Tasting the finest wines of València & Spain’s Levant

This past New Year’s Eve found me in València, hired on as the “wine expert” for a group that had flown down for the UK to say goodbye to 2018 and take on the mantle of 2019. As I’d not spent proper time in the city, it was also an opportunity for me to explore a chunk of Spain that’s known well to beach goers from Madrid but not so much for those of us who live in Catalunya.

València is an Autonomous Region in Spain that, when looking at the map makes it appear Spain wanted to create its own mini, eastern Portugal when creating borders. Long and slender, it doesn’t look like it could possibly hold all that much but the truth is far from that. Yes, there are plenty of beaches along the coast but from there, the landscape rises quite rapidly to 600m and well beyond. Thus the majority of the region is actually quite mountainous and it’s here that you find the various winegrowing regions tucked away, at elevation, and on poor soils.

If it perhaps sounds like I’m repeating what I said about Málaga, you wouldn’t be mistaken as it’s a common topography around Spain and is a great deal of the reason why the country is consistently one of the Top Three wine-producing countries in the world as this is prime area for viticulture despite Spain’s southern latitudes. Fine wine of course, has been a relatively new event but it is definitely coming around in leaps and bounds and I know I say this often, but it’s a simply wonderful time to be working in Spanish wine.

Prior to this tasting, we’d paid a visit to El Celler del Roure who are an extremely adventurous winery producing wines from local varieties (such as Mandó) in clay pots, known locally as jarres, embedded in the ground which for all purposes are “kvevri” in terms of form, size, and makeup. For me, it was a fascinating visit with unique, delicate wines. For the general wine drinker, it’s a bit more of a departure from what they may be used to as some of the wines really are taking on a new direction that many aren’t accustomed to. Still, very much worth a visit as well as spending some time in village of Moixent which is much prettier than I thought it to be.

Given how different the Roure wine were, I wanted to present wines that were more classic in style, yet making use of the local varieties namely: Bobal, Monastrell, and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet). As stated previously, Bobal is the grape in that group I have the most misgivings about. When it’s bad, I equate it to a cat with sandpaper strapped to its feet, running around inside your mouth. When it’s good however, as in the case of the Bruno Murciano and Finca Sandoval wines, it carries a lovely complexity to it with dark fruits and a potentially, savory slap of food-friendly acidity. These two wines I was quite happy with and they, along with others give me hope that the path that was carved for Carignan can indeed be replicated for this grape as well. There is plenty of source material to work with a Bobal comprises 8% of all of Spain’s vineyards.

For those unfamiliar with Garnacha Tintorera, it’s actually half Grenache as it was crossed with Petit Bouschet, itself a cross of Aramon and Teinturier du Cher. Yeah, that’s complicated and I have to say my feelings towards this grape are much the same. It’s fine as far as basic drinking goes but various wines I’ve tasted from it, seem rather mute and in the “Grenaches du Monde” competition, it was allowed to included and really stood out as “not Grenache” in so many ways. Perhaps more vinification work needs to be done or perhaps I just need to taste more of it?

The Elo Monastrell was by far the most impressive wine. Bountiful red fruit and lovely depth that make the wine electric and vibrant while staying light on the palate. Very well-done wine and it goes a long way to show that if you don’t feel like drinking it by its French name, Mourvèdre and from Bandol, the grape, in its original lands of Eastern Spain can indeed show well.

It needs to be noted that Mustiguillo should have been included in this list as well but I had to keep it to four wines and the original intention was to actually visit the cellar but that fell through due to the holiday period. Thankfully, we were able to sample the Mustizaje Blanco–a wonderful example of how good the Merseguera grape can be, the Mustizaje Tinto–which is a great Bobal blend, and then La Garnacha that shows some nice work done with Grenache in their region. The only one missing that needed inclusion would have been Terrerazo which is one of the best takes on Bobal in the region.

While we were all a big soggy given that this was done after a night not lacking in wine, I was happy to see that it didn’t blow up in my face and these wines in and around València are very much coming of age.

Bruno Murciano – El Sueño 2013
Dark-fruit, light nudge of prune and some underlying blue fruit with a bit of herbal notes. Balanced on the palate with a good brace of tannins to push the wine without overwhelming and acidity to keep it crisp.
100% Bobal 14.5% 25€
** 92

Detrás de las Casa – Garnacha Tintorera 2015
Muted in the nose but dark-fruited with a bit of heady baking spice and curry. On the palate, broad and expansive but still rather short in the finish, medium minus acidity.
100% Garnacha Tintorera 14% 15€
* 86

Compañia de Vinos del Atlantico – Elo Monastrell 2010
Lovely red fruit profile, cranberry, raspberry, forest fruits, along with tea leaves, delicate herbs, rosemary, and simply endless complexity. On the palate, it’s as if someone dropped a spoon of perfectly ripe fruits on your tongue with great freshness, medium plus acidity and a very long finish.
100% Monastrell 13% 25€
** 94

Finca Sandoval 2010
Dark fruit profile that leans on blackberry and dark cherry, cedar, earthy notes, and Syrah aspect quite prevalent, lighter herbal notes. On the palate, starts out strong, oak still needs a bit of time to integrate and the finish is a bit short although it’s an overall quite elegant wine. All bottles appeared to have corks that were on the verge of failure due to visible side seepage so not sure if minor shortcomings were due to that and not the wine. Regardless, should be drank now.
Syrah, Monastrell, Bobal 14.5% 23€
* 91-