Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Visit to Bodegas y Destilerias Carmelitano – The Monks Still Produce Liquors and Spirits!

Products from Carmelitano.

Products from Carmelitano.

Throughout history Monks have been associated with alcohol, whether it be brewing beer, making wine, steeping wine with herbs or distilling spirits and whilst today most such processes are in the hands of commercial companies there remain independent pockets of activity such as the Carmelite fathers from the Monastery  of the Palm Desert in Benicassim.

Valencia, Alicante and Castellon all have traditions of producing wines associated with the mass, today carried on under licence from the ArchBishop of Valencia by Baronia de Turis and Mamerto de la Vera.  Vermouth is also produced, the result of steeping wines with wild herbs, in Valencia by Cherubino Valsangiacomo, Mamerto and spirits are distilled in Alicante by Tenis, in Utiel-Requena by Pago de Tharsys and Castaro have major interests in this field as well. Indeed a little known fact is that Gordon’s Gin used to source their base alcohol from the Union Viticola del Oeste in San Antonio. Alicante even has its own controlling body the CRDE which oversees production and quality in the Province.

Actually the practise used to be much more widespread with many small bodegas producing their own spirits for home consumption in small alambiques, or stills. Some towns had distilleries until more recent times. Montroi had an Anis distillery, there was another in Utiel and under Franco´s rule when production was `rationalised´even Vilamarxant had one of four authorised liquor production distilleries! Today sadly the bodega is a shell with only part of the Co-op name visible above the door and the town has no wine production, oranges having taken over.

Old Still in the Museum.

Old Still in the Museum.

Traditions die-hard and Terra Deus, a new company, has sprung up in the nearby town of Benissano making a wonderful liquors from mandarine fruit grown locally.

The tradition of the monks carries on in Benicassim where Bodegas y Destilerias Carmelitano now have their bodega on the edge of town as you enter along the N340.

As the bodega is being added to the Wine Tours being developed around Vilafamés, Les Useres, Benlloch etc I thought I would go and take a look at this addition to wine-tourism in the region.

€2.50 buys the visitor a ticket to one of the shorter bodega visits but one which has significant differences to others in the group. The monks have been at work for a long time but production in this building dates back a 100 years to 1912.

The bodega has no vineyards of its own now but once the monks would have tended their own vineyards, picking herbs in contemplation and plying their skills in making wines and distilling some for spirits, before eventually going out and selling them……no doubt spreading the word as they went. Today the grapes are bought in from the vineyards around Cheste before being put through the various processes.

Old Oak Cones for Ageing Liquors.

Old Oak Cones for Ageing Liquors.

The guided visit begins in the bottle museum, displaying examples of the traditional ceramic Barraca, grape-bunch shaped bottles for moscatel as well as glass bottles of many shapes and sizes for their comprehensive range of products. From here you pass along an access passage through the museums old machinery, to the room with the stills, bright copper alembics still working ( no pun intended!) the huge boiler which heats the water, now oil-fired,  the cone-room, oak barrels in which all the liquors are aged before bottling in the plant next door. From here you descend to the cellars where a historical models shows the whole process, past vast empty rooms which once housed barrels to the tasting room. The entry ticket here allows you take a shot glass and help yourself to as many different samples from those available as you would like!

Do not expect to find simple white or red wines down here. The only `wines´were the Moscatel Carmelitano, a 15% ABV Vino de Licor a `pudding´ wine to enjoy with cakes, fresh fruit or foie  and the `vino de missa´, a darker aged wine, more subtle and less sweet than the moscatel fermented with special yeasts which would make a very pleasant aperitif.

Active Shiny Copper Stills.

Active Shiny Copper Stills.

Hereafter you will find a wonderful vermouth, a deep red wine steeped with magical herbs, flowers, spices, roots and aged in oak.  Initially sweet it has a perfect bitter foil and as well as an aperitif could be used for cooking special dishes…….wild rabbit springs to mind.

Beyond this and you are into a range of fruit liquors such as apple, peach , hazel-nut( 20%ABV)  and coffee ( 30%ABV) . Each of these popular drinks, served in many restaurants and bars at the end of a meal throughout Valencia and called `chupitos´ had its own character……the hazel-nut was by the best of this variety I have tasted, the apple very true to the fruit and the coffee very rich and full, almost with the depth of Kahlua whilst being watery clear!

Perhaps the best was the wait at the end for the Liquor Carmelitano. Herbs, roots and seeds give this liquor its unique flavour and deep rose colour ( 34%ABV) . Very distinct, satisfying, a good digestif.

After all these chupitos it is time to ascend to the exit via the bodega´s well stocked shop, of course.

Here you can purchase any of the products you have tasted below as well as Anis, a coffee-cream drink, vodka with red fruits and a gin Ginself as well as tourist knickknacks, but take cash as they do not yet have a credit card facility.

Downloading Samples in the Tasting Room.

Downloading Samples in the Tasting Room.

`Ginself´ is one of the better trendy gins, new to the market and incredibly popular here in Valencia currently. It is a double distillation of various botanicals, the addition to the base liquor which impart the flavours and smells of the drink before the addition of tonics etc. Here they include sweet and bitter orange, lemon peel, angelica root and seeds, orange blossom, chufa ( tiger nut) bay and mandarine. It is 25€ a bottle and 40% ABV.

For a different bodega experience this is highly recommended and although the bodega is currently staffed by volunteers there are plans to expand the production and visitor experience. Wines start at around 6€ a bottle and the liquors are not much more ( the Avellana is 8€).

In the meantime if you fancy finding out where chupitos come from, this is a good start and a nice reminder of the contemplative life!

A Visit to Bodega Antonio Arraéz – Modern Philosophy and a Long Tradition of Exporting.

The Bodega.

The Bodega.

The family bodega of Antonio Arraéz in La Font de la Figuera, DO Valencia, is now in its third generation. But its history as a bodega goes back long before the 1950´s when Antonio´s grandfather, also Antonio, commenced the process of buying out his neighbours. The bodega was originally  three or four private bodegas which were situated next door to each other and which now have been combined. When Antonio ( Toni) – a graduate of the Requena wine school –  started working for the bodega his father ( also Antonio) was in charge.

Under his grandfather the bodega had offices in Xativa from which the business was run. Under his father bottling of wines started ( one of the first in Valencia to do so) and  in 1985  was actually the biggest exporter of wines in DO Valencia, dropping to  fourth after  Baronia de Turis, Gandia, and Schenck by 1998.

His grandfather was responsible for selling in bulk, and this was the hay-day of visitors turning up with their bidons to buy their daily wine. Under his father the neighbours continued to buy but the overseas marketing traversed into bottled products, which under Toni continues apace with the addition of bag-in-box wine as well. Today the bodega sells to some 25 countries in Europe, (the UK, Denmark, Germany, Russia amongst them), to Asia ( including Japan, China, the Philippines) to Africa ( including the Ivory Coast ). During my visit an order for the traditional wine `Don Leon´with its special label was being bottled for Russia.

In the New Entrance Hall.

In the New Entrance Hall.

These foreign sales underpin the expansion and modernisation of the bodega itself.

Toni is carrying on the tradition of change and up-dating. Until the last couple of years the old concrete deposits have been used but these are not suitable for Toni´s vision of the wines he wants to make. So the bodega has undergone a transformation to turn it into a modern participant in the new `Terres de Alforins´wine route as well as aiding in the education of new wine-drinkers. The bodega now enjoys a developing wine-experience for visitors. A trip down into the cellars is in fact a walk through the old deposits, knocked through, with each containing part of an exhibition which covers the history since the 1950´s with artefacts from each of the Antonio´s periods of control.

In another of the `trullos´( former deposits) visitors can take a bottle from the shop upstairs,  open it and drink it in a quiet space and there is a larger room where at the weekend when the equipment is working, bigger groups can be accommodated. There is also an art-gallery ( currently exhibiting `Palindroms´).

`Trullo´ Opened up to Enjoy Wine.

`Trullo´ Opened up to Enjoy Wine.

Art is a favourite of Toni´s being one example of culture, like wine, and he is happy to link his new wines, particularly the Mala Vida Tinto with cultural events.

Upstairs the bodega has a large warehouse where stainless steel deposits sit cheek by jowl with palettes of wines waiting to be delivered and bottles waiting to be filled! There is also a new area with deposits and separately a bottling line with the biggest selection of rolls of labels I have ever seen.

This is part of Toni´s ongoing problem, combining four bodegas into one is not easy with differing floor levels etc, and indeed the bodega is not really big enough for the production. Toni already has to borrow space for fermentation and barrels from other local bodegas.

However he is clearly not put off by the problems. The seven-year plan for the bodega has seen the target for year five reached after just three years and the whole project should be complete in another two….two years ahead of schedule! Toni´s team is also modern its outlook. Each employee now undergoes training in a specialism so that the office staff are IT literate and speak foreign languages, the warehouse-man is an expert in his field and in security issues etc. In this way everyone contributes to the development of the bodega.

Bottling for Export to Russia.

Bottling for Export to Russia.

Perhaps the biggest change however has been in the wines.

The vino de mesas are still sold, El Ramblar and Don Leon. The Casas de Herencia from the `traditional´ range was in evidence in the shop along with a Moscatel but the bodega today is best known in Valencia for the new wines.

Mala Vida, a tinto even has its own Facebook page. The wine´s label is catchy with its youthful themes of new technology, travel, music etc it appeals to younger drinkers where Toni believes the future lies. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon , Syrah and Monastrell and eight months crianza in French and American oak it is a very easy drinker, a fun wine. New wines may well join this range.

A2 is named after the two Antonio´s, father and son. The range includes four wines first of which is  a cava (made for them at UVÉ in Requena as the bodega is well outside the DO). Around 80% Macabeo  and 20% Chardonnay it is a wine for aperitifs but can be drunk  throughout the meal.

The white is a blend of 80% Verdil with the balance being a Moscatel and Malvasia. The result is a fresh wine, with hints of white flowers, acacia, lilac and orange blossom. In the mouth it is full, unctuous even,  but has a perfect balancing acidity with good fruit flavours.

A2 Range.

A2 Range.

There is also a syrah, cherry red, with thick legs. On the nose, fruity, strawberries and blackcurrant and in the mouth smooth, good body, round, well-balanced with a long jammy finish.

The second A2 red is Monastrell, the local red variety. Also a deep black cherry with long legs, on the nose black fruits, with chocolate and oak. In the mouth very full, very fruity, balanced with a full and very full finish of black fruit.

Newer is the Lagares range. Two wines currently are produced. The first is a crianza 2009, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and takes its name from the old tank in which grapes were trodden. It has had thirteen months in French and American Oak. The second is a reserva from 2007, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Monastrell and Syrah with 17 months in oak and 20 months in the bottle.

Mala Vida T-Shirt.

Mala Vida T-Shirt.

The bodega also have a pair of wines named for the painter Eduardo Bermejo, wines which are a collaboration between Toni, Eduardo and Pedro Calabuig of Pequeñas Bodegas de Levante who export it. The white is a 2011, blend of Moscatel and other varieties.  The red is a Tempranillo 2010 Barrica.

I am looking forward to tasting these four wines very soon!

Finally Toni has produced a white from Monastrell which was premiered at the Noche del Vino in mid-June in the Botanic gardens in Valencia. Not only has this wine won  the Els Bodeguers tasting but it, and most of Toni´s other wines are highly rated with points in the early nineties in the Guia Penin.

The bodega has some new lines to introduce, a new web-site is being designed and the logo is being changed. None of which I suspect will detract from this excellent bodegas progress and quality wines. Definitely one to watch!

With Toni in the Cellars.

With Toni in the Cellars.

Drilling Down Into Bobal….and a Visitor from Denmark.

Visiting Vera de Estenas.

Visiting Vera de Estenas.

Time perhaps for a little reflection. When I started writing this blog it was meant to be a personal account of my visits and experiences related to wine and gastronomy here in Valencia as well as a way of recording  the tasting notes of the wines  and making them available to others. A personal diary which could be shared.

Now some three years later, the blog is read in 102 countries worldwide. I never expected that, to be truthful I hadn´t even thought about outreach. Spain tops the list, with the U.S., United Kingdom and the Netherlands close behind and Denmark in a very healthy fifth place. Some of my posts have attracted comment, some spam, but some have generated interest in Valencian Wine from elsewhere.

I know of one export company based here who have chosen Valencian wines I have recommended to add to their portfolio, Alizarin Wines from Southfields, London,  are now importing wines from Utiel-Requena and a Danish importer and distributor from Jutland speculatively tried and then bought a palette of the Primum Bobal last year.

It is always a pleasure to put a face to a name, even if it is still a rare event when a reader comes visiting.

Felix Martinez and Jose Luis Perez at Vera de Estenas.

Felix Martinez and Jose Luis Perez at Vera de Estenas.

Yesterday it was the turn of the Danish Importer, Peder Hermansen who has been buying wines from Toni Arraez in Font de  la Figuera ( DO Valencia ) for a couple of years. The Primum Bobal had all sold out in Denmark, … has practically done so here as well and we are all awaiting the release of the 2012 in about three weeks time!

Peder was interested to try this new vintage and look for a possible additional wine from the variety for his shop. Once the Association were alerted an invitation to visit two of the bodegas and participate in a comprehensive tasting was offered.

And so we started at Vera de Estenas where Felix Martinez, owner of the bodega and President of the Association waited with Jose Luis Perez of Bodega Pasiego, another bodega member. Following a tour of the bodega we sat down to taste four wines, from other varieties…. a warm up to the main event which was to follow!

The 2010 Pasiego Les Suertes is a 60/40 blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Pale gold, clean, bright and with glycerinous long legs the two grapes were quite clearly identifiable on the nose. Tropical notes, pineapple, acacia flowers. In the mouth the wine is much more harmonious good acidity, well-balanced, lovely fruit and spice. A very nice wine.

In the cellars at Vera de Estenas.

In the cellars at Vera de Estenas.

In contrast we tasted one of the most consistent pure Chardonnay´s produced in the region, the Viña Lidon from Vera de Estenas. The 2011 at 13% ABV is a little paler in colour, clean, bright with gold and green flashes. On the nose it is floral, acacia, then tropical fruits, peaches but all quite subtle. In the mouth it is beautifully balanced, with banana, pineapple, ripe apple flavours and a long satisfying finish. Wonderful.

Next we tried the Malbec, Casa Don Angel from Vera de Estenas. This wine is a blend of two vintages, 2007 and 2008, the former with 14 months crianza and the latter with 2-3 months. The vines were planted in 1999 and are still relatively young, not that this is particularly reflected in what is the bodegas second wine. Medium bodied, cherry red, with good legs, the nose is brambly red and black forest fruits with hints of leather, whilst in the mouth good strawberry and raspberry fruit, an easy drinker with a very long creamy finish. Excellent.

Finally we tried the Pasiego Crianza, Las Blasca 2008, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Merlot with a tiny amount of Bobal. This has had ten months in American and Hungarian oak. medium to deep cherry red, long glycerinous legs, on the nose red and black fruit, damson and plum. In the mouth bramble jam, but quite lean, this is a wine for food.

Bobal Tasting!

Bobal Tasting!

So , having visited the small-scale artisan bodega we moved on to Dominio de la Vega where we were to meet owner Emilio Esposito, wine-maker and son Dani and be accompanied by Pere Mercado who is manager and spokesperson for the Association.

Dominio de la Vega is a much bigger bodega, with large-scale production, 60% of it given over to production of cava. It is therefore a good contrast with the previous visit. Dani provided the commentary on a tour of the gleaming facilities, the cathedral where the barrels are stored and the extensive cellars below with its hundreds of thousands of bottles of cavas resting on their lees.

Dani explained how the grapes for the Primum Bobal are dealt with on arrival, the wine is made here, each parcel of vines being vinified separately. ( This year the vineyards of three of the Associations bodegas involved provided the grapes.)

The final blend depends on the evolution of each parcels wines.

The wines for the tasting were from Vera de Estenas, Pasiego, Finca Ardal, Dominio de la Vega, and were arranged into four `flights´. All the wines have deep cherry red colour, violet edges and long legs. Any comparison would require a wordsmith of rare ability to distinguish meaningfully between them!

Dani, Peder, Jose Luis, Pere and Emilio at Dominio de la Vega.

Dani, Peder, Jose Luis, Pere and Emilio at Dominio de la Vega.

First were the young Bobals, the 2011 and  2012 Primum and the Bobal 2011 Barrica from Dominio de la Vega, a wine with three months in oak and which was first marketed in 2009. All have a generally youthful appearance, all are fruity and deep but two elements emerged. Both the 2012 Primum and the 2011 Barrica have opened up since I last tasted them in late November. The Primum was closed on the nose then, not now, one sniff and you are hit by a positive explosion of fruit, it is fat, concentrated, with better colour, boiled fruits and is very rich. This Primum will fly off the shelves when released. The 2011 Barrica still needs another 2-3 months before it is released. This also is deep and concentrated, has blackcurrant and finishes with the classic chocolate, coffee cream over spice such as liquorice.

The second flight consisted of wines with Bobal as a component and included wines from Vera de Estenas, ( Madurado en Barrica 2011) Dominio de la Vega ( Madurado en Barrica 2011) . The former is a blend of Bobal , Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo with around 4 months in barrel on average and is distinguished by its floral nose with lilac, marmalade, orange peel and in the mouth easy passage across the palate, harmonious with good fruit. The second is a blend of Bobal, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  On the nose and in colour it is deeper, a little more harmonic and concentrated.

The third flight was wines which were predominantly Bobal , Finca Ardal B2C ( presumably a not yet released cask sample) 100% Bobal and from 2010; Pasiego Bobal 2009 which has 15% Merlot ; and Vera de Estenas Crianza 2009, Bobal with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and  Tempranillo in smaller quantities. The first is perfumed, mature, concentrated, balsamic, with lots of spice, clove, and herbs…bayleaf and thyme. Very full in the mouth. The second has opened up since I first tasted it late last year and now has six months in the bottle. It is fruity, rounder in the mouth, and full of allspice. The third is smoky, fruity, oaky, complex with mature fruit, vanilla and cedar.

The Big Wines!

The Big Wines!

The final flight was the block-busters! Casa Don Angel 2009 100% Bobal from Vera de Estenas;  Ocho Cuerdas  100% Bobal 2005 from Finca Ardal and Arte Mayor IV, Dominio de la Vega, a blend of 2005,2006 and 2007 Bobal from the La Beata vineyard, the best the bodega owns. The wine was released onto the market in December, it is a very approachable, forward wine with a long future ahead of it….definitely one to lay down despite its early fruit. The second wine is marked by its minerality, less fresh and more mature fruit and once again spice and herbs. Deep and very smooth. The Arte Mayor for me remains the most full, mature, concentrated wine from the variety. It has Cacao, spice and coffee creme and really expresses Dani´s style of extracting everything from grapes.

That interestingly led me to consider the other comparisons. It was clear looking back that each bodega has a house style that stood out in this tasting as well as demonstrating a huge diversity in what is available from the variety. This was another very educational opportunity. Thank you Pere for organising it….I have no doubt that Bobal will shortly be winging its way to Denmark again!

Blogging is more than just about what I set out to do some time ago, clearly!

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