Photo by Tara Stevens
Verdil de Gel
As you might have surmised from my recent blog entries, I’ve been spending a bit of time in Valencia recently, or more accurately, in the mid-sized town of Xativa where two of the Borja popes were born in the 14th and 15th centuries. Past, great riches are obvious in the stately townhouses of the old town and the impressive castle that creeps its way over two hills. As a town, it oozes class and prosperity, and is well worth a weekend should you feel inclined to explore a more rural side of Spain. It’s also surrounded by orange groves, lush huertas (market gardens filled, at this time of year with broad beans and artichokes, but at others, pretty much any fruit and veg your heart desires) and by vineyards, the most obvious of which are those of Requena-Utiel.
As I said in my last blog, it's nice to see some attention finally being paid to the region and to see the fruits of the efforts of more forward-thinking winemakers. One bottle I came across really stood out. Firstly, the packaging was strikingly elegant—the kind of bottle you want to keep to decant your favourite olive oil into. Secondly, it is made from the Verdil grape, a variety native to the Vall dels Alforins about 20 kilometres from Xativa, and apparently the only place in the world to grow it. Last, but by no means least, it’s a vin de gel, which I love above all sweet wines.
The Bodegas Enguera (bodegasenguera.com) has a mere 45 hectares of this unusual grape, harvests it all by hand, and turns the lot into this magnificent wine sold in 37.5 cl bottles. In the glass it’s the colour of sunshine with faint halos of green and silver. On the nose you’ve got pretty much what it says on the packet: honey, a splash of cinnamon and, for me, orange notes, though perhaps that was psychological given that I drank it in the middle of an orange terrace. There’s also some minerality—stone, my friends in the biz would say—and, I thought, a nuttiness: hazelnuts or maybe the kernels of apricots, but not the fruit.
Most importantly, it’s a remarkable wine, something truly special to bring out at the start or end of dinner since it’s got a refreshing acidity that makes it equally valuable both as an aperitif and as a dessert wine. The only problem is goodness knows where you’d get it. Unless of course you take my tip and head to Xativa for the weekend, where you'll find it at a little deli called Lola.