On the hunt for Alicante’s best wines; a bodega tour

Wine from Alicante hasn’t always had the greatest reputation in years gone by. The likes of Rioja and Ribera del Duero grabbed all the attention…and the sales. But that is slowly changing now, with new wines and more ambitious marketing. 

See for yourself on a wine tour! Visiting a bodega (a winery) is a great way of spending a few hours: you get to talk to winemakers who are usually passionate about what they do for a living and as a bonus, you also get to sample the product! 

The two main areas in the Alicante DO (Denominacion de Origen) are La Marina Alta, in the north and along the coastal strip, where the Moscatel grape flourishes, and the hotter, more arid inland area around the river Vinalopó , where the wine is mostly red and the Monastrell grape is king. There’s also the smaller area of El Comtat around the town of Alcoy. 

Map of Alicante DOP
Alicante wine region, showing the two main areas (Marina Alta and Vinalopó) and the smaller El Comtat.

There are 36 bodegas in the Alicante DO. We’re slowly working our way through them; here are those we’ve tasted so far (map at the end of this post). No fancy tasting notes, I’m afraid, but I have tried to pick a few winners.

BODEGA ENRIQUE MENDOZA

Head for the small town of Alfaz del Pi, a few kilometres inland from Benidorm, and the handsome bodega of Enrique Mendoza.

Here on the coastal strip, the wine is mostly white, much of it produced from the Moscatel de Alejandria grape, which gives the local wines a distinctive fruity taste. Moscatel is nicely adapted to the hot summers, with lots of humidity and the salty atmosphere by the sea.

Bodegas Enrique Mendoza
In the cellars at Bodega Enrique Mendoza, Alfaz del Pi
BODEGA ENRIQUE MENDOZA
Enrique Mendoza reds: they come from the hotter, drier Vinalopó area inland from Alicante.
ENRIQUE MENDOZA
The man himself; founder of the bodega, Enrique Mendoza joins a tasting.

Enrique Mendoza’s reds, like most Alicante’s vinos tintos, come from the Vinalopó where the soil and blazing summer heat suit red wine production a lot better than the more humid coastal plain.

Mendoza’s vineyard is run on environmentally friendly lines, with natural fertilisers and without insecticides and pesticides.

There’s a decent tour, followed by a tasting with a selection of cheese and cold meats.  It’s a family business and the founder, Enrique Mendoza himself, sometimes turns up for a glass or two.

The wine that left a real impression on me is Dolç de Mendoza, a naturally sweet (but not overly so) red dessert wine from the Alt Vinolopó.  It’s not made every year, as the overripe grapes stay on the vine until December to maximise sugar content. A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and pinot noir, its cherry and caramel aftertaste goes brilliantly with dark puro chocolate (from Villajoyosa of course!)

I’m also a fan of their unoaked young chardonnay. And if you can lay your hands on a bottle, try the deliciously light Macabeo-Moscatel La Tremenda.

Enrique’s son Pepe has just launched a range of Casa Agricola ecological wines, two whites and three reds. So far, I’ve only tried one of his whites, a blend of Moscatel, Macabeo and Airén, a pleasantly scented wine that goes well with fish and rice. 

BODEGA GUTIERREZ DE LA VEGA

The wines from this bodega in the tiny village of Parcent come with plenty of character, just like their creator,  Felipe Gutierrez de la Vega.

Parcent is in the Marina Alta, home of the moscatel grape, and I think the dessert wines they make at this family-run bodega are among the best you’ll find anywhere.

They also have an interesting range of reds, including their unusual Rojo y Negro Tinto, made 100% from the Giró grape, which is rare in this part of the world (it’s mostly from Mallorca/Cataluña).

Imagine
Tasting the Imagine red, made from 100% Giró grapes, unusual in this part of Spain. The wine is named for John Lennon.
Bodega Gutierrez de la Vega, Parcent
The 1987 fondillón, the unique dessert wine from Alicante, made from 100% Monastrell
Bodega Gutierrez de la Vega
The cellars at Bodega Gutierrez de la Vega, Parcent

As soon as you see the labels on the bottles, you sense there’s something a little different going on here. Nearly all the names have literary or musical connections….from Casta Diva moscatel whites named for Maria Callas and Monserrat Caballé, to an Ulises red in honour of James Joyce’s Ulysses. There’s even an Imagine Giró red, named by Felipe for John Lennon.

Cosecha Real
Felipe Gutierrez de la Vega makes some excellent Moscatel dessert wines, typical of the Marina Alta.
Casta Diva
This moscatel dessert wine was served at the wedding of the King of Spain – hence the name Reserva Real (royal reserve)
Esencia
Another moscatel winner; this one is Esencia made from uvas desecadas (literally dried grapes, with maximum sugar)

Felipe Gutierrez de la Vega started making wine in the early 70s near Javea, moving to an old olive oil mill in Parcent in 1982. He clearly has his own way of doing things; one reason why he parted company a few years back from the  Alicante Denominación de Origen (DO), which regulates wine making here.  You sense this is a man with a fiercely independent streak.

The wine tour (€15) will leave you with some real tasting highlights that linger. The range and elegance of the moscatel dessert wines is impressive. Try Esencia,  made from desecada grapes (allowed to become almost raisins for maximum sugar content) and also the Cosecha Real (Royal Vintage) served at the 2004 wedding of King Felipe of Spain. 

BODEGAS XALO

This Marina Alta bodega in the town of Xaló (aka Jalon) lies a few kilometres inland from Calpe and just down the road from Parcent.

It’s a co-operative of producers from around the town and they have a wide range of local wines, mistelas (sweet dessert wines; a regional speciality) and vermouths on offer.

BODEGAS XALO
A good selection of reds, whites, cavas and mistelas from local producers
Bodegas Xaló
Cheap and cheerful: tourists and expats bring plastic containers and fill up direct from the barrel. Probably the cheapest way of buying wine on the Costa Blanca.
BODEGAS XALO
The bodega building on Avda Rei Juan Carlos, on the outskirts of Jalon (Xaló) on the road to Alacalalí

You’ll find plenty of expats and tourists arriving clutching plastic bottles, which they fill up with cheap and cheerful reds and whites directly from the barrel. Good for summer drinks like sangria or tinto de verano – young red wine mixed with Spanish soda and ice, sometimes with a squeeze or two of lemon.

But the better wine from this bodega comes in glass bottles, not plastic. Try the fruity aromatic Bahia de Denia white, made from the moscatel grape. It’s an interesting combination with fish or seafood, instead of the usual dry white. The Castell d’Aixa crianza (Garnacha/Tempranillo) is also worth a try.

Bodegas Xaló
Bahia de Denia: a very nice white with a distinctive fruity taste, made from moscatel grapes.

There’s a guided tour and tasting of the bodega wines. Link here  As a bonus, you can usually buy super-cheap fruit in season from local sellers in the car park outside.

BODEGAS MONOVAR

This bodega is housed in an ultra-modern building in the middle of rolling vineyards of Monastrell grapes, just outside the wine town of Monóvar in the Vinalopó.  

Bodegas Monóvar is worth a visit because of its role in rescuing fondillón, the dessert wine that is completely unique to Alicante. The fondillón in the cellars is a lot older than the shiny new bodega itself! Read more about this remarkable wine and how it came back from the brink of extinction in my blog here. Book yourself on a fondillón tour. Fascinating stuff.

Fondillón
The giant toneles (oak barrels) where fondillón spends year upon year maturing gently. The oxidisation process turns it from red to amber.
Bodegas Monóvar
Bodegas Monóvar. a few kilometres outside the town of Monóvar, surrounded by vineyards of Monastrell grapes
Fondillón
Alicante’s secret wine: fondillón. Take the tour at Bodegas Monóvar

The bodega is now part of the MG Wines group that runs a number of vineyards and bodegas across the region. You can buy a selection of their wines in the bodega shop, though none of them are actually made at Monóvar itself. 

BOCOPA             

Bocopa is a seriously big operation. They produce more wine in the Alicante DO than anyone else; 40% of the total.  They make a wide range – red, white and naturally sparkling – at their bodega just outside Petrer, in the heart of the Vinalopó wine area.

Bocopa was formed 30 years ago by half a dozen wineries across the Alicante region.

Their best-known wine is Marina Alta, a young and fruity moscatel white, a regular on Costa Blanca restaurant menus. They make a million bottles of it per year, so they’re clearly doing something right. Look for the clever anchor symbol on the label that turns pink when it’s chilled to the right temperature (7-8°). 

Try also the Reserva from the Laudum range: a smooth red made from 50% Monastrell, 25% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in French and American oak barrels for 12 months and 3 years in the bottle.

Bocopa run a range of wine tours, starting at €5 per person, which is pretty good value, and includes a tasting of three wines from their range at the end. 

Bocopa also make a limited amount of fondillón, the traditional dessert wine unique to Alicante. It’s great that they’re dedicating time and effort to keeping this remarkable wine alive, but I don’t think it’s the best fondillón you can buy.

PRIMITIVO QUILES

The downside of this bodega in Monóvar is that they don’t do tours. The upside is that they make very good wine, and you can drop in, taste and buy direct.

Primitivo Quiles is a family firm and the oldest bodega in the Comunidad Valenciana. You’ll find it next to the old bullring as you drive into Monóvar from Alicante.

Their Monastrell/Merlot Roble red and their Raspay Reserva (100% Monastrell) are both good. King Juan Carlos was served Raspay Reserva the first time he visited Alicante – hence the Spanish colours on the bottle.

Try also their excellent Moscatel Extra dessert wine, made from the Moscatel Romano grape. Sometimes moscatel dessert wines can be over-the-top-sweet. Not this one. One of the best I’ve tried, with a beautiful amber colour to match.

Star of the show is their fondillón, made with the sherry-style solera system. The oldest barrel (tonel El Abuelo) started production in 1892 and is still going strong.

BODEGA FRANCISCO GOMEZ

Things are not quite as they seem at this handsome bodega in the Alt Vinalopó, a few kilometres outside Villena. The main building of weathered stone and the cobbled courtyard both look like they’ve been there forever.

But the bodega facade was originally a mansion from sherry country in Andalucia, brought here stone by stone and faithfully reconstructed. The cobbles came from a village square flooded by a dam in Extremadura, over in the west of Spain near the Portuguese border.

Bodega Francisco Gomez
The handsome bodega of Francisco Gomez near Villena looks like a permanent part of the landscape. Actually the facade has only been there since 2000. Behind lies a modern winery.

Only the huge hanging racimo de uvas sculpture and the lofty lookout tower are clues that this bodega is modern, built as recently as 2000, with the first vendimia (harvest) not until 2004.

Bodega Francisco Gomez
This Racimo de uvas (bunch of grapes) sculpture greets visitors as they arrive

Francisco Gomez himself made his money in construction, and used it to expand Finca La Serrata into a modern winery with 250 hectares (620 acres) of vineyards and 350 hectares of olive groves, both run on ecological and organic principles. 

Bodega Francisco Gomez

Red wine grapes include Monastrell (the signature red wine grape of  Alicante),  plus Petit Verdot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Whites include Moscatel d’Alejandria, Moscatel Grano Menudo and Sauvignon Blanc. Grapes are harvested at night to keep the sugar levels high.

Francisco Gomez makes sparkling wines (vinos espumosos) using traditional cava/champagne methods, though of course they can’t be called cava because cava comes only from Catalonia. Their  ‘Queen of Kings Blanc de Noir’ is made from 100% Monastrell – normally a red wine grape, but the skins are removed from the juice very quickly after the grapes have been pressed (hence ‘blanc de noir‘)

I liked their young Boca Negra red (Petit Verdot/Syrah), and though I’m not a big rosé fan, the Fruto Noble Rosado (Monastrell/Syrah) was fun to drink. 

Bodega Francisco Gomez
Reds from the Boca Negra and Fruto Noble range

They started making fondillón – the classic dessert wine unique to Alicante – here in 2008, so they’re relative newcomers to the exclusive fondillón producers’ club.  Their fondillón is produced using the solera principle, similar to the way sherry is made, and – judging by the price tag and the very fancy bottles – is clearly aimed at wealthy overseas clients. The ‘madre‘ – the original fondillon used to start the solera – dates from 1972. Sadly the bodega tour didn’t run to a glass of fondillón, so I can’t tell you how it compares with other producers.

Serious wine lovers can store their wines at the bodega in ‘nichos‘ – something I’ve never come across before – row after row of private vaults where you can keep your finest vintages in perfect cellar conditions and bring your friends over for a tasting.

Bodega Francisco Gomez
Store your best wine here in one of these cages (nichos) under perfect cellar conditions

The estate also produces excellent olive oils. I’d recommend their Extra Virgin ‘Black’, a blend of Arbequina and Picual olives. The embutidos – the charcuterie that accompanies the tasting – were among the best we’ve tasted, coming from ibérico pigs reared on the estate farm.

© Guy Pelham 2018

For more on Alicante wine, see my blog on microvineyards in El Comtat. A very different way of making wine. Link here.

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