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Reaching for the sky in Requena

How an international partnership breathed life into a forgotten wine land.



Hispano Suizas winery and vineyards
Hispano + Suizas Winery in Requena (Valencia, Spain)


Valencia oranges

Halfway along Spain’s Mediterranean

coastline, the historical city of Valencia sits proudly, basking in sunshine 300 days a year. Orange trees line the streets of this magnificent city, renowned for its architecture, beaches, and being the birthplace of paella. Wine, however, is not this region’s calling card. Yes, every corner of Spain is planted with vines; all 17 regions including its islands, produce wine, but it’s the Riojas and Sherries that are known the world over. Wine lovers will seek out Priorat, Ribera del Duero, or Rías Baixas before they start pondering what’s growing around Valencia.

Yet nestled in the hills just west of the city, lies one of the country’s most traditional and ancient wine regions: DO Utiel-Requena.

 

Roots of the Region

 

Taking its name from the two main towns: Utiel and Requena, the area of the DO has been producing wine for 2700 years. Traces of Phoenician amphora found in the region, and ancient wineries carved into stone show that there has been continuous production and trading of wine here from the Iberian era to the present day. Despite the long history, the wine region itself is unknown internationally.  Bobal is the main grape variety planted here, the third most planted red grape in Spain after Tempranillo and Garnacha. It is generally known for producing a hearty, rustic, red wine, deeply coloured and full body. The climate in Utiel-Requena is continental with Mediterranean influence, and its incredibly high altitude (750 meters above sea level, and even up to 900 in some areas) lends to a high diurnal swing between day and night temperatures.

Overlooked in most wine books, but the latest (8th edition) of Jancis Robinson’s The World Atlas of Wine, mentions, “there was a time when …Valencia, Utiel- Requena were regarded as fit only to provide strong bulk wine for a dwindling export market. But in many of these regions new money and ideas have been put to good use to make fruity and even stylish reds.”

And such is the start of the Hispano+ Suizas story.

 

Reboot to Stardom


3 flags of EU, Spain and Switzerland

Of all the wine regions in the world to launch a luxury wine brand, for reasons outlined above, DO Utiel-Requena might not be top of the list. Yet that’s exactly where Hispano + Suizas was born in 1999 via an international collaboration between three friends: two successful Spanish winemakers and their Swiss PR magnate.


Each of them offering their strength and expertise to the project, their shared vision was to produce outstanding quality wine, but at attainable prices for wine lovers. Suddenly, an underrated wine region with excellent growing conditions for ripe and healthy grapes starts to make perfect sense.






Rafael Navarro in the vineyard
Rafael Navarro, Hispano+Suizas Viticulturist

Viticulturist and winemaker, Rafael Navarro who was already from the region, realised the potential in Utiel-Requena. His father, and grandfather made a living in the vineyards, and Rafael grew up caring for the land and understanding what it takes to produce quality. He studied in France, completing an Oenology Masters in Montpellier, while also acquiring an appreciation for French grape varieties. He was inspired to try Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot in the land of beefy Bobal. By 1999 his vision for a wine estate was taking shape through the purchase of several vineyards where he started experimenting to find the best combination of terroir and variety without harbouring preconceived notions of what was expected to grow on this land.



Pablo Ossorio in the winery
Pablo Ossorio, Hispano + Suizas Winemaker

Winemaker Pablo Ossorio, who consults for prestigious wineries such as Martin Codax in Galicia, Marqués del Atrio in Rioja, Bodegas Pascual in Ribera del Duero, among others throughout Spain, befriended Rafael while purchasing grapes from him for his projects. Originally from Bierzo, Pablo came to Requena to study Oenology and found success working with local wineries, winning numerous awards for Best Winemaker in the region.   

 

The two Hispanos met their Swiss counterpart, Marc Grin, who joined forces with them to form Bodegas Hispano+Suizas. Hailing from Vaud, Switzerland he offered his design and promotion expertise to the group creating a modern and slick brand.

 

All Change



They purchased a cellar that was built in 1905, and got to work renovating it from the bottom up. The winery is fitted with new French oak barrels which are used to ferment every wine, even reds with the top off, that is later added back for the maturation stage. They rotate them out every year getting new barrels in for each vintage. Magnificent spherical lightweight concrete vats, called Galileos, line the winery which are used for lees ageing. “We purchased them in France, they are brand new to the market,” says Pablo. “They allow the wine to mature with natural temperature control, minimal surface contact, and continuous lees stirring.”

 

The vineyards also underwent a transformation. “We pulled up what wasn’t performing well: the Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon and tested many different varieties to find the best combination of terroir to the variety,” explains Rafael. Gewurztraminer, Verdejo, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, all auditioned for the part, and surprisingly, Pinot Noir and Albariño adapted well to their vineyards. “I had to work hard to get the grapes approved by the DO Utiel-Requena,” says Rafael, now hailed as a pioneer in the region with their award winning, Bassus Pinot Noir and first (and only) non-Atlantic Albariño in Spain.


bottles of wine in rope
A modern Mediterranean Pinot Noir from Hispano +Suizas

It’s not without challenges though to produce Pinot in the Mediterranean, “we patented a special organic yeast that could producer lower levels of alcohol, to ensure the freshness of the Pinot Noir.” Which currently clocks in at 14%, a reasonable level for Carneros or even the Côte d'Or. In 2020 they certified organic, and took every precaution to ensure the quality of their grapes. The team harvests all of their 110 hectares by hand into small 15kg baskets to minimise crushing and oxidation of the berries. Once in the winery, all grapes are frozen at -10C for three days to further ensure their freshness. Crushing and pressing is gentle, avoiding bitterness from stalks, skins, and pips, with temperature-controlled fermentation. A level detail found in the most elite wineries around the world.

 

Boutique Bobal


Bottle of wine next to barrels
80 year-old-vine Bobal

Getting on for 25 years from the start of the project, they are still considered a very young winery. Being so new has its challenges, but one obvious strength is being able to write your own rules. Hispano + Suizas produces a full range of wine styles from Traditional Method Cava (based exclusively on Champagne varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) aged on lees far longer than the DO's regulated 9 months “we age at least 22 months for the Tantum Ergo range, and 47 months (nearly 4 years!) for the Vintage Cava,” explains Pablo.

They make a pale pink rosé, closer in style to Provence, than to the deeper rosados normally found in Spain. And barrel fermented whites and reds from Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, and other French varietal blends. What’s especially interesting is the old Bobal that they kept after the initial purchase.

“It was 60-year-old vineyard when we purchased, but it was good. Now getting on for 80+ years, it is a real souvenir of the region’s heritage, and a true gem in their portfolio.

A far cry from the old bulk wine Bobal, their version named ‘Bobos’ (referencing its local nickname) is a spectacular expression full of personality, rich fruit concentration but with refined touch of Hispano + Suizas's passion for excellence.


Wine Tasting Notes

Hispano + Suizas Wine Tasting Notes by Victoria Daskal

Tasted 19 December 2023




Tantum Ergo, Brut Nature 2021 Cava

Grapes: 66% Chardonnay, 34% Pinot Noir, 23 months on lees

Origin: Requena, Valencia

 A brilliant pale lemon hue, with fine, persistent bubbles

Pronounced perfume of white peach and ripe apple, and lemon drizzle cake, enveloped in toast, hazelnuts, brioche and vanilla cream.

Sensational flavour intensity. A ying-yang of ripe stone-fruit, baked pastry, and roasted nuts punctuated by lively crisp acidity. Expansive and creamy mouthfeel, with a lingering crisp finish.

Drink now but could age further 5-8 years into tertiary aromas.

Pair with fresh seafood, oysters, langoustines, sole, and sushi. Aperitif alongside croquettes and canapés. Cheeses try Chaource, Brie, Manchego Curado, Gouda.

 

 



Tantum Ergo Rosé, Brut Nature 2021 Cava

Grapes: 100% Pinot Noir, 23 months on lees

Origin: Requena, Valencia

 A glimmering pale rose gold with fine persistant bubbles.

Wild strawberries, hibiscus tea and almond croissant on the nose. Fresh an tantalizing with a mysterious vinous depth.

Brilliant notes of red fruits and spice rolled into a creamy cashmere mouthfeel. A surprising jolt of freshness gives the wine a gastronomic twist. It can go solo, but even more options with food. Long, lingering, sublime.

 Drink now but could age further 5-8 years into tertiary aromas.

Pair with starters of smoked anchovies on toast, caviar, Pata Negra, through dinner with seared tuna steak, dim sum, duck with a berry glaze or cheese course: Comté or Gruyere.

 

 




Tantum Ergo, Brut Nature Vintage 2019 Cava

Grapes: 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, aged 47 months on lees

Origin: Requena, Valencia

 A pale gold with fine persistant bubbles.

A bold, toasty, and warm vanilla brioche nose upfront with whispers of lemon cream and baked apples. Complex and developed.

Rich and savoury style, with layers of oud, vetiver, spice, and dried apples. Elegant and refined mouthfeel, harmonious, with lasting impression of perfume.

Drink now but could age further 3-6 years into tertiary aromas.

Pair with smoked salmon, buttery lobster, roasted chicken with herbs and garlic, truffle and pasta, or cheese course: Scamorza, Montgomery Cheddar.

 



Bottle of Hispano + Suizas Albariño
The first Mediterranean Albariño

Albarino Finca Casa Julia 2022

Grapes: 100% Albarino, hand-harvested over three passings through the vineyard to capture acidity, fresh and ripe fruit aromas. Fermented in new French oak 300L, lees aged in Galileo concrete eggs, and a minimum of 6 months aging in new French oak barrels.

Origin: DO Utiel-Requena, Valencia

Glistening pale gold

Penetrating aromas of cinnamon and apple cider, tarte tatin, wool, lemon rinds, wet stones, and autumn leaves. A beguiling wine reminiscent of maturing Savennières.

Opulent, rounded mouthfeel, with a nearly viscous sensation. Extraordinary flavour concentration with emphasis on ripe apples, peaches, and even tropical flavours of pineapple. Perfectly balanced richness with freshness. Simultaneously strange, and stunning.

Drink now but could age further 5-12 years into tertiary aromas.

Pair with fragrant Thai curry, Ceviche, Mussels, Crab ravioli, creamy pasta.

 

 

 



Bassus Pinot Noir 2021

Grapes: 100% Pinot Noir, 10 months in new French oak

Origin: DO Utiel-Requena, Valencia

Vibrant ruby

Ripe red and black cherries, smoke and charred wood, with an earthy note

Buoyant and juicy expression of ripe raspberries and cherries layered with vanilla, spice, and smoke. A fine pinot-like perception on the palate, fine textured tannins, lively acidity, you’d never guess this is Mediterranean.

Drink now but could age further 3-7 years into tertiary aromas.

Pair with duck confit, roasted wild salmon and sweet potatoes, grilled rack of lamb with herbs and garlic, cottage pie.




Bobos, Finca Casa La Borracha 2021

Grapes: 100% Bobal, 80-year-old vines, minimum aging of 10 months in new 300L French oak

Origin: DO Utiel-Requena, Valencia

Deep ruby

Distinctive nose of sour red cherries and wild, juicy bramble, black plums, licorice, and cedar wood. 

 A joyous wine that takes you on a ride. Profound and complex flavours berries, dried thyme, and wood, with a zippy fresh acidity. Smooth tannins, great balance, loads of character. Fantastic wine.

 Drink now but could age further 5-10 years into tertiary aromas.

 Pair with grilled sausages, paella, beef wellington, pizza, Bolognese pasta, Rogan josh curry, pork belly, stuffed peppers, mature cheddar, Parmigiano

 

 





Bassus, Finca Casilla Herrerra 2020

Grapes: Bobal. Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc.

Origin: DOP Valencia

Deep ruby

Rousing black fruit laced with vanilla and smoke, and complex layers of leather and balsamic notes on the nose. Simultaneously ripe and fresh impression.

A powerful yet sleek red wine boosted by ripe cherries, blackberries, prunes, and meaty intensity. Balanced between structured tannins and bright acidity with an overall refined sensation on the finish.

Drink now but could age further 10-15 years

Pair with big meaty dishes of steak, mixed grills, and stews.








Bottle of Superius Quod
Awarded one of the Best Bobal Wines in Spain

Superius, Quod 2018

Grapes: Merlot 15%, Syrah 35% , Bobal 35%, Cabernet Franc 15%.

A total of 30 months of aging, wines changed twice into new 300L French oak barrels: 20 months individual aging for each of the varieties, followed by 10 months for the blend.


Origin: DO Utiel-Requena, Valencia


Deep garnet

A powerful yet sleek red wine boosted by ripe cherries, blackberries, prunes, and meaty intensity. Balanced between structured tannins and bright acidity with an overall refined sensation on the finish.

Drink now but could age further 10-15 years.

Pair with big meaty dishes of steak, mixed grills, and stews.



 


 

 

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