Bobal: the reigning queen of Utiel-Requena

Bobal: the reigning queen of Utiel-Requena
Discover the offbeat charm of ‘Tierra Bobal’, where ancient clay jars and quirky reds take centre stage, turning the ‘once rather boring’ grape into a delightful surprise.
About an hour’s drive inland from Valencia, past Buñol, famous for its town-wide tomato fight, lies the wine region of Utiel-Requena. This is ‘Tierra Bobal’, the land of Bobal, a red grape previously thought to be rather boring and relegated to blends, rosé and bulk wines, but now given a starring role in the region. One of the oldest DOs in Spain, wine has been made in Utiel-Requena for over 2,000 years. As well as the main towns, Utiel and Requena, the DO encompasses seven other villages, and 32,000 hectares of vineyards. Bobal vines make up 21,000 of those, with nearly half over 45 years old. Indigenous to the area, Bobal is supposedly named for the bull’s head shape of its bunches. Drought resistant, it is well suited to the dry, continental climate in Utiel-Requena, very different from the Mediterranean coast less than 50 miles away. The resurgence of Bobal as the most important grape of the region was in large part thanks to Félix Martínez Roda at Vera de Estenas, a Vino de Pago, the highest official denomination of Spanish wine. Here, they are clear that careful viticulture, particularly dry farming, can produce high quality reds from Bobal.
Casa Don Ángel, their premium Bobal from 100-year-old vines, is concentrated and age-worthy, something previously thought unimaginable. Félix is also experimenting with using tinajas (large clay jars) for fermenting and ageing wines. Tinajas have been used in the area since Roman times, and in both Utiel and Requena huge underground cellars can be visited to see ancient tinajas. These vessels fell out of favour due to the difficulty in keeping them clean, but modern hygiene techniques are seeing them come back into wineries. Valencia as a region has the highest number of Vinos de Pago in Spain, with many in Utiel-Requena. Introduced in 2003, Vino de Pago is the highest quality designation of origin and denotes single vineyards (pagos) with unique characteristics such as soils and microclimates. Perhaps more importantly, it allows wineries the flexibility to make wines outside the rules of a regional DO. So while Bobal may be the local queen, premium wines are also being made from other, often international, varieties. Chozas Carrascal, for example, makes a Cabernet Franc redolent of roasted red pepper, while at Vegalfaro, Rodolfo Valiente is making a lees-aged, barrel-fermented Chardonnay under their Pago de los Balagueses label. Many wineries in the area also produce sparkling under DO Cava rules, but even at Pago de Tharsys, where owner Vicente García is known as ‘The Godfather of Valencian cava’, they choose to make a sparkling Blanc de Noirs from Bobal under their Vino de Pago classification. You won’t find winding mountain roads leading up to Chozas Carrascal, but at 800m above sea level, the estate sits at the highest part of Utiel-Requena. Named for the holm oaks surrounding the property, Chozas Carrascal has grown from 26 hectares around the choza (small house) built in 1870, to 100 hectares today under the third generation of the family. Here on the altiplano (high plateau), snow is not uncommon in winter, and while old Bobal vines are planted en vaso (bush-vines) newer plantings are trained higher to avoid ice and frost. Heat-loving varieties like Cabernet Franc and Syrah thrive in the summer warmth, with altitude bringing the cool nights and all-important diurnal temperature shift that leads to premium quality. While Utiel-Requena has a long and fascinating wine history, as premium Bobal and Vino de Pago wines come to the fore, the future is looking much more exciting.
Ellie Scott is an independent wine consultant and communicator. Ellie founded her consultancy, Amante Wine, in 2021, after leaving a long-term career in finance to pursue her passions for wine and travel.
Back to blog