Spain’s rich heritage and scenery are reason enough to visit at any time, but I recently went on a tour to the wine-making region of Utiel-Requena, situated around 60 kilometres from Valencia, which proved to be a very pleasant and educational experience.
The Utiel-Requena D.O. Wine Route involves 10 municipalities, all of which offer endless opportunities for enjoying the best wine on your visit to this beautiful part of Valencia.
Around 40,000 hectares of vineyard make up a large, homogenous region at the heart of the wine-growing area of the Valencian Community. Its fabulous cuisine based on traditional recipes and a long wine-growing tradition means that the culture of wine penetrates the most distant corners of this delightful territory.
Our first day we headed off to Requena, where we walked up into the picturesque historic centre, and then to the museum. In its underground caves, long used as cellars, it has a remarkable collection of traditional amphorae that were once used for fermentation and storage. Anyone interested in traditional in winemaking should be sure to visit.
Producers today recognise the qualities that attracted the Iberians to this windswept plateau long ago. The altitude, the diurnal temperature changes and the well-drained soils make for expressive wines.
Growing grapes is the main economic activity of the Utiel-Requena wine region, and has been important for a very long time. Western Europe’s oldest winery was discovered here in excavations in Las Pilillas, not far from Requena, showing that more than 2,700 years ago wine was already being produced in this region.
Our next port of call was Bodegas Vegalfaro, a family-run winery filled with tradition and passion for what they do. Four wines from Bodegas Vegalfaro reached the “Excellent” rating with scores between 90 and 93 in the Peñín Wine Guide 2017. www.vegalfaro.com.
The Next stop was Pago de Tharsys which is widely recognized as one of the very top producers of Cava. In fact, owner Vicente Garcia, is considered “the Godfather of Valencian Cava”.
They offer a number of different wine tours including Wine Tour With Our Winemaker, Taste At Your Pace Paired With Cured Meats and Night In The Vineyard which includes a welcome glass of cava, one double room for two persons, Breakfast and Winetour. See www.pagodetharsys.com for details.
The next day started with a visit to Oli-Oli Almazara located in a beautiful setting surrounded by olive trees and vineyards. Oli-Oli is the only olive oil mill in Valencia with a product line that is exclusively organic.
The visit began with a walk through the olive tree field, where you will learn about all the secrets to obtaining a successful harvest. In the olive press, you will learn about the process of extracting the oil from the olives and obtaining organic extra virgin oil. Lastly, you will finish your visit with an olive oil tasting. www.olioli.es/en/
Next we went to Bodegas Chozas Carrascal Winery & Vineyard. First, the different production processes, from the harvest to the bottling and placing in the market were explained.
The fact that this vineyard is run by a family, makes it very personal with our guide Maria’s enthusiasm and passion for her wine shining through. Located in a nature preserve, the winery is committed to reducing carbon emissions.
The winery currently uses solar panels to reduce its energy use by one-half and a gas system for temperature control subtracting another 20%, and is close to achieving carbon neutrality. See www.chozascarrascal.com/en/ for details on visits.
We finished off the day by attending the cava fair in Requena.
On our last day, we were up early to visit some of the most outstanding places in Hoces del Cabriel, a spectacular natural park. A network of trails and routes make their way through the scenery so you can reconnect with mother nature.
There are also a number of outdoor activity companies operating in the area so you can have a go at kayaking, canoeing, rafting, canyoning (both dry and wet) and even bungee jumping.
The natural park boasts unique flora, fauna, landscapes and geological formations. Protected birds like the golden eagle, Bonelli’s eagle and eagle-owl can be spotted along the river while silver poplar, willow, tamarind, reeds and rushes populate the Cabriel valley, constituting the best-preserved riverside woodland in the Region of Valencia. See www.ruting.es
The Neleman Vineyard was our final stop. Here they produce a range of vegan wines born from organically-farmed grapes. The winery creates a natural equilibrium, an “ecology” of its own in the vineyard by keeping it free of herbicides and fungicides.
Unquestionably, Spain has a vast history of producing some of the finest wines and food of the highest quality, and a visit to this charming region is a must for those who love culture, history, as well as food and wine.