A new leader in affordable high-quality wine is emerging from a familiar value-oriented country, but from an excitingly unfamiliar region.
Over the last decade, Spain has been known as a premier source of high-grade, low-cost wine. Jumilla, located in Spain's extreme southeast, is emerging as the country's newest region to produce wines that far exceed the prices they fetch, continuing the trend of Spain being the unequaled leader in this market.
Beginning late in the 20th century, Spanish regions such as Priorat and Rioja, under the direction of Spanish authorities, undertook Herculean efforts to modernize vineyards and wineries, allowing these areas to produce wines that now confidently stand alongside other renowned regions such as Bordeaux and the Napa Valley. But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. As these wines exploded in popularity, prices followed.
Jumilla, just north of the municipality of Murcia, has picked up where these now better known wine regions left off.
Monastrell, also known as mourvedre, is the prominent varietal in Jumilla and the second most widely planted varietal in the country. More commonly known from France as a minority blending partner in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and as the primary constituent in the reds and roses of Provence, monastrell is believed to have originated in Spain.
Both Provence and Jumilla, though climactically quite different, share a similar proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. Being a late-ripening varietal, monastrell flourishes when it is nearby the temperature-moderating influences of a large body of water, which allows the grapes to reach full maturity. Vineyard managers often proclaim that monastrell needs to "see the sea."
Finished Jumilla wines present themselves like a grade school bully. They are big, bold, and unpolished, but expose a soft underbelly given a little time and understanding. These wines are also generally above average in alcohol content, oftentimes surpassing 15 percent, contributing to their rustic nature. Despite the rough and tumble style of these wines, the tannins are surprisingly tempered, providing the platform for enjoyable sipping.
Surprising density of flavor is what makes these wines so distinctive. Concentration at this level is typically reserved for wines at three times the price.
Heavier dishes such as rabbit stew or pot roast pair well with Jumillas. For a cheese pairing, try smoked gouda. Avoid dishes with too much spice, as high alcohol exacerbates excessively spicy foods.
Premium-quality bargain wine is the holy grail of wine lovers, and Jumilla is continuing Spain's reign as the leading producer of this sacred juice.
2006 Juan Gil, Jumilla Red Wine, $14, Costco.
Above average in weight with firm tannins that don't overpower the wine. Very complex and complementary aromas of grilled plums, Bing cherries and game surrounded by a backbone of fresh herbs and a hint of blackberry. Bright fruit comes alive on the palate exacerbating the blackberry and plum notes, followed by a lasting finish of fruit and lingering barrel spice. 14.5 percent alcohol, 91 points.