During this years Mediterránea Gastronoma, Valencia´s Exhibition dedicated to the very best of anything to do with Gastronomy, we were able to attend a masterclass tasting of Fondillón given by Rafa Poveda, fourth generation winemaker at what is now M+G wines between Salinas and Monovar in Alicante province.
Fondillón is one of Spain´s historic wines, mentioned in Shakespeares works, called ‘Alacant’ in Georgian England when the best silver neck labels for decanters were produced and a favourite on the royal tables of Elizabeth the First, Louis the ‘Sun King’ of France and the Tzars. It was the first wine to go on a world tour…..in the company of Magellan.
Fondillón is made from late picked, or at the very least very ripe, concentrated, old Monastrell grape vines ‘en-vaso’.
It is produced in the Alicante province, these days in an area called the Vinalopó, in bodegas in Pinoso, Monovar, Petrer, Salinas, Mañan, Villena, just 10 wineries are currently accredited with the right to the name.
Tastings of Fondillón are as rare as hens teeth, we have tasted from Poveda, Brotons, Primitivo Quiles, Bocopa, Santa Catalina, Algueña, El Pinaret, Alejandro SL, leaving just Villena and Hacienda La Serrana to complete the list. This has been over a period of 10 years or more, never have we been lucky enough to be in a room with all of them assembled. Probably this is because the cost of such a tasting would be prohibitive! Fondillón sells for between 40€-500€ a bottle depending on its age, rarity and quality.
Monastrell is capable of producing some astonishing, concentrated wines and they do seem to be at their best around Alicante and Jumilla.
The vines are grown on very poor chalky soils, sometimes in the area around Pinoso they are almost marble hard. Without exception they are stony with little vegetal content. The grapes are picked mature, often not until the last leaves have turned in colour and are dropping off. This means they are normally picked around early November but in hotter drier years this can be a bit earlier.
The grapes are generally very healthy, concentrated with a high sugar content, unaffected by noble rot, the sweetness is from the pasification which takes place on the vine.
After harvesting the grapes are de-stalked, pressed and are fermented as any red would be, 20-30 days using the natural yeasts. Rafa told us that although experiments had been carried out with commercial yeasts none produced a satisfactory result.
Fondillón will also only be made in excellent years, if the grapes dont have a minimum of 16º Baume they wont be picked, 20-23º is normal but 60º is not unheard of! Unlike other red wines Fondillón does not undergo a malolactic fermentation, it is beleived that over the years of ageing the malolactic yeasts liberate themselves slowly and naturally.
At M+G wines their small parcels are vinified separately, not because they will be eventually bottled individually but because each parcel has its own characteristics. They will be blended eventually. In any case in some years some parcels do not reach the required levels but in years when they all do the wine will be all fermented together. The wine is passed to very large old foudres ( or tinas).
When it is bottled many years later, around 15% will be drawn off from each barrel and the wine will not have a new batch added. When the barrel is eventually empty it will be cleaned and used for a new vintage. Although the wines are strong, they are not fortified unlike Sherry or Port, the high alcohol content is acheived by the natural water in the grapes evaporating over time.
At around 18-22 years the wine will be ready for bottling. The legal minimum is 10 years but little is produced at this age other than by commercial bodegas. There is no need to bottle even at 22 years, wines can and are left to mature and develop further.
We tasted three wines on this occasion.
The first was a ‘proto-fondillón’ with just 5 years ageing. Rafa had drawn this to show us how the transformation from red wine to Fondillón happens. The wine was a 2016 vintage, (a fantastic year according to Rafa) and was a medium bodied garnet coloured wine with the first touches of terracotta at the edge giving it that ‘aged look’. The nose was full of balsamic and burn’t notes such as coffee, notes of oxidation abounded, but in the mouth a natural sweetness overlayed a touch of yeast, a bitter note, oak and an incredible acidity. The finish was very long, filled the mouth and just hung around forever.
The second wine was 25 years old (1996). It was amber in colour, very bright and with very long legs. The nose was fading, coffee, oak and dried grapes now predominating. In the mouth it had great depth, was round and still had the long finish which refused to leave. The acidity was volatile, and there was now a real natural sweetness emerging to compete with notes of hot tyres.
The third wine was a fifty year old, ebony in colour and a blend of five wines from between ’45 and ’75. It sells for around 200€ for 50cl. It has 23%ABV.
This has a much more aromatic nose, nutty and complex, with the natural smell of old furniture polish and varnish, hazlenuts, dried figs and apricots, and salty seaside notes.
In the mouth it is powerful, concentrated and intense, pungent.
This is a wine to serve with strong blue cheeses, panetonne, chocolate, foie, salazones or anchovies or just to enjoy on its own after a very good meal.
Perhaps it is not surprising wines like this were on Royal tables and the preserve of the rich and famous but VÍ Vid will never turn down an opportunity to taste and learn about and from these fantastic wines!