If the average wine drinker knows anything about the red wines of Spain they will know and recognise Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat. It is possible they may also know that wines from Yecla and Jumilla are to be avoided – after all they are the kind of ‘bulk’ wines that end up on the ‘3 for £10’ shelf in your supermarkets, right?
Well, no actually! That’s not been the case for some time and, insofar as we continue to believe this we have all been seriously misinformed.
We had a lazy night-in last night – having enjoyed a convivial lunch at The Sloop Inn there was no need for cooking. So we settled in front of the telly for some cheese, hummus, chorizo, olives, and pizza from Paolino’s in the village.
Choosing the wine would be simple – something red from the left-hand-side of the wine rack, i.e. the everyday drinking side. It was looking a bit sparse on account of a fresh delivery being due today, which made the job even easier.
My eye was caught by a metallic blue neck foil/capsule; when I pulled it out the first thing that struck me was the weight of the bottle – usually an indication of a quality product.
But this was a £9.95 bottle of Hécula 2009 produced by Famillia Castraño, based in Yecla, made from the Monastrell variety of grapes and grown in Jumilla. I had bought it a couple of months previously from South Downs Cellars in Lindfield.
I was immediately intrigued since Irene and I had spent New Year there enjoying some winter sun with our Swedish friends Mona and Olev.
The holiday had included a special trip to the high mountain vineyards of Jumilla, near Murcia, to see for myself the massive advances that have been made in winegrowing – especially with the Monastrell variety – in this hot climate, and still undervalued, region of Spain. Believe me we were not disappointed – especially after enjoying a fabulous (and very affordable) lunch, including local wines, in a popular Jumilla restaurant afterwards.
However, I digress – what I want to tell you about is the Hécula 2009.
According to controversial wine critic Jay Miller (quoted by South Downs Cellars), the wine is aged in French and American oak, is outstanding value and will be perfect for drinking over the next 4-5 years.
What’s more it tastes great with rich blackberry and bramble fruit flavours on the palate – spiced-up with ginger and wild herbs on the nose. This is a real winner and at under a tenner an absolute bargain.
It’s true that Monastrell grapes are still grown in vast quantities in Spain, using the bushvine method, i.e. no trellising, neither of which are usually happy omens. But bear in mind that, as Mourvèdre, which is the grape’s French name, it has been making top-quality wines in Southern Rhone, Languedoc and Bandol for 50 years, so it’s pedigree is sound.
This is a grape that loves the sun and one that, for all its sensitivities, the winegrowers of Jumilla have amply demonstrated can not only be tamed, but is capable of being crafted in to a true star of southeast Spain. I give it 17 out of 20.
13th February 2013