There is a significant trend in winemaking, particularly amongst small wine-makers to avoid using chemicals in the process, including even sulphites. Only natural products are considered acceptable such as manuring the land by allowing local shepherds to let their sheep pass through the vineyards and the use of crops grown between the vines which act as a green manure. There is a total respect for the land and the natural flora and fauna, the environment as a whole and much of the process is carried out to the lunar calendar.
In the bodega when the grapes have been harvested, sulphites are not added (normally at this stage for their antioxidant and antibacterial properties) nor are yeasts…the fermentation process is entirely down to the natural yeasts which occur in the atmosphere and which are present on the skins of the grapes. Only the perfect grapes are used following a rigorous selection in the vineyard and then again in the bodega.
Often this goes with a philosophy which aims to demonstrate what a particular variety can produce when the prevailing interest is the potential of the grape and the wine is not `commercially´ produced.
Such a winemaker is Joan Pastor i Crespo and his varieties are Moscatel de Alejandria, Giró and Tempranillo.
His vineyards and bodega are in the Marina Alta of DO Alicante off the road between Benissa and Calpe.
The bodega is the old casa de campo which was his grandparents house. Today the basic property has a Riu Rau, a tasting room which doubles up as the bottling room and store, a small bodega on the site of the original bodega where wine for the families consumption was originally made, a barrel room and bottle store for ageing the wine.
Joan came to winemaking some ten years ago, calls himself a vocational winemaker and has fond memories of the winemaking process being carried out by his family. In those days it was for lome use but he decided to start selling his wines in 2013.
His vineyards have a decidedly chalky look, being white and contain stones, lots of stones called `Fiter´. These are used for dry stonewalling. The vines are affected by their proximity to the sea, ( 4kms) and are at around 150 metres above sea level. Being so close the climate provides breezes night and day containing moisture and a local wind called the `Llebeig´.
Joan is not competing with the big bodegas such as Bocopa producing their commercial but excellent Marina Alta white wine from Moscatel in the same area. His are `Peculiar wines´sometimes called `real wines´and his Moscatel vines face very different treatment. In the first place the variety does not have a lot of natural acidity and as a result is often picked in stages when the acidity is higher but the grapes are not ripe, then later when they are ripe but the acidity is low.
Juan leaves his grapes on the vines to mature longer than normal. Part of the reason for this is that the flavours and scents of the variety are in the skin, not the juice. As the skins mature so the scents concentrate. Of course the sugar content will be higher as well and indeed the grapes will generally be more concentrated. Joan has been known to leave his picking until after the local bodega in Xaló has finished its fermentation process and closed.
This flavour can be enhanced when the grapes arrive at the bodega. The Riu Rau process allows for the grapes to be laid out on cane mats in the sun so that they pasify, the moisture reduces and the sugar level increases…to the point where it is crusted in the skin. This is used for the Dulce.
In the bodega Juan sends his grapes direct to stainless steel deposit and maintains them at very low temperatures to allow the maceration process to further concentrate the scents before temperature controlled fermentation takes place. The time depends on the vintage but maceration can last between two days and a week. Fermentation then takes place in the deposits with the exception of one white wine where fermentation takes place in barrel. All the white wines have a period of crianza on their lees.
Whilst the quaint bodega is not the smallest we have visited it did have one big difference, the barrel room having a definite smell of ripe bananas. And it is scent and flavour which marks the resulting wines out. Joan has three dry white wines and a sweet from Moscatel and two reds from Giró, one blended with a little Tempranillo.
The Nimi 2013 white is 13.5%ABV. The vines are between 40-60 years old and planted `en vaso. They have less production than younger vines but there is more concentration. Old gold in colour, clean and bright there is a rising scent of orange skins before you lift the glass! The wine has a depth of expressive orange flower and jasmine on the nose, with a citrus base below it. then orange peel and tropical notes such as ripe pineapple but there is little sweetness in the nose. In the mouth it has a strong pass, a lot of depth and a big acidity. It is smooth and has a salty hint in an incredible long finish which just lingers in the mouth for ages with pineapple in the aftertaste.
The Nimi 2012 is a whopping 15.5%ABV. The harvest for this vintage was later than the 2013 and overall everything is more concentrated with a bigger structure. Amber gold in colour, fatter and notes of ripe grapes and pineapple on a very concentrated nose.
In the mouth you note the concentration, the power, and honey and compote but the wine contains the same point of salinity and an acidity which balances the wine perfectly. The wine also has a very long finish with orange notes rolling around the mouth.
Nimi Tossal 2013 at 14.5% ABV is fermented in barrel and then spends 12 months in American oak. Similar in colour to the 2012 it is clean and bright. On the nose you note the subtle tones of the oak, with vanilla. It is more refined and elegant on the nose, fresh, honeyed and with pineapple. In the mouth the elegance is maintained, the wine is more concentrated and smoother with hints of ripe peach in a long dry finish.
Turning to the reds the Terra Fiter Giró 2012 is 14.5%ABV. Giró is a close relative of Garnacha. The wine has 12 months crianza in barrel. A medium bodied cherry red wine in appearance. On the nose lots of ripe red fruit, `soto bosque´, liquorice, and balsamic notes. But in the mouth there is an explosion of fruit, red and black, with a sweet note, balanced tannins a good structure and liquorice in a long finish. As it evolves so cherry fruit emerges.
The Terra Fiter Giro 2013 15%ABV has about 40% Tempranillo. It has 18 months in oak and also appears as medium bodied red with a slightly darker edge. On the nose you immediately note the oak, leather, tobacco and chocolate with a brambly fruit. In the mouth there are nice touches of oak, cream, vanilla with an incredibly long finish. Time in bottle has balanced this wine nicely.
Finally the Dulce 2013 , a Naturally Sweet Wine from Moscatel has had the Riu Rau treatment described above. The grapes were picked in October, it is copper coloured, bright with long legs. On the nose it has pasification, honey, is complex, like a Christmas cake. In the mouth it is dense, creamy, full of spices, dried fruits such as fig and is a perfect accompaniment for pure chocolate but we think foie and blue cheeses as well.
In fact all these wines need food and will accompany powerful flavours well.
This tasting showed just how Joan has accomplished his task of demonstrating what this variety can achieve. His `peculiar wines´ are concentrated, powerful and unusual. But they are very drinkable wines which, if limited production did not prevent it deserve a wider audience. Between 8 and 12€ a bottle depending on the wine they should be bought not just by the curious but by the serious wine-lover who wants to understand the local varieties of the Marina Alta better. That is where the vast majority of his very limited production is sold. Sadly the Dulce is currently sold out and awaiting release of the new vintage.
This was a very educational tasting and we are very grateful to Joan for his time and hospitality. http://www.joandelacasa.com