It was back in August 2010 that I got an email from Steve Collins, the then Vice-president of the Costa Blanca Wine Society, asking if I might be prepared “to come along at a mutually agreed date in 2011 to give us a talk about Valencian wines”. I was pleased to be asked, and it all seemed reassuringly vague and a long way off.
We met for the first time in November in Valencia, when he, his wife Elizabeth and I had a chatty menú del día in Moma, after the easy-to-find place I’d initially suggested (Pepe Pica) turned out, as invariably happens, to be shut.
The CBWS always meets on the third Thursday of the month, and there was some talk of 17 March. My Irish antennae quivered, and I pointed out that this was not only full-on Fallas, but more importantly St Patrick’s Day. I think they felt that they were in danger of having a more exuberant speaker than they’d bargained for, and promptly switched the March meeting to the 24th.
It still seemed ages off, then in the new year, with Steve now confirmed as the president of the CBWS for 2011, and we were confirming things. I hadn’t thought particularly what aspect of Valencian wine to talk about, and was mulling casually over a few possibilities, when Steve was in touch again on 31 January to say that the February speaker had bunked off to Mexico, and could I step into the breach on the 17th of the month. A friend of mine once said, rather cruelly and incorrectly to my mind, that I only really function in emergencies, so this was right up my street.
It forced me to find a subject, and I felt that I couldn’t go far wrong talking about one of my great enthusiasms – the remarkable pocket of vinous excellence in the very south of DO Valencia, in a tiny “golden triangle” between the villages of Moixent-Fontanars dels Alforins-La Font de la Figuera.
DO Valencia is divided into 4 subzones: Alto Turia, Valentino, Moscatel de Valencia and Clariano. This enclave is in Clariano, in the beautiful uplands of the Vall d’Albaida. There is a whole bunch of wineries here doing great things, as I’ve written elsewhere. For the CBWS, who know a lot about Spanish wines in general and Alicante wine in particular, I thought that they might be interested to know a bit more about this area, a longish stone’s throw from Alicante province, where the members live.
I wanted to convey not only the particular qualities of this area, how its altitude, fertile soil and openness to the breezes and climate of the Mediterranean and the high central Spanish meseta gave it a special character, but also the innovation and diversity that the exciting winemakers around here are engaging in.
To this end, I approached Daniel Belda, whose mainly monovarietal wines have many qualities, but is also celebrated as the person who singlehandedly rescued the Verdil grape, unique to Fontanars dels Alforins as far as I know, from oblivion.
I wanted another different white wine, so I remembered the November tasting at the Club de Enófilos at which Pablo Calatayud of Celler del Roure had presented his experimental Chardonnay made using the amazing earthenware “tinajas” that they had unexpectedly discovered in the old bodega that Celler del Roure had bought and moved to. Not only is this Cullerot 2009
the first time this bodega has made a white wine, it is not released commercially. The wine is fascinatingly different, and I see it as a chance to trace the development year on year of the Cullerot, as the bodega finds out more of the secrets of winemaking with tinajas. Pablo is also using local varieties in the blend from 2010. I certainly intend to make my first tasting of the latest Cullerot vintage a yearly landmark, like the first daffodils.
For the first red I wanted a tinto joven, and where better to look than the Font de la Figuera cooperative Bodegas La Viña, part of the giant Anecoop cooperative of cooperatives). Their Casa l’Angel is not their grandest wine (they make the more overtly swanky Icono range and, especially Venta del Puerto 12 and Venta del Puerto 18), but it is a really well made modern-style Tempranillo (plus about 10% Cabernet Sauvignon). It is exported as El Molinet, and the 2007 vintage was selected by Decanter as one of Spain’s ten best “New Wave” reds. Not bad going for 5 euros.
Next up was another friend of this parish, Miguel Velázquez of Los Frailes. I really admire not only the wines of this bodega, but also their relationship to the fruit and the land. Their wines are organic, the reds based on the main local Monastrell grape variety, combined with a sophisticated and modern verve. We agreed on the Trilogía 2007 (with three varieties as the name suggests: 70% Monastrell, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Tempranillo).
If the Trilogía beautifully conveys the character of Fontanars dels Alforins, the third and final red wine was from Heretat de Taverners just down the road. However, though they produce excellent Monasterll-based wines, I wanted something different to round off the tasting, just as we’d kicked off with the unusual Verdil. So, I went for the HdeT Graciano 2006. The Graciano is a lesser-known and, until recently, increasingly neglected Rioja variety. The ever-curious Heretat de Taverners planted the variety some years ago, the furthest south this grape is grown, and have been delighted from the beginning with the wines that they have been able to produce. I also have loved this wine since I first came across it. I hope the ever helpful and friendly Joan Llobell from Heretat de Taverners, who kindly brought his wine and the Trilogía in person from the bodega, felt that I did the wine justice in what I said about it. He’s put some photos of the evening on Facebook, I see.
It seemed particularly appropriate to round off the evening with a wine from the north that has flourished by the Mediterranean. Very much like the members of the Costa Blanca Wine Society themselves. It was a treat to spend the night with Steve and Elizabeth in Jávea and to wake up with the sun streaming over the sea apparently straight onto the terrace, and Ibiza just visible on the horizon. They provide quite a breakfast, too.
Last but not least, these wines are all available at keen prices from local specialist online winestore, alforins.com, who also arrange wine tours of the area. So, there’s no excuse.