DISCOVERY! Spain’s Rising D.O. Utiel-Requena Wine Region — “Land of Bobal”

The Utiel-Requena D.O. in the Province of Valencia, in eastern Spain, ranks among our top wine discoveries of 2017.  Spanish wine, food, wine, and travel expert April Cullom introduced us to the region and its wines at a tasting she organized and hosted in Washington, D.C. — the Utiel-Requena Road Show 2017, which was also held in Boston and Houston. The tasting featured 13 producers from the region, and the star of the show was D.O. Utiel-Requena’s native, “signature,” grape variety — Bobal. 

D.O. Utiel-Requena is named for the neighboring municipalities of Utiel and Requena, and winemaking has been central to the history, culture, and traditions of these two towns and surrounding villages and lands for over 2,500 years. The appellation is situated in the interior high plains of Valencia, roughly 45 miles from the coast. The climate is in large part Mediterranean, with some continental characteristics due to its elevation of 2,500 feet above sea level. The area encompasses 86,000 acres of vineyards owned and farmed by some 6,000 families who rely on viticulture for a living; and 100 wineries that produce wine commercially.

Ancient Head-Trained Bobal Vines

Bobal, a vitis vinifera  variety, is believed to be indigenous to the region and is the centerpiece of winegrowing in the D.O. Utiel-Requena. The name derives from the Latin bovale, in reference to the shape of a bull’s head. It represents about three quarters of vineyard production in the appellation.

Bobal typically stands on its own as a single varietal wine, but is sometimes blended with other varieties. Other wine grape varieties authorized for cultivation and wine production in D.O. Utiel-Requena include: (red grapes) Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Garnacha Tintorera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc; and (white grapes) Macabeo, Merseguera, Tardana, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Parellada, Verdejo and Moscatel de Grano Menudo. 

Bobal Cluster

Single-varietal Bobal wines tend to be deeply purple-pigmented (the variety is known to have one of the highest levels of anthocyanin – color saturation – of any red wine grape); and full-bodied and rich in texture, with extracted fruit aroma and flavor characteristics. In our limited exposure to Bobal at the Utiel-Requena Road Show 2017, we found them to be fresh, youthful, and immediately drinkable, as most are aged only briefly in oak; balanced, with approachable tannins and brisk acidity; moderately alcoholic; and inherently food-friendly. They also are very reasonably priced given their consistently high quality and relative to their (potential) market competition. A remarkable number of the wines we tasted are (or would be) less than $20 in the U.S. market.

We thoroughly enjoyed meeting the winemakers and tasting their wines at the Utiel-Requena Road Show 2017. The wines featured below are just a few highlights from the tasting; most are 100% Bobal, some are Bobal-based blends, and a few others consist of different varieties altogether. 

We appreciated the wines so much that we believe more should be made available in the U.S. market. At this point in time, D.O. Utiel-Requena wines are not widely imported into, and distributed within, the United States. In fact, some of the wineries represented at the Utiel-Requena Road Show 2017 have no U.S. importer/distributor and were there to build interest and recognition for themselves, the Bobal variety, and the D.O. Utiel-Requena appellation as a whole. 

The National Wine Review urges U.S. wine importers and distributors to take the wines of D.O. Utiel-Requena seriously for their character, quality, and value; and to seek opportunities to import and distribute more of these wines in the U.S. wine market for the enjoyment of American wine consumers.

The wineries among those highlighted, below, that do not have importation/distribution in the United States are noted as “Seeking Importer.”

“Recommended”

VITICULTORES DE SAN JUAN | Bobal de San Juan (Rosé) 2016 | Dark pink-pigmented and lively on the nose and palate, with focused notions of rose petal, cinnamon stick, and fresh-picked strawberries. Stainless steel fermented. 100% Bobal. 13% ABV (www.valsangiacomo.es)

DOMINIO DE LA VEGA | Mirame (Rosé) 2016 | Vividly aromatic, with notes of melon, fresh-picked raspberry and strawberry, and sea spray. Fresh and mouth-quenching. Fermented in stainless steel and settled on the lees. 50% Bobal; 50% Pinot Noir. 14% ABV (www.dominiodelavega.com)

VITICULTORES DE SAN JUAN | Bobal de San Juan (Red) 2015 | Earthy, with aromas of plum preserve, leather, and mulling spices; and flavors of brandied blackberry, toasted almond, and black olive. Layered and complex. Fermented and aged in concrete. 100% Bobal. 13.5% ABV  (www.valsangiacomo.es)   

PAGO DE THARSYS | Tharsys City Tinto (Red) 2015 | Fascinating aromas of buttered plum, eucalyptus, and tobacco lead to deeply layered flavors of cherry preserve, red plum, and herbs.  Aged in French and American oak casks for five months. 50% Merlot, 25% Bobal, 25% Tempranillo. 13.5% ABV (www.pagodetharsys.com)

SEBIRÁN | C – Minúscula (Red) 2012 | Meaty, with notions of black cherry, dark chocolate, and anise on the nose; and on the palate, impressions of cranberry, orange peel, and sage. A quarter of the wine aged for three months in casks. 100% Bobal. 12.5% ABV (www.sebiran.es)  Seeking Importer

“Highly Recommended”

TORO LOCO | Reserva (Red) 2012 | Layered aromas and flavors of ripe plum, black cherry, and vanilla bean. Beautifully balanced, with velvety tannins and appreciable complexity. An oak-aged blend of 50% Tempranillo and 10% each of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. 13.5% ABV (www.toroloco.wine)

BVC Bodegas | El Macho Reserva (Red) 2012 | Brawny, with expressions of macerated blackberry, toasted pecan, and leather. An oak-aged blend of 40% Bobal, 30% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, and 5% Garnacha. 13% ABV (www.bvcbodegas.com)

VITICULTORES DE SAN JUAN | Clos de San Juan (Red) 2013 | Vibrant aromas and an elegant palate, with expressions of ripe red fruits, herbs, and toasty oak. Beautifully balanced. Fermented in concrete and aged for 15 months in 500-litre Burgundian oak barrels. 100% Bobal. 13.5% ABV (www.valsangiacomo.es)

VITICULTORES DE SAN JUAN | La Aldea de San Juan (Red) 2013 | Spicy, with notes of macerated raspberries and mulberries, baking spices, and toasty oak. Expressive and rich on the palate with fresh acidity over a lingering finish. Complete from beginning to end. Fermented in concrete and aged for 15 months in 500-litre Burgundian oak barrels. 100% Bobal. 13.5% ABV (www.valsangiacomo.es)

COVIÑAS | Adnos (Red) 2012 | Rich and robust on the nose and palate, with impressions of black cherry preserve, mineral, mint, and smoked meat — with a terrific uptick of acidity on the finish. Aged for 24 months in oak, deftly integrated. 100% Bobal. 13% ABV (www.covinas.com)  Seeking Importer

FINCA SAN BLAS | Bobal 2014 | Intensely aromatic, with notions of brandied blackberry, jasmine, cola, and nutmeg over a luscious, mineral-tinged finish. 100% Bobal. 14% ABV (www.fincasanblas.com)  Seeking Importer

BODEGAS SIERRA NORTE | Pasion de Bobal Tinto 2014 | Earthy, with aromas of baked berries and cocoa butter followed by flavors of brandied dark fruit, dark chocolate, and vanilla. 100% Bobal, aged for six months in oak barrels. 13.5% ABV (www.bodegasierranorte.com)

CHOZAS CARRASCAL | LAS2CES Tinto 2015 | Silky smooth, with notions of macerated red berries, buttered nuts, and toast. 100% Bobal, aged for five months in two-three year-old oak barrels. 13.5% ABV (www.chozascarrascal.com)                   Seeking Importer

BODEGAS HISPANOS+SUIZAS | Bassus Pinot Noir 2014 | Deeply aromatic on the nose, with notes of candied black cherry and bay leaf; and deeply extracted on the palate, with notes of macerated boysenberry and redwood over a robust finish. 100% Pinot Noir, aged for 10 months in new French Allier oak barrels and bottled with minimal filtration. 14.5% ABV (www.bodegashispanosuizas.com)

Other producers represented at the D.O. Utiel-Requena Road Show 2017 that are seeking an importer include Ladron de Lunas (www.ladrondelunas.es) and Newcat-Bodegas Vibe (www.bodegasvibe.com).

Inquiries: For more information on the wineries and wines of D.O. Utiel-Requena and their availability in the United States, visit their association virtually at www/utielrequena.org

— Scott Hendley

Posted in Bobal, Old World, Spain | Leave a comment

Troon Vineyard | Vibrant Vermentinos from Southern Oregon

Troon Vineyard in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley has been doing some intriguing things with Vermentino over the past several vintages. Their 2014 Blue Label Longue Carabine (NWR 92 Points) featured Vermentino co-fermented with Viognier and blended with a co-ferment of Marsanne and Roussanne; and the 2014 Black Label Vermentino (NWR 90 Points) delivered expressions reminiscent of the renowned white wines of the Vermentino di Gallura DOCG appellation of northeastern Sardinia. 

Vermentino is a light-skinned, white grape variety (vitis vinifera) grown throughout Italy (most notably in Sardinia, Tuscany, Liguria, and Umbria) as well as in France (mostly in the Mediterranean south, where it is called “Rolle”), but the variety has only a small, scattered presence in the United States. Vermentino’s aroma and flavor profile bears some resemblance to Sauvignon Blanc, as it can be lean, herbal, and zesty; but it also can be rich, layered, and creamy, not unlike Grenache Blanc, depending, in part, on where it is grown, how it is vinified, and whether it is blended with something else.

For the 2016 vintage, Troon has delivered two distinctively different styles of Vermentino — one inspired by Italian Vermentino, and the other by French Rolle — sourced from separate blocks of their estate vineyards planted on decomposed granite soils. Both are finely crafted, versatile with food, reasonably priced, and pleasurable to drink. Troon has demonstrated, once again and perhaps better than ever, that high-quality Vermentino can be produced beyond Italy and France.  

We share our tasting notes, below.

2016 Vermentino | Applegate Valley | Oregon 

90 Points

“Highly Recommended”

Troon’s Red Label is made in the Italian style — fresh and crisp, with zesty acidity and a yearning for fresh-caught seafood. It is 100% Vermentino, with delicate aromas of sliced apple, lemon verbena, and green almond that transition to flavors of Anjou pear, green tea, and wet stone — all punctuated by notions of citrus zest and fresh herbs over a mouth-watering finish. It is dry and light in body and texture, with no discernable oak. The fruit picked for this wine was treaded by foot, left on the skins overnight, and pressed the next day. It was fermented in stainless steel with native yeast and aged in neutral French Oak Burgundy barrels for four months before bottling.

12.5% ABV | 380 Cases Produced | $15 | Drink Now

2016 Vermentino | Cuvée Rolle

Applegate Valley | Oregon

92 Points

“Highly Recommended”

Troon’s Blue Label is made in the style of French Vermentino, or “Rolle” (hence the name “Cuvée Rolle”), inspired by the Rolle blends of the Languedoc-Roussillon appellation of southern France. The fruit sourced for this wine was allowed to hang and ripen longer than the fruit picked for the Red Label, and it was co-fermented with 10% Marsanne, a white Rhône grape variety known for its peaches-and-honey aromatics and viscous texture. This wine does present an appreciably richer aroma and flavor profile than the Red Label, with impressions of almond biscotti, honeydew melon, and spearmint on the nose; and on the palate, notions of fresh peach, toasted hazelnut, and buttered herbs — all framed by suggestions of honey-roasted cashews over a long, succulent finish. It is dry and full-bodied, with no discernable oak. It was fermented with native yeast in neutral French Oak Burgundy barrels and aged in barrel for four months before bottling.

12.5% ABV | 318 Cases Produced | $20 | Drink Now ~ 2020

Food Pairing: Serve either of these wines with salads, fresh cheeses (e.g., ricotta, goat, mozzarella), baked brie, mixed nuts, seafood (e.g., oysters, calamari, steamed mussels, shrimp, fish tacos), any assortment and preparation of vegetables, fruit tarts, and other light fare.

Troon Vineyard embraces natural, creative, and age-old (though today unconventional) winemaking techniques. Troon employs only native yeasts in ferments; uses no additives — such as acids, sugar, and enzymes — in their wines; and use only mature (neutral) oak barrels for aging (no new oak). Troon allows the soil, vines, and fruit to express themselves in harmony and with authenticity, and it is telling in their wines. For our previous discussions and reviews of Troon Vineyard and its wines, click on this link.

Availability: For more information on the availability of Troon Vineyard’s 2016 Vermentinos or to purchase them, visit Troon Vineyard virtually at www.troonvineyard.com; at the winery, located at 1475 Kubli Road, Grants Pass, Oregon; or at their Carlton, Oregon, tasting room at 250 N. Kutch St.

Future Release: In the spring of 2018, Troon Vineyard will be releasing a third Vermentino in its 2016 vintage lineup — the Black Label, which is being aged for a year in neutral French Oak barrels, on the lees. We look forward to tasting it and sharing our impressions.

— Scott Hendley

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Posted in Applegate Valley, New World, Oregon, Vermentino | Leave a comment

WINE of the WEEK

MUSE VINEYARDS Clio 2012

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

92 Points | “Highly Recommended”

2012 is the fourth vintage bottling of Muse Vineyards’ flagship Bordeaux varietal blend, “Clio,” and a composition of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec — all estate grown. It presents an appealing balance of fruit and earth, with aromas of macerated blackberry, grilled tomato, and violet that segue into flavors of fresh-picked black cherry, fig, and poblano pepper — all layered with impressions of bay leaf, cocoa bean, and iron over a lingering, savory finish. The wine is dry, full-bodied, and velvety on the palate, with mild acidity and approachable tannins. Oak is spicy and herbaceous, but well integrated; the wine aged for 24 months in French oak barrels, 40% new and the remainder neutral, and was not fined or filtered. Unlike some other higher-end Virginia wines, Muse does not hide behind new oak; in Muse wines, oak is an accent — a discreet frame around the art — not the dominant trait.

The 2012 Clio is a sophisticated and eminently eMuse Corknjoyable expression of traditional red Bordeaux varieties as grown in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and assembled with meticulous attention to detail by Muse Winemaker Tim Rausse. It will serve as a versatile food wine; drink it now and over the next several years.

Recommended Food Pairings: Medium-to-sharp cheeses; cured, roasted, and smoked meats; seared filet mignon; cassoulet; venison; and other such hearty fare.

13% ABV | 222 Cases Produced | $35

To read our original introduction to Muse Vineyards, click on the link: “Raising the Bar for Winemaking in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.”

For more information on Muse Vineyards 2012 Clio and its availability, visit them virtually at www.musevineyards.com

— Scott Hendley

Posted in Bordeaux Blend, Shenandoah Valley (Virginia), Virginia | Leave a comment

Daily Wine Recommendation

FRICK Grenache Blanc 2013

Estate Owl Hill Vineyard

Dry Creek Valley, California

92 Points | “Highly Recommended”

Frick Winery’s Grenache Blanc is, vintage after vintage, a thing of beauty and rarity. There are only four acres of Grenache Blanc, a traditional white Rhone variety, planted in Sonoma County, all-told (as opposed to over 15,000 acres of Chardonnay), and we are fortunate that Bill Frick has some of those vines planted to his rocky, south-facing Owl Hill Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. Its color is a deeply pigmented golden yellow — stunning in the glass. Aromas are effusive, with suggestions of star fruit, lemon verbena, and macadamia nut; and flavors are sumptuous, with notes of tropical fruit basket, Bananas Foster, and tarragon — all layered with impressions of citrus zest, wet stone, and cardamom over a velvety, viscous finish. The wine is dry, full-bodied, and fleshy on the palate, with quenching acidity. It was fermented and aged in 45% in new oak barrels and 55% stainless steel, sur lie.

This wine is truly a charmer; enjoy it now through 2020 with any variety of lighter, even spicy, fare, including seafood of all types, fresh fruit salad, Thai curries, spring rolls, and grilled fruits and vegetables. 

Frick’s 2014 Grenache Blanc is now available, as well, and we look forward to tasting it and sharing our impressions. Our mouths are watering in anticipation.

14.9% ABV | 122 Cases Produced | $26

Availability: www.frickwinery.com

~ Scott Hendley

Posted in Dry Creek Valley, Grenache Blanc, Sonoma County, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

WINE of the WEEK

MUSE VINEYARDS Thalia 2015

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

90 Points | “Highly Recommended”

A blend of Marsanne (50%), Roussanne (40%), and Viognier (10%), the 2015 Thalia is aromatically complex and fresh on the palate, with velvety viscosity and quenching acidity. Aromas of apricot nectar, roasted hazelnut, and florals transition to flavors of baked pear, brioche, and fresh tarragon — all layered with impressions of orange peel and butterscotch over a honeyed finish. It is dry and medium-bodied with a creamy texture — thanks to full malolactic (secondary) fermentation in new and neutral French oak barrels. It is a Virginia-grown Rhone varietal blend that holds its own against like-priced counterparts from France and California. A refreshing and food-friendly white to drink now and over the next several years.

Recommended Food Pairings: Fresh seafood; roasted poultry; cream-based dishes; Asian cuisine; Indian curries; fall and winter squash dishes; fruit tarts.

12.6% ABV | 222 Cases Produced | $24

 To read our original introduction to Muse Vineyards, click on the link:  Raising the Bar for Winemaking in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.”

For more information on Muse Vineyards 2015 Thalia and its availability, visit them virtually at www.musevineyards.com.

— Scott Hendley

Posted in Marsanne, New World, Rhone Blend, Roussane, Shenandoah Valley (Virginia), Viognier, Virginia | Leave a comment

CrossKeys Vineyards: Wines with a Sense of Place in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

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A revelation as to the promises of grape growing and winemaking in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley came to us in 2015, when we visited Muse Vineyards in the town of Woodstock, in historic Shenandoah County, and tasted their Virginia Governor’s Cup-winning … Continue reading

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TROON VINEYARD | Applegate Valley | Oregon | Riesling, Whole Grape Ferment — 88 Points | An Utterly Unique Summer White

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88 Points | “Recommended” And now for something completely different…but first, a little reminder: white wines are customarily made by pressing juice from the skins following crush, and then fermenting that juice into wine without skin contact. Skins, therefore, play … Continue reading

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Daily Wine Recommendation

CROSSKEYS VINEYARDS Touriga 2015

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

87 Points | “Recommended”

Crafted from the Portuguese variety Touriga Nacional (a common blending grape in Port wine), this plump, medium-bodied red offers savory aromas and flavors of black fruit, tobacco, nutmeg, and earthy minerality over a velvety palate. Oak (9 months) and tannins are well integrated, with mild acidity. A solid showing for this variety in Virginia. Fresh, appealing, and food versatile.  Drink now through 2022.  

12.5% ABV | 200 Cases Produced |  $35

Availability: www.crosskeysvineyards.com

–Scott Hendley

Posted in New World, Shenandoah Valley (Virginia), Touriga Nacional, Virginia | Leave a comment

Troon Vineyard | Southern Oregon | Estate Tannat – 92 Points | M*T Reserve – 93 Points | Savory Reds for the Grilling Season

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Troon Vineyard continues to up the ante in the realm of natural winegrowing and winemaking. The winery, located in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon, is committed to environmentally sustainable viticultural practices, minimally intrusive winemaking techniques, and the selection of … Continue reading

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For Medlock Ames in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, 2014 Was a Very Good Year

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Coming on the heels of the exemplary 2012 and 2013 vintages, 2014 yielded yet another terrific season for grape growing and winemaking in California — and it so happened to be the third consecutive year of severe drought throughout the … Continue reading

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Vina Robles ~ Two New Releases from Paso Robles, California

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Vina Robles founder/proprietor Hans Nef and Managing Partner Hans — R. Michel, both natives of Switzerland, operate their Paso Robles winery according to one essential maxim:  “European Inspiration — California Character.”  Two of their recent release wines — estate Cabernet Sauvignon and … Continue reading

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WINERY NEWS: Muse Vineyards Opens New Tasting Room in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

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Muse Vineyards, which we introduced to you early this year (click here for feature review), is opening its new Tasting Room to the public on Friday, November 25, 2016, the day after Thanksgiving, at noon. Muse is a family-owned winery tucked … Continue reading

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