'For me a perfect wine is one that reflects the landscape, reflects the soils and reflects the area where it comes from,' says Pepe, whose natural gift for winemaking and staunch belief in a minimal-intervention approach have seen him become one of Spain's most exciting new talents.
Pepe Mendoza: 'There are no bad grape varieties – but there are bad farmers!'
Based in Alicante, Pepe was born into Spanish-wine royalty (his father Enrique helms one of the most successful family wineries in the country) and crafts wines of purity, depth and elegance. His style is a rejection of the high-volume, low-character methods of the bigger conglomerates and the resultant high-alcohol blockbusters, instead focusing on a more terroir-focused approach.
The results are very impressive, and when our Head of Wine and buyer for Spain Pierre Mansour rates Pepe's new El Veneno wine as 'the country's finest expression of monastrell', how can you not be intrigued?
We caught up with Pepe to ask him about his winemaking philosophy, the potential of Alicante's native varieties and the challenges of creating elegant wines in the blistering heat of southern Spain.
1. Consumers are beginning to want to see more of a low-intervention approach across the food and wine spectrum. How far does this belief inform your winemaking?
In order to try to preserve the subtleties of climate, our terroir and the characteristics of native grape varieties, we put increasing efforts into crafting our wines without intervention. We work with autochthonous (native) yeasts without clarification, and above all we reject the styles of high-volume production wines that are so popular.
If you want to express the terroir of the Mediterranean, you have to work with autochthonous yeasts and with the minimum intervention so that the wines express the soil and the climate well.
Pepe Mendoza, winemaker, in his vineyards in Alicante
2. Spanish wine has always been popular in the UK, but many associate it with big, very full-on red wines. How have changing tastes helped you to find your space in the market and create your signature elegant style?
The wines of the Mediterranean are naturally powerful, with good levels of alcohol. We don't set out to make 15% abv reds – you can make quality, ageworthy white wines at between 13-14%. We are obsessed with quality though, removing the grains and clusters (imperfections) on mature plants, selecting only the freshest grapes to make our wines.
Pepe Mendoza opts for native grape varieties for his wines
3. Native grape varieties such as monastrell, alicante bouschet, moscatel and macabeo are a signature of your wines. Why do you you focus on these grapes over international varieties and what it is about the terroir of your region that brings out the best in these varieties?
For 25 years I worked with international varieties, but it is the autochthonous varieties that give us the greatest singularity, those that represent the rosemary, the thyme, the pine and chamomile scents and flavours of our lands.
Then we also have to think about the future: we work with those varieties that were not traditionally believed to make good wines such as giró, but if we don't save them then in the end they will disappear from the wine scene. I truly believe that there are no bad varieties, but there are bad farmers!
We are beginning to work more with giró, of which there are only about ten hectares under vine in Mallorca and about 150 hectares in Alicante. This variety gives wines with a totally different singularity and I think they have potential to have a big impact on the international scene.
Pepe Mendoza's wines reflect the regional characteristics of thyme, rosemary and laurel
4. They often say that 'what grows together goes together' and Spain is renowned for its food culture – are your wines especially suited to local dishes? What kind of foods would you serve them with?
Our white wines are very fragrant, with notes reminiscent of chamomile or rock tea. They have a salty quality too so they can harmonise very well with seafood, and Asian cuisine. Red wines work very well with any type of meat and rice.
5. Finally, describe your perfect wine and where you'd drink it.
For me a perfect wine is a wine that reflects the landscape and reflects the area where it comes from; if it is a Mediterranean wine, then it has characteristics of Mediterranean thyme, rosemary and laurel. I don't like wines with manufactured aromas.
I really value wines that reflect where they come from – and of course it's always best to analyse them in good company!
Explore Pepe's wines