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Regional profile: Valencia

It may not be as celebrated as it's paella or its oranges, but Valencia has been producing wine for millennia. Today's winemakers are focusing on quality and working hard to revive the region's traditional varieties, as Sarah Jane Evans MW reports.

In partnership with DO Valencia.

There have been grapes grown and wine made in Valencia for several thousand years. The Phoenicians introduced vines in Spain some time between 4000 and 3000 BC, while the Roman writers Juvenal and Martial mentioned the wines of Saguntum (north of Valencia city) in the 2nd century BC. Strikingly, all these centuries later the wines are not nearly as well known internationally as they should be based on their quality.

Perhaps it’s the climate, the beaches and the gastronomic appeal that dominate Valencia’s image. After all, this is where you come to eat paella. The citizens defend their rice dish vigorously, as they do their rice, which has its own denomination and accounts for two-thirds of Spain’s total rice production.

This region is also the home of the memorably juicy Valencian oranges and the tubers known as tiger nuts, which are made into the sweet and milky drink horchata de chufa. They too have their own consejo regulador.

If there is a wine that has been identified with Valencia, then historically it’s been Moscatel. In most cases it is Moscatel de Alejandría that has dominated the public image, a variety that is often regarded as the altogether less glamorous cousin of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.

Add to this Valencia’s position on the Mediterranean coast, which surely means that it’s too hot and sunny for fine wine production and is certain to suffer with climate change. All in all, not a promising beginning for a wine region wishing to make its name. Yet travel across the DO and you will need to take a sweater as well as a sun hat. There are cool zones with chilly nights and snow in winter.

DO Valencia at a glance

Founded Wine statute approved 1932; DO Valencia established 1957

Vineyard area 13,000ha

Annual production Around 700,000hl

Wineries 101, about half of which bottle wine

Growers 85% are members of cooperatives

Climate Mediterranean, with risk of storms in summer and autumn. Average rainfall 500mm, mainly October-December

Sunshine averages 2,700 hours

Main grape varieties White: Moscatel, Merseguera, Malvasia, Macabeo. Red: Tempranillo, Garnacha and Garnacha Tintorera, Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon

Around the region

There are four zones to visit. The first, and with most potential still to be explored, is Alto Turia. Northeast of Valencia city, the vineyards lie around the upper parts of the Turia river. They range from 700m-1,200m in altitude, giving the DO distinct cool areas with chilly winters. The key varieties here are Merseguera and Macabeo (both white). UNESCO has recently recognised Alto Turia as a Biosphere reserve.

The second is Valentino, east of the Turia river, with vineyards at 250m-800m. Valentino was the great zone for oranges, but business is failing in the face of competition from Morocco, so there has been renewed planting of vines. The key whites are Macabeo and Merseguera, as well as Chardonnay and Semillon; reds are diverse, reflecting the range of soils and microclimates – Garnacha, Garnacha Tintorera, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The traditional heart of Valencia is the sunny Moscatel zone at 150m-400m, open to the Mediterranean breezes. As its name suggests, this is where the Moscatel grape grows. In addition to the classic sweet wines fortified to 15% abv, it also produces dry and sparkling wines.

Finally, the most southerly and in many ways the most fascinating zone is Clariano, at 400m-700m. Part of this area lies close to the Mediterranean, where white varieties dominate, but there is some Garnacha Tintorera. The other part is where Monastrell, Garnacha Tintorera, Tempranillo and Syrah prevail. It’s a striking zone of masias, large country houses with estates attached, in contrast to so many regions with minifundia, where growers subsist on tiny vineyards.

Native grapes

There are certainly Chardonnays, Merlots, Cabernets, Semillons and the occasional Viognier in the vineyards across Valencia. More recent is the revival of the traditional varieties, benefitting from expert viticulture. Merseguera, at home in Alto Turia, is a late-ripening variety and was typically harvested early to avoid the autumn storms. As a result it was difficult to achieve 11% alcohol. Today’s viticulture means that it is more usually at 12% or 12.5%.

Verdil, found now in the Clariano zone, had almost disappeared in favour of the easier-to-grow Malvasia. With its thick skin and late ripening it was not popular with growers. Like Merseguera, it is discreet in aromatics but has a fuller body. Both Verdil and Merseguera are part of the white wine revival being driven by an interest from restaurants in fuller-bodied, more gastronomic whites. Daniel Belda, founder of the eponymous winery, is the name associated with Verdil’s revival, as well as the transition from bulk wine to bottled wine.

In the case of reds, Garnacha Tintorera is widely found in vineyards. It is important to note that this is not a variant of Garnacha, rather it’s the teinturier grape Alicante Bouschet (teinturier grapes have red flesh). However, Alicante is the name of the DO’s next-door neighbour, so Garnacha Tintorera, ‘Tintorera’ or ‘Garnacha’ it remains, and the confusion prevails.

The large companies in the DO who built the area’s export profile were Vicente Gandía and Murviedro. Vicente Gandía (1885) was the first to bottle wine in Valencia and remains the DO’s largest winery. Murviedro was founded in 1927 by the Schenk group. The driver of Murviedro’s growth for many years was its technical director Pablo Ossorio. In 2006, he and two friends established Hispano+Suizas to make prestige wines, and he was named Valencia’s Winemaker of the Year in 2008. He has also been a consultant to the beautifully situated Vegamar since 2014.

Valencian wine is certainly on its way. It may not yet have found its place as a fine wine producer at an international level, but there are new wineries breaking through, many of whom are still to find distribution outside Spain. What better reason to book a holiday to Valencia to seek out the wines on their home soil?

The cooperatives

Traditionally, as in many parts of Spain, the cooperatives dominated in Valencia, and practically every town and village had its own co-op. Today, some growers have left to branch out on their own, while the remainder form fewer, larger, more professional businesses. Usually they produce olive oil and almonds, and run petrol stations, as well as managing vineyards and producing wine in bulk and bottle. The bonus is that most of them now have skilled managers, including a former technical director of Domecq at El Villar.

Located in the Alto Turia sub-zone, El Villar is a typical example of the new generation of large co-ops. Of its 1,300 members, 300 are grape-growers working on 1,200ha of vineyard at 400m-700m. Some 70% of production is wine; around five million bottles.

El Villar sees part of its role as preventing the abandonment of the land and helping with the recuperation of the vines. As its members grow old, it manages the plots for them and oversees replanting. In the winery it has a versatile output, catering for everything from cork to screwcap and bag-in-box. El Villar exports to 21 countries, with one of its bestsellers being the Tempranillo-Merlot blend Toro Bravo, which is sold in Canada.

In Moixent, in the heart of the Clariano zone, is Sant Pere, with 1,000 members. Javier Revert, winemaker at Celler del Roure and at his eponymous business, consults here. The co-op produces good-value, better-than-usual, honest wines. The association with Celler del Roure is showing clear benefits in terms of winemaking, strategy and marketing. My favourite wine from this co-op is its newest, Sant Pere Vinyes Velles.

Vinos de la Viña dates back to 1944, though one of its member vineyards proudly references its presence on a Florentine map of the 1450s. The team has an extensive (2,400ha) business, mainly in Clariano, also taking in petrol stations and olives. Vinos de la Viña needs to expand its buildings but is currently held up by archaeologists, who have found more remains of the early peoples (4th century BC) who lived – and made wine – in the area. One of the co-op’s projects is Los Escribanos, with 60-year-old, dry-farmed vines of Monastrell and Garnacha Tintorera grown at 800m; the consultant winemaker is Norrel Robertson MW, a Scot by birth, who now lives and works in Spain.

Across DO Valencia the co-ops are becoming more attuned to making bottled wines for the market. The co-op in Godelleta, for example, produces only Moscatel and focuses on bulk wine, but with changes in consumer tastes it recently launched Silencio. This delightfully grapey Moscatel is a sunny drink to attract a new generation into wine.

Valencia: names to know

Baldovar 923

Right across the DO, many producers and cooperatives are expressing a clear sense of social responsibility: a duty to recuperate vineyards, to ensure employment in villages, to rebuild communities. Baldovar 923 began with two fathers meeting at their children’s school, with an idea to produce something from the soil. Initially, in 2016, they worked in the tiny abandoned village co-op with no running water or electricity, using car headlights to light the interior. Today the winery is more professional. Their mountain vineyards at 900m-1,200m are on calcareous soils, with temperatures that can climb from 6°C to 30°C in a few hours. It couldn’t be further from the seaside cliché of Valencia. Very promising.

Pablo Calatayud

Pablo Calatayud’s Celler del Roure is a beautifully restored masia high up in Clariano that he purchased in 2006. He is famous for the treasure trove of 40 or so huge (4,000-litre) tinajas that he discovered on his property. Like the Georgian amphorae, they are buried up to their necks to ensure minimum oxygen ingress and maximum thermal control. There’s nothing experimental about the fine wines made here. Calatayud has been busy grafting over the pre-existing Tempranillo, Cabernet and Merlot to restore local varieties. He is a great representative for the zone, its history and archaeology, and the future of the farming community.

Diego Fernández Pons

Diego Fernández Pons was Valencian Winemaker of 2018 and is established as a winemaking consultant and educator across the DO. His own project is Lo Necesario, which is the minimal-intervention part of a family project of organic production that also includes vermouth and beer. He manages old-vine Bobal with great skill to create wines of elegance from that often-rustic grape. One to watch.

Bruno Murciano

Former Best Sommelier in Spain, Bruno Murciano specialises in wines made from Bobal. They come from his biodynamic vineyard in Caudete de los Fuentes in the Requena-Utiel zone of Valencia province. Las Blancas is a new project for Murciano – a blend of the local whites Merseguera, Moscatel, Malvasia and Macabeo.

Javier Revert Viticultor

Javier ‘Javi’ Revert consults as winemaker at Celler del Roure and the co-op of Sant Pere. A local, he is busy restoring his great-grandfather’s very old vineyards. His focus is the steep slopes at 900m or more, where he is also replanting slowly but steadily. ‘I want to get a sense of the terroir,’ he says, explaining why he doesn’t specialise in single-variety wines. His white multi-varietal blend is fermented in stainless steel, and then aged part in barrel and part in glass demijohns. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Sensal is a delicate and serious blend of local reds Monastrell, Pan y Carne, Arcos and Garnacha, while Simeta is a single-vineyard wine from the local red Arcos, fermented in barrique and aged in tinaja. Very elegant wines.

Best of Valencia: Evans shares her top recommendations

Baldovar 923, Rascaña 2018 94

£16.45 (2017)

This orange wine – a blend of the local Merseguera with Macabeo – was fermented on skins. Aromatic, with grapefruit zest aromas and refreshingly crisp with a salty sign-off. The high vineyards (up to 1,200m) are organic in conversion. Drink 2019-2022 Alcohol 12%

Javier Revert, Micalet 2018 93


Mainly Tortosí and Trepadell with local grapes Malvasía, Macabeo, Merseguera and Verdil. One third is aged in old oak, but Revert favours ageing the majority in demijohns. Complex, with notes of gooseberry and greengage. Fresh, saline, textured, long. Drink 2019-2022 Alc 14%

Casa Los Frailes, Blanca de Trilogía 2018 90


Aromatic (from the Muscat à Petits Grains and Sauvignon Blanc), refreshing (Sauvignon and Verdil), the perfect summer wine. There’s some texture, but no oakiness. Drink 2019-2021 Alc 13.5%

Hispano Suizas, Impromptu Rosé 2018 88


Discreet aromas on this Pinot Noir rosé, but the palate is nicely fruity with succulent strawberry notes and bright acidity. Fermented in new American oak to give added interest with a delicate vanilla note. Drink 2019-2022 Alc 13.5%

Celler del Roure, Safrà 2018 91

£14.83 (2017)

A classic ‘vino de sed’ or ‘vin de soif’. Made from 100% Mandó, it’s juicy, with lovely acidity. Drink it cool; perfect with sausages. Grown organically, fermented and aged in tinajas (amphorae) buried underground. Drink 2019-2021 Alc 12.5%

Lo Necesario, Terrazas de La Cierva 2016 91


A single-vineyard organic Bobal grown at 900m, fermented in concrete, aged in oak and concrete eggs. ‘I do only “lo necesario”,’ says Diego Fernández Pons of his minimal-intervention winemaking style. This is plump, spicy and a little rustic, with a fine elegant finish. Drink 2019-2022 Alc 14%

Rafael Cambra, La Forcallà de Antonia 2017 91


A rare treat: Forcallà is one of the varieties that Rafael Cambra has been recuperating. Ungrafted, dry-farmed bush vines give floral aromatics and a lively, full-bodied, redcurrant palate. Drink 2019-2022 Alc 14.5%

Sant Pere, Vinyes Velles Tinto 2017 91


Old bush vine Monastrell (80%) with Cariñena: gloriously juicy and supple but with a firm structure and an elegant note of minerality. Aged in concrete to preserve the striking fruit character. Drink 2019-2022 Alc 13%

Angosto, La Tribuna 2018 90


A blend of Garnacha, Monastrell and Syrah, revealing fruit character of blueberries, cranberries and redcurrant. The winery was started by brothers; now it’s run by their children, cousins all. Drink 2019-2022 Alc 14%

Dominio los Pinos, DX Roble 2017 90

£13.95 (2016)

Aromatic, plump and juicy. Monastrell and Cabernet, grown by a long-established winery with a tradition in organic farming. Has a fine, slightly wild character. Drink 2019-2022 Alc 13.5%

Bodegas Nodus, Chaval 2017 89


The team at Nodus have winkled out the reclusive charm of Bobal. Find brambles, dark cherries, a little spice; the lack of oak allows the organic fruit to sing. Drink 20219-2021 Alc 13%

Valsangiacomo, Cuva Vella 1980 92


Moscatel de Alejandría fortified to 15%, and kept for years in a vast 50,000-litre chestnut vat. Roast nuts, caramel, figs; almost like PX with plenty of spice, plus a distant memory of young fruits. Lovely served cold. Drink 2021-2024 Alc 15%


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