Taken From Costa Vibes eMag, March 2010
ARISE SIR MONASTRELL
NOBLE KNIGHT OF SOUTH EAST SPAIN!
Many, many years ago a group of French travellers was dining, with wine, naturellement, in a small village just outside Valencia. Being French they were knowledgeable about wine and were, initially incredulously, impressed with that which they were drinking. (France then, and still today produces top notch wines and don’t let anybody tell you they don’t – it’s just that you have to pay handsomely for them!).
Sacrebleu! We are in Spain ‘ow can we be enjoying ze local wines? – I paraphrase of course! They summoned the owner (Garçon, with a Gallic click of the fingers?) and enquired about the wine, what is it and where is it from? The rather nonplussed owner shrugged his shoulders (he could do Gallic too!) ‘Mourvedre’, was his answer, in fact to both questions.
Our French friends returned to France with cartloads of the local vine from the village, Mourvedre, mistakenly believing that this was the name of the grape variety, not the village. The result was that the vineyards of France over the next few generations became a living testament to the quality of the grape variety that they had discovered in Spain.
The village of course was Mourvedre, and the correct name of that excellent variety? – Monastrell!
Ask those in the wine world about what they call ‘noble grape varieties’ and they’ll tell you France has Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Ask them about Spain and the answer will be short and sweet – Tempranillo, and that’s it!
Well I’m using the platform of the Costa Vibes On-Line Magazine to start what I hope will ultimately lead to the elevation of Monastrell to the hallowed ranks of those varieties which are deemed ‘noble’. Monastrell is an excellent grape variety producing: as a single varietal, superb, deeply coloured, rich, full flavoured and complex wines; as well as similarly beguiling, opulent wines when used in a blend. Monastrell rocks. The French thought so, all those years ago and it’s about time this recognition was worldwide!
So what defines ‘noble’? Does it mean, that it makes wine of top quality? Look at the wonderful wines of Bordeaux with their huge price-tags, most use Cabernet Sauvignon, generally accepted as a noble variety (although it should be noted that this is almost invariably when it is in a blend with others). So yes, if a variety is responsible for excellent wines, then it must be considered as a noble variety.
Look at the Peñin Guide to Spanish Wines, probably the best wine guide in Spain (now also available in English – www.grupopenin.com) and look at the points awarded to wines made with Monastrell. This super-variety consistently registers 90-96 points out of a hundred, be it in a blend or on its own. Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux can’t boast such a claim, as it usually shares its plaudits with its bedfellows!
Does noble mean that it is also widely planted? Well Airén, the La Mancha variety produces the largest single varietal volume of white wine in the world – does that make Airén noble? I don’t think so! It’s true that Cabernet Sauvignon is ubiquitous worldwide, but it’s that which is produced in Bordeaux that gives claim to the title ‘noble’.
Monastrell produces stunning wines in South East Spain in DOs (Denominaciónes de Origen, legally demarcated wine producing areas): Valencia, Yecla, Jumilla, Alicante, Bullas and Almansa. Surely this qualifies it as noble in the same way that Bordeaux does for Cabernet?
Just what does a grape variety have to do to be taken seriously by the wine writing fraternity? And why is Monastrell, in some traditionalsts’ minds still not even the bridesmaid, and certainly never the bride? In short I don’t know, but I can hazard a guess.
Historically it has never been considered noble and therefore the two aren’t synonymous in minds that can best be termed inexperienced in Monastrell and at worst, closed, like a wine that should be great but in fact doesn’t open to reveal its heart.
I think it may also be due to the fact that the areas to which I’ve referred have never, historically again, been considered havens of top quality wine and therefore wines from these regions, no matter how great they are (and I use the word ‘great’ deliberately), are consistently overlooked.
So perhaps I can be a touch impertinent, perhaps, and attempt to enlighten those whom I need to lobby to realise Monastrell’s rise to the ranks of the nobility that it clearly deserves.
Firstly take a look at the Peñin Guide for the DO’s listed above – whilst on the flight to Alicante! Then go to those DOs, guide in hand and taste the top rated wines (most have charming Casas Rurales nearby and some bodegas own or are associated with lovely small hotels). Also ask the winemakers (call me and it will be a pleasure to translate for you if required!) which other wines they themselves believe haven’t been given the credit they deserve by even Peñin, and taste them with the men, and women, who crafted them adding both their passion and their forefathers’ tradition to the final blend.
Taste: El Nido and Clio from Bodegas El Nido (Bodegas Juan Gil), DO Jumilla; Casa Castillo Pie Franco and Las Gravas, Bodegas Casa Castillo, DO Jumilla; Alma de Luzón, Bodegas Luzón, DO Jumilla; Trapío and IV Expresión, Bodegas La Purisima, DO Yecla; Barahonda Summum and Heredad Candela, Bodegas Señorio de Barahonda; Castaño Colección, Casa Cisca and Castaño Monastrell Dulce(!) from Bodegas Castaño, DO Yecla; Valche, Bodega Monastrell(!), DO Bullas; 3000 Años, Bodegas del Rosario, DO Bullas; Les Alcusses, Celler Del Roure, DO Valencia; Rafael Cambra Uno, Bodegas Rafael Cambra, DO Valencia; Trilogía (organic) Bodegas Los Frailes, DO Valencia; the whole range(!) at Bodegas Bernabe Navarro, DO Alicante; El Sequé, Bodegas y Viñedos El Sequé; Estrecho Monastrell, Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, DO Alicante; Mira Salinas, Puerto Salinas and Salinas 1237, Bodegas Sierra Salinas; Atalaya, Bodegas Atalaya, DO Almansa; La Huela de Adras Joven, Bodegas Almanseñas; – for example
– and now tell me I’m wrong! Arise, the eponymous Sir Monastrell!
From My Cellar: As I’m clearly in such a promotional mood I’d also like to champion the cause of those who make dessert wines. Gone are the days when a sweet wine to accompany dessert was considered an integral part of fine dining, but I’d like to bring them back! Provided that the wine isn’t cloying, that it has a backbone of acidity running through the sweetness, a dessert wine is sweet pleasure in a glass.
I’m in the middle of a 50cl bottle (sweet wines keep a little longer in the fridge than dry wines) of Bodegas Porsellanes’ Organic Paratella Moscatel Ecológico. The light brown colour of this wine makes it looks like honey, and the analogy doesn’t stop there, this beautiful raison and grape perfumed and flavoured wine has honey on the nose and palate too. Just for fun, try it as an aperitif as well!
WHY BUYING WINE FROM WINE SHOPS
IS THE BEST BET – PART TWO!
Regular readers may remember Part One of this short series about the advantages of buying wine from wine shops rather than supermarkets. The series stems from a recent survey I made of people’s wine drinking habits. I’ve been looking at the answers to the 20 questions which cover: the price people are willing to pay for wine; whether they prefer red, white, rosado; if they drink dessert wines, port, sherry; where they buy their wines; how they serve them et cetera.
For a wine anorak like me the results are fascinating, not least of which is the fact that most people seem to think, quite erroneously in fact, that wine shops only sell expensive wines and if you want cheaper wines the supermarket is the place to go.
I’m in and out of wine shops all the time and I know that there is always a good choice of wines under 5 Euros. However it wasn’t until the results of the questionnaire came in that I started looking at exactly how many wines there are in this category. Plus, when I took samples home, they confirmed my opinion that they aren’t cheap and nasty, they’re good and friendly!
Let me give you an example – only yesterday I walked into a supermarket where I live and was horrified to see that they were trying to sell a Chardonnay 2004 (lots of bottles of a wine, no doubt forgotten in the stores and just re-discovered). I didn’t look to see if it was an oaked wine, which would give it some age-ability at least – I didn’t need to, the wine was brown!
I told the smiling young lady about it and she took a note of it. I’m going to go in there tomorrow and see if they are still there – I bet they are, what does some foreigner know! Somebody over-ordered, somebody else forgot them and now they are trying to get a return on their investment. It’s a disgrace!
It’s unthinkable that such a thing would happen in a wine shop. That’s another compelling reason why you should buy from wine shops before the supermarkets! A wine shop for example like La Casa del Vino in Javea, my second port of call whilst investigating the choice of economic wines available away from the supermarkets.
Well lit and roomy, the shop is laid out so that you can wander around and see the wines properly. Most bottles are resting horizontally and those that aren’t are rotated and/or fly out of the shop so quickly they don’t have time to deteriorate as the cork dries out because the wine is not in contact with the cork.
I explained my reason for the visit this time and was given a tour of the shop where in every corner on practically every shelf there are examples of the sub-5 Euro wines to which I refer – they are all over the place! I came away with ten, one of which is in fact not a bottle, but a wine box (more on this BIB, Bag In Box and the whole concept in a later article!) Super choice, super wines – and not a bored checkout girl in sight!
Alex is a range of wines from Bodegas Viñedos de Calidad, DO Navarra. I tried three – the white made from Viura (aka Macabeo) is priced at 3:20 Euros, it’s a clean dry white wine with a hint of green apple and maybe a touch of pear too, just right for when you need a chilled refresher! Their Tempranillo is a wine I recently recommended on the radio (www.bayradio.fm) – it’s fruity but with an earthiness that will appeal to those who like their wine a touch robust, good with pizza! The Merlot, I liked particularly, some stewed plums on the nose and palate and a whiff of menthol too.
DO Valencia provided my next two wines, both called Ximo, one a white Semillon (a variety rare in Spain – so far!) and the other a Tempranillo, from Bodegas El Villar. The white is as charming as it is fruity, a touch tropical a touch citrus, I really like it – 3·40 Euros! The red is Tempranillo, but richer and fruitier than the Alex, testimony to the sunshine hours and temperatures of Valencia as opposed to the northerly climes of Navarra.
Vermador is from Alicante and is and organic red made from Monastrell, the star of the East as far as I’m concerned. It’s chunky in its expansive mouthfeel, with big dark blackberry fruit, but it manages a touch of finesse too. It is also available in BIB which works out to be just 1·97 Euros – check is out against supermarket offerings, not that you’ll find many at the cheap price!
Clos Lupo Reserva (yes, a Reserva for just 4 Euros!) is a Jumilla wine using of course their darling variety Monastrell but also Tempranillo, Cabernet and Shiraz. It’s a blend that works with, for me two pepper notes, a touch of the vegetal green pepper but also freshly ground black pepper spice, and of course a rich dark fruit content and well integrated oak. Germany, which is not blessed with many red wines, loves this one, with the parent company The Spanish Wine Company shipping it by the pallet.
My favourite red, just pipping Ximo Tempranillo, was the Barahonda Tinto Barrica, at just under the 5 Euro limit. I know the bodega very well as it’s one showcased on the TV series, Viva Vino. Monastrell and Cabernet are partners providing super dark blackberry and blackcurrant fruit moulded together nicely with integrated oak.
My favourite white? – well either Ximo above, or Bodegas Bocopa’s Laudum Chardonnay, with a touch of oak for depth of flavour.
CARREFOUR & BODEGAS LA PURISIMA
A HYPER-TASTING IN TORREVIEJA
I first came across the huge Hypermarket chain, Carrefour, several years ago on the N332 near Benidorm when I was happy to be driving past a lengthy queue of cars slowly exiting the National Road to enter the equally huge, but nevertheless packed, car park alongside this phenomenal store.
Clearly here was a success story that needed investigating, from a wine viewpoint – did they have a wine department and how good was it?
It’s a good start when you find that such a large concern has a department devoted to wines and drinks. I guess it’s a little like that which exists in the UK, but perhaps (though I’ll investigate this further) on a lesser scale.
In the UK the likes of Tesco, Waitrose et al not only have wine departments but also specific wine buyers, some of whom are Masters of Wine (MW, the exalted top epithet awarded only to those with supreme knowledge and tasting ability after a lengthy and extremely demanding series of courses and exams). Some such departments also take advantage of wine consultants to assist in their buying forays and strategies.
Carrefour, I suspect is not this far advanced yet and maybe doesn’t want to go along that route anyway. From my point of view suffice to say that they do have ‘un responsable’, a department head for wines. Next, I took a look at the choice and the way they were displayed. There is a vast selection of wines including a section from the nearby area, a good sign of course. And the way the wine is stored? – well, in truth there is room for improvement here I think – maybe they need me?!
So when the triumvirate Carrefour’s wine department jefe, Fernando, Natalia, Export Director of Bodegas La Purisima and I met some months ago I was happy to be invited to present an in-store tasting in one of their largest hypermarkets, Torrevieja, not far from where I first lived in Spain. There followed further discussion by e-mail and phone and eventually in February we three met again, actually in thunder. lightening and rain – to quote a fellow writer(!).
There was a discount for people that day, but in fact Carrefour prices are good anyway and knowing as I do the excellent price/quality ratio of Bodegas La Purisima I was sure that patrons were in for some bargains. Indeed sales following the tasting proved that point rather nicely!
We first tasted their entry level white wine from the Estilo range. Made from Macabeo, it is a refreshing dry white wine with a touch of apple and maybe fresh pear-drop acidity too. Their rosado from the same range is made with the excellent local Monastrell grape variety and super-fruity Syrah and Tempranillo, it is quite dark coloured and full of raspberry fruit – a best seller on the day.
Their red Estilo Monastrell and Syrah, is a joven with some depth too. Dark fruits and undergrowth on the nose with some depth which means it will be fine for regular drinking as well as with meals. Calp is perhaps Carrefour’s best selling wine from La Purisima, it’s a blend of Tempranillo and Monastrell, again with good fruit and a rich finish.
Stepping up in price (but not much!) and quality we then moved onto the Iglesia Vieja range. The picture on the label is of the distinctive church in Yecla which gives its name to the wine. The crianza was first – a blend of Monastrell, Cabernet and Tempranillo with 12 months ageing in French and American Oak. This wine is for the dinner table. On it’s own it’s a touch robust, a style that many like in their wine, but when taken with food this is mellowed a little. It has a good fruit-laden finish.
The Iglesia Vieja Reserva is made from 50 year-old vines, Monastrell, Cabernet and Tempranillo. Grapes from elderly vines are often richer giving a lovely fruity feel to the wine (the texture of a wine is important in wine appreciation) – this reserva is no exception. A touch figgy with brambly fruits too there is also some cinnamon spice and a pleasing minerality.
Also available but not tasted this day are the lovely IV Selección and their top wine, surely one of the best examples of 100% Monastrell you can buy, Trapío.