Valencia: Fallas, Paëlla ... and Bobal
By Santiago Jimenez - Photographs: courtesy of the estates, posted on 31 January 2022
Anyone with even a scant knowledge of the world and is familiar with the Valencia region in Spain, knows that it faces the Mediterranean Sea. Its main defining features are the ‘Fallas’ celebration and paella. But perhaps many who know or have visited the region, heavily influenced by ‘Riojitis’ or ‘Riberitis’, may be unaware of the grape variety native to this eastern Levante region with which many of its wines are made. Read on to find out more about Bobal.
Bobal is a native grape variety grown in Spain’s Levante region. It is the star variety of the Utiel-Requena Designation of Origin where it makes up an estimated 70% of total production. According to the designation’s figures, 47% of the 21,876 hectares planted to Bobal are old vines, over 40 years old.
The climate and soil in this Mediterranean region offer perfect conditions for growing Bobal, which shows a preference for soils at a certain elevation. That’s exactly what the area has to offer. Bobal is also known as Provechón, Requena, Canonao, Boal, Boral, Bogal, Requeno or Bovatí depending on the town where it is grown. According to the designation of origin, “wines made with Bobal usually have an intense colour, full body and complex flavours. They are wines with potent volume and structure, and on the palate and nose, are reminiscent of ripe fruit, with tones of dried fruit, liquorice and spices. The young red wines are intense with very striking purple tones. Over time, they very slowly evolve, becoming vivid red wines reminiscent of ripe cherry.” Rosé wines made from Bobal “have a very attractive colour and aromas of red fruit, with intense deep violet tones. In the mouth, they achieve a unique balance, bringing great freshness and fullness to the palate. They are very harmonious wines,” typical of this designation of origin.
This variety has great winemaking potential. In recent years, wineries have made incremental progress in winemaking and viticulture with Bobal. The result is that new, quality wines are appearing in the market, and they show site-expressive characters.
Below are 4 wineries where Bobal is a pivotal ingredient in the winemaking process.
Unloading grapes during the harvest
COVIÑAS: In unity there is strength
This winery was created in 1965 in the town of Requena, when 10 of the major winegrowers in the region of Utiel-Requena came together. Their initial intention was to create a distillery, but two years later, the group bought a winery near the distillery. It is here that the first quality wine in the region was made, called ‘Vino de la Reina’. Over time, it became known as ‘Enterizo’, a brand that still exists today and is one of the winery’s flagships.
An aerial view of the Coviñas co-operative winery
Around 1994, the company expanded internationally with the brand ‘Monte Mayor’, and from then on, it has been growing steadily. In 2003, activity in the distillery came to an end, and the members of the group decided to focus on creating still wines. In 2008, they adapted their facilities to make Cava, following specifications for the designation of origin primarily located in Catalonia. According to Coviñas, sales volumes “have quadrupled in the last decade.” The winery has increased its portfolio and made high quality wines, including some limited edition bottlings, “always taking on board the needs of the market and consumers.”
Coviñas owns over 10,000 hectares of land. A large part of the on-stream vineyards are home to some of the oldest vines in Spain, over 100 years of age. 80% of the vineyards are planted to Bobal.
In addition to the ‘Reina de Requena’, other varieties such as Tempranillo, Grenache, Macabeo and cultivars in far lower quantities (Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon,…) are grown, but Bobal is special “for its resistance to lack of water and high temperatures, which makes it ideal for growing here. Very little treatment on the vines is required, making it a good option for growing organically.” Given the characteristics of this type of grape, and the challenge of climate change, “for its robustness, its resistance to drought and its ability to adapt to drastic climate changes, this variety could have a very promising future in the advent of such changes.” Currently, the average yearly volume of bottles produced totals 16 million, with exports to over 30 countries around the world. Overseas sales represent approximately 80% of total volume, with the remaining 20% for domestic consumption. With a commitment to quality and respect for the land, to the farmers and the environment, Coviñas continues to be a co-operative with over 3,000 members. It is the primary producer of Bobal wines.
Coviñas vineyards paint a multi-colourd picture after the harvest
FINCA SAN BLAS: Setting new challenges
Two kilometres to the South-West of Requena (some 80 km inland to the West of Valencia) is the location for this winery. Here, olives, almonds, cereals and vines are grown, alongside the local flora including pines, juniper bushes and trees, rosemary and aromatic plants like saffron. “The land is imbued with flavour which, in return, conveys its essence to the wine to give it uniqueness, personality and character”, is how the symbiosis is presented at the winery. Finca San Blas maintains a very close connection with nature and a very special relationship with wine. On this extensive 585-hectare farm in Requena, for the most part made up of woodland, Bobal, Tempranillo, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Merseguera, Xarello and Chenin Blanc are grown, with only the best grapes selected to promote terroir-driven wines with character, that are also extremely elegant.
“20 years ago, we were among the first to invest in the quality of Bobal and to believe that we could make great bottled wines from it”
Bobal, Valencia's star grape variety, ripens on the vine at the Pasiego winery
The winery is situated in the same location as the farm, in the most traditional style reminiscent of the classic French chateau. In this way, “the pronounced artisanal character of the wines is retained and the winemaking process becomes something that is natural and organic, with the winery its harmonising and balancing centre.” “20 years ago, we were among the first to invest in the quality of Bobal and to believe that we could make great bottled wines from it. Being so rural, wineries at first only made wine in bulk. It is a significant grape and represents a firm investment for the winery since, as a native grape, it has adapted very well to the conditions of our farm”, a spokesperson explained. The winemaker and professor of viticulture at the Requena School of Viticulture and Oenology at the Valencia Polytechnic University, Nicolás Sánchez, is a Bobal specialist. “Nicolás has set himself challenges and made innovations here, which no other winery has done before, planting new grape varieties unknown to the area, implementing new winemaking methods never used before in the region, for example not removing shade or importing techniques from the Tokaj region [Hungary] for his latest creation, a sweet white botrytised wine”.
The result of these investments is an “elegant terroir wine with great character, encapsulating its environment and heir to a unique natural richness. It expresses the personality of a farm which is much more than just its vineyards.” The winery makes two single varietals from Bobal: “La Senda del Caballo and Finca San Blas Bobal which can be considered as small-batch wines. The wines are matured in large wooden casks (fudres) or barrels, with clear Bobal expression at its most potent and expressive, but also very refined and elegant.” Other wines, red and rosé, have Bobal as the main variety, but are blended with other grape varieties grown on the farm. According to the staff at the Finca San Blas, Bobal “is a variety that has become more and more famous over the last decade in the national and international market, and is undoubtedly one of the Spanish varieties with the greatest international future in decades to come. Importers already know that Spain is much more than Tempranillo, and Bobal is a grape that is generating great interest abroad and even within our own borders because of its excellent ability to make great wines that are complex and elegant, but at the same time, easy to understand.”
PASSIEGO: From a hobby to a profession
The barrel room at the Pasiego winery
The first steps of this project were taken in 1997, with 13 barrels in a basement in Utiel, when three friends and wine enthusiasts decided to set up a winery as a hobby, without any economic expectations, with the sole purpose of enjoying the process of making the best wine possible. At that time, they were not yet creating wines. Instead, they started by comparing a lot of wine samples and choosing which they liked best in order to age them in barrels, as good artisans do, patiently and perseveringly, and without rushing the process.
As time went on, they kept growing in size and receiving awards. The hobby was becoming something more serious. Two of the founding members jumped ship and the new company remained under the control of brothers Julio, José Luís and David Salón Pérez, who moved their facilities to Sinarcas with the intention of making wines from their own grapes. Since then, the project has become a family-run winery located in Sinarcas, in the inland area of the province of Valencia, within the Utiel-Requena D.O.
José Luis Salón, one of the brothers who owns the winery and its technical director, said that unlike other grape varieties currently grown locally, Bobal “is the variety that has always been grown here. As it is native to this area, it is perfectly suited to our climate.”
Concurring with opinions expressed by the previous two wineries, Salón believes Bobal “is a variety with great potential, as we have seen in recent years through the development of different wines in the region – rosé, young and mature wines (garnering high ratings in guides, awards, etc.). Perhaps it needs greater international exposure, since it is not as well-known elsewhere.” Like the majority of grape varieties, Bobal is being affected by climate change with “harvests occurring earlier, ultimately shortening the growing cycle. For the quality of the grape, slow ripening is vital. Therefore, in the higher and cooler areas in our region, climate change has so far been favourable for us. Years ago, we were at the outer limit of vine growing, producing grapes with a low level of ripeness.”
TORRE ORIA: Looking to the future
An aerial view of Torre Oria
The origins of this winery dates back to the end of the 19th century. The Oria de Rueda family had been successful in the silk industry in Valencia, but over time, the family decided to move their business to the city of Requena, 60 km away in the inland parts of Valencia. With the decline of the silk industry, they decided to convert their business to wine, although legend has it that a great storm in around 1897, which destroyed mulberry trees and ruined their silk business, was the determining factor in building the winery. Around 1925, after 25 years of making still wines, José Oria de Rueda made the decision to buy his first 500 barrels with which to age wines. The winery has now been producing wines matured in oak for decades. Since 1970, sparkling wines have been crafted at Torre Oria, using the traditional method. After years of legal wrangling, in 1993 it became the first winery with the Cava designation outside the Penedés region, the original location of the Cava designation of origin.
In 2012, Eloy Bautista became the principal shareholder at Bodegas Torre Oria, after a long career in the wine industry. He decided to start a new project with a clear strategy focused on the international marketplace. Bodegas Torre Oria is aware of the competitiveness of the wine sector in international markets, where it is not only competing with Spanish suppliers, but also with international producers. The company has several objectives, but one of them is “to satisfy consumers with traditional and innovative wines, through good value for money and a 5-star delivery service.”
The impressive buildings at Torre Oria
Like other wineries mentioned here, Bobal is a key grape with which Torre Oria makes various red wines, but it also grows other varieties such as Merlot, Tempranillo, Cabernet-Sauvignon and Syrah. For white wines, it uses Macabeo, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The winery’s Bobal wines “are normally robust with a great ability to age. They are very fresh, fruity wines that mature well where there is good balance between the fruit and the toasted, elegant notes from the ageing process in the barrel.” “Bobal epitomises personality and distinctiveness for our winery. Occasionally, we use it in small amounts to make our wines unique. Our single-variety bottled wines made from this grape enable us to break into new markets. Exclusivity and native varieties are important pillars of our strategy.” According to Diego Morcillo, technical director of Torre Oria, “the future is clearly bright for this variety, especially since it is a grape with high total acidity, moderate pH and is late ripening, which in the past was a handicap; 20 years ago, it was difficult to ripen the fruit well. With regard to the climate in our region, the fact that summers end in October guarantees good ripening with more moderate alcohol levels but still enough acidity to last over time.”
By Santiago Jimenez - Photographs: courtesy of the estates
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