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Valentin's Voluptuous Vermouth

By Toby, also posted in News on

Valentin PascualAt the start of October, Alastair (Adnams Senior Wine Buyer) and I braved the perils of Easyjet to visit the ruggedly beautiful region of Rioja in Spain. We were there to visit Bodegas Riojanas situated in the picturesque town of Cenicero. Adnams has stocked the Bodega's wines for some time so I was looking forward getting an understanding of the region and the winery. In addition to visiting Riojanas, Alastair had requested that we visit Valentin Pascual, maker of one of our favourite drinks from the past year, Pascali Vermouth. He intended to ask if it would be possible to make a white Vermouth to accompany the very popular bittersweet red Vermouth currently for sale in our stores. Toby, Dave and Marc outside Bodegas Valentin PascualWe had spent the morning tasting the Bodegas Riojanas range and one of our hosts Marc Gibert, Riojanas International Sales Director and a man whose English absolutely put my Spanish to shame, asked if we were ready to stroll over the bridge and meet Valentin: “We have to go now, Valentin needs to go at 1:30pm, for a family event". This was our first clue that we were about to experience, for the second time in as many days, a level of hospitality which could almost be described as competitive. Ancient stone fermenting vats still in useStrolling across the town and through a sleepy market place we arrived at the inconspicuously-located Bodegas Valentin Pascual. Making our way into the Bodegas was like a step back in time. Here, the vinification is carried out in stone troughs, around twelve feet in depth, which originate from the 1600’s. The grapes undergo carbonic maceration, a traditionally method to ferment grapes and is still used today in other wine regions and most notably in Beaujolais. We made our way down the treacherous staircase into the cellar, which had been hewn out of the rock in centuries past. The barrels within were 120-years-old and were situated in three distinct rooms, all of which had arched stone work to support the ceilings. Valentin, bread and chorizoMaking our way back to the surface we were treated to a tasting of the fruits of Valentin’s labour, his Rioja Joven. To accompany his purple-hued red wine, Valentin produced a chilli-spiced chorizo sausage and a large loaf of locally baked bread. Casually remarking to Marc, who was luckily on hand to translate for us, that “these gentlemen don’t look like vegetarians, which is good”, seemed to set the tone for the rest of our visit. With the practiced performance of a raconteur, through Marc, Valentin answered our questions and told anecdotes, all whilst pouring more wine and cutting more chorizo. As we began to discuss his Vermouth, Alastair ventured a question about producing a white Vermouth, to which the reply came, “I’ve tried, but I don’t like the result, I don’t want to make something I don’t enjoy”, a thoroughly satisfactory reply from a man who clearly relishes what he produces. The Vermouth itself is made from a Viura-based white wine, which then has the blend of 22 herbs added to produce the bittersweet result. Interestingly, Valentin himself doesn’t know the precise blend or herbs used, this secret is held by the family's herb supplier in Valencia. The original recipe was given to the current herbalist's grandfather and Valentin’s family have continued to used the same supplier for three generations. After tasting the current release of the Vermouth, in its distinctive bottle, we were lucky enough to be offered a taste of a library version. Aged for around 30-years, this Vermouth had lost its sweetness and taken on a savoury herbal taste offering hope to all who may have left a bottle under the stairs. Vermouth is delicious served over ice or, if you must, with some tonic. It forms the basis of a sensational Negroni cocktail, using Adnams Gin, of course! You can view Alastair's photos on Flickr.