Editor’s Note: This is the 2nd chapter we are publishing ofÂ Valencia Land of Wine (see 1st chapter). Articles are written by Joan C. Martin, and translated by John Maher. Each story is straight from the pages of El Pais’s Valencian edition that highlights an aspect of Valencian wine history through the story of one wine. If you are enjoying the stories, you might consider buying a copy with this link:Valencia Land of Wine.
Casta Diva: Wine of the Sea
Gutiérrez de la Vega, Parcent (DO Alicante)
When Felipe Gutiérrez de la Vega started out in 1980, the wine situation in the Comunidad Valenciana was difficult. The idea of making excellent and distinctive wines was for visionaries. Felipe, however, had a great love of wine culture and a cosmopolitan palate. He left the Spanish navy (with the rank of commander) in order to make wine from the vineyards owned by Pilar, his wife, armed with a couple of barriques in a “riu-rauâ€ (a typical old farmhouse with columned porticos for grapes to dry in) in XÃ bia.
The area of La Marina had lost its wine reputation but the Moscatel of Alexandria and the “Giróâ€ (the local name for Garnacha) grapes make excellent wines in France (Beaumes-de-Venise, St-Jean-de-Minervois), Catalonia (Priorat) and California (Napa and San Joaquin valleys). Felipe began by making “alta expresiónâ€ reds (using the best hand-picked grapes from old vines) with Garnacha, blazing a trail and creating a new range: Casta Diva (not that chaste goddesses are such a common phenomenon). Winemaking had moved on from being a craft in the nineteenth century to industrial chemistry and subsequently high technology in the 1970s. The 1990s saw a clinical winemaking replace traditional bodegas with antiseptic installations, and Felipe humanized this, so that technology is used to extract not only the highest quality of fruit, but also the identity of the wine. He has shown this with his red wines, Viña Ulises (see page 124) dedicated to Homer and James Joyce, the Rojo y Negro dedicated to Stendhal and Dashiell Hammett, and the Casta Diva Blanco Cosecha Miel (dedicated to Spain’s Nobel prize-winning writer Camilo José Cela and the soprano Montserrat Caballé), a “vin doux naturelâ€ Moscatel.
The wine was a surprise in the 1980s. The predominant white wine style at the time was light, dry, sharp and cold. Casta Diva is the polar opposite: dense, intensely aromatic and sweet. Gastronomes identified its ideal accompaniment: foie gras, as with the great sweet Bordeaux wines from the left bank of the Garonne (Sauternes, Barsac, Cadillac).
These are not artificially sweetened wines. Casta Diva is made from mature grapes, in contact with a proportion of the skin of the grapes, then matured in oak – 6 months in French oak barrels – where it acquires its exquisite, silky, almond bouquet. Casta Diva is the civilized and cosmopolitan creation of a man of the sea who fell in love with wine and a magical wine area. Felipe is master and commander of a movement which has led to the renovation of the region of La Marina and its wines. Enjoy Casta Diva with some foie gras from Périgord, a quiche or a lobster bisque. No wonder Camilo José Cela wrote to the winemaker:
They’re splendid, delicious and first-rate – your wines, Felipe, are my wines.
Joan C. Martin
Label: Casta Diva Cosecha Miel 2002
Type: Barrel-aged vin doux naturel
Grape: Moscatel de Alejandría (Muscat of Alexandria)
Approx. price: €15–16 (50 cl)
Bodega: Gutiérrez de la Vega
Address: Canalejas 4, 03792 Parcent, Alicante