A wine tasting at Wined Up Here, Kingston with Daniel Castano from the pioneering producer, Bodegas Castano, Yecla DO the smallest, northernmost wine zone of Murcia, SE Spain
by Sarah Rowlands August 2016
Yecla is the smallest and northernmost wine zone in Murcia, in SE Spain. Bodegas Castano is a pioneering family owned concern, but small it is not. It is one of the most important producers of wines in the region, bottling half a million bottles each year on an Italian Bertolaso bottling line with a capacity of 7,000 bottles per hour.
Daniel Castano is one of 3 brothers along with their brother-in-law based in Germany and 82-year-old father who is still involved in the business too. They export 95% of production, with the US and UK being important. Castano survived the downturn in the world economy from 2008, when Spanish banks withdrew finance. They buy about 2million euro of grapes, 40% of total production each year from about 500ha of land they buy from. It suddenly had to find the money to pay for bought-in grapes from cashflow. He was not so concerned about the Brexit vote. Importers asked for prices to be held while the dust settles, but in the long term he does not see it as an issue. (Most companies have been dodging the Brexit question, answering they don’t know.)
One of the reasons they are successful is their decades in the business. Originally their grandfather worked in caustic lime. This involved months away from home, arduous work quarrying and burning rocks, plus other processes. His grandfather started picking grapes every year in September to make wine on a small scale. They sold the wine and went back to the caustic lime. In the 50s his father said it was too much. He would spend months in the mountains with no way to commute back home. Little by little they expanded buying vineyards and grapes.
Another reason for their success is their flexibility, that is they are prepared to make what the market wants. That might be using increasingly popular screwcaps or producing to a required style. Castano wines come in all colours, from the easy drinking, straightforward macabeo and the rosado with hints of pomegranate, to the Vinas Viejas ‘Solanera’ and the soft and velvety finessed ‘Coleccion’ both full bodied reds. They also make a sweet fortified monastrell.
Most Yecla wines are red. There are white wines, grown in cooler areas, usually with altitude but they need attention in the vineyard. Irrigation is required for them as the region is dry, less than 300mm pa. Some refreshing and powerful rosado wines are made too. The majority grape of Yecla is the dark skinned, late ripening Monastrell (aka Mourvedre in France and Mataro in Australia). No irrigation is needed as it is happy with limited water as long as the old vine roots find a steady supply in the limestone soils. Simultaneously, it likes to be bathing in sunshine especially later in the year at the ripening stage. Also it is a high acid grape, so even though these wines were made kilometres from the sunny Mediterranean no acidification was necessary.
The wines all had one thing in common, not only the monastrell grape in the reds and rosado, it was the notable value for money compared to the quality of the wine. Although points are not everything, there are few regions (and producers) where wines with 90plus points are available at pocket friendly prices. Castano’s 100% monastrell flagship wine, ‘Hecula’ made from 40-60year old bush vines using 80% French oak, is less than £10 a bottle; the magnum at double the price was a touch sweeter and smoother on the palate. ‘Hecula’ appears on restaurant lists as well as being available off-trade. The 2012 received 91 Parker Points. Similarly, other Castano wines all garnered arresting high point reviews, or have been awarded competition medals. For example, for a couple of pounds more, the punchy, ripe ‘Solanera’ with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Henry Bouschet) made for the US market (available in the UK), the smoother, harmonious ‘Coleccion’ (15% Cabernet Sauvignon) plus their black fruits, chocolate and black olive ‘Dulce’ fortified monastrell (both less than £15).
Expect to see more wines from Yecla in your glass, at home or from the wine list, as they seem to have the much wanted quality better than price ratio.