A Visit to Bodega Casa Lo Alto, DO Utiel-Requena.


Wines from Casa Lo Alto.

 

Two years ago when attending the Certamen de Vinos in Venta del Moro I came across two wines from the largely unknown bodega Casa Lo Alto. The bodega itself was not directly represented and apart from trying two absolutely stunning wines, a Meursault style Chardonnay from 2008 and a Tinto from Garnacha, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from 2006, that was it.

And that has remained the position until a colleague and I mentioned  to a friend who works for DO Utiel-Requena that we had wanted to visit the bodega but had not been able to make contact. She promised to see what she could do and in mid-September rang to give me a telephone number to make direct contact with the wine-maker.

Casa Lo Alto.

The bodega is situated in a tiny hamlet of Venta del Moro, Casa de lo Alto, ( the house on high) on a country road between Los Isidros and Las Monjas. It is indeed set on top of a hill affording spectacular views across the valley of the Albosa, a tributary of the Cabriel, the Hoces de Cabriel Natural Park and back to Requena. It straddles the road, the old house and its grounds on one side and the modern bodega with its old cellars on the other, surrounded by its vineyards in what is frankly one of the best wine growing areas in Utiel-Requena.

Historically the bodega has had an interesting past. The older buildings date back to the late 1700´s and was founded in 1796. It was sold by Francisco Martinez Bermell to the family of Auguste Egli in order to fund the purchase of the Finca Don Angel, now Bodegas Vera de Estenas.

Both of these men were very important in the history of the region. Bermell because he co-founded the Requena wine school and was responsible for setting in train a change in ageing good bobal in oak and bottle, leading to the success of `Rioja style´wines initially and today´s more modern fruity and concentrated wines.

Fermenting in New Oak.

Egli was Swiss and stepped in when the french started to pull out of Valencia after the phylloxera disaster. He bought several bodegas in Peñedes, La Mancha and in the Grau district of Valencia. Subsequently he added to this by buying land in Requena, Utiel,  Caudette de las Fuentes, San Antonio, Villa Gordo and Siete Aguas. Wines, and mainly bobal were sent to Switzerland for blending with wines with less colour and strength…..bobal being good for retaining its colour and not dominating other varieties in blends.

Later he expanded to buy interests in Lliria, Betera, Sagunt,  Font de la Figuera, Monovar and La Romana. Sales expanded from Switzerland to Germany, Hungary, Romania, Poland and the United Kingdom. In 1982 the Casa Lo Alto was added to the portfolio.

The family firm continued in Valencia until the mid-90´s when a financial scandal involving the Romanian end of business  caused the company to pull out of Valencia altogether, a period which caused a sea-change in the industry and coincided with the creation  of a large number of new bodegas. It also brought into question the future of the Casa de Lo Alto.

Martin Weighs in Garnacha.

Today the bodega belongs to Haecky Import AG, a Swiss owned drinks company, and the wines are made by Martin Rüegsegger, Director and enologo.

When I arrived the bodega was all action! Martin and his team were pumping over a deposit of Syrah, adding bacteria to control the malolactic fermentation. Grapes were arriving from the vineyard,  Garnacha freshly picked, in a trailer and needing weighing and de-stalking before pumping to a deposit. Pipes were everywhere on the floor but Martin had everything under control, weighing in the new arrival himself and supervising the pumping, adding the bacteria and explaining to me much of the thinking and elements of experimentation with fermentation in open barrels.

Garnacha Arriving.

Today some 69 hectares of vineyard are in production with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo for whites and Tempranillo, Garnacha, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bobal for reds.

The bodega can buy in amounts of grapes to supplement their own harvest when necessary and some additional planting has taken place with a further hectare of Chardonnay being the most recent.

The bodega itself is a modern and efficient new warehouse full of stainless steel and oak, all temperature controlled.

Production is small, the Chardonnay, from French clones of the variety, produced just 4260 bottles in 2008 for example and the Tinto just 9610 bottles in 2006. Today the wines are sold in Switzerland, Germany, the United States and hopefully shortly into the UK.

The wines produced are Don Martin,( 45-year-old bobal forming the basis for a young wine fermented and matured in steel tanks with 15-20% of Garnacha).

The Old Cellar Building.

The Casa Lo Alta Crianza is largely Tempranillo with a small amount of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Six months in largely French oak follows.

The Casa Lo Alta Reserva is Syrah based with Garnacha and a little Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has 12 months in oak mainly French with 50% being new oak.

The white is Casa Lo Alto Chardonnay, 90% Chardonnay with 10% Sauvignon Blanc which may have a little Verdejo added in some years. The Chardonnay is 100% barrel fermented giving it a glorious golden-yellow colour with bright green flashes and is intense. It is aged for around five months on the lees with weekly battonage in 100% new French oak. Having tried the 2008 and recently the 2011 only confirms the Burgundian style of the wine, fresh with good acidity, lots of tropical fruits but the whole wine being beautifully balanced, rich, deep, intense and definitely having benefited from some of the 2500 hours of mediterranean sunshine the area enjoys.

I hope to visit again before Martin returns to Switzerland, perhaps on a day when the bodega is somewhat less hectic. This is a bodega whose wines I would love to know better and add to my cellar. It seems so unfair that such quality wines all go abroad! They deserve a local audience too!

My thanks to Carmina at DO Utiel-Requena, to Martin for sparing me time on a very busy afternoon and to Juan Piqueras for some of the background information.

www.casa-lo-alto.es

 

 

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Comments

  • Peder Hermansen  On October 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Hi Ricardo

    Thanks for your always wonderful letters…

    We have great success with the Bobal Primum, and its always a fun wine to serve, as I get so many reactions on the smell and taste…

    Do you think Bodegas Casa Lo Alto is something for me?:)

    Whom to contact to get samples?

    Best wishes from the cold and very rainy Denmark….

    Peder

    Fra: “Ricardo´s Valencian Blog” [mailto:comment-reply@wordpress.com] Sendt: 3. oktober 2012 12:50 Til: hermansens@mail.dk Emne: [New post] A Visit to Bodega Casa Lo Alto, DO Utiel-Requena.

    rikiwigley posted: ” Wines from Casa Lo Alto. Two years ago when attending the Certamen de Vinos in Venta del Moro I came across two wines from the largely unknown bodega Casa Lo Alto. The b”

    • rikiwigley  On October 3, 2012 at 4:38 pm

      Hi Peder. Glad to hear the Primum Bobal is going well…….I hope to have a similar style but bigger blockbuster to recommend to you shortly!
      I would think it would be impossible not to like the wines from Casa Lo Alto. Try Martin Rügsegger at jmruegsegger@sunrise.ch Good luck! Riki.

  • Martin Rüegsegger  On November 16, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    buenas tardes Riki

    estuve en tu blog ayer. muchas gracias para esta informacion sobre Casa lo Alto y nuestros vinos. me gusta mucho. la próxima vez serias en la comarco tienes que venir a Casa lo Alto. Puedes llamarme antes. +34 672540546 un cordial saludo Martin Rüegsegger winemaker Casa lo Alto

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