Monthly Archives: August 2011

100 Blogs, 5 Vineyard lunches, and Friendship in the World of Wine!


Figatells Lomo and Salcichon.

 

Nearly two years of blogging and the land-mark 100th blog has been reached! The last couple of years are full of happy memories, almost all of it centred on the world of wine and food. It seems to me that I am not the only one to think that it is a world full of surprises and huge satisfaction, there is nothing better than enjoying and sharing good wine and food with people who are like-minded and in the past couple of years I have been lucky enough to meet  so many people willing to share their wines, recipes and meals with me!

Arroz from La Safor.

I have a book, Ten Vineyard Lunches, by American chef Richard Olney who describes his favourite meals as those improvised when friends turn up unexpectedly! I have enjoyed several of these here but my favourites are those at the vineyards where lunch is an opportunity to try their wines, some from the barrels,  the vintage bins or private reserves, to discuss them and also to try wines from elsewhere, always of course with typical food from the region and family recipes, variations on local themes.

Somewhat luckily the last month has seen five of these vineyard lunches and this seems a good opportunity ( if self-indulgently) to share some of my experiences

First lunch was  pre-harvest at Finca Collado with my adoptive Spanish family Mari-Carmen and Guillermo. It is always a pleasure to visit this property as readers will have discerned from previous posts. Finca Collado for me is one of the top properties in DO Alicante, emerging rapidly from the shadows and producing wines which are winning and will continue to win awards. This year the white has won both the Els Bodeguers silver medal for barrel fermented white wines and a bronze Baco .  The 2009 Merlot which is evolving beautifully in bottle but still needs decanting before drinking should win medals soon as should the tinto.

The vineyard is an expression of its terroir, sitting in the valley above Salinas and with three distinct soil types in the same vineyard. This allows for separate vinification and a tasting from the barricas shows the effect the different soils have on the grape varieties, especially in the reds.

 

Testing the must!

 

I sat and chatted with Guillermo who manages the vineyard and Joan the wine-maker over lunch and we discussed the way forward. Five plots have been cleared for new plantings of Monastrell  and some whites which will be initially experimental. These are likely to be Viognier which performs well in nearby DO Valencia, the boundary is very close and Roussane.

I was joined that day also by fellow blogger Javi Prats and his family, Javi having been very impressed at the Turia wine-fair was making his first visit.

Mari Carmen prepared lunch that day with Joan who comes from La Safor, and the food theme was based on his local cuisine. Mari Carmen had produced tortillas of red peppers and onion and plates of lomo, chorizo and jamon. Whist the main course was cooking we all sat and enjoyed the white and  rosado and then the Merlot with `Figatells´a small hamburger sized ball of pork liver and  shoulder minced roughly with parsley, thyme, rosemary and clove and wrapped in caul before cooking in the oven. Really tasty. Then with the main course of an arroz cooked with clams, squid and two types of prawns we enjoyed the tinto 2008 and a new wine still in the barrica which is largely Cabernet Sauvignon with a little Merlot from two different cuvees. This wine will replace the Merlot when it is ready early next year. Lunch was finished off with fresh fruit. Simple fare but with the right people and a wonderful atmosphere with expectations high of a good harvest!

 

Tortilla of red pepper and Onion.

 

Just ten days later I was back again, this time with Val and Tony from the Vilamarxant wine club to observe the harvest of the Merlot for the 2011 Rosado vintage, the 2010 being one of the most popular wines in my house this summer!

Mari Carmen learned to cook at her mother’s side, her mother having cooked in a care home and I have described her as someone who instinctively can throw something together with great ease, very much in the Olney style! Her mothers cooking was influenced by the different parts of Spain in which they lived. Starters of cheese, sausage and jamon were followed by a green salad and then a simple arroz, almost an arroz abanda but oven cooked in a cazuela, , although the preparation of the fumet looked anything but simple and used loads of fresh small fish (moralla) which the cats enjoyed later! This was followed by chunky slices of roasted meat  from a large beef joint, served with its own juices and necessary to keep the grape pickers on their feet. This was a largely family affair with a couple of friends drafted in and , for the record, the Merlot juice was very sweet and fruity, already developing colour after just a couple of hours in the deposit! Can´t wait until this is  released!

 

 

 

Fideuà.

 

Just a couple of weeks before this Vincent Petré, son of Daniel Petré Champagne and his girlfriend Marine came to lunch here…hardly a vineyard I know but five vines just count I think, even with no grapes…birds! Daniel has been in Valencia for several months and we had met at several tastings and visited a bodega together. He was joined by Laura Weatherston a teacher who arrived in Valencia a year ago, threw herself into tasting and bodega visits , both local wines and food. Vincent is returning to France to do an MBA and Laura was moving on to Mexico City to teach for a year. Together with Javi Prats, his wife Elena and Miguel Angel Martin , a professional wine teacher and his artist partner Inma, we were joined by Adela Hernandez and Mariano Taberner of Bodegas Cueva and Tony and Val from the Vilamarxant wine club for a farewell meal.

 

Farewell lunch.

Once again the super fresh produce of Valencia provided the backdrop and we sat around the table outside on the terrace enjoying plates of humous, with peppers, carrots, pitta bread and celery, a tuna salad and an English contribution, home-made scotched eggs from our chickens. These were something new for the Spanish who took to them readily! Main course was a fidueà cooked by Javi and Laura and we finished with a lemon tart made by Tony from his own lemons….again something our Spanish friends are all chasing the recipe for! Lunch became supper and we enjoyed wines from Finca Collado and Mariano´s wines from Cueva including some of his experimental spirits, an orujo with horchata ( just like Baileys!) an orujo from ginger, his cava and the super-concentrated Macabeo, naturally fermented with 23.5% alcohol, just like a fino. As well as a Hermitage La Chapelle 1985 Jaboulet we finished with La Palera, a vi Negre Dulce from Vilafames.

The following day we just de-camped to Bodegas Cueva and carried on!

 

At Bodegas Cueva with Adela and Felix and Vincent.

 

 

Here we were joined by Felix Garcia, formerly professor at the Requena wine school and behind natural products from Bobal, grape juice and a concentrated jelly which are very healthy!

Adela is no mean cook either and had prepared salads, morro, bravas, home cured olives and  curious pickled baby plums, bottled before ripening and which were like large greek olives. Absolute winner on the day was her Gazpacho Jalancia! A version of Gazpacho Manchego from the Jalance valley the meat,( partridge and rabbit) is cut into chunks rather than shredded as is traditional elsewhere. Then for dessert we enjoyed the carne de bobal frozen with goats yoghurt ice cream and little cakes also made with grape juice. All of course washed down with wines from the bodega and a French wine brought by Javi and Vincents family champagnes.

 

Felix, Yolanda, Elena and Javi.

Finally  and by no means least was a surprise lunch on Saturday right in the middle of Ferevin. Javi and I and an English friend setting up as a wine-merchant in South London with a penchant for Valencian wines and Bobal in particular were invited by Felix Martinez of  Vera de Estenas.

We started with an aperitif of the bodegas excellent cava down in the cellars.

Together with his wife Yolanda and other family members and Andrés Alonso Pons a Valencian lawyer and Gourmet, we then sat down to starters of traditional Requenense food. Bollo ( the flat olive bread cooked with bacon and local sausages,) a quiche of tuna and tomato with the egg cooked on top, not mixed in, coca ( a sort of pizza or pisaladiere) empañadas of cheese and ham and pisto, cheese and a russian style salad. These were accompanied by Viña Lidon the excellent barrel fermented chardonnay, the rosado from Bobal and the merlot fermented in barrel, all chilled perfectly.

 

Chocolate to Accompany Bobal, Including Chocolate with Morro!.

 

These were followed by an oven  roasted whole shoulder of Pork with baked apple and its own juices full of herbs, the first time I have seen pork served anything other than the size of a small chop!

To finish we of course had to have bitter chocolate to go with the bodega´s Casa Don Angel Bobal, looking at the three vintages, 2005, 2006 and the recently bottled 2007.

Once again a truly memorable lunch in fabulous surroundings with great company demonstrating the generosity and warmth of the Valencian people and the diversity of cooking across the region.

 

Casa Don Angel Bobal, 2005,2006 and 2007.

If the next year is half as good as the last two have been it will still be a wonderful experience enjoying genuine family based friendships and writing about the wine and gastronomy of Valencia! Who knows, there may be a separate cookery book in it!

A week to Ferevin 2011,Optimism Abounds For a Better Year in Utiel-Requena!


José Luis Robredo, President CRDOP Utiel-Requena.

 

Actually, just five more days as Ferevin will open its doors to the public on Thursday evening for this years showcase fair, held in the central Avenida Arrabal until lunchtime on Sunday next! Entry is by ticket as usual which will provide a number of tastings from the  associated bodegas, and discounts on the entry price are once again available fo those using the rail connection to Requena from Valencia´s San Isidre station.

This years fair is being held against a real feeling of optimism in the D.O. A number of factors have swung the mood around despite the damage caused by recent hailstorms, with ice the size of an average fist, punishing the vineyards, almonds and olives of San Antonio. What are the reasons for this optimism?

Firstly as reported earlier in the year the application for UNESCO world heritage status is progressing well. Related to archeological digs at Las Pillilas and Kelin which show there have been 2500 years of continuous wine-making in Spain, making it the oldest wine-producing region on the peninsular. This is expected to be approved next year. When approved it will add great prestige to the region and provide additional publicity to make the wines better known world-wide as well as hopefully providing a stimulus for the growing wine tourism already on the up in the region.

Las Pillilas, Spains Oldest Bodega.

 

Secondly whilst all the growers will be praying for good weather in the next few weeks and keeping fingers, legs and everything else possible crossed, the harvest looks good at this point. There has been little if any mildew or oidium compared with last year, and almost perfect weather since the spring, (the odd thunderstorm excepted) which has left a bigger and healthier crop this year according to my contacts. In fact if anything picking could well be a little earlier to avoid over-maturity in the crop in certain areas. Certainly there is great optimism for the Macabeo crop, so important to the production of the excellent cavas produced in Requena.

Just about a year ago José Luis Robredo took over as President of the Controlling body, at a very difficult time for the DO with huge differences between the views of the growers and the bodega owners over the future status of Utiel-Requena ( which many felt was unknown ) and would be better marketing it´s wines as `Wines from Valencia´to cash in on the latter prestige name around the world. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the recent conference weekend held for bloggers.

A year later , confidence in the D.O. is up. Sales have improved over the year to 25 million bottles, 59% of which are sold abroad. Under pressure to improve the variety of wines the DO has  approved the use of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Verdejo and Albariño although the emphasis will remain heavily on Bobal which is planted in 75% of the D.O´s vineyards.

The D.O. has adopted a strong approach to promoting the wines to the younger generation whose preferences seem to be for beer or spirits although at every tasting I have been to there is always a strong presence of young wine drinkers appreciating Valencian fine wines.

Esperanza Alonso, Manager of the Bodega Redonda, Utiel.

And wine tourism in the area is up as well, with the D.O´s headquarters in the Bodega Redonda in Utiel under the managership of Esperanza Alonso receiving 6100 visitors in the last year. During the recent open days a number of bodegas held a variety of events with attendances up again on previous years.

One of the main new economic drivers in the region should be the new High Speed train station at Requena-Utiel, just outside San Antonio. The ten towns that make up the DO (including Chera) together with the controlling body have formed a technical commission to use the station to promote the area. It is felt that the station can provide more than a dropping-off point for visitors to the region, being just over an hour from Madrid and 20 minutes from Valencia. Utiel, Requena and El Rebollar have Industrial estates which are prime for expansion especially as the region becomes a hub for transport when the new Interior road from Alicante is completed. Also likely to benefit is the Hoces de Cabriel national park with it´s walking, canoeing and other outdoor pursuits centres based in Venta del Moro. It is felt that the AVE stations in Madrid and Valencia can also be exploited more to highlight the region with promotions of wine,tourism, the regions sausages and gastronomy etc.

And finally there are reports of more interest in bulk wine with sales being potentially higher over the next year. Utiel-Requena´s whole tradition started with bulk wine exports and much continues to be exported today. In fact on a recent visit to Venta del Moro, the bulk road tankers were already lined up outside one of the bodegas awaiting the start of the harvest. The last two years have seen prices paid for the crop fall below what it costs to produce it. It is hoped that the quality wine with it´s DO certificate will produce higher prices this year and start to decrease the decline which has seen old vineyards with quality production being grubbed up  as growers abandon their plots of vines.

Carlos Carcel, President of Ferevin.

And, what can we expect from the wine fair this year? Well under the fifth year of control by Carlos Carcel and the committee of Ferevin, this fair should reflect some of that optimism. Some 20 or so bodegas will be present and the timetable of events is available at www.ferevin.com . Highlights will once again be the wines, and there is a huge variety to taste over the four days. The gastronomic element will be the local bollo, a flat olive bread with bacon and sausages, or Sardines and tomatos as well as Gazpacho Requenense, a variety of  a manchego stew with rabbit and partridge. The wine competition on Saturday is rumoured to have entrants from abroad marking it as an International Competition for the first time in it´s four year history.

For a feel of last years event see August 2010´s archive. Roll on Thursday evening!

 

 

A Visit to Bodegas Proexa, Los Marcos, Venta del Moro. DO Utiel-Requena.


Bodegas Proexa.

 

I first came across the wines from Bodegas Proexa last year during the Certamen del Vinos de Venta del Moro ( See archive August 2010). A further tasting of their wines last week at the 2011 event just confirmed how good they are and so the stage was set for a visit to the bodega itself, a visit on which I was accompanied by three members of the Vilamarxant Wine Club. Despite a small problem with the map, or maybe it was just a local road petering out suddenly, we made it to the little hamlet of Los Marcos, near to Venta del Moro, where the bodega is situated. The bodega is right on the edge of town, next door to Aranleon and across the road from the local Cooperative.

Originally this bodega and Aranleon were owned by the same family but inheritance has subsequently seen them split and today Proexa is run by Jose Luis Lopez and Manolo who met us on our arrival and conducted a fascinating tour and subsequent tasting of some of their wines from the barrels. The bodega was set up in 1996, with its vineyards in Venta del Moro planted in 1991. Set in two buildings, the original bodega and a newer building with basement barrel park, tasting suite and storage area, the bodega has four concrete deposits lined with tiles and/or epoxy resin, each capable of holding 15k kilos of grapes. The vineyards consist of some 25 hectares, mostly Tempranillo, with parcels of Merlot, Syrah and Bobal for the coupages.

 

Laboratory in the Bodega.

The entire project is ecological  and the bodega uses only natural yeasts in fermentation. Everything is done in-house, by hand, making it a truly artisanal bodega. Much of the wine produced is sold in bulk and with  the wines set aside for crianza and reserva and subsequently bottled some 90% of the production goes directly to Germany where ecological wines are well appreciated. Some wine is sold through distributors to Madrid and Valencia but I have only ever seen the wines in Venta del Moro. And in Germany their distributors regularly enter the wines into competitions such as Biofac and Prowein where  equally regularly they win awards including gold medals!Some of the production is sold to the German owned bodega, Palmera,  in El Rebollar.

I asked Jose Luis about this years harvest especially after last year which had proved very difficult with hailstones ruining much of the crop which had not already suffered badly from mildew and oidium. He told me that so far this year was looking very good. The grapes are smaller and more compact than in previous years but he believes they have more concentration and quality. Most of the vines are planted `en espalda´but some are still in the traditional `vaso´style. Harvesting will begin on the 15th of September a little earlier than usual.

Harvesting is undertaken by hand with first selection taking place in the vineyard and thereafter the grapes are transferred to the bodega in 20Kg boxes to avoid unwanted pressing and oxidation. The bodega holds a pneumatic press, a laboratory and hand bottling plant. Apart from the concrete deposits there are also temperature controlled stainless steel tanks as well as some fibre-glass tanks where wine ready for bottling is kept temporarily, with tops that follow the wine down to avoid unwanted air getting in to oxidise the wine.

Pneumatic Press and Stainless Steel Deposit.

In the barrel park below the tasting suite sit the wines undergoing crianza or destined for Reserva status. Here also repose the bottles containing the finished wine as they go through their evolution before release onto the market. The bodega sticks rigidly to the DO Rules with crianza wines spending 6 months in wood and a year in bottle and the Reserva wines a year in wood and 2 years in bottle. Most of the barrels are French oak but they do have a few of American origin. The barrels are generally medium toasted. The bodega normally produces between 40-50 thousand bottles a year of its Vega Valterra and Aldobanes ranges.

Whilst we were in the basement area Jose Luis used a pipette to draw us all a sample of 2010 Tempranillo  destined for a reserva wine. A nice cherry red colour with good legs, this was initially closed on the nose but after a few minutes red and black fruits emerged together with hints of the oak. In the mouth it was very smooth.

Upstairs we tried a bobal from a 500 litre oak barrel. Again of light to medium density, with a violet edge, glycerinous legs, and again initially closed on the nose. Once again as it opened up there was raspberry fruit, yeasts and  chocolate, and in the mouth this had good fruit, was very smooth although quite tannic.

Jose Luis draws a sample of Tempranillo.

In the tasting suite we tried the 2008, Aldobanes, the flagship wine from the bodega. A blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Bobal, 14.5% ABV. With medium to deep density, very glycerinous slow fat legs, and a deep cherry red with violet edge. On the nose this opened slowly, and when it did it was full of complexity, green pepper, chocolate, liquorice. In the mouth it also evolved slowly showing its potential. This is a wine which needs two more years in bottle before opening and Jose Luis believes it will accompany game or blue fish dishes well. I would like to partner it with a good steak and kidney pudding! A wine to lay down for the future.

Finally we tasted a new wine, so far unbottled and without a name. A new wine to add to the range produced by the bodega, Jose Luis and Manolo were keen to get independent opinions of this wine. From Tempranillo, with a small percentage of Bobal, the wine is around 14.5%ABV. It is not a joven, coming from the 2009 vintage and has seen only a short period in wood making it a Vino de Autor, possibly Madurado en Barrica. This had the longest, slowest, fattest legs I have seen! Again a very dense wine with dark red colour. On the nose initially a little floral. Then as it opened out, red and black fruit, raspberries. Suddenly, despite the small percentage of Bobal this variety started to dominate with liquorice, in the mouth, smooth, fruity, a quite different style which made it the most popular wine in the tasting. When this is bottled we will be back to buy some of the  6k litres available!

Jose Luis with Vilamarxant Wine Club Members in the Tasting Suite.

Whilst it is good that they have a ready market for their quality wines, it is a shame Valencia is unaware generally of the quality wines produced by this little bodega! This was a fascinating and very enjoyable visit to an artisan producer and I for one will be keeping a closer eye on what is going on in this quiet corner of Utiel-Requena!

 

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