Here’s a grape and appellation you may not know much about: Bobal from Utiel-Requena.
At some 2,400 feet in elevation, this appellation in Spain’s Valencia region experiences short, dry summers and a climate that combines Mediterranean and continental elements. This is red wine country — about 95% of the 35,000 hectares of vines are planted to red grape varieties, and the Bobal grape counts for about 80% of Utiel-Requena’s vino.
Even though Bobal is one of Spain’s most commonly-planted varieties (behind Airen and Tempranillo), it’s not as well-known, perhaps due to its use as a blending grape with other varieties. Historically, it has been used in the production of bulk wine, usually sourced from flatter, lower elevation vineyards. But in the higher elevation vineyards of Utiel-Requena, producers take this native grape variety seriously, and it’s evident in the glass.
Bobal is a hardy and highly productive red grape with high levels of anthocyanins and resveratrol in its skins. The grapes tend to be dark colored, packed with black fruit and loaded with spice flavors. I’ve found surprising balance in many Bobal wines, stemming from the combination of sturdy tannins and frequently vibrant acidity. And these wines are even more attractive when you look at the price points.
I recently tasted a half-dozen Bobals, and found a whole lot of wine for not much money. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2016 Bodegas Iranzo Tarantas Rosé – Spain
Watermelon color. Nose shows strawberries, raspberries and watermelon with some cinnamon candy and white pepper. Fresh acidity frames the palate, this is a tangy and vibrant wine with sweet watermelon and tart white cherry combination. Notes of raspberry leaf, white pepper and rose tea. A vibrant, crisp, spicy rosé. (86 points IJB)
2014 Pago de Tharsys Bobal Único Blanc de Negre Brut – Spain, Valencia, Utiel-Requena
Pretty lemon. Aromas of bread dough and bagel shop with baked apples, apricot and raw almond. Light/medium-bodied with moderate acidity and flavors of apricot, baked apples and pears. Notes of cinnamon, almond and honeycomb mix with chalk dust and minerals. Rich flavors but fresh, and it finishes with hints of stuff like black tea and mushroom. Cool, delicious traditional method sparkling Bobal. (88 points IJB)
2015 Bodega San Juan Bautista Bobal de San Juan Vinas Viejas – Spain, Valencia, Utiel-Requena
Deep ruby color. Nose shows spicy red currants and black cherries, herbal tea, black pepper, sage and tobacco barn – lots to unpack. Medium-bodied with fine/dusty tannins and fresh acidity – the black cherry and tart currant fruit is doused in black pepper, scorched earth, chewing tobacco, black tea. I love the earthy complexity in this wine, and it begs for well-spiced roasted meats and veggies because it has this freshness underneath that makes it deserve a spot on the table. A screaming value. (89 points IJB)
2015 Bodegas Vibe Bobal Madurado Barrica – Spain, Valencia, Utiel-Requena
Dark ruby color. Nose of dark cherries, roasted plums, blackberries, black pepper, black tea, rose petals, rich earth, complex spiced tea notes, very pretty and deep. Medium-bodied with a velvety tannic structure and moderating acidity. Dark plums and black cherries, the fruit is rich but tangy and tart, and loaded with dark earth, black pepper, savory spice, charcoal, roasted coffee, – tons of flavor complexity but it is still so easy to sip. That said, this has structure to improve for at least a few years in the cellar. (91 points IJB)
2014 Bodegas Murviedro Utiel-Requena Cepas Viejas – Spain, Valencia, Utiel-Requena
Light purple color. Lots of pepper, oregano, sage and tobacco aromas on top of the tart currant and black cherries. Medium-bodied with structured but dusty tannins and fresh acidity, which all leads to a lovely sense of balance. Tart black cherries and currants mix with loads of cracked pepper, spicy oregano, leather, anise, some roasted coffee and dark chocolate notes. Love this fresh, spicy, rich but balanced wine. Aged in French and American oak for eight months. (89 points IJB)
2013 Dominio de la Vega Bobal Paraje Tornel – Spain, Valencia, Utiel-Requena
Light purple color. Nose shows spicy black cherries and red/black currants, along with black pepper, incense sticks, leather and soy notes. Dry and young, full-bodied on the palate with a chewy feel but some solid tannic backbone and moderate/low acidity. Dark currants and black cherry, rich and dark but not gloppy fruit, and it’s laced with roasted chestnut, coffee grounds, anise, leather, black pepper glaze. A saucy, savory wine with some cellar potential. Aged 12 months in new French oak and one year in bottle before release. (89 points IJB)