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 for red wines…and now Verdejo from Rueda is the white wine flavour of the month. But you sense that Alicante wine is slowly gaining ground, 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!
Monastrell and Moscatel: the twin stars of Alicante wine
One of the best reasons to try wine from Alicante is that you get tastes and flavours that just don’t exist in the supermarket back home. I’m talking about Monastrell and Moscatel, two grape varieties which really shine here.
To discover Moscatel, head for the Marina Alta and the coastal strip of the Marina Baja where the grape flourishes in the more humid conditions by the sea. White wines (especially dessert wines) take pride of place here.
Then there’s the hotter, higher, more arid area around the river Vinalopó , where the wine is mostly red. Here the Monastrell grape is king, uniquely adapted to the poor, dry soils with fierce heat in summer and sharp cold in winter. The Vinalopó is further divided into three – Alto, Medio and Bajo.
There’s also the smaller area of El Comtat around the town of Cocentaina. The L’Alcoià and Alacantí areas are less important.
There are 41 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.
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 La Tremenda Macabeo-Moscatel.
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).
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.
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, which is 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 it’s not the best fondillón you can buy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.