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THE MYTHICAL CELLER DEL ROURE

Valencia does not immediately bounce to the forefront of the mind when discussing Spanish wine, yet it is part of a broad renaissance taking place. Franco’s rule only ended in 1975. Like all murderous dictators he was neither commercially minded nor any fun; he believed that wine was for the sacrament only and had most old interesting vines grubbed up in favour of high yielding international varieties and Airen – the chief component in Jerez Brandy.

Established in 1996, Cellar del Roure’s sandy-loam vineyards are at 600 metres altitude, nestled under Sierra La Solana. The nearest town, Moixent, is an hour or so south-west inland from Valencia This hilly subzone of DO Valencia takes its name from nearby town Fontanars dels Alfarins. South on across the mountains is the north-western reach of DO Alicante, where lie Pepe Mendoza’s vineyards in Entrena.

Apart from being fabulous wines, the Celler Del Roure story is one of a return to history: this area has a 2400-year culture of winemaking from locally adapted varieties. Apart from the aberrant 20th century, 2300 years of this was a legacy of fermentation and ageing in amphorae. Pablo and Paco’s bodega fonda (underground winery) was first excavated 300 years ago and houses 97 buried amphorae ranging from 600-2800 litres. Abandoned in the dark days of 1930s Spain, the Catalayuds have renovated this special cellar and its amphorae. Of 97 ancient jars, 20 have been dug out, renovated and re-buried in the local agglomerado soil (sand, limestone, chalk, clay mix).

Mimicking the maturation effects of barrel-ageing without adding oak flavour or de-acidifying the wine, these renewed amphorae are part of a process of cultural renovation and rediscovery accompanied by the revival of ancient local varieties, until nearly recently lost: Verdil Blanco and Mandó Tinto (this spelling is Catalan - in Spanish, it would be Mandot). Most of the vineyards were planted in the 1990s and are aged around 20 years - the first production was vintage 2000.

When I was there in 2014, Sara Perez from Priorat and her father Jose Luis were acting as viticultural and winemaking advisors. Sara is winemaking royalty in Priorat. Her family winery is the famous Mas Martinet, her husband Rene’s family winery is Clos Mogador (both were in the original Big-5 that established Priorat) and together they haver their own label call La Universal. In particular, they helped to optimise the balance between acid retention and textural enhancement through batonnage in amphorae. Since then they have gone from strength to strength.

Part of what makes Celler Del Roure such a formidable modern winemaking venture is their attention to every aspect of their output. The labels were designed by famous Spanish graphic designer Daniel Nebot. The labels have helped the wines create an identity for themselves and their clean looking designs mirror the wines perfectly. We contributed to an article in the Irish Times recently about label design, needless to say this is where we went first. STSWine
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