Single Bottle Review

Belondrade Quinta Apolonia [Wine Review]

When I started going to regular tastings in Dublin in 2008, one of the areas where I climbed a steep learning curve was Spanish white wines. As I had been focused on French and “new world” whites up to that point, Verdejo, Albariño, Godello and others were totally new to me. I learnt quickly! But it’s only in the last five years that I’ve come to realise that there are no real limits on how good these wines can be. Along with Rafael Palacios, Belondrade’s wines keep on pushing the boundaries for Spanish whites.

Verdejo and Rueda

Although Verdejo and Rueda are inextricably linked, Verdejo is actually thought to have originated in North Africa, and was brought to northern Spain by Christians under Muslim rule around a millennium ago. The wines were made for centuries in an oxidative style, not unlike Sherry, until the variety almost died out. Ángel Rodríguez Vidal of Bodega Martinsancho saved Verdejo from extinction and used it to make a fresher style of table wine, helping to establish the Rueda DO. His success was amplified by Rioja’s Marqués de Riscal who, seeking a source of fruity whites to sell alongside their own reds, poured significant investment into the area.

The fortified wines are still made in Rueda, as is a sparkling wine, but the still fresh style is by some margin the most popular. Verdejo is also grown in Castilla-La Mancha and Estremadura.

Sauvignon Blanc is also grown in Rueda, either as a blending component with Verdejo or as a principal variety. My person experience with these wines has been less favourable than Vedejo dominant wines.

Monsieur / Señor Didier Belondrade: A Frenchman in Spain

Didier Belondrade
Credit: Sobremesa

The third act of the Rueda story belongs to Didier Belondrade. he has recognised the potential in Rueda’s Verdejo and moved there to begin his own project in 1994. The first wine he produced was under the label Belondrade y Lurton, and showed a distinctly Bugundian approach, with oak and less used for both fermentation and maturation. The estate covers 40 hectares divided into 23 plots, each picked and vinified separately. Viticulture us certified organic but this isn’t mentioned on the label.

Quality has been improved year on year, with a big step coming after the construction of a new winery at La Seca in 2000. The range was extended with two wines named after his two daughters: a 100% rosé Tempranillo named Quinta Clarisa and a 100% Verdejo named Quinta Apolonia (the wine detailed below).  Producing the latter as a second wine means that only the very best grapes go into the first wine, enhancing its quality.

Balancing delicately at the very top of the Belondrade quality pyramid is Les Parcelles, a super-premium wine made from grapes harvested from two plots over two days in 2018. After 18 months in the barrel, 1994 bottles were filled and laid down for a further three years before release. The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the number of bottles corresponds to the year the winery was founded. As wellas the quality being super-premium, the price is super-premium at €410 on their website.

Belondrade Quinta Apolonia Vino de la Tierra Castilla Y León 2020

Belondrade Quinta Apolonia

As mentioned above, one of the reasons for the creation of this wine was to find a home for fruit that weren’t the very best, and thus excluded from the flagship wine. However, this doesn’t mean substandard fruit are used, just those berries which might not be the most complex or concentrated. Quinta Apolonia is designed to showcase the Verdejo variety rather than the wine-making, so it’s a fresher and more accessible style than Belondrade Y Lurton. Alcoholic fermentation is with natural yeast, but temperature controlled to preserve freshness. After ten months ageing on the lees, a blend is made from different plots and different fermenation vessels, then bottled for five months before release.  Quinta Apolonia is designed to be drunk within six to eight years of vintage. 

I tried this bottle at three and a half to four years after vintage, smack bang in the middle of the suggested drinking range. And it’s singing! the nose is elegantly perfumed with fresh pip and stone fruit. The palate is deliciously creamy and textured, with more fruit than a smoothie, and great acidity. It manages to be simultaeously a wine to pair with white fish and a wine to pair with roast chicken – very few can do both well.

In the low to mid twenties retail price point in Ireland, there’s very little to touch this wine.

Conclusion

I’ve been lucky enough to taste both this wine and the big sister Belondrade Y Lurton several times over the past five years. On each occasion, I prefered the junior wine. I found the Y Lurton too closed and not expressive enough, even with price taken out of the equation. So what gives? In essence, I think the senior wine needs time, time which I’ve been unable to give it.

However, I did just stumble across this article on Belondrade Y Lurton from my esteemed colleague John Wilson. Please do read it for yourself, but – writing in 2023 – he calls the 2018 an “Outstanding wine”. So perhaps I need to lay a few down myself.

 

 

 

 

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Mount Pleasant “Lovedale” Hunter Valley Semillon [Wine Review]

There are always new wines to discover at the Liberty Wines portfolio tasting, but sometimes it’s nice to revisit new vintages of old favourites…just to see how they’re getting on.

Here’s the first of my many favourite Australian wines from the Liberty stable.

Mount Pleasant “Lovedale” Hunter Valley Semillon 2018

Mount Pleasant Lovedale Hunter Valley Semillon 2018 bottle shot

Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley is one of the best known Australian wine regions, albeit with its relative proximity to Sydney being a key factor in its success. Hunter Valley Semillon is arguably one of Australia’s key original wine styles. By that I mean that it’s not just a better, or different, version of a wine made elsewhere, but it is a true original. Even other Aussie wine regions which grow Semillon, such as the the Barossa and Margaret River, just can’t produce wine in the same style.

Hunter Valley Wine Region map
Credit: Australian Wine Discovered

Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant is one of the “OG” Hunter producers, founded over a century ago by the pioneering Maurice O’Shea (now there’s a fine Irish name). He spent six years in France studying and then lecturing in viticulture, before bringing this knowledge and expertise back to Australia. O’Shea is regarded as a founder of modern Australian wine making, and the top Shiraz produced by Mount Pleasant bears his name.

Before Covid I had the pleasure of tasting through some of the Mount Pleasant wines with Scott McWilliams, as McWilliams were the owners at that time. Sadly, subsequently McWilliams went into administration, and after almost 80 years under the McWilliams umbrella, Mount Pleasant was bought by NSW property and hotel business Medich Family Office. The additional resources have enabled the cellar door to be renovated, and the switch to only estate fruit from the Hunter, without the safety net of buying in grapes from neighbouring areas in case of poor vintage conditions.

Mount Pleasant have four heritage vineyards. Old Hill is the most venerable, planted with Shiraz in 1880, though wasn’t bought by Mount Pleasant until the 1920s. At that point Maurice also bought some adjoining plots and planted them with cuttings from Old Hill; these plots were named Old Paddock. In 1945 he bought Rosehill vineyard, identified as being extremely well suited to Shiraz, and Lovedale, which was mainly planted with Semillon. Today Lovedale is regarded by many as the finest Semillon vineyard in Australia.

Looking at some of Mount Pleasant’s recent accolades*, the Maurice O’Shea Shiraz has won awards at three to four years old whereas the Lovedale Semillon has been recognised at seven to eight years after vintage.

Lovedale Vineyard

Mount Pleasant Lovedale vineyard
Credit: Mount Pleasant

Lovedale is located close to Pokolbin at 60 metres above sea level. In total it covers 31.1 hectares, planted with Semillon (22.1ha), Chardonnay (7.4ha) and Verdelho (1.6ha). The vines are predominantly in an east-west orientation, with 3.35m between rows and 1.5m between vines and an average of 2,000 vines per hectare. The soil is “sandy aggregate loam topsoil, with friable red and yellow clay lower root zones”, giving the vines the potential to grow deep. Drip irrigation is used when necessary, and trellising is a combination of vertical shoot positioning and cordon ballerina. These methods give the grapes maximum access to sunlight, reducing the risk of diseases which are a significatn risk in the Hunter’s humid climate.

Mount Pleasant “Lovedale” Hunter Valley Semillon 2018

… the nose is so beguiling that it demands contemplation before even moving on to a sip.

So, onto the wine itself! At six years old this 2018 it is still a baby in Hunter Semillon terms, but it is already hugely expressive. The nose is complex, already displaying typical toasty aromas that allude to time in oak, despite the wine spending zero time in any oak vessel. In fact the nose is so beguiling that it demands contemplation before even moving on to a sip. But once tasting there are no regrets, only joy. Tangy pear and toasty notes endure, but against a backdrop of citrus and soft stone fruits. This is by no means a cheap wine, but in a world where white Burgundies can go for several hundreds euros, it begins to look like (relatively) good value for money.

What a wine!

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RS: 0.3 g/L
  • RRP: €74.99
  • Stockists: 2017 vintage is available at Ely Wine Store, Maynooth
  • Other Mount Pleasant wines available in Ireland: “Estate Grown” Hunter Valley Semillon, “Elizabeth” Cellar Aged Hunter Valley Semillon, “Maurice O’Shea” Hunter Valley Shiraz, “Rosehill” Hunter Valley Shiraz, “Old Paddock & Old Hill” Hunter Valley Shiraz

* Note the lower case “a”!