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From pasas to wine – 125 years on!

29 octubre, 2020

Colin Harkness / Twitter: @colinonwine / Instagram: colinharkness53

Versión en español disponible aquí!
Because of the rules, a pleasing cross wine-border collaboration  between Bodegas Uvas Cabrera in Benissa, Alicante, and Bodegas Daniel Belda in Fontanars, Valencia, results in a fine wine but without reference to a Denominación of Origen on the label.

Personally, when I see a wine that does not carry a DO epithet I am intrigued and, providing that the price does not put it clearly into a lesser quality bracket, I usually buy it. There are many wines made in Spain that reach high standards but are not included in any Denominación de Origen. Some such wines could be the Spanish equivalent of the Italian Super-Tuscans, wines of outstanding quality made in the Tuscany area but not complying with all the rules.

Uvas Cabrera makes but one wine – a delicious dry white Moscatel, without DO, of course! But it was not always thus.

In 1895 Don Vicente Cabrera Baydal, conscious of a roaring national and international trade in pasas, dried grapes (raisins, of course) established his agricultural business, Uvas Cabrera, in Benissa, growing Moscatel grapes to be dried, taken by donkey to Denia and thence shipped all over the world. By Spain’s modest standards during that period, times were good – until competition started, particularly from Turkey.

Also, there was a slight shift in demand in that clients were keen on having grapes with no pips and, yes, even before modern day genetic engineering there were grapes that did not produce pips. Don Vicente’s son started to diversify, to a degree – rather than concentrating solely on pasas, he also grew table grapes to sell as they were. Fortunately, the vineyards they controlled produced Moscatel grapes of excellent quality. Demand was high.

Because of the rules, a pleasing cross wine-border collaboration  between Bodegas Uvas Cabrera in Benissa, Alicante, and Bodegas Daniel Belda in Fontanars, Valencia, results in a fine wine but without reference to a Denominación of Origen on the label. However, regular readers of 5Barricas are of course aware that wine made under the auspices of a DO does not always guarantee top quality.

Personally, when I see a wine that does not carry a DO epithet I am intrigued and, providing that the price does not put it clearly into a lesser quality bracket, I usually buy it. There are many wines made in Spain that reach high standards but are not included in any Denominación de Origen. Some such wines could be the Spanish equivalent of the Italian Super-Tuscans, wines of outstanding quality made in the Tuscany area but not complying with all the rules.

Uvas Cabrera makes but one wine – a delicious dry white Moscatel, sin DO, claro! But it was not always thus.

In 1895 Don Vicente Cabrera Baydal, conscious of a roaring national and international trade in pasas, dried grapes (raisins, of course) established his agricultural business, Uvas Cabrera, in Benissa, growing Moscatel grapes to be dried, taken by donkey to Denia and thence shipped all over the world. By Spain’s modest standards during that period, times were good – until competition started, particularly from Turkey.

Also, there was a slight shift in demand in that clients were keen on having grapes with no pips and, yes, even before modern day genetic engineering there were grapes that did not produce pips. Don Vicente’s son started to diversify, to a degree – rather than concentrating solely on pasas, he also grew table grapes to sell as they were. Fortunately, the vineyards they controlled produced Moscatel grapes of excellent quality. Demand was high.

Ximo Cabrera, the fourth generation of the family has only recently added an extra string to their bow – Ximo decided to also make wine. If the family vineyards can produce grapes of the highest quality for the table, surely, they can also be used to make wine of the same standard. Great, but Ximo is a farmer, a grape grower, not a oenologist. Enter famed winemaker, Daniel Belda, of the eponymous Bodegas Daniel Belda.

I was fascinated to hear the story of the roundabout way in which the wine in front of me had arrived at the table when I recently visited Ximo at his house. A story spanning 125 years and continuing still, as Ximo’s son, the 5th generation, is now also working their land. Surrounded, as we were, by the very same beautiful vineyards I could almost hear the sounds of the now antique farming implements being used as the family plied their trade. Implements which now decorate their walls as part of a living museum. For me, wine tastes all the better when there is a story behind it, and Spain is full of such wines!

The family now owns about 50 hectares of vineyards but it’s only those which surround the house, in total about one and a half hectare, that is used for this relatively new project, the crafting of fine, dry Moscatel wines. With the grapes already harvested the vines were well into that autumnal period where the leaves change colour before eventually dropping to the ground.

As we walked the vines on a glorious day there was plenty of evidence of one of the problems that Ximo faces – rabbit droppings! The rabbits eat the grapes, but that’s not the only animal that keeps Ximo and his son on their toes. There are many, many wild boars that roam great distances in search of food, and they love the shoots appearing on vines as the spring season starts. Vineyards such as Ximo’s are jabalí heaven!

In the words famously written by James Herriot, and uttered incongruously by a sweet faced but philosophical little girl, “Ay, it’s a bugger, this farming!”

However, the critters didn’t win. The 2020 grapes were in perfect condition and there were plenty of them, one of the best ever years in fact, said Ximo, and so much better than 2019 when Uvas Cabrera made no wine, as the quality just wasn’t considered good enough. The 2020 vintage was being fermented over at Bodegas Daniel Belda as Ximo and I spoke.

I detected a slight wistful look about my host which was explained when I asked him how many bottles he was going to produce in this, such an excellent year. I was told, sadly, that because of Covid 19 they had decided to make about a thousand fewer bottles this year – sales just aren’t at the levels they should be. Therefore the 2020 vintage, available, he’s hoping, just prior to Christmas will comprise of just 4,000 bottles instead of the usual 5 – 6k! Normally, each vintage sells out before the next – Ximo is hoping for the same this year, albeit a smaller production.

I’d first tasted Uvas Cabrera dry Moscatel in early Summer last year at the excellent Jesús Pobre  wine fair (don’t miss it when it’s next on!) and was captivated by the wine, the story behind it and also the unique and evocative way that the wines are packaged when sold. Very light-weight wooden fruit boxes that would have held 2k of table grapes are packed with wood shavings to give support to a bottle of the wine, packed diagonally! Larger boxes which would have held 5k of grapes now hold five bottles, similarly packed but top to toe. Brilliant!

(Note also that the drawing on the label is of a living vine, whose fit is perfect. You’ll see that there are four ‘branches’ coming from the gnarled old trunk – representing the four generations behind Uvas Cabrera. The fourth also has a further branch growing – you guessed it, Ximo’s son, the 5th generation!)

So, I was keen to try it again, with Ximo this time in the comfort of his own home. However, there was none of that superb, young and fresh wine to be tasted – it’s all been sold! There was no dismay on Ximo’s face to match mine though – he had something up his sleeve.

Ximo is a great believer in two differing styles of dry Moscatel – the young, vivacious, and fresh style, but also, and here he differs from most, Moscatel wine that has had some bottle age. Bottle ageing, that even without the use of any oak, can last for perhaps 5 years because of its high alcohol content (14 – 14.5%). He went into the house and brought out a golden coloured 2017, introducing me to the idea!

Now, I’m a believer! Honey coloured there are dry honey aromas coming from the glass, joined by a pronounced fresh Jasmine and gently crushed white flower perfume, with just a touch of the typical grape/raison aroma so typical of young Moscatel.

On the palate the wine takes control of the whole mouth. It’s full and rounded with honey still, though no suggestion of sweetness at all. There’s also some yellow fruit acidity in there, golden plums and some bruised yellow English apples.

Splendid wine!

www.uvascabrera.com

Twitter @colinonwine; Instagram colinharkness53; Facebook Colin Harkness

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