Vera de Estenas, the newest ‘Pago’ in Utiel-Requena has traditionally made wines from Bobal, the regions varietal vine. The bodega has several parcels of Bobal of varying ages including some with over 100 years of age. Bobal is a variety which is notoriously difficult to work with as it has high acidity. This is partly because when the big bunches of grapes ripen, (in younger plants they are very tightly packed) those on the outside reach maturity but those in the centre of the bunch simply do not.
As the vines age however the bunches become looser and the ripening is more even. The grapes produce less juice but it is more concentrated.
Felix Martinez Roda who makes the wine and whose family own the bodega is an expert in Bobal but even he continues to experiment and add to the range of wines made from the variety in pursuit of understanding what it can produce.
The Bodega in San Antonio is set in a pine wood overlooking the railway and motorway from Madrid to Valencia. Felix´s father planted ‘noble varieties’, around 35 years ago and these are now producing some of the best wines from the region.
Inside the bodega there are many old features including the original underground tanks and deposits (trullos) in which wine was made before the advent of stainless steel deposits. Wine can ferment within them and then be allowed to settle and clear naturally, the cool ground in which they are set providing the correct temperatures naturally.
Historically all of the wine from this region would have been made in a similar manner, not in concrete tanks but in terracotta amphorae holding close to a 1000 litres of wine. There are many bodegas and family houses in Requena and other wine producing towns throughout Valencia with such amphorae in their cellars, in some cases forgotten by or unknown to their owners!
Indeed, Felix´s family own Bodega Honda, a 15th century bodega in the historical old centre of Requena next to Saint Nicolas Church. It is possible to arrange a visit to this underground cellar where wine can still be made, with its steep uneven steps and low ceiling. There are several ‘tinajas’ or terracotta vessels stood around the walls of the bodega with its three distinct chambers on two levels. You can still see the holes in the ceiling through which the pressed juice would have poured into fermentation vessels below. This style of producing wine all but disappeared a hundred years ago with the first bodegas introducing the larger and newer concrete tanks. But a combination of the better understanding of the Bobal variety and a thirst from the new generations of wine makers to understand what their ancestors produced for 2500 years has prompted a number of winemakers from across the DO Utiel-Requena and indeed others in DO Valencia to experiment with the production of wine produced or aged in terracotta.
Felix´s new Bobal from the 2016 vintage is produced from 80-year-old vines which also produce the Bodegas top wine ‘Casa Don Angel’. It underwent first and second (malolactic) fermentation in the concrete tanks. Then the wine was transferred to 800 litre terracotta amphorae to undergo a short 4 month crianza. It was bottled in June with a rustic label and twine capsule which acts as a drip absorber!Of course, wine aged in terracotta has none of the ageing characteristics of wine which has been in oak, none of the tannins nor spices such as vanilla.
In VÍ Vid´s experience of trying other wines previously which have had this treatment they are concentrated and have a mineral salinity in the finish.
‘El Bobal de Estenas’ demonstrates the youthful characteristics of the variety, a medium bodied, bright cherry red with a violet edge and long legs. On the nose it has floral hints, lots of red and black fruit, strawberry, raspberry and plum and liquorice and menthol. But it is in the mouth where the wine is different, a result of the micro-oxygenation in the terracotta. This process is much slower in amphorae than in wood, the wine evaporates and as a result concentrates and in return absorbs a subtle salinity from the walls of the vessel. This has produced a wine which is fruity, round, concentrated with smooth tannins which has good volume in the mouth and is very long in the finish. To really appreciate this difference made by making wine in the historical way one should taste it against a similar young red Bobal with 3-4 months ageing in oak.
The presentation takes place this evening, 18 September at 18.00pm in Bodega Honda, Requena, by invitation. There are very few bottles remaining (price around 7€,) but based on the success of this experimental vintage of this impressive wine there are bound to be more next year!