An area split apart between hot, coastal, sandy vineyards and hot, elevated, limestone-rich soils, this DO is famous for sweet dessert wines and the rancio style of wine called Fondillón. La Marina, the littoral portion, barely rises above sea level, but the vineyards in the Vinalopó River Valley (the western part) can rise as high as 2,100 feet. A few producers in these drier, elevated sites are making very good and balanced table wines as well. Alicante’s large, present–day 35,000 acres of vineyards pale in comparison to the more than 230,000 acres that were bearing fruit before phylloxera destroyed them. Considering the area’s wealth of sandy soils (along with limestone and clay), it’s surprising that the sand-averse bug was able to do such damage, but the two mildews (downy and powdery) had already done their worst when phylloxera came along to finish off the vines.
Back before phylloxera Moscatel de Alejandría (Muscat of Alexandria, or as it was likely known before, Moscatel of Alicante) was the dominant grape, as it may have been since Phoenician times. The Moors managed to overlook their religion–based disinclination toward wine to make these delicious sweet grapes a part of their daily table. Indeed, prices from the nineteenth century show Moscatel selling at four to six times the price for Sherry or Port.
The grape, like the region, has recovered, but is no longer the world–wine juggernaut. One of the DO’s famed dessert wines, Fondillón, is now more likely to be made from Monastrell than from Moscatel, its base of yore. But Fondillón (sweet and alcoholic) isn’t really the style of wine people drink anymore; today’s favoured wines are fresher and fruitier.
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