OK – let’s get one thing straight before we proceed, the name of the family and estate is Ponce, pronounced ‘pon-thay’. Repeat after me.
We offered a superb Bobal from Spain last year from Las Mercedes. Tasting that wine sparked my interest in an otherwise overlooked grape variety and I have since tasted a number of other examples. This led me to taste the wines of Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce, an estate that came up in discussion with a client of mine who splits his time between the UK and Spain and was tipped as being one of the very best producers.
This small estate was founded by Juan Antonio Ponce in 2005 at the age of 23. His family had been growing grapes in the region for generations but had not previously bottled their own wines. Their estate is situated in Manchuela, due west of Valencia, maybe 30 kilometres further in land from Utiel-Requiena, home to Las Mercedes. Bobal is the dominant grape variety in this territory and, together with Ribera del Júcar and Utiel-Requena, Manchuela completes the trio of Denominación de Origen. The Ponce family owns over 50 hectares of vineyard today in the villages of Iniesta, Villanueva de la Jara, Villamalea and Mahora, yet tends to produce small volumes of multiple wines from different parcels. Juan Antonio’s approach is to express the differences between the vineyards and today his estate is farmed according to biodynamic principles.
Bobal has been cultivated here for hundreds of years and is well-suited to the conditions; it possesses a thick skin, delivers a ripe fruit and crucially retains its acidity well even in this dry climate, producing age-worthy wines. The hillside vineyards here permit some spectacular sloping vineyards at lofty altitudes. Ponce’s vineyards are planted at an altitude of 700 metres or more and consist of vines averaging 50 years of age, with the oldest in excess of 80 years. Yield is an important consideration with Bobal and old vines with their naturally lower yield allow for a limited, yet intense crop. As I commented before, the name ‘Bobal’ is said to have come from the latin ‘bovale’ meaning shaped like the head of bull and is said to relate to the appearance of the clusters of tightly packed grapes on the vine.
The winemaking approach at Ponce is remarkably traditional, though very little sulphur dioxide is used to preserve the wines. The aim is to produce wine as naturally as makes sense. The grapes are fermented with their stems, as is an increasing trend in modern-day Burgundy. The stems, when ripe, are a valuable source of tannins and add a spicy complexity to the resultant wines. Considerable care is taken to avoid extracting harsh tannins from the skins of the fruit; after all, Bobal is rich in colouring material and tannin anyway. They are usually aged in large barrels of 600 litres for 10-12 months before being bottled. As you might expect from their approach, no fining or filtration is employed.
I was struck by the complexity of the 2018 Pino from Ponce, this is a remarkably refined wine from what is regarded as a great vintage in the region. I found the Pino to be impeccably made and very individual. These high-altitude wines from Spain can really shake your preconceptions as the range from Ponce that I tasted all had some kind of Burgundian/Pinot Noir type of elegance and refinement. Not at all what I was expecting…they drink well early, though I would be interested to see how they age over 5-10 years. I would advise decanting an hour in advance of serving, but taking care not to serve too warm.
Please note that to encourage clients to explore these new discoveries, we have taken the step of repacking the 2018 Pino in six bottle cases so that we could sell in smaller units than cases of 12, though of course you can still take 12 bottles and keep 6 in storage to see how it develops with bottle age. Equally, production only extends to 2000 bottles!
I have included my note below alongside Luis Gutiérrez’s endorsement.
Please let us know of your interest.
All the best,