Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Pureza Moscatel Anfora 2019

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.

Alicante DO

Where is Alicante?  I wouldn’t have been able to place it accurately on a (blank) map, so here’s an annotated map:

DO_Alicante_location

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:

“Landscape” wines

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)

Terroir wines

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

casa agricola pureza moscatel 3

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.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €29.95
  • 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
Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Cataldi Madonna Pecorino Giulia 2019

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:

  1. Brand marketing
  2. Stand-out quality

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?

Pecorino

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

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!

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €25
  • 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

2No relation to Pakoras, either

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay

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:

  1. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
  2. Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
  3. As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay

Wente Vineyards

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:

  1. Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
  2. 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
  3. 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)
  4. Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
  5. 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
  • Small Lot
  • Single Vineyard
  • Wente Winemakers Studio
  • Estate Grown

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

Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay from Livermore Valley

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.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €27
  • 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
Information, Single Bottle Review

Pignolo, The Lazarus Grape

Have you heard of Pignolo?  I hadn’t until recently – when I tasted the wine below) – though I since spotted it in one of my friend Cara Rutherford’s posts.  Now I could be forgiven for this as I’m no expert on Italian wines, though Pignolo does feature as one of Jancis, Julia and José’s 1,368 Wine Grapes.  However, it nearly disappeared after its native Friuli was ravaged by phylloxera over a century ago, and it was forgotten about; low yielding vines and susceptibility to powdery mildew put it at a disadvantage when it came to replanting.

Fast forward to the 1970s and Pignolo vines were found (on their own rootstocks) at the Abbey of Rosazzo.  Cuttings were taken from these hundred plus year old vines and a new vineyard planted by Girolamo Dorigo (no relation to the former England footballer Tony Dorigo, to the best of my knowledge).  Other producers in Friuli have since planted Pignolo so that a tiny 20 hectares in 2000 had grown to (a still modest) 93 hectares in 2010 (let’s not ask about 2020 just yet!)

I had the opportunity to taste Dorigo’s Pignolo earlier this year and I was astounded at its expressiveness and quality:

Dorigo Friuli Colli Orientali Pignolo 2015

Pignolo

 

On pouring it shows a medium intensity, more red than black, and a lighter garnet towards the rim.

The nose is just amazing.  Firstly there is new oak, not as you would typically find it in a wine’s aromas, but rather more like being in a Médoc chais.  If you’ve ever had the chance to be in such an establishment the oak is lifted, intertwined with evaporating alcohol from the wine.  Freshly made milk chocolate and lightly roasted coffee and exotic spices (so exotic, in fact, that they are hard to pin down!)

The aromas continue through to the palate, though the oak is a little more pronounced now but fresh raspberries, cranberries and alpine strawberries have joined the fray.  The palate is super-smooth, with gentle tannins just hovering in the background.  Acidity is firm but not intrusive, just giving a fresh aspect to the ripe fruit flavours.

This is still a very young wine, especially in magnum, which will develop gracefully over the next few decades.  Even in this youthful stage, I have to include it among the top five wines I’ve ever tasted and declare it as the best nose on any red wine I’ve tasted, ever.  This wine is made in very small quantities but if you ever get chance to enjoy a bottle chais vous (you see what I did there?) then you owe it to yourself to snap it up!

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €60 bottle / €120 magnum
  • Stockists: Deveney’s of Dundrum (magnum)

 

 

Single Bottle Review

Bodega Garzón Albariño Reserva 2018

Bodega Garzón is one of Uruguay’s best wineries, founded and funded by Argentian energy billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni.  The winery is located close to Punte del Este (the “Saint Tropez of South America”) and charming seaside towns on Uruguay’s Riviera, facing almost due south into the Atlantic.  It’s now a destination itself with various tours and an upmarket restaurant headed by star chef Francis Mallman.

They have several ranges of wines within their portfolio:

  • Late Harvest: Petit Manseng
  • Sparkling: Extra Brut and Brut Rosé
  • Estate: Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Pinot Noir Rosé, Tannat Blend, Cabernet Franc Blend, Sauvignon Blanc
  • Reserva: Marselan, Albariño, Tannat, Cabernet Franc
  • Single Vineyard: Tannat, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Pinot Noir
  • Petit Clos: Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, Albariño, Cabernet Franc
  • Balasto: Flagship Red Blend

Uruguay’s signature grape is of course Tannat – originally from the other side of the Atlantic in south western France.  Garzón does make excellent Tannat, but here we focus on another grape from the eastern Atlantic coast, Galicia’s Albariño.

Of course, Galicia doesn’t have sole ownership of Albariño – it’s also grown south of the Miño/Minho as Alvarinho and is also one of the varieties being trialled in Bordeaux.  In these maritime climes the proximity of the vines to the coast has a marked effect on the style of the wine; littoral areas give more mineral and saline characteristics to the finished wine whereas inland sites lend a little more richness and fruit.  How does Garzón’s Albariño compare?

Bodega Garzón Albariño Reserva 2018

Bodega Garzón reserva albariño

I’ve been lucky enough to taste this wine several times over the past six months or so, but for some unknown reason each time I taste it I am pleasantly surprised at how good it is.  Fermentation and maturation are in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to help preserve the bright fruit flavours, but the wine does also spend three to six months (depending on vintage) on its fine lees, adding texture, weight and a certain creaminess.

The nose shows pronounced white peach and citrus, more expressive than lesser Albariños for sure.  On the palate the citrus shines through most, with a streak of fresh acidity and a saline tinge.  It reminded me of a Rías Baixas wine from close to the coast, except with more depth of flavour – perhaps a touch more sunshine and the time on lees make the difference.  Overall, this is a delicious wine that deserves the praise and recognition it has been receiving.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €21.95
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellar, McHugh’s, Martin’s Off-licence, Gibney’s of Malahide, The Vintry, Clontarf Wines, Brady’s Shankill, Deveney’s Dundrum, Higgins Clonskeagh, 1601 Kinsale, Morton’s Salthill, World Wide Wines Waterford, Alan McGuinness, Drink Store

Thanks to Liam and Peter from DNS Wine Club who have both shown this wine in recent months.