Earlier this year, I offered the outstanding 2019 Las Gravas from Casa Castillo, a wine which I have tasted three times now, and each time I continue to be impressed by its poise and complexity. I have since also tasted its big brother, the 100% Monastrell, Pie Franco, which is a remarkable wine. Sadly, stock is so difficult to access and strictly allocated that I was unable to offer the 2019 Pie Franco.
Thankfully, however, I have managed to source a very limited quantity of the 2020 vintage of both of these great wines. Although I have, as yet, not had the chance to taste either in 2020, you will see from Luis Gutiérrez’s scores and notes below, that these are nothing short of spectacular, and the best expressions of each wine ever made, in his opinion, the 2020 Pie Franco having been awarded a perfect 100-point score, if that interests you.
But first, a bit of background…
Casa Castillo is based in the DO (Denominación de Origen) of Jumilla, which lies within the Murcia region in south-eastern Spain. Like much of Mediterranean Spain, Jumilla focuses on wines based on Monastrell (Mourvèdre in French), a thick-skinned black grape variety well suited to hot, dry climates. Although lying near the coast, much of Jumilla is situated on an elevated central plateau, so the region in fact gets very little cooling influence from the sea. Instead, altitude is an important factor in moderating summer temperatures that can reach 40 degrees Celsius; most of the vineyards can be found lying between 400 and 800 metres above sea level. Jumilla has in the past had a reputation as a source of inexpensive, bulk wines, however, thanks to improvements in viticultural and winemaking techniques, as well as an increase of highly skilled, quality-minded producers, the region is slowly starting to gain recognition for top-class Monastrell. This is where Casa Castillo comes in.
When it was purchased in 1941 by the grandfather of current owner José Maria Vicente, Casa Castillo was comprised of a winery, a cellar and some scattered vineyards planted to international varieties dating from the 1870s, established by French refugees fleeing the plight of phylloxera. In 1985, José Maria and his father began to replant the vineyards with native varieties, focusing on Monastrell. They bottled their first vintage in 1991 and have been improving ever since, with Luis Gutiérrez commenting in 2020 that the estate is making ‘very high quality wines that I consider the best in the region and among the best in Mediterranean Spain, producing world-class Monastrell’.
The 2020 Las Gravas is a blend made up of 92% Monastrell and 8% Garnacha from vineyards with gravelly top soil over a base of clay and limestone, a soil base that allows for some water retention which helps in particularly dry years. The vines for Las Gravas are planted at an altitude of 750 metres, helping freshness and aromatics to be retained despite high summer temperatures. Practices employed in the vineyard and winery at Casa Castillo demonstrate the estate’s focus on quality; low-yielding bush vines are hand harvested, grapes are foot-trodden and fermented in small underground stone tanks with a high proportion of whole bunches, and indigenous yeasts are used. The wine is then aged for around 16 months in old oak barrels before being bottled.
The Pie Franco comes from the oldest vineyard on the property, the vines having been planted in 1942. The vineyard is south-facing, on gravel and limestone slopes at around 750 metres above sea level. The wine is produced similarly to the Las Gravas, using 50% whole bunch and ageing for 16-19 months in large old oak barrels. Production is small, with only 1,300 cases produced.
Of the 2020 vintage at Casa Castillo, Luis Gutiérrez had the following to say:
“2020 was a classic Mediterranean vintage, with a rainy spring and very dry and hot summer…Their 2020s represent the finest wines they have produced since they started in 1991. Even the musts showed balance and elegance, and that continued throughout the fermentation and upbringing of the wines that are elegant and fine, with less color and extraction than normal but with great character and depth. It has the Casa Castillo style, austere, mineral with an absence of fruit, with depth and character. Furthermore, all the labels also changed to a more stylish image with the 2020 vintage. 2020 is an exceptional vintage here, the finest they have ever produced.”
Although it is not the usual practice for us to offer wines we have not yet tasted ourselves, I feel confident in offering these world-class wines, given my knowledge of the wines and the estate along with their rarity and Luis Gutiérrez’s comments, knowing they are among the finest wines produced in the whole of Spain.