There are unknown wine regions in Spain that make spectacular wines---once you discover them, you'll fall in love.
Lesser-Known Spanish Wine Regions
by Charlotte Cummins
Spain is home to the beautiful masterpieces of Gaudí, Dalí and Picasso. Spaniards have not only produced some of the world's finest art, they’re also responsible for bringing us the world’s finest wines from Spain! Places like Priorat and Rioja probably pop into your head. While these regions do produce delicious wines, there are lesser-known ones to focus on: Jumilla, Navarra, and Verdejo.
Jumilla (pronounced who-ME-ah) is a DO (Denominación de Origen) within Murcia in southeastern Spain. The Jumilla DO was established in 1966, making it the oldest DO in Murcia. It’s south of Madrid and about 50 miles inland from the Mediterranean coast. Its weather conditions are influenced by the hot, arid climate of Spain’s interior and moderated by the cool, Mediterranean coast. It sits at an altitude of about 1,000 to 3,000 feet and has a distinctive landscape defined by mountains, wide valleys, plains, and the Meseta Plateau. This specific DO receives little rainfall throughout the year and experiences brutal summers where temps can reach up to 104°F. However, Jumilla does enjoy rich, limestone soils that help retain the little moisture it receives.
Historically, a grape that does very well here is the heat-tolerant Monastrell (the Spanish word for the French Mouvèdere) which is used to make rich, rustic, full-bodied rosés and reds. You should expect high-alcohol wines deep with rich coloring and lots of black fruit notes. Jumilla Monastrell wines must contain at least 80% Monastrell. These wines should be multi-dimensional in flavor with notes of ripened fruit and spice from extended barrel-aging, and its limestone soils impart a nice touch of minerality. Other grapes you’ll find growing in the area include red ones like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. These grapes are typically blended with Monastrell wines. White grapes include Airen, Macabeo, Pedro Ximenez, and Malvasia.
Jumilla was spared from the Phylloxera outbreak that hit France in the 19th century, thanks to its essentially impenetrable, aired soil. France’s misfortune helped put Jumilla wines on the map. Today, you can find delicious, full-bodied Monastrell reds and rosés to enjoy on the patio or with a grilled steak.
Navarra is located in the northeastern part of the country between La Rioja and the French border. It receives influences from the Atlantic Ocean in the northwest and the Pyrenees in the northeast. The region has a diverse geographical makeup and a varied climate, but the grape that you’ll find in each subregion is Garnacha. You’ll also find plantings of Tempranillo, Merlot and the white grape Chardonnay.
Natives of the area will remind you of a time when it enjoyed autonomy from the Castilian empire until it was absorbed in 1512. The area has a rich and deep winemaking history, and like many Old World winemaking countries, Navarra’s first plantings can be traced back to the Ancient Romans.
Once the Romans left, the Moors continued to make wine. Even when the country came under Christian rule, winemaking continued. Catholics were responsible for a big surge in wine production in Navarra. The Catholic Church famously leads a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago to the shrine (now a cathedral) in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. Tradition has it that the remains of the Apostle St. James are buried here. Passersby would stop in Navarra to buy wine, increasing its demand.
In the 14th century, Navarra’s plantings multiplied at such a rate that the government imposed restrictions to ensure enough farmland was available to plant crops to feed its residents. Spain was spared from the catastrophic phylloxera outbreak in the 19th century. During this time, wine sales soared, but were short-lived and fell all together when an outbreak came for Spain in the 1980’s.
Navarra is best known for its dry, fruity and refreshing Garnacha Rosés. However, recently winemakers have had success with Tempranillo, focusing on making wines with concentrated fruit and lots of oak. These Garnacha Rosés are fuller in body, making them a perfect match for grilled or roasted meats, and vegetables with lots of spice.
The Rueda wine region can be found in the northwest of Spain, above Madrid, and nestled between Ribera del Duero and Toro. The region is known for its dry and aromatic whites and its full-bodied Tempranillos. Rueda experiences extreme temperatures with intensely hot summers and freezing cold winters. The Castilla Y Leon is one of the highest points in the region and has inhospitable soil, only suitable for grape vines and a handful of other crops. The stoney, well-drained terroir near the town is quite the opposite and is rich in limestone and iron, making it easy to farm.
Unlike other Spanish wine regions, Rueda was negatively impacted by the Phylloxera pandemic of the latter half of the 19th century, which decimated nearly all of the area's vineyards. In 1970, the region made a comeback when Marques de Riscal helped reintroduce Verdejo into the winemaking space. Prior to this, the most widely-grown grape was Palomino. This heat-loving grape was used to make sherry, but the quality was never high enough to compete with higher-quality sherry available to consumers.
Riscal engaged the help of a well-known French enologist Émile Peynaud, who deduced that Rueda, and not Rioja, was the place to produce high-quality, Spanish whites. By using stainless steel tanks instead of wooden barrels to age the wine, Riscal was able to produce complex, high-acid Verdejo wines with notes of apricot, pear, melon, bitter almond, herbs, and lots of minerality. Verdejo wines (which go by the name Verdejo and not the region where they’re from like most European wines) must contain a minimum of 85% Verdejo grapes. Viura, Sauvignon Blanc, or Palomino can be used to make up the remaining 15% of the wine.
You can expect lots of lime, melon, grapefruit, white peach, and even some fennel from these complex white wines - a great pairing for fish tacos with lime crema. Stop by DCanter and grab some of these unique Spanish wines for yourself!