I make no apologies however, as I have yet to visit a region of this charming country and not be impressed with the local wines and the creativity and dynamism of their winemakers — young and old.
Last autumn I visited Valencia which includes sub-regions such as Utiel-Requena, Alicante, Jumilla and Yecla — hardly names that trip off the tongue but regions worth keeping an eye out for.
Visiting wineries in this region can be eye-opening and showed once again why looking to the past is as important as a modern winemaking education.
Of course, cleanliness, stainless steel and controlled fermentations have transformed winemaking in the last 50 years, but as is often the case the best wines I tasted were made using at least some ancient methods and old knowledge.
In the family owned Bodegas Los Frailes ( www.bodegaslosfrailes.com ) we met their shepherd and his herd of sheep which is used to weed the vineyard and provide manure for the vines and for bio-dynamic treatments.
Workers were cleaning out cow-horns and preparing them to be filled with quartz or manure to enrich the soil — the horn mixture can then be used to make natural sprays to ward off fungus and disease (and to send good cosmic vibes through the vineyard — I’m not joking!).
Celler del Roure (not imported here) is a revival of a 500-year-old winery which has a fascinating underground cellar containing ancient clay amphorae buried in the ground.
Intriguingly as well as the classic local Monastrell, and some French varieties they are growing large amounts of the almost extinct mandó (red) and the equally rare verdil (white) grape.
Following the alcoholic fermentation in stainless steel tanks some of their better wines are transferred to the amphorae for their secondary malo-lactic fermentation.
As the winemaker told me, oak barrels can correct or hide imperfections in a wine but amphorae are much less forgiving so the wine aged in them had better be perfect.
I will be presenting some wines from Valencia at my Monastrell talk at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe LitFest www.litfest.ie — tickets are on sale now.
Quay Co-Op Cork, Olive Branch Clonakilty, Little Green Grocer Kilkenny, www.marypawlewines.com
In the same family since 1771 and currently farming bio-dynamically with some Monastrell plots up to 75 years old.
The Efe has a ripe spicy red fruit feel and manages to be fruity and supple yet also elegant. Also watch for their dessert wine After 3 in Good Things Café and The Mews Kenmare.
I picked this up in a Dunnes Stores promotion recently and while it needs to be drunk up fairly soon, it still represents excellent value.
It has aromas of earthy black fruit with touches of black plums and smoke and a light structured finish.
JJ O’Driscoll, Ardkeen Stores, O’Donovans, JC Savage, Jus de Vine Portmarnock
Made from 100% Syrah with bright black cherry and red currant aromas and a solid weighty black and red fruit richness on the palate and a hint of structure and light spice on the finish.
Also watch for its Alvarez Nolting Monastrell at the same price.
World Wide Wines Waterford, Corkscrew Dublin, Clontarf Wines, Honest2Goodness Market Finglas
From organic producer Pago Gran Casa and imported by Honest2Goodness.
A blend of merlot, syrah, monastrell and petit verdot this is beautifully fragrant with solid black and red fruits on the nose and palate and lingering freshness and acidity.
Stockists: World Wide Wines Waterford, Little Green Grocer Kilkenny, Corkscrew Dublin, Clontarf Wines, Honest2Goodness Market Finglas Valencia does make white wines including an increasing number from the recently revived verdil grape which has a pleasant pear character and can even take some oak.
This is gewurztraminer and muscat and is much more fragrant as you would expect.
Vanilla Grape Kenmare, World Wide Wines, Florries
Tramore, Mortons Ranelagh, Martins Fairview.
This is 100% monastrell from a small region near Valencia and has been on the Irish market for many years (now imported by Liberty).
This sees a small proportion of new oak which gives a spicy character, but mostly it is ripe juicy plum fruits with touches of blueberry and a hint of smoke.