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M de ALEJANDRIA!

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.

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

DENOMINACIÓN de ORIGEN ALICANTE

Wine has been part of the DNA of Alicante since the Phoenicians came trading their amphorae as long ago as 1,000 years BC.

DOP ALICANTE

Wine has been part of the DNA of Alicante since the Phoenicians came trading their amphorae as long ago as 1,000 years BC. They were followed by the Romans who set to work planting vineyards. The 16th and 17th Centuries saw a particularly booming trade – there was even a Royal Decree forbidding the import of foreign wines in an effort to promote Alicante wines still further.

Wine has been part of the fabric of everyday life for Alicantinos ever since. So it was no surprise that the wine makers of the time successfully applied for Denmoninación de Origin status in 1932. However, Alicante wines have had to climb something of a mountain in terms of national and international recognition – the fault, I am ashamed to say, of a generation or two of wine writers, before mine, I hasten to add.

Looking usually from afar, perhaps without even deigning to travel to Alicante, wine writers of previous generations would most likely dismiss the wines of this area, refusing to believe that in such a climate anything but sickly sweet whites and high alcohol bulk reds could be made. How wrong they were, and how right was one of the leading producers in DOP Alicante, Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, to convince them of their errors.

Following Mendoza’s pioneering work with green pruning, early harvesting, vineyard selection, et al, other producers followed suit with the result that today, DOP Alicante wines are acclaimed all over the world. And rightly so. There is such a diversity of wine styles, so many different aroma and taste profiles coming from such a variety of indigenous and imported grape varieties, grown in so many multifarious locations and soils! What’s not to like?!

Unfortunately, in common with all other wine making regions of the world DOP Alicante has not escaped the Covid 19 pandemic unscathed. Sales nationally have diminished by a very worrying 60%, with exports also dropping by 40%. Such losses cannot be sustained of course and member bodegas have had to make cuts.

However, with typical resilience and a sense of camaraderie DOP Alicante members and officials of the Consejo Regulador are not taking it lying down. Whilst no events per se can be organised right now (which is a blow, as this DO has always been dynamic in organising promotional events), there are other means by which the DO can promote their members’ wines.

When I visited the Headquarters recently there was also a national TV crew there filming the President of the DO chatting, about this year’s harvest, plans for the future etc – as indeed was I. Also they’ve already started a series of videos shared on social media using very high profile wine celebrities, including my friend and colleague Sarah Jane Evans MW. My contact, Eladio Martín, Gerente, DOP Alicante told me that Social Media was the way forward in doing the best job possible for the member bodegas – and they are certainly active on all the usual platforms.

Look, for example at Terreta del Món Wine Academy on their website (vinosalicantedop.org), where you’ll see their videos helping people new to wine regarding how to taste like the professionals as well as discourses on Alicante wines by the professionals themselves!

So, whilst there are of course difficulties considering the current restrictions and falling sales owing to the pandemic, there is a feeling of positivity and optimism – and, considering the following wines, I know exactly why! DOP Alicante wines rock!

Sein 2018, with the beautiful label, a copy of antique tiles, is made by Vinessens, using Monastrell and Syrah a blend that works so well. Picota cherry in colour with dark fruits on the nose as well as toasty oak notes from the French barrels in which the wine has aged for 12 months. Fresh acidity and active tannin with a good fruit presence mean that this wine can age some more in bottle.

There are liquorice notes on the palate, with mature dark fruit – black cherry and blackberry, as well as a touch of dark chocolate on the palate.

Arbui from Bodegas Alejandro is a monovarietal wine made with indigenous Monastrell grapes. The wine has clearly enjoyed its 15 months in French oak, gaining depth of flavour, longevity and some toasted coconut notes on first opening. It’s a fruit driven, juicy red wine with flavours of dark plum, blackberry fruit and foliage, with some earthy minerality.

There’s also a note of caramel coming from the barrica which adds to the wine’s charm. It’s a meaty and yet elegant wine – we thought it went very well with fajitas and chilli con carne which had just a touch of dark chocolate as an ingredient, allying itself with the dark chocolate finish so often found in Monastrell wines. I’d recommend decanting this 2017 wine so that it gives all that it has to give from the first glass onwards.

Our final wine (for now!) was the oldest – a fine 2013 vintage using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Monastrell. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave this wine 92 points out of 100, describing it as a ‘Mediterranean Bordeaux’, which, I think, is very apt.

There are dark forest notes on the nose with some mountain herbs, a little laurel with thyme and drying, crushed rosemary. Blackcurrant fruit aided by blackberry and damson plum come to the fore with just a touch of mint. On the palate there is a meaty note, onion and mushroom gravy, mingling nicely with the dark fruits. 21 months in oak gives complexity and length, allowing for some further ageing yet. I can imagine that this is going to be wonderful with duck breast, as well as with steak and meat casseroles.

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BODEGAS S’AMFORA

. . . lower their 300 amphorae to a depth of between 10 – 15 metres below the water in the Ebro Delta, where the magnificent River Ebro meets the Mediterranean Sea . . .

GONE FISHING!

Does it still count as plagiarism if it’s your own words you’re pilfering, and from a different medium?

I ask because today’s Cork Talk title was used by myself to introduce a wine I was about to taste on my recent radio show on Valley FM (you can still catch it here – (https://soundcloud.com/user-789233062/valley-vibes-5-sept-the-wine-show/s-Suv4mRL4QGO). I’m doing the same now.

Readers will perhaps recognise that the words were originally Chris Rea’s (or whoever wrote the song). It’s a good song in itself – but it’s also relevant, though you may think it a little peculiar, to a certain wine I’ve recently had the good fortune to taste. I followed the music with an exclamation – ‘and oh boy, what a catch!’

Let me explain. There is a winery, Bodegas S’Amfora (www.samfora.com/en-gb) nestled in the hills, about 400 metres above sea level, roughly in the Tarragona area, which in wine terms is in the DO Terra Alta region. It’s an area which is really making waves (continuing with a similar metaphor!) across the dynamic ocean that is the Spanish Wine scene these days. Putting quality first, winemakers in Terra Alta are upping the ante in this area of production gently nudging it to prominence.

The triumvirate of founders of this modern winery intent on linking the present and future with the past have the benefit of modern technology, the latest winemaking information and of course their shared passion and interest in history in boldly making wine in a very different and yet historically familiar way.

Take, for example their extremely limited production Mudéfer white Garnacha wine that, Jaume, my contact at Bodegas S’amfora sent me. Firstly, as you may have guessed – this wine is not housed in a bottle. Instead it comes in a beautifully charming, custom made 75cl clay amphora. Just as would have happened in Roman and Phoenician times. Fascinating in itself – but there’s more!

White Garnacha grapes harvested 30 years old vines undergo a vineyard selection, then on closer examination back at the winery only the very best, healthiest bunches are chosen for fermentation. Post fermentation the wine is placed in French oak barrels, for a period of 4 – 6 months. Nothing unusual here, so far. However, then the wine which has gained a little golden colour goes into the amphorae for several months.

Here it ages, just as it would have done in those historical epochs, taking on more mature notes as the wine develops, as well as some slight mineral/earthy influence from the terracotta in which it rests. But hey – it’s not finished yet!

You may remember that in 2010 there was a 170 years old shipwreck found off the coast of Finland which still contained some of the goods that were being transported to Russia. You may also know that Russia in those days was one of, if not the largest importer of Champagne. Ocean Archaeologists and wine experts alike were fascinated to hear that there were a good number of Champagne bottles that had withstood the chaos of the wreck and subsequent plummeting to the bottom of the sea remaining intact, their contents, hopefully undamaged.

There was a small but rather grand tasting and indeed it was found that the Champagne remained perfectly drinkable (though, actually made in a wholly different, far sweeter style than is the norm nowadays). The experts started to draw the conclusion that, in some way perversely, aging under the ocean’s waves had benefitted the wine.

In fact it’s not too hard to imagine – it’s is very dark down in the depths, there’s no noise, it’s mostly perfectly still, save for perhaps a very, very gentle rocking, and of course it’s silent. Perfect conditions for ageing wine on dry land. Of course there is the fact that sea water itself is a harsh environment for wine – it would ruin it immediately should it enter the bottle. However, the cork in the bottle, permeable as it is, had been protected by the foil in which it was wrapped, secured by its metal clasp. Not one of the lucky tasters made a reference to any saltiness!

Fast forward to 2018/19 and our intrepid friends make the bold decision to take advantage of such conditions and lower their 300 amphorae to a depth of between 10 – 15 metres below the water in the Ebro Delta, where the magnificent River Ebro meets the Mediterranean Sea! Rather than leaving it there for 170 years, of course, these pristine amphorae are left to the gentle rhythm of the sea for a period of 6 months.

When they are returned to dry land the barnacle-encrusted amphorae have a faint layer of salt water silt on them, looking exactly like they have indeed been left at the bottom of the sea! Fantastic!

And what of the wine? Well, I wondered if the contents could live up to the story – and I was delighted to see that it does! Slightly golden in colour the wine is bright like a precious liquid jewel in the glass. The immediate aroma as the amphora is opened is similar to that of a fino or Manzanilla sherry, soon to be joined by some citrus notes, lemon and to a lesser degree yellow skinned grapefruit.

On the palate the fruit makes way a little for a slightly saline and earthy note along with almendras crudas that have perhaps been dry-fried for short period adding a faint toasty nuance.

It’s a multi-layered, intense and concentrated fine wine, thought provoking for sure and one that will be paired perfectly with oysters (our first thought) as well as seafood in general. We really enjoyed it with calamares pequenos quickly sautéed with garlic, thyme and chilli infused olive oil. What an experience!

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P.S. My next Wine Show on www.valleyfm.es is on Saturday 7th November 12.00 – 13:00 hrs CET – shining the spotlight on wines from DOP Alicante!         

A BEAUTIFULLY BUCOLIC BODEGA

PART TWO – THE WINES

Like a number of wineries in Spain, Bodegas Vera de Estenas makes wine under the auspices of two different domains. A long time member of Denominación de Origen Utiel-Requena, following owner, Felix Martinez’, application this leading winery was also elevated to Vino de Pago status.

Readers who caught last week’s article (Part One, obviously!) will know that wineries are granted Vino de Pago status by being able to prove consistently high quality wines coming from particular vineyards within their land.

When we consider that the first Vera de Estenas vineyards were planted in the second half of the 19th Century we can see that there is plenty of history on the side of the application, Plus, of course, I’m not the only one who has recognised that over the years the wines resulting from these vineyards have always been excellent. Promotion the Vino de Pago status was obvious!

Two weeks ago we stayed overnight at their atmospheric, rustic Casa Rural where we really enjoyed (along with 80+ others) a splendid dinner served with three of their flagship DO Utiel-Requena wines, following a tutored tasting of three of the Vino de Pago stars, by owner/winemaker Felix. It was quite a night!

Lidon Chardonnay Fermentado en Barrica 2019 Vino de Pago DO is as fresh as a Chardonnay can be. It’s the latest vintage, brought out specially for this event. The fact that it is fermented in oak with not so long aging in barrel means that you have a lovely combination of crisp lemon fruit with some vanilla oak overtones, plus, when leaving the wine on the palate to warm slightly the taster is rewarded with some fresh paraguyo fruit too. Spanish FB Chardonnay at just about its best! I will be very interested to se how this wine develops over the next 3 and more years.

Martínez Bermell Merlot Vino de Pago DO, is made with 100% Merlot from the 2017 harvest whose malolactic fermentation was in new French oak barrels. Figs and plums do a gentle jig on the palate as some of the toasty vanilla notes come to join the party. There’s a floral, violas, note on the palate too. It’s a balanced wine with fresh acidity making the fruit stand out nicely. On the finish there’s a pleasing note of dried dates to mix with the plum and fig blend. Lovely wine!

The final Vino de Pago DO wine, Vera de Estenas Reserva Bobal 2016 is a limited production wine with a deserved price tag of 40€. The grapes come from the Bobal vineyard first planted in 1882, with these vines being 100 years old – and the wine’s pedigree comes through on the nose and palate. It’s an elegant wine with some power and no doubt longevity too.

On the nose there are black cherries and dark forest fruits, with a little dark chocolate, as if the wrapper has just been taken off the chocolate and the first whiff floats upwards. This dark chocolate develops on the palate into a sensuous, long dark chocolate cherry liqueur note on the finish, to follow a mid palate of dark and lighter cherries. There’s a little earthiness in there too, making this wine a classic, a perfect expression of Bobal!

With dinner we moved onto the DO Utiel Wines, the fist being a little known white variety named Tardana, indigenous to Utiel-Requena. There are a few bodegas in the area giving this variety some support and this is a very good, inexpensive example. It’s been fermented in tinajas, clay amfora, and the resulting wine carries a little of this minerality, in common with all other tinaja wines I’ve tasted. Again it is properly balanced with fresh lemony, green apple acidity, a little blanched almond nuttiness and a mid length finish. Just 7€ btw!

The Casa Don Ángel Bobal DO Utiel-Requena 2016 is drinking perfectly now. The Bobal fruit, picota cherries and bright red cherries too, are really upfront, the aroma hits the nose as you bend towards the glass. As with all the wines we tasted there is always a balanced fresh acidity working perfectly with the intensity of the fruit, with elegance too. Again this wine displays some black chocolate notes to mix with the fruit and there is also a lengthy finish. Well worth its 18€ price tag!

The Estenas Crianza DO Utiel Requena wine is made with Bobal (of course!) and Cabernet Sauvignon – consequently it’s a very dark colour. On the nose there are the oak notes of toast and vanilla with a little cigar box in there too. On the palate the blackberry fruit comes through first with dark cherries following. Acidity and mature tannin give structural support and complexity and there is a good fruity medium-to-long length.

Our dinner wasn’t over yet though. Regular Cork Talk readers will know that Utiel-Requena is also one of the areas outside Cataluña where it is permitted to make cava. Yes – our final wine of the night was a super fresh, palate cleansing and refreshing young Brut Nature cava, with a slight spin! Made with the fresh apple flavoured Macabeo as well as a little slightly oak aged Chardonnay – this wine has a lot more to it than normal young cavas.  (https://veradeestenas.es/)

NB Don’t miss my next Wine Show on Valley FM www.valleyfm.es 12 – 13:00 hrs (CET), Saturday 3rd October – I’ll be tasting and chatting about great wines and playing brilliant music, as always!

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