2008 Pie Franco

Casa Castillo

94Average Score
flagJumilla / Spain

The 2008 Pie Franco was aged for 19 months in 500-liter barrels. It’s quite smoky and feels fresh but might lack the structure and power of the 2006 (my benchmark for Pie Franco) but it’s still true Monastrell and true Jumilla. With toasty sesame seeds, supple, mineral (saline) and finesse, maybe it should have had less time in wood, as the year produced more fragile wines. Drink 2013-2019 ||Casa Castillo is the leading producer of southeastern Spain, and their pure, un-grafted Monastrell Pie Franco is one of the greatest wines from Spain. Jose Maria Vicente is the third generation associated with the bodega, and is in charge of the winery today. The property was purchased in 1941 by his grandfather who was in the wood and esparto grass (jute) business. There were vineyards and other cultivars, but only as a side business. It was Vicente’s father Nemesio who in 1991 fermented and bottled the first Casa Castillo wine, so their wine history is still quite short. The property is quite big, over 400 hectares, and besides the 170 hectares of vineyards (70% Monastrell, 15% Syrah and 15% Garnacha), there are also almond and olive trees. All the vineyards are strictly dry-farmed. The Mediterranean-influenced continental climate has very cold winters with low temperatures often below zero and dry, hot summers, often reaching 40ºC. Average rainfall is 350 liters, concentrated in April-May and October-November and they have 3,000 hours of sun per year. The soil is varied, mainly clay with an active lime level of 15-19%, covered with gravel and sand. These conditions, typical in Jumilla, call for low density in planting, with 1,600 vines per hectare. The yields are low, which explains why, with so much land under vine, they can only produce 400,000 bottles per year. La Solana is their oldest vineyard, which was planted in 1942: 12 hectares grown on glacis, a very fine sediment from the nearby mountains, with the texture of sand, the kind of soil where phyloxera struggles to live. The vines are un-grafted, planted at a very low density, since this is one of the few vineyards where we have southern exposure, and is therefore hotter and drier than the others. The vines are very slowly being attacked by phyloxera so the vineyard is dying and will eventually disappear. In the areas where there’s more clay the insect can still survive. The vineyard yields 600 kilograms of grapes per hectare, which results in 6,000 to 8,000 bottles, depending on the conditions of the vintage. The grapes for the Pie Franco are destemmed but not crushed, and fermented in 6,000-liter underground stone lagares (pools) with wild yeast using only manual cap punching. As with all their wines, it ages in 500-liter oak barrels. I’ve learned a lot from Pie Franco and how the wine has aged from the initial 1998 vintage. If there is a great vineyard, the terroir will reveal itself sooner or later. There was a big change in style of all the wines they produce with the 2005, looking for balance, elegance and drinkability, and they have not looked back since. All the wines reviewed here are whole-cluster fermented with their wild yeast. Pie Franco is a limited-production wine of around 7,000-9,000 bottles and was not traditionally available on many markets, and not so well known. I had the chance to taste a mini-vertical of four vintages, which should be still available, even if in small quantities. Sandy soils give finesse but might lack power; that’s not what I found here, where the balance between power and elegance is fantastic, perhaps because of the very old (planted in 1942) un-grafted Monastrell vines that have never been irrigated.||Imported by Eric Solomon, European Cellars, Charlotte, NC; tel. (704) 358-1565 eRobertParker.com.October, 2013

Luis Gutiérrez, Wine Advocate     Score: 94/100

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