A DREAM COME TRUE
When Cristína Rodriguez Vicente (www.mdealejandria.com) was a little girl their neighbour in the next finca, Crístina’s father’s best friend, used to bring for Christmas a bottle of the dessert wine that he made at home.
Made from the old Moscatel vines that surrounded his house, Crístina, who was allowed a little sip, thought it sweet nectar from the gods! Consequently, she would pester her Papi asking if he would also make some of said nectar, using the ancient vines that surrounded their finca as well.
“Well, yes, maybe. One day. We’ll see,” was the usual answer placating her – until the next Christmas, when she would make the same plea. For whatever reason the idea never came to fruition – that was until 2014, when, having inherited the land and built her own house next door, Crístina decided to try and make that little girl’s dream come true and in so doing, honour her father with her personal tribute to him.
Ok, nice idea, but it isn’t that easy – so, she set to work learning all she could about wine making. On advice she replanted, making sure that she was using the same Moscatel de Alejandria clone. Rather than the old bush vine cultivation, she decided to use trellising, with wooden posts, thinking of the environment as well, apart from one of the 7 different parcelas (plots) where bush vines were considered to be best, according to soils of the site.
One and a half hectares of new Moscatel vines were planted on the different parcelas, each with its own differing soils – a quite remarkable feature of the land which adds to the singularity of the resulting wine. If it had been pointed out to her when she’d been young, Crístina would perhaps have recognised these slight differences in the flavours coming from the grapes from each different area. She would also have noticed, as did I when I visited, the quite marked difference in the colours of the soils ranging from a deep terracotta to an almost chalky white.
Stored in her memory was that grape taste and part of her quest when making her wine, eventually to be called M de Alejandria, was to try and replicate that same flavour in her wines. Now that’s quite a big ask. Think about how wine writers describe the flavours, and aromas, in the wines they taste. Cabernet Sauvignon has the taste of blackcurrant; Sauvignon Blanc, gooseberry; Monastrell, plums; Bobal, black cherries, and so on – none of us ever writing that they taste of grapes!
Crístina needed the advice of others, one of whom was the legendary Daniel Belda of the eponymous Bodegas Daniel Belda, DO Valencia, a great supporter of indigenous grape varieties and, importantly, a believer in the quality that can come from carefully crafted wines made from Moscatel de Alejandria.
A very unusual, and innovative suggestion was made – why not try to make M de Alejandria in the Ice Wine style? Would this be a means of retaining that wonderful aroma and flavour in the wine, a way of forging a direct link from the vineyard to the glass?
Many readers will know that Ice Wine is championed particularly by producers in Canada and Germany, as well as some other countries where night time temperatures, as autumn starts to change into winter, are such that grapes left on the vine freeze. These frozen grapes are harvested and then pressed, ultimately producing some of the best sweet wines on the planet.
Nice idea – but hey, we are never going to get such temperatures in the Crístina’s L’Alberca vineyards, located as they are, just in the countryside on the outskirts of Teulada, Alicante! No worries – says Daniel, we’ll freeze them ourselves!
Harvesting at L’Alberca occurs, when the grapes are fully ripened, of course, and it occurs on a Thursday! Very early morning when it’s still dark, the pickers arrive and start their craft as soon as dawn sheds its first light on the vineyard. Bunches are placed carefully in small crates which are easily stacked without any grapes being crushed and then taken immediately to a refrigerated truck.
The grapes, already chilled after the night time, start to turn colder still. At the end of the day the now full lorry is driven in the cool of the night to Bodegas Daniel Belda and left to spend the weekend gradually cooling eventually to become frozen on the Monday or Tuesday – when, as you’ve guessed, they are pressed, with the resulting juice fermenting, without the addition of any cultivated yeasts.
Recreating thus, the conditions found in those far colder climes of Canada and Germany.
Well, it all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it – but what’s the wine like? What are those aroma and taste profiles like? Does it work?
Well, my answer is a resounding ‘Yes’! Crístina kindly invited me to her vineyards to see for myself the soils, the different parcelas, the vines fully laden with their wonderful crop of Moscatel de Alejandria grapes almost at full ripeness in early September. I was captivated by the whole project as well as by Crístina herself and her charming story, her passion for the wine they have created and her homage to her father.
As we toured each parcela I was encouraged to taste grapes from each site – there were very slight differences, yet all had a common floral fragrance and grapy taste. Furthermore, I left with a couple of kilos, despite my protestations that I was robbing her, and her clients, of perhaps a bottle of wine’s worth! Crístina suggested that I also freeze some of the grapes to be enjoyed eaten straight from the freezer, which I did, of course.
Plus, well obviously, we tasted her quite stunning M de Alejandria, under the shade of the veranda, specially designed to look exactly like one of the antique Riu Rao, used in the area a century and more ago, for drying Moscatel grapes!
The wine is sheer delight and when I tasted a grape, just harvested from a bunch, and compared it with the wine, it was incredible! Crístina has done exactly what she set out to do. There is a lovely fresh white blossom fragrance to the wine, mingling with raisony grape aromas as well. On the palate it’s sweet with fresh fruit of grapes to the fore, having also that crucial element for a dessert wine – a touch of acidity maintaining the freshness of the wine.
M de Alejandria is available in Michelin starred and other quality restaurants as well as in fine wine shops – and I highly recommend you invest in a bottle or two of this excellent wine, with a story behind it as well!
Twitter @colinonwine; Instagram colinharkness53; Facebook Colin Harkness