November 05, 2008

Spanish wines getting note

You already know about Rioja and albariƱo, and maybe even the deep, dark wines of Priorat and Bierzo. But where do you find the bargains? In the corners of the country that have only recently begun to get notice, the ones that for ages had made wines only for local drinking.
Some of the most exciting developments in Spanish wine have been in areas that depend on Monastrell, the same grape that provides earthy, black fruit flavors to many wines in southern France, where it's called Mourvedre. In Spain, Monastrell's lair is the Levante, a swath of Mediterranean coast that covers Murcia and Valencia. Until recently, these areas were known more for their beaches than their wines, but that's changing.

At the forefront is Jumilla, a dry, hot area inland from Alicante. Wineries, such as Agapito Rico, Bleda, Finca Luzon, Juan Gil and Julia Roch y Hijos, are turning out red wines with black, figgy flavors, tannic textures and earthy complexity. Best of all, most run $8 to $15.

Jumilla's neighboring regions of Bullas, Alicante and Yecla also boast lots of old-vine Monastrell from which they are producing everything from the usual teeth-staining, palate-filling basic quaffs to some unusually elegant, if tannic, examples. Lesser known, these regions can offer super value. Look for Barahonda, Castano, Lorca and Sanbert.

Adapted from "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wine Basics," by Tara Q. Thomas (Alpha Books, $18.95)

This review first appeared in the Denver Post.

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