As any golfer on the Costa del Sol will know, the growth of the game locally was, unsurprisingly, in parallel with the building of courses. What has always been referred to as the first generation includes Las Brisas, Aloha, Guadalmina, Río Real, Sotogrande and Atalaya. All were constructed on easy-to-work, relatively flat land with no space limitations and minimal gradients.
Those of the second generation were not so comfortable, often having tighter fairways. The last generation comprises courses on land that would normally have been considered unsuitable, but they got built because there was nowhere else. On these mountain goat-courses golf buggies are indispensable.
The historical background of Spanish wine is not so dissimilar. The first generation during the middle ages consisted of products from Jerez, trailed shortly after by the Málaga varieties. Rioja chimed in a few centuries later, and following closely in the quality stakes Ribera del Duero. Exports from the Castilla La Mancha region began early and now represent more than half of total Spanish wine exports, most in bulk and at cents per litre The economic downturn of the 1980s provoked a search for lower prices and “new” wines, and the amazing improvement of those from lesser-known regions caught the public’s interest. It was not easy going though, as a wine store owner explained. “There is still a reluctance to order unfamiliar wines in restaurants, particularly if trying to impress friends or business colleagues, but at home people are drinking wines they did not even know existed a year or two ago.”
It was not long before household names from La Rioja and Ribera set up satellite bodegas in places like Rueda and Toro, and they deserve to be congratulated on their foresight. They were usually setting up in regions that were relatively unknown but where the wine was good, or potentially good if advanced techniques could be applied. The existing local producers were not normally skilled at marketing and distribution, which is where the newcomers could show them a clean pair of heels, in most cases already having national networks.
Nor was every region a winner. Of the 70-plus officially recognised,some, such as Tacoronte-Acentejo, Ycoden-Daute-Isora and Arabako Txacolina will have faded from the reader’s memory by the next paragraph. Nevertheless there are important “new” regions that have come into the limelight as a direct result of competitive prices and superb winemaking.
As the pick of the “second generation” regions, Somontano must be near the top, along with Toro and El Bierzo. There are excellent wines from Campo de Borja, abutting Navarra (the Borgia family had estates here), and surprisingly good red wines are coming out of the Jerez area. Even closer to home Ronda has matured and settled for fair prices. Yecla, Jumilla, Cariñena and Alicante are all regions that have started producing good wine lately, and some decent stuff from the Balearics and Canary Isles now have a firm presence on restaurant wine lists.
As an ideal example of how this new generation of winemakers is shaping up, Yecla was, until recently, a region whose wines were not really made for anything but local consumption. Fortunately modern grape husbandry and winemaking techniques have transformed them from just drinkable to very good indeed. The Winery On bodega, a comparatively new enterprise founded and run by German designer Karel Eissner and Pablo Cortes, has quickly found a loyal band of devotees for its six varieties, all based on the local Monastrell grape and with hard-toignore labels.
This tannin-heavy fruit is thought to have originated in Spain, although it is also found, as Mourvèdre, in the Rhône, Provence, California and Australia. Winery On’s high standards dictate that as a matter of policy only 10,000 bottles of each quality are released each year.
The autochthonous Monastrell vines are 50 to 60 years old, and some of Winery On’s reds are blended with Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. No aggressive chemicals are used in the 20-hectare vineyard and maturing takes place in American and French oak barrels. Prices start at €8.50 for the La Más Bonita white and rosado, followed by the most agreeable La Morena Mia at €11. Top of the range is the €23 Enfuria Classic, aged for 20 months, and made with all Monastrell (15.5º alcohol content). The regular Enfuria (€14) contains Petit Verdot and Syrah, as well as 50 pert cent Monastrell, and sells for €12. The other varieties, De Muerte, De Muerte Gold and El Chico Malo reds, range from €12 to €15. Indeed, for the quality and general excellence of the entire series, the wines are brilliant value and worth cellar space in anyone’s collection. The natural tannin of the Monastrell will enable a long maturing life in the bottle.
Distributor for Costa del Sol: Vinacoteca La Cartuja, Marbella, Tel. (+34) 952 775 203