Discover Alicante’s millenary wine-growing tradition

The Alicante province is known throughout Europe for its beaches and has come to embody the warm and quality environment that Spain has to offer. Not surprisingly it is home to the largest population of British expatriates in the whole of the country. However, long before the modern-day tourism sector existed, during the 19th century, wine was an important driver of social and economic progress.

Perhaps one of the province’s best kept secrets is its rich wine growing heritage which can trace its origins to the times of the Romans, Phoenicians and Arabs as well. Alicante’s wine was once as globally acclaimed as Bordeaux is nowadays and a favourite of Europe’s finest noble houses and royal families. It was, in fact, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I who loved Alicante wine «above any other» and, according to his memoirs, France’s Louis the Great, Europe’s longest-reigning monarch, requested cakes soaked in Alicante’s Fondillón wine on his deathbed in 1715.

Visitors to Alicante can trace its wine-growing origins back more than twenty centuries thanks to province’s archaeological treasures which include a 6th century BC wine presses of L’Alta de Benimáquia in Denia and Campello’s Illeta dels Banyets where the Iberians made wine in in the 1st and 3rd centuries BC. During the Reconquista, the Christian colonisation of new territories led to unprecedented growth in the number of vineyards in what would later become the Kingdom of Valencia and, by the 15th century, Alicante would develop a thriving large-scale winemaking industry producing wine for local consumption.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, the many wars Spain waged in the Americas, Asia and Morocco as well as the Civil War would leave Alicante’s wine industry & economy waning, so it wouldn’t be until 1932 that the sector would be re-launched with the creation of the Vinos de Alicante Designation of Origin. Since then, and backed by the historic importance of its wines, the province has developed vineyards in various counties including La Marina and the Vinalopó valley reaching an annual production has grown to over eleven million bottles.

In Vinalopó’s southernmost region, the best representative of the history and adaptability of wines is the Monastrell variety which makes up 75% of all vines grown for the Alicante Designation of Origin. One of the finest examples of Monastrell growing vineyards is El Sequé where 20 years ago, the well-known Basque Artadi group rescued an old vineyard of dark chalky soil. Located 50 minutes west of the city of Alicante, in Pinoso, is where Marian Lópėz de La Calle lovingly offers guided tours and wine-tasting experiences on her family’s 98-acre vine estate. This successful yet humble wine growing businesswoman receives visitors with a warm smile and offers a walk-through of the region’s old secrets whilst explaining how the family has blended their love for tradition with state-of-the-art modern technology. Marian mentions that the grapes are picked with great care, abandoning much of the crop if it is not suitable and she even adventurously participates in the “pisada de la uva” – which entails her treading barefoot on the grapes.

El Sequé produces a unique selection of very dark violet wines which owe their high colour intensity to the long hours of sunshine the vineyards enjoy. The sun endows these local wines with a high phenolic content which is considered one of the best anti-oxidants. Artadi describes the Monastrell grape variety as responsible for a “wide palette of aromas and favours of ripe fruit and hints of undergrowth”.

The estate focuses on just two wines – El Sequé and El Sequé Dulce (Sweet). The former is made from a selection of the estate’s old vines from grapes that have had to withstand the region’s dry conditions, bordering on drought and are thus strong and dense, with a powerful aroma. This delicious wine offers a genuine Mediterranean voluptuous character and displays warmth and distinct notes of black fruits, ripe balsamic aromas and coated tannins. The latter was created as a tribute to the Alicante Fondillón wines which is a late variety, normally picked towards the end of September and in October. The sweet variety of El Sequé has a delightful taste which displays a harmonious balance between sugar and alcohol.

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