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WBW #71 – Rhônes not from the Rhône

This week’s Wine Blog Wednesday is brought to us by Tim Elliot, who chose the theme: Rhones not from the Rhone. A perfectly suitable topic for Catavino, as the Rhône just might owe a considerable amount of its fame and fortune to its southern neighbor, Spain! With the exception of Syrah and Viogner, two Rhone grapes that show a lackluster presence in Spain, we hold the grand title for Grenache (Garnancha), Carignan (Cariñena, Mazuelo, Samsó) and Monastrell (Mouvedre, Mataró). In fact, some ampleographers boast that Grenache and Carignan are not only two of the most important grapes of the Rhone, but that they originated from Aragon, Spain – so did the carbon based mineral Aragonite and the rock singer Eva Amaral, but these are stories for another day. While, Monastrell is said to native to Cataluñya, Spain, slowly moving northward to France in the 16th century; she is also the grand dame of Fondillon, one of the most historic dessert wines in Alicante.

However, it’s important to note that Rhone wines tend to be blended with up to 13 grapes, which is historically, why we speak of “Rhone blends”, as opposed to “Rhone Wines”. The blend is always unique to the vintage and the property, though of course, one can always stumble across the oddball single varietal Rhone wine.

For example, in Bullas, to the south, you’ll find big, rustic, and sometimes awkward, examples of Monastrell; while in Alicante, Jumilla and Yecla, Monestrell tends to be more refined and demure. In the Priorat and Montsant, Grenache and Carginan reign supreme and are often blended to great success: Carignan adding acidity and finesse to the brutish and aggressive Grenache personality. Admittedly, we have found a soft spot for single varietal Carignan’s that, when done well, tend to be heavenly, sensual and absolutely delicious.

So what are we opening tonight? Well, though we have a lot of choose from, we reached for a wine produced just down the road from us. It’s a little treasure from Montsant we picked up when conducting research for our Montsant Report, called Malondro, a 2006 vintage by Cellar Malondro. A blend of 50% Garnacha and 50% Cariñena, it’s made in the region renowned as “poor man’s Priorat”. But let’s be clear, Montsant and the Priorat are unique onto themselves, capable of crafting wines with personality and gusto.

Here’s a bit about the winery from our visit back in 2009:

Address: C/Miranda, 27, 43360 Cornudella de Montsant (Tarragona) Spain
Telephone: +34 977 821 451
Email: comercial@malondro.es

On an extremely hot, steamy day, we met with the owner and viticulturist, Joan Carlos, and winemaker Ramon Valls Bertran, alongside their small, newly renovated winery called, Celler Malondro.

The history of Malondro begins with a family grape growers who placed their sweat and tears into the soil for generations. But in 2000, two families joined forces to create Celler Malondro in Cornudella de Montsant with the aim of disseminating handcrafted, high quality wine from the grapes they’ve grown for almost half a century.

Vineyards are located between 500 and 800 meters in altitude and planted with Garnatxa, Carinyena, Macabeu and Garnatxa Roja (pink Garnatxa). The soils are primarily comprised of varying percentages of slate, chalk, sand and rock.

One interesting piece of trivia is that they’ve designed a trellising system unique onto themselves. Vines are housed inside a metal structure, much like a tomato cage, which allows for greater ventilation between the vines, as well as a greater leaf surface. By tripling the leaf surface, the leaf absorbs more light, which places a greater strain on the vine. And the greater strain on the vine, the better the grape.

Another unique trait of this winery is their experimentation with various toasting levels before blending. Wines are places in French oak barrels for 15 – 18 months, varying from high toast to no toast at all, before blending. Joan had poured us a handful of barrel samples prior to the final blend, and what struck us as fascinating was how a wine that tasted like a spicy and undrinkable two-by-four could add just enough structure to the final blend to create a truly intriguing wine. This practice is far from unique among wineries, but it’s always fun to see the before and after product.

Tourism: Malondro is a small family winery that barely has enough room in its cellar to fit more than 6 people. That said, I trust if you give the winery a ring they would more than happily find a way to accommodate you, regardless of your size. And to be honest, it’s worth a visit.

Wines Produced: Coelum, Latria, Malondro Tinto, Malondro Branco

This wine is a great example of what Rhone varietals can do outside of the Rhone itself. Sassy, elegant and structured, this is a wine meant for food and a few years in your celler. Lovely red fruit and wonderful, rich acidity, it might bowl you over with its woody aroma at first sniff, but over time, it softens up beautifully. In short, stunning!

Random Trivia: one of our earliest trips to Monstant was with our WBW #71 host Tim Elliot, when we galavanted through the vineyards with El Jefe’s rubber chicken – a California producer known for playing with Rhone varietals. We remember Tim’s trip fondly, and hope that one day in the very near future, we’ll have both Tim and El Jefe (not just his rubber chicken) troopsing through the Spanish vineyards exploring unique Spanish-Rhone blends with us!

Stay tuned for WBW #72 when Richard Auffrey helps us explore a very unique style of wine, with not only our palate, but with our compassion!


Gabriella and Ryan Opaz

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