within the borders of DO Utiel-Requena by DO Valencia is currently before the courts in charge of determining what to do about the disputed towns, some of those belonging to Alicante. Besides the political issues raised by these legal matters, that we hope will soon find a final solution benefiting all sides, the truth is we found an unusual situation at Utiel-Requena and Alicante, difficult to describe in the XXI century. We refer to the right to label under DO Valencia up to 30% of the production from Utiel-Requena and Alicante as this interferes in the provision of transparent information about origin and provenance of the grapes.

That said, the wine reality concerning each denominación de origen is quite different given their geographic closeness. Utiel-Requena offers a transition from Mediterranean climate to a continental one. Along its forested landscape grows the bobal varietal, indisputable queen of their renowned rosés and red wines. Throughout the vineyard emerge loams and limestones, like in the area of Requena where there is a greater vineyard intensity. The rest of vines grow over a more clayey soil, usually a very intense red-brown colour.

Beyond the general believe that bobal serves as base wine to produce wine in bulk, the fact is that this variety undergoes a good phase as a result of thorough work of many region’s winemakers. For a fact, there are wineries in Utiel-Requena working hard to offer a differentiating view of their wines, two good examples are Mustiguillo and Chozas Carrascal. However, they both produce their finest wines under specific label Vinos de Pago: Pago El Terrerazo and Pago Chozas Carrascal.

Hispano Suizas, led by the relentless Pablo Ossorio in charge of oenology, is a valuable example. This winery, founded by Marc Grin, Pablo Ossorio and Rafael Navarro opt for serious wines giving special significance to vintage. They are wines with long ageing, that seek a large, structured and present tannin but mild. Quod Superius 2014 (93 points) a blend of bobal, cabernet Sauvignon, merlot and syrah becomes the best wine tasted so far and shows a counter label of DO Utiel-Requena. Thus, their best bobal representation appears in Bobos Finca Casa la Borracha 2016, a powerful reference with full maturity and rich chocolate notes the result of oak fermentation and shows a fruity end characteristic of this variety.

Murviedro, with a large range of bobal wines and many labels under the production hallmark of denominaciones de origen such as Utiel-Requena, Valencia, Alicante and Cava (we have recorded 22 different references), surprised us with an important update: La Casa de la Seda 2016 (91 points). It is a declaration of intent, a sample of plot wine made out of 100% bobal (all from the plot El Ardal de Requena) and brings us closer to the floral aspect of bobal, although toasted hints might arise too strongly at certain stages of the tasting. It is a well-built wine with structure and fruit which shows a very interesting line of work for a winemaker used to work bulk numbers.

Other good example is found in bodega Vera de Estenas that labels its wines under DO Utiel-Requena and under DOP/Vino de Pago Vera de Estenas. They leave us Bobal Estenas 2016 (90 points) bobal varietal, earthy, flowery and easy to drink. A kind and expressive wine focused on the search for freshness.

The renowned rosé from Utiel-Requena, one of the most representative in Spain, apparently lives a production rebound. This current year, 19 references were tasted comparing to earlier years when it seemed forgotten. Clos de Sanjuan 2017 from Bodega Viticultores San Juan Bautista and Bassus Dulce Pinot Noir 2017 from Hispano Suizas were awarded 90 points, resulting the best region’s products working firstly with bobal and pinot noir in the second case.

Oddly enough, the development of rose wines in Utiel-Requena is due to the lack of knowledge on bobal by the winemakers during the seventys and eightys. Red wines were very crude because of blending bobal, monastrell, tintorera and airén. Nonetheless, rosé wines offered the opportunity to develop milder, fruity wines due to their production methods and subsequently their became very popular.

The transformation of rough, astringent and frugal bobal into a fruity, flowery and mild wine is largely due to the oenologist from Priorat Sara Pérez and her work at bodega Mustiguillo as freelance advisor. She tried to produce smaller and more concentrated bobal bunches and, in similar lines, Toni Sarrión and other famous wineries of the area, have continued her search.

Generally speaking, after tasting nearly 130 labelled references, we may conclude that 2017 vintage is surprisingly expressive in the nose, offering a heavy fruit aroma and consequently young wines rates have risen comparing to 2016 vintage.  In this sense, aged wines from 2016 vintage show too much maturity, sometimes with excessive preserves, feature we remarked last year and that affects the quality of tasted wine. Continuing this general vintage assessment, we arrive to 2015, the most expressive of the vintages we have had the chance to taste at the regulatory board premises that presented balanced and serious wines. From then on, that is from 2014 to the oldest tasted vintage (2011), all too often emerge reduction hints due to their ageing. Wishful thinking would make winemakers store some references capable of long ageing since the broader acidity of bobal as regards to monastrell should allow investigation in this respect.

Valencia, a commercial powerhouse

Commercial development at DO Valencia is certainly its driving force. It is not strange winemakers from Utiel-Requena make use of their opportunity to label 30% of their production under label of DO Valencia. At the level of brand image, Valencia outruns her neighbour with visual and dynamic labels and for their investment in more global wines.

Lately, we have witnessed their wines gaining weight among the category of excellent wines, those over 90 points, as last year there were 32 against the present 42. An impressive display of nice work given we have only tasted 176 brands out springing the 223 of last edition. In recent years, bottle wine rises faced to bulk wine both nationally as export. The denominación export drive is proven by the year overall balance. Foreign market absorbs nearly 70% of total commercialization thanks to Valencia’s port.

Globally, young 2017 red wines show as expressive as those from Utiel-Requena, specially from 2016 vintage which as clearly more mature. Bewilderment arrived with White 2017 wines, sensibly improving their quality comparing to last years. White merseguera wines represent great news for consumers who may access more personal wines coming from Valencia at affordable prices. Our last visit demonstrated us that many producers are looking into this white variety and the quality improvement of wines made from it. Pampolut 2016 y Mersé 2016 are two good examples of Works made from 100% merseguera, achieving both 90 points.

Passing over global cut wines which dominate DO Valencia, there are various wineries searching more personal products. They focus on wines made with varieties from their climate such as moscateles, mersegueras, bobales and monastreles and in smaller proportion, also, forcallat, bonicaire, mandó, arco and rojal, as proved by Rafael Cambra or Pablo Calatayud (Celler del Roure).

To enjoy these typical Valencian wines, no better way than visiting cellars as Rafael Cambra, Celler del Roure or Casa los Frailes. Precisely the latter, Casa los Frailes has two exceptional references. Winery is located at 80 km from the Mediterranean Sea, at the paraje “Els Alforins”, at the far end of Valencian region Vall d’Albaida, at 700 meters above sea level. Two years ago, they started a profound soil study to understand the extent of each of their plots. The first consequence of the named study were three very personal wines, plot wines with strongly marked personalities. Los Frailes Dolomitas 2015 (93 points) 100%monastrell, that hopes to express a stony ground (Boulder) with calcareous conglomerations and Los Frailes Caliza 2015 (92 points), from their own plot “La parada de tordos”, a vineyard at 600 meters above sea level with clay limestone soils. Certainly, we can only appraise this first vintage and surely over the following vintages they will learn more about their own wines. We strongly recommend staying in tune about this winemaker’s development and its wines as we acknowledge a promising future.

Likewise, there are wineries in search of wines closely linked to territory, such as Celler del Roure. Pablo Calatayud leads the winemakers that focus their efforts on vines and particular, differentiating productions claiming old traditions as earthen jars. They obtained the community’s attention with its initial Maduresa produced with cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petit verdot, monastrell and mandó which currently they present with a blend of monastrell and cariñena.

Les Alcusses, at a more affordable price, was also a milestone within the denominación de origen as it was around 2000 when DO Valencia positioned itself before the final consumer’s choices due to an accurate work and easily available to a non-specialized audience. They recognise their freedom to grow as the result of their classics (Maduresa and Alcusses) and their perfect market introduction. Firstly in 2006, buying new plots and increasing their vineyards from 10 to 45 hectares and later testing results using old jars as the least intrusive recipients. Hence, in recent years this cellar produced wines with less extraction and higher freshness, as Parotet tinto 2015 (92 points) and Safrá 2016 T (90 points). Wines seen as old due to the employment of traditional recipients during elaboration.

Any Levante’s wine lover should not forget about Rafael Cambra. He shares many common factors with Pablo Calatayud as over the years he has abandoned superfluities and focused on the vine’s singularity, the varieties and his own hunches.

He describes his evolution as: “I had to unlearn everything I knew” and certainly his “nose” did not let him down. In recent years, we witness a mature creative process showed on his franc wines and especially unique using varieties as forcallat y arco, known as long maturing grapes and with a fresh acidity and which Will offer local winemakers to work on fresher wines despite global warming. Casa Bosca 2016 and La Forcalla de Antonia 2016 are glaring examples of this winemaker’s path and bewilder any unique wines hunter.

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