The Jumilla region in southeastern Spain is big red wine country. Hot and dry, it’s where the Monastrell grape thrives, accounting for about 80 percent of Jumilla’s vines. If you’re not familiar with Monastrell, it’s the grape known in France as Mourvèdre and is one of the mainstays of the Mediterranean wine world, where it is often blended with Syrah and Grenache.
Monastrell produces dark and concentrated wines, and the variety ripens beautifully in Jumilla. The region’s best wines are from higher-elevation vineyards, which benefit from cooling influences that provide balancing acidity.
That’s the case with Bodegas Olivares’s 2018 “Altos de la Hoya” Monastrell, a superb value at around $12. The grapes are grown in a vineyard that lies at about 2,700 feet and is farmed organically, with only native yeasts used in its fermentation. All of this results in a distinctive wine that really out-performs at this price and should be at the top of your list when it comes to robust, delicious, and affordable Spanish reds.
The wine is relatively soft with smooth tannins, and it is drinking beautifully right now. There’s enough structure to support the ripe, dark fruit tastes, including blackberry and cassis, which are accented by touches of cocoa, black licorice, thyme, and wet stone. Alcohol is listed at 14.5 percent, but the wine feels lighter due to its acidity.
That softness, concentrated fruit, and moderate oak influence make this an excellent wine for spicy and highly seasoned foods. It was brilliant with grilled pork chops coated with a marinade of cumin, turmeric, ginger, chili powder, and lime. I can also see it pairing well with Indian food and other grilled meats.
Bodegas Olivares notes that its Monastrell grapes are from ungrafted old vines planted in their own original rootstock that survived the 19th-century phylloxera epidemic — “something unique that gives to the wine its distinctive character.” Indeed, this is one of the more unusual and rewarding Spanish reds I’ve recently come across.