Monthly Archives: December 2011

A Visit to Bodega La Encina, New Artesans in Wine.

Carlos Espi and Tim O ´Donnell.


The tiny hamlet of La Encina is situated close to the border between Alicante, Valencia and Castilla La Mancha. It is close to a number of Bronze age settlements because the location is on the ancient tracks from the coast to the `meseta´ which formed trade routes and those of migration in ancient times.

Today this tiny hamlet of Villena, some 18km away towards Alicante, is recognised as one of just 14 railway building towns in Spain and the only one within the Valencian Community. Population has fluctuated reaching around 1200 in the heyday of railway building ( 1960´s) but today has dropped back to around 150. The houses were built largely for the railway builders along the side of the tracks, still maintained and in use today.

In one small street of houses, tucked below the railway lines between the new high-speed train track and the motorway both of which are under construction, three small buildings make up Bodega La Encina, a new addition to the winemaking tradition in Valencia. Carlos Espi and his uncle, José Maria Espi Sánchez are responsible for the bodega, which has vineyards in la Mancha as well as DO Alicante, although both are just between 2-5 km away from La Encina.

Wines From La Encina.

Wines therefore have  either  the DO Alicante mark, or the Viñedos de España `Vinos de la Tierra´ mark for those coming from the La Mancha vineyards. What both share is an absolute dedication to ecological practices with no use of chemicals or chemical fertilizers. The entire process is carefully handled, small boxes for the grapes, transport in chilled van, hand selection and then all of this is subject to inspection by the authorities Valencian Governments Ecological Agriculture Committee who award the prestigious back label certificate which aids export sales.

I was visiting with Tim O Donnell of the newly created Alizarin Wines in South London who is exploring Valencian vineyards with a view to importing wines for delicatessens, restaurants and for retail sales as well. Good ecological wines fit his business plan well.

Accompanied by Tim´s wife Suzanne, Carlos and José were keen to show us this years wines, still in deposit, and earlier wines from the barrel.

The bodega produces four wines currently. `Cero´ which is Vinos de España, 2008 and a blend of Garnacha, Merlot and Monastrell with ten months in French oak and 10 months in bottle before release. `Albalat´ Roble, with around three months in either French or American oak, `Albalat´Crianza with 8 months in oak and both 90% Monastrell, and `Rojoydulce´a mistela from Monastrell, all of which were reviewed in my post covering the L´ Alcúdia gastronomy fair in October 2011 ( see archive for tasting notes).

Forcallet, Rosado.

The three buildings contain respectively the press, deposits and bottling plant, the offices and the barrel park, some of it underground and some of it in an old pigeon loft……though this also just under ground level! There is a separate finca nearer the vineyards which contains another 100 barrels making up the total of around 2oo that the bodega uses.

The deposits are either stainless steel covered with epoxy resin or plastic and the bodega produces around 35-40 thousand litres a year.

The three varieties used currently are Monastrell, Garnacha and Merlot but there is some Forcallet which is producing a rosado .

It was the Forcallet 2011 we tried first, from deposit and with a deep onion skin which will fade when it is filtered before bottling. On the nose redcurrant fruit and in the mouth a hint of sparkle, fruity but very nicely balanced with acidity, long dry finish. I´m looking forward to trying this when it is released.

Secondly we tried the rojoydulce from deposit, also a rosado colour but much more red than the  Forcallet. This seemed still quite dry to me at this stage but deep in flavour.


Albalat Crianza.


The Albalat Roble 2010 is now approaching botttling time but we tasted directly from the barrel. The 2010 has had nearer to five months in wood and was full of lovely fruit, perhaps a little stalky at this stage. This will evolve and improve in bottle.

Down in the cellar we tasted the Tinto Cero 2010, 70%  Garnacha,  with the balance being Monastrell and Merlot (5%) .This was a deep dark red in colour, a little astringent currently but with Morello cherry fruit and green apple skin flavours. We tasted the same wine, but this time one which was bottled three months ago, from  which the green apple flavours had completely disappeared, This was rounder, more integrated and softer…..and interesting because it showed the influence of bottle in the evolution of wine.

We also tasted the 2010 Albalat Crianza from barrel before moving back upstairs to taste the 2011 varietals direct from deposit. ( `Albalat ´ is  Valencià for a Pago, like a French Chateau a bodega surrounded by it´s vineyards).

The Garnacha is a deep purple colour, 14% ABV, full of fruit and with a good depth. This is ready to go to barrel now which will happen once the Roble has been bottled. With ageing and rounding out in wood this looks like being a spectacular wine for eventually blending.

The Monastrell was if anything even more purple and heady, bags of fruit on the nose and floral notes, great bunches of violets! These were carried through into the mouth which was very full and deep at this stage.

Monastrell 2011 From Deposit.

José told us the soils were very poor, in places sandy and the rest full of stone but that the vines produced better wine if they had to struggle a bit. He described his vineyards as quite stressed! Certainly this was not a description you could apply to either Carlos or José. the latter a former architect who started the project about 10 years ago but who, with the crisis in full swing, now has rather more time to spend on his  new project. Both were very animated and happy with the progress they are making.

A good thing too! The wines have been well received and I have used them in tastings already. They have also been selected twice by Vino-Valencia for their events and  also have a very good price to quality ratio. There are plenty more reposing in the cellars at La Encina. This is officially now a bodega on my list of those to watch and next time I visit I am looking forward to accepting the invitation to lunch in the vineyards!





An Interesting Bottle Came My Way…Awatea Hawkes Bay 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot.

Awatea, So Good I took Two Pictures!

Pre-Xmas, sat at home, Arroz al Horno de Xativa ( home-cooked) for lunch and I felt I needed to try something different to drink!

So a hunt through the older bottles in the cellar offered up a New Zealand wine with a bit of age and promise and well….you can only open it once!

From memory Hawkes Bay and most of New Zealand  shares the equivalent of a Northern European climate. It is for this reason their Sauvignon Blancs like Cloudy Bay have a European feel if being a bit more grassy on the nose.

So, Awatea ( which means `Eye of the Dawn´ in Maori) is a  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot with a touch of Cabernet Franc and with almost 20 years of age it raised my interest ….would it be past it? Would it still be alive and with promise or even better still? Where did the bottle come from? Well, from memory I think my youngest  brother gave it to me some years ago but whatever, it has been well cellared and today was the day to open it!

The neck level appeared to be normal, no loss there so no expectation of unwanted oxidation. The cork appeared perfect but proved to be shorter than expected… don´t these New Zealanders expect us Brits to keep bottles longer than they might? And, the cork broke in half, despite its lack of length!

Disappointed so far….? Not me, I could smell what the bottle had to offer…..immediately  fruit of the forest… fairly flowed from the neck!

And when I poured the first glass I could barely believe the colour……no hints of terracotta on the edge despite nearly 20 years, this was a bottle with a deep, dark, black cherry colour with almost a ruby edge! Long legs slowly crept down the glass and that fruit continued to dominate, now the whole room could smell it,  I think!

Arroz al Horno.

On the nose I was amazed! Here we have a wine picked between 21-30 April 1992 ( Southern Hemisphere of course!) The grapes were macerated for 10-15 days and following the malolactic fermentation it was transferred  into French oak ( 70% of it new) for 18 months. We are dealing here with a wine that is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% each of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but we might have been dealing with a very good Chinon or Bourgeuil  because on closer attention to me it was the Cabernet Franc that dominated the nose….that lovely raspberry  fruit I remember so well from Druet or Lamé-Delille-Boucard  wines I drank many bottles of in the 80´s on visits to the area or with friends in London.

Also on the nose was a clear hint of clove.

In the mouth there was no disappointment. What a fine wine! That raspberry fruit had a gravel, mineral undertone, still mature fruit and still very lively….two and a half hours later I am still enjoying the second glass which is full, round, long-lived and extremely well balanced…..oh how I wish my brother had brought me a half-dozen bottles!

Worth Another Look!

What a pleasure, it stood up very, very well to the fat in the pork ribs, the sweetness of the roasted garlic, saffron and morcilla de cebolla.

This may have been a self-indulgent lunch on a cold, very windy, Valencian Autumn day but one I shall remember for a very long time to come!

Ricardo´s Ten Most Enjoyed Valencian Wines of 2011.

Tasting in Villena.

Well 2011 has been a spectacular year for tastings with first visits to regions outside Valencia, some hot tastings in Valencia, some wonderful evenings at Las Añadas, Vino-Valencia, Pedralba and Vilamarxant Wine Clubs, some great fairs in Valencia, Requena, Alicante and Castellon and a host of Bodega visits!

Now, of course any list is entirely subjective, it doesn´t matter whether you are Peñin, Parker, Miller, Els Bodeguers or an avid supporter of Verema. We all have aspects about wine which excite us more and in the final analysis even if you know a particular wine is spectacular it will not make it to a final list if something else in another wine tips the balance, be it fruit, a preference for French or American oak,  concentration or just plain quirkiness or a preference for a particular variety or disdain of the same! And please remember these are the wines I most enjoyed, not necessarily the best

Poster for 3rd Cava Fair.

All I know is that going back over the years tasting notes there were wines each time which got exclamation marks and `loved it´in the margin! No boring gradation from 1.1 to 9.9 in my notes! ( Well there are  and it was surprising how many made it into the 8.2 to 9.2 range!) And on that note any bodega which feels their wine should be included in my list….I am sorry…..all wines not included are 0.1 point below the succesful ones!

Let us start with cava….and what a list there was to choose from including some which don´t count as cava because they are made outside the DO or from grape varieties that are not permitted. Amongst these are the `Metodo Propio´ of Carlos Carcel whose just disgorged bottle we enjoyed at the bodega or brother Ernesto´s 9 D’Octubre….both pure Macabeos. Amongst the strong contenders….and still in the running for Xmas Selection ( which comes later) along with these two are three more from Requena, `Sybarus ´from Torroja, Chozas Carrascal and Vera de Estenas. Top contenders for me were however ArteMayor from Dominio de la Vega together with their Pinot Noir rosado, Hispano Suiza´s Tantum Ergo and their rosado also from Pinot Noir, or Pago de Tharsy´s Unico….a `blanc de noir´ from pure Bobal. There is also a 6-year-old cava lurking in the cellars of bodegas Cueva where Mariano Taberner has been conducting one of his experiments! Well Hispano Suiza did rather well with the critics who probably know much better than me naming the rosado best Cava……..but for me `Unico´ just wins, a distinct quality wine which for me is better value than commercial champagne such as Veuve Cliquot, Lanson, etc.

With carlos Carcel.

In fresh whites the choice was immense from varieties such as Macabeo, Merseguera, Verdil, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Tardana, Viognier, Riesling, Moscatel, Malvasia  and more. Of the Tardanas the outstanding wine is of course Sybarus from Torroja. ( A Spanish friend thinks he knows of a small parcel which still remains in Pedralba- where it will be called Plantafina and which could possibly be recuperated.) Of the Verdil´s the best for me is Belda´s 2011, much cleaner and fresher than the 2010. I still like a co-operative white from Merseguera, Balcon de Valencia from Alcublas and loved some of the dry moscatels from Alicante, but in the end Macabeo produced some of the best wines in this category, full of ripe melon and green apple, satisfying with lovely acidity it does grow well in Valencia. Torre Oria, Marmiton, Enterizo from Coviñas in Requena, Vera de Estenas, the list is immense but the wine which stood out was the Marmiton, accompanying morteruelo and ajoarriero in La Sarten in La Portera…. a truly unforgettable couple of bottles with a wonderful meal!

Finca Collado at the Valencia Mostra.

No messing about with the cask aged whites. There were chardonnays from Vinessens, a new bodega in Villena, Viña Lidon from Vera de Estenas, Sauvignon Blanc from Hispano Suizas….(who can forget that vertical tasting of five vintages?)  Ernesto Carcels Macabeo crianza from American oak and of course Chardonnay from Alvarez Nölting and Finca Collado´s blend of Chardonnay and Moscatel from Salinas in Alicante. Magnanimvs blanco, Clemente´s Florante , Angosto Blanco and Frailes Blanco also performed memorably in this category.

Els Bodeguers placed the Alvarez Nölting first and gave the silver to Finca Collado ( ahead of Daniel Belda) which  also went on to win a Bachus later in the year. Of the pure Chardonnays Viña Lidon is hands down winner for me with its  banana fruit and acidity in 2010 but overall I just prefer the Finca Collado 2010, DO Alicante,  blended with Moscatel which now has wonderful citrus ( grapefruit) flavours.

In the rosados Beldas 2010 Merlot, Finca Collado´s Merlot, Pedro Moreno´s Bobal, Parreño from Latorre, Vera de Estenas  Bobal, Torre Oria´s and some others were refreshing, easy drinkers. Amongst the biggest prizewinners were the rosados from Bobal from Coviñas who consistently provide outstanding wines in the category. Of the range from Enterizo, Al Vent or Aula the Al Vent was the winner in this catgory, lovely colour, fresh fruit and cream nose but with a hint of minerality and better acidity in the finish.

In the light red category there were some interesting wines from  2010, generally considered difficult in Utiel-Requena, better in Valencia  Castellon and Alicante although there was a lot of oidium and a lot of treatment as a result.

Of the  reds with a touch of cask ageing Vicente Flors `Flor de Clotas´ from Tempranillo, Bobal from Dominio de la Vega, Cero from La Encina a new ecological bodega in Villena, the 2009 Merlot from Finca Collado, the Martinez Bermell Merlot from Vera de Estenas , La Peña from Alejandro Perez  a small family bodega in Mañan and the green label Viñas de Calles from Vegamar have all excited at tastings. For me the Finca Collado and Vera de Estenas, the Bobal from Dominio de la Vega are serious wines whilst the La Peña and Viña de Calles are more everyday drinkers. Judging by the number of bottles which came through the house or those of friends the La Peña wins the former light red category and the Martinez Bermell the slightly more serious category. There were no basic tintos which excited me at all!

In the `proper´cask-aged reds category there are some very heavyweight contenders. Wines from Muro (Almoroig) , Torrevellisca, Belda, Enguera, Mendoza, Carabibas,  six of the seven members of the  Asociación Primum Bobal, Olivastro, Mustiguillo, Emilio Clemente, and from Castellon `Clotas´ from Vicente Flors, a Tempranillo that I will forever remember standing up to artichokes, Gabriel Mayo Garcia´s Platinum series, a whole host of wines with depth, concentration and flavour.

Serious Contenders from Muro D´Alcoy.

Bobal is such a distinct grape and with such potential that `best bobal´ is a category in its own right. The only rule was that it had to be a pure 100% monovarietal.  Contenders were Olivastro from Viñedos y Bodegas Carres, Pago de Molinos from Dani Esposito, `Casa Don Angel´ from Vera de Estenas, all three quite distinct wines. I have enjoyed the Pago at Asociación tastings, the Vera de Estenas at special tastings and lunch at the bodega and the Olivastro at home as well as the bodega. For me there is very little to separate them but for me the 2008 Olivastro just edges the other two for its explosive fruit. All three develop after opening and are outstanding wines from the variety that demonstrate the ageing potential, depth, concentration and flavours possible.

For me the other winner in this category is the Carabibas, Sierra de Cabreras from Salinas ( DO Alicante) a wine of huge concentration but pushed hard by the Almoroig,  Mendoza´s Petit Verdot, Terrerazo from Mustiguillo,  Ca Belda, with a lot more coming up on the rails!

In sweet wines where to go? Moscatels abound in Valencia and are concentrated but not exclusive to the Marina Alta in DO Alicante and the area around Turis in DO Valencia ( Valentino). But there are some produced in Utiel-requena from Bobal (Sybarus or Dagon ) and from other varieties at Dominio de la Vega and Chozas Carrascal amongst others. In Castellon La Palera produced around Vilafames is a sweet sticky syrup of figs from Tempranillo and we should not forget the Bonachon from Pedralba ( Garnacha) or the dulce from Comeche in Villar d´Arzobispo or the sweet reds from Alicante from Monastrell, not to mention the Fondillons from around Monovar. Some of the Moscatels are produced as light espumosos such as those from Bocopa and Reymos from Cheste. There are also wines produced for the mass from Malvasia in Turis and this year was a delight even if the Sweet wine fair in Valencia and the Alicante LomejordeGastronomia had rather less to taste this year than last.

Miquelius from Bodegas Dagon.

Two straight winners……. in sticky reds it has to be the unforgettable Dagon and in the lighter espumos0s Reymos for it´s consistency and light easy drinking!

So there you go, my favourite 10 wines of this year. Bet they will all be different at the end of 2012!

 1. Cava….Pago de Tharsys Unico.

 2. Light Whites….Marmiton Macabeo 2010 , DO Utiel-Requena.

3. Oaked Whites….Finca Collado Blanco 2010, DO Alicante.

4. Rosado….Bobal …Al Vent 2010 Coviñas DO Utiel-Requena.

5. Young reds……La Peña Alejandro Perez. DO Alicante.

6. Medium reds….. Martinez Bermell Merlot, Vera de Estenas, DO Utiel-Requena.

7.Serious Reds…Bobal…Olivastro 2008 , Carrés, DO Utiel-Requena.

8. Serious reds…Other Varieties….Carabibas, Sierra de Cabreras 2009 DO Alicante.

9. Sweet Wines….Heavy…Bobal, Bodegas Dagon, Utiel-Requena.

10. Sweet Wines…Espumosos, Reymos, Cheste Co-op. DO Valencia.

Vilafamés, Gastronomy Days 2011.

Poster for the Vilafamés Fair.

Just once in a while, despite thinking you know somewhere well, something jumps out and gives you a huge surprise! The Jornadas Gastronòmiques de Vilafamés was one of these. Normally these `Jornadas´ are held in local restaurants in a town and are a showcase for local cooking at reasonable prices and this was no exception with all the bars and restaurants displaying tables laid up for excited diners in the know. Unusually I think this is accompanied by a local fair in the market place in Vilafamés, a very pretty town about an hour North of Valencia with a ruined castle and set in a steep valley between mountain ranges.

I think I have been to Vilafamés five or six times this year, it is the home to Bodegas Mayo Garcia and Señorio de Vilafames, as well as having a local Co-op bodega as well. It also is home to the olive oil Co-op named after the local mountain peak of Penyagolosa.

From the town there are astounding views over the Plà de Vilafames and the vineyards it contains, in the narrow streets with their tall  houses, some built into the stone of the mountainsides there is colour and a vibrancy which may well be due to the light.

Discussing Sausages at Casa Marta.

It was this colour which first surpised me on arrival at the fair. Our usual parking space in the towns main square was not available due to the marquee in which local bakers, butchers, sausage-makers, the olive oil co-op and Bodegas Mayo Garcia were showing their range of wines called Magnanimvs. Here also, local restaurants were displaying their menus and taking bookings for lunch or dinner.

Outside it was a very bright and warm December day, we have been enjoying an Autumn with daytime temperatures still around 18 degrees and so far without frosts. Inside the marquee, often drab and uninviting, the colours abounded on the various stalls.

We were to be tempted by Bunuelos and figs from the local housewives association served with a sweet rich Moscatel Vino de Licor.

In a corner one of the local butchers, Casa Marta, which also provides a take-away service, were displaying a huge range of sausages, white, black and red, blanquettes, longanizas, chorizos, botifarras, sobrasadas and morcillas, perro and artesan cheeses with rosemary, olives and in the traditional servilleta and tronchon shapes. From here we selected a sheeps cheese, `El Poble Benessal´semi-curado and from an artesan cheesemaker, a member of the Valencian Cheese Makers Association.

Selection of Breads and Cocas.

From the next door bakers stall Forn de Pa Natural , we selected a  bread weighing about a pound, crisp and fresh, to add to our emerging lunch. To this we added a generous portion of coca, like a pizza base but dressed with sardine, anchovy, red pepper, and aubergine slices.

At the nearby butchers stall of Maria Dolores (MD from the next village of St Joan del Moro) we admired another selection of sausages. Amongst the longanizas frescas was a range which to all intents and purposes could have been English. Thicker in style and with herbs and spices we could have had pork with wine, sobrasada, pork with roquefort, with garlic or other varieties! We selected pork with ajos-tiernos , young green garlic and a botifarra montaña with spices.

Next we called at the stall of Gabriel Mayo Garcia, a very good winemaker and selected some white Magnanimvs as well as the red `Gold top´-as well as sampling the Rosado and `Platinum Top´! These wines have all been reviewed following previous visits to the Bodega earlier in the year ( see archives). Wines should also have been available from both the Co-op, Bodegas Vilafamés, and Señorio de Vilafamés whose cavas and reds I particularly like, but despite advertising their presence neither were there.

Moscatel, Vino de Licor at the Housewives Stall.

Moving on we tried a sobrasada, quite mild, from Estela and some savoury tarts from Entrepans Paima, before stealing outside for a refreshing beer. Here the other bakery in the village, Rafael Galindo, was doing a roaring trade with his chocolate covered fruits. This bakery is renowned for its sweets and sweet tarts and we have visited it before to try almond based pastries!

Up the hill towards the Church and Castle, local shops were selling ceramic and other products. One of these shops is a local delicatessen `La Palera´. Every visit to the town has culminated here so far to buy a few bottles of the Vi dolç, a dark sweet syrup of figs pudding wine from long aged Tempranillo with pasification.  Paco and Mari-Carmen sell quality wines from Castellon, dispense samples of their sweet wine and otherwise have good quality olive oil, honey, marmalades and tourist oriented goods! This time they were dispensing samples of a new white and rosado from their own grapes which they are now commercializing. The white is dry, from Malvasia, Merseguera and Moscatel and was light, fresh, dry, well-balanced with floral notes and apricots and a good finish. The rosado is onion skin in colour with nice viscocity. On the nose quite closed, it may have been a little over chilled but in the mouth was full of fruit, with an initial sweetness balanced by fresh acidity and lovely raspberry and strawberry flavours, quite full with a creamy long finish. From Tempranillo and , unusual in Castellon, Bobal.

Outside La Palera.

We strolled  down the hill, had a coffee, this time avoiding the Carajillo de Ron, ( a lethal rum based coffee) for which the town is infamous and made our way back to the car. From here an hours drive home saw us cooking the sausages and laying out our impromptu lunch. I can only say these were amongst my favourite sausages from Valencia, the Botifarra spicy and peppery and the longaniza with its garlic….well, garlicky but not overso! Both had a wonderful texture and displayed no fat in the cooking……the coca of sardine was excellent with the bread base easy to eat and neither too oily nor dry. The bread was fresh, easy to carve and well….our next visit to Vilafamés will now have other motives than just visiting the bodegas!

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