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What our expert thought of Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce, Clos Lojen




about this wine About this wine
 
This wine comes from the meseta, Spain’s central plateau.  Summers here are so hot and dry that vines are the only crop that can survive, and so the vineyards cover vast areas.  The largest of the region’s many DOs, La Mancha, has more land under vine than Australia. (DO stands for Denominación de Origen, Spain’s equivalent of Appellation Controlée.)
 
So why don’t we see lots of wine from huge DOs like La Mancha and Manchuela, and just the odd red from smaller ones like Valdepeñas and Jumilla?  Much of the wine produced is distilled into Spanish brandy.  Most of the rest becomes anonymous Vino Tinto or Vino Blanco, sold in plastic jugs in Spanish supermarkets.  And in any case, there’s a lot less wine produced than you might expect.
 
The meseta  is so dry that the vines have to be planted very far apart to allow their roots to find enough water to survive.  Irrigation was forbidden until the introduction of water-saving drip irrigation systems in the late Nineties and even now most producers can’t afford them.  It’s impractical to train such widely-spaced vines on trellises so they are grown as bush vines, which are more drought- and heat-resistant but don’t produce many bunches.
 
Yields are consequently tiny.  The Bobal grape may be the second most planted black variety in Spain by vineyard area, but it is found almost entirely in the DO Manchuela and in the neighbouring DO of Utiel-Requena just to the east, which shares the same arid climate.  These enormous, sparsely-planted, semi-desert vineyards don’t produce all that much wine.
 
Production is reduced still further because most Bobal vines are old.  The variety had a surge of popularity a century ago, when it proved to be unusually resistant to the vine pest phylloxera.  Recent plantings have tended to be of Tempranillo or other more fashionable varieties.
 
Old vines have low yields, but they make the best wine.  The dry, sandy soils and widely-spaced bush vines make life very difficult for vine pests and diseases, so organic farming is relatively easy.  Consequently the old Bobal vineyards are being rediscovered by a new wave of winemakers.
 
Leading the charge is Juan Antonio Ponce, the “Prince of Bobal”.  (Stop sniggering at the back there: it’s pronounced “Pon-thay”.) He makes five different Bobal reds from the ancient bush vines in his family vineyards, all of which are farmed organically and biodynamically.
 
This one, Clos Logen, is his entry-level wine, designed for early drinking – something of a challenge given Bobal’s notoriously high tannin levels.  To accomplish it he has revived an ancient winemaking method called remango  which was once popular in Rioja, and given it a modern twist.
 
Unusually for a red wine, the hand-picked bunches do not go through a crusher-destemmer.  Instead the whole bunches are chilled to 8°C (that’s the modern bit) before being foot-trodden in wooden fermentation vats.  Foot-treading is a much gentler way to break the skins than a mechanical crusher and reduces the extraction of harsh tannins, assisted by the low temperature which also preserves aromas.
 
Fermentation starts slowly with only the natural wild yeasts.  Foot-treading is performed every day, and at other times the vat is covered to raise the CO2 levels within it, thus naturally reproducing some of the conditions of carbonic maceration, in which whole bunches are fermented under a blanket of CO2 to make fruity, early-drinking reds like Beaujolais.  After a few days the must is run off into old oak barrels to continue fermentation.
 
Barrel fermentation is very unusual for reds, which normally remain in open-topped vats until after fermentation has completely finished, with the cap of skins being mechanically punched down or pumped over to extract colour, flavour and tannin.  By contrast, this wine has undergone a very gentle and quite short extraction.  The wine then ages in the barrels for seven months before being bottled without fining or filtration.  A small amount of sulphur dioxide is added before bottling; otherwise this is an entirely ‘natural’ wine.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
Carbonic maceration is great for extracting colour without tannin, and so is foot-treading.  Bobal is also a very dark variety, so despite the short skin contact this wine is still quite a deep ruby colour.  This 2015 is a young wine and it looks it, with a distinct purple tinge especially at the rim.
 
On first opening this wine showed the reductive, farmyardy smells often found in natural wines, like the 7 Fuentes from Tenerife that we featured a few weeks ago.  It does blow off with air – it’s completely disappeared from the bottle in front of me that has been open a couple of days now, and your pouches should similarly be fine.
 
After sufficient air, the medium intensity nose is attractively floral and somehow smells as purple as the wine looks, with both red and black berries: cherry, blackberry and strawberry.  There is also a very Spanish savoury, meaty note, and a hint of woodsmoke.
 
The medium-bodied palate is both earthy and fruity, with fresh, medium+ acidity and black fruit flavours: first blueberry, then strong black cherry as the wine warms in the mouth.
 
The finish is spicy and earthy, with a slight bitterness from well-tamed, velvety tannins.
 
Assessment
 
Well, what a surprise!  This is a lot more structured than a Beaujolais but it’s classy and fine, even elegant.  It’s definitely not the rustic monster I was expecting from such a hot climate.  That said, it is most definitely Spanish.  The way the nose combines roses with roast meat, and the earthy quality to the palate, reminds me a lot of our last Spanish red, the Losada Bierzo.
 
With winemaking that’s both ultra-traditional yet very carefully calculated, Juan Antonio Ponce has tamed Bobal’s ferocious tannins and emphasised its strengths: floral aromas, fresh acidity, ripe berry fruit and moderate alcohol levels.  This is a wine that’s fascinatingly true to its terroir – to the sunbaked land, the Bobal grape, and ancient winemaking traditions – yet it’s also a delicious drink whose unshowy charms make it dangerously moreish.  I’m in danger of not having enough left to film with!


Tasting notes

Appearance
clear medium+ ruby, purple rim
Nose

Intensity medium

Aromas floral (rose), red & black 'purple' berries (cherry, blackberry, strawberry), meaty/savoury, hint of woodsmoke

Development youthful
Palate

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium+

Body medium

Tannins medium, velvety, slightly drying

Intensity medium

Flavours black fruits (blueberry, then strong black cherry), earthy
Finish

Length medium

Flavours spicy, earthy, slight bitterness from tannins
Other notes
No detectable oak. Fresh & more-ish. Understated charms.


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