Zoltan Szabo travels to Alicante to learn more about Monastrell.

Alicante wine region

Alicante is the capital city of the Autonomous Community of Valencia and is the third largest city in Spain, with one million people living in it. Situated in the south – east area of the country it is known for the “best weather in Europe”, for its Novella marble, paella (traditionally made with snails and rabbit), Turrón de Alicante (nougat) made with Marcona almonds, the Sierra Salinas mountains and Costa Blanca, with its marvelous (nude) beaches and dare-to-bare sun worshipers.  
Inhabitants speak Catalan and are the ancestors of Alfonso The Wise King of the Castillian Kingdom. They are a laid-back people, never in hurry, friendly and hospitable. And they live in this absolutely stunning environment, by the sea, with warm and bright sunshine all throughout the year.
The locals told me about a New Year’s tradition involving twelve grapes, luck and twelve o’clock midnight cheer…And, speaking of grapes and wines, at a recent trip that took place mid – November of last year, not only that I was able to swim in the Mediterranean sea and catch a tan, ‘mind you it was 25 degrees Celsius, eat at Michelin restaurants, watch soccer Spain vs. England, make new friends, have fun and hakuna matata, but also learn about Alicante’s other treasure, a little grape called Monastrell.
The Alicante Monastrell congress was attended by 700 hundred professionals the world over, with me the only Canadian. The main subjects of the congress were the origin of the Monastrell, its actual presence in Europe and the world, it’s adaptability to the land and climate, its capacity to produce different wines, rosés, young wines, liquors and Fondillón (traditional sweet dessert wine). Furthermore, there were discussions about the presence of the variety in the international markets and its future. More than 125 Monastrell wines from different parts of the world were available for sampling, with more than 25 local wineries from Alicante, Jumilla, Yecla, Bullas and Almansa participated in the (really well organized) show. Click here to see a gallery of pictures from the trip.
I was pleasantly surprised by the overall high quality aspect of the wines, made from this relatively small size grape, with thick skin, grown in limestone, clay (river valley) and sand in inland areas.
Anyway, getting back to reality, I have noticed that not too many of these fine wines are in the LCBO, in fact, no more than three or four, and that’s sad, because Monastrell can satisfy anyone’s drinking pleasure, the savvy sommelier’s, smart collector’s, the younger crowd’s, the beginner’s and the advanced wine appreciator’s. These wines are also really affordable. On that note, being on budget, you won’t find a better quality wine than the Bodegas Castaño ‘La Casona’ Monastrell from the Yecla D.O., LCBO# 143743, and wait…it’s less than $10 (!!), a delicious, lighter – style, raspberry –  scented, easy – drinking red, perfect for spring barbequing, sausages, grilled vegetables, what – not. Or, try the ‘Hécula’ from the same winery, made from 60 to 80 years old vines, the 2012 vintage is pretty impressive, medium – weight, smooth, with blueberry, sandalwood and cacao notes, LCBO# 300673 and just $12.85. Yes, thank me later.
And, those who aren’t familiar with Monastrell, well, it’s the same grape as Mourvèdre (also known as Mataró), grown in the Rhône and Provence, California and Washington State, in South Australia and New South Wales, and in South Africa. In fact, Mourvèdre is a component in “GSM” (along Grenache and Syrah) blends. I also tasted many rosé and port – style wines made from this variety. Some the more serious reds tend to be tannic and high in alcohol, but it all depends how and where the wine is made and where it comes from.
Anyway, in my upcoming posts I will tell you about my holidays experience on Fogo Island and my recent trip to Verona to attend Anteprima Amarone. I now have a Facebook account and you can also find me on Instagram @zoltan_szabo_
Lotsa love to you,

Zoltan 150Zoltan Szabo is a sommelier and wine consultant based in Toronto.