A week is no time in the life of a wine-growing area especially when its history can be traced back to 2700 years before Christ! But DO Utiel-Requena has just celebrated a momentous week in that story and VÍ Vid was pleased to be able to attend both events.
The week began in London on a fresh sunny Monday morning at 67 Pall Mall, home to the Wine Club with a very special tasting of Bobals organised by Sarah Jane Evans MW who had selected 52 wines from the DO which she considered to be a good representation of the different styles which can be produced from the variety. There were some other varietals as well including Pasiego´s astonishing botrytis Sauvignon Blanc but more of this later!
The DO´s council had also invited the press for a `day out´ in the Vineyards and a visit to the archeological attractions to reinforce this long history and set the background.
A dozen or so of us gathered in Valencia on a sunny but decidedly warmer morning for the bus ride up to the plateau 70kms West of the City where the vineyards are to be found.
We started our visit with a nice stroll down an ancient trackway in the Hoces de Cabriel Natural park, the slabs of stone underfoot marked with ancient cart-wheel marks, to the site of the first commercial bodega on the Iberian peninsular at Las Pillilas. The site’s history is slowly unravelling as more of it has been exposed since our first visit some seven years ago. As a result the site is currently listed for election to World Heritage Status of UNESCO. Here several amphorae have been discovered with markings identifying them from the different trading places around the Mediterranean giving strength to the evidence of the importance of this site to the Iberic people.
As is traditional we commenced with a typical almuerzo, `Bollo´de Requena, a coca, several of the wines which the DO have chosen to represent them at official events and then ‘dulces´- pastissets of sweet potato and anis and butter rings.
Carmina Carcel welcomed the group on behalf of the DO and we were given a fuller presentation on the developments in the archeological dig, interpretation and progress on the UNESCO before clambering up to the site to explore its magnificent `lagar´, or pressing area from which the juice ran through channels to the amphorae below to be turned into the contemporary (probably spiced) wine of the day.
Then we moved on to the second stage of the day, harvesting some ripe Bobal grapes in a plot belonging the Pardo family on the edge of Los Duques. Armed with secateurs, gloves and the DO´s new caps we filled a trailer full of the juicy big black bunches.
From here we went on to El Carro restaurant on the edge of Utiel for a tasting of around thirty wines, (some of which had been present in London as well). Amongst these were several wines which were new to us ( or which we had encountered for the first time in London). The others were new vintages of favourite and representative wines from the DO´s producers.
Lunch followed, El Carro having a reputation for its modern interpretations of classic traditional regional cookery, we were not disappointed by the selection of embutidos, ajo arriero, mortuerolo, gazpacho manchego and more dulces (Alaju and garrapinas) accompanied by the wines we had tasted earlier.
Finally we moved into the centre of Utiel. Here the mayor took us on a tour of two underground bodegas (of some 400 believed to exist still) which have been restored as tourist and interpretation centres) with their ancient terracotta tinajas and the first known trullo (stone fermentation tank) . Here you could see intact and broken ‘staple repaired’ tinajas of different designs and sizes and ages, some inscribed with graffito of the date or makers.
These caves are a must for visitors to Utiel and are relatively newly opened with a clear difference between them and those in Requena although for sure there will be some interconnected systems with defensive tunnels to be discovered yet.
So, with the history firmly in mind its time to go back to London to consider ‘The London Wine, Bobal and Beyond’ , the title by which the tasting went. Sarah Jane Evans is Decanter´s Spain expert with a wide expertise in Rioja in particular and a deepening love of the wines of Utiel-Requena. In converstaion with VÍ Vid she confirmed Bobal had been known to few experts in the UK and mainly as a secret supply of superb rosado wines which had a particularly good quality to price ratio. Introducing the event she said that the selection was the ‘first tasting of wines from the entire area of Utiel-Requena, and the most important new to those who attended amongst them wine-buyers, specialist shops, writers and journalists. They were surprised that Utiel-Requena had Bobal but also other varieties, white wines, sparkling wines and sweet wines’.
28 bodegas had provided a truly representative sample of young, crianza, reserva and alta expresión wines from Bobal. From talking to some of those present they were also surprised by the quality of the largely unknown variety, often without long ageing in oak which demonstrated the characteristics of the grape- wines which will suit the English taste and be popular especially in London.
One particular point of interest was to be able to taste wines which had some oak ageing against wines ( Toro Loco Memoria-a collaboration involving Bodegas Toro Loco and Diego Morcillo of Coviñas) and Vera de Estenas Bobal and which have ageing in tinajas- something which is proving particularly fashionable in the UK because it allows the taster to appreciate the real flavours of the variety.
All in all the tasting was much appreciated and in our view a great success. The wines of Utiel-Requena and Bobal in particular have been exposed to a new market in which they should be particularly successful.
VÍ Vid was pleased to be there to see it get ‘off the ground’ .