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!

 

 

 

 

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