Utiel Gastronomica Food & Wine FairUtiel once again hosts it's Gastronomic Food and Wine Fair from 16-18 October 2009.
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At the Court of Queen Miriam
by John Maher, VT Wine Correspondent
Since the end of last October the supermarket on the lower ground floor of the El Corte Inglés on Avenida de Francia by the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències – apparently the largest in Spain – has been having a rolling tasting of wines from the Valencia Denominación de Origen (DO). There’s a stand in the wine section on the far right of the supermarket as you go in, where Miriam generously dispenses the wines with a smile and aplomb. Individual Valencia DO bodegas get to showcase their wines for 6 days at a time (Tuesday to Monday) before the next bodega takes its place. From 23–29 January it is the turn of Bodegas El Villar (http://www.elvillar.com/), a large cooperative, which produces 7,000,000 bottles of wine a year, 40% of which are exported. In the tasting there are three different El Villar brands. ‘Laderas’, white and red, is the everyday wine, and at 1.30 euros apiece you can afford to drink it every day. I often think that buyers used to paying for highly taxed wine elsewhere can shy away unnecessarily from wines at this price in the belief that they can’t be any good, but discerning choices can be made at every price level, and both these wines are excellent – I’d go so far to say that they are as good a 90 pence wine as you’ll ever come across. I particularly liked the freshness and fruit of the Laderas Blanco, made from the typically Valencian Merseguera along with Macabeo (also known as Viura in Rioja and elsewhere), which is one of the standard grapes used in Cava. On a cold January evening it brought both a memory and a promise of summertime. Next up was a Viña Villar red, a crianza at just over 5 euros, a Tempranillo and Merlot blend. There is plenty of oak present in both, and they are well-made and good value. My slight feeling was that I didn’t really feel that there was a very good reason for picking it over other similar wines made here and around the world, but see for yourself. Finally there were two examples of the cooperative’s top of the range line, ‘Tapias’ in the shape of a Merlot Crianza and a Gran Reserva, which was not advertised but very welcome. These are all well-made wines with accessibility and even charm.
The El Corte Inglés promotion is due to last until the Fallas in March, so there’s still plenty of tasting to be done. For every bottle of Valencian wine purchased you also get a voucher to fill in and put in a box on the desk of the ‘Consigna’ by the supermarket entrance for a chance to win a weekend wine trip. At the time of writing there is the additional incentive of a free litre of clementine juice for every bottle of Valencian wine purchased (remember to prompt for the vouchers at checkout as they often forget, in my experience).
To return to Miriam, it is worth listening to what she has to say and picking her brains. She’s no PR girl, but a trained sommelier whose family is in the wine business, and who works at the DO Valencia HQ while pursuing her university studies. She won’t be in her booth on the 26th or 27th of January, as on those days she will be at one of the main Spanish wine events of the year, the VI Encuentro Verema, where she is receiving her award as the winner of the most recent (December 2006) annual ‘Desafío Verema’ (Verema Challenge), a national blind-tasting competition which kicks off with 100 finalists, then the top 30, followed by the top 15, out of whom emerges the grand champion – our Miriam who, at twenty-three, was the youngest competitor and is the youngest-ever winner. This is a free chance twice a week to learn all about the wines of DO Valencia. If you see someone who looks as if he’s been spending too much time there, say hello, it’s probably me.
Our Wine Correspondent, John Maher, has his own website with information on the different wine types of the Valencian region. For more information go to www.winesofvalencia.com