BODEGAS Y VIÑEDOS CASA DE LA ERMITA
Now, be fair – I did warn you!
This is the third article I’ve written over the last couple of months that features a bodega which comes under the auspices of Denominación de Origen Jumilla! I’m not apologising because I know that readers won’t be complaining, after they’ve tasted the wines featured in this week’s column! Once again, Jumilla proves itself to be a supreme source of southern Spanish wines – an alliterative, as well as a vinous, mouthful!
To say that in the growing season, Jumilla is hot, could well qualify me for the understatement of the year award! It’s more like a furnace than an oven! However, where the vineyards are planted at 600 – 800 metres above sea level, there is some respite from this heat at night when temperatures do cool down considerably.
Along with earlier picking than in past, bulk-wine-only days, and a greater emphasis on canopy management, allowing more leaf growth to provide shade, this ensures sufficient acidity to be present in Jumilla wines. There is still a richness, opulence even, in Jumilla reds, but there is freshness and an increased aromatic profile too, making wines from this region all the more desirable.
The traditional permitted white wine grapes Airén and Macabeo have been supplemented in recent years by more international varieties, making Jumilla white wines, refreshing and clean with lovely flavours and fragrances. Those bodegas lucky enough to have north facing, high altitude white wine variety vineyards are finding that their whites are becoming almost as highly prized as their red wines.
And it’s with a white Casa de la Ermita wine that I’d like to start my notes this week, the more so when, at the time of writing it’s 33ºC at 5pm in the afternoon! Fresh, clean, tasty and aromatic wine is just what I need!
For some reason (I’m not sure I approve actually!) it seems to be a mystery as to which varieties are used for this wine. One of my favourite white wine grapes is Viognier, whose home is in the Rhône Valley, France. However, according to the website (www.casadelaermita.com) it is adapting very well at Casa de la Ermita and this, along with a slightly subdues apricot nose makes me think that there must be some Viognier at least in the blend of the simply named Casa de la Ermita Blanco.
It’s a refreshing and cooling aromatic white wine that will be perfect with salads, fish and shellfish and there’s enough acidity to cut through any accompanying sauces too.
There’s also a slight mystery about the idiosyncratically named and labelled Lunático Monastrell red wine, that for me has to be a flagship wine, which speaks of the quality of Monastrell, its history as the variety of choice for the area for hundreds of years, but designed also to enfranchise younger wine drinkers.
I think that sometimes bodegas over-simplify their wines in a, probably unconsciously patronising, effort to sell to the younger generation. I agree that aromatic (red, rosado and white) fruit driven wines will be attractive to younger consumers, but this doesn’t mean that appreciating depth of flavour, complexity and length are concepts beyond them!
Youngsters may not want to talk in such terms. Wine-speak may not be in their vocabulary yet, or indeed it might be, but they may well eschew the ramblings of the older wine cognoscenti, preferring to simply enjoy the wines. They can still tell a quality wine from an entry level, fruit cocktail!
I wonder if Lunático, which actually means ‘lunatic’, was hit upon as the name for this wine in criticism of the above ‘crazy’ approach, adopted by some bodegas which fail to recognise that ‘jovenes’ can have sophisticated palate too? No matter, because the wine will speak for itself. Indeed it has to! There is no description, no tasting notes on the label, in an effort to avoid leading the drinker (whether young or older), preferring that he/she make their own discoveries using their own language.
Lunático has a great label and it’s a super wine. Made from 100% low yielding old vine Monastrell it also enjoys 12 months in French oak, which adds depth plus a little extra flavour and fragrance (some spice, mountain herb and the faintest stony, dry soil aroma). And, yes the wine is fruity (dark plum, black cherry) but that’s not all! Hightl recommended!
The multi award/plaudit winning Casa de la Ermita Crianza 2011 is proud to be a traditional and indeed exemplary Jumilla wine. There’s Monastrell, of course, but joined by Tempranillo and a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, which gives greater colour, dark fruit flavours and some extra longevity. It’s typical of the region in that it’s so rich in flavour and whilst it has presence and weight in the mouth, there’s an understated elegance too.
A wine to enjoy with meats of course, game too and cheeses, but also one to relish on its own. You’ll find blackcurrant wrestling (in the nicest possible way!) with blackberry fruit and damsons. On the nose there’s rosemary as well as some stony minerality all complemented by some spice and a little coffee and cinnamon from the American and French oak in which it has been aged for nine months.
Often, visitors to the costas of Spain, are amazed by the concept of a red dessert wine. Such wines are white, aren’t they! Well, it’s true there’s more white sweet wine than red, but in the South East of Spain there is a real demand for sweet red wine, a demand which has now been noticed by other countries who import them with impunity from DOs Jumilla, Yecla, Alicante, Bullas and Valencia to bolster their wine lists and offer something a little more exotic.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like Dulce (sweet) Monastrell and Casa de la Ermita’s is no exception! The 60 yr old vines are naturally low yielding. Their grapes are fewer, but richer and, when left on the vines in the sweltering sunshine for a couple of months after their sister Monastrell grapes are harvested for the dry red wines, a large percentage of the water content of the flesh has evaporated.
A lengthy low temperature fermentation followed by a three month period in oak results in a luscious, really naughty, wine! Desserts yes, but also use it as the dessert, either on its own, or, as with PX Sherry, lob it onto some vanilla ice-cream. Plus, try it with blue and other strong cheeses, perhaps as you might with Port!
So, another success story from DO Jumilla – and there are others. Why not investigate further?!
Contact Colin: firstname.lastname@example.org and through his wine services website www.colinharknessonwine.com , where you can also subscribe to his newsletter (free of charge, of course) and therefore have firsthand and early news of the various wine events he organises, most of which are sold out very quickly! Plus you can also follow him on Twitter @colinonwine for the latest on the Spanish Wine scene!