I recently got to try a really tasty Spanish red from a little known region of Catalonia. Before we look at the wine itself, we have to look at: Where is Montsant? and What are Montsant wines like?
Montsant is an under-appreciated wine region in Catalonia, almost completely surrounding the more famous Priorat. It was formerly part of the Falset subzone of the Tarragona DO and only appeared on labels from 2002. Montsant has prospered under its own name, increasing from 28 Bodegas in 2002 to 55 in 2020. In contrast, the Priorat DO was created in 1954 and upgraded to DOQ (under Catalan regulations, anyway) from 2000.
Montsant production focuses on red wines which account for 94% of the total made. Grapes used are a combination of local and international varieties: Garnatxa Negra, Carinyena (Carignan), Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo), Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The small amount of white wine mainly uses local varieties: Garnatxa Blanca, Macabeu / Viura, Moscatell d’Alexandria and Xarel·lo…plus the omni-present Chardonnay.
As might be expected in a region with “Mont” in the name, elevation ranges significantly: vineyards are planted between 200 and 700 metres. There are three main soil types: chalky clay, granitic sand and slate, each rendering a different profile to wines made thereon. Many Montsant wines are powerful in both body and alcohol, in a similar style to Priorat wines, especially if made with old Garnatxa and / or Carinyena vines.
Celler Coca i Fitó
The Coca i Fitó winery is owned and managed by Catalan brothers Toni and Miquel Coca i Fitó. Toni is a well established winemaker and is Technical Director at the Celler Cooperatiu de Gandesa in the nearby DO Terra Alta; in fact, the co-ops facilities are used to make some of the brothers’ local white wines (see below). A variety of fermentation vessels are used: stainless steel tanks, concrete eggs, amphorae, standard and large format oak barrels.
Although the contents of each bottle are the key, the labels of each are specially designed by Oriol Malet and Jaume Coca:
Each design has been created to convey the essence of the wine by describing the sensations that they provoke, whether it be freshness, typicity or other sensorial experiences.
The company’s wine ranges (in addition to olive oil!) are:
Coca i Fitó: the company’s flagship wines, including blends, varietals and special wines from DO Montsant and DO Terra Alta
Jaspi:more accessible wines from young(er) vines in DO Montsant and DO Terra Alta
Samsara Priorat: a joint venture with Eva Escudé and the Vives brothers, creating a modern style of Priorat
Tocat de l’Ala: a joint venture in DO Empordà with Roig Parals
Tolo do Xisto: a joint venture in DO Ribeira Sacra with Andrea Obenza
Aloja: a new range of softer wines from DO Montsant and DO Terra Alta
Coca i Fitó Negre Montsant 2012
Even smelling the cork was enough to let me know that this wine was going to be special – a rare occurrence. Perhaps the eight or so years maturing in bottle helped. The blend for this wine is 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache (both from 60 – 70 year old vines) and 20% Carignan (from 20 – 30 year old vines). The grapes are picked from a single vineyard with limestone soils. After fermentation the wine is aged between 12 to 14 months, vintage dependant, in new French oak (90%) and American oak barrels (10%)
Despite its age this wine almost opaque in the glass; quite fitting for a wine called “negre”. The nose shows lifted aromatics of dark black fruits and spices, with strong hints of oak ageing. The palate is powerful, rich and voluptuous, with sweet blackberry, cassis and plum fruits to the fore. This 2012 is only just hitting its straps and has many years left to go. At this price it’s a real bargain.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is an international success story, much aped by other wine regions to differing levels of success. Of course the wines are not a homogenous whole, with quality and style varying from producer to producer. So how do you find a good one? Of course you will get good advice at your local independent merchant, but there are also some crackers outside that. Whitehaven’s “Greg” is one of the best I’ve tasted in recent years, but first some context:
Marlborough and its Subregions
Marlborough has three main subregions:
Wairau Valley – mainly flat with gravelly soil, this is archetypal Sauvignon Blanc country. Meets the ocean to the east at Cloudy Bay, so eastern vineyards have more of a maritime influence.
Southern Valleys – as the plural suggests, this is a collect of several small valleys: Omaka, Fairhall, Brancott, Ben Morvan and Waihopai Valleys. Steeper sites, especially those on clay soils, are prized for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other varieties.
Awatere Valley – the furthest south of the three with cooler, often elevated sites that produce some Pinot Noir but especially a distinctive style of Sauvignon Blanc – easily distinguishable in a blind tasting.
After hauling anchor in Marlborough Sounds while weather a storm on their yacht, Greg and Sue White decided to set down roots and plant a vineyard in Marlborough. Whitehaven was therefore stablished in 1994 and was run by the couple until Greg’s untimely death in 2007. From that year the “Greg” label was affixed to special releases of Sauvignon Blanc and then Pinot Noir.
Whitehaven’s grapes come from 30 vineyards totalling 575 hectares across the three subregions. They can be classed as three different types: estate owned, estate managed and contract growers. The estate owned and managed vineyards are just under 40% of the total.
Since Greg’s passing Sue has been supported by a team of winemakers, viticulturalists and office staff. Peter Jackson (no, not that one) is Chief Winemaker, Diana Katardzhieva is Senior Winemaker & Production Manager, Rowan Langdon is Winemaker and Jess Wilson is Viticulturist. Sue and Greg’s daughter Samantha joined the firm as Process Improvement Manager with her husband Josh as Sustainability Manager. Whitehaven therefore remains very much a family affair.
Whitehaven Wine Ranges
Whitehaven make four distinct ranges, all from Marlborough fruit. Wines in blue and bold are available in Ireland from O’Briens.
Mansion House Bay
Named after the place where Greg proposed to Sue, these are fun, everyday drinking wines.
Pinot Noir Rosé
Named after the Māori for “gift” or “contribution”, these wines are made by Whitehaven in partnership with LegaSea, a “non-profit organisation that works tirelessly to protect and restore New Zealand’s coastal fisheries.”
Lighter Sauvignon Blanc
Pinot Noir Rosé
This is the senior full range of wines which are “a powerful, elegant and consistent expression of Marlborough’s classical wine styles”.
Whitehaven “Greg” Awatere Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2020
How special a single vineyard wine can depend on the size of the vineyard – some are mahoosive! However, in the case of Greg Sauvignon Blanc the grapes are sourced from the Peter family’s Alton Downs Vineyard, just off the Awatere Valley Road. The vines are all mass selection clones in East-West row orientation are were machine-harvested on the evening of 30th March 2020. Note that harvesting by machine is preferred for Sauvignon Blanc as it tends to promote better quality.
Once picked the grapes were destemmed and pressed gently to minimise contact with the skins. The juice was left to settle at low temperatures then cool fermented – with specially selected cultured yeasts – in stainless steel tanks.
In the glass this wine is a very pale straw yellow with green tints. The nose is complex, with green notes of grapefruit, gooseberry and fresh (not tinned!) asparagus, along with herbs, mangetout and a mineral streak. The aromas continue through onto the palate which is beautifully balanced, poised between fruit sweetness, tangy green notes and fresh acidity. This wine was the absolute standout at an Aromatics virtual tasting I held with friends a few months ago and is destined to be a regular tipple chez Frankly Wines.
White Rioja gets far less attention and plaudits compared to red Rioja, mainly due to the fact that white varieties only account for 10% of the total vines in the region. However, when one particular white Rioja recently received a glowing review from Tim Atkin I thought it would be interesting to try. I subsequently saw that Tim had given an early vintage of the same wine his “Wine of the Year” tag in 2017. Before we look at the wine itself, we start with a refresher on the Rioja wine region and a brief background on the producer, Conde Valdemar.
The Rioja Wine Region
Administrative divisions and sub-regions
Although Rioja is Spain’s most famous wine region, there are differences between the area of the DOCa and the administrative divisions of the area. There have also been a few name changes over time, confusing things further. To sum up, the wine region extends into four administrative areas:
La Rioja (formerly Lagroño)¹
Álava/Araba: a province in the Basque country
Navarra: historically part of the Basque region, but not currently included in the Basque Autonomous Community²
Burgos:just a tiny part of Burgos for a single vineyard: Hacienda El Ternero³
As can be seen from the map above, the bulk of the Rioja wine region is within the Autonomous Community of La Rioja. The sub-regions are partly based on politics, partly on geography:
Rioja Alavesa: 17 municipalities, entirely within Álava from whence it takes its name
Rioja Alta: literally “Upper Rioja” consisting of 80 municipalities of La Rioja and 1 in Burgos
Rioja Oriental (formerly Rioja Baja): literally “Eastern Rioja”, nowadays preferred to “Lower Rioja” which has intimations of low quality, consisting of 42 municipalities in La Rioja and 8 in Navarra.
Structure of Rioja wine trade and 21st century innovations
Although there was a lot of influence and interest from Bordeaux producers in the later part of the nineteenth century, at a high level the Rioja wine trade is more like that of Champagne than Bordeaux; there has long been a distinction – or even divide – between small grape growers and large wine producers.
Wines often consist of several different grapes from across different sub-regions; Rioja Alta tends to be somewhat reserved due to its altitude, Rioja Alavesa is a bit more generous while higher in acidity and Rioja Oriental can be very high in alcohol though a little less elegant. A blend of the three is often the best compromise, though the wine can lack a sense of place and exceptional plots may ended up being blended away.
Two innovations in Rioja this century have had a small affect so far but will be increasingly important in the region. The first has been the addition of new permitted grape varieties in 2007: Maturata Tinta (Jura’s Trousseau), Maturana blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Turruntés, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo. Of course it will take time for these varieties to be planted in the places most suitable for them, but in my opinion this is a good initiative – particularly for the white grapes – as Viura can be too neutral and some of the new grapes have more recognition among customers.
The second initiative is much more recent; in 2017 the Rioja wine authorities announced new label indications including Single Vineyard (Viñedo Singular), Zone and Village names. The hope is that the cream will rise to the top and more top quality wines will emerge.
Family and History
The story begins with Joaquín Martínez Bujanda who began making wine in 1889. His son Marcelino then grandson Jesús both followed into the family business. It was the third and fourth generations – both called Jesús – who set up Conde Valdemar itself in 1985. Today the winery is in the hands of fourth generation Jesús plus his son and daughter Jesús and Ana; the fifth generation are spearheading the family’s fortunes in Valdemar Estates in the USA.
The family has gradually expanded their holdings over the years, and bottles wines from their own estates separately. A notable addition was the 1982 purchase of Finca del Marquesado which is now planted with over 180 hectares of vines.
White Rioja has consistently been championed by Conde Valdemar; they were the first to plant Viura in Alto Cantabria in 1975 and the first winery to make a 100% Tempranillo Blanco wine in 2005. In between these vineyard firsts they were also the first winery to make a 100% barrel-fermented and -matured Spanish white wine in 1988.
Conde Valdemar Wine Range
There are five distinct wine ranges within the Conde Valdemar portfolio; three in Rioja, one in Ribero del Duero and one in Washington State. Unusually for Rioja, Conde Valdemar only produces wine from its own grapes.
Valdemar Lands / Estate Wines
Finca del Marquesado
Fincas Valdemacuco (Ribera del Duero)
Valdemar Estates (USA)
Details of the wines in each range are given at the bottom of this article.
Finca Alto Cantabria
This map (Credit: Conde Valdemar) shows the three grapes planted on the 23.3 hectare site: Viura, Tempranillo Blanco and Tempranillo, with the first accounting for 8.6 hectares. The vineyard is at 489 metres above sea level, 114 metres above the River Ebro. The steep inclines at the edge of the site and strong winds help to avoid frosts and humidity which leads to disease pressure. The soils are a combination of limestone and sandy loam.
Conde Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria 2019
So here we have a wine from a high altitude vineyard which is particularly suited to white grapes and has been classified as a “Viñedo Singular”. As mentioned above this is a 100% Viura wine, but the excellence of the site helps it to exceed the limitations of the variety; a longer growing season means that the grapes can develop fantastic aromas and flavours by the time sugar maturity is reached.
After being hand harvested into shallow boxes the grapes are first temperature stabilised before being pressed. Fermentation of the free run juice begins in stainless steel tanks before being transferred into French oak barrels. The wine matures in barrel for six months with weekly lees stirring.
In the glass this wine is a mid straw yellow. On the nose, oak dominates initially but then gives way to citrus and stone fruits with enticing blossom notes. The palate is complex and smooth, full of ripe fruit and nutty notes, succulent and viscous, rich ripe and vibrant.
This is among the top few white Riojas I have ever tried and represents exceptional value for money.
RRP:€26 – €27
Stockists: wineonline.ie; The Wine House, Trim
Source: media sample
These are the Bodega’s original wines:
Conde Valdemar Tempranillo: 100% Tempranillo, made using a blend of carbonic and traditionally fermented grapes
Conde Valdemar Crianza: 90% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha & 5% Mazuelo, matured in American oak barrels for 19 months
Conde Valdemar Reserva: 80% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Maturana [aka Trousseau, Bastardo] & 5% Garnacha, matured for 27 months in American (65%) and French oak (35%) barrels
Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva: Old vines; 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano & 5% Garnacha, matured for 36 months in French (50%) and American (50%) barriques
Conde Valdemar Edición Limitada: a modern style Rioja made from 60% Tempranillo, 25% Maturana & 15% Graciano, matured for 24 months in French (60%) and American (40%)oak barrels
Whites and Rosés:
Conde Valdemar Rosé:75% Garnacha & 25% Mazuelo
Conde Valdemar Blanco: A traditional white Rioja blend of 60% Viura, 25% Tempranillo Blanco & 15% Malvasía.
Conde Valdemar Tempranillo Blanco: 100% Tempranillo Blanco
Conde Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria: 100% Viura from a single vineyard – further details below
Valdemar Lands / Estate Wines
These are very limited edition wines made from specific single vineyards and single varieties
La Recaja Tempranillo: 100% Tempranillo from a two hectare portion of La Recaja vineyard in Rioja Alavesa, matured for 16 months in French oak barrels
Las Seis Alhajas Graciano: Named “The Six Jewels” after six different clones of Graciano planted as a trial in 1991 to bring the grape back from the brink of disappearance. Matured for 29 months in new, fine-grained American oak barrels.
Balcón de Pilatos Maturana: A revival of the Maturana grape which had disappeared in Rioja during the phylloxera crisis, matured for 13 months in new, fine-grained American oak barrels
Finca del Marquesado
An estate in the east of Rioja, yet at a considerable altitude of 600 m.a.s.l., particularly suitable for Garnacha:
Finca del Marquesado Rosado: 75% Garnacha & 25% Mazuelo
Finca del Marquesado Crianza: 75% Tempranillo & 25% Garnacha, matured for 13 months in American oak barrels
Finca del Marquesado Selección: 80% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano & 10% Garnacha, matured for 12 months in French and American oak barrels
La Gargantilla Garnacha Single Estate Wine: 100% Garnacha from La Gargantilla vineyard, matured for 7 months in French Allier barriques
La Gargantilla Tempranillo Single Estate Wine: 100% Tempranillo from La Gargantilla vineyard, matured for 15 months in French (60%) and American (40%) fine-grained oak barrels
Wines from the Valdemar family’s new outpost in Ribero del Duero:
Fincas Valdemacuco Crianza: 100% Tempranillo from selected vineyards in the area of Nava de Roa (Burgos), matured for 4 months in French (70%) and American (30%) oak barrels
Fincas Valdemacuco Roble: 100% Tempranillo from selected vineyards in the area of Nava de Roa (Burgos), matured for 5 months in American oak barrels
Valdemar Estates (USA)
The family’s newest venture in Walla Walla, Washington State. This was driven by Jesús and Ana Martínez Bujanda
Valdemar Estates Klipsun Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Klipsun Vineyard in the Red Mountain AVA, matured in French oak (60% new, 40% 3 years old) for 18 months
Valdemar Estates Dubrul Vineyard Chardonnay: Barrel-fermented Chardonnay from the Dubrul Vineyard in Yakima Valley, matured for 12 months in French oak (22% new, 78% 3 years old)
Valdemar Estates Blue Mountain Syrah:100% Syrah from the Blue Mountain Vineyard in Walla Walla, matured for 12 months in neutral French oak
¹ The initial letters of Lagroño, Álava and Navarra were the origin of the name of Bodegas LAN, a well known producer.
² The Rioja DOCa extends into the south west part of the Autonomous Community of Navarre, separate from the Navarra DO which is further north.
19 Crimes is an Australian wine brand with a range of inexpensive, everyday wines that are available at supermarkets and other multiples. This isn’t the normal type of wine that features on Frankly Wines, but as it’s so popular I thought it worth trying to see why so many people buy it.
I don’t know if the owners of 19 Crimes – Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) – set out to deliberately compete with the likes of Yellowtail and Barefoot, but that’s what they appear to be aiming at. The brand is built around the story of certain crimes which were punishable by deportation from Britain and Ireland to Australia in the late 18th and 19th century.
Each bottle is sealed with a cork – unusual for Aussie wine nowadays – with one of the 19 Crimes written on it. Encouragement to collect them all? The front labels each feature a famous convict; eight from transportation times plus Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. aka Snoop Dogg in a celebrity tie-in.
Also of note is the innovative use of a proprietary app which makes each label “come alive”. Fair enough, this might be something of a gimmick, but wine needs innovative packaging and marketing for the mass market.
.From 29th April to 19th May the 19 Crimes Red Wine and Sauvignon Block [sic] are included in SuperValu’s wine offers. Here are my notes on the former:
19 Crimes South Eastern Australia Red Wine 2020
So, enough about the label and branding, what’s the wine like? It pours a medium intensity cherry red, implying that this is no blockbuster red. One website I found listed the varieties as Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it’s the middle two grapes which give it the lighter hue.
The nose initially hits you with sweet vanilla, under which blackberries and fudge compete for attention. The palate is rich, full of vanilla and toasty oak, cherries, chocolate, dark berries, spice and caramel. I don’t have a tech sheet but the richness is obviously partly due to a good dose of residual sugar.
Similar to the Dada Art Series 1 I reviewed back in 2017, this is a wine made for pleasure and designed to match what many people actually like drinking. Most wine drinkers – especially in the Irish market – will swear blind that they only like dry wines, but if there’s an off-dry finish to a red wine like this they won’t complain if they’re not told and don’t notice themselves.
For my personal taste, this wine is a little too confected and clumsy. But I’m not the target market, and I suspect that most people who buy it will like it – which is exactly the point!
RRP: €14.99 down to €10 at SuperValu from 29th April to 19th May 2021
Way back before the pandemic I attended a tasting of wines from the Louis Latour stable . There were lots of excellent wines, but one in particular stood out for me, the Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne. Before we get into the wine itself, we take a brief look at the different labels of Louis Latour and take a fly-by of the Hill of Corton.
There are six parts to the Latour stable:
Louis Latour – Burgundy: the original home of the Domaine, more details below
Louis Latour – Les Pierres Dorées: southern Beaujolais where the clay and limestone soils are suitable for Pinot Noir
Louis Latour – Ardèche: south-eastern department, just west of the break between the northern and southern Rhône wine regions, mainly planted to Chardonnay and some Viognier
Louis Latour – Var: a department on the south coast; vines were planted for the first time an hour or so north of Toulon. Clay and limestone soils are again most suitable for Pinot Noir
Simonnet-Febvre – Chablis:an outstanding Chablis house founded in 1840, bought by Louis Latour in 2003
Henry Fessy – Beaujolais: a well-established Brouilly-based producer founded in 1888, bought by Louis Latour in 2008
In the UK the group also has a company called Louis Latour Agencies which was founded in 1990 to represent the group in the UK market and since then has built up a small portfolio of other producers.
Focus on Domaine Louis Latour
Louis Latour proudly state their founding year as 1797, although vineyards were first bought by Denis Latour in 1731. The family moved to their current base of Aloxe-Corton under Jean Latour in 1768, with vineyards slowly being acquired as they became available. One important decision in Corton-Charlemagne was the decision to replant Chardonnay (grafted onto resistant rootstocks) after phylloxera had killed the Aligoté and Pinot Noir vines in their plots. More recent developments have focused on sustainable viticulture and environmental certification.
Domaine Louis Latour now produces 21 Grand Cru wines across Burgundy, with 11 in the Côte de Beaune and 10 in the Côte de Nuits. Its Premier Crus are more Beaune-biased with 41, plus 11 in the Côte de Nuits and 2 in the Côte Chalonnaise.
The Hill of Corton and its Appellations
The Hill of Corton is located in the north of the Côte de Beaune. The top is densely wooded and bereft of vines. Below that the topsoil has eroded leaving mainly limestone and marl which is most suitable for white varieties. The lower slopes of the hill have more clay, iron and other materials making them more suitable for black varieties.
There are three overlapping Grand Cru appellations on the hill. In practice, if there is a choice for a given site, vignerons will choose Corton for red wines and Corton-Charlemagne for whites.
The largest Grand Cru in the Côte de Beaune covering 100.6 hectares, of which 98 are Pinot Noir and 2.6 Chardonnay. Unusually for a Côte d’Or Grand Cru – though not dissimilar from Chablis Grand Cru which is around the same size – the name of individual climats is often stated on the front label. The three communes which the AOC covers are:
Aloxe-Corton (16 climats)
Ladoix-Serrigny (9 climats)
Pernand-Vergelesses (7 climats)
Corton is the only Grand Cru for red wine in the Côte de Beaune.
The Corton-Charlemagne AOC is just for white wines and covers 57.7 hectares. As Corton above it extends into the same three communes, but does not usually name the individual climat on the front label. Whereas Corton covers the lower slopes of the hill, Corton-Charlemagne’s Chardonnay prefers the limestone further up.
This is a rarely seen AOC covering just 0.28 hectares; in practice the grapes harvested from this climat are blended in with others from Corton-Charlemagne.
Louis Latour Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne 2017
Louis Latour owns 10.5 hectares in Corton-Charlemagne and so is now the biggest landowner of the AOC. Latour’s plots have a south easterly aspect and the vines average 30 years old. All grapes are hand picked as late as possible – for optimum ripeness – at an average yield of 40 hl/ha.
Fermentation takes place in oak barrels made in Latour’s own cooperage. They are made from French oak – bien sûr – 100% new and with a medium toast. The wines go though full malolactic fermentation in those barrels then age for eight to ten months before bottling.
On pouring the 2017 is a pale straw colour in the glass. The nose has lifted aromas of nuts, smoke and vanilla. These notes continue through to the monumental palate which also has ripe stone and citrus fruits. There’s an impressive mineral streak which keeps the wine from feeling overblown or flabby.
This is one of the most expensive still white wines I’ve ever reviewed, so it’s difficult to assess it on a value for money basis, but it really is excellent and if you like Chardonnay it’s a wine you ought to try at least once in your life.
Stockists: no retail stockists at present, but a good independent wine shop should be able to order it for you
Pepe Mendoza makes fascinating wines in his home region of Alicante. To understand the wines we must first understand the region and the man himself. We will look at the range of wines he makes followed by tasting notes of one of them.
Where is Alicante? I wouldn’t have been able to place it accurately on a (blank) map, so here’s an annotated map:
Alicante wine comes from the province of the same name in south eastern Spain. As you can see on the outline map above (Credit: Té y kriptonita), there are two separate and distinct sub-regions:
Vinalopó which follows the banks of the river of the same name
La Marina which is a newer, smaller region by the coast
Monastrell is the major grape planted in Alicante – especially in the more developed and warmer Vinalopó – as it is in other wine regions in this part of Spain. A long-standing speciality of the area is Fondillón wine, a late-harvest red wine which is left in barrel for extended periods – similar to the way that Tawny Port is matured, though Fondillón is not fortified.
La Marina is cooler and has more rainfall, and so is more suitable for white grapes – Moscatel is prevalent.
Another historical wine style which was once more common is Brisat wines, i.e. skin-contact wines made using amphoras.
Señor Pepe Mendoza
José (Pepe) Mendoza grew up learning about vines and winemaking in his father’s eponymous firm Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, founded in 1989. Pepe was closely involved in the vineyard and the winery, then the overall running of the family firm with his younger brother Julian. In addition to this large concern – it covers 500 hectares and produces 250,000 bottles annually – Pepe and his wife Pepa Agulló also founded their own boutique operation Casa Agrícola.
From the beginning of 2021 Pepe stepped away from the family firm to concentrate on Casa Agrícola and a new consultancy business – Uva Destino – aimed at helping “vineyards that strive to express themselves”.
Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Wine Range
There are four distinct wine ranges within the Casa Agricola portfolio:
These are Pepe’s entry level wines which blend local varieties and are designed to be fresh but easy drinking:
Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco: Moscatel 40%, Macabeo 40%, Airén 20%
Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto: Monastrell 70%, Giró 25%, Alicante Bouschet 5%
Single Varietal wines
There is currently just one wine in this range:
Pureza Moscatel Anfora:100% Moscatel (see below)
These are also single varietal wines but made with grapes sourced from a single terroir, one which allows the variety to thrive:
Giró de Abargues:100% Giró from Marina Alta
El Veneno Monastrell:100% Monastrell from Alto Vinalopó
Small Production wines
These are experimental wines which act as an R&D lab for Pepe to try out new styles:
Mares de Luz Coupaje: a blend of Monastrell from Vinalopo and Giró from Marina Alta
Giró-Gironet Ánfora Velo Flor: 2 different Giró clones fermented under a veil of flor
Blanc Brisat Moscatel “La Solana”: a 100% Moscatel skin contact wine aged in amphoras
Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Pureza Moscatel Anfora 2019
The vineyard where the grapes for this wine are sourced from is only two hectares in area and was planted in 1943. It is farmed without irrigation and according to organic principles but is uncertified. Wine making takes an additive-free approach: yeast is indigenous and there are no enzymes, acid, sugar or other additives used.
The grape variety used is 100% Moscatel de Alejandría (Muscat of Alexandria) which is common all across the Mediterranean. It is sometimes regarded as inferior to other Muscats – principally Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains – but in the right setting it can deliver very good wines.
The juice is fermented on skins in amphoras of 220, 250 and 350 litres, with macerations two to three times a day. After alcoholic fermentation of around ten days, the wine is matured in the same amphoras for six months, without lees stirring, then in bottle for a further five.
Although classed by some as an “orange” or “amber” wine, this is more of a deep lemon colour. The nose shows grapes as expected from a Muscat, but also orange blossom and citrus peel. When tasted, at first it shows delicacy and poise, dancing on the tongue. There’s a fleshy sweetness to the mid palate, but this is followed up by some grippy tannins and an oh-so-dry finish.
This is a highly individual and unusual wine, completely out of the mainstream. It’s not one I would drink regularly on its own – it would surely blossom even more with food – but it’s very well done and deserves consideration for a wine which activates your senses and stimulates your brain.
Stockists: The Wine Pair; Higgins Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum; SC Grocer Monkstown
Source: media sample
Other Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola wines available in Ireland
In addition to the Pureza Moscatel Anfora, the following Pepe Mendoza wines are available in Ireland:
Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; SC Grocer Monkstown; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock.
Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; Mitchell and Son.
El Veneno Monastrell 2018 (RRP €43.95) Stockists: Avoca; D-Six Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum
When particular wines become a commodity it can be hard for quality producers to sell their wines for a price that reflects their efforts and costs. One rule of thumb is that, if there is a “Tesco Finest” example of a wine then it’s already close to a commodity. Two principal ways of overcoming this barrier are:
Brand marketing is expensive and really only worthwhile to large scale producers. These producers will often have distinct quality levels among their wines. Brancott Estate and Villa Maria of New Zealand spring to mind.
By “stand-out quality” I mean that a producer who focuses on improving quality year on year may – eventually – be sought out as one of the best examples of their particular wine. One example is Villa des Crois Picpoul de Pinet. Before tasting this I couldn’t have imagined that premium Picpoul could exist. In fairness, it is still modestly priced for a quality white wine, but it does command a premium over other Picpouls.
So now we move onto the questions: What is Pecorino like? Where is Pecorino grown?
According to Jancis, Julia and José’s book Wine Grapes1, Pecorino is a very old grape from the Marche in central Italy, possibly even domesticated from wild grapes of the area. The wine has no connection with Pecorino cheese; the cheese is just made from sheep’s milk and the grapes are said to have been popular with grazing sheep (Pecora)2. It was widespread up to the end of the 19th century but fell out of favour.
The story of the rediscovery of Pecorino in the last quarter of the 20th century has a few different versions. Luigi Cataldi Madonna (see below) claims that his friend Vincenzo Aquilano found some 80 year old vines in 1983 and that he (Luigi) was bowled over by an experimental wine made from it in 1990. Wine Grapes credits Guido Cocci Grifoni as resurrecting the grape in the 1980s, though that producer’s website gives 1975 as their first year of making Pecorino wines.
One of the main characteristics of Pecorino is its high, sometimes bracing, acidity. It naturally produces low yields (which is a likely reason it fell out of favour) but is strongly resistant to both downy and powdery mildew.
Cataldi Madonna is located on the “Forno d’Abruzzo” plateau, a hot subregion which receives cooling downdrafts from the most southerly glacier in the northern hemisphere. The vines cover 30 hectares and are situated between 320 and 440 metres above sealevel.
The business was founded in 1920 by Baron Luigi Cataldi Madonna, but didn’t bottle wine until 1975 under the founder’s son Antonio. Antonio totally modernised the vineyards and production facilities, bringing it right up to date. The next generation saw Antonio’s nephew Luigi take over the business in 1990. He transformed the house even further and made it one of the best respected wineries of Abruzzo.
As mentioned above, Luigi first tasted Pecorino in 1990 and immediately planted his own vines. The variety became a calling card of Cataldi Madonna and is currently available in three versions. Luigi’s daughter Giulia became the fourth generation of the family to run the business when she recently took over the reins.
Cataldi Madonna Pecorino Giulia 2019
This is the middle Pecorino of Cataldi Madonna, with a bag-in-box base wine and the SuperGiulia premium wine. They are all Pecorino IGT Terre Aquilane. Giulia was created by Luigi to celebrate the 18th birthday of his daughter Giulia. The wine is 100% Pecorino from vines planted in 2001 at 380 metres on clay loam soil.
Opened young and straight from the fridge, this wine is somewhat muted on the nose, with light citrus notes to be found. The palate is dominated by bright, I mean BRIGHT citrus notes and a real zap of acidity. But then, if you’re not a complete amateur like me, given some time and air it opens up a little on the nose and especially on the palate. The acidity settles down, remaining fresh but not jarring. The citrus notes unfurl into lime, lemon and grapefruit, and are accompanied by some pear and tropical fruits.
This wine loves to take you on a journey, and the delicious destination is worth the price of the ticket!
Stockists: Deveneys, Dundrum; McHughs, Kilbarrack; D-Six Off Licence; Baggot Street Wines
Source: media sample
1Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours – Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, José Vouillamoz
Before the arrival of this wine into Dublin I have to confess that I was only distantly aware of Wente Vineyards and their home of Livermore Valley in California’s Central Coast. The two are inextricably linked, but first here’s a map for us to get our bearings:
Livermore Valley in California
As you can see, Livermore Valley is at the top of the Central Coast region, across the Bay from San Francisco. Cooling sea breezes and fogs from San Francisco Bay give the valley more significant diurnal temperature variation, helpful for producing quality wine.
Although not that well known today – in Europe at least – grapes were first planted in Livermore in the 1840s, before the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and well before phylloxera devastated European vineyards.
There was a flurry of winery openings in the 1880s, with Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 followed by Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards in 1883. Colcannon and Wente are still in operation today, with Wente being the biggest. In fact, it was Wente who ended up buying the land that Cresta Blanca had used and replanted it after decades of being barren.
Livermore Valley’s influence on Californian wine extended beyond its immediate borders:
Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay
Wente Vineyards are proud of their status as “the country’s longest, continuously operated family-owned winery”. They have now reached five generations of family winegrowers:
Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
Ernest Wente imported Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier in 1912 and established the Wente Clone. His brother Herman Wente helped to found the California Wine Institute in 1936
Karl L. Wente joined the business in 1949 and greatly expanded US and international distribution. He also expanded the family’s holdings into Arroyo Secco (Monterey)
Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
Christine, Karl, Jordan, Niki and Aly Wente hold various positions in the business
Not content to simply fall back on with their long history, Wente are also embracing the future with the first ever virtual wine tasting accessed through Alexa or Google.
In addition to producing wine the estate also features a restaurant, 18 hole golf course and concert venue. But it’s the wine that matters most to us! The Wente wine portfolio consists of several ranges. In approximate order of most to least expensive they are:
The Nth Degree
Wente Winemakers Studio
It’s not unusual for Estate wines to be the top range in a producer’s portfolio, so this indicates a high quality level. To evaluate this theory we now turn to a specific wine from the Estate Grown range.
Disclosure: This bottle was kindly provided as a sample
Wente Morning Fog Livermore Valley Chardonnay 2018
The Wente Vineyards “Morning Fog” Livermore Valley Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Karl Wente. Its name evokes the fogs that roll across San Francisco Bay and into the east-west trained vines of Livermore Valley. Various Wente Chardonnay clones are used, including “Old Wente” which have been propagated without going though heat treatment at UC Davis. Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately.
After the grapes are pressed the must is split into two parts: 50% is fermented in old American oak and 50% is fermented in stainless steel tanks. The barrel fermented portion remains in those containers for five months and undergoes monthly lees stirring. The Inox portion is split further; half remains on its lees and receives bâtonnage while half is racked into clean tanks. All vessels are then blended together before bottling.
When poured the wine is lemon, not as deep as some other (more oaky) Chardonnays. It’s highly aromatic on the nose – helped by 2% Gewürztraminer – full of toasty, leesy notes and fresh citrus. The palate is fresh and clean, but with lovely texture. Unlike some Cali Chardonnays, the texture doesn’t get in the way of the wine or stand out awkwardly, but rather comes along for the journey. There’s a fine mineral streak through the wine and a fresh finish.
Overall this is a very well put together wine, rising above many confected and manufactured rivals at this price point.
Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Jus de Vine; Lotts and Co; Martins Off Licence; McHughs Kilbarrack and Malahide; Mitchell and Son Glasthule and CHQ; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Power & Co Fine Wines; Sweeney’s D3; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock
Vintage Port is the pinnacle of the Port quality tree, only made in the best years and very rarely in two successive years. It’s a wine made for the long haul, able to last for several decades and often entering its peak drinking window after one or two. The drawback is, however, that it is often unapproachable in its youth. A very small proportion of wine drinkers buy bottles to drink a decade hence, leaving Port producers with something of a dilemma.
A few months ago I attended a zoom masterclass with Luís Sottomayor, winemaker at Offley Port and Casa Ferreirinha (I have already written about the latter’s Vinha Grande Branco and Tinto here). Luís gave an overview of the 2018 harvest and the background to the 2018 Vintage Port: Spring 2018 was wet and the Summer not particularly hot. The harvest started earlier than usual in mid September, but was done very slowly as maturity was quite uneven. Overall 2018 was similar to the 2016 vintage apart from a slightly hotter summer in ’16.
The principal varieties used are Touriga Francesa, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão. To make this Port more approachable the proportion of Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) was increased; it has a high level of tannins but they are soft.
The grapes were foot-trodden in traditional lagars for maximum flavour and colour extraction without bitter phenolics. Normal corks are used as, in Luís’s considered opinion, they are the best closure for ageing. The wines have great body, acidity and structure making 2018 a classic Port vintage, though the crop was small. Luís characterises it as a fairly simple wine, easy to understand, drinkable when young but capable of ageing for decades.
Offley Vintage Port 2018
It might be approachable but this Vintage Port is opaque in the glass, as it should be. The nose has intense, rich black fruits, lifted aromas including spice and balsamic notes. The palate shows both red and black fruits, balsamic notes, chocolate, all kept fresh by good acidity. It’s a very generous but not overwhelming wine; it flows straight down without having to chew. Perhaps this is Goldilocks’ Port? Not too sweet, not too tannic or dry, not a blockbuster, but not too light. In a word, accessible!
Luís recommends drinking with cheese or – as the locals do – with Feijoada, a Portuguese black bean and meat stew.
Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; wineonline.ie
Our first born child arrived in September 2011, and rather than just buy a case of wine for him (or us) to enjoy when he reached his majority I decided to buy a wine I could enjoy around his birthday every year as a toast to another year on earth. In the end I settled (!) for one of Australia’s iconic white wines, generally regarded as Australia’s best Riesling: Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling. Normally I enjoy the wine so much that I completely forget to make notes, but this year at least I did write a brief tasting note.
Grosset established his eponymous winery in the small town of Auburn in 1981. Auburn lies at the northern end of the Mount Lofty Ranges, a Nelson (111) km north of Adelaide and 25km south of the town of Clare. The Polish Hill vineyard lies at 460 metres, covers eight hectares and is certified organic. The soil is rocky and low in fertility making the vines work hard. Winemaking is straight forward, trying to retain as much of the fruit’s character as it becomes wine.
Famously tight when young, the wine is made from small berries, a stark contrast to the larger grapes which grow in the Watervale sub-region of Clare Valley for Grosset’s other key Riesling, Springvale. Acidity is high and in its youth there are pronounced chalky characteristics. Indeed, you might say that (in most vintages) this is a wine for purists, but given time (and good care) it can blossom into something truly magnificent.
Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2011
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first: how dry or sweet is this Riesling? Well, Clare Valley Rieslings are nearly always dry – Grosset’s Alea Riesling is an exception to that rule – and by dry I mean technically dry, i.e. the yeast could not ferment any more sugar into alcohol, leaving just 0.9 g/L.
It pours a bright lemon in the glass; I expect that it was paler on release, though I didn’t have a young equivalent to compare it to. The nose is amazing – I could happily sniff it for hours. There are chalky mineral notes, of course, plus lifted lime, quince and grapefruit. There are no real kerosene notes yet, with the TDN¹ compound not present.
The palate is surprisingly soft and juicy, full of citrus with a soft chalky texture. The softness doesn’t mean it’s gone flabby – far from it, with literally mouth-watering acidity – but any austerity it had in its youth is firmly discarded. This is a classy, long and serene wine, nicely into the swing of things at nine years old, but with plenty to go yet. Yes it’s far from cheap, but for this quality and ageability it’s a very fair price to pay.