Toward the southeast corner of the Iberian Penninsula, about half way between the world renowned orange groves of Valencia and the gothic/baroque facades of Murcia, lies a tiny sub-region called Yecla that’s producing 7 million litres of wine annually. As striking is that it’s a rocky near-desert zone in a province that otherwise enjoys a mild continental climate, fertile soil and the benefits of being close by to the Mediterranean sea. It’s been blessed with these factors since a time of Argaric Bronze-age settlement. Its allure attracted the wine-interested Phoenicians, who passed on their agricultural knowledge and secrets to thirsty Romans. It was certainly part of the appeal for Moors as they expanded north from Morroco, establishing Arab taifas (fiefdoms) in the 9th century. The bounty kept them around for about 700-800 years, all-the-while cultivating grapevines simply to delight in its fresh fruit. They did so right up until the 15th century when the fiercely competing kingdoms of Castille and Aragon managed to put aside their other ambitions long enough to supplant the so-called Moorish occupation. The
celebrating Christians immediately began fermenting wine from grapes again!
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, not uncommon in the wine world of the age, Yecla was outputting bulk wine with high alcohol content. As part of a 50-year transformation in Spain’s winemaking, Bodegas Castaño is a regional leader among 11 family estates that comprise the Yecla DO. Here in the high, dry zone of Campo Arriba, traditional practice is being re-energized by innovation such as cold processing. Their mastering of a difficult terrain with low organic content and arid 40° climate presents obvious challenges, but it also reveals an underlying strength: gnarly, old bush vines, whose rootstock was less-affected by the Phylloxera scourge that wiped out most of Europe’s vines in the late 1800’s. In being both aged and stressed by the conditions, the vines produce low yields of quality grapes, lending a regional distinctiveness to the wine.
To craft the 2013 vintage of their Solanera specialty line, the Castaño vintners blend 70% Monastrell (Mourvèdre) with 15% splashes of both Cab Sauvignon and Garnacha Tintorera (Grenache). Monastrell is the star here, despite taxing the grower’s patience with its slow and long arc of development before reaching maturity. Typically harvested in mid-October, the prolonged growing period of the grape pays off by providing a broad profile of flavour and structure for the base wine; requiring less help from other varieties to round out the balance. As referenced in the wine name’s byline, Viñas Viejas, the fruit clusters are being drawn from some of the oldest stock in the vineyard, resulting in an appealingly rustic wine style that’s purposefully bottled unfiltered.
With this introduction, I suggest you immediately check the LCBO’s online search (see link in the margin) for the availability of this limited release, then sprint to the location and buy as much as you can afford. It’s ready now. Decant for an hour. It will cellar for another year or so, though you’ll find it hard to hold past New Years!
CASTANO SOLANERA VINAS VIEJAS 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #276162 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
Sugar Content Descriptor: D
Made in Yecla, Spain
By: Bodegas Castaño
Release Date: November 26, 2016
With substantial aromas and flavours of acacia flower, berries, and black currant, try serving this fulsome and slightly smoky wine with richer food fare such as braised duck or beef short ribs, steak au poivre or spicy pork sausages with a wild rice blend and grilled portobello mushrooms.
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