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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Bodega Sierra Norte Pasión de Bobal

Spain (Utiel-Requena)


Hearts come to lie among the branches of our dogberry tree.

Surprisingly little known, bobal is in fact the third most planted grape by area in Spain. For years it has been looked upon as something of a black sheep, directed to blending with other varietals. (It is especially welcomed for its colour intensity.) But in recent years several independent producers have brought the grape to the forefront, with some very promising results.

Bobal is native to the province of Valencia, where it accounts for roughly 80% of the vines under the DO Utiel-Requena. Its sloping vineyards (with dark, limestone soils) lie between the Mediterranean and the high inland plateau of Central Spain. Summers are hot and dry, winters (by Spanish standards) cold. Late frosts in April and May are not unusual. Its climate is one of the most extreme in Spain, and requires a tough grape.

Bobal is just that, a tough-skinned, bull-headed grape. (Its name is derived from the resemblance of a cluster to the head of a bull.) The wine produced is high in both tannin and acidity. The vines are generally low, stand-alone bushes, cultivated without supports, and are broadly spaced within the vineyard.  They endure extremes of weather much better than most varietals.

Bodega Sierra Norte holds 60 hectares of vineyards and has been bottling a variety of whites and reds, under various labels, since 1998. It is one of the only organic bodegas in the region. Bobal has always played an important role in its bottlings, but only recently has the production of a 100% bobal wine been undertaken. The vines used for Pasión de Bobal are 25-60 years old and cultivated at 600 metres above sea level. A later maturing grape, the bobal harvest for 2011 will have taken place over the past couple of weeks. Maceration will be long and procede at low temperatures. Fermentation will start at similarly low temperatures, then gradually rise. The wine will spend 6-8 months in French oak.

The result – a much undervalued varietal given a new market presence. I was thrilled to find it at a recent wine show, imported to my Island home by Pesantez and Segovia, an importer who can always be counted on to bring something special to the table.

Bodega Sierra Norte Pasión de Bobal 2009

A racy, deeply fruited nose arising from the dark ruby red surface. This wine has energy and history. A raw, red fruit spiciness and hint of smoke deliver notes of rustic charm. It sets the drinker back in time, to when native varietals were the mainstay, when wines had an affable robustness, and hearts seemed to grow on vines.  $


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