A few weeks ago, I managed to trade a grey and rainy London summer backdrop for the clear blue, sun-filled skies of the Alicante DOP in Spain. It had been awhile, due to COVID restrictions and enduring what seemed like never-ending lockdowns, that I had actually was able to leave my square mile radius of North London. Upon arrival, my whole body assumed what some might consider a state of shock. The intense, dry Alicante heat paired with my layered, London attire (I’m always ready for whatever mother nature has in store!!) was definitely a match made in hell! Determined to quickly acclimatise, I did what any sensible Londoner would do…I headed straight for the first air-conditioned grocery store…Lidl! Oh, and I’m so glad I made such a sensible decision because this prompted my inspiration for writing this post.
My first attempt to get myself “in-check” was to explore the store’s local wine selection; my home away from home. After perusing various labels, my impatience soon took over and I asked a store attendant to recommend a bottle of Alicante DOP wine. Immediately, she grabbed a bottle labelled Marina Alta and exclaimed, “¡Esto es my popular!” Her burst of enthusiasm combined with my overly inquisitive nature (even more so when it comes to wine), were the perfect impetuses needed to kick-start my exploration of this ‘popular’ local wine and the Alicante DOP.
The Alicante DOP’s history of wine making dates back to the Iberians who were the first to domesticate native vines. Then around 500BC, the Phoenicians began cultivating vines followed by the Romans. This region offered not only ideal terroir for growing grapes, but also, due to its close proximity to the Mediterranean, wine could be easily transported by boat. In addition to the native grapes that grew here wildly, other varieties were most likely introduced to the region from the Eastern Mediterranean.
During the Renaissance, a sweet wine called Fondillón put the Alicante wine region in the limelight. Made exclusively from overly-ripe Monastrell grapes and aged in a solera system, Fondillón became the wine of choice for nobility around the world. It is said to have graced the tables of Queen Elizabeth I of England, been mentioned in works by Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky and was even rumoured to have been one of last requests the Sun King, Louis XIV, made on his deathbed, as this was one of his favourite wines.
Alicante’s ‘Golden Age’ of winemaking really took hold during the 19th century. With over 93,000 hectares planted, the region was producing large volumes of high quality of wine that was being enjoyed throughout the world. However, disaster struck during the the mid 19th century. First an Oidium (powdery mildew) plague hit followed by the outbreak of Phylloxera. Both led to the demise of the vitis vinifera grape vines and as a result, the Alicante wine industry soon found itself in a dire state. Additionally, an exclusive trade agreement with France ended in 1892 which increased taxes on Spanish wine imports. Many believe that these events hindered the region’s ability to overcome the the economic hardships it was facing and as a result, the Alicante wine industry suffered crippling effects.
In 1932, the Alicante DOP was created in order to protect the wines of this region and recognise it as a protected area. Today, the region has around 10,000 hectares of vines planted and over 75% of the vineyards are certified organic. This is the highest percentage of organic wine production in Spain and quite possibly the entire world. Additionally, modern winemaking technology is improving wine production which in turn is helping to create high quality wines using innovative techniques. As a result, the world is taking notice once again as wine tourism is increasing and people are beginning to discover the impressive wines this region has to offer.
Let’s Talk Terroir
Divided into nine distinct regions, the Alicante DOP offers ideal terroir for creating excellent wines.
Located along Spain’s Costa Blanca, the Alicante DOP benefits from a variety of micro-climates and terrain that includes a coastline brimming with Mediterranean influences, lush fertile valleys and a backdrop of mountainous sierras. Additionally, the sandy soil found here doesn’t retain water well and therefore, vineyards experience less disease pressure from fungal infections. As a result, several vineyards are able to farm organically or even biodynamically.
La Marina Alta
The most northeastern sub-region in the Alicante DOP is Marina Alta, which has the highest annual rainfall and is moderated by both the Mediterranean’s cooling influences as well as plentiful warming influences from the abundant sunshine in this area. Wines from Marina Alta are definitely reflective of the cooler temperatures as they tend have lower alcohol levels. The signature wine from this region is a dry, refreshing white wine made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape. One of the most award winning producers from this sub-region is Bodegas Xaló, which is located in the heart of Marina Alta.
La Marina Baja
Located just south of Marina Alta, the Marina Baja region offers warmer, dryer growing conditions and less annual rainfall. Rather than vineyards being located near the ocean, most are inland and fall within the Valle del Guadalest which is about 600m above sea level. One of the most famous Alicante DOP wine producers is Bodegas Mendoza which is located within the Marina Baja sub-region; however not all of the vineyards are found within this sub-region .
This mountainous sub-region with its countless estuaries flowing into the Serpis River, is located in the northern part of the Alicante DOP in Spain. With cooler summer temperatures, higher altitudes and colder winters, white grape varieties such as Viognier and Muscat of Alexandria are the shining stars of this sub-region. One producer to visit is Vins del Comtat, where you will find a wide range of grape varieties and wine styles to suit.
The L´Alcoiá sub-region is located in the Foiá de Castalla valley which is nestled amongst the heights of the Maigmó (1,296 m), Aitana massif (1,558 m) and Sierra de Mariola (1,220 m) mountains. As a result of the range in heights, this sub-region experiences extreme diurnal temperature ranges. If you’re looking to visit a winery whose focus is on sustainability and creating wines that embrace the local terroir, then head to Celler Muntanya.
With it’s lengthy wine history, the Alicantí sub-region is at the heart of Alicante’s wine industry. It’s close proximity to the Mediterranean’s cooling influences and variety of altitudes enables this region to produce complex, fresh wines reflective of the local terroir. Within the town of Alicante, you can find several wine specialists and restaurants where you can taste a variety of wines from the area. Throughout the year, there are several wine festivals and celebrations sponsored by Vinos Alicante DOP.
Located in the northwestern part of the Alicante DOP, the Vinalopó Alto sub-region is mountainous, with colder winters and warm summer temperatures. One of the best known mountain ranges, Sierra de Salinas is home to Bodegas Sierra Salinas, which produces some of the areas top wines.
The Vinalopó Medio sub-region’s landscape includes rugged mountains and fertile valleys which benefit from warm days as well as the cooling Mediterranean influences. Due to the ideal terroir, this sub-region has the most wineries in the Alicante DOP, which also includes designated grape growing regions within Abanilla, Jumilla and Yecla, which are all located in Murcia.
If you’re searching for a glass of Alicante Fondillón, then head to Bodegas Monóvar which is one of the top producers of this exquisite wine.
This lush green valley leading up to the foothills of the Sierra de Crevillente mountains has been the source of winemaking for centuries in the Vinalopó Bajo sub-region. Benefiting from warm temperatures, sandy soil and cooling afternoon breezes from the Mediterranean, vineyards planted here are able to produce excellent wines that are fresh in style and filled with complexities. If you’re looking for a boutique biodynamically-farmed vineyard, then head to Bodegas Faelo, a small family-owned vineyard and winery with over 100 years of winemaking history.
Parque Natural de las Lagunas de la Mata y Torrevieja
This sub-region currently has 75 hectares of vines planted just East and Southeast of the La Mata salt lagoon. Muscat of Alexandria as well as Merseguera are both planted within this area, which is known as the Vega Baja del Segura region. The distinct micro-climate of this area is defined by its close proximity to the lagoon and shores of the Mediterranean. Surprisingly, many scientists believe that soil which is comprised of both a high salt content and sand helped protect the vines in this area from being completely devastated by the Phylloxera plague during the 19th century. Very impressive!
If you’re interested in visiting the park and seeing the vines, as well as the salt lagoons, you can plan your trip here. Additionally, if you’re after a bottle (or two) of the incredible wines made from the grapes grown in this unique terroir, then head to Vinessens, which is a bodega and vineyard with 20 hectares of vines farmed organically and biodynamically. They pride themselves on creating 100% natural wines that are truly reflective of the local terroir. Check out their Tragolargo Blanco wine which is made from Muscat of Alexandria and Malvasia grapes and is actually orange in colour.
All About the Wine
Due to its versatile terroir, the Alicante DOP is blessed with an array of grape varieties that can successfully grow here. Monastrell is the most widely planted variety and comprises of about 75% of all plantings while Muscat of Alexandria (Moscatel de Alejandria) is the second most popular grape variety planted. Other varieties that grow well here are Garnacha, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merseguera, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, Bobal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Girò.
Warm days and cool nights during the growing season enable the grapes develop desirable acidity and sugar levels along with elegant complexities. Rather than developing overcooked fruit flavours and aromas, the wines from this region are filled with fresh fruit and in some cases floral aromas along with hints of the cooling Mediterranean influences.
Several different types of wines are made from the grapes found within Alicante. Wines range from tinto (red), blanco (white), rosado (rosé ), dulce (sweet), espumante (sparkling) and finally, this region’s amber-coloured treasure…Fondillón. I highly recommend exploring the range of wines that are available. I’m sure you’ll be impressed.
The Future of Alicante DOP Wines
Upon my return to the UK, I was eager to see which Alicante DOP wines I could find online. Well, needless to say, I think I’m better off heading back to Alicante, as there really isn’t much of a selection available within the UK market. The best options for purchasing Alicante wines in the UK were from the following websites;
Honestly, I’m really surprised that wines from Alicante aren’t more popular as they have everything going for them. They tick all the boxes; beautifully reflective of the local terroir, reasonably priced, easy drinking and a majority are organic. I now believe that it’s my duty to spread the word about this impressive wine region, otherwise, I would be keeping a secret that just isn’t mine to keep!
I contacted Vinos Alicante DOP to further inquire about the future of this DO and understand what they’re doing to attract more attention to the wines from this region. To my delight, Waldesca Zajac, who is from the Communications Department at Vinos Alicante DOP, graciously replied to my email and answered several of my questions. She explained that attracting attention to Alicante’s wines is, “a daily effort on all levels – locally, nationally and internationally.” One of the ways they are trying to draw more attention to the wines of Alicante is by contacting international wine experts to do online tastings (videocatas), which highlight various wines throughout the region, as well as explain the terroir and winemaking history. She suggested that I check out a video that was recently led by Tim Atkin, MW.
This videocata was extremely informative as it offered a brief history of the Alicante wine industry as well as introduced me to other incredible Alicante wine producers. If you’re looking for more videocatas about Alicante, then click here.
Additionally, Vinos Alicante DOP has been featured in an episode of the Wine Van on Amazon Prime Video (Season 4 – Epsiode 6). The host, Ian Chapman, not only amuses viewers with his outlandish costume choices and witty antics, but he also gains further insights into this incredible wine making region as well as a lesson in Fondillón. I highly recommend watching an episode or two as it’s all about exploring, understanding and enjoying wine! Definitely my kind of show!!
Well, I think that Vinos Alicante DOP is doing a great job of showcasing the incredible wines of Alicante. I hope that more UK retailers jump on the bandwagon and start offering a few more bottles for the UK consumer.
- The early Iberians began domesticating the native grapevines in the Alicante area about 3000 years ago!
- Fondillón wine is what made this region famous back in the Renaissance.
- The Sun King, Louis XIV’s wine of choice was Alicante’s famous Fondillón.
- The Alicante Denomination of Origin was formed in 1932.
- Monastrell is the most widely planted grape, followed by Muscat of Alexandria.
- There are just over 40 wineries and 10,000 hectares of grape vines planted here.
- The cooling effects and close proximity of the Mediterranean along with a varied terroir is the secret behind these incredible wines.