After ten days or so of holiday in Spain I was feeling in an adventurous mood and had stayed still for long enough. I needed a road trip and so set off to see something of the emerging wine region of Utiel-Requena.
This region is in Valencia, but don’t let that fool you, it is deep inland and is very different from the Costas. The wines from Valencia are suddenly for sale everywhere in the region, whereas in the past you really had to hunt them out. There are at least three reasons for this, that I can see:
Firstly there was an anti Catalan back-lash recently which resulted in a transfer of allegiance from the big Catalan Cava brands to local producers, which can be very good indeed.
Secondly there is a real resurgence in Valencian nationalism and reawakening of local culture.
Thirdly the wines of the region have become much better, at all levels and show signs of real ambition.
I wanted to visit one of the very best and most ambitious, an estate that has developed a huge following in Spain: Pago de Tharsys.
This lovely estate is within the Denomiacion de Origen of Utiel-Requena and is actually situated on the outskirts of the town of Requena itself – and what a town it is. It has everything you want from a Spanish town, ramblas, an old centre, an Alcazar or citadel and a castle as well as giving the impression that every building is a bar or restaurant. I loved the place, it is the real Spain and well worth a visit.
I arrived early for my appointment as I imagined the drive would take much longer than two hours, so I had time to enjoy some excellent coffee to wake me up. I know that Italian coffee is thought to be the best, but Spanish must run it a very close second and it is one of my great pleasures when visiting the place.
The sun was fully out by the time I arrived and the estate looked beautiful with a lovely avenue of olive trees taking me down to the winery buildings, which were splendid in a Mexican hacienda, Robert Mondavi kind of style.
My brother had been unable to join me, which made me a little nervous as no one there spoke English, but I needn’t have worried, it turned out that my rudimentary Spanish, a little creative gesticulating and a great deal of effort were enough to communicate successfully.
A young winemaker called Franc showed me around and he was great, taking me to the vineyards without even being asked. This always strikes me as a good sign as real wine is made in the vineyard.
Like so many producers nowadays, Pago de Tharsys is an old estate which dates back to 1805, but the Garcia family have only owned it since 1981 and most of the adjacent vineyards were only purchased in the 1990s – so it is a young label and very much a project in progress.
They produce a wide range of red wines and cavas and two white wines – one dry and one sweet.
The grapes are:
White – Macabeo, Parellada and Chardonnay for the Cavas as well as Garnaxa for the rosé and Bronx for the sweet wine. Bronx is an American crossing of Concord and Thompson Seedless that is delicately pink skinned and has a honeyed character, not unlike Gewürztraminer, that bees seem to adore.
The dry white is made from Albariño and Godello, both a long way from their Galician home.
The red varieties are: Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Bobal.
The estate is moving towards organic status and is in its first year of transition.
Although it is just a 12 hectare estate that covers a single block, the soils vary quite a bit – the white grapes are grown on chalk while the red varieties grow in clay nearby.
There is a lovely mix of the old fashioned and the new here; most vines are planted on trellis systems, but some of the reds, the Bobal and Tempranillo, were originally planted as bush vines (or en vasso). However they are converting them in situ to trellis trained vines as this gives them greater control, better canopy management and more hang time which results in better ripeness in the berries. I was able to taste the very real difference in the grapes; some six weeks before harvest the bush vine Bobal grapes were already ripe with round flavours whereas the trellis vine fruit was still small and green and tart in the mouth. The next few weeks will coax true ripeness and finesse from these vines, whereas the others will bake.
So, this is the wine that made me want to come here. I love Albariño, it can be a great grape (try: Albariño de Fefiñanes 2008 Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes – it is superb). Godello too is a wonderful grape with perhaps a little more flesh on its bones. Both grapes are really at home in the cool climate of Galicia, but with good handling there is no reason why they shouldn’t do good things elsewhere. This wine nearly pulls it off. They harvest at night to preserve the fresh acids and the result is promising:
The nose offers peardrop, pineapple and floral notes together with little touches of aromatic Turkish delight.
The palate delivers fruit characters reminiscent of pineapple chunk sweets with a lovely creamy ripe texture and green tea notes. This is a soft wine in the mouth, well balanced and quite long with green fruit emerging on the finish.
I cannot wait to try the 2011 or 2012 vintage.
Interestingly when I asked why they had blended these two grapes, I was told that it was an accident. They had thought they were only buying Albariño! Incidentally, neither grape is legal in the region for D.O. wines, so no mention of a region appears on the label.
Pago de Tharsys Nuestro Bobal por Diana Garcia 2005
I mentioned my second favourite Bobal wine the other day. Well this is my runaway favourite. It includes 15% Cabernet Franc and spends 10 months in French oak.
The nose is rich and fragrant with intense blackberry, delicate spice and savoury notes.
In the mouth it is round and very smooth with violets, smoky spice mocha, juicy blue-black fruit, flashes of leather and fine grain tannins.
This medium-bodied wine is really lovely with the right sort of acidity to make it a perfect food wine – it is very long and elegant.
Pago de Tharsys 2004 (around €12)
The flagship red wine made from 65% Merlot & 35% Cabernet Franc
An earthy and dusty nose with some red fruit leads to a rich palte with firm tannins, yet a weighty and silky texture. The flavours are overwhelmingly savoury with coffee and cocoa and spicy oak dominating – a bit too much oak for me at present in all honesty, so it needs time to emerge from its shell. It is complex and it is good, but I personally think it would be all the better for a little less oak and perhaps a little less extraction
Carlota Suria Reserva 2004
D.O. Utiel-Requena – (around €10)
The Carlota Suria label is used for the more traditional wines from the Pago, but they are none the worse for that. This is a great blend of Tempranillo with 20% Cabernet Franc that spends 13 months in French oak.
The colour is more pale and translucent than the Pago de Tharsys label wines – like a Rioja.
The nose is warm and inviting with red fruits, leather, earth and cocao.
In the mouth it is silky and rounded with tannins so smooth you do not notice them until the finish. This is a lovely well balanced wine of great class with a long finish and real elegance.
Pago de Tharsys Rosado Cava Brut 2007
D.O.Cava, estate grown in Requena – (around €14)
100% Garnaxa gives a vibrant colour. 36 months lees ageing results in a complex nose with an attractively vibrant melange of red fruits that follows on to the palate together with creamy flourishes and well balanced acidity. The finish is rich and long with ripe red fruit and a real feeling that you have drunk a wine.
Carlota Suria Brut Nature Cava N.V.
D.O.Cava, 80% Macabeo & 20% Parellada – estate grown in Requena – (around €8)
This Cava offers an attractive nose of biscuity developed yeast characters that shows real finesse.
The palate too is quite developed and complex with toffee, biscuits and pastry together with dried lemon peel and hints of chopped nuts. It has good depth to it and fresh acidity keeping it clean. Strangely enough it is so good that it even carries off the slightly earthy character that spoils less accomplished Cavas. The finish is long and fine.
Pago de Tharsys Brut Nature Cava N.V.
D.O.Cava, 70% Macabeou & 20% Chardonnay – estate grown in Requena – (around €18)
Lovely aromas of fresh pineapple wafts out of the glass followed by notes of brioche.
The palate is quite toasty with complex, creamy, leesy characters and a flamboyantly creamy mousse – almost frothy like a good zabaglione!
This is a very accomplished sparkling wine, delicious and hedonistic with a richly nutty finish.
Tharsy’s Unico Blanc di Negre N.V.
100% Bobal, this is not a permitted Cava variety, so this wine has no D.O. – (around €22)
The colour is lovely, slightly coppered and golden – it is not a rosé whatever some reports on the web may say.
It has a lovely aroma of creamy ripe peaches, flourishes of redcurrant and savoury notes.
The mouth is soft, creamy and rounded with a richly firm mousse and vibrant subtle red fruit, the balancing clean acidity gives a lovely, long and exotic citric finish.
On second thoughts, perhaps this is my favourite Bobal wine after all?
It was a great visit and the wines were terrific, I just wish they could reach a wider audience – you would like them. How wonderful it is that such good results can be achieved with care and dedication – even in a region that is almost totally ignored by the UK consumer.
I intend to keep in touch with Pago de Tharsys and try their wines as often as I can, I have a feeling they are going to produce even better wines before too long.
They also have a delightful caseta (gîte) on the estate that would make a perfect base from which to explore the region.