The wine region of Levante, Spain, wines, Murcia, Alicante, Valencia, Spain
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Wine in Spain - Levante  wine

When we say “Levante” we are referring to the east coast of Spain, namely Valencia and Murcia. If fun in the sun is what you are looking for, this is the place for you, just as it is for millions of Spaniards and Europeans alike. It is also the heart of Spain’s famed citric produce, such as oranges, “clementine” tangerines and lemons.

   
When we talk about wines from Levante, however, we mean regions with a long-standing tradition in selling millions of gallons of wine in bulk. No bottled stuff. Just huge vats of reds and whites shipped off with disinterest to distant lands. Why? That was where all the business was. Back then, most people didn't care about vintages and crus or unfiltered estate wine. They just made wine by the ton, pumped it into large containers and sent it off to other European countries to be sold cheaply. Literally the dregs of the wine commerce barrel. It was finance, not finesse, that dictated the market. And it worked wonderfully for decades. Whole dynasties were born.

 

The mass-scale wine exports thrive to this day as the regions often sell more of their products abroad than at home, but there has been a notable switch towards greater quality and that spells good news for the consumer because these wines can be a great value. Even the cheap kind can pass as decent. And if something more special is what you are looking for, that can be found in ever-increasing numbers too.

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One of the leaders of the Levante pack is most certainly D.O. Jumilla, spread out across the northern stretches of the province of Murcia. For years it specialized in nothing-special reds made from a grape variety called Monastrell, which is none other than the Spanish name for the variety Mourvèdre. I have to hand it to Monastrell; it sure proves the old theory that grape vines do well basically where no other vegetation will. Not even sagebrush would enjoy this arid land. The wines used to be so packed with alcohol they would frequently break the 15% barrier without the aid of anything. All you had to do was turn the bottle over by its neck and you had a hand-grenade. Starting in the early 1990s, a marked turnaround took place and Jumilla has enjoyed the fortune of reaching fame both internationally and within Spain. Reds from Monastrell are still the main fare here. They are dark and earthy in aroma and full and meaty in flavour. Foreign varieties like Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah have found a nice home here too and are marketed on their own or used to blend with the Monastrell. On a winery-to-winery basis, Jumilla is probably the strongest wine region in Levante.

 

Murcia actually plays home to two other regions. One is D.O. Yecla, a small region north of Jumilla. Historically similar in business philosophy to its neighbour, Yecla has also come out of the woods thanks to the magnificent efforts of the minute number of wineries there. Yecla's wines are also heavily based on Monastrell. They are delicious and go for a really nice price. Setting out in another direction from Jumilla, we enter D.O. Bullas, an old region and a familiar name in the bulk wine business. Bullas wines are rich and can have a mineral taste. They are as fascinating as they are peculiar.

 

Moving into the Comunidad Autónoma de Valencia, we come to three more regions. Starting in the south, the first geographically would be D.O. Alicante. Alicante was prominent hundreds of years ago for making a thick, rich aged wine called Fondillón. It was strong and sweetish, just the way many wines along the coast were made. Though still highly coveted among experts, today they are about as common as caribou, and Alicante has had to contend with a modern foe: its reputation as a no-frills mass-wine producer. As usual, its potential is very high and the marvellous results in the last few years have backed that claim up. Reds made from Monastrell are the most traditional, but foreign varieties do well too.

 

Then there is D.O. Valencia, the wine region. Valencia's real forte is its sweet muscatels. A delicious and perfect way to cap a dinner, they remain among its most interesting offer. It also makes all kinds of regular wines, whites, rosés and reds, for ridiculously low prices. Rarely outstanding, but perfectly acceptable.

 

Further inland we come to D.O. Utiel-Requena, a kind of legendary wine region in Spain. The grape variety of choice was Bobal, which stood out for its fine rosés. They can still be found, but the future holds in store for Utiel-Requena a different fate: red wine. More reliable and reputable grape varieties have crept into the vineyards and have adapted very well to the favourable climate. If managed correctly, Utiel-Requena is a real region to watch in the future.

The best thing about Levante wines is that, as far as modern wines go, they are still in their infant stage. That means the wines just keep getting better and the prices are extremely competitive.

 

What more can you ask for!

Feature written by Brian Murdock, author of the book "Let's Open a Bottle". You can contact Brian at murflo@eresmas.net.

 
   
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