Last week in our virtual tour of Spain’s wine regions, we settled in on the Mediterranean coast, traveling along the southern areas of Alicante and Valencia. This week, still focusing on the third of Spain’s six wine regions, we’ll travel a bit west to the region of Jumilla.
This region, sitting on a plateau surrounded by mountains, might seem like an arid landscape, and it would be but for the saving moisture and breezes embracing it from the Mediterranean Sea. Geographically west of Alicante and further inland, it is 150 miles southeast of cosmopolitan Madrid.
Here we have the perfect formula for a well-balanced wine: elevated topography, nutrient-deprived but moisture-retentive soil and cooling wind currents to offset the intense sun. As in other areas of the world, local vintners have experimented with various grapes over the centuries to determine which varieties fare best in this microclimate.
What they have planted and nurtured in over 80 percent of the vineyard acreage is the Monastrell grape. This grape has been grown elsewhere with a high level of success, but the Spaniards have stamped it with a unique pedigree. Elsewhere it is known as Mourvedre and is produced in several regions in France and Australia. In Spain, the locals have capitalized on this grape’s attraction to consumers and are producing a wine that is tailored to the American palate – fruit-forward, modest tannins and moderate alcohol (13.5 percent).
This is a true in-your-face fruit bomb. The characteristics of the wine sound more like ruminations on a food dish: blackberry and cherry flavors, spicy aroma, silky on the palate, complex structure, lingering finish. This is a perfect barbeque wine – in any season. Its younger sibling, rosé, is a refreshing and fruity summer quaffing wine.
I recently conducted a food and wine dinner featuring Spanish wines. The hit of the evening was a Jumilla from Altos de la Hoya, which was perfectly matched with tapas. Here is where the Monastrell grape shines. It matches well with many typical tapas dishes such as fish, game, Serrano ham, cheese, roasted peppers, gazpacho in a shot glass, all invariably garlic-laced.
It’s now early evening on our virtual tour. Earlier we immersed ourselves in local culture by enjoying the centuries-old tradition of an afternoon siesta and now we’re stopped at a typical Jumillian tapas bar before heading out to a local restaurant for dinner and late-night dancing.
We saddle up to the bar, order a glass of Monastrell from an unlabeled bottle (the good stuff sometimes doesn’t make it out of the country) and select from the list of tapas. The bartender/waiter keeps track of what we order with a piece of chalk, writing on the slate bar top where we are sitting. We enjoy calamari, sardines and a sampling of Spanish cheeses – Manchego (mild, sheep’s milk with a slight olive aftertaste), Cabrales (blue cheese) and Mahon (tangy, lemony, sea salt flavors).
We find out that the owner’s brother moved to Manhattan recently to open the American branch of the family tapas bar. This adds to the growing trend of tapas and small plate Spanish-themed bars and restaurants proliferating in the New York City area, including the northern counties and eastward into Fairfield County.
Each of the tapas and the cheeses we’ve enjoyed tonight are now available in our backyard. (We silently thank the globalization gods.) We jot down a few of our favorite wineries and wines we sampled along the way, which, we are told, are all available at our wine merchants in The Examiner distribution area: Juan Gil, Finca Luzon, Panaroz, El Nido and even Wrongo Dongo (all under $15).
Next week we will continue our virtual tour northward along the coast to Priorat and Penedes. Hasta luego!
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.