Marching in Murcia with Monastrell

Murcia presented itself as a homeland of Monastrell for Finnish wine people. Murcia, the land of nearly 3000 sunny hours in a year has great deviation concerning climate, food and wines. There are three different D.O. wine areas in Murcia, namely Bullas, Jumilla and Yecla.

Many times you start you wine excursion by familiarizing yourself with the wines made of grapes cultivated in the region.
Murcia has typical Mediterranean semi-arid subtropical climate, where summers are hot and winters mild. In the whole area you suffer water, because you have approximately rain some 300 ─ 350 mm/year. The rain falls mainly in April and October. On the coast temperature stays in the winter time near 10°C, while in inland it drops easily under 6°C, especially at high attitudes. The soil differs a lot even on same area, not to speak with the whole Mucia area. All this explains the complexity, concentration and differences with the wines.
Bullas is youngest in denominations but by no means indifferent
Bullas lies in the middle of the Murcia area in South-East corner of Spain. It is an age-old vinicultural region that has long history and tradition in winemaking. At the moment there are 14 wineries in the area. One could say that the future develops with the traditional old winemakers mixing with the returning young winemakers. Export on wines have increased considerably and the future is promising.

In Bullas vineyards are located in the sunny highlands between altitudes of 400 ─ 800 meters. Often the vineyards are surrounded by mountains and high hills. This generates the circumstances very demanding and rewarding for the vines. Principal red grape is justly Monastrell and Macabeo with the whites. In Bullas one can find original phylloxera free roots for the wines because of the dry limestone soil.

The Bullas D.O wine area is divided into three different geographical sub-zones. On the same area the soil, the terroir, can vary and make microterroirs in different parts of the vineyard depending of the location of the parcel.

Old mosaic handicrafs on the wall of the concrete wine tanks in Bodegas del Rosario shows the history of vine cultivation in the area. Focus is primarily on the Monastrell red grape variety. Harvest time begins normally at the end of September or in the beginning of October.

Bullas is traditionally the province of red wines but one can find there interesting rose wines made of Monastrell.

The early morning light revels best the picturesque and ancient shape of Cehegín, town that was found some 2000 years ago.

Jumilla dominates the production and exports
Jumilla, the biggest D.O. wine area in Murcia, lies on the North West corner of the area. There are over 40 wineries in Jumilla, many of them cultivating organically. Due to the hot and dry climate and red-brown topsoil over the limestone organic winemaking have bigger and bigger impact with the wines. The wineries had a new start in 1989 when there were a late phylloxera attack in the area. New plantations in vineyards broadened the variety of the vines and made the wines lighter but still maintaining their fruity characters.

Typical scenery in Jumilla where the vineyards are on high altitude, between 400 ─ 900 meters, surrounded by mountains. Many times sandy and stony soil allows to grow vines called “pie franco”, e.g. European root.

There are always skilled winemakers behind the quality wines. Joaguin Galvez Bauza is one of the newcomers settling down in Jumilla. In addition to his vast experience around the wineries in the world he has the touch for the winemaking. He emphasizes that grapes are essential for the wines and winemaking is art and technic. He is not in a hurry the start the harvest. He tastes the grapes until they are ripe enough to be picked up. Joaquin points out one danger during the vine growing, hails. They may blow up the whole crop in a glance. That’s why one ought the spread the cultivation to different parts to avoid total destruction.

Most interesting sips of the wines one can taste with the barrel samples like in Bodegas Juan Gil.

Sweet products one of the interesting wines in Jumilla. Hacienda del Carche has his own specialty that one wouldn’t expect to find in Jumilla. That is the red eiswein esCarche, made of Monastrell grapes in Jumilla. Wine is made of overripe and frozen grapes which were hand-picked in the early mornings of November. Meaning that temperature is between -5 ‒ -8 degrees Celsius, the water in the juice is frozen while the sugar is not. With frozen grapes there will be a lot of concentration and sugar content is really high. In the winery grapes are pressed immediately, while they are still frozen. The result of juice must is extraordinary and there is a profound concentration of sweet fruit. Fermentation is long and slow process, where sugar turns into alcohol. It is stopped when the alcohol does not allow to continue with the fermentation process. Result, ice wine, is unique one having great balance between sweetness and acidity. Mostly ice wine has high sugar level and less alcohol.

When wines are combined with the food the combination is perfect. Original paella makes nice match with Monastrell wines. It is a triumph of colors and aromas!

Yecla is traditional wine area
D.O Yecla is in the North-East corner of Murcia, and there are classified wines produced under 7600 hectares of vineyards. There have been a slow revolution when making the wines. New technology and equipment have been installed. Yields of the grapes have been lowered. All this means better quality, more concentration and better sales. Wines are creative, complex and rich nuances in the glass.

The vineyards are located on terrain at between 400 and 800 metres above sea level. The climate is in Yecla is continental, with cold winters and warm summers. El Espinal vineyard shows typical milieu where the vines are groving. The plain is vast and brown, sky in so blue that it dazzles your eyes. Mesa is surrounded with high brown mountains far away, and one can really smell the earth.

In the countryside you can see the smokes when growers are burning branches of vines. It tells about the ongoing work that must be done in the vineyards for the vines and harvest. That reminds you of being on an area where living is deeply embedded in wine-growing tradition.

Also the traditional ”country side” breakfast Gachasmigas is part of the tradition that you can meet in vineyards. This plain dish is cooked on a fire place and enjoyed with nice fresh Raf tomatoes and green olives. And of course with sip of local wine. 
On a winetour you may sometimes meet old winemaker, like Ramón Castaño Santa. Ramón Castaño appreciates his roots. His relationship with the vine cultivation and winemaking dates back for many generations. Ramón acquired his first own vineyard in 1975 in Las Gruesas in Yecla and it was in 1980 than the first wines were bottled. After that Now his three sons have taken the lead and Ramon is slowing down. With the business, but not the wines.

 What is wine tour with professionals if there is no special tasting involved. Tasting is a good way to sum up the essence of different wines. Clean table before the start!

Monastrell is a thrill.
Monastrell grape is characteristic of Murcia and is an autochthonous variety of this Designation of Origin. It arrived over 2500 years ago to Murcia from Near East. After that it has spread out to France, known as Mourvèdre, USA and Australia, where it is known as Mataro. Monastrell has beautiful, dark color and intensive, complex aromas. Fruitiness is strong and acidity lightly soft. Grape is guite high with alcohol level.
Text and photos: Heikki Remes

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