More to Spain than the Costas
Winemakers in the southeast have a confident swagger these days, as a trip to a local winery will reveal, writes JOHN WILSON
HEADING OFF TO the sunny southeast of Spain this summer? If you get bored lounging on the beach and tire of the crowds, maybe you should consider heading inland to visit a winery or two. Historically, many wine Spanish producers were reluctant to open their doors to visitors, but that is slowly changing.
Some of the more ambitious now even have visitor centres or little tasting rooms, at least. A quick trawl on the internet can be very useful, and will often show who is willing to accept visitors. Alternatively, a word with your local wine merchant or off-licence prior to departure might provide contacts and even an appointment to visit.
Inland from the resorts that run along the south and southeastern coast of Spain lies the Meseta, a vast area with is either completely flat, or a series of gently rolling hills interrupted occasionally by a range of mountains. The rain in Spain, as we all know, hardly ever falls on the plain. Most of it falls further north.
This is a hot, arid region, until recently unable to support much agriculture other than sheep, olives and vines. It was only the introduction of irrigation that allowed the production of the lorry-loads of fruit and veg that arrive in Ireland every day of the week.
Wine has always been produced here; traditionally, huge quantities of jug wine. At its best, it was warming and satisfying (some allegedly found its way northwards to beef up anemic wine from La Rioja and other posh regions), but lacking any real quality.
This has all changed dramatically over the last two decades; the internal southeast has a confident swagger these days, with a host of young winemakers producing distinctive wines of real character and quality. In addition to the well-known international grapes, local varieties – Monastrell in Yecla and Jumilla, Bobal in Manchuela, Valencia and Utiel-Requena – are showing real promise, alongside Garnacha and Tempranillo.
Bobal is an interesting variety – unheard of a decade ago, it has attracted a lot of attention recently. Once seen as a workhorse variety, it is turning out increasingly good wines. Monastrell is native to the region. Until five years ago, many were a little too extracted, often with unripe tannins. More recent vintages are far more supple, although still generally not short of power.
The various wine regions lie in a strip inland from the coast. Alicante and Valencia are nearest to the sea. Bullas, Yecla, Jumilla and Utiel-Requena require a little more driving. Swing around to the south coast, and the Málaga region is starting to produce some lovely swarthy reds. Not all of the wineries are worth visiting. Some are warehouses in local industrial parks, and some of the villages are still fairly rustic. It can be very hot during the summer, so visits are probably best confined to the cellar.
The southeast does produce some decent dry white wines and a few rosés too. But given the climate, most of the wines are red, and most are rich and powerful, showing a great affinity to barbequed red meat, lamb in particular. Even if you don’t manage to pry yourself away from the coast, do try to find some of the local wines – it will be so much more rewarding, and cheaper, than stocking up with more Rioja, the standard offering in many restaurants and supermarkets.
BOTTLES OF THE WEEK
Clos Lojen 2011, Manchuela, 13.5%, €12.90This was one of the most intriguing wines I had tasted in a while, and I strongly recommend you try it. Made from 100 per cent Bobal, it has a subtle ripe nose, and beguiling svelte sweet/sour soft fruit, cherry pie with a savoury edge, that gently fills the palate. Excellent length for a wine at this price. Stockists: Black Pig, Donnybrook; Enowines, Monkstown; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Liston’s, Camden Street; Lilac wines, Fairview; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; the Wine Boutique, Ringsend; 64Wine, Glasthule; Red Island Wine, Skerries; and Fallon Byrne, Exchequer Street.
Cortijo Los Aguilares 2010, Sierras de Málaga, 14%, €15.99An ambitious, recently founded winery located between Ronda and Campillos in Andalucia. This is a big, muscular, brooding wine with rippling, lush, dark fruits, but with a refreshing note that prevents it from overpowering. Stockists: Wines on the Green, Dawson Street; Black Pig, Donnybrook; Baggot Street Wines; Deveney’s, Dundrum; the Wine Boutique, Ringsend; Holland’s, Bray.
The Gauntlet 2008, La Báscula, Yecla, 14.5%, €22.65Made from the local Monastrell grape (Mourvèdre elsewhere), this wine is a joint venture between English master of wine Ed Adams and noted South African winemaker Bruce Jack. It is a voluptuous, full-bodied wine with plush, dark fruits, a cloak of spice and a smooth finish. Stockists: The Parting Glass, Enniskerry; Donnybrook Fair; the Corkscrew, Chatham Street; and Tindalwine.com.
Alvarez Nölting, Valencia, 13.5%, €13.99A very minimalist label, but the wine was more forthcoming. This is a pretty good, rich Monastrell, with plenty of supple savoury dark fruits, ripe, with no green tannins and good length. Stockists: O’Driscolls, Cork; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; Martin’s, Fairview; wineonline.ie; Swan’s, Naas; Lilac Wines, Fairview; the Coach House, Ballinteer; Hole in the Wall, Navan Road; Worldwide Wines, Waterford; Supervalu, St Aidan’s Shopping Centre, Wexford.