Take a listen: monastrell wine is on the rise. Yep, I’m making a call, here in Q4 2013, that the monastrell grape will be a major #wine force across the vinous world in the next few years. Wine tends to follow cycles and loops in popularity…Napa cab is here to stay yes, ever since it blew up in the late 60’s and 70’s, but then there was chard right along with it, then zin hit, Italian varietals almost did in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but merlot did, big time. Then sideways pinot took over like a soft-handed monster, and bets on syrah didn’t pan out, while shiraz did (same grape, people). Now, riesling is on the rise, rosé is finally making it big, malbec has been charging for a few years now and
I PREDICT: monastrell throws down a hammer goblet of good quality, price, and sales.
Earlier this summer I had the distinct pleasure of joining a media trip to the Murcia region of Spain, courtesy of INFO. It was here that we entered the birthplace of the monastrell grape, very similar to the more widely known grape of mourvèdre. The longtime winemakers that we met here, full of smoldering passion for their prized wine grape, were adamant that their monastrell was unique to their lands and three DO’s (or Spanish appellations), and that you could only find that variety within Spain. The uniqueness of their wines, despite my background as a geneticist, slowly moved me to feel the same during that week of dark-wined adventure.
Out of the three DO’s in the Murcia region, I will be covering the two smaller and less known appellations of Yecla and Bullas in this post. Yecla was our first destination on the trip in fact, and it was with great anticipation that I stepped into the car that early morning following my usual run; I had never had a wine from Yecla. The Yecla DO is an ancient one, like its neighbors within Murcia. There are signs of winemaking going back to the Phoenicians, and it also shares their very arid Mediterranean climate, but has well-drained soils that sit above limestone filled with a huge amount of larger sized pebbles. The rocky short mountains surrounding the almost desert-like land makes me think of how it would look if the Sierra Foothills were to be plopped into the Arizona desert. It is quite amazing to think that Yecla, along with all of Murcia, is considered the greatest produce-growing region in virtually all of Europe. The vineyards for the DO sit off the floor of the land, at between 1,300 and 2,600 feet, again proving that fine wine is rarely made at sea level. The greater altitude allows for cool nights, following the hot days during the main growing season. The very dry climate and protective mountains mean that many of the old-school, head-pruned monastrell grapes, very hardy in dry climates, are also on their own root stock, unaffected by phylloxera, an extreme rarity in the wine world.
Bullas, on the other hand, is the smallest DO of the Murcia trio and also the highest in elevation and only designated in 1994. As such, it is still being grown and developed by the longtime winegrowers and makers in the DO. It has some of the highest elevations within Murcia, and as such, also has some of the greenest countryside with much higher humidity and rain levels than the very dry lower elevations. Wine has been made here for as long as its people can remember, like much of Murcia, and they have a fantastic celebration of this vinous history with the creation of their Museo del Vino Bullas. The wine cellar that is fully saved and restored, was one of the oldest still-working wine cellars in the entire region and village. It is truly unique and fun wine-learning experience, very visual and multimedia heavy and one that I highly recommend as part of a visit.
Much like I delightfully encountered during my travels in Navarra, the people of Murcia were some of the warmest, smilingest, and most eagerly outgoing people that one could ever hope to spend a week tasting and soaking up food and local culture. Whether it was the barely contained enthusiasm of Alfredo Candela Belda at Señorio de Barahonda (FB, Tw, WL) and his irascibly happy puppy “LIO!!”, the calm and dry confidence (and again) humor of the Daniels at Bodegas Castaño (FB, Tw, WL), the quiet studiousness mixed with earnest curiosity of Pedro Azorín Soriano the Technical Director at Bodegas La Purísima (FB, Tw, WL), or the fascinating local life story and brimming positivity of Paco Huerto at Bodegas del Rosario (Tw, WL); we had the pleasure of meeting new friends hour after hour, in and around these two small, uniquely climactic, and proud wine regions. It is this love for life and their land and their kind, welcoming embrace of all others around them that come across in their wines made from monastrell: with their earthy, balanced fruit, acidity, and herbs that embrace the nose and the palate: they are an almost indescribably unique representation of wine; from only Yecla, from only Bullas.
And there were plenty of wines from both DO’s that rocked my world. Like virtually all of the wines from the Murcia region, right off the bat they have fantastic quality for their price. You can stock your daily wines by the case and still only pay $10 or less per bottle, many of them below $8 per bottle. It was astounding how much tastiness we enjoyed from these wines and then found out that they were so affordable, repeatedly. Some favorites, particularly during our hours-long lunches, were the La Purísima Yecla Premium 2010, Barahonda Yecla Tranco Monastrell – Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, and the rare white from this region, the Las Reñas Bullas Macabeo 2012. All showed off that great balance and super food-friendly acidity that just makes these wines shine, at all price points.
But don’t just think that wines from Yecla & Bullas are all value…when you taste through their ultra-high premium wines, you can almost hear the quality singing in your ears. The massive Señorio de Barahonda Yecla Zona Zepa Monastrell 2008 showed off tremendous complexity of fruit, integrating toast and earthier aromas and flavors, along with young, but very ageable structure and acidity. This wine was one of my favorites from the whole trip but has extremely tiny production: literally only 250 bottles were made for this spectacular wine. It was a very special way for us to finish the Yecla portion of our trip.
We are continuing to toss up tons of content, through our tweets and Facebook with #Murcia8 hashtag (Tw, FB), we’ve posted plenty of gorgeous photos on Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr, and of course, posts here at Vinopanion –WineLog.net. Don’t forget to catch the foodie coverage over at The Lady’s Rollerskating With Scissors blog. Cheers!
Wines from our #Murcia8 visits to the DO’s of Yecla & Bullas:
Bodegas La Purísima (FB, Tw, WL):
Color: Very dark core of garnet and violet, with dark violet edges.
Nose: Good, very dark and earthy black fruit, though slightly closed at this young age. Near the rim you pick up chocolate and anise.
Palate: A cool mouth intro, goes into plums and very dark fruit, with a smoother mouthfeel and full body. The finish has a fine grip of chewier tannin and bigger anise flavors. Good: OldWorldWK.
Señorio de Barahonda (FB, Tw, WL):
Color: Medium bright ruby core, with light ruby edges.
Nose: Bright and spicy red fruit.
Palate: Bight and juicy here, with spiced red fruit. Some more floral notes come in during the juicy finish, with solid quality for this price point: QPRWK.
Color: Light to medium ruby.
Nose: Floral violets at first, then funky and musty savory notes underneath. Red fruit is still quite bright however.
Palate: Very good, with a round, sweet fruited mouth that is nicely balanced with savory, black fruit on the palate. Great acidity for food as well, with some of that funk into the finish with lightly coating tannins. A very interesting wine that changes dramatically and continuously with air: OldWorldWK.
Color: Medium garnet core, with light garnet edges.
Nose: Earthy and slightly loamy red fruit here.
Plate: Very smooth mouthfeel, with dark red fruit and baking spice flavors in the fore, with herbs and good acidity into the juicy finish, another: QPRWK!
Color: Dark garnet core, with garnet edges.
Nose: Deep and dark complex medley of black/blue/red fruit, with young, big and rich toast and chocolate.
Palate: Big and full body, with the extremely good fruit complexity from the nose, all dark. It is all balanced by fine coating tannin, dark cocoa, and anise and nice bright acid. The awesome savory components are just starting to come out, in the long, saline, black fruit finish: AwesomeWK, KeeperWK.
Bodegas Castaño (FB, Tw, WL):
Bodegas del Rosario (Tw, WL):
Color: Light yellow core, with clear edges.
Nose: Very floral nose here, with light apricot and peach fruit aromas, all of which are very bright and fresh.
Palate: A light-bodied wine, with very zesty acidity that gives juiciness to the cool tangerine and apricot fruit flavors. Finishes with some more floral notes and Meyer Lemon freshness. Great value on this young vine wine: QPRWK.