In the Northern Interior of Alicante province close to the Mountains and Natural Park of the Sierra Mariola is the town of Cocentaina and the Bodega and vineyards of Vins Del Comtat. Just an hour and a quarter from Valencia in an area of outstanding natural beauty (even if it was a challenge for the GPS!) the bodega is in two warehouses on an industrial estate. We met winemaker David Carbonell who had promised us an interesting visit ( our first to this Bodega) whose wines we have admired for some time.
The Bodega is in warehouses because the investment is all in the vineyards and the winemaking process which are considered more important than flashy premises in a beauty spot. Vins Del Comtat are probably best known for their white wines from Viognier and Moscatel and for the Monastrell reds which define Alicante. But they have Chardonnay , Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties and have an experimental vineyard from which small batches of wines from different varieties can be made and assessed.
It is David who is credited with introducing Viognier into the Valencian vineyards and as we have noted before this French variety ( Rhone Valley South of Lyon, Condrieu and the Languedoc) is making great strides as it has proved versatile and to produce quality wines. The variety has been the one big success of the experimental vineyard and the new vineyards have been producing for nearly 20 years.
Inside the first warehouse space is at a premium. Small 2k litre tanks for the experimental wines are cheek by jowl with the 10 and 20k fermentation tanks with their double skins and automatic pumps which allow computer controlled pump-overs and the 35,k litre stabilisation deposits. Here also is the barrel park and the bottling and labelling machines and the laboratory.
David had promised us a comprehensive tasting and it began in the barrel park which holds 170 French barrels of mainly 500 litre capacity. He explained that the Bodega´s philosophy was to promote the regional variety (Monastrell) which here provides a fresh style grown between 610-690m above sea level. The vines are between 40-50 and 100+ years old and David showed us a photograph of one of the latter vines, probably supplying its third generation of winemaker! The soils in this area (Paraje de El Salze-white willow) are sandy, stony and with limestone. They drain well and retain the moisture. The Bodega produces three styles of wine, a Monastrell which is neither Paraje nor single plot, young and fresh, the El Salze which is ‘Paraje’ and then Moncabrer, (the top wine and currently with Cabernet Sauvignon) which is from a microvinya. The plan however is to elevate the El Salze Monastrell to this level. We began with a sample from barrica (3-4-17), black cherry in colour with violet edge, shortly to be bottled. Fresh and with good acidity and plenty of fruit, around 14.5%ABV and with a good touch of terroir. ( From the 50-year-old vines). Next we tasted a sample from the 100 year-old vines, a similar deep colour with a real coffee cream nose, vanilla, with caramel and toffee overlaying deep fruit, a well-integrated wine which will be the next El Salze, quite forward now.
We followed this with the Cabernet Sauvignon for the Moncabrer, from 2015, deep, brambly with green pepper, sweet and fruity. We were joined on and off by mutual friend and wine-maker Joan Guiá from Finca Collado who was checking on some samples of recently finished younger wines. He was to join us for the second part of the visit (and tasting) in the tasting room and shop which is in the second warehouse where the bottled wines wait their moment of release onto the market. Here we started with the young Viognier 2017, pale gold with pale flashes, clean and very bright. On the nose it is fresh with apricot fruit and spice, aromatic and in the mouth a really good balance, aromatic with a long finish. Good as an aperitif or with rice or seafood dishes this will improve in bottle.
We followed it with the 2017 Tostado Lento with just 2-3 months exposure to oak with regular batonnage on the lees. The extra process gives the wine a deeper colour, more fruit on the nose with honey. The 2016 is even more aromatic and golden, full of passion fruit and pineapple and guava, a real testament to how this wine has adapted to its new home.
The bodega´s other white is a Moscatel/Chardonnay (Verdeval) and it is only one of three bodegas we know using this combination. The Moscatel comes from the Marina Alta, from vineyards overlooking the coast and the wine is fresh and fruity and reasonably light in the mouth with good acidity and structure from the Chardonnay.
The Bodega`s young Monastrell from 2016 with three months in oak is a medium bodied red cherry coloured wine. A light fresh fruity red this is an easy drinker , good for sharing or with light tapas.
The 2016 El Salze, 100% Monastrell from the Paraje is brambly, quite dry, but fresh with a soft acidity and a long finish with hints of the terroir. It is quite a contrast with the barrel sample we had tried earlier from 2017 and will have a long future ahead of it.
The Moscatel Dulce Crystalli, also from vineyards on the Cabo de Nao in the Marina Alta, has a typical apricot and peach, fresh fruit nose, with lychees and white flowers. Light and refreshing in the mouth, with a long finish this would accompany fresh fruit well. Some of these wines are available in Valencia through their Distributors, Santander, others not tasted are in some local Carrefour branches. We recommend you look them out! The bodegas philosophy of investing in the wines is paying off. These are singular wines, of very high quality with good varietal characteristics and representative of their mountain valley terroir. David certainly gave us a comprehensive tasting and explanation of the bodegas aims and we look forward to showing these wines in up-coming tastings!