Promoting Bobal

THE BOBAL TRIUMVIRATE

I guess like many these days, I don’t just rely on one news feed. Whatever else one might say about President Trump, he certainly coined an accurate phrase – Fake News, and there’s plenty of it about. Was it always like this, we just didn’t realise it, or is it a new phenomenon, becoming increasingly worse?

Personally, I use several different sources to try and glean the truth – it’s in there somewhere, amidst the bias and the corruption, we just have to seek it out, lamentable though this is!

I also use several wine-news feeds, but not for the same reason – my sources in this sector have nothing to peddle – it’s to try and acquire as much information about wine, particularly Spanish wine, that is humanly possible. The goal being, of course, to keep faithful Cork Talk readers up to speed.

One such feed recently told of a new initiative – the forming of what I’m calling ‘The Bobal Triumvirate’. Although I write about wines from all over Spain, I’m always at pains to point out that there are also excellent wines local to where I live. One such area is Denominación de Origen Utiel-Requena. It’s from them that I heard the recent encouraging news that they have joined forces with two other DOs, Manchuela and Ribera del Júcar, with the aim of promoting the grape variety that is common to all three – Bobal!

How Bobal got it’s name is a fascinating piece of folklore stemming from Roman times here Valencia region (read it here  www.colinharknessonwine.com/bobal-grape-variety-get-name/). It also makes a fascinating wine, in different styles too. For example, one of my favourite sparkling wines is the Blanc de Noir made with Bobal, by Pago de Tharsys in Utiel-Requena; plus, my favourite Rosado wine of the year thus far, is made with Bobal, by Bodegas La Niña de Cuenca; and of course, there are the three reds that I’ll be describing soon. Bobal’s versatility is key.

The wine world is competitive. Spain can now claim to have many areas of production that are crafting excellent wines. Yes there’s always been Rioja, Cava and a few other Spanish stars, but nowadays even they are feeling the heat of competition. Spanish winemaking is dynamic and at an all time high, so all producers have to be on their toes. Plus, DOs have to have a pull, hopefully unique, that will guide consumers to their area. Unique (practically, anyway) Bobal has been identified by the three Dos in question as being the jewel in their collective crown.

My newsfeed told of the formation of this triumvirate, advising that their first joint effort, will be a combined Utiel-Requena/Manchuela/Ribera del Júcar tasting to be held at this year’s Fenavin professional wine fair – essentially the biggest and best in Spain. The press has been informed and the various trade magazines and news outlets will be advertising the event. It’s a good start – though I believe more needs to be done.

The first responder was Bodegas Casa Gualda, whose wine Ten, from their Colección Leal series is made with 100% Bobal and, presumably, takes its name from the fact that it has been aged for ten months in French and American oak. The wine has added depth from the oak, but on the palate it’s the fruit that is to the fore. A characteristic of this variety is dark cherry notes, on the nose as well, and Ten certainly has this, though a little more too. There are earthy, wet stone mineral notes with a little mountain herb too. It’s the 2015 vintage, uncomplicated enjoyable, fruity wine. (www.casagualda.com)

Bodegas Pigar’s, Bobal La Serratilla 2017, DO Utiel-Requena, is a whopping 16% abv – though you wouldn’t know it to be so high. It’s full, yes, completely taking over the palate with some wonderful black (and lighter) cherry notes, but this wine also has an air of elegance to accompany its richness. Fermentation of the juice from grapes of the oldest vineyard on the property was provoked by its own wild yeasts. A glorious very dark colour, it invites the drinker in, and won’t let go! Just seven months in oak – super stuff! (Facebook Bodegas Pigar)

Rubatos 2017 from Bodegas La Niña de Cuenca, DO Manchuela is a lovely single vineyard wine from vines planted in 1985 and hand harvested at night. The must was fermented in 1,000 and 500 litre earthenware tinajas where it remained for ten months, before being bottled and kept in the cellar for a further three months before release.

I really enjoyed this wine, in fact, more so the second day. It’s still young and I’d recommend decanting, and even better, sit on it for at least another year (contacting the bodega www.laninadecuenca.com and hoping they have some 2016 left, or earlier!). Elegant, yet full, with lovely herby dark fruit and black cherry on the nose, with tannin for ageing, fresh acidity and glorious fruit!

colin@colinharknessonwine.com  Facebook Colin Harkness

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Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola – History in the Making!

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Although, to my uneducated eye, the verdant valley that separates the sleepy villages of Llíber and Jalón in the Alicante Province, looks as if it might have been created by a glacier, eons ago, I believe it was in fact the result of some even older catastrophic tectonic plate movements.

How different it must have looked then.

Nowadays, as many readers will know, it is home to acres of vineyards, not yet stirring from their winter slumber, though soon to do so. Indeed, these vineyards were home to the single vine that starred in my blog, A Season in the Life of a Vine, last vintage, the final part of which was published just recently (you can read the whole blog here www.colinharknessonwine.com Click Blog).

The vineyards also have an ancient history.

Like myself, you may have thought that the most important Caliphate operating in Spain during the time of the Moors (roughly 9th Century – 13th Century) was that in the region of Granada. Was it not there that the Christian Re-conquest, prosecuted by the Catholic Kings, was finally successful in taking back the country? Well, in fact, I am given to believe that, whilst Granada was indeed an important hub, it was the Caliphate of Denia that reigned supreme!

A huge swathe of land belonged to Denia at this time, with the port then being the largest in Spain, used for trade and military purposes. Like the Romans before them, the Moors brought first their armies, then their culture, their rulers, lawmakers etc, and then their people. This, of course, included their farmers. Oranges arrived, rice too – and yes, their vines!

At that time, and we are talking of hundreds of years, the Moors did drink alcohol, and certainly it was high on their list of trading items. Commercial vineyards were planted wherever the Moscatel grape variety could grow, for sweet wines were to their taste. This, of course, included the Llíber/Jalón valley, which is still today covered in Moscatel vines. However, they are not alone – there are also red wine grapes now, thousands of Giró/Garnacha, brought by settlers from other parts of Spain tempted to take over vineyards left by the Moors still living here when they were given just 15 days to lave the country!

This patchwork of vineyards has been owned for generations by families whose incumbents today farm them in very much the same way as they always have. Thousands of litres of red and white (and rosado) wines are produced here year in year out, with the same people driving their tractors to the Jalón cooperative each September and October.

Well, come the 2019 vintage, there’ll be a new kid on the block – and he won’t be going to the cooperative!

Enter, Señor Pepe Mendoza, Head Winemaker at the family winery in Alfaz del Pí, who this last couple of years has allotted himself a small corner of the Alfaz winery to start his new project, independently running alongside the simultaneous production of the world famous, Bodegas Enrique Mendoza. Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola wines were launched onto the market to considerable acclaim last year. You read it here folks!

Pepe and I enjoying his Pureza Orange Wine made in the corner!

Well, Pepe has moved out of the tiny corner in Alfaz and has opened the new bodega just off the Benissa/Jalón road, where the valley starts its gradual rise towards the mountains that surround the valley. It’s a work in progress and I was recently privileged to be able to tour it with the man himself!

It’s not yet open to the public – but soon will be and you have to go! Pepe is at pains to make sure that the ancient buildings are being restored sympathetically, whilst new buildings, for example toilet facilities for wine tourists (including handicapped toilets), are being built in keeping with the rest. And what about the ancient buildings?

Well, when I was there the old ‘riurau’ where grapes were dried into raisons, for the booming trade of the 19th Century, were being carefully prepared. In fact Pepe believes that these riuraus predate the trade boom and are probably 18th Century! But that’s not all!

Pepe’s clear excitement was contagious as we approached an outhouse area where he is preparing a wine school, to help local farmers, amongst other uses. Here in the tiles are Arabic signs and designs that go back centuries to when the Moors were actually here, including a handprint and a simple drawing of a worker dressed in Arab style, impressed into a brick tile!

Pepe also showed me where wine he made last year is maturing in large cement tanks underground, along with the ancient presses etc he’d used to craft it! I can’t wait to taste it, and taste history too!

Bodegas Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola is as much a working museum as it is a bodega, and knowing Pepe’s ability as a wine maker (voted Spanish Winemaker of the Year, a few years ago!), it’s certain that the wines he will be making here will be outstanding! Watch this space!

www.colinharknessonwine.com colin@colinharknessonwine.com

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New Wave Rioja!

MEETING MERLOT

In August 2011, whilst serving on my first Spanish Wine Judging Panel (Denominación de Origen Rías Baixas Cata/Concurso), I was fortunate to meet and chat with one of the legends in this country’s winemaking fraternity, Antonio Palacios, no less, and his daughter Bárbera, herself a bourgeoning winemaker.

A few days later, I also met Merlot!

My article, following this meeting, archived here (https://www.colinharknessonwine.com/first-published-in-costa-news-sl-september-2011/) may make useful reading as background to today’s missive. You see, in a manner of speaking, Merlot has spawned a Puppi!

When I met her nearly eight years ago, Bárbara Palacios Lopez-Montenegro, had just made her first, personal, commercial wine. As you’ll read above (go on, it’s one of my favourite articles!) that wine, still being crafted today, is called Barbarot – a combination of Bárbera’s name and that of her gorgeous Golden Retriever, Merlot.

Barbarot, then as now, goes under the auspices of DOCa Rioja. Termed simply, a Cosecha wine, Bárbara wasn’t keen on following the Rioja recipe and making a Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva wine, where minimum lengths of time in oak are prescribed according to the style required. Eschewing the use of such handcuffs, Bárbara’s illustrious, yet charming and down to earth father, Antonio, described her wine as being a Vino d’Autor. In other words a wine, made according to how the enologo (winemaker), wants to make it.

Recently my esteemed colleague, Tim Atkin MW, visited Rioja to make an assessment of the famous area’s wines as they are right now. He made sure that he spent some time with Bárbara and, as can be seen on her Facebook page, she’s delighted with Tim’s marks and comments – for both her established wine Barbarot, and for Puppi Barbarot, the new puppy on the block!

In 1994 Bárbara’s famous father applied to the Rioja Consejo Regulador for permission to plant some experimental Merlot – a variety not normally permitted in DOCa Rioja. They’d hardly turn down a request from such a famous family, so Merlot was indeed planted. The site of the planting was crucial. Antonio Palacio had studied the soils of two vineyards that he owned and on analysis had determined that they were similar to those in Bordeaux – home, of course, to Merlot.

In an interesting French/Spanish alliance he determined to produce a wine made from one of France’s most famous varieties, and one of  Spain’s, Tempranillo. Meanwhile, his daughter, Bárbara, was learning the trade. Working the harvests and making wine in Bordeaux, Italy, California, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina Bárbara was honing her skills whilst developing her passion for making high quality wine.

On her return she was given the reigns of the new vineyards, now maturing nicely. The result, was the introduction of Barbarot, the latest vintage of which, Tim has just been given a whopping 95 points!

Recently, the vineyard has been extended, with new plantings and Bárbara has decided to therefore extend her portfolio, to two wines – not a huge number, but when the wines are this good, you don’t need more!

A bottle of Puppi Barbarot 2016 recently arrived at my door and after a resting period I had the pleasure of tasting the newcomer (wine needs a rest after travelling, it’s a little like ‘bottle shock’ where the wine which is perfectly good in barrel or tank, takes a slight step backwards on bottling, and needs a little rest before returning to its best).

Made again with Tempranillo and Merlot it’s enjoyed six months in two years old French oak. Such a time in oak would enable the wine to be described as a ‘roble’ wine, or semi-crianza (it couldn’t officially be a crianza in Rioja as, although the legal minimum time in Spain is indeed six months, Rioja insists on 12 months). However, sticking to her Vino d’Autor game plan, the wine has Cosecho only on the back label.

Here you’ll also see a description from Bábara telling consumers that this wine is inspired by her loyal dog and companion and represents the youth and joy of a puppy! And if that’s not enough charm, take a look at the front label, where you’ll see a ‘Merlot’ puppy running amongst the vines – it’s lovely!

So is the wine! The used oak adds depth without contributing greatly to the overall flavour – it’s a fruit first wine, as it’s meant to be. Some damson on the nose with a little ripe strawberry and a trug-full of red currant too, with some added herby notes for good measure!

Fresh, lively, vivacious – rather like a puppy! Oh, and Tim’s score – a very impressive 91 points! (http://www.barbarot-wines.com/eng/)

Twitter @colinonwine  Facebook Colin Harkness www.colinharknessonwine.com  colin@colinharknessonwine.com