The deservedly prized wine grape of all three DOs is the hearty Monastrell. Comprised of small, dense clusters, the red wine grape Monastrell thrives in the semi-arid Mediterranean climate of the Murcia region. With hot summers and mild, short winters, the average annual temperature is 65 degrees. The sun shines in the cerulean blue skies about 320 days out of the year and with just the right amount of rainfall, about 12 inches total per year (mainly during the winter months), Monastrell flourishes.
The gnarled, twisted Monastrell vines amazingly grow from sandy and rocky soils and usually do not require irrigation - their roots reach to depths of 30 meters (over 90 feet) to find water without effecting the quality and health of the fruit. Mainly ungrafted vines, unlike most of Europe's vines that were grafted onto disease resistant American rootstock after the Phylloxera root louse wiped out most of Europe's vineyards at the end of the 19th century, there is no need for pest control - allowing for most vineyards to be farmed organically. The combination of diverse sandy and rocky soil types and an ideal climate have provided wine growers and winemakers of the three DOs the perfect backdrop for making high quality, distinctive wines that are well worth the excellent reputation they are steadfastly gaining. More often than not, the Monastrell wines are made using as natural a process as possible, even fermenting in their native, wild yeasts, which is said to help maintain the Monastrell's natural character. Although the wines from Yecla, Jumilla and Bullas each displayed unique characteristics from the terroir of their designated DOs, I found they shared common components of being fresh, pure and balanced – full of great acidity, complexity and character. Produced in a range of styles; including, young, crianza, reserva, sweet (naturally), fortified and sparkling, Monstrell is a gorgeous dark cherry red color in the glass.
The Monastrell is the varietal used most often in the production of wines from the Murcia region, but some of the other varieties found in the area are Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Garnacha and Cencibal, and they are often blended with Monastrell to create wines with loads of character. Commonly grown white wine grapes are Macabeo, Airen, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pedro Ximenez, Malvasia and some Muscat.
Starting our trip with exploring some of the wineries of the DO Yecla, we began with a tour and tasting of Bodegas La Purisima, one of the oldest cooperative wineries in Murcia and where I had my first taste of a 100 percent Monastrell wine. From there, we visited the impressive Bodegas Señorio de Barahonda, where we got a first-hand look at the original winery located beneath the kitchen of their gorgeous vineyard home. From Barahonda, we went to the southern portion of Yecla and were surprised by an outdoor lunch set next to the Bodegas Castaño vineyards with a view to remember - excellent wine and food seemed to flow endlessly. For the last winery visit on our first official day in the Murcia region, we traveled to the DO Jumilla to visit two of the Gil Family Estates wineries: Bodegas Juan Gil and Bodegas El Nido - ending the day with some stellar wines that had us all wondering where we'd be purchasing them immediately upon returning to the US. After retreating to our beautiful centrally located hotel, NH Rincón de Pepe, we all took short siestas and freshened up for tapas and night time fun in the bustling plazas and quaint restaurants of downtown Murcia - the way we ended each day in Spain.
Although many of us had very little sleep that first night, it didn't show the next day - excitement for the next two days of exploring the DO Jumilla was clearly evident in everyone's expressions. We started at Bodegas Bleda with an array of many different wines, then headed to Bodegas Carchelo, where we witnessed the bottling of a very unique wine and visited vineyards with breathtaking views of the mountains. We ate an outstanding lunch in an exclusive downtown Jumilla restaurant located in a 200 year old city home, Restaurant Loreto, and then we headed off to the state-of-the-art winery af Bodegas Luzón - their uniquely elegant tasting room offered each one of us our own tasting station, complete with individual copper spitoon sinks and faucets for water and rinsing. On our third day, with a continued focus on Jumilla, we went inside a cave home at Bodegas Casa de la Ermita, were wowed by the wines (and Monastrell jam) of Bodegas Hacienda del Carche (a link to their website will be added, it is temporarily down) and visited Bodegas Olivares, one of Jumilla's all family-run operations that started producing wine in 1930. From Olivares, we met with the winemakers we had visited throughout our two days in Jumilla for lunch at Cafe Sebastian, located in the Jumilla farmers market. Once again, wine, food and vibrant conversation seemed to flow with no end - I was beginning to understand the concept of the after-lunch siesta. Our third day ended with a memorable visit to the 3,000+ year old breathtaking Jumilla Castle.
The last day was spent exploring the DO Bullas, known for its long standing tradition in wine-growing and where more than 200 preserved (some full, some partially) Bodegas exist - most of them built between the 18th and 19th centuries. Resembling a rural town, in comparison to Murcia and Jumilla, there's a surprisingly sophisticated and modern Museo Del Vino (Museum of Wine) in Bullas - built on top of a one of Murcia's largest and most productive preserved wineries from 200 years ago. No longer in use, of course, the preservation of history is completely awe inspiring. We listened to a fabulous presentation on Monastrell from French winemaker, Daniel Giménez, who works for several Murcia wineries, visited and tasted the wines of Bodegas del Rosario, stopped by the famous Salto Del Usero and had mouthwatering rural rabbit paella in one of the regions old flour mills that was converted into a restaurant: Molino de Abajo. Many of the winemakers, winery owners and managers we met on our trip met us at this rural restaurant for our last lunch of the trip, towing with them the wines of all three DOs - it was absolutely incredible.
With each day of our trip being filled with unforgettable wines, foods and experiences with amazing people, I'll be showcasing each winery (along with tasting notes of my favorite wines) on WineJulia.com.