Vibrant Valencian Verdil from Oddbins in the UK

I have kept a fond eye on the verdil grape for a few years now. Ages ago, I wrote a short piece for Catavino saying a bit about this obscure grape variety’s journey back from the brink of complete disappearance. There are just 46 hectares of verdil under cultivation, unique to the Vall d’Albaida in the Clariano subzone of the Valencia Denominación de Origen.

There is a bunch of top-notch winemakers in this climatically privileged location around Fontanars dels Alforins, La Font de la Figuera and Moixent, who are keen to experiment with new possibilities alongside their regular monastrells and such. Several wineries have come together to set up “Terres del Alforins” to promote the virtues of this landscape and its wines.

So, we have Los Frailes excited by the possibilites of the marselan grape (a a cross between cabernet sauvignon and grenache, first bred in 1961 near the French town of Marseillan), in their excellent Moma (made with MOnastrell and MArselan). Similarly, Heretat de Taverners does great things with Rioja’s graciano grape, which you would not really expect to find, let alone thrive, in these climes.

It was Daniel Belda whom I first heard talk about rediscovering the virtually forgotten verdil in his vineyard, which had previously just lumped in with the bulk wines the area was known for. His Daniel Belda Verdil was first produced in the early 2000s and showed that in the right hands this grape could produce crisp, refreshing, distinctive white wines. It had the added virtue of being unique to this area, a valuable asset in a wine world that some saw until recentl, with some justice, as increasingly homogenised (it is good to see hitherto obscure grape varieties popping up from places like Greece, Turkey, and beyond, with critics excited by the quality of the wines).

Some other local producers began to join the party. From La Casa de las Vides came Vallblanca , with its distinctive blue bottle, soon appeared, made mainly with verdil alongside macabeo and sauvignon blanc. Recent vintages have gewürztraminer in there, too, I see. Bodegas Torrevellisca were also in early with a verdil, but they now offer Palacio de Torrevellisca joven (verdil, macabeo and verdejo). Another predominantly verdil wine is Bodegas Antonio Arraez‘s a2 (80% verdil plus 20% moscatel and malvasía ).

Perhaps the most persistent and innovative winery to follow Belda’s lead as regards the possibilities of verdil has been Bodegas Enguera. They started off with an interesting straight verdil, but took off for left field by devoting all their verdil to an icewine: Verdil de Gel. Of course, the freezing of the grapes was technological rather than meteorological, but this sweet ice wine was an unexpected development. I remember the winemaker talking about the difficulty that he had with the Valencia Denomiación de Origen in getting them to allow it in the DO. I reckon that they liked the Unique Selling Point possibilities of verdil as a variety unique to the area that could produce interesting wines. Alongside the Verdil de Gel, there is now their crisp yet creamy Blanc d’Enguera (70% verdil, 10% sauvignon blanc, 10% chardonnay,10% viognier).

But over recent weeks my attention has been caught by a verdil wine from Enguera that is not available in Spain, but seems to be catching the eye of critics and consumers in the UK. This is their export-only Casa Lluch Verdil 2010. First it was Jancis Robinson in the Financial Times writing: “Really distinctive white made from rare Verdil grapes grown at high altitude to produce a smoky, tense wine with broad lemon and lime fruit.” She was followed by Fiona Beckett in the Guardian writing about Oddbins “Wine Bloggers’ Case” of wines selected by six wine bloggers: “Highlights are Casa Lluch Verdil 2010 (£8; 13% abv), a lush, organic Spanish white from a grape I hadn’t come across before, the choice of David Lowe of Bigpinots.”

There are online reviews at Window On Wine (“great fresh acidity which is accompanied by lingering lemony length“), SipSwooshSpit (“lightly aromatic fresh apricot and raw almond wine with a creamy roundness and a spicy tingle“), thirstforwine (“surprisingly full-bodied with a complex mix of tropical fruit, flowers and herbs but still a fresh finish“), and no doubt others.

If you’re in the UK, you can find Enguera’s Casa Lluch verdil (there’s also a red Casa Lluch tempranillo) at the renascent Oddbins. Congratulations to them for rising like a phoenix from the flames of administration, and also for finding this little bit of Valencia and bringing it to the attention of the UK’s enviably eclectic wine sector.