Manchuela, a bobal with altitude

(ver la versión en español)

We surely don´t intend to open the debate about where did bobal originated. During our tasting trip to Comunidad Valenciana, along denominaciones de origen Valencia  and Utiel – Requena we also stopped at the neighbour región of Manchuela, a benchmark of success on bobals.

For those who are still unaware, Manchuela is located at the southeast of Cuenca and northeast Albacete. Their vineyards stand at an estimated altitude that ranges from 600 to 700 meters. Its terrain is mainly flat except the slopes outlined by Júcar and Cabriel rivers. The first thing that strikes us when strolling around the area, is the presence of a large handful of old vine hectares, always a good sign.

The traditional production of bulk wine in the area awakened, some years ago, the wish to build an exclusive consistent identity for Manchuela and it was shortly followed by the introduction of bottle wines what transformed the image of Manchuela into a more cohesive and congruent one. A great part of its success comes from four specific winemakers with an exceptional external projection: Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce, Altolandón and Finca Sandoval (top of the quality pyramid) and Bodegas Iniesta, owned by the famous football player Andrés Iniesta. This area presents, likewise, a good number of cooperative wine cellars, up to 19 cellars and this fact has slowed down the growth and projection of the region. Namely changes in a cooperative are not easy nor quick as decision making among so many members are always a challenge.

Comparisons are always odious, and they are not always the liking of everybody. However, we present an article with the guiding thread of bobal, present in the last denominaciones de origen we have referred to, as Utiel-Requena/ Valencia and Manchuela that we introduce today.

Bobal variety

Following assessment of bobal from Utiel- Requena, where red mature fruit and easy on the mouth dominates, we discover at Manchuela similar fruity expression except mouths are better built. Manchuela’s wines own generous structure and its mouth and finish are fuller and longer. Various reasons contribute to it: old vines against younger ones, vine’s performances, altitude or terrain typologies clayey or calcareous.

This region stars many different styles, some gentler than others. Nonetheless, it is true that generally their wines provide the largest volume. Their high-class wines move away from Bordeaux’s type, often present in Utiel-Requena and in the Valencia’s most established wines. We refer to wines focused on ageing.

Bodegas such as Ponce, on the other hand, seek their unique identity through the differentiation of plots. Here lies this cellar’s success, currently led by young winemaker Juan Antonio Ponce, a producer who follows the vine-line and who wishes to offer the most accurate view of its vineyard’s identity careless about production method. He belongs to the new wave of well-travelled producers, digitally aware and willing to share information among peers for the benefit of wine.

Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce is a glaring example of what Manchuela may achieve. José Antonio Ponce’s approach has led others to rescue overlooked varieties such as moravia agria, that featuring a long cycle, low alcohol content and rich acidity becomes a logical choice for this terrain even further if we consider environmental change and its natural effect of global warming. A common example is Buena Pinta 2016 (91 points), produced mainly with moravia agria though it has a small percentage of garnacha.

Juan Antonio and Javier Ponce, from Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce

José Antonio’s expertise comes from his work at Compañía de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez, when he travelled all along Spanish vineyards what allowed him to learn about tradition and how to interpret wine wherever you are. Thus, in 2005, the first vintage he works in, he started shaping his particular family’s project. His development is clearly seen when tasting his wines. Over the vintages, wines become fresher and less mature. He confesses he is surprised when tasting and comparing first and latest creations. Pino 2016 (94 points) was created as a first attempt of plot wine and arrived at our tasting glasses fresh and smart, with a sleek and fruity mouth showcasing balsamic and earthy notes worthy of top wines. It remains to be seen how it will respond to our comparative tasting session held in the month of July, but it seems promising. Likewise, P.F. 2016 (94 points), mineral and more structured than Pino shares a common characteristic in the search for freshness and fruitiness. As regards to white wine, Reto 2017 (92 points) represents an outstanding production with albilla, not to be confused with Madrid’s typical albillo. Albilla features nice acidity, salinity and its ability to capture the terroir make it and interesting variety in the development of white wines in the region, currently limited.

And equally relevant stopover is Landete, in Cuenca, situated in between three provinces: Valencia, Cuenca and Teruel, at 1100 meters at the highest. There stands bodega Altolandón, owned by Rosalía Molina y Manolo Garrote. They craft high altitude wines as the bobal Rayuelo 2014 (92 points), the cabernet franc CF de Altolandón 2014 (92 points) or Altolandón 2013 (93 points) a result of blending syrah, garnacha and cabernet franc, it is a fine and smart brand

Winemaking project designed in 1998 by journalist Victor de la Serna in partnership with oenologist Rafael Orozco, opt likewise for high elevation wine and for classic regional varieties as well as for others such as bobal, monastrell, garnacha tinta, garnacha tintorera and moravia agria, or small individual bets as syrah and at a lesser extent national touriga. Víctor holds the merit of being one of the first producers focusing in vine growing when nowadays only foul ignore vines. His precocity might be awarded to having tasted wines abroad and the exchange of views with producers from all over the world.

Even though we believe Manchuela has an incredible growth potential, it is a fact now it remains a stranger for foreigners and to certain extent also to national general audience beyond wine industry community who already acknowledge the value of its wines. It is surprising why over the last ten years, only these three mentioned cellars have earned external visibility and moreover when there exists a large vine growing inheritance to develop. May it be due to lack of confidence of certain producers? Could it be cooperatives undue influence? Whatever the reason, Manchuela is certainly a region with great possibilities for those who wish to show off the terroir’s singularity through its breeds, soils and production culture. Tasting notes and ratings from Manchuela are already available under online subscription to Guía Peñín 2019.

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