Utiel Gastronomica

Utiel Gastronomica 2009
Friday 16 October saw the opening of Utiel’s gastronomy fair held in the open air in the Paseo de Alameda, close to the Rio Magro.
This year, possibly due to cooler weather and the the economic crisis numbers attending were down but the fairs organisers still declared it a great success. Utiel is one of the two major towns on the plateau which gives it’s name to the wine region. The fair was held against a backdrop of a bumper largely healthy crop of grapes ( some 20% up on last year ) helped by the long dry summer which impeded rot and other diseases. However small growers who supply the co-operatives received only 0.13 – 0.16€ per kilo whilst costs of growing the crop are put at 0.33 €. The same small growers who rely on immigrant labour to collect the harvest have also been hit by inspections from the labour ministry looking for illegal workers.
The harvest also took place overall nearly one month earlier than was the case 30 years ago which is being blamed on climate change.
Nonetheless many of the exhibitors maintained a cheerful disposition throughout the fair.
Principle attractions locally are the sausages , sobrasadas and other meat products for which the area is renowned.  Personally the best stall is always that of the local housewives association   ` Amas de Casa Tyrius ´who are custodians of the traditional recipes. These include the cod and potato dish `ajoarriero´ the local pate style dish `mortuerelo´and `gazpacho´ which is a local stew. Members vie to produce the best examples along with other dishes and to judge by the queues the discerning  Valencian visitors also knew where to go!
Also exhibiting were Quesos Cati , themselves previous winners of awards at the world cheese fairs, honey producers, local bakers and turron producers from Casinos whose own fair is in November.
Unique to this gastronomic fair is the Ruta del Tapeo. This consists of 11 local bars each specialising in one of the local dishes which can be tried for about 2€.
However good as the food was the primary purpose of the visit was to try some local wines.
The Bodegas.
Six local bodegas attended this year together with the D.O. Regulator and it´s associated Ruta del Vino tourist arm which promotes vineyard visits and local accomodation. Best known were probably Gandia whose HQ is nearby and the local Coop´s from Utiel ´Utielana´ and Requena `Coviñas´.
I decided to look at the other three for contrast.
First up was Vera de Estenas www.veradeestenas.es . They produce a number of wines and I selected the barrel fermented Chardonnay 2008 , 12.5% abv and retailing at around 9€. I have long liked this wine for its ability to mimic whites from the Chalonais in France.
Lemon in colour, clean and bright with medium legs the nose is bursting with tropical fruits, especially pineapple and lychee as well as citrus fruit.  On the palate the wine is immediately full and solid the toasted fruits opening to give a long full dry  finish.
Next was the Casa Don Angel Tradicion Bobal 2002 weighing in at 14%abv and selling at 14€ the bottle. This is a deep cherry red wine with long legs. On the nose blackberry, cherry then complex spice notes. The wine opens in the mouth first the traditional wood , tannins then quickly astringency before the fruit explodes and balance is reached. A long chewy finish ensues. This is a big wine to accompany game stews and red meat and one to lay down too.
Finally the Syrah 2007 13%abv selling at 6.5€ a bottle. From a production of just 3488 bottles this wine spent 11 months in French oak.
Black cherry with purple tones and long slow developing legs. The recently opened bottle was slow to open up on the nose and as is the tradition here was served slightly chilled. Once in the mouth it was a revelation. Opening slowly but incrementally to expose fruit and tannin in balance with wood fruits, minerally and even hints of licquorice. A nice wine and definitely one for the cellar!
Visits available with an English commentary by previous appointment only.
Second on my list was the somewhat larger company Bodegas Murviedro. This is owned by Swiss firm bodegas Schenk who have interests in France and elsewhere as well as each of the provinces in the Valencian community. www.murviedro.es .
This huge company has a large range of wines sold throughout Europe and to Sainsbury´s and Marks and Spencer in the UK.
They have recently introduced two new aperitivo wines which can also be served with seafood or puddings. Under the name Estrella the wines are sold in 50cl format bottles. They are available in supermarkets here .
Both are just 10%abv and retail at 5.5€ the bottle. The white version is 100% Muscat de Alexandria. Pale lemon, clear and  bright and with long legs there is the inevitable peachy, apricoty, honeyed nose  On the palate though there is none of the cloying associated with the grape. Indeed this was light and fresh in keeping with the Alicante style and would certainly meet it´s objectives.
I preferred the Rosado version which is 75% Muscat and 25% garnacha. The latter grape which can also produce heady sweet wines is really used for its colour and to lighten the muscat. Pale onion skin, clean and bright. On the nose similar to the pure muscat and on the palate slightly fresher. This is the only sweet rosado produced in the Valencian Community.
Finally I looked at the Cuevas Culpa 2007 which is 60% Bobal and 40% Merlot. At 14.5%abv it is one of only 6000 bottles produced each year and sells for 18€. It is one of 4 special wines in the Cuevas range.
The wine undergoes 5 days of cold masceration followed by three weeks fermentation on the skins with oxygenation before spending 12 months in French and American oak. From the oldest vines the wine is very black cherry with long , long legs. On the nose massive fruit, concentrated and jammy. In the mouth beautifully balanced with a spicy finish and a good five years of life to come. At 18€ the bottle it is a treat.
Thirdly I sampled wines from the smaller bodega Covilor. www.bodegascovilor.com . This bodega a former co-op and using the older premises is a small group of growers and families producing quality wines.
Alto Cuevas Blanco is 100% Macabeo and 11.5% abv. Pale green/yellow. Nice pineapple and apple fruits on the nose and fresh and spritzy
on the palate. This would go well with fish.
Second up was a bobal crianza from the Sucesion range. 100% bobal this 2004 wine spent 12 months in French and American oak. 12.5% abv. Garnet in colour, not deep. On the nose vanilla and toasted fruit and on the palate good mature fruit, wood and vanilla nicely balanced with a long full finish.
Finally from the same range the Sucesion Bobal Reserva 2004 had a similar appearance to the Crianza. Very closed on the nose but smoother on the palate although the wood was more evident this was a nicely balanced wine which needs food to accompany it.
Worth a visit to Camporobles to taste other wines.
Once again a varied range of wines, styles and producers all of whom were helpful, welcoming and eager to talk about their wines.
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