Sunday’s stage is flat, flat, flat, all the way to the 130 km marker and the Category 2 Alto de Puig Llorença. The peloton will then scramble through the intermediate sprint, and then attack the Category 1 Cumbre del Sol/El Poble Nou de Benitatxell and the summit finish. Our departure point, the city of Orihuela, was once ruled by the Visigoths and served as the capital of their province called Aurariola. As with many a town in Spain, it was ruled subsequently by Moors, the Holy Roman Empire, Napoleon and, ultimately, the Kingdom of Spain.
The peloton will surely enjoy today’s seaside route as they leave the region of Murcia and enter Alicante and the Costa Blanca, one of Spain’s most beautiful sites. All along the route, we will get to enjoy stunning, white stone cliffs that jut into the Mediterranean, interrupting the lazy line of bright sandy beaches with a pop of drama every now and then. It’s a place where almonds grow just about everywhere, and it makes quite a hospitable home for the Moscatel or Muscat grape, traditionally known for simple, sweet wines but now, in the hands of modern winemakers, capable of producing light, crisp wines that are only moderately sweet. And winemaking itself is getting a makeover in this agricultural hub of Southeastern Spain.
El Poble Nou de Benitatxell, located within the Alicante DO and the sub-region of Marina Alta, is home to the BioMoscatell Project, an effort to foster a sustainable approach to grape cultivation that benefits the growers as well as the region’s economy. The project seeks to raise awareness of Muscat as indigenous to the region, to maintain cultural and agricultural heritage, to promote traditional agriculture and vinification, to conserve and protect the native landscape, and to promote the work of local winemakers.
Currently almost 80% of ALL plantings – not just grapes – in this area are dedicated to Muscat, and it is all dry-farmed (i.e., no irrigation) relying solely on rainwater capture. This project, a collaboration between the regional government and local farmers, has recently eliminated all pesticide use and is now focused on the challenge of organic grape production. BioMoscatell has recently launched another product based on the local grape: Zumo Suc, a grape juice that will soon be found in Alicante markets. They tout the juice as, “the only juice in the world, natural and environmentally friendly,” which is made from Muscat grapes.
The website www.turismoelpoblenoudebenitatxell.org describes the first wines made under the project’s aegis, labeled Vino Moraig, as having aromas of lychee, mango and aniseed, with delicate fruit notes on the palate. While the wines may be limited right now to local markets, the project itself is quite interesting and encouraging. If you’re eager to know more, please go to the site and read more about the wines and winemakers.
Monday marks the first rest day for the peloton (there are only two over the entire three weeks!) but I’ll be back soon with some wine recommendations for Tuesday’s stage. The riders will edge a bit further south, toward the region of Bullas. See you then!