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 new 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.
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, in Jarque, with vines 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 but there’s a whole new range of wines now with elegant, eye-catching labels. The entry-level Botillo Rojo includes two young Garnacha wines, a white and a red (around €10-12 in Spain) plus a Viñas Viejas red Garnacha (around €13-14) 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.
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.
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.
Starting with the 2014 vintage the three friends launched their second project in Aragón: Cuevas de Arom in DO Campo de Borja.