The Long Climb to Ahillas….. A Visit to Bodegas Terra D´Art


 

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Our latest bodega visit ( and probably the last of what has proved to be a very  busy year) was sparked by  a book launch this week. `Sin Mala Uva ´ is a collaboration by journalist Ernesto Gallud, a number of wine-experts including Paco Higon of Verema and artist Inma Amo, both friends. The latter is  someone  whose wine related art, in a style reminiscent of the Bloomsbury set  , has been lighting up the wine world in Spain for a while now….particularly as the subjects are often on barrels or barrel tops!

The book is aimed very much at monovarietal wines  here in Spain, where frankly you are far more likely to hear someone ask for a bottle by region rather than by the  particular variety which it contains, ( unlike almost the entire remainder of the wine-world where variety is the starting point.)

Following the presentation of the book at the Valencia launch, held in the HQ of D.O. Valencia on Thursday last, there was the usual buffet and glass of wine. Amongst the wines was a new white from a bodega I did not recognise. Fortunately not only did we get to try it, we met the owner and winemaker from the Bodega.

SinMalaUva

The wine was from a single variety ,  Merseguera, an auctoctonal variety of D.O. Valencia . It is best known for being grown in the Alto Turia, the furthest part of the Interior from Valencia up the river Turia,  but it will also be found blended in the more southerly part of the D.O. , the Clariano around Xativa, Ontinyent,  the Val D´Albaida and the Terres dels Alforins.

These two parts of the D.O. could not be more contrasting. The Alto Turia is mountainous, motorways have not reached these parts and the vineyards are anything from 800 to 1200 metres above sea level. The soils are stony and sandy. The Clariano is more valley floor based viticulture with chalky soils. Temperatures here can be 8-10º higher than in the Alto Turia and picking is often over before it starts in the Alto Turia!

To reach the Alto Turia you take the CV 35 west from Valencia city. Around Casinos, with its Cooperative bodega dedicated to Santa Barbera dating to 1952, the motorway changes suddenly from dual carriageway to single track and by Loso d´obispo you start to enter the mountainous region and the climb begins.

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Past Calles the next town is Chelva 68km from Valencia and here you take a right turn in the centre of town for the Santuario del Remedio and the hamlet  of Ahillas. The Santuario holds the statue of the Virgin which is carried down to Chelva, from the Pico de Remedio, some 1050m in height and 5km in distance in Fiesta time. This is a road with hairpin bends and steep, tight turns in abundance.

This is not a road to stop and admire the view from but, if you did and looked back towards Valencia, the Turia appears as a shining silver ribbon, shimmering in the heat haze below!

The vineyard closest to the Bodega.

The vineyard closest to the Bodega.

When you reach Ahillas, after a  further 7km, the terrain has changed. Here the `parcelas´ of terrain are laid out more like fields and the houses have that alpine dry stone wall look. Some 12 people live here, a mixture of Scots, French ,  Danes and  the occasional Spaniard.

This is also the home to Bodegas Terra D´Art, a new  project comprising of Juan José Martinez Palmero, his wife, father and other family members. The bodegas vineyard parcels are between 850 and 1150m above sea-level and comprise a number of traditional and rarely found varieties on plots which Juanjo as the vine grower is recuperating.  His training was in the Bordeaux vineyards of St Julien, St Emilion and  Ibiza.

He currently farms totally ecologically, operates a very strict pruning and selection policy which will allow no more than half the grapes the vines could produce. This ensures concentrated grapes of high quality in years when the weather allows it and a very small production!

  • The varieties he currently grows are Merseguera ( white),
  •   ( in red ) Tinto de Toro , synonymous with Tempranillo and which survived Phylloxera in Castillo and Leon,
  • Bobal,  the variety of nearby D.O. Utiel-Requena,
  • Prieto Picudo, a variety found more in the provinces of  Zamora and Leon,
  • Juan Garcia, another variety found in Zamora and Salamanca.
  • Mencia,  a variety found in Galicia and mainstay of Bierzo wines,
  • Graciano, a Riojan variety, ( but also grown in the Clariano at Heretats dels Taverners) ,
  • Maturana,  a Riojan varietal undergoing a comeback,
  • Monastrell, the variety grown widely in Alicante,
  • Garnacha, widely grown.
With Juanjo Martinez Palmero

With Juanjo Martinez Palmero

Although the family have been producing wine for some ten years the bodega was only constructed and completed a couple of years  back, a modern block built building , rendered and painted in the sandstone colour of the area. It consists of a fermentation room at ground level with modern , small, stainless steel deposits and a tasting room which doubles up as the shop, whilst below you will find the crianza area and bottling area. The former has its own well.

Opposite the bodega is the family home. Currently the bodega can produce around 10,000 bottles from 12,000  vines and has four wines although currently only a white and rosado are available, the tinto only just having been bottled and the top wine Maldito, which is only produced in the best years  is in barrica.

Juanjo gave us a tour of the facility before we tasted three of the wines. The bodega itself, consistent with its size is a large garage but spotlessly clean with its terracotta red walls, the deposits standing out, bright and shiny.

Painted Barrel Tops from Inma Amo.

Painted Barrel Tops from Inma Amo.

The soils in the vineyards outside are a sandy red gravel with lots of stone in. Juanjo explained that the soils were no more than 20cm deep in places and poor in nutrition. However the altitude and the soils support the vines which produce quality grapes seem to suit the different varieties.

Downstairs, past the examples of Inma Amo´s painted barrel tops you reach the bottling room. ( The art is entirely appropriate as the hamlet is an artist colony). Here the designer labels are hand placed on the bottles after the hand bottling and corking process is completed….there is no shiny expensive bottling plant here!

Hand Corking Machines.

Hand Corking Machines.

Opposite is the crianza room where 11 barrels, each of 225 litres share the space with the well and the bottles undergoing ageing or awaiting labelling.

Here he explained that vinifying each variety separately was not entirely feasible as there were such small amounts of some of them. The French casks contained a blend therefore of Tempranillo and Bobal and the other varieties in experimental quantities undergoing crianza.

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They are learning, like so many new bodegas how the different weather conditions affect the wines, how much ageing in wood is necessary, how the blending affects the final wines. Like all new bodegas the first few years are a complicated experimental process with variable results and lessons to be learned and experiences assimilated! For the timebeing the vineyard will also stay out of the D.O.

As we moved to the tasting room and shop he explained that he had a retail  outlet in Valencia ( Beals) and local restaurants and passing sales took care of the rest. The bodega does not really need a distributor.

 

Marian, Juanjo and the well.

Marian, Juanjo and the well.

Here we commenced with the Rosado, Flor de Ahillas a blend of some five varieties ( Bruñal, Bobal, Monastrell, Juan Garcia and  Garnacha) from a production of just 1400 bottles and from the 2014 vintage. ABV 11.3%.

This is a vibrant pale strawberry pink wine with a violet edge. Very clean, bright, medium but slow glycerinous legs.

On the nose it is expressive, fruity, fresh, floral, paraguayo in particular.
In the mouth again it is  fresh, with good acidity, strawberry fruit, with a long mineral dry finish reflecting the stony soils.
This was bottled just 2 weeks ago but was perfect, I look forward to seeing the evolution in bottle if it is this expressive now!
In the shop and tasting room.

In the shop and tasting room.

The white, Flor de Ahillas Blanco is 100% Merseguera 2014, the wine we had tried on Thursday evening. This wine is also 11.2% and from vines with at least 60 years of age. It too had only been bottled for 2 weeks.
Pale lemon yellow, clear, very bright with gold flashes and long legs. The grapes had been subjected to two days cold maceration under CO2 at 4º, then cold fermentation ( 14º) then left on the lees for 2 months with regular battonage. Juanjo is looking to maximise the natural acidity of the variety (he  is also experimenting with a short crianza in oak as does one of the other Alto Turia bodegas) .
On the nose it is immediately floral, white flower and as it evolves there arte hints of cactus flower, almond kernel ( as is found in the Italian white wines, Soave and Verdichio) and tropical fruit, lychee and nispero     ( lowquat).
In the mouth it is fresh, floral, very full, very dry but with excellent balance and a long dry mineral finish.
One of the very best Mersegueras I have tasted!
Nest we tasted a sample from deposit, a Merseguera, awaiting a final filtering  and bottling. This had more depth and we noted the effect of the battonage on the lees. The wine was slightly more yeasty, fuller and had a bit more banana on the  nose.
The wines tasted.

The wines tasted.

The third wine was the Tinto Ahillas 2012, a blend of the ten red varieties but with 80% Bobal and 5% Tempranillo. The other eight varieties are added in in tiny proportions as seasoning and spice. The fermentation of all the varieties together takes place in Stainless steel deposit with the malolactic fermentation in oak ( 75% French, 25% American). It then has 12 months crianza and six months in bottle.
Vibrant garnet colour with a medium body, long slow glycerinous legs.
On the nose you note the influence of the wood, green oak,  black pepper, spices, but plum fruit and dried grapes as well. Complex.
In the mouth firstly tannic, then good acidity, lots of pepper, good body, long full finish, fruity, smooth tannins, then a retronasal of strawberry, vanilla and cream.
This is a wine which needs another year in bottle  but was a pure pleasure to try now!
Wines available in the shop.

Wines available in the shop.

We retried the wines with a plate of local cheeses, salcichons and jamon whilst we talked about the use of chemicals in wines today. The long climb had been worth the effort to try these excellent, low production wines with outstanding quality. All that remained was the long slow descent armed with a couple of bottles to show at Friday´s wine club meeting!!!
Another successful VÍ vid visit and tasting!

Another successful VÍ vid visit and tasting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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