WINES WITHOUT MAKE-UP!
When Pepe Mendoza was handed the mantle by his father, Enrique, founder of Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, he certainly didn’t sit on his laurels! Named Valencian Young Wine-maker of the year in 2004, he went on to better that, and some, by being crowned Wine-maker of the year for Spain, the following year!
His remit, set by himself, was to take the bodega from its already exalted position in Valencia, and in Spain generally, to the next level. Those of us who have tasted his triumvirate of flagship wines: Santa Rosa, Estrecho and Quebradas, will be able to testify that Pepe has certainly achieved this particular goal.
However, this tireless, talented, deeply passionate, and fun guy, is not simply satisfied with the fact that his wines sell out every year and that he has brought extra fame (and some fortune as well), not only to the bodega, but also to DO Alicante and indeed to the whole of the Spanish Wine Fraternity. He has just launched his new, small, portfolio of wines that go under the title of: Pepe Mendoza Casa Agrícola. (https://www.facebook.com/pepemendozacasaagricola/)
At the time of writing, there are just two of these wines available, a third is about to be launched soon. Luckily I’ve tasted the three – and in situ as well!
There’s a small corner of Bodegas Enrique Mendoza (located just in the countryside outside Alfaz del Pí) which is set aside for Pepe’s new wines. You’ll see small, stainless steel, temperature controlled fermentation tanks, a selection of barrels, and, as if stepping back a few thousand years, earthenware amphorae, the type that are occasionally rescued from ancient Phoenician galleons, resting at the bottom of the Med!
It’s truly fascinating – and so are the wines produced there.
It was quite an honour to be taken up some steps to Pepe’s inner sanctum! Whilst Pepe prepared the three wines for us to taste we could look down upon a group of Spaniards being taken around the bodega (the second group of the morning!), all marveling at the fact that yes, top class wine can be made in Alicante!
First up was the Pepe Mendoza Casa Agrícola white – a blend of Moscatel, Macabeo and Airén. I didn’t have any doubts that Maestro Pepe would be able to extract from Airén, a ‘regular’, also-ran variety, rarely known for its quality, something really special. The other two grapes are hardly world leaders when it comes to aromatic, deeply flavoured varieties either – so I was curious as to how this wine would fair.
On the nose there was a distinct apricot fragrance, reminding me of some of the great French Viognier based white wines – this guy’s a magician! It’s the wild, indigenous yeast that is found on the grape skins when harvested that provokes fermentation for this wine. Following fermentation the wine is left on its less for a period of time with occasional stirring, to bring forth a little creaminess in the finished product.
Joining the apricot are jasmine flower aromas and once on the palate the wine is fresh and elegant, but with some power too. You’ll note ‘umami’, savoury notes, in this dry white wine, making it a perfect partner for ‘meaty’ and sauced fish and shellfish, and, though I’ve yet to try the combo, it should go well with cooked tomatoes and mushroom dishes!
I like Pepe’s description, ‘Wine without make-up’, wine redolent of its landscape, with as little human intervention as possible. And the second wine we tasted (as yet not on the market, as it hasn’t quite finished its development) was a real eye-opener! A natural wine, made in the amphorae, or tinajas, above and, after a twelve day maceration with its skins, this 100% Moscatel based dry wine comes out as an ‘Orange Wine’!
Compared with other Orange Wines, Pureza is more of a light amber in colour – this is deliberate, I’m sure. The Spanish wine consumer perhaps isn’t quite ready for the look of ‘Orange Wines’ – though there is growing interest in the concept.
I’ve written before about ‘Orange Wines’ (please scroll a little down the Articles Page on www.colinharknessonwine.com), so I won’t go into chapter and verse, here. Essentially ‘Orange’, sometimes termed ‘Amber’ wines, are made with white wine varieties, but treated similarly to red wines in that they spend time with their skins, in this case, 12 days (though it can be months), when normally the grape juice for a white wine spends virtually no time with it’s skins.
There’s a nutty aroma and flavour to Pureza, perhaps hazelnuts, with a little tangerine skin, or perhaps bitter orange marmalade in the fragrant mix. On the palate there is presence, a freshness, as well as being full and weighty. I loved it! I’d like to pair it with seafood paella, as well as with lighter meat dishes as it has the body to blend perfectly with such flavours.
Casa Agrícola’s red wine is made, again with wild yeasts , using Monastrell and Syrah (a very effective blend in my experience) as well as Alicante Bouchét (aka Garnacha Tintorera, that almost unique variety whose flesh is also coloured). It’s a limited production wine – so I’d get hold of some of it now! Like all of the small range, the wine has power, but this is perfectly allied with elegance. This is a graceful red that will give you primary fruit aromas and flavours of dark and light cherries some plum notes and a certain Autumn earthiness, with mountain herbs of rosemary, thyme and bay leaves.