Monastrell: Great Values from Spain

The International Wine Review recently conducted an in-depth tasting of the latest releases of Monastrell and Monastrell blend wines from Murcia and neighboring regions of Mediterranean Spain. Monastrell based wines haven’t acquired the iconic status of the Tempranillo based wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero or the Garnacha wines of Penedés. However, our tasting shows that producers are making excellent progress in improving the quality of Monastrell wines. Most importantly for the consumer, many of the wines we tasted are either good or exceptional values. Where else can one find $15 wines scoring over 90 points and $8 wines scoring 88 or higher? The plummeting value of the dollar relative to the Euro may quickly raise the prices of these wines, so savvy consumers should stock up now!

Monastrell is grown in several parts of Spain and in France. While its true origin is not known, it first became established in Cataluña where it took on the names Mourvèdre (after Muviedro, the Moorish name for the city of Sagunto, near Valencia) and Mataró (after Mataró in Cataluña). In Cataluña the grape was grown by monasteries, leading to the name Monastrell (from the Latin monasteriellu) in that region. From Spain the grape made its way to Mediterranean France where it became a principal blending component of Châteauneuf-du-Pape as well as acquiring fame on its own in Bandol. Today, Monastrell is the 5th most popular varietal in Spain in terms of acreage planted.

thick skinned black grapeMonastrell is a thick-skinned, black grape high in tannins and late to ripen. It’s a difficult grape to grow with a tendency to produce good yields one year and small yields the next, and growers have to wait as long as ten years for new vines to produce commercial quantities of fruit. It grows best in hot climates with long growing seasons, like one finds in the Spanish comunidad autónoma (i.e., regional government) of Murcia, home to the Denominaciones de Origen (DO’s) of Jumilla, Yecla, and Bullas. The high altitudes of most the vineyards in these DO’s ensure cool nighttime temperatures and large diurnal temperature variations that ensure acidity in the wines.

Monastrell presents several challenges to the winemaker. First and foremost, because of the region’s high temperatures, care must be taken in the vineyard to harvest fruit that is optimally ripe phenolically but not overly ripe and jammy. Secondly, because Monastrell produces hard tannic wines there is need to reduce harsh tannin extraction by handling fruit as gently as possible, carefully controlling the temperature and speed of fermentation, and mascerating grapes with skins. In addition, because Monastrell is highly reductive, winemakers need to do more frequent pumpovers and racking during fermentation and barrel aging. Also, the better winemakers of Murcia are quickly learning how to tame the wild character of the grape through blending and other means in order to produce more fruit forward and accessible wines while still retaining some of the earthy characteristics that make Monastrell wines unique.

We report the results of our tastings below, organized by DO: Jumilla, Yecla, Bullas, and other regions of Spain. As is customary, these wines were tasted blind and scored using our 100 point scale. Prices are reported only for wines currently imported to the US.

Jumilla

JumillaWith 32 thousand hectares under vine, Jumilla is the largest of Murcia’s DO’s. It’s also the oldest, having acquired DO status in 1956. But in one sense, it’s a century behind the times. With its sandy soils, Jumilla escaped Spain’s phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century only to find the nasty bug invading its vineyards a century later. While the infestation reduced production significantly, the need to replant gave Jumilla the opportunity to improve its vineyards, which it did with the strong encouragement of the consejo regulador of the DO. Improved vineyard management and better winemaking led to wines of significantly higher quality and helped put Jumilla on the international wine map. About 85 percent of total vineyard acreage is in Monastrell.

Bodegas Agapito Rico 2007 Carchelo Monastrell Jumilla ($10) 88

The 2007 Carchelo has a medium ruby hue and aromas of fresh red berries and plum. Sourced from old low-yielding Monastrell vines, and blended with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, it exhibits fresh and fruity dark cherry and plum flavors on the palate. It also has ripe tannins, good acidity and a long fruity finish.

Bodegas Carchelo 2007 Monastrell Jumilla ($13) 88

This dark ruby purple blend of Monastrell and Syrah exhibits ripe, syrupy black fruit and licorice aromas. Very ripe and port-like with extracted red and black fruit on the palate and notes of black olive and licorice. The wine also reveals soft round tannins and a long persistent and spicyfinish.

Importer: Classical Wines, Seattle WA

Bodegas Casa Castillo 2003 Las Gravas Jumilla ($22) 90

Dark garnet hue. Aromas of blackberry fruit and forest floor. Soft, round attack with an elegant palate of ripe black fruit and notes of chocolate. A big, tannic wine with complex aromas, fine-grained tannins, and a persistent finish. Estate bottled by Julia Roch e hijos

Importer: Eric Solomon European Cellars, Charlotte, NC

Casa de la ErmitaCasa de la Ermita

Founded in 1999, Casa de la Ermita is one of Jumilla’s premier wineries. Its focus has consistently been on quality. Marcial Martinez, a Jumilla native, is winemaker. The winery has done extensive experimentation with different varietals. The vineyard is organically farmed.

Importer: Opici Imports Co, Glen Rock, NJ

Casa de la Ermita 2008 Roble Jumilla ($12) 87

A fresh and fruity wine, very lightly oaked, made from 60 year-old, dry farmed, Monastrell and Petit Verdot. Vibrant ruby in color, the nose shows cherry, green tea and garden earth aromas. It’s medium-bodied with red cherry fruit, a note of vanilla, and gentle tannins. Very good value.

Casa de la Ermita 2005 Crianza Jumilla ($16) 90

This crianza is a blend of 40% Monastrell, 25% Tempranillo, 25% Cabernet, and 15% Petit Verdot. It is a wine with surprising complexity and depth at this price point. Opaque ruby garnet in color, it shows black currants and smoky green tea on the nose. On the palate there’s extracted red and black fruit, smoke, and heathery underbrush with dry tannins on the finish.

Casa de la Ermita 2006 Dulce Monastrell Jumilla ($22) 90

A lovely passito style dessert wine ideal for matching with dark chocolate and strongly flavored cheeses. It is medium dark ruby in color with ripe plum and a resinous note on the nose. Velvety smooth on the dark cherry palate.

Bodegas Guardiola 2006 Don Guardiola Crianza Jumilla 87

Medium light ruby purple. Tasty and fresh black raspberry and oak spice aromas. Light on the palate with offerings of dark fruit and spicy oak. Best as a quaffing wine.

Bodegas Pedro Luis Martinez

This family winery was founded in 1870 and today is managed by the fourth generation of its founder, Pedro Luis Martinez. Its wines are produced under the Alceño label.

Importer: Elite Wines, Lorton, VA

Pedro Luis Martinez 2007 Alceño Tinto Jumilla ($10) 88

This medium ruby blend of 50% Monastrell, 40% Syrah, and 10% Tempranillo displays aromas of black cherry fruit with toasty oak notes. It is soft on the attack with light fresh red fruit flavors. Aged for 9 months in French and America oak barrels. Very tasty and easy drinking.

Pedro Luis Martinez 2007 Alceño 12 Meses Jumilla ($15) 89

A dark ruby stylish blend of 85% Monastrell and 15% Syrah aged for 12 months in French and American oak. It offers aromas of black fruit, licorice, smoke and chocolate. Silky on the palate with ripe fruit and prominent vanilla flavors. Finishes long.

Pedro Luis Martinez 2007 Alceño Monastrell Syrah Jumilla ($21) 88

Dark ruby hue with aromas of red fruits, spice and charred barrel notes. Soft and round on the palate exhibiting red and black fruit with nicely integrated oak and vanilla notes. Well balanced with good texture and a pleasant finish.

Pedro Luiz Martinez 2006 Alceño Dulce Monastrell Jumilla 375ML ($23) 90

This dark purple Dulce Monastrell offers lovely aromas of raisins and figs. It is thick and honeyed on the palate with complex and nuanced flavors of ripe fruit compote. Rich and beautifully balanced and long-lasting on the finish. A perfect accompaniment for soft ripe cheese or on top of ice cream.

Solage 2007 Tinto Jumilla ($14) 89

This tasty blend of 50% Monastrell and 50% Tempranillo displays a medium ruby hue and aromas of cranberry and plum with notes of toasted oak and spice. On the palate it is highly concentrated with ripe fruit, firm tannins and a long and persistent finish.

Importer: Beacon Wine Co. San Francisco, CA

Solage 2006 Crianza Jumilla ($18) 87

The Solage Crianza, which sees at least 12 months in oak, is dark ruby in color and offers dark cherry plum and herbal aromas. Rather rustic in character, it combines dark fruit and sweet oak on the palate, with rather drying tannins on the finish.

Importer: Beacon Wine Co. San Francisco, CA

Bodegas Juan Gil

Bodegas Juan GilThis winery has 120 acres of vineyards located at an altitude of 700 m above sea level with sandy, chalky soils. Given the altitude and hot climate, diurnal temperature variations can be greater than 25 C. The winery was established byJuan Gil Giménez in 1916 and is today owned and operated by the Gil Vera family.

Importer: Jorge Ordonez Fine Estates from Spain, Dedham, MA

Bodegas Juan Gil 2006 Monastrell Jumilla ($12) 91

This is a terrific 100% Monastrell with the fruit coming from low yielding (1.8 tons/acre) 40 year old vines in a 700 m high vineyard. It is medium dark ruby garnet in color and exhibits aromas of red berries, toasty oak, earth and herbal aromas. It is full and round on the palate with big hard tannins, prominent oak, and a touch of astringency. Spends 12 months aging in French oak.

Bodegas Juan Gil 2008 Wrongo Dongo Monastrell Jumilla ($6) 87

Medium dark ruby. Displays a nose of red berries, herbs, undergrowth and smoke. Rustic yet vibrant with lots of ripe plum fruit, toasted oak and spice on the palate. Hard to beat the price.

Bodegas Luzón 2005 Altos de Luzón Jumilla ($14) 89

This delicious wine is a blend of Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. It is sourced from old low yielding vines (1.6 tons/acre). Rich and concentrated, it offers ripe huckleberry, blueberry and cassis flavors with toasted oak and spice notes. It has soft round tannins and a long finish. Great value.

Merum

Merum Wines made for the American market by the talented winemaker, Juan Jiménez. The wines are modern and fruit forward, spending a short time on the lees with little or no fining or filtration.

Importer: The Artisan Collection, Quality Wines of Spain New York, NY

Merum 2007 Monastrell Jumilla ($10) 88

A dark ruby blend of Monastrell and Syrah. Offers spicy, smoky oak and vanilla. Medium- boded with modest fruit on the palate and tannic grip on the finish.

Merum 2008 Monastrell Rose Jumilla ($10) 87+

A medium-dark rose blend of Monastrell and Syrah. Displays aromas of fresh red berry fruit (raspberry and cranberry) on the nose. Has excellent balance and good acidity for freshness. An enjoyable rosé at a good price.

Bodegas Olivares

Grower Paco Selva. owns 65 hectares of ungrafted old vineyards in the northern part of the appellation, in La Hoya de Santa Ana. The vineyard of ungrafted vines is situated in the coolest sub-zone of Jumilla, with sandy, lime-rich soils.

Importer: Polamer Selections, Mt. Kisco, NY, The Rare Wine Co.

Bodegas Olivares 2007
Altos de la Hoya Finca Hoya de Santa Ana Monastrell Jumilla ($10) 89

This dark ruby purple blend of 92% Monastrell and 8% Grenache. offers aromas of black cherry, smoke, violets and sweet American oak with a brown sugar note. It is soft on the attack with ripe dark fruit and a touch of butterscotch. It has robust but ripe tannins and a long finish. From an 11 hectare vineyard of ungrafted old vines. Incredible value.

Bodegas Olivares 2006 Dulce Monastrell Jumilla 500ML ($25) 91

Opaque purple. Produced from late ripening vines, this marvelous ambrosial desert wine offers aromas of freshly baked black raspberry pie. It has lovely depth and intensity and purity of fruit on the palate with some earthy notes. Impressive balance. Long and persistent finish of black raspberry and violet.

Bodegas Piqueras 2006 Valcanto Monastrell Jumilla ($12) 90

Medium ruby garnet. Enticing aromas of black cherry, smoke, balsamic, and roasted meat. Offers a ilky smooth attack with flavors of red and black fruit on a medium weight palate. Elegant with nuanced flavors.

Bodegas San Isidro Bodegas San Isidro

An agricultural cooperative established in 1943 and produces a wide array of Monastrell-based wines.

Importer: American Estate Wines, Summit, NJ and other importers

Bodegas San Isidro 2008 Gémina Monastrell Jumilla ($15) 88

Medium ruby purple. Aromas of ripe blueberry and plum. Full flavored palate of ripe blue and red fruit and cedar with good acidity and young, firm tannins. Aged for 12 months in French oak and 14 months in bottle before release. Well made and good value.

Bodegas San Isidro 2003 Gémina Premium Reserva Jumillla 88

Dark ruby garnet. Produced from old Monastrell vines and aged in French oak barrels for 12 months and in the bottle for an additional 14 months. Round and ripe on the palate exhibiting mainly red fruit with a touch of cedar. Shows good acidity but has some drying tannins.

Bodegas San Isidro 2005 Cuvée Seleccíon Jumilla 89

Medium ruby evolving to garnet rim. Nose of cedar, Asian spice, black currant. Soft, lush attack. Touch of minerality on the palate with very ripe dark cherry, cassis, and bitter chocolate. A long finish with tannic grip, but quite delicious.

Bodegas San Isidro 2007 Sabatacha Petite Verdot, Jumilla 87

Dark purple ruby with aromas of blueberry and black raspberry. On the palate it reveals candied red and blue fruit with good structure and a firm finish.

Bodegas San Isidro Lacrima Christi Vino Dulce Natural, Jumilla 88

Medium tawny caramel color. Rich, port like aromas of raisins and apricots. Quite dry on the attack with flavors of figs, butterscotch and a celery note. Honeyed mouth feel. Very nice, almost dry, nutty finish.

Bodegas Silvano García

A family estate founded in 1925 and today is producing a wide array of Monastrell-based wines.

Importer: Aurelio Cabastrero, Grapes of Spain, Lorton, VA.

Bodegas Silvano García 2007 Viña Honda Tinto Jumilla ($15) 89

The traditionally styled 2007 Tinto has a savory palate of dark red fruit and sweet underbrush. It’s dark, almost opaque purple ruby in color with menthol and herbs on the nose. The palate is full and round with good intensity of fruit and dry but ripe tannins. Blend of 60% Monastrell, 20% Tempranillo, 10% Syrah, 10% Merlot. 6 thousand cases.

Bodegas Silvano García 2005 Viña Honda Crianza Jumilla ($20) 90

The ripe and lushly styled crianza has an effusive nose and appealing flavors. Dark ruby in color with a tangy attack and spicy blackberry, blueberry and smoky oak aromas and flavors with a firmly tannic finish.

Bodegas Silvano García 2007 Viña Honda Monastrell Jumilla ($15) 89

Blackberries and violets describe the dark ruby 2007 Monastrell. Fermented and aged in stainless steel, this wine shows dark fruit on the palate with firm but ripe tannins and a persistent finish. The wine has a certain finesse.

Bodegas Silvano García 2007 Dulce Monastrell Jumilla 500 ML. ($25) 90

Dark purple ruby. Dark red cherry and raspberry aromas. Off dry palate with deliciously pure fruit flavors. Velvety on the palate. Finishes quite sweet. Aged for 6 months in stainless steel prior to bottling. Made from 60 year old, dry-farmed vines and harvested the first week of November.

Yecla

YeclaOf Spain’s 77 DO’s, Yecla is one of the smallest with 7 thousand hectares under vine (about one-half of one percent of total plantings in Spain) and just 11 wineries. But it’s not the youngest, having acquired its DO status in 1972. As with the rest of Murcia, Monastrell is the dominant grape. The potential of this region is perhaps best demonstrated by the investments Casa de la Ermita is making, including the purchase of Casa de las Especias, an organic vineyard and winery, in 2003.

Bodegas y Viñedos de Murcia 2008 Altos del Cuco Yecla 89

Altos del Cuco is a good, honest wine with excellent balance and freshness. A blend of 40% Monastrell, 30% Syrah, and 30% Tempranillo, it has a dark ruby hue with black cherry, raspberry herbs and wood spcie on the nose. Would pair well with grilled meats.

Bodegas Castaño

played a catalytic role in the development of Yecla’s wine industry, from its role in acquiring DO status for the region to investments to raise the quality of its wines to marketing its wines around the world. The results are evident in the tasting notes that follow of the 2005 vintage.

Importer: Eric Solomon, European Cellars, Charlotte, NC

Bodegas Castaño 2005 Monastrell Yecla ($8) 88

Dark ruby. Aromas of black raspberry and currant fruit, herbs and oak spice with notes of chocolate. On the palate, it offers more black fruit, charred sweet oak, ripe tannins. Rather traditional in style. Can’t beat the price.

Bodegas Castaño 2005 Hecula Yecla ($11) 88

The Hecula is a traditionally styled 100% Monastrell that provides outstanding value. Opaque ruby in color, there’s licorice, charred oak, and black cherry on the nose. The palate is meaty with notes of sweet American oak.

Bodegas Castaño 2005 Solanera Viñas Viejas Yecla ($15) 92

Solanera is one of the finest Monastrell-based wines produced in Spain today. Medium dark ruby in color, it displays complex aromas of ripe dark cherry and plum fruit with toasted oak, spice and herbs It is ripe, round and soft on the attack, showing seamless elegance and finishes with sweet, extracted fruit and vanilla notes. A beautifully balanced modern wine made of 65% Monastrell 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Tintorera

Castillo del Baron 2007 Monastrell Yecla ($12) 88

Dark ruby. Ripe black raspberry and blueberry liqueur on the nose. Dark concentrated fruit and herbal flavors on the palate with firm tannins. Well done for the price.

Importer: Christopher Cannan, Europvin

Bullas

Bullas is the newest of Murcia’s DO’s, having acquired provisional status in 1982. With its 1,200 ha of vineyards, the main cooperative of Bullas—Nuestra Señora del Rosario Cooperativa—has been one of the principal forces in the DO behind the improving quality of wine. Monastrell represents 95 percent of plantings.

Bodegas del Rosario 2006 Anos 3000 Bullas 89

Dark ruby. Aromas of black cherry and currants, spicy oak and violets. Rich and elegant on the palate with a soft attack of fleshy fruit and oak. Modern in style with tannic grip and a long persistent oaky finish.

Other Regions of Spain

Monastrell is grown in many other regions of Spain, especially those close to the Mediterranean. The wine evaluations reported below include examples from the following DO’s—Alicante, Almansa, Carchela, and Valencia.

Bodegas Alto Amanzora NV Este Vino de Mesa Spain ($7) 86

This bottling displays a medium dark ruby color with a nose of red and black fruit and toasty oak. On the palate it reveals more red fruit and oak and is lightly herbal. The wine finishes with tannic grip.

Importer: European Cellars, Eric Solomon, Charlotte, NC

Atalaya 2007 Atalaya Almansa ($12) 90

Dark ruby. A lovely wine that is international in style, offering aromas of dark cherry, lead pencil and vanilla and a palate with loads of fresh fruit that is nicely integrated with oak. The wine is also beautifully balanced with wonderful flavor and a persistent finish. Great value.

Importer: Jorge Ordonez, Fine Estates From Spain, Dedham, MA

Bodegas Los Frailes

In 1767 King Carlos III ordered the expulsion of the Jesuits, the original owners and developers of this vineyard and winery. In 1771 the Velázquez family purchased the estate and have owned it ever since. The vineyard is 130 ha and is located 80 km from the sea at an elevation of 700 m. Organic agriculture is practiced in this vineyard.

Importer: Las Arribes LLC/Manolo’s Wines

Bodegas Los Frailes 2007 Efe Monastrell Valencia ($12) 88

Medium dark ruby in color with dark cherry, earth, and violets on the nose. In the mouth, it shows vanilla, dark fruit, earth notes, and a touch of minerality. A well-balanced, easy-drinking wine with a soft attack and nicely integrated flavors Would be a great wine by the glass for many restaurants. 100% Monastrell from 25 year old vines. Certified organic.

Bodegas Los Frailes 2005 After 3 Valencia ($24) 88

A delicious, late harvest 100% Monastrell from 55 year old vines. Dark ruby with a savory plum nose and an off-dry palate of plum and dark red cherry with a touch of black olive. Aged in American oak for 12 months.

Rodriguillo 2007 Tinto Monastrell Alicante ($18) 87

This tinto has a dark ruby garnet hue and a nose of black raspberry, balsamic, and charred oak. On the palate it is rather dry with black fruit flavors and charred oak and a good deal of acidity.

Importer: Beacon Wine Company, San Francisco, CA

Written by Don Winkler and Mike Potashnik, October 2009