Alicante wine production has recently received a huge boost from experts and critics. Fondillón (pronounced ‘fondiyon’) one of the most famous wines in the world has been made right here in Alicante region for hundreds of years. A wine so well known that it was sought after by royal families and the wealthy all over Europe in the Middle Ages. It was reported that Louis XIV ( the sun king) asked for “Alicante Wine” on his deathbed. There are also references to Alicante Wine in the writings of Shakespeare, Defoe , Dumas (in “The Count of Monte Cristobal”)and Dostoyevsky.
Why haven’t I ever heard of this Alicante wine then?
Anyone who has a passing knowledge of wines might be forgiven for not having come across this special wine before now. Alicante wine, as it was known back in the days when Queen Elizabeth 1st would serve it to palace guests, was almost consigned to nothing more than a note in the history books during the 19th century when the grapevines in the Alicante region fell victim to a terrible fate.
During this time, the dreaded Phylloxera “plague” had already decimated the vineyards of most of Western Europe but Spain seemed unaffected. Phylloxera is a tiny louse that decimates vine roots and branches. Being on a peninsula, some thought that Spain had survived the threat. Spanish wine production flourished and sales were more healthy than ever due to the shortage of good wine everywhere else in Phylloxera ravaged Europe. Unfortunately the success of this period didn’t last long and, eventually, this microscopic, sap sucking little insect appeared in Spain and took hold in the Alicante region. Vineyards were destroyed.
Alicante wine production Post Phylloxera
Although there is no cure for Phylloxera, a solution was found by grafting stronger American root stock vines that were resistant to the insect. However, that wasn’t the end of the problems for the Spanish wine industry. Something else happened that meant the market place in Europe became paralysed…the First World War. With Europe at war there was no market for wine. 18 years after the end of WW1, just as vines were starting to grow again, the Spanish Civil War happened, shortly followed by the Second World War. During the 1950s lots of vineyards in Spain were replanted and wine production started again in earnest. However, serious wine production, on a serious scale, never really got off the ground fully until after Franco had died and economic freedom allowed the growth of the Spanish wine market. Even then, as tourism arrived to the Costa Blanca and the Alicante wine region, it became more profitable to sell land for the building of holiday properties rather than to maintain it as vineyards. By this time the number of Fondillón producers went from a couple of thousand, in the heyday, to the handful that now exist.
Why is Fondillón so special ?
It is said that there is nothing like the unique taste of this noble wine. Fondillón is a strong wine. At 16% it is more like the strength of a fortified wine, however, as the producers of this elegant wine as very quick to point out, no additional alcohol or sugar is added to Fondillón, as it the case with fortified wines. The reason for the higher alcohol content is due to the wonderful, warm climate in the Alicante wine region. The Monastrell grapes, which are the only grapes used for Fondillón production, are allowed to sit on the vine for a longer period of time than is normally the case for most wines. This allows the sugars to concentrate within the grape as it starts to over-ripen and shrivel slightly (think of it as turning slowly into a raisin). The abundance of natural sugar in the grape is turned into alcohol during the wine making process.
Anything else I need to know?
Fondillón wine isn’t only special because of its strength, it is also down to the maturing process that it goes through, for at least 10 years before it is drunk. The ageing process used is a fascinating one known as the solera system. You may have come across this name before, when travelling around Jerez and the south of Spain, as it is the same process that is used to age Sherry.
Barrels in a solera are arranged in tiers or rows, called criaderas according to age. The oldest criadera is where the wine is taken out for bottling but only a certain percentage of the wine is taken, not usually more than 25% at a time. The barrel is then topped up with wine from the next oldest criadera and that criadera is also topped up from the next oldest and so on. The youngest criadera is topped up from the latest harvest. This method of fractional blending produces a consistent quality of wine without the ups and downs that can come with a single vintage wine.
Only the best wine in Spain 2020!!!
From its heyday, when it appeared on the most prestigious tables all over Europe, to almost disappearing altogether then through to making a comeback in recent years, Fondillón has always had a reputation of being something special. This amber coloured wine that pairs extremely well after a meal with cheese (especially blue cheese), chocolate and other sweet desserts has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity due to trends in seeking out more traditional wines.
A huge recognition for Alicante wine makers came earlier this year when the Spanish ministry for agriculture, fisheries and food awarded the prize for the best and most outstanding Spanish wine of the year 2020 to two wines both from Alicante and both are Fondillón wines. This is a real victory for small wine production and definitely something for the Alicante region to be proud of. The two winning wines were the Gran Reserva Fondillón Brotons 1964 and the Fondillón 50 años “Siempre te esperaré (50 years always waiting for you) form Bodegas Monóvar.
If you are tempted to try these Alicante wines, I should warn you that neither is cheap, the latter costing around €194, putting it out of the bracket for an everyday wine but maybe for a special occasion it might be worth splashing out.
Take a tour
But don’t worry if your budget won’t quite stretch that far…you can always book a winery tour and get to see where Fondillón wine is made and, more importantly, get to taste a Fondillón and other Alicante wines for a just a few euros a head. Bodegas Monóvar is about 30 minutes from the city of Alicante and the trip is highly recommended. Simply take the road towards Albacete and Madrid and you’ll be there in no time. Probably best to check opening times ahead of visiting.
Address: Crta Salinas, Km 3,2, 03640 Monòvar, Alicante, Spain
Website for booking tours: https://www.mgwinesgroup.com/en/bodegas-monovar/