VÍ Vid first started documenting Valencian Gastronomy and Bodegas back in September 2009 and only the third winery visit was to Chozas Carrascal in September the following year. ( https://wp.me/p16pqB-7)
We have been to the the Bodega and maintained contact throughout the ensuing thirteen years, attending presentations of new wines, taking groups on visits and reporting on events.
We have felt for some months that the time was right to re-visit some of these first blog subjects not least because so much has changed and so many improvements have occurred that the Bodega deserves a comprehensive English languange update as our contribution to eno-tourism. A number of the early visits will be repeated with this in mind!
So, on Saturday last, 21 May we arranged a private tour of the Bodega and its newest facilities. Our host was Manel Guasp, currently the Bodega´s representative for the Levante area. Manel and VÍ Vid have known each other for almost as long as the blog has existed and he has been at the bodega for about a year. We were joined by two of the Only You Hotel´s marketing Department.
On arrival not much appears to have changed, the trees and plants are taller but once you are up the drive and draw level with the bodega you appreciate how much bigger the facility is now. Across from the slope down to the earlier bodega there is a new building, above ground a museum of Wine labels, maintained by Aurelio Abad, below ground a new bodega with a fine collection of new concrete eggs and ‘troncóconos’, cone shaped vessels (of which more later), the reserved bottles and the new barrel cellar. Beyond that is a new covered car parking area for visitors.
We met Manel and our fellow guests, and began a walk up into the vineyards to the area under the pine trees where tours begin. As we had visited before and documented the origins of the bodega and the vineyards, olive groves etc, we moved straight to discussing some of the changes, beginning with personnel.
The family Lopez Peidro consists of Julian and Maria Jose, their children Julian and Maria Jose and a cousin, Jorge. In the interim Julian has ¨retired¨ although this can be taken with a pinch of salt. Maria Jose has set up a Spa and beauty parlour in Valencia using bi-products from the wine process (drawing on her original qualifications). Maria Jose (daughter) now fronts up the bodega and with Jorge, handles exhibitions etc.
Julian, (son) having qualified as a wine maker and completed his practical experience with Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux has assumed responsibility for the vineyards and winemaking. He is beginning to make changes, based on his experience, to the wines and to introduce new wines to the Bodega.
The status of the bodega has changed as well. It has always been a bodega with an ecological (organic) tradition. Since our first visit the vineyards have been accredited formally with this status and the stamp appears on the back label of bottles.
The vineyards continue to have ‘green manure’ growing between the rows of vines which is ploughed in, the margins where there are plants and grasses are now not cut back as the growth maintains a temperature around 6º lower than the ploughed earth adding to the humidity. It also provides a home for insects which add to the body of the soils over time.
Throughout the estate there are small casitas all of which are being restored. Originally these were for local shepherds and today sheep will be walked through the vineyard to produce more natural feed for the vines etc.
80% of the property is planted with Noble varieties of vines and the remaining part is olive groves producing their organic Cornicabra olives which are turned into their Virgin Olive Oil ‘Mirall de la Terra’ at Oli Oli, the local almazara owned by another cousin.
Following this initial introduction we walked back down the hill and entered the Label museum, originally a collection of labels from Valencian wines but nowadays expanding to include National and International examples….approximately 70,000 of them! This opened in 2015 and we were priviledged to be invited to the inauguration.
The vineyards surround the property and all the winemaking is from vines the bodega grows. The families dream was always to acheive ‘Pago status’ and this too has been acheived. From the moment Michel Poudou, a family friend and assessor of vineyards with this quality for potential advised on the vines and orientation of the vineyards based on an extensive series of surveys by Maria Jose this was a driving force behind the bodega just as much as the aim to produce ‘Chateau Quality’ wines in an area then better known for its bulk wines for export.
Chozas is not unique in this respect but it is interesting to note three of Spains 20 Pago´s are in a straight line and near neighbours (Vera de Estenas and Mustiguillo being the other two) and a fourth (Vegalfaro) has Pago status for some of its vineyards. It is perhaps no coincidence all benefit from the underground rivers and water deposits rich in minerals which flow from the nearby Sierras.
Underneath the museum there have been several major changes. On entry you used to encounter a pair of conrete egg shaped vessels which Maria Jose (daughter) first introduced us to at a celebration or wine launch some time back. Today there is a row of these ‘eggs’ and truncated cone shaped vessels. Initially for experimentation these vessels are now of major importance, improving wine making immensely, a fact that you can see replicated in many wineries today. The wine inside whilst macerating and fermenting continues to flow around reducing the need for ‘punch downs’ of the cap as well as improving micro- oxigenation of the must and wine.
There is also a new barrel park, one of the most impressive we have seen and that includes Chateau´s in Bordeaux and California!
No visit to Chozas is complete without a tasting and we had asked for a tasting which showed the philosophy behind Julian’s (son) winemaking changes. Since he has thus described these as (‘Our winery is also characterised by constant innovation and the search for new techniques adapted to our environment . We continue to learn and improve together.’) we were looking forward to this.
We were to taste five wines to illustrate this, accompanied by Ibericos and cheeses and bread with the Bodegas olive oil. We were joined by Paula the bodega’s ‘responsable’ for enotourism and herself a student of winemaking.
We began with a real treat, once again being honoured to be amongst the first to taste the bodega´s new Cava, a pure Chardonnay reserve with more than 60 months ‘en rima’ and 12.5%ABV! From the 2016 vintage it is presented in a mallet shaped bottle with a gold label and is called ‘Eterno’.
A good golden colour , clean, very bright, with a good mousse and very fine , persistent bubbles it has dense long legs. On the nose despite its time in bottle it is fresh and clean, initially subtle, then floral, ( light honeysuckle notes and orange flower,) apple, honey, concentrated then brioche and butter notes, evidence of some work with the lees and a light crianza.
In the mouth it has a wonderful entry, a light prickle from the well integrated bubbles, deep fruity notes, with a lovely slightly bitter note in a long and concentrated finish. This is one of best Cava’s we have ever tasted and we suspect its ‘everlasting’ name will be short lived as it will surely sell out on release to public sale! Well worth buying and keeping some though, the structure clearly points to continued improvement and ageing in the bottle if you can resist opening it!
The second wine was not from Chozas at all! It was their ‘Prelude,’ a Muscat de Petit Grains from the families other vineyards in Saint Jean de Minervois in France. 13.5%ABV and from the 2021 vintage it is one of three wines from the ‘Poudou and Chozas’ collaboration. (Domaine de Montahuc, an AC Saint Jean de Minervois has been sold by the bodega for some years; originally Domaine Perna Batut-there is still some 2007 in our reference cellar). Now the bodega also has these new vineyards producing ‘Prelude’ and a red Garnacha (Grenache) ‘Canyon de l’Eglise’.
A ‘Pays D’Oc’ IGP, it is also an organic wine. Pale lemon in colour ,clean and bright to the eye, it has the obligtory peach and apricot fruit on the nose and is fine and elegant.
In the mouth it oozes quality, depth, roundness, balance , fruit and acidity with a lovely salinity and minerality in the finish which is a product of the amazing soils in this part of Southern France.
The third wine was the ‘Las Tres’, a blend of their three white varieties Macabeo, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. At 13.0% from the 2019 vintage it is a vino de Pago, golden in colour, clean and bright. On the nose it has a biscuity (Dutch butter biscuits) note, is floral and perfumed (acacia, honey.)
In the mouth it is a big wine, lots of fruit and vanilla notes from the crianza. Probably at its best now.
Wine number four was the ‘Las Ocho’ a blend of the bodega’s eight red varieties, and is their ‘Chateauneuf de Pape’ wine, 2018, 14.5% (there is a distinct element of ‘French’ style to their wines.)
All eight varieties are vinified separately and then blended. It used to be that all were aged in oak but now Julian Jr only puts 75% in oak, the rest being retained in tank and this adds a freshness and fruit to the final blend. Four varieties make up the bulk of the wine with the rest being used in smaller quantities as ‘salt and pepper’ for seasoning.
Medium to full bodied, red cherry colour and long legs to the eye. On the nose the fruit flies out of the glass, fresh red fruit, ripe black fruits, ‘guindas’, spices and overall jammy and concentrated !
In the mouth it has fruit on entry, round tannins, fresh acidity, balsamic notes then another burst of fruit! Well balanced, fully integrated and the structure of a good Grand Reserve wine, it is better for the fresh fruit which Julian’s style of winemaking has introduced.
Finally we tasted the Cabernet Franc, up until now our favourite wine from the bodega. 2017, light to medium bodied garnet, long legs. On the nose this is a classic Cabernet Franc with white pepper, raspberry fruit and then green pepper. It is so like a good Chinon or Bourgeuil from the Loire Valley.
In the mouth it is fresh, peppery, and just a very good wine. Manel introduced us to a new tasting match to accompany it. A product of Sebas Romero’s inventive gastronomy (Chef at La Sequiota, Alaquas) he matched the wine with pure black chocolate, white bread, the bodega’s olive oil and Maldon salt. The result is a distinct flavour of Cherry liquor bonbons. Incredible!
The transfer from generation to generation appears seamless and for certain, Julian’s philosophy is already being met, a continution of his parents vision as well. The bodega goes from strength to strength and today is even more a ‘Chateau’ producing ‘Cru’ wines in Utiel-Requena.
Finally our thanks go to Manel for a fun, professional and thoroughly enjoyable visit!