Yesterday 4th of October, during the Wines from Spain Fair at The Shelbourne Hotel, we had the opportunity of meeting Pablo Calatayud, Agricultural Engineer and owner of Celler del Roure, a boutique bodega in Valencia, where he makes what he refers to as “ancient wines” (Vinos Antiguos).
He sumarised the masterclass he was invited to give as a showcase of Valencian wines. On the day, seven bottles were tasted including Pablo’s Safrá, “a wine made in an ancient style, using clay jars a.k.a. tinajas de barro.” Regarding the general characteristics of Valencia as a wine region, he points out that there is a big Mediterranean influence, with very hot summers (up to 35 degrees) and winters where zero and a few degrees below are not unheard of.
“It’s not Valencia the beach, it’s closer to the mountainous area. You have to counter the heat with altitude and that’s why most vines are planted above 600 metres above sea level” explains Pablo.
Why Ancient Wines?
“Because they were there”, he says, referring to the clay jars in the bodega which were given “museum treatment” until he bought the place in 2006. “After after a bit of refurbishment we realised we could use them” he explains, and points out that the use of clay jars in winemaking is a vanishing practice.
“Because they’re frail, clay jars have been replaced by other materials, but we believe they’re great to use.” While oak adds smells and aromas to the wine, clay jars are neutral, however, unlike stainless steel, they allow micro-oxygenation and therefore let the wine mature.
“The fact that they’re neutral can be seen as something positive or negative; oak barrels make complex wines, but clay jars give the purest result, so is a choice between complexity and purity.” He also points out that clay jars don’t add tannins.
When he mentions that other winemakers are slowly moving towards clay jars, I asked him how does he feel about it. Instead of being annoyed about potential copycats, he is delighted. “We love that other producers get on board with this style of winemaking. A loner bodega is not ideal, we don’t want to be the only ones” Pablo says, and he’s aware of the fact that having a group of like minded producers will only be of help to increase the relevance and support for the style.
Ancient Techniques Call for Ancient Grapes
“To make this project coherent, we don’t use foreign varieties. Until recently, people believed that it was best to plant globally known grape varieties, they were even called ‘improvers’.” Nowadays, Pablo -and like him, a growing number of producers in Valencia- prefers to plant local grapes.
He explains that there was a lot more diversity before the phylloxera devastated European vineyards in the 19th century, and that after that, grape growers replanted with a more limited selection, mostly made of international fruit.
“We spoke with older people and we researched to gain a better understanding of what was planted before” says Pablo, who worked to develop the right “portfolio.” For Safrá, for example, he uses 85% Mandó and 15% Garnacha Tintorera. Mandó is so rare that is deemed as nearly extinct, as pointed out in jancisrobinson.com and is characterised by being medium sized and compact, able to give quite aromatic and pigmented reds.
As a winemaker, Pablo aims to get the purest wine and that’s why his a huge enthusiast of the use of clay jars and local grapes. Before saying adiós, Pablo adds that he only uses wild yeast, which makes the wines even more loyal to the style of days now gone.
With modern technology making it possible for mass produced wines to reach a perfectly acceptable level of quality, Pablo’s decision to look back is actually quite forward-thinking, and as artisan winemakers strive to offer something with a difference, Pablo’s Safrá and his whole Vinos Antiguos range shows an interesting approach where purity triumphs and Valencia’s fruit and land are allowed to really be themselves.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.