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Explore: Ancient wine reborn

Celler del Roure Safrà, Valencia 2015

'Let's aim high and see how far we can reach.'

That was the bold ambition of Pablo Calatayud when he first established Celler del Roure in the hills of Moixent, south-west of Valencia, in 1995.

Such heady ambitions were not shared by many of the other winemakers in the area when Pablo first arrived, but he was determined to make a special wine that would truly define the region and its history.

The result of his efforts – Safrà, a wine made using the rare and ancient mandó grape – is the product of extensive research, hard work and experimentation, and combines contemporary techniques with a respect for the area's 2000-year-old winemaking traditions.

Pablo Calatayud - owner and inspiration behind Safra Pablo Calatayud - owner and inspiration behind Safra

Saving grapes

One of Pablo's biggest passions is reviving old and forgotten grape varieties. He collaborated with local universities to try and recover native Valencia varieties from the nineteenth century and even earlier, and his success stories include the rare white grape verdil, of which just 50 hectares of vines now remain.

The mandó grape (also known as Valenciana Tinta, suggesting origins in Valencia) is described in Jancis Robinson MW's Wine Grapes as 'nearly extinct', but Pablo saw potential in its rarity and distinctive character. It has a knack for expressing the pure character of the region, with some Mediterranean rusticity, but still retains good freshness. In his words: 'Mandó is alive, with more electrifying sensations, with more of a white wine soul.'

His mandó vines are now 20 years old and are grown at 600 metres above sea level. This altitude off-sets the fierce summer heat, and – combined with the area's cold, often snowy winters – helps to intensify the grapes’ flavours, as does a slightly earlier harvest.

Javier Revert - winemaker at Safra Javier Revert - winemaker at Safra

Ancient amphorae

As a champion of indigenous grape varieties, how could Pablo not also explore older, more traditional winemaking practices?

While he still creates 'modern' wines using stainless steel and oak, he discovered after years of experimentation that mandó is best when vinified in ancient underground clay tinajas, Spain's take on Roman amphorae jugs. While to many these would be well-preserved artefacts best kept in a museum, Pablo has restored them and put them back to use.

Owner Pablo Calatayud and winemaker Javier Revert Owner Pablo Calatayud and winemaker Javier Revert

Running beneath the Celler del Roure estate, dug carefully out of the bedrock, are winding halls of underground cellars, which house around 87 amphorae, complete with stone lids. Stone channels connect some of the chambers acting as a rudimentary form of gravity flow. Archaeologists presume the cellar dates back to the Roman times, (the Via Augusta, a Roman road, crosses the nearby town after all).

In the past, the cellarmaster had none of the modern resources winemakers now have access to and instead relied upon intelligence and intuition. The amphorae and the cellars that house them seem to have been carefully created to provide the right temperature, light and ventilation needed for winemaking, so it seemed natural not to disrupt this ancient wisdom, and Pablo set about trying to explore how wines were made centuries ago and discover how these wines would have tasted.

He also ferments part of the wine in stone lagares, giving the grapes prolonged, slow, soft maceration at low temperatures. Only wild yeast is used for fermentation, then the wine is placed in the underground clay amphorae for around 14 months where malolactic conversion takes place.

Part of the appeal of the tinajas is their neutrality; unlike oak, they don't add tannin or woody character, but equally unlike stainless steel they allow for some micro-oxygenation, maturing the wine slowly but retaining what Pablo describes as a 'raw, fresh and persistent expression'.

A taste of history with a bright future

The results have been so good that Pablo is investing even further, although production is limited as the mandó grape remains a rarity. He hopes the grape will continue to grow in popularity.

His quest to aim high and only make 'special' wine continues, as does his focus on creating authentic, original wines that are true to the territory, climate and history of Moixent.

May 2017

Celler del Roure Safrà, Valencia 2015

Celler del Roure, Safrà, Valencia 2015

Safrà is named after the Valencian word for saffron, and the wine's yellow-orange label (which depicts a dragonfly as a nod to the estate's environmental credentials) reflects the colour of some of the great regional dishes made with saffron. The mandó grape is blended with around 15% monastrell (mourvèdre) and garnacha tintorera, creating a delicious wine with ripe fruit and fresh, vibrant flavour and only 12.5% alcohol.

How to enjoy the wine? Pablo says 'This fresh Mediterranean red requires little thought or challenge to enjoy. A traditional rabbit paella (another great thing to have come out of Valencia!) is a perfect match.'

Try a bottle of Celler del Roure, Safrà, Valencia 2015 (12.5%) at the special explore bottle price of £10.50 instead of £12.50 until Sunday, 28th May, 2017. One bottle only per member at this price. Ref N-SP12571.

Celler del Roure, Safrà, Valencia 2015

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