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Greetings from Spain: Thoughts going into a week-long visit to Murcia

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cathedral of Murcia
I've just arrived for a week-long visit to Murcia -- a part of Spain known for producing bold, flavorful Monastrell-driven wines. I'm here as part of a US wine bloggers event sponsored by Murcia's regional promotion agency along with these 7 others bloggers I met for the first time today:

Mary Cressler http://vindulgeblog.com
Julia Crowley http://winejulia.com
Amy Gross http://vinesleuth.com/uncorked
Meg Maker http://megmaker.com
Cynthia Lowe Rynning http://www.grape-experiences.com
Ward Kadel http://www.winelog.net/blogs/drxeno
Beth Fontaine http://rollerskatingwithscissors.blogspot.com

Reputation


I was leafing through my Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia to get a sense for the relative esteem of the wines of Spain, and the regions we'll be visiting specifically. My copy is probably about 5-10 years old but as of then the region was generally not well perceived:

Regarding the Yecla DO:

"You might think that these stony-limestone vineyards between Alicante and Jumilla should do rather well in terms of quality, but although some decent wines can be found, nothing special stands out."

Regarding the Bullas DO:

"This is a large region just south of Jumilla where the soil is so poor that, aside from vines, only olives and almonds can survive."

But things are changing here quickly.

My first introduction to wines from this region came from The Capital Grille's Master Sommelier George Milliotes. George has selected a number of fantastic wines from this region - this quotes sums it up nicely:

"Monastrell is the greatest underappreciated red in the world today from a growing area (Alicante) that is barely known in Spain, let alone here in the US."

To be successful finding value wines with a similar flavor profile to the wines of Napa you've got to become familiar with lesser known regions and varieties like this one.

Lack of Familiarity


Despite my increasing interest, Spanish wines still comprise a very small portion of my wine spend. I asked friends on Twitter what percentage of their wine collection/consumption were from Spain and it sounds like I'm not alone. Most everyone I asked had less than 2% of their collection from Spain and the number was only slightly higher in terms of consumption.

I can only speak for myself but the primary reasons for this is are:
  1. A lack of familiarity with the regions
  2. A lack of affinity for specific brands
Spain is a country of great regional diversity and it's as hard as any to put in a box. I mean think about it: It's an old world wine country but I would argue it's tremendously friendly to new world wine enthusiasts.

And how many Spanish wine producers can I think of that I'd specifically seek out? Hardly any especially compared to domestic brands. Brands are tremendously important in the American market and one thing I'll be looking at closely this week is how producers market their brands.

Coming from a more domestic wine driven background I'm comfortable picking up a bottle and seeing winery, vareity, vineyard/appellation and vintage. I was holding a bottle of Spanish Monastrell a few weeks ago and it wasn't clear to me at all where the wine was from vs. what was a family name vs. what was a brand name.

Clearing this kind of haze and knowing what to ignore when looking at a label is a key hurdle in building affinity for a region. It's like looking at street signs in a foreign country - you need to know how to ignore the multiple names for a street and focus on the important part of the name.

I once saw a tasting note where the reviewer said "I don't like the Bodegas wines" as if Bodegas was a producer. Bodegas means winery in Spanish -- the reviewer was clearly confused and didn't have familiarity with Spanish wine labels. It's this kind of confusion that visiting a place in person quickly clears up.

Outlook


I watched a bunch of episodes of Spain on the Road Again to familiarize myself with the region before coming. Remember that show? It aired on PBS a while back and it was the one where Mario Batali and Gwenyth Paltrow drive around Spain eating and drinking. As far as finding content that's aligned with an upcoming trip it was an excellent match, but it was really quite boring at times.

My goal this week? To avoid boring you. :)
I hope to provide some immediately actionable recommendations of wines of tremendous value from visits on this trip.
Here are 3 Sub-$10 Spanish Monastrell (that offer silly value) to get you started.

We're visiting Yecla tomorrow and slated to visit:
  • Bodegas La Purisima
  • Bodegas Senorio de Barahonda
  • Bodegas Castano
  • Bodegas Hijos de Juan Gil (in Jumilla on the way back)
Question of the Day: What percentage of your wine consumption is from Spain? What's stopping that number from being higher?

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