Less aggressive production, longer maturation and larger oak barrels means that modern Bobal winemakers are refining the traditional bulk-wine grape. The Write Taste's Robin Goldsmith shines a light on those leading the way
The wine region Utiel-Requeña lies around 75km inland from the city of Valencia at an altitude of between 600m and 900m.
It provides the main home for Bobal, the country's third most planted grape variety. The name is derived from bovale, or bull, as the irregular cone-shaped bunches are supposed to resemble a bull’s head. Well-known for its resistance to phylloxera, Bobal finds its most suitable terroir in Utiel-Requeña. Here, the soils are sandy and rich in calcareous clay with high limestone content.
Previously regarded more as a workhorse grape for bulk wine production, it's now experiencing a resurgence from a new generation of winemakers
The grape is vigorous and high-yielding, creating deeply coloured wines with firm tannins, good structure and potential for cellaring. Previously regarded more as a workhorse grape for bulk wine production, it's now experiencing a resurgence from a new generation of winemakers, who have abandoned traditional techniques like doble pasta. Meaning 'double pulp', extra grape skins and pulp were added to the fermenting grape juice, imparting more colour and tannins.
Now, production is much less aggressive, using macro- and micro-oxygenation, longer maturation periods, larger oak barrels and a revival of tinajas (traditional clay jars for fermenting and ageing wine). Quality is prioritized over quantity, often employing sustainable, organic and strictly rainfed viticulture, protection of old vines, better canopy management and close monitoring of phenolic maturation.
Wineries, such as Bodega Mustiguillo, Dominio de la Vega and Viña Memorias, are making a great effort to produce high quality terroir-driven wines. Similarly, Grupo Coviñas, a secondary co-operative formed in 1965 to represent over 3,000 farmers and covering around 41% of the DO's land under vine, has become a very modern, quality-driven winery.
Spotlight on Viña Memorias
Viña Memorias was founded in 2016 by entrepreneur Annie Molco, as a homage to her family heritage and to re-write the modern history of the region's wines, making single varietal expressions.
Vineyards enjoy a unique combination of Mediterranean and Continental climates with warm, dry summers and long, cold winters. During the growing season, night-time Mediterranean winds humidify the vines, while warm daytime winds from La Mancha dry them. This combination offers an excellent microclimate for viticulture.
Molco and her team don’t use chemicals in the vineyards with organic certification expected from next vintage. ‘A great wine is the reflection of the land that nurtured it,’ says Armando Caracena-Molco, head of global business development, ‘and we are devoted to respecting the characteristics of our environment.’
Since Annie Molco's family are Sephardi (Hispanic) Jews, they have dedicated their first vintage to honour Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon. Also known as Rambam, he was renowned in medieval Spain as a philosopher, theologist, doctor and Rabbi. He also recommended moderate wine consumption for health benefits.
Two examples of Viña Memorias' vegan and Kosher wines from very good vintages illustrate how Bobal can be vinified in different ways, resulting in unique expressions of this grape variety. Far from being a rustic, workhorse grape, it can create wines with purity of fruit and finesse
Memorias del Rambam Crianza 2016
100% Bobal from vines with an average age over 65 years old. Cold maceration and fermentation takes place in stainless steel, followed by 12 months' maturation in 225L new American oak barrels plus four months ageing in bottle. Only 6,200 bottles have been made, the label showing a bust of Rambam.
Dark red to deep garnet in colour. On the nose, black cherries, blackberries, raspberries, prunes, a touch of vanilla and woody spice notes of sandalwood and cinnamon. On the palate, fruity notes with black cherries, prunes and cinnamon prominent. Hints of cloves and mint develop mid-to-end palate and the finish is long with touches of sweet, earthy beetroot and fine black pepper spice. There's good acidity with soft, balanced tannins, roundness, structure and richness, while retaining a light, elegant touch.
Would pair nicely with beef in a red wine sauce, spicy or barbecue-flavoured meatballs, hard cheeses.
The winery's flagship wine Yunikko, made from their oldest Bobal vines (over 90 years old), is fermented and aged for 14 months in new 1,000L tinajas. Only 1,770 bottles were made, the label showing artwork by Gilbert Rigaud, a French painter who was part of the École de Paris art movement in the last century and a close relative of Molco's family.
Dark red with a tinge of purple in colour. On the nose, floral and intensely aromatic with notes of blueberries, blackberries, cherries and some red berry brightness plus cloves and cinnamon. Slight hint of graphite too. Notes of blueberries, cherries and a hint of wild strawberries on the palate, with sweet spice notes of cinnamon and cloves plus a touch of earthier cumin. An edge of salty liquorice and graphite develop on the mid-palate with some white pepper on the elegant finish. There's good acidity with integrated tannins and decent length.
Would match well with a fruity Moroccan lamb tagine, other spicy lamb or lentil dishes.