Savoring monastrell: wines from Alicante and Murcia

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Monastrell feels at ease in the triangle formed by southwest Albacete, Murcia and Alicante. Even though the wine industry tends to favour political division over geography (which would unify Alicante, Jumilla, Yecla and Bullas), all these regions share the same type of terroir, except Bullas given its altitude. Consequently, these absurd human impositions, that rule over the plot’s reality, are the origin of many problems during wine production.   

However, monastrell, mourvedrè in the Provence or mataró in the Roussillon, requires high temperatures at the final stage of ageing and the mentioned geographic triangle is perfect for that purpose. Guía Peñín tasting team went to Alicante and Murcia to taste wines from the denominaciones de origen Alicante (173), Jumilla (213), Yecla (54) and Bullas (48) and as a result, 488 new scores are already available online in our guide 2019.

First stop, Alicante. At the Consejo Regulador of the Denominación de Origen awaited, perfectly ranged, all wines in order of vintages and typology. We started with red wines, as usual, from the youngest to the older ones. Since the beginning of our tasting tour, in January, we have observed 2017 harvest has benn hard on wines, especially due to drought. Vineyards in Alicante have, similarly, suffered dryness although to a lower extent. Young wines showed adequate as regards to their fruit composition and their structrure and maturity. And even if we observed previous harvest had a deeper structure than the 2017 harvest, there has not shown a negative impact on scores. On the other hand, white and rosé wines were a tragic disappointment, given their lack of expression (whites) and lack of balance (rosé). Maybe the reason is to be found on the pre-selection of the best grapes for producing vintage red wines instead of rosé wines.

This year’s wine scene in Alicante is completely different to last year’s. Firstly, due to the exit from the D.O. of Rafael Bernabé, founder of two of the best wineries in the denominación de origen: Viñedos Culturales and Bodegas Bernabé Navarro. We hope this will only be temporary.  The winery and all its brands were bought by Vinessens, where Rafael continues to provide advise though Andrés Carull will be leading next vintages. He is the technical manager at Vinessens, a very successful winery, creating great wines in Villena (700 meters in altitude), historical production area in this region. Wines such as El Telar 2014 (92 points), Beryna 2016 (90 points), Sein 2016 (90 points), Tintorera 2016 (90 points) or Tragolargo 2017 (90 points) offer wine-seekers a nice range of affordable options. We recommend readers to follow this winery next year’s steps.

Enrique Mendoza to Pepe Mendoza

Bodegas Enrique Mendoza was founded in the late 70’s, when Enrique Mendoza thought to perpetuate the tradition, born in the Marina Baixa, of producing wine for family consumption. Over the years, this label became an indisputable reference among Alicante’s wines until the arrival of the second generation. Pepe Mendoza, Enrique’s son, is responsible of the area’s turnover. To classic varietals with which they traditionally worked: syrah, merlots, petit verdot, cabernets and monastrell, other grapes are being added.

Las Quebradas or Estrecho are well known by the quality of their wines. Their search for freshness and their work with the monastrell’s varietal richness, have resulted in iconic wines. Yet the energy of this winegrower and producer goes further and, preserving the family’s style, he has created a new proyect Pepe Mendoza Casa Agrícola, where to develop his most creative side, producing less traditional works in smaller numbers. Wines that will move away from the parent company. In particular, he presented us two references: Pepe Mendoza Casa Agrícola tinto del 2016 (92 points), a fresh and floral blend of monastrell, syrah and Alicante’s bouchet and Pepe Mendoza Casa Agrícola blanco 2017 that blends roman muscatel with macabeo and airén, oak aged and developing a strong, structured and final touch of nice oil (92 points).

Besides, Vins del Comtat surprised us with a very special production. It is a 100% monastrell named El Salze from 2015 vintage (92 points). This small winery works in Concentaina, at the foot of the natural park of Sierra de Mariola where they create mountain wines. The vineyard of El Salze (willow tree), is found in the municipality of Beneixama (Montaña Alicantina), at 630 m.s.n.m. at the west foothills of Sierra Mariola. It is a fresh area, Mediterranean mountainous climate and generous rainfall. Its altitude, their 40 years old vines, the sandy ground free of philoxera and a minimum intervention policy do the rest. A smart wine, with mineral notes and very fresh, an amazing finding for Guía Peñín in their first year’s tasting.

Similarly, bodegas Sierra Salinas, owned by MGWines Group since 2013, showed us one of their best vintages, that of 2013, with Salinas 1237 and one of the best rated wines in our tasting. It is a wine containing monastrell, alicante bouchet (garnacha tintorera) and cabernet sauvignon (94 points).

From Vinos Sierra Norte comes Pasión de Monastrell 2015 (92 points), an easy, high quality wine that combines the monastrell identity with a ridiculous price of 8,5 euros.

Special wines from Alicante

Fondillón is a type of wine consumers fear. They are sober wines, sublime in certain circumstances, that test consumers. It is one of the oldest Spanish wines and the most representative of Alicante, a genuine treasure of Spanish wine. The precious product comes from sun-dried monastrell grapes ripped on their vines and aged following the criaderas and soleras system for a minimum of 10 years (formerly 20 years). According to the D.O regulations, since 2014, fondillon wines can be produced out of a vintage blending or from a unique vintage. 

There is an old debate whether its sweet or dry origin but, besides its residual sugar they remind the Sherry olorosos due to their intense oxidative ageing. Fondillón tastings in Alicante are always an exciting experience, however, when we tasted Gran Fondillon 1964 of Brotons V & A (96 points) we could only bow. 

We are yet to sample Fondillón de Monovar which was nominee last year as discovery wine given its great complexity and style, an impressive nature and human creation.

Murcia, beautiful yet forgotten!

A few kilometers away, heading south, we continue our tasting route. In Murcia we concentrate wines from denominaciones de origen Jumilla, Yecla and Bullas. Although Alicante and Murcia offer little differences between them, we found in Murcia a harder working path. Broadly speaking and excluding the renowned good producers such as El Nido, Casa Castillo, Juan Gil, Castaño and certain others we will later discuse, wines from Jumilla and Yecla are generally exposed to invasive ageing.

Here wineries do not usually adjust vintages and it is rather common to find wines with good amount of wood. In many cases, they even cover the true varietal character. There is monastrell but scarcely sensed. There are hundreds of wood tanins which difficults the rating of these wines.

On the other hand, there are wineries that excel for their quality, as José María Vicente, winegrower and technical manager of Bodegas Casa Castillo. He brings us the Jumilla universo of finesse, balance and expresiveness with wines such as Casa Castillo Monastrell 2017 (91 points) or garnacha wines El Molar 2017 (94 points) and his syrah Valtosca 2017 (92 points). All these wines share a common link: search for freshness and mediterranean character above all.

Winery Juan Gil (Grupo bodeguero Gil Family Estates), who despise media exposure, are producing great wines over the last years. Nobody should Juan Gil Etiqueta Azul 2015 (94 points) or 100% monastrell Juan Gil Etiqueta Plata 2015 (92 points) at only 10,5 euros or the bestseller Honoro Vera Orgánico cosecha 2016 (91 points) at 5,8  euros.

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It is complusory to name bodegas El Nido, also owned by Gil Family Estates, whose wines are year after year among the top scored. Out of the three references, two are positioned, according to the new rates, as Excellent Wines (90-94 points): Corteo 2015 (93 points) and Clío 2015 (94 points) and the third as a Podium Wine (95-100): El Nido 2015 (96 points). Oddly, the house’s third wine, obtained in  this new edition of Guía Peñín, a higher scored than their second wine, Corteo, even though their 50 euros difference in price.

In Yecla, the true representative of the región is Bodegas Castaño. The best scored D.O. wines being Casa Cisca 2015 (95 points) and Casa de la Cera 2014 (94 points), two unconditional and representative labels from this part of Spain. We would like to underline the work produced by bodega cooperativa La Purísima with five brands over 90 points.

From our point of view, Bullas is the region’s most promising denominación de origen as altitude benefits wine production. Altitude ranges from 400 to 1000 meters and owns dark Brown limestone grounds, with limestone crust and alluvials capable of producing amazing wines. The singularity of its small valleys with different orientations and grounds should serve to offer wines that might compete with the greatest wines of Spain, but this is sadly not the case. The winemaker that is currently getting the most out of their wines is Lavia also owned by MGWines Group. And even though, Lavia Paso Malo 2014 (93 points) and Lavia + Crianza 2015 (92 points) are the highest scored wines within the D.O, there is a lack of freshness in their work, such as what Pepe Mendoza is producing in Alicante o José María Vicente in Jumilla.

We will continue to review new vintages from these four denominaciones de origen representative of Mediterranean Spanish wine. All tastings and ratings from the región, nearly 500 brands, are already available under subscription to the online Guía Peñín 2019.

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