Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wines of Jumilla: Bodegas Luzón

A Proud History
The original owner of Bodegas Luzón was a medical officer on the island of Luzón in the Philippines during the Spanish Armada. When he returned home, he purchased land just outside the town of Jumilla and opened a winery. His home is now the central core of a large, modern winery, indicative of the winery’s respect for its history even as it expands boldly into the future.

The winery was purchased by the Fuertes Group in 2005, and they undertook an extensive modernization and expansion program.

The blend of old and new is fascinating. There is an old wine cellar, which was originally used to store bulk wine. It’s below ground with natural temperature control, but it’s so tightly spaced that barrels can only be moved manually. In contrast, the new cellar is much more functional, but it requires air conditioning. There is a total of 45,000 barrels in the two cellars.

Linking the two cellars is a long, long hallway lined with 200,000 bottles of wine that are aging. In an adjoining room is a wine library (“our memory”) holding samples of all the wines they have produced over the years.

Pride of Place
Jumilla is surrounded by mountains, and the best wines come from the higher-altitude vineyards. Hence the name of one of Luzón’s signature wines – Altos de Luzón.

The winery has two separate winemaking facilities, with the Nave de Altos dedicated to making wine from the highest-quality grapes. The grapes are picked by hand, delivered to the winery in 15 kilo. baskets and then sorted by hand so that each grape is still whole when it goes into the fermentation tank. The winery also maintains separate tanks for different fields, and specialized presses ensure that each wine can be treated individually.

In addition to their own vineyards, Bodegas Luzón purchases grapes from local farmers who are paid based on quality. The grapes are closely inspected by a machine that takes measurements at several levels within each truckload of grapes as well as by digital and infrared camera.

The very best grapes are used in Luzón’s wines. Lower-quality grapes are sold as bulk wine. If the harvest one year is extremely poor, the winery will not issue a wine that year, preferring to skip a year rather than to sell wine that doesn’t live up to their standards.

Balance and Respect
Luis Sanchez Sanchez, the bodega’s winemaker, introduced me to each of his wines. I wish that I could reproduce the conversation as I learnt so much about the art of making wine.

Two basic principles form the foundation for his work. First and foremost is respect for the grape and the unique characteristics of each varietal. That understanding and appreciation of the grape enables Luis to balance and blend the grapes for maximum enjoyment.

I believe that Luis is a native of Jumilla, and I sensed that he was justifiably proud of Monastrell, the native grape. But he also recognized that consumers need something familiar that they can recognize and that will introduce them to a wine. As a result, Altos de Luzón is a blend with 50% Monastrell, 25% Tempranillo and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Luis explained that the Monastrell is unique to this region and a response to the local climate, while the cabernet sauvignon adds structure. The Tempranillo balances the Monastrell and the Cabernet, adding fruit and finesse to the final product. The wine is aged for 12 months in 55% French and 45% American oak.

The dry climate and inorganic soil are ideal for organic wines. Luzon currently makes an organic wine that is 100% monastrell. The wine is from young vines in a new vineyard as that was the simplest way to obtain organic certification.

Plans are underway to grow organic Syrah, which Luis believes is the perfect match for the Monastrell. I look forward to trying it as I am coming to believe that blended wines are preferable as they permit the winemaker to highlight the best qualities of each varietal.

I enjoy Luzon’s Dulce wine, which is made from 100% Monastrell grapes that have been harvested late for maximum sweetness. There is no added sugar, and it is aged for 9 months, resulting in a rich, complex wine that is not overly sweet.

Luis says that sweet wines should always be served cold, straight from the refrigerator.

I visited 9 wineries while I was in Spain, and I learnt a great deal about winemaking, but I learnt even more about my own personal taste. When I open a single bottle at a time, I may be able to tell you what I like or dislike, but it’s not until I’ve compared one wine with another that I begin to appreciate some of the differences.

There are so many different factors that influence the final product – the grape varietal, the season, the type of aging, the blending. And it’s only by tasting a number of wines, side by side, that you can begin to understand how each of these factors influences the taste of the wine.

If you enjoy wine, attend a tasting, so that you can compare a young wine to an older wine or one blend to another. Best of all, choose a tasting where the winemaker or company representative is present so that he or she can explain the background of the grapes and the wine.

Thank You
I was amazingly fortunate to be accompanied on my tour of Bodegas Luzón by Francisco Martínez, General Manager; Luis Sanchez Sanchez, winemaker; Isidoro Pérez de Tudela Guirao, Export Manager; and Patricia Nazaré. My heartfelt thanks. I only hope that my words do justice to your wines.

Jumilla, Spain: 5,000 years of growing grapes and making wine

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