Wellness experts say that in order to be loved, you need to love yourself. Arguably, for more than a century Valencia has not been following this advice. It has been chasing the love of others, while not loving itself.
The Phoenicians introduced winemaking to Valencia and it has since been a continuous presence in the region. By the late 19th century, Valencia was a hotspot for the world wine trade, being one of the world’s largest ports for exporting bulk wine to France and beyond. Those wines went on to be anonymously blended into more prestigious wines that lacked substance and colour.
Later, when democracy and the free market reached Spain, and wineries could afford modernisation, large Valencian producers began making crowd-pleasing, consumer-friendly wines. These styles were made with international varieties (plus the ubiquitous Tempranillo), according to buyer specifications, to be sold at very advantageous prices in supermarkets. Although these wines were competitive in the market, they lacked a Valencian identity.
It was only in the 21st century that Valencian producers began to truly convey the message of their homeland. They looked at their indigenous grape varieties, at their classic old-vine vineyards; they started to feel proud of the diversity of landscapes. Something new and very authentic was born: a region with a unique identity.
Impressive diversity Indeed, Valencia is an extensive region with many unique identities. It has a great range of sub-regions, from coastal areas to high-altitude vineyards, with many different grape varieties. Such complexity is seasoned with a Mediterranean individuality among the producers. The diversity is mind-numbing. Wine lovers, who are used to identifying a region with a typology of wines, have a tough challenge to define Valencia.
This tasting of Valencian wines provides evidence of the complexity. Ten different indigenous grape varieties for 10 wines; four sub-zones – Alto Turia, Valentino, Moscatel and Clariano – with diverse profiles; a wide range of styles and wine proposals; styles ranging from young light red and orange to aged reds and aromatic whites…
As far as fine wines are concerned, this is the real Valencia today: a territory that is a mosaic of different wines. Most of these new wines have lots of personality, but very little in common, beside a certain ‘Mediterranean’ air, a label that’s easy to apply but very difficult to define.
That said, the Valencian wines that I recommend here do share several characteristics. Many are made from specially selected vineyards, using indigenous (or historic) grape varieties. Neat and expert winemaking is on display, demonstrating avoidance of any excessive alcohol, oak, fruit or tannins. Above all, these wines display great drinkability and distinctive personality, having a distinct identity. They do not look like others; they certainly do not belong in any commercial, mass-market category, but make a niche for themselves.
Wines from Valenica are already gaining global recognition and winning accolades from international competitions. In time the appellation should start introducing some regulations to distinguish quality levels, sub-zones and styles – but probably it is still too early to do that.
For now, wine lovers should try the wines and enjoy them. These Valencia pioneers – along with a new generation of innovators that is just emerging – are setting new benchmarks for the definition of the region. Is a new star about to be born?
10 wines to try
Bodegas Vegamar, Oro de Alejandría 2019 93
N/A UK www.vegamar.es
Innovative and elegant interpretation of classic Mediterranean Muscat. Amazing purity of aromas, very precisely defined. The palate is deliciously fresh, with just 9% alcohol and high acidity, more akin to Germany than to the Mediterranean in style, but a very Valencian expression. Pure pleasure, an excellent example of Pablo Ossorio’s technical mastery. Drink 2020-2024 Alcohol 9%
Cherubino Valsangiacomo, Malvasía de Sant Jaume 2019 89
£11.95 Spiegel & Peach
Precise tropical fruit and floral aromas. Refreshing and not very complex, but a delicious interpretation of Malvasia (blended with 15% Merseguera), to be enjoyed as an aperitif within the year. Drink 2020-2021 Alc 12.5%
Baldovar 923, Rascaña 2018 92
N/A UK www.baldovar923.es
Orange wine with distinctive character. The expression of origin is more relevant than the winemaking. Quite spicy, with discreet sappy notes, yellow fruit and herbs. Intense, even tannic, palate, with nice freshness and structure. Merseguera shows unsuspected potential in its skins. Excellent. Drink 2020-2028 Alc 12.5%
Javi Revert, Simeta 2018 93
£28.50 Indigo Wine
Made from the rare Arcos variety, a speciality at La Font de Figueras. Single-vineyard, characterful; a peppery touch and herb aromas. Appetising attack; shows depth and complexity in the long finish. Very pure, with an intriguing rustic delicacy. Aged in tinajas (terracotta vats). A must for wine explorers. Drink 2020-2025 Alc 13%
Celler del Roure, Safrà 2019 91
£18 Alliance Wine
Pablo Calatayud is a prominent local hero, rescuing old indigenous varieties and even older tinajas in his homeland of Alforins (a sub-zone for which a special labelling is long overdue). In this blend of 70% Mandó and 30% Arcos the Mandó gives a slightly wild character, soft tannins, a lovely pinch of bitterness and the thirst to drink more. Delicious to drink young. Drink 2020-2023 Alc 12.5%
Bodegas Los Frailes, Dolomitas 2018 90
Single-varietal Monastrell with well- defined plum and blueberry fruit, plus evidence of some ageing in large concrete and clay vats. Quite firm tannins and a creamy texture, with a textbook Mediterranean character. Very gastronomic. Drink 2020-2024 Alc 14.5%
Anecoop Vinos de la Viña, Los Escribanos 2017 90
N/A UK www.anecoop.com
A single-vineyard wine made by a huge cooperative; a real game changer in Valencia. Lots of character, with an open and suave style; far removed from traditional Monastrell. Ripe and intense nose; rich palate, but fresh and lively. Made with ambition and deftness. Will improve. Drink 2020-2027 Alc 14%
Pago Casa Gran, Falcata Arenal 2016 90
£20 Vino Vero
Made with Alicante Bouschet from poor sandy soils. A lot of fruit, despite the evidence of a long ageing. Warm but fresh; firm but easygoing. An original wine, which will improve over time. Proof that grapes that were until recently dismissed as low-quality can yield very good wines in good hands. Drink 2020-2026 Alc 14.5%
Neleman, Bobal Robusta Organic 2018 90
N/A UK www.neleman.es
The only Bobal in this selection, with an intense expression. Plum and prune notes, on the edge of overripeness but still fruity and clean. Round tannins and an agile texture; intense fruit and a spicy touch reminiscent of oak. Ambitious: made by a Dutch company specialising in organic wines. Drink 2020 Alc 14%
Finca Casa Lo Alto, Rocha Candeal 2018 89
Garnacha is unusual in Valencia, but here it looks at ease, as the vineyard’s high altitude compensates for the low latitude. Hearty and very ripe, with a powerful structure; but also juicy and savoury, with very clean red berry fruit. Drink 2020-2023 Alc 15%