Spain’s third-largest city, Valencia, is situated right on the Mediterranean and is known for its balmy climate, long white beaches, for its gastronomic tradition of Paella, and for its exuberant nightlife. Indeed, the star attractions of this corner of eastern Spain have been well documented, much more so than the often delicious and excellent value wines located inland from the city itself. And while the area’s reputation was arguably built on cheap and cheerful table wines and sweet fortified Moscatel, much, much more is waiting to be discovered by the inquisitive wine lover.
A brief history
Valencia has a long and proud history of vine cultivation; in fact, archeological evidence suggests that wine has been made in the region since Neolithic times. This was documented by the ancient writers Marcial and Juvenal, who mentioned Valencia’s wine industry. With the Romans’ arrival in Spain, vine plantations and wine production increased dramatically to satisfy the demands of the Roman forces. Valencia’s development as a port ensured that a lucrative trade would develop through the centuries, and the wine export business becomes very important for the city from the 16th century onwards.
However, over the past few decades, the area’s reputation has fluctuated, and Valencia was primarily known for producing large quantities of indifferent bulk wines. As with other once-marginalized Spanish wine regions, younger generations of growers and winemakers are keen to shed this image and fully understand their terroirs and what varieties can be grown well across the region. As a result, over the past ten years, there have been remarkable improvements in quality, with a growing interest in exploiting premier sites inland, containing some higher-altitude old-vines.
The Valencia D.O. (appellation) is one of the largest in the Comunidad Valenciana region of eastern Spain, with approximately 18,000 hectares under vine. It has traditionally been divided into three geographically separate growing areas and four sub-zones mainly found inland and in the northern end of the Valencia province.
As you’d expect, the subsequent climatic and growing conditions vary considerably. In broad terms, the vineyards located nearer the coast have a Mediterranean climate, whereas most of the vineyards situated further inland have a markedly continental climate. The ensuring hot summers (temperatures regularly exceed 40 degrees) and cold winters provide growers with many challenges, not to mention the threat of violent storms in late summer/autumn. But by far, the biggest threat to quality grape growing in the region is drought; due to the arid summers, the authorities permit irrigation across the area, which is usually forbidden in most wine regions. Consequently, the higher-altitude and sheltered vineyard sites are in high demand, as they generally produce the best wines.
Valentino is the largest wine sub-region, situated to the northeast of the city of Valencia. The mild Mediterranean climate of the area, combined with the moderating effect of the elevated slopes and the limestone soils, allows for the production of fruity, aromatic whites and reds without harsh alcohol levels. In contrast, Alto Turia’s sub-zone is located west of the city and generally has sandy soils with some chalk content. Furthermore, it occupies a mountainous region with vineyards planted at altitudes as high as 1100m above sea level. These conditions moderate the summer heat and encourage aromatic white wines, which thrive in these conditions.
Moscatel is named after the grape that produces the area’s famous dessert wines and is found southwest of Valencia City. The terroir is markedly different from the conditions of Valentino further north -a combination of low-altitude vineyards at typically 100m above sea level and scorching summer temperatures favor the production of full-bodied, alcoholic reds and, of course, the Moscatel grape. Clariano is the sub-region in the southernmost part of the province, with predominantly limestone and clay soils. However, growing conditions are quite diverse, with the cooler coastal areas specializing in white varieties, whereas further inland, potent and strong red wines are the mainstays of a grower’s livelihood.
The Valencia D.O. permits a wide variety of styles and grape varieties to be produced within the region. The visiting wine lover can find reds, whites, roses, fortified wines, and sparkling wines under one appellation’s auspices. The white variety Merseguera, which produces very light and pleasantly fresh white wines, is predominant in the region, allowing 16 types of grapes to be planted. Typically, it displays citrus and grassy notes and makes a wonderful summer drink. Likewise, the famous Moscatel grape produces wonderfully unctuous fortified wines in the Moscatel de Valencia area, some of which are of exceptional value. But, for the discerning wine drinker searching for red wines, the higher regions of Valencia offer the best quality. Some of the red grapes planted include Tempranillo, Monastrell, Bobal, Tintorera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo, and Petit Verdot. Whites are dominated by Merseguera, Malvasía, Macabeo, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillón Blanc.
As a result of the wide variety of grapes planted and different sub-regions, it is not easy to pinpoint the Valencian quintessential wine style. However, it would be correct to say that this fascinating corner of Spain is the land of diversity above all else. The wineries run the gamut from small boutique operations, international companies, and cooperatives, while the wines range from award-winning reds to aromatic whites, fortified wines, and bulk production. So whatever you are looking for, you are bound to find it in this beautiful corner of the Mediterranean.