More to Spain than the Costas
Winemakers in the southeast have a confident swagger these days, as a trip to a local winery will reveal, writes JOHN WILSON
HEADING OFF TO the sunny southeast of Spain this summer? If you get bored lounging on the beach and tire of the crowds, maybe you should consider heading inland to visit a winery or two. Historically, many wine Spanish producers were reluctant to open their doors to visitors, but that is slowly changing.
Some of the more ambitious now even have visitor centres or little tasting rooms, at least. A quick trawl on the internet can be very useful, and will often show who is willing to accept visitors. Alternatively, a word with your local wine merchant or off-licence prior to departure might provide contacts and even an appointment to visit.
Inland from the resorts that run along the south and southeastern coast of Spain lies the Meseta, a vast area with is either completely flat, or a series of gently rolling hills interrupted occasionally by a range of mountains. The rain in Spain, as we all know, hardly ever falls on the plain. Most of it falls further north.
This is a hot, arid region, until recently unable to support much agriculture other than sheep, olives and vines. It was only the introduction of irrigation that allowed the production of the lorry-loads of fruit and veg that arrive in Ireland every day of the week.
Wine has always been produced here; traditionally, huge quantities of jug wine. At its best, it was warming and satisfying (some allegedly found its way northwards to beef up anemic wine from La Rioja and other posh regions), but lacking any real quality.
This has all changed dramatically over the last two decades; the internal southeast has a confident swagger these days, with a host of young winemakers producing distinctive wines of real character and quality. In addition to the well-known international grapes, local varieties – Monastrell in Yecla and Jumilla, Bobal in Manchuela, Valencia and Utiel-Requena – are showing real promise, alongside Garnacha and Tempranillo.
Bobal is an interesting variety – unheard of a decade ago, it has attracted a lot of attention recently. Once seen as a workhorse variety, it is turning out increasingly good wines. Monastrell is native to the region. Until five years ago, many were a little too extracted, often with unripe tannins. More recent vintages are far more supple, although still generally not short of power.
The various wine regions lie in a strip inland from the coast. Alicante and Valencia are nearest to the sea. Bullas, Yecla, Jumilla and Utiel-Requena require a little more driving. Swing around to the south coast, and the Málaga region is starting to produce some lovely swarthy reds. Not all of the wineries are worth visiting. Some are warehouses in local industrial parks, and some of the villages are still fairly rustic. It can be very hot during the summer, so visits are probably best confined to the cellar.