Lacking a DO status, Valdejalón is arguably the least well-known wine region in Aragón. Located at the centre of a triangle formed by Campo de Borja, Cariñena and Calatayud appellations, it comprises the area around the river Jalón. The wines are sold under the vino de la tierra designation, the equivalent to the new European PGI (Protected Geographic Indication). No wonder it takes lots of effort to recover old vines of Garnacha in an area where wine production had almost been lost.
Three friends in their 30s are behind Frontonio: the Spanish Master of Wine Fernando Mora MW, oenologist Mario López and international business lawyer Francisco Latasa from Zaragoza. Fernando Mora’s background is particularly interesting. An engineer working in the wind industry, he fell in love with wine and did everything within his power to turn his hobby into a profession. In his quest to become a winemaker he even planted 12 vines in the village of Alagón in Zaragoza and bought a kit to make his own wine at home with an ice-based temperature control set that he placed in his bathtub. After leaving his job in 2013 and passing the WSET Diploma two years later, Fernando currently makes a living as a wine educator and consultant while putting a great deal of passion in his Valdejalón project.
Entry-level wines are made at Mario’s family winery in Épila, right behind the small wine shop where Mario’s mother still sells bulk wine. The winery is named after Saint Frontonio, the patron saint of the village. Legend has it that he was beheaded by the Romans and his head thrown in the river Ebro, yet it appeared upstream. Going against the current fitted in well with the three partners’ project, hence the name.
They grow 25 hectares of vines and purchase some grapes from local farmers. Most of the vineyards are found at over 300m of altitude in the vicinity of Épila, on the left bank of the river Jalón, where clay-limestone soils prevail; the rest are further west, planted at 600m on red slate soils. In all cases, irrigation is not used in this area with extreme temperatures and low rainfall levels below 300 litres per year.
2010 was Frontonio’s first vintage. The current wine range starts with the entry-level brand Botillo Rojo which includes two young Garnacha wines, a white and a red (around €9.52 in Spain) plus a Viñas Viejas red Garnacha (around €12) aged in 500l used oak barrels and cement.
The Frontonio range is more complex. It starts with a series of village wines called Microcósmico (around €13 in Spain): a blend of Garnacha from different soils including some slate (8,000 bottles) and a 100% Macabeo white.
A step above –similar to premier cru status– is Frontonio Telescópico (17-18 € in Spain), whose labels include an X to distinguish them from the rest. It includes a single-vineyard Garnacha (5,000 bottles) grown at 750m in slate soils, a blend of Garnacha Blanca and Macabeo (4,500 bottles) and, an energetic single-varietal Cariñena (4,000 bottles) sourced from clay-limestone soils in Épila. This wine is fermented in 4,000-litre open vats and is later aged for 9 to 10 months in 500-litre used barrels. Frontonio Supersónico (5,000 bottles, around €21, aged in 456-litres oak barrels), which also has the X on the label, is their new low-intervention Garnacha displaying pure, straightforward fruit.
Large open vats are used to ferment Garnacha, as well as stainless steel tanks or barrels. Mora and his partners at Frontonio are staunch advocates of the use of concrete for malolactic fermentations and ageing. Around 100,000 bottles are produced.
There are three top single-vineyard wines or grand crus retailing at around €35-40 in Spain. They are called Frontonio, with no additional names. The packaging features light-cream coloured labels and wax closures instead of capsules. The Garnacha Blanca (less than 700 bottles) is particularly impressive with surprising depth and acidity for a white from Aragón. There’s also a red Garnacha (just over 1,000 bottles) sourced from clay-limestone soils) and Las Alas de Frontonio (just one barrel) made with grapes sourced from a slate vineyard at very high altitude.
2019 will see the release of El Jardín de las Iguales, Frontonio’s most ambitious project. Grapes for this new range are sourced from a rugged, isolated spot in Alpartir, a village in the right bank of the Jalón river with vineyards across the hills of Sierra de Algairén on the bondaries of Valdejalón IGP and DO Cariñena. Its high altitude (700 metres above sea level) and northeastern exposure allow to produce Garnachas with distinctive freshness.
Their jewel is a very old Macabeo vineyard planted around 1890. It stands next to some old vine Garnacha plots, next to which five new hectares have been planted recently. Since the 2019 vintage the wines are made in a refurbished winery with old underground cellars in Alpartir. Frontonio’s mid- and high-end range starting from Microcósmico is now vinified here. The range El Jardín de Las Iguales includes two wines: a white Macabeo with amazing depth (900 bottles) and a perfumed, vibrant red Garnacha (1,300 bottles) sold at record prices for wines produced in Aragón —around €165 and €185 respectively. None of them come under any appellation or geographical designation.
Starting with the 2015 vintage the three friends launched their second project in Aragón: Cuevas de Arom in DO Campo de Borja.