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

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