Valencia's association with wine and the wine trade dates back to Neolithic times. Excavations of ancient gravesites have helped archaeologists document this tradition of grape cultivation. Certainly Valencia's long history as a prominent port city has bolstered its connections to winemaking and wine exports. Today, Valencia is Spain's third-largest city and biggest wine export center; its exporters send products from the Valencia DO to markets around the world.
Valencia Wine History
Grapes have been grown in Valencia since the Neolithic era. Ancient writers, including Marcial and Juvenal, mentioned the area's wine industry in their writings. Valencia native Arnau de Vilanova, who became famous for writing and translating medical books and for his work in medicine and alchemy, wrote a book about wine titled Liber de Vinis in the 13th century. While wine has played a role in Valencia's economy for many years, it is only within the last few centuries that the wine export business has grown in size and importance. Today, many Valencia wineries still produce mainly for the export market, although their products are also popular with locals. The traditional dessert wine of the area, which is made from moscatel grapes, is one of Valencia's best-known wines.
Geography, Soils and Climate
The Valencia DO lies near the center of Spain's east coast, although most of the region's vineyards are found inland rather than near the sea. The DO is divided into four sub-regions, Valentino, Alto Turia, Moscatel and Clariano. Valentino, the largest sub-region, lies northeast of the city of Valencia. Its soils are mostly limestone. Alto Turia, which is found west of the city, has sandy soils with some chalk. Most Alto Turia winemakers produce white wines. Moscatel, named for the grape that makes the DO's dessert wine, is a low-lying area just southwest of Valencia city. Clariano is the sub-region farthest to the south; its soils consist mostly of limestone, with some clay in the western area.
Valencia's climate varies from place to place, thanks to its location on the Mediterranean Sea and the varying altitudes within the region. Near the sea, Valencia's climate is Mediterranean, but the climate inland is much more continental. Wherever you go in Valencia, you will find extreme variations in temperature. Low temperatures can dip below freezing, while high temperatures can reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Rainfall varies from place to place, with averages as low as 11 inches per year and as high as 22 inches. Hail and high winds can also be problematic for growers.
Because of its extreme swings in temperature, the Valencia DO's wine aging regulations differ from those in the rest of Spain. Winemakers may, if they choose, age crianza wines in casks for only three months. Reserva wines must be aged in casks for a minimum of six months; the aging period is nine months for gran reserva wines. Some Valencia winemakers prefer to use the national standards.
Valencia Wine Grape Varieties
Valencia's growers may choose from a long list of permitted grape varieties, but, in practice, most prefer to plant the popular varieties – merseguera, malvasía, tempranillo, monastrell and moscatel (romano or de alexandría).
Permitted white wine grape varieties include, besides those just mentioned, macabeo, planta fina de pedralba, pedro ximénez, planta nova, verdil, tortosí, , chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and sémillon. Red wine grapes permitted in the Valencia DO include bobal, cabernet sauvignon, garnacha tinta, garnacha tintorera, forcayat, pinot noir, merlot and syrah, as well as the popular tempranillo and monastrell. Experimental varieties include cabernet franc, ruby cabernet and mandó.
The Valencia DO allows wineries within the region to buy bobal wine grapes from the neighboring Utiel-Requena DO to use for blending purposes.
Visiting Valencia Wineries
Valencia's wineries include small, family-owned operations, boutique wineries, international companies and cooperatives. There's even a cooperative (Anecoop) made up of cooperatives. Wines produced range from award-winning varietals to bag-in-box table wines. Many Valencia wineries welcome visitors and offer tours, tastings and wine sales. Of these, the majority prefer that you notify them of your visit before you arrive.
Bodega El Angosto offers winery tours and tastings. This winery's vineyards date back to the late 18th century, although the winery itself is fairly new. If you're visiting with a group of 30 or more people, you can also arrange for a food tasting experience.
Bodegas Los Frailes is named for the Jesuit friars who first owned this winery. In 1771, the Velasquez family bought the wine estate, which had been confiscated from the Jesuits, at an auction, and they've owned it ever since. Bodegas Los Frailes produces organic red and rosé wines. The winery has recently been modernized. Visitors are welcome by prior appointment.
Bodegas Murviedro was recently named Valencia's top winery for 2009 by the Cátedra Universitaria de la Viña y Vino. The bodega's winemaker, Pablo Ossorio, was also given a top award for 2009. The Asociación Valenciana de Enólogos named him Valencia's Winemaker of the Year. Murviedro produces quality wines from four DOs: Valencia, Utiel-Requena, Cava and Alicante.
Valencia's traditional emphasis on the export market and production of lower-cost wines make it easy to lose sight of the continuing movement toward higher quality in the DO. The Valencia DO is at a kind of crossroads; while many of the region's wineries have modernized and upgraded, the call for inexpensive quaffing wines is difficult to ignore. On the other hand, Valencian winemakers like Daniel Belda, Pablo Calatayud and Pablo Ossorio are slowly but surely revamping their wineries and fine-tuning their production processes, with extremely positive results. Valencia may be moving more slowly toward top-quality wine production than are its neighboring DOs, but it is moving ahead nonetheless, and that's a welcome state of affairs.