Denominación de Origen Almansa – heard of it?! Tasted any of their wines? Some readers will be able to answer ‘Yes’ to both questions, no doubt, but I guess that there will be many who have a quizzical expression right now! DO where? Al who?
Well it’s not surprising that many of us know little about this relatively small area of production, geographically placed between Alicante and Albacete. There are just five bodegas featured in the tiny section allotted to DO Almansa in Spain’s most famous wine guide, Guía Peñin, compared with over thirty in nearby DO Alicante.
Add to this the fact that, of the overall production of DO Almansa wine, only 25% is sold in Spain, and it becomes clear why it is that many of us have not tasted offerings from this, one of the harshest wine growing climates in Spain. However, as regular Cork Talk readers will know, it is often such climates, also with soils dramatically lacking in organic matter, that can, in the hands of dedicated, forward thinking winemakers, produce some really good wines.
Witness again the Peñin Guide whose top Almansa wines have gained an outstanding 92 points in this year’s edition. However, the family owned Bodegas Piqueras, subject of this and next week’s Cork Talk, is not the bodega that makes these high pointers. Why? Well, largely because they preferred not to send their wines to Peñin – if you’re not in it, you can’t win it?
Or can you? Well, it seems that Bodegas Piqueras is doing very nicely without the Peñin Guide thank you! A remarkable 95% of the wines from this, the largest and longest established winery in DO Almansa, are sold in a thriving and expanding export market which counts 25+ countries where its wines are proudly sold.
For example, my contact at the winery, Pieter Whaley, the Export Director, sent answers to my seemingly unending queries (poor guy!) from countries as far apart as, South Korea, mostly in Seoul; and the USA, including stops in Atlanta, Chicago and New York!
The bodega was founded in 1915 by Mario Bonete, father of the current Manager and Head winemaker, Juan Pablo Bonete. Piqueras wines in those days were sold firstly to a slowly expanding local customer base, but also, from the 50s, in bulk to other wine producing areas of Spain, for example Rioja, which didn’t enjoy such consistent grape ripening sunshine.
Nowadays this is completely out of the question – illegal in fact and anathema to those who have sought, and succeeded, in tying the hands of winemakers with red tape rules that, I believe, at times suffocate innovation. But that’s another gripe for a future Cork Talk!
One advantage of the DO system is that it has ensured the survival of indigenous grape varieties so that we are not all drowning in oceans of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The ABC Club (Anything But Cabernet/Chardonnay) has been a powerful pressure group, with which, in this case I have some sympathy.
The indigenous varieties championed of DO Almansa, for red wines, are: Monastrell – a favourite of mine, and also grown with considerable success in nearby Jumilla and Yecla, as well as Valencia; and the enigmatic Garnacha Tintorera – note the last word. This is not Garnacha, as we know it Jim. A different variety and one of the very few in the world whose flesh has a pink hue to it giving rise, after skin and juice maceration, to some gloriously deeply coloured red wines.
Deeply flavoured too! Garnacha Tintorera, which I first came across in DO Alicante, has a rich damson flavour laced with some blackcurrant aromas too. In the correct soils it can develop a pleasing minerality as well. And, those wines that are well made have a long finish, and in the case of Almansa, where temperatures are extremely high with many long sunshine hours, high alcohol levels also develop. But at 700 meters above sea level, with considerable differences between day and night time temperatures, careful winemakers can also produce wines with enough acidity to match the high alcohol and therefore wines with elegance also.
Bodegas Piqueras is a leading light of the DO and when I received a raft of their wines recently I took my time tasting them to see how the area has developed from the disappointing, dusty and over extracted wines that I tasted a decade and more ago. I’m delighted to say that there has been considerable progress and when this is linked with exceptional value for money, as it is with this particular bodega – well the future looks rosy. Rather like the flesh of their darling variety Garnacha Tintorera!
Next week the full SP!