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Discovering the wines of Murcia • Ian

Discovering the wines of Murcia
From Carsten M. Stammen

The Murcia region is located in the south-east of Spain on the Mediterranean coast. Surrounded by the regions of Valencia, Castilla-La Mancha and Andalucía, it is located in the Levante, and is also a province, while Murcia is also the name of the provincial capital.

Enjoying around 300 days of sunshine each year, the Murcia region is one of the driest regions in Europe. Water is scarce, as temperatures in summer can rise above 40 degrees, while the mild winters can see slight minus degrees. The southern Mediterranean coast features numerous small bays, each of which has its own microclimate and vegetation.

Murcia is the largest supplier of vegetables, fruit and flowers in Europe. In addition to agriculture, the construction, furniture and tourism are important sectors of the economy. There are three wine-growing regions with a protected designation of origin (DO), named after the cities they surround: DO Bullas, DO Jumilla and DO Yecla. The total vineyard area of the Murcia region is around 47,000 hectares.

(Photo: CRDO Jumilla)

DO Bullas

The city of Bullas was founded by the Romans, and is located around 50 kilometres from the provincial capital of Murcia, on a high plateau close to the Mula river. The climate is Mediterranean, with an average precipitation of around 450 millimetres annually. Wine, almonds, peaches and olives are cultivated in and around Bullas. Viticulture dates back to Roman times, and there are more than 200 partially or completely functional wine cellars in the historical city centre, most of which were built in the 18th and 19th century. The DO Bullas has been in existence since 1994, the vineyards with a total area of around 2.300 hectares are located at an average altitude of 500 to 800 metres above sea level.

Monastrell is the leading grape variety in Bullas, with a share of 90 per cent. Other red varieties planted are Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Production is around one third red wines, the balance is accounted for by rosados. White wines are produced only in very small quantities, from the following grape varieties: Macabeo and Airén, as well as Chardonnay, Malvasía, Sauvignon Blanc and Moscatel varieties. The large variety of different soil and microclimatic conditions ensures the DO Bullas has a wide variety of wines to offer. New cellar technology is showing off, in particular, the potential of the Monastrell grape, which produces cool, fruity, well balanced wines.

Bodegas del Rosario, Bullas
The Bodegas del Rosario cooperative is the largest producer of wine in the DO Bullas. 95 per cent of wines exported from this region are produced by this cooperative winery. It was founded in 1950, when a number of wine producers in Bullas got together to build a new and better equipped winery. Today the cooperative has three winery complexes, and implements sustainable vineyard practices. Monastrell covers 85 per cent of the vineyard area, other varieties include Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Macabeo and Airén. There are five ranges of wines: Las Reñas, Lorca, Ucenda, Señorío de Bullas and Tesoro de Bullas.

Bodegas Begastri, Cehegín

(Photo: CRDO Jumilla)

The Bodegas Begastri is located in the commune of Cañada de Canara, which is part of the city of Cehegín. The name Begastri goes back tot he Roman community of “Begastrum” – There is evidence of viticulture in the Cehegín area in the first century A.D.. The vineyards of Begastri are located at an altitude of 600 to 1.000 metres, with southwesterly slopes. Hot dry summers, rain in spring and autumn, and cold winters characterize the climate.The soils are rich in limestone, and Monastrell ist he dominant grape variety, augmented by Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha. The Begastri cellar is built on three levels, and was dug deep into the rock. The wines mature on a surface of 350 square metres 15 metres below the surface, providing absolutely constant environmental conditions. The red flagship wine “Sinedie” is organically produced.

Bodega Tercia de Ulea, Moratalla
Tercia de Ulea cultivates 45 hectares of vineyards in four sites located in the commune of Moratalla: Ulea, Los Charcos, El Portugués and La Alberquilla. The vineyards are located at an altitude of 670 to 820 metres on chalky and clay soils, the climate is Mediterranean, with annual sunshine of more than 2,900 hours. Temperatures in August are in excess of 25 degrees both night and day. Grapes ripen slowly, the harvest takes place in early October. Substantial, full-bodied red wines are produced from predominantly Monastrell, as well as in small quantities from Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The range also includes dry and off-dry rosados. The move of the estate to the neighbouring “Casa de Labor” has further improved production conditions.

Bodega Balcona, Bullas
The Bodega Balcona lies, surrounded by vineyards, in the Aceniche valley, renowned for the beauty of its landscape as well as for its high ecological value. The soil structure as well as the microclimate in the valley are varied; just a few metres can decide whether vines are exposed to frost in winter or not. The Monastrell vines at Balcona are planted on black slate, the Tempranillo is on a limestone-rich soil; Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on clay and gravel, Syrah is on limestone-rich soil, and Merlot is grown on limestone and clay. The vineyards lie at an altitude of up to 900 metres. The flagship wine “Partal” is produced from Monastrell vines that are 60 years old.

Bodega Los Ceperos, La Alberca
The Bodega Los Ceperos was founded in 1996, and is located in a valley at the foot of the Sierra de la Lavia, close to Cehegín. The estate has a total vineyard area of 20 hectares, of which 60 per cent are planted with Monastrell; the remaining area is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines in equal share. On the hills surrounding the valley, the vineyards are located at an average altitude of 800 metres, with alluvial soils as well as soils rich in clay and limestone. The climate is continental with Mediterranean influences, providing more than 2,000 hours of sunshine per year, and large temperature differences between day and night. Los Ceperos implements organic vineyard methods, and has built a modern winery in which the wines mature in a vaulted underground sandstone cellar.

Bodegas Lavia / Molino y Lagares de Bullas, Bullas
Molino y Lagares was founded in 2004 by a group of wine enthusiasts convinced of the potential of the DO Bullas. The estate is integrated into the Venta del Pino landscape, and cultivates various parcels of land at an altitude of more than 800 metres: one with Monastrell vines up to 30 years old, one with Monastrell vines up to 40 years old, and a small parcel planted with Syrah. The soils are gravelly, and are rich in limestone and clay. Molino y Lagares upholds the principles of terroir, and uses natural viticultural methods.

(Photo: CRDO Jumilla)

DO Jumilla

The DO Jumilla has a vineyard area of 41,300 hectares, making it one of the largest in Spain. It is also one of the oldest regions, having been classified with DO status as early as 1966. Viticulture in this area can be traced back more than 5,000 years. It was in Jumilla that the oldest remains of a grape vine (vitis vinifera) in the whole of Europe were found, dating back to around 3000 B.C.. The landscape between the Mediterranean coast and the highlands of Castile is characterized by wide valleys and plains, surrounded by mountains. Apart from Jumilla itself, communes producing wine include Montealegre del Castillo, Fuenteálamo, Ontur, Hellín, Albatana and Tobarra. Vineyards are located at altitudes of 400 to 800 metres above sea level.

Jumilla has a continental climate, with summer temperatures frequently in excess of 40 degrees, long periods of drought and a low annual precipitation of around 300 millimetres. The soils contain limestone, iron oxide and clay, and have a low salt content. Water can penetrate the soil, and is stored. These climatic and soil conditions favour the planting of Monastrell, which accounts for more than 80 per cent of the vineyard area in the DO Jumilla. Other red varieties planted include Garnacha, Cencibel (Tempranillo), Tintorera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot, with red grapes in total making up 96 per cent of the total vineyard area. White wines are produced from aus Airén, Macabeo and Merseguera as well as from small amounts of Malvasía, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Moscatel. There is a tradition of producing natural sweet wines from overripe Pedro Ximénez or Monastrell grapes.

Traditionally, the DO Jumilla was known for the production of simple wines with a high level of alcohol. They were often sold in bulk, and used in other regions to beef up the colour and alcohol level of their own wines. Even today, a few particularly dark, full-bodied and tannic red wines are made using the Doble Pasta technique. As Jumilla was spared infestation by phylloxera in the 19th century because of its special soil structure, this plague finally struck this region in the late 1980’s. When it became necessary to replant the vineyards, producers selected better grape varieties than in the past, and raised the quality standards of their production. The red wines today are characterized by an intense colour, any expressive fruity nose with notes of dark berries and cherries, as well as by structure, body and austere tannins. Rosé wines, which are made predominantly from Monastrell, are fresh and aromatic, with notes of roses, raspberries and cherries. The white wines are fresh and clear, fruit-driven, light and well balanced.

Propiedad Viticola Casa de Castillo, Jumilla
The French already founded a wine estate on the “Casa Castillo” estate in 1870. In 1985, Nemesio Vicente and his son José María, who runs the business today, revived the viticultural tradition. Casa Castillo is located on the high plateau of Jumilla, and has a continental climate with Mediterranean influences. The estate has a vineyard area of 174 hectares, planted with Monastrell, Garnacha, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, the soils are predominantly rich in clay.

Bodegas Olivares, Jumilla
The Bodegas Olivares family wine estate was founded in 1930, today the vineyard area totals more than 200 hectares. The vineyards are located at an altitude of 650 to more than 800 metres above sea level, generally with a north-easterly inclination. The main grape varieties planted are Monastrell, Syrah and Tempranillo. The extreme differences of temperature between day and night ensure the grapes develop complex aromas, as a result of the longer period of vegetation the wines are fresh and elegant. Winemaker Paco Selva also produces a sweet wine from Monastrell grapes.

Bodegas Hacienda del Carche, Jumilla
The Bodegas Hacienda del Carche cultivates 60 hectares of vineyards, these are partly irrigated, and partly planted with ungrafted vines. This modern winery was founded in 2006, although the viticultural tradition of the family owning the estate dates back to the 19th century. Some of the vineyards are more than 50 years old. Red wines are made from Monastrell, Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha, white wines from  Macabeo and Sauvignon Blanc.

(Photo: CRDO Jumilla)

DO Yecla

The Yecla DO district includes only a single commune. In the west, the DO borders on Jumilla, in the north on Almansa (region Castilla-La Mancha) and in the east on Alicante (Valencia region). The vineyard area amounted to around 20,000 hectares just a few years ago, located on a plateau at an altitude of between 400 and 800 metres, surrounded by hills. Today, only 11,500 hectares are used for viticulture, of these only 4,600 are classified for the production of quality wine. The DO status has been implemented since 1975.

Deep limestone or clay soils ensure a good water permeability in the soil, while allowing water to be stored further down. The DO Yecla has a continental climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters, Precipitation is on the low side at 300 mm annually, while sunshine averages around 3,000 hours each year. Storms occur frequently in Spring and Autumn.

More than 90 per cent of the grape varieties planted in Yecla are red, dominated by Monastrell, which accounts for 85 per cent of the vineyard area, followed by Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cencibel (Tempranillo), Merlot, Tintorera and Syrah. The most important white varieties are Merseguera, Airén, Macabeo, Malvasia and Chardonnay. Yecla was largely spared from the phylloxera infestation, so that today a large part of the vineyards still consists of ungrafted indigenous vines.

The region is sub-divided into two sub-zones. At higher altitudes, the Yecla Campo Arriba is planted mainly with Monastrell, which produces full-bodied red wines with up to 14 per cent alcohol content. At lesser altitudes, the Yecla Campo Abajo produces wines with an alcohol content of 11.5 to 14 per cent. As is the case for Jumilla, Yecla has for many years contributed to the export volumes of the region. This only changed when the buying markets raised their quality standards. Today, many wineries in Yecla have been modernized, and are producing a lighter style of wine.

Bodegas Castaño, Yecla
Ramón Castaño Santa founded the estate in 1950, following in the footsteps of his ancestors. Starting in the mid-1970’s, he expanded the vineyard area to ist current extent of around 500 hectares, located in four regional sites in the DO Yecla Las Gruesas, El Espinal, Pozuela and Arabí. There are various types of soil, consisting of varying proportions of clay, sand and limestone. Castaños sons Ramón, Juan Pedro and Daniel began to expand sales into international markets in the early 1990’s. The bodega produces mainly Monastrell, but also has Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Tintorera as well as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Macabeo on offer. Some of the vineyards are organically treated, following guidelines for sustainable agriculture. In addition, the estate is certified in accordance with the quality assurance system ISO 9001 and with the environmental management system ISO 14001.

Señorio de Barahonda, Yecla
The Señorio de Barahonda estate is owned by the Candela family, which founded its first wine estate in 1925. Surrounded by vineyards, Señorio de Barahonda lies in the hilly northeast of the Murcia region. The estate has a vineyard area of 150 hectares owned by the estate, plus another 250 hectares that are managed under contract. In addition to the key variety Monastrell, Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are also cultivated. White grapes planted are Macabeo and Airén. The vineyards of Señorio de Barahonda lie at an altitude of 600 to 800 metres, the soils are rich in limestone.

Carsten M. Stammen

Copyright by Wein-Plus; photos: CRDO Jumilla.


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