Abel Mendoza Monge
Located in Rioja Alta, Bodega Abel Mendoza Monge is a relatively small bodega situated in the town of San Vicente de la Sonsierra. Abel is an experienced vine grower who has also become, through practice, a capable winemaker and his wife Maite is an oenologist with academic training. The couple do most of the work on their estate on their own.
Despite of being a small winery, this bodega is widely regarded as one of the single finest producers in Rioja. Abel is an artisan producer who handcrafts his own wines according to his own rules, a viticulture perfectionist that grows grapes of high quality, and enjoys a large reputation of the high quality of the wine he produces, including, rather unusually, white Riojas and making varietal wines, where many in the region would tend to blend. But this is not because they are against blends, far from it. But they want to observe and taste the varieties individually first. Producing varietal wines is also intended to prove the quality and potential of varieties that are traditional to the region but now little grown in the area, especially Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca and Graciano.
The Mendozas have been growers in the Sonsierra for generations, but it was Abel who first took the initiative of taking over the family business and building a small winery, in 1988. and started making his own wine instead of selling the grapes. Since then, the bodega has grown from 16 to 18 hectares that are divided into 37 parcels, located either along the River Ebro or villages surrounding San Vincente de la Sonsierra. These parcels are somewhat tricky to reach, and the work has to be done manually. Abel is very passionate about his vineyards, and spends much of his time working on them. They also do all their own grafting to make sure they have total control over every plant that goes into the ground.
For a full decade, nothing else was produced by the Mendozas while they improved the vineyards (90 per cent Tempranillo), and Abel began recovering a small panoply of white varieties with massal selections from a few vines planted by his grandfather four Garnacha Blanca vines, eight Malvasia Riojana, and seven Turrantes.
The winery itself is compact and simple, high-ceilinged, very tidy and well maintained. However, because the stainless-steel fermenting tanks and wooden barriques are all in the same space, it does not qualify as a crianza (literally ‘rearing’) cellar and so they cannot, according to the Rioja wine regulations, use this term on their wines, even for those that have been barrel aged. For this you have to have a completely separate barrel cellar.
The reds are fermented in small vats; some of them are used for Grano a Grano, containing little more than a ton of grapes. Abel likes to mix some white grapes with the red ones, a practice that has been shown to make colour and aromas more stable.
They have some older cement tanks which they use for semi carbonic maceration for the youngest and fruitiest style of red call Jarrarte. The grapes (tempranillo and malvasia) are entirely handpicked and then deposited into the tanks. Their slightly variation on carbonic maceration technique, involves removing some juice after about 10 days and then the grapes are eventually crushed underfoot at the open-topped cement tanks, this is just for the joven (young, unoaked) wine. Total capacity is about 70,000 bottles.
The age of the wines takes place in new French oak barrels and not American, coming from a bevy of different coopers, all part of a blending alchemy, including different soils at different altitudes, that’s why we find a lot of freshness, complexity and personality in his wines.
They market their wines under 2 different brands: Jarrate and Abel Mendoza. Jarrarte is a young wine subject to carbonic maceration, whilst the Abel Mendoza label is kept in oak barrels for eleven months. The yield of the Abel Mendoza brand is quite low which makes these wines more concentrated and complex with intense black fruit aromas and flavours.
Abel’s passion is wine, not the marketing of wine. Few if any of his wines are ever presented to journalists so reviews are few. Besides only a hand full of wine cases are made each year.