Strawberry Fields For Ever!

STRAWBERRY FIELDS

‘Let me take you down, ‘cos I’m going to, Strawberry Fields,’ yes, you got it straight away, the Beatles, and, as a ‘Plastic Scouser’ (not actually from Liverpool, but close!), I’m always up for quoting their songs! In fact, did I tell you that Paul McCartney (he wasn’t Sir, then) dined at my restaurant once  blah blah . . . . . . .?!

So, when I visited Bodega Les Freses recently, I already had the title to this week’s Cork Talk. Les Freses means The Strawberries, in Valenciano (as I’m sure you know) and the bodega at the Hotel Denia La Sella Golf Resort end of the road that cuts through Jesús Pobre takes it’s name from the prior use of the land, which were, of course, strawberry fields, and known to the local as such. A perfect fit!

Now those fields are planted with a glorious vineyard, still young, but looking pristine, and delivering the fruit for some great wines! The fruit is Moscatel grapes, and whilst there is one sweet dessert wine (though owner/winemaker, Mara, would say, cheese wine), this bodega majors in dry Moscatel (including, though you might not believe it, a Rosado!).

The winery is pristine too. Mara, who happily conducts tasting tours on certain days of the week (www.lesfreses.com), took a group of us around the spotless building with its stainless steel fermentation tanks, and the prized tinajas, 350 litre clay pots, responsible for perhaps her flagship wine. I say perhaps, because it’s clear that this charming, passionate winemakers is in love with all of her wines!

There’s a shaded tasting area just in front of the building, but before we sat to taste the wines, we had a short tour of the immediate surrounds. First stop was the old cauldron, common to many once rustic farmhouses, where grapes that had been dried to raisons, ready for export to the UK and Europe a hundred years ago, had been dipped briefly in a solution that enabled them to withstand the journey and arrive in their best condition.

Philoxera, the deadly vine bug which decimated the vineyards of Europe, put paid to that industry, causing untold misery to those whose only income was from their grapes. Fortunately, it was discovered that American rootstocks, resistant to the insect, could be used for grafting, and households were, eventually back in business. Raisons still, but also Moscatel wine.

There are many clones of Moscatel – Mara has 14 different ones planted, cleverly, because each clone ripens at different times so this small winery with limited personnel isn’t suddenly inundated at harvest time! There is a unique microclimate at Les Freses, which also helps.

When Mara first planted her vines a matter of only a few years ago, the dreadful heat of that particular summer filled off a large percentage of her vineyard. She had a watering system fitted, but hasn’t since had to use it. The humidity of the area ensures that each morning the plants are wet during the growing season with enough water to sustain the plant but not so much that the vines over-crop, which would result ultimately in wines of lesser quality. (Green harvesting is also employed, reducing the number of bunches.)

Humidity can also cause problems though. It’s perfect for some vine disease and for vines pests. High intensity chemical praying, I’m pleased to say, is a definite no-no, for Mara. Instead, for example, she buys ladybirds, which live in the grasses and wild flowers and attack some of the pests! Also, the vines, uncommonly in this area, are trellised to avoid fungus forming. There’s more too. Les Freses wines are made from organically grown vines with as little human intervention as possible and fermentation is achieved using the indigenous yeasts of the vineyard.

We first tasted Les Freses Blanc 2018, made from grapes grown in the two different soil types that the bodega enjoys. Very pale lime green in colour, elegant, with floral notes of white rose petals and honeysuckle with some lemon and understated raison aromas. On the palate there are citrus lemon notes which remain after swallowing. A beautiful aperitif wine, with sufficient presence also to partner delicate fish dishes such as sole, dorada and lubina.

Next up was another Moscatel wine (claro!) but this time made from grapes grown on just one of the soils, the white coloured limestone based soil. Quite a revelation in terms of contrasting flavours and aromas, This wine was a touch more acidic, fresh as you like, with slightly more exotic fruit, some white peach and a little apricot – reminiscent of Albariño and Viognier wines, and that’s certainly not a bad thing!

Floral again, perhaps more jasmine this time, and a little more weight on the palate. Certainly good with the above fish, but also more meaty fish, plus where sauces are used, and lovely, no doubt with shellfish. I bought a bottle to bring home and taste again – Mara apologised that it hadn’t yet been labelled, but for me it’s the wine that will do the talking when I open it, plus, there’s always a certain excitement about opening an anonymous wine!

Finally, the aforementioned cheese wine! Designated by many as a dessert wine, I can see that this would be lovely with certain desserts, lemon and maybe orange based, figs too, with some honey, perhaps. Plus, I go along with Mara – it’s great with cheese, medium matured and mature cheese, as well as blue cheese! Honey on the nose with a little orange skin spray and traditional Moscatel whiffs of raisons.

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