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A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW

25 noviembre, 2020

Colin Harkness / Twitter: @colinonwine / Instagram: colinharkness53

Versión en español disponible aquí!

Señor Felipe Guttierz de la Vega is certainly a hard act to follow!

Now officially retired, it’s quite clear from my recent visit that there has been no dampening of the passion that this grandee of the Alicante winemaking scene must surely have had when a youngster, starting out on his wine journey. The glimmer in his eye as he introduced me to each of the fifteen wines we tasted, deep in the crianza cellar of his bodega in sleepy Parcent, has not been dimmed by the passage of time.

Bodegas Gutierrez de la Vega was appointed supplier of one of the wines for a Spanish Royal wedding. Felipe is lauded as the first winemaker to craft a dry white wine from Moscatel, against advice when all were making only sweet dessert wines – and look how successful that idea has been, copied countless times since its inception in 1987. He has also invented a wholly different method of making sparkling wine – the result of which I tasted myself before our monumental tasting.

Indeed, Felipe and Team Gutierrez de la Vega, have earned many plaudits over the years with fans that include, for example, Sarah Jane Evans MW as well as yours truly, I might add. However, this slight in stature, giant of the wine fraternity of South East Spain has recently handed over the reigns to his eldest daughter, Violeta.

Violeta grew up immersed in the family’s wine heritage, learning from tradition, folklore and her famous father. It soon became apparent that Violeta not only had a natural aptitude for winemaking, she also shared her father’s passion. Blend this with winemaking studies in the hallowed land of Bordeaux as well as her travels to other famed winemaking areas, and her succession was really a foregone conclusion.

All very good, but how was she going to fare when the inevitable comparisons would be made? And what’s more, how would she be able to maintain the high standards set by her father whilst ploughing her own furrow. Plus, as her father is almost constantly at the family winery despite being jubilado, would she be able to bloom from under his perceived shadow?

This last question in fact applies to so many of the wineries I have visited over the years here in Spain. It surely must be a daunting step to make for the young guns coming into the business. Yet, in every case that I have seen and heard of the transition has been perfectly smooth. And so it is with the Violeta/Felipe combo!

After my pre-tasting trip with Violeta to two of the several vineyards owned/rented by the family (where I was fascinated to see the different soils and learn about their unique terroirs) I was delighted to see that the ongoing transition is seamless, with each complementing the other. Plus, of course, the proof of the wine is in the tasting thereof!

Costa Diva is perhaps the most emblematic of the large portfolio of wines made by Bodegas Gutierrez de la Vega. I tasted the 2019 version, crafted by Violeta, whose initial floral notes caress the nose with a perception of sweetness, which is immediately dispensed with when this fresh, dry white wine hits the palate! A lovely refreshing raison/grape flavour with integrated acidity and just a touch of bitterness on the finish make this a super aperitif wine as well as perfect pairing for seafood, salads and various examples of Asian and SE Asian cuisines.

My delight with this wine coupled with my great interest in all that Don Felipe was saying must have connected with the legendary winemaker. He suddenly decided that I may be a suitable candidate with whom to taste some of his different, unique wines, as well as those that have made the winery world famous, plus those made by the new incumbent, Violeta. And I am indebted to him for deciding thus – what a wonderful tasting it was!

Space doesn’t allow me to detail all of the wines we tasted, but here are some highlights – although, in truth I thought they were all exemplary!

Monte Diva was the same dry Moscatel style, though from 2018, but this time a skin contact white, oft referred to as an ‘orange wine’ these days, a style on which I am becoming increasingly keen. Harvested in 2018 the grapes were fermented in oak and macerated for 15 – 20 days with their skins. On the nose at first there was a distinct herby note, light and dark green mountain herbs, thyme, laurel, wild sage and a fainter rosemary note. Then the unmistakeable aroma and flavour of Moscatel came through – white flowers with raison fruit, to be joined with a slight buttery note from the oak. Wow – what a wine!

Felipe is also an advocate of the Under Flor style of wine, similar in a way to wines made in Jerez, though with no added spirit. The 2017 Moscatel Velo Flor had leafy notes, green as well as autumnal with that splendid Moscatel fruit. The wine is called Tio Raimundo.

Finally for whites – a most unusual wine, made in the reverse of the normal style, with bottle aging first, and for a considerable time, followed by further aging in barrel! Violeta 1999 (I love this link too!) is made with Moscatel (as you might have surmised already!) and then left in bottle in the cellars for 20 years! And that’s not all, it’s then been in oak barrels from Jerez until now. A truly amazing wine – so fresh and alive still, with 18% alc!

Reds included the also emblematic Rojo y Negro 2018 made by Violeta from the prized local Giró variety coming from the mineral laced red/terracotta coloured soil rich in iron, that the winemaker took me to earlier. Such good lively fruit with dark red berries on the palate following a rich nose of berries and wet stone minerality along with a touch of damp soil autumn leaves undergrowth.

Finally, as space is now at a premium, a brief but oh so important mention of the wonderful Fondillón, a special style of wine so close to the hearts of this father and daughter team. Made with dried Monastrell grapes and aged in barrica for a minimum of 10 years, this wine should really be tasted on bended knee with hat removed in supplication – and that from a previous king of Spain way back in time, such is the history and renown of this sensational wine. An absolute triumph!

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