A Visit to Banús, A New Bodega in Benlloch, Castellon.


The `New´Bodega in Benlloch.

 

It is always a pleasure to visit a new project at its birth, or at least shortly afterwards and Banús looks as though it will be somewhere to visit regularly over the coming years!

Banús is the project of José Luis Sanchéz, who I first met in January when I went to the Best Wines in Castellon fair. Then he was making wines for Clos D´esgarracordes, Baron D´Alba in nearby Les Useres.

Previously this four times former  champion and twice runner-up in the National Wine tasting competition in Spain has worked across the country in different collaborations, including a spell with Antonio Banderas and recently in Castilla La Mancha and Valdepeñas amongst others. José Luis is an expert in the making of Moscatel based wines and credited with pioneering the fermentation of dry white wines from the variety.

Having settled in Castellon, looking for a new project  he rolled up at the old village co-op in Benlloch where Agrotaula were selling off the relatively new equipment in the 1957 built bodega with its 3 million litre capacity.

Saints Abdon and Senen.

 

The old bodega of Saints Abdon and Senen was built in happier times when Castellon and Benlloch held much more favour than today. The story runs that the locals would turn up on Sundays to build their new Co-op. Legend tells that the Persians, Abdon and Senen were Christians captured by the Romans around 250AD and beheaded by the emperor ( hence their symbols of the sword) after a rather more gruesome death in the arena with lions and bears failed because the animals would not play ball! They are credited with the miracle of keeping heavy storms with hailstones away and they do say that there has never been a hailstorm in Benlloch´s vineyards!

Traditionally Benlloch is the best wine growing area in Castellon with it´s  red soils, a mixture of sand and limestone.

Site of the New Shop and tasting Area.

Until 1980 it produced good wines but then the powers that be ordained that the hybrid grapes had to be re-planted with noble varieties trailed on wires ( en espalda). Many of the local growers could simply not afford to comply and grubbed their vines up. In the last ten years there has been a growing interest in reviving viticulture and this led to Agrotaula buying the bodega in 2007, lining the walls with insulation, installing state of the art pumping systems and stainless steel tanks. However by 2009 they were concentrating their efforts elsewhere and this was the last vintage made there.

So when José Luis turned up to buy the equipment and saw the potential in the Bodega itself he offered to lease it, initially for a period of ten years. He has major plans for modernising parts of it and using them as part of his longer term plans in eno-tourism. The old reception area where the grapes were discharged will be stripped out and turned into a shop and tasting area whilst the void underneath which runs the length of the bodega will become the barrel cellar. Internally the old deposits will be painted but the bodega is generally not in bad condition. He runs the bodega with assistant Francisco, who has worked for both Bocoi and Vega Sicilia.

 

Inside the Bodega.

For vineyards, José Luis has made arrangements with the enthusiastic revivalists where they produce the grapes to his specification, including all aspects from pruning and size of production to when to pick. Everything is being done in an ecological manner and from this year biodynamically, that is according to the moons phases. He has access to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Monastrell and Garnacha as well as some new experimental parcels of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Gewurtztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling covering 50 hectares. He pays for the grapes according to the quality of what he receives and of course has the opportunity to reject them if they don’t meet the required standards.

On arrival the grapes are weighed, sorted outside and then pumped through the new equipment to the appropriate tanks for later fermentation.

The oak barrels for the first 2011 vintage have yet to arrive so the wines made from this years harvest are sitting in holding tanks, settling after their recent fermentation, each variety  destined to be aged separately in fine grain French oak with medium to medium+ toasting.

 

The Young Rosado.

The bodega has eight, 15 thousand litre stainless steel tanks, as well as two floors of concrete deposits with epoxy resin painted liners for the malolactic fermentations.

It seemed a good point to commence tasting those wines which are in various states of settling and clarification.

We started with a light rosado from Garnacha ( 50%) with the balance being made up equally of Monastrell and Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% ABV. This is a very pale pink, in the French style, with a quite closed nose…a feature of almost all of the wines we were to taste. Evolution in bottle will change this. In the mouth the trademark touch of carbonic gas gives the wine a bit of bite, but it was clear there was some body there as well. I am looking forward to this when it is released in time for Xmas.

 

The Merlot, Deep in Colour!

Next we tasted the Garnacha, a youthful purple, and 14% ABV with long legs. This has a nice touch of fruit in the mouth, smooth tannins and a touch of minerality in the finish.

Third wine was the Merlot, at 14% ABV this was purple with blue hints, very deep and concentrated and with long glycerinous legs. In the mouth it is reminiscent of Northern rather than Mediterranean merlot, less jammy than expected, and without the bitter finish. This will evolve well in barrel and has lots of power and depth making it a wine with potential to lay down.

Fourth wine was the Monastrell which had only finished its fermentation on the fourth of November. Considered a difficult grape to grow in the region the colour was very similar to the Merlot. In the mouth cherry, liquorice, and great depth this is another wine with great potential.

The Cabernet Sauvignon at 14% ABV was also a similar colour with good legs and on the nose screamed peppers…not green but not ripe red either, somewhere between the two!. In the mouth explosive, lots of fruit and a wine which passes easily across the mouth, quite forward with more evolution than might have been expected.

 

José Luis Sanchéz and the Syrah!

Sixth wine was the Tempranillo, 14.75% ABV and a little more purple in colour with very long legs. Spiky fruit in the mouth, with a touch of sweetness, well structured and destined after ageing for a coupage (or blend).

Last of this years wines was the Syrah, a very special wine in José Luis´ view. This had more colour even than the Tempranillo, More violet, blue, aubergine ( in Spanish, purpura cardenelicia) sweet on the nose , boiled sweets. In the mouth sweet fruit, huge amounts of liquorice and smoke and perfectly balanced. Another wine with huge potential.

To demonstrate this we retired to the nearby `La Bodegetta´restaurant for lunch where José Luis produced a 2005 pure Syrah, Anea,  from Casaquemada, a vino de tierra de Castilla La Mancha. This was a wine of intensity, huge depth which evolved in the glass, full of blackcurrant, cassis, a wine which reminded me in its potential of a Northern Rhone such as Hermitage. Incidentally this restaurant produced a stunning bread accompaniment and an Olla, a traditional local stew with pigs ear, black pudding, cardo stalks, ( a type of artichoke) potato, chickpeas, saffron and lots more! Highly recommended if you are in the area.

 

Olla in La Bodegatta.

We discussed his plans which, apart from the re-building work and attracting visitors from the tourist centres of Orpesa and Marina D´Or nearby, not to mention Castellon´s  new airport, included a desire to make wine such as that we had drunk with lunch and recuperate Moscatel as a variety locally.

The rosado will go on sale for Xmas, followed by a light crianza red. In the meantime this years reds will age in barrel until José Luis considers them right for blending or sale as single varietals. All will be sold under the Banús label, IGP Vinos de Terra de Castellon.

On the basis of what I tasted the wines will be an instant success and Castellon has another bodega with the potential to make truly great and long-lived wines. I intend watching the progress of the bodega, watched over by it´s saints and hoping to visit and taste with José Luis on many occasions in the future.

 

Assistant Francisco Bottles samples for a Future Tasting.

 

 

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