A Visit to Dominio de La Vega

A Visit to Dominio De La Vega
It was another blisteringly hot afternoon, the last before predicted thunderstorms and rain, when I set off for my appointment at Dominio de La Vega. I have been  looking forward to this visit for some time, indeed since the winebloggers tasting in April in Utiel. Assistant enologist Raquel Moreno had invited me to visit after our discussion of the outstanding new Bobal  `madurado en barrica´ which was being presented that night. And Daniel Espósito, head winemaker had also recently been awarded the highest accolade by his colleagues in the Valencian Association of Winemakers who had named him winemaker of the year. This recognition comes after he has created with his associates a new bodega at Dominio de La Vega, noted across Spain for its cavas and internationally for the best wine which rates 93 in the Parker scale, as well as for his expertise in cava, initially honed at Torre Oria.
Dominio de La Vega has acheived this success in a very short period. HQ is the beautiful old Casa del Conde, an 18th Century former bodega , whose cellars and deposits have been renovated, and which is situated on the edge of San Antonio, a small town between Requena and Utiel. Set amongst pine trees and surrounded by vines the bodega is in the `Vega´a stretch of fertile land close to the Rio Magro. Perhaps surprisingly these are not the best parcels of vines which do better and produce more concentrated grapes when they have to struggle on poorer rocky soils, higher above sea level in nearby San Isidros or north of Requena. The parcels are owned by the three partners who make up the `co-op´ together with Daniel himself. They do buy in grapes from other growers with whom they work closely to ensure quality control, much in the style of the Guiberts of Mas de Daumas Gassac in the Languedoc of France. For these grapes they pay above the current commercial rate.
The Bodega was only founded in the late 90´s coming to the market in 2002 with their entry level wines called Añacal. This is a range of three joven style wines from Macabeo in white, a strawberry coloured fresh and fruity rosado from Bobal and a tinto from Bobal. The wines are all easy drinking in style with good colour, the latter a mark of the bodega. Subsequently they have introduced a range of wines under the Dominio de La Vega label, a madurado en barrica, reserva and gran reserva, two monovarietals which are reservas and marketed by the grape name ( Sauvignon Blanc and Bobal,) and then under the Arte Mayor label a vino de autor which is a blend of varieties and barricas from three harvests and the house top cava. However there is also a range of 8 cavas from entry level to the classy pure Pinot Noir which spends 20 months in bottle. The wines are marketed in specialist shops in Valencia such as Las Añadas and El Club Gourmet in El Corte Ingles. Daniel explained that much of the wine is drunk within Valencia but that they also export to Japan, the emerging and affluent Chinese market, the USA, Germany, Belgium and Holland. Nearer to home at least 2 bakers in Vilamarxant regularly sell the entry level Brut and semi-seco which are popular for toasts at family occasions. Daniel was very keen to explain that their cavas have great depth and in fact should also be drunk with food.
Outside the entrance to the bodega built originally by the Conde de Villamar. 
The visit commenced with a tour of the ultra modern annexe which houses the working bodega, bottling lines and on two levels below ground wine gently maturing. He explained the philosophy behind the wine making process, their working knowledge of what sort of wine each parcel and zone should produce which in time will lead to a consistent style of wine within each range. We also discussed the wine making process from the night harvesting of the grapes, their subsequent arrival and immediate chilling of all the grapes regardless of colour allowing them total control over the maceration and subsequent pressing, fermentation etc. This attention to detail is aimed at not just extracting the aromatics and flavours but also the colour which is important in the red wines in particular.
Pneumatic presses, chiller and stainless steel tanks in  the fermentation hall.
From here we moved through to the barrel park and Daniel offered me a  tasting of five wines direct from an impressive array of French, American and  Hungarian oak casks. The first was a Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend from El Piñares, a plot north of Requena. Daniel described this as light. It was a 2009, deep cherry red with long legs. Although closed on the nose after just 8 months in oak it had nice fruit with smooth tannins predominating. A Bobal 2008 from La Muella was a very deep black wine, also with long legs. This was spicy and concentrated with lots of black fruit and destined for the de La Vega Reserva wine.
Winemaker of the year  Daniel Espósito tastes a Bobal 2008.
Third sample was a 2009 Bobal cherry red and of medium density. This was fruity and slightly carbonic, with more fruit and less tannin, a lighter wine. The fourth wine was a 2008 Bobal destined for the Arte Mayor, top house red wine. Very deep black cherry with very long legs, and very closed on the nose. With 20 months in cask this was very concentrated, smooth, and developing some of the spicy complexity associated with the grape. Finally we tasted another bobal from 2007 from the same parcel of vines. This was even more concentrated with a rich aubergine colour, harder in the mouth this was now showing some balsamic notes.
Raquel took over the tour at this point which moved to the bottling lines, all automated in strict contrast to our last visit to Finca Collado. We also went into the bodegas cellars where she explained how the old deposits and cellar had been renovated and adapted to store bottles, some ageing for future comparison purposes, some ageing before release and some cavas in the process of sitting on the lees to fill out before disgorging. Raquel was keen to point out the philosophy of leaving the wines for the maximum time possible which enriches the wines giving them a creamy toastiness and more finesse and body. As one who has always preferred aged champagne I could empathise with this readily.
One of the bottling lines.
We  also saw the old style wooden desks for hand turning bottles of cava to guide the lees into the neck. By contrast we also saw the modern mechanical equivalents.
A rosado cava bottle reposing with the lees clearly visible in the neck.
Climbing back up stairs we arrived in the salon where Daniel had prepared a comparative tasting of the Pinot Noir cava, 2 reserve cavas and two top Arte Mayor cavas…not from currently available sales material but bottles still ageing with the lees. The Pinot Noir from 2009 is from a very small production harvested manually, macerated for just 6 hours but with a good raspberry colour…if cloudy! Described by Daniel as a `child´ for me it was a teenager, good raspberry fruit, great attack and balanced long persistent finish which filled the mouth. When this matures it will be a wonderful wine. This will not be for some time as it will spend a total of 20 months in bottle.
Cavas on their lees before tasting.
The 2008 and 2009 reservas both looked quite different, the older wine having greater depth of colour and less fizz. 70% Macabeo and 30% Chardonnay from a very small production of the latter, the 2008 was complex, toasty with good attack and a strong full round long finish. The 2009 ( 80% Macabeo and 20% Chardonnay ) despite its younger age and appearance, less time in bottle and contact with the lees was demonstrating the same characteristics already.
The house top cava is the Arte Mayor. We tasted two bottles, the first a blend of 50% each of Chardonnay and Macabeo, three years of crianza and a blend of three harvests, 2005. 2006 and 2007. The wine was similar in colour to the 2008 reserva, complex on the nose with deep toasty notes, and in the mouth nice acid balanced with a big full body and persistent attack. A truly great wine in the making. The second wine was a blend of 2007 and 2008 and by contrast was almost honeyed, creamy, unctuous with better integrated fizz,  very full and complex but with some way still to go.
This was an educative tasting and an opportunity I was so glad to have been offered. One can really appreciate how wines develop their characteristics from tastings such as this, rather than a straight bottle opening exercise. We  finished with a glass of the Brut, elegant straw yellow with elegant bubbles, and aromas which demonstrate the wine making skills. This was to toast our afternoons hard work!
Raquel, winemaker at Dominio de la Vega.
With this and the purchase of some wine  my visit came to an end and I am very grateful to Raquel and Daniel both of whom gave up their spare time to show me the bodega in an unforgetable way just before the hectic harvest begins in about two weeks. This young bodega already has an international standing and produces great wines across all its ranges. I look forward to its ongoing progress and the ability in coming years to do vertical tastings of the wines and watch their development. The bodega is open for visits by appointment and has a shop selling the wines direct. It also has a very professional website. www.dominiodelavega.com
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