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Just Another Day in Paradise!..Visits to Vicente Flors and Juan Carlos Pavia Before Lunch in L´Escudella!


New Garnacha at Vicente Flors

New Garnacha at Vicente Flors

Leaving Valencia at 8.00 am in the morning and joining Friday´s  rush-hour traffic on the A7 Motorway towards Barcelona the day did not seem to be getting off to an auspicious start! I don´t do early morning nor heavy traffic normally!

But I will make exceptions to help friends and in any case a visit to the Bodega of Vicente Flors in Les Useres always throws something new and interesting up and today was to be no different. Vicente had been asked to host a visit from International Students undertaking a Master’s Degree in wine, agriculture and the marketing of wine. He did not know much about the background of the course and had asked me to help with translation into English. As I know his bodega and methods well I was more than happy to see what I could do. When they arrived, all 23 of them and the course manager a lot became clearer!

International Masters Students.

International Masters Students.

Yes there were Japanese, French, Argentinian, American and Russian students but interestingly a requirement of the course is to be fluent in a second language. The course is funded by UNESCO and partly administered by the EU. The students receive 45,000 euros to do the course and spend three months at a time in different countries and then do placements before qualifying.  Oh how I wish I was young again!

Before the coach arrived Vicente showed me the Garnacha Grano Menudo he has allocated for his new Natural Sweet wine, the grapes looking very healthy hanging in small bunches, small, concentrated , loose grapes with a healthy bloom. The intention is to pick them in about a month and press them slowly to extract all the colour and fruit and then ferment to about 14º alcohol leaving a enough natural sugars to give the wine its sweetness. The vines are just three years old and this will be their first vintage…..as long as the rain does not come and ruin everything!

Garnacha Grano Menudo.

Garnacha Grano Menudo.

The previous day Vicente had picked his Garnacha and Tempranillo for the new Rosado he is making and this was in a nearby bodega ( Vicente does not yet have permission from the Authorities to use his own premises) in deposit. This harvest had been undertaken dodging the frequent showers of Thursday afternoon.

The tour went well, the students asked lots of technical questions and between us we got it all explained, if slowly because of repetition in French, Spanish and English! The cata however was done in English, four very distinct wines, the maceración carbonica Flor de Tarongers 2011 Tempranillo, the Flor de Clotas with just five months in oak, also 2011 and Tempranillo ( fresh, fruity ) the Clotas Tempranillo with 14 months oak from 2010, Tempranillo, ( intense fruit, complex, spicy) and we finished with the Clotas Monastrell, also 14 months of crianza, ( Fruit, spice and hints of violets and figs).

Juan Carlos Pavia and Vicente Flors.

Juan Carlos Pavia and Vicente Flors.

The students left and moved on to nearby Clos d´escarragordes. We cleared up and went to see Juan Carlos Pavia in the next village,  La Barona. Vicente was keen to see how his rosado was coming along and Juan Carlos who was up to his ears in managing everything that was going on dropped everything to come and chat to us.

Juan Carlos eventually hopes to open his own bodega but , for the time being is very happy with the arrangement he and Pilar who owns Bodegas El Rosso ( former producers of L´Esperit)  have come to. He makes their bulk wines and uses the premises to make his own Roques Negres and this year has also been experimenting. A brief tour of the bodega was followed by a fascinating tasting…a continuing part of the learning process!

Selection of Wines Tasted!

Selection of Wines Tasted!

We started with a new white, a pure Macabeo, still fermenting in deposit. Cloudy but absolutely reeking of fresh apples, bananas and  boiled sweets this already has a fresh acidity. I was keen to monitor the progress of the Syrah, a new wine which I had tried from deposit in Les Useres earlier in the year. ( See archives June 2013). Thoughtfully Juan Carlos brought samples from the deposit and the barrica ( approximately half the wine has had a four-month crianza and is ready to go back to deposit to allow the other half to go into the  barrels). The wine in deposit has a spiky fresh black cherry fruit and the sample from the barrel has just rounded off nicely! The two sets of  wine will need to blended and bottled and allowed to stabilise but by around the end of Spring next year it should be ready for the market……cant wait!

Next we tried a Macabeo 2008 fermented in barrica which comes from the El Rosso stable. It was a modern attempt to produce a fuller wine in the style which was and still is traditionally made in the village. We were not all in agreement that it had worked. However the next two wines a traditional rancio aged in big oak barrels and a 16º + version which are sold in bidons were pleasant. Typical of the style of wines still produced in the Valentino of DO Valencia in villages such as Casinos and Vilar D´Arzobispo these have an interesting fruit base but are oxidised and on the way to being a sherry style wine….the second was very close.

After these we tried the Roques Negres red, a great way to finish a visit on a very busy day in the bodega and thanks to Juan Carlos for his time!

L´escudella Restaurant.

L´escudella Restaurant.

Visits to this area are never complete without lunch! It is not every day your host says `let’s go 60km and try a restaurant in Villafranca´….especially as the thunderstorms were gathering over the mountains we were about to cross! It did allow for some spectacular scenery as the plots  of vines, almonds and olives gave way to  proper fields with stone walls like you get in Yorkshire, cows, oak trees, hawthorn with bright plump red berry´s on, eagles flying over the windmills beyond the town of Ares del Maestrat ( itself an eagle’s nest perched on the Col de Ares) and later the truffle fields and hazelnut groves around the spa town of Benassal.

This is the country of El Cid and well worth a visit.

Salmon with Yoghurt.

Salmon with Yoghurt.

Villafranca del Cid has a small but spectacular restaurant, L´escudella run by Emilio Pons and Bruno Morrajo. It offers clever, traditional dishes using modern techniques such as low temperature cooking, fabulous presentation and with subtle touches such as salad dressings of concentrated grape juice, home-made jams and jellies and creams and yoghurts with hints of lemon to lift them and ice-cream with a dressing of lemon and basil to accompany a chocolate pudding to die for.

For starters we had rovellons and a potato dish marinated in vinegar with onion, salmon marinated with yoghurt and which was perfectly fresh,tasty and tender.

Baby Pigs Ears.

Baby Pigs Ears.

This was followed by a goats cheese salad and then baby pigs ears , crunchy and with a sesame seed crust served with cherry tomato garnish. This was followed by little croquettes ( or Napoleanas named after the tricorn hat) .

Main courses were baby lamb or baby piglet , slow cooked and absolutely tender, melt in the mouth meat served with a potato and maracuya garnish , (part of the passion fruit family). How well the Clotas Tempranillo went with them!

Pudding was the chocolate….too good to miss!!!!!

Baby Lamb. Melt in Mouth!

Baby Lamb. Melt in Mouth!

This was an excellent example of simple, top quality ingredients being cooked with care, love and a great deal of thought….cocina mimada  at its best! A very big thanks to Vicente Flors for a fabulous end to a truly great day!

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Les Useres, Poble de Vi, Ist Wine Fair.


 

Les Useres Fira de Vi 2013

Les Useres, or Useras in Castellano, is a hilltop village in the Alcalaten district of Castellon Province. It has a population which hovers around the 1000 mark and sits at 401m above sea level. Historically it was one of the most important wine-producing areas until phylloxera devastated the vineyards in the early 1900´s which plummeted from a peak of 13,500 hectares at the end of the 19th century to just 3500 by 1945, most of these illegal hybrid varieties. It was the wines from here that made Benicarlo and Viñaros ports so important from the mid 17th Century onwards with massive exports to the UK and important European capitals and as far as St Petersburg.

Opening the Fair.

Opening the Fair.

These vines ( lost varieties such as Edo and Señorito)  had to be grubbed up of course. Wine-making continued with around 100 members of the L´Alcalaten Coop just outside the town but today the revival that is taking place in Castellon province allows this tiny village to have no less than six separate wine producers!

Over the weekend of 15/16 June the village saw a fourfold increase in that population when it held it´s first ever wine fair, an initiave of the growers, new mayor and with the impulse of the Interior Tourism project which has seen the town join bodegas in Vilafamés, Benlloch and  Benecassim  create a new wine route.

The growers were joined by around 16 other producers such as  the Amas de Casa with their traditional bunuelos dripping in the local honey,  sheeps cheese from Tot de Poble, fresh tomatos, olive oils and almonds from the Mas de Fumeros, an horchata made from almonds rather than chufa, a local butcher with a range of traditional local sausages and sides of bacon as well as craft producers. All of which helped turn this into a very traditional local fair….just what Spain is all about!

The six bodegas are Baron d´Alba, El Mollet, Bodega Les Useres, Vicente Flors, Vinya Natur and Torregil. Each had brought a selection of wines to show and taste and some 3500 bottles were allegedly set aside for the two days!

Baron d´Alba

Baron d´Alba

I have visited Sergio Garcia´s vineyards and Bodega Baron d´Alba, Clos descarragordes ( Archives February 2011) and have tasted the wines from the property on many occasions in Castellon. Sergio´s father was on hand to ensure another comprehensive look at some of their wines during the fair.

On a hot day the White and Rosado were always going to be favourites! The 2012 white is a pure Macabeo, which is pale lemon, clean and bright with good long legs. On the nose fresh white flowers and red apples whilst in the mouth it is fresh, clean and with good fruit flavours a lovely acidity and full, long dry finish.

The Rosado 2012, which is a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha is a very pale salmon pink, clear, bright and again has strong legs. On the nose it is redolent of red currants and in the mouth soft, fresh, ripe fruit, a very easy drinker for summer!

Later I tried the 2008 Tinta Barrica, the top wine, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Merlot and Syrah. A good deep red, the wine has long legs but was served a little too cold for me. On the nose it has a slightly vegetal nose, ( common with Cabernet Sauvignon and not a fault)  whilst  in the mouth there are lots of mature fruits. This is a nice wine!

El Mollet I have not yet visited but I have regularly tasted the Roques Negres. These fairs often throw up surprises and Juan Carlos Pavia was showing an `under the counter´ sample of his new syrah. This is a wine from deposit which will go to oak barrels later this week to `domesticate´ it. The grapes were from vines which are just three-year  old and this was the first harvest. A typical spiky young syrah with lots of bright purple colour, black cherry on the nose and in the mouth green tannins. I will be interested to see this develop and taste it again when it is bottled finally!

The Roques Negres remains a firm favourite. Medium bodied, cherry to ruby-red with long glycerinous legs. On the nose spiky fruit with chocolate and liquorice. In the mouth the wine is big, full, with hints of oak , cherry fruit and a long creamy vanilla finish. ( 70% Monastrell and 30 % Syrah).

The crowd grows!

The crowd grows!

Bodegas Vicente Flors I have visited twice, ( archives January 14, 2011) most recently to taste the newly released `M´  a wine from Monastrell. At this fair Vicente was showing three wines, and I tasted first the new Flor de Clotas 2011, a young wine from 70-year-old Tempranillo vines, with a whopping 15% ABV.

A youthful purple colour, long legs and evidence of glycerine! On the nose it has ripe , mature fruit in abundance, damson and plum, and hints of spice. In the mouth rich, with a full body, meaty, lovely structure and an easy pass across the palate before an explosion of fruit. Well worth investing in a few bottles of this!

The Monastrell is also from 70-year-old vines, and is cherry red and medium bodied. At a mere 13% ABV it does not have quite the glycerine of its young brother! Nonetheless there is plenty of red fruit, jam, with smoky hints. In the mouth well-balanced,well structured, smoke, and plenty of fruit. A good long finish, this wine is improving as it evolves.

Wines from the Coop.

Wines from the Coop.

The  Bodega Cooperativa Les Useres  is having to come to terms with its new upstart neighbours and evolve its wine making as well. They were showing a basic range and I tried the  Rosado. A very deep colour, dark strawberry, with long glycerinous legs. On the nose persistent ripe fruit, strawberry and a hint of caramel. In the mouth the fruit was a little over mature, but it retains a good fresh acidity and I liked it very much.

The Tinto was a deep cherry red with long legs, on the nose a mixture of red and black fruits and in the mouth young fruit, fresh, an honest every day drinker which is pleasant.

The above wines were from the Alcalaten range. There is a higher quality range , bottles of which were available to buy but not on general taste at the fair. Another time I hope to prise some of these open!

Last but far from least the wines of Vinya Natura are always a hit, particularly the Quatre Vents and the Babel Cava both of which I tried again at the fair. The Tinto is from Cabernet Sauvignon with four months in oak and produces a very easy drinking red which I have seen used at functions in the Palacio de Congresos in Valencia.

The Cava ia a prize winner having come out on top at the Els Bodeguers tasting prior to Valencia´s last cava fair. It is fresh and full, very satisfying with a long finish.

Sadly, Bodegas Torregil were not present on the first morning of the fair but as the Mayor has already announced the fair a great success ( I agree) and that there will be a second edition next year, it seems there may yet be another chance!

Souvenir Wine glass...Cheers!

Souvenir Wine glass…Cheers!

 

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