I am trying to fathom why this one was of my best visits to a winery ever, up there with a visit years ago to Valdespino in Jerez. Was it because it was so difficult to find and only by a little act of serendipity did we get there? Was it because of the natural modesty and unforced hospitality of the winemaker/owner Felipe or was it the very individual and powerfully characterful nature of the wines?
Or perhaps it was the poetic nature in which the wines were named after great works of literature – Ulysses, The Red and the Black – and famous arias – Una Furtiva Lagrima, all of which touched a chord in me. These are wines of passion and soul, something a little rarer than marketeers would have you think.
The Bodega had been described to me as ‘set amidst the orange groves, in the hills beyond Benidorm.’ Something about those words captured my imagination and I knew I just had to go as soon as I could. Hence this little impromptu pilgrimage, on what was otherwise to be a short break at Club La Manga further south.
The visit didn’t begin very auspiciously at all. I had only made the appointment at short notice the day before because I was sort of in the area (an hour and a half away!) but so keen to visit them. I had had to guess at our arrival time of 12.30 pm but without proper maps or sat nav we were doomed to be late. The journey was further hampered by kindly-meant directions from the hotel, unbeknown to us aimed at saving us a few extra euros by going on the small roads. This, together with the difficulty of finding a small hamlet in the hills behind Benidorm, then finding an unmarked winery, meant it was nothing short of remarkable that we found the place at all, but we were an hour late. It was a very bad start and by now we were beginning to encroach into the Spanish lunch hour. Thank goodness it wasn’t France or there would have been no hope.
When we finally made it to the village of Parcent, I asked an elderly lady emptying her rubbish if she knew where the Bodega was. She motioned for us to drive our wide German hire car down an impossibly narrow road and when I looked doubtful, she insisted on jumping in and she guided us right to the big oak doors of Bodegas Gutiérrez de la Vega.
Sadly they were now closed but our lively guide, (Concetta, as I later discovered) was undeterred and she took me to the house in the village where the owners lived. Felipe’s wife opened the door amid delicious cooking smells and kindly took over from Concetta to take us directly to the owner, her husband, Felipe who was working in the cellars, bottling some of his sparkling wine.
Now for the second obstacle. Apart from being late, Felipe didn’t speak English and I only have a smattering of Spanish, but somehow that didn’t stop us at all from having a lively 2 hour conversation about his wines, using Spanish, Italian, and a little English. He seemed to warm to us, giving up his time generously and giving us a tasting of all his best wines even though he didn’t know who were and it was delaying his lunch.
When we first arrived, he was busy with his sparkling wines which were made in a very special way, uniquely his. He uses half of his sweet moscatel wine (the free run juice he described as lacrima (tears)) and bottles in Champagne style bottles to undergo second fermentation. But whereas in Champagne you would add liqueur di tirage, a mixture of sugar and yeast, he doesn’t add anything because the wine is already sweet and there is enough natural yeast around to induce a second fermentation.
He then keeps the bottles standing upright, rather than lying on their sides as they would in Champagne. This deliberately slows down the second fermentation making it much harder for the yeast to get going. The result is a gentler second fermentation with less lees character in the finished wine.
This is a very natural wine, fermented the second time around without any additions, kept on its lees for 1 year with about 75-95g residual sugar but it doesn’t taste anything like that sweet. Felipe was pleased to show me the statistics for this wine showing that the total sulphur levels in the finished wine, at about 60 -80 mg, was less than half the lower level required by the wines made from organically grown grapes.
Casta Diva Sparkling Wine NV Moscatel – Quite deep, old gold colour. Honey, slight oily, lanolin aromas and a curiously persistent smell of mint, spearmint even. Medium-dry first impression with bruised apple, pear and cider flavours again with a refreshing note of spearmint. Curiously lingering flavours between honey and dryness. Deep golden fruits and mellow flavours, like autumn in a glass. The full flavours contrast with a refreshing acidity and lively bubbles. What a characterful wine! 94/100
Garnacha Rojo y Nero 2008, named after Stendhal’s Le Rouge et Le Noir – Graphite and black olives on the nose, more like some of the Côtes du Catalan Grenache wines I have tasted grown on schist soils. Firmer more grippy style on palate with little clipped, dry edged, tannins, fades away somewhere in the middle and towards the end as if needs another rich blending partner to fill that space, but some interesting aromas. 87/100
Príncipe di Salinas 2008 Monastrell, named after the main character in The Leopard. Smoky, very vivid blackberry, black cherry and strawberry sweets aromas accompanied by powerful flavours of blackberry, ripe, black cherries, pepper and spice with grippy tannins giving a little kick back on the finish. Vibrant fruit encased in quite a firm structure. 90/100
Viña Ulisis 2006, approx 60% Monastrell and 40% Garnacha. 14.5% – Deep dark ruby core, vibrant purple rim. Spicy, head-spinning mix on the nose, with vivid blackberry and sweet black cherry aromas, and a hint of frivolous strawberry sweets. Smooth, round, creamy on the palate, mid-palate full and satisfying, balanced by dryer more savoury flavours, bitter black olive and a serious lick of tannins. Very complete and harmonious wine without being bland, still retaining a sense of its wild Alicante personality. It builds slowly with a lingering swirl of black fruit flavours, like a slow Flamenco dance. 96/100
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