Parker points for a Spanish Mediterranean that is more captivating than ever
According to data from the Spanish Wine Federation, Spain is home to 13% of the world's vineyards (941,086 hectares). This country is responsible for 25% of Europe’s wine production and is the third largest producer in the world.
Today, Spain can boast of being the country with the most vineyards in the world. In Spain there are 70 Denominations of Origin, 42 Protected Geographical Indications and 26 single vineyard wines, but the worldwide fame of Spanish wine is still limited to a small number of well known names: Rioja, Priorat, Ribera del Duero...
Thanks to reports by prestigious critics and tasters, who spend their time scouring the Spanish land in search of wine gems, we have the chance to discover those hidden gems that go beyond the names of the great winemakers and wineries or the most famous wine regions.
The renowned specialist publication “The Wine Advocate” has released its new scores for the wines of central and Mediterranean Spain, 478 tasting notes of wines from areas like Valencia, Balearic Islands, Murcia and Castilla-La Mancha, which are much less famous than Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat, but where there are wineries and regions that are largely still unknown, but that are catching serious attention from wine experts (and for good reason).
For some time now, along the Spanish Mediterranean and in the centre of the country, a whole wine movement has been growing that is focussed on promoting quality over quantity and where the recovery of native varieties is an important consideration, because they contribute to the authenticity of wines that, very soon, will be some of the most sought after in the world, and that we can now find at a very accessible price for their quality, so much so it can be hard to believe.
Here are some of the wineries that have managed to surprise “The Wine Advocate”. All of them, based around simplicity and a family project, are managing to position their wines among some of the most recognised and sought after in the world. People, wineries and wines that you shouldn’t miss because there’s so much to say about them.
5 wineries that have captivated Parker
Pablo Calatayud is the man behind Celler del Roure, a small family winery located in Fontanars dels Alforins, (Valencia) at 600 metres above sea level.
This agricultural engineer started his small project with his father in the mid-1990s, with the aim of making wines that explain the territory. And his first “garage wines” were born. These were more concentrated and mature and made to reflect the landscape of the Mediterranean sun.
In this area, vine cultivation was foundational. People estimate that over 2,500 years ago the Iberians were already cultivating vines. Right near the remains of an ancient Iberian settlement (La Bastida de Les Alcusses, 4th century BC) lies the beautiful underground cellar of Celler del Roure, which consists of three galleries excavated in the subsoil of Les Alcusses and where you can see how the sands of the surface meet the limestone rock.
Here lie earthenware jars where they make wines that are a journey into the past, that rescue ancient varieties, like the Mandó, and that showcase a fresher and more subtle side of the Mediterranean, a facet that, as Pablo explains to us, was unknown, but that may be the reflection of wines made in the old style. All of these wines have managed to captivate the most experienced critics and have been very well rated by Parker.
José María Vicente, owner of Bodegas Casa Castillo, was awarded 98 Parker points for the 2015 vintage of his Casa Castillo Pie Franco wine. The 2017 vintage got one more point, reaching 99. Who would have thought that José María’s hard work and patience would bear the long-awaited fruit! Casa Castillo Pie Franco 2020 has become the first Spanish Mediterranean wine to be awarded 100 Parker points (it is yet to be released).
Bodegas Casa Castillo is an estate that was founded in 1941 as a rosemary farm. An old abandoned warehouse was found there, which had been built by the French in 1870. It was in 1985 when Nemesio and his son, José María, revived the vineyard and started a new project that has been one of the driving forces behind the rejuvenation of the D.O. Jumilla.
José María has been as keen as anyone to understand what a great wine is: he has travelled, talked to great winemakers and has bought and tasted their wines. All this experience and the years he has dedicated to refining the knowledge he has of his land and viticulture have achieved this surprising feat in a short time. With such meticulous work, it was only a matter of time before he reached perfection. Casa Castillo has become the first winery in the Mediterranean to achieve 100 Parker points.
Pepe Mendoza is the living example that good things can come out of a conflict. After a family dispute, Pepe decided to look for a space to set up his own project and was fortunate to find an impressive winery built in 1900 on an old “riurau”, a construction of Arab origin that is characteristic of the Marina Alta area (Alicante).
Pepe began making his first wines in 2016, still without his own winery. Although the transformation is still in progress, at his new Casa Agrícola he also has the most amazing vineyard planted with the Giró variety (a native grape) with vines ranging in age from 50 to 80 years old, according to Luis Gutiérrez, the expert taster for “The Wine Advocate” magazine.
Pepe’s wines improve year after year and international critics know it. These are sincere wines, made with conscience and with the intention of reflecting the Mediterranean character. If you haven’t tried it yet, don’t miss it!
There are more than 468,000 hectares of vineyards in Castilla-La Mancha. To date, it is considered the largest area of vineyards in the world. However, the La Mancha vineyard has not been able to shake off the reputation of growing grapes just to make wine in large quantities (in bulk) or to be distilled into alcohol. For this reason, Bodegas Ponce is a great exception worth highlighting.
From a place of humility, Juan Antonio Ponce has fought to move forward with his small family winery and to distinguish himself from high quantity, low quality winemaking, and he has succeeded! Within the D.O. Manchuela he produces sincere wines that reflect his enormous respect for the land and the philosophy of uniting work, people and the vineyard in harmony. He knows the Bobal red variety better than anyone else and he is deeply proud of these grapes, using them to make wines of enviable personality and elegance. He also surprises us with how exquisite and refined the white Albillo grape can be, one of Spain’s best kept secrets.
Ponce wines continue to catch the attention of international critics and also demonstrate that quality does not always mean excessive prices. Moreover, we can confirm that each of his wines, as well as having a lot of heart, are made in a practically artisan way that is worth much more than what it could cost you. See for yourself.
Fuente-Álamo, a town in the province of Albacete (Castilla-La Mancha) is the home of the Cerrón winery which, according to Luis Gutiérrez (“The Wine Advocate”) is the most sought-after and most exciting name in recent times.
Brothers Carlos and Juanjo Cerdán García are in charge of launching the Stratum Wines range, a project that runs parallel to the family winery, but which they describe as “the new generation of old world wines”.
Carlos and Juanjo are “old vineyard hunters”. They have recovered a few hectares of old vines, some of them with ungrafted vines (which have never been grafted) where the Monastrell variety predominates, the area’s leading variety, and where different and very interesting types of soils can be found (some plots have characteristics very similar to those of the Jura or Burgundy, for example). The Cerdán brothers are the creators of the most extraordinary wine that comes from the white Airén variety, with a very Burgundy touch of elegance.
This is definitely a project where young and well prepared blood runs, this pair love their people and traditions and are eager to improve and succeed. And if Luis Gutiérrez says so, it must be because it’s true and because they are on the right track. In short, a project set up in 2016 that is now a reality and a name worth remembering (and wines worth tasting).
According to Luis Gutiérrez, expert taster for “The Wine Advocate”, the 2020 vintage has produced the best wines in the history of the Spanish Mediterranean. A legendary vintage of wines with power and concentration (pure Mediterranean character) but with freshness, balance and elegance. Undoubtedly, more captivating than ever!