All my wine blogs, Jumilla, Spain

Is Spanish Jumilla a new Barossa?

Some say that Jumilla, a southern part of Spain, became a region of big, fruity bombs, similar to popular Australian Shiraz. Perhaps there are some Jumilla’s winemakers that recognized the increased demand for such wines and did step in, to satisfy the global thirst. Sadly, it would be at the expense of the unique characteristics of Monastrell which has the best conditions to grow just in Jumilla’s soils. I bet there are a few. But to refute that argument, I reminded myself  of great Jumilla’s vintners, such as Jose Maria Vicente at Casa Castillo.

Casa Castilla (Photo Vera Czerny)
Casa Castilla (Photo Vera Czerny)

I was fortunate to meet the current head of this (family owned) wine estate during my Spanish visit, few years ago. His ancestor, Don Jose Sanchez-Cerezo originally acquired the property Casa Castillo (built in 1870), in 1941 to grow rosemary bushes.

Jose Maria Vicente, Casa Castillo, photo Vera Czerny

But the second generation, Nemesio and his son Jose Maria Vicente, had a different idea. In 1985 they started restructuring of vineyards and planted new varieties in its difficult soil, that could be described as calcareous soil full of stones, stones and some more stones. In 1991 they reformed the winery building with the respect to the original structure. Finally in 1993, a first vintage of new wine, called Casa Castillo Crianza 1991, came to the world.

Jumilla's soil, Casa Castilla (photo: Vera Czerny)
Jumilla’s soil, Casa Castilla (photo: Vera Czerny)

Jose Maria Vicente and his lovely wife were kind enough to welcome us at their estate the very first night of our trip. While Jose Maria walked the vineyards and winery with us, his wife worked hard in the winery’s kitchen to prepare all locally sourced, a full course dinner. Just 174 hectares of the whole property  (total of 402 hectares) is devoted to vineyards. The most planted, native variety Monastrell is followed by Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.The rest of the land is devoted to cultivation of almonds, olive and pine forest and conservation.

Jose Maria Vicente (right) with his wife and sales manager (photo Vera Czerny)
Jose Maria Vicente (right) with his wife and sales manager (photo Vera Czerny)

The current owner told us with a wink and a smile, how in order to keep his workers busy even off season, he asks them to build the entrance to the winery’s cellars with stones, removed from the vineyards. Looking around, it sounded a lot as Sisyphus journey. They can likely build thousands of such entries and keep busy for years.

The entrance to the Casa Castilla's cellars  (photo: Vera Czerny)
The entrance to the Casa Castilla’s cellars (photo: Vera Czerny)

As a sharp contrast to the original argument – if Jumilla is becoming a new mass production of Barossa, Casa Castillo winemaker aims to produce wines with personality, taste and character of each vineyard plot. Enhancing the quality and respecting the tradition of the area, they produce wines that express the characteristics of the soil and different microclimates of their vineyards. Located in the shade of the Sierra del Molar, spread on steep slopes at 760 meters above the sea level.

Casa Castillo Tasting room (photo Vera Czerny)
Casa Castillo Tasting room (photo Vera Czerny)

When we were finally seated in their beautiful tasting room, the dinner started with local bread dipped in winery’s own olive oil and sparkling wine, which name I really don’t remember anymore. I do remember it was a crisp and yummy cava, though. Plates of roasted peppers, eggplants, anchovy, jamon followed…. When we said goodbye four hours later, it was hard to recall all those delicious courses, served to us, to compliment a line of Jose Maria’s exquisite wines.

One of the delicious courses at Casa Castillo (photo Vera Czerny)
One of the delicious courses at Casa Castillo (photo Vera Czerny)

Each Casa Castillo wine have its own, distinguished character. Jose Maria makes sure of it. He is a devoted vintner, who respects the tradition of the region, soil, quality of local fruit, while aiming to constantly improve it all, and preserve it for the future generation. He spoke of his wines with such a passion, it was admirable. So for anybody, who believes that Monastrell is just another big, fruity bomb, I dare you to taste Casa Castillo’s wines! You will be very, very surprised…

Casa Castillo’s wine portfolio:

Casa Castillo wines (photo Vera Czerny)
Casa Castillo wines (photo Vera Czerny)

CASA CASTILLO: 100% Monastrell, fermented in stainless steel tanks with a short aging in French and American oak, to highlight the freshness and aromas of the Monastrell.

VALTOSCA: 100% syrah from the Valtosca vineyard macerated for 5 days in underground vats, end of fermentation in large 500 L French oak barrels. Wine then aged in French oak barrels for about a year. Valtosca was bottled unfiltered.

LAS GRAVAS: A blend from Las Gravas vineyard, a selection of Monastrell, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Percentage vary each vintage – usually the Monastrell makes at least 50%. Each variety was macerated separately in small vats underground (6,000 liters).  Aging still separately for about 16 to 20 months (depending on the vintage). After barrel aging varieties are blended and bottled unfiltered.

PIE FRANCO: Fruit from Solana vineyard where Monastrell plantation rootstock were originally planted in 1941. Fruit macerated in vats underground, where it underwent the alcoholic fermentation. After 10 days it was transformed into New French oak barrels for full malolactic fermentation on its lees Wine then aged for a minimum of 22 months, unfiltered. Due to a poor performance of this plot, Pie Franco is very limited, based on the production of each vintage.

All wine reviews, Great wines under $10, Jumilla, Monastrell, Red blends, Red wine, Spain, Syrah/Shiraz

Finca Luzon 2009

Producer: Finca Luzon
Grape: 70% Monastrell, 30% Syrah
Region: Jumilla, Spain

I don’t honestly know why it took me so long to review wines of Finca Luzon. I was impressed with their wines from the first time I tasted them (and every vintage since).

There is another reason why I have a special feeling about this wine. During my stay in Spain (2007), our visit started in Jumilla, and we spent the very first 2 nights at the beautiful hotel Finca Luzon. We later learned it was built from the old winery, Bodega Luzon.

Bodegas Luzon was founded by the Gil family in 1916, located about 60 miles from the Medirerranean at 2,100ft elevation. Today, it is an estate of 216 acres of vineyards with some very challenging conditions that happens to be perfect for Monastrell wines.

It makes it one of the best conditions for growing Monastrell  (Mourvèdre) in the world.Sand, with combination of chalk with large chalky gravels and stones, is the tough soil there, with almost no nutrition. Wine has to struggle with very little rainfall, windy climate high in the hills and huge drops of temperature between days and nights.

The winery works with Monastrell that is about 55 years old and for this particular wine, they blend it with Syrah that came from Aragona vineyard at 2.296 ft above the sea level.Finca Luzon also produces an organic wine called Luzon Verde which showcase 100% Monastrell. Altos de Luzon (which is a blend of Monastrell, Cabernet and Tempranillo), Castillo de Luzon (Monastrell, Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet).

This is a winemaker of Finca Luzon, whose name, embarrassingly enough, I can’t remember. (I couldn’t even find it anywhere on-line, I tried).He also showed us a historic ruin, a beautiful property, the Finca Luzon were reconstructing to later move their business into.

Seemed like a huge job, surely took a lot of effort, time and money. I wonder if they are finished by now.

Later at night we had a wine tasting with him and very late superb dinner – that started about 11 pm. Hard to imagine, especially when we had to leave from the lobby the next day at 7 am and got to our hotel at about 2:30 am.
I know, tough life, right?

Tasting notes:
This is a deep purple red with rich aromas of fresh fruit, such as black cherries, red plums with a tiny bit of herbs. On the palate, this wine is super smooth, very fruity (which doesn’t mean sweet), velvety tannins.

As it opens up even more, you can taste rich tones of dark berries with notes of dark chocolate and spices. This wine is big enough to stand to your steak, it’s lovely on its own and for its price, it is a steal!

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak– Aged in oak

Retail price: $ 8.99

Ideal food pairing:
Summer barbeque, Not so Greeg Musaka, Bison burgers with Cabernet Onions and Wisconsin CheddarPistachio crusted rack of lamb, Shish kebab with eggplant hash and Tzaziki sauce, Lamb burgers with Relish Mayo,

Jumilla, Monastrell, Red wine, Spain

Juan Gil 2008

Juan Gil 2
Winemaker: Bartolo Abellán
Grape: 100% Monastrell
Region: Jumilla, Spain

See other wines from these producers:
Can Blau

Jumilla, in southern Spain, is considered the most important area for growing Monastrell in the world. It has been cultivated in this region for some centuries. The winery was originally founded in 1916 by Juan Gil Giménez, a great-grandfather of Angel and Miguel Gil Vera.

The two brothers, carrying the family tradition today, are honoring the memory of their ancestor not only by their devotion and passion for the Jumilla’s most famous grape variety, but also by carrying his name on the building – Bodegas Juan Gil.

Their new cellar, located on family property at Término de Arriba is the highest place in Jumilla. When I visited Bodegas Juan Gil few years back, it was a very hot and windy there. I bet that’s their daily experience. Building their cellar this high created a great position to oversee the family vineyards. And the quality of wine coming from this bodegas must be making Angel and Miguel’s great-grand father very proud.

Juan Gil 2008Gil brothers improved their winemaking technology significantly and personally oversee all daily operations. Although they are not overly ambitious but both very focused on quality of wine, they shortly became one of the most important Spanish wine producers of today. But high quality of their Wrongo Dongo and Juan Gil is just the beginning of the long list of outstanding wine projects this family is involved in, throughout the Spain.

Grapes for Juan Gil were sourced from 40 years old vineyards around the Bodegas Juan Gil (700 m above sea level). The lean, calcareous, rocky limestone soil, poor in nutrients, low rainfalls and extreme changes of temperatures are putting a lot of stress on vines. Therefore low yielded Monastrell from this area grows into small berries, very aromatic and very concentrated in flavor.

Harvest was done by hand and grapes were than sorted in the winery. Maceration lasted 25 days with controlled temperature. Wines were macerated in contact with the skins before being deposited into barrels. Wine aged 12 months in French and American oak.

There is another family secret that makes this wine irresistible: some old vine Monastrell, that doesn’t make the cut into strictly highest quality standards of El Nido and Clio ends up in Juan Gil blend.

Tasting notes:
Deep ruby red color and beautiful aroma of dark berries and plums on the nose. This wine needs to breath a little – it will reward you with stronger flavors and aromas, so give it at least 15 minutes. Full body, greatly balanced fruity wine has velvety, almost none existent tannins. Well balanced, clean and structured,with levels of rich fruit flavors, it feels like the fruit was whipped to cover every part of your mouth. Very long finish, incredible value!

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: under $ 18.00

Ideal food pairing:
Paella, stewed meats with mushrooms, pork roasts, grilled meats, BBQ