Murcia, hugging the Mediterranean coast to the south of Valencia, has a cluster of DOs one next to the other, each producing interesting reds made primarily from the Monastrell grape.
It is widely believed that Murcia's name is derived from the Latin word myrtea or murtea, meaning land of the myrtle (the plant is known to grow in the general area). The Latin name eventually changed into the Arabic Mursiyah, and then, Murcia.
Murcia was founded by the emir of Cordoba Abd ar-Rahman II in 825. Moorish planners, taking advantage of the course of the river Segura, created a complex network of irrigation channels that made the town's agricultural existence prosperous. The city is called Europe's orchard due to its long agricultural tradition and its fruit, vegetable, and flower production and exports.
In 1172 Murcia was conquered by the north African Almohades, the last Muslim empire to rule southern Spain. Murcia's previous prosperity however declined as the Mediterranean lost trade to the new Atlantic ocean routes, and also suffered from the wars between the Christians and the Ottoman Empire.
Due to its border location with the neighbouring Muslim kingdom of Granada, Murcia was caught in the crossfire at times between Christian Aragón and Castile and the Moorish kingdom to the south.
Murcia's Three Cultures International Festival happens each May and was first organised with the intent of overcoming xenophobia. The festival seeks to foster understanding and reconciliation between the three cultures that have cohabited the peninsula for centuries, if not millennia: Christians, Jews and Muslims. Each year, these three cultures are celebrated through music, exhibitions, symposiums and conferences. The majority of the current population identify as Christian, but there is a sizeable Muslim population as well as a growing Jewish community.
One of the distinctive Murcian festivities is The Burial of the Sardine. This pagan myth is celebrated during the Spring Festival, whose main event is a parade of floats and men dressing in dresses that culminates with the burning of the sardine on the Saturday after Holy Week. The fire is said to have a cleansing function.
Denominations of origin:
Denominacion de Origen
Yecla, once a farming town, is surrounded by nearly 8,325 hectares of vineyards. Of these, three quarters are classified for making DO wines.
The low yields here give concentrated wines with great potential. The number of vineyards registered with the Regulatory Council is steadily increasing, a clear indication of local producers’ interest in quality.
The main grape in Yecla is Monastrell. The Monastrell variety is said to have originated here, and subsequently was carried up the coast and into France (who also claim it as theirs), where it is known as Mourvedre. There is a town in Murcia called Murvedre, which lends some weight to the argument that it originated there.
The other approved varietals are Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Around 95% of Yecla’s production is sold outside Spain.
Denominacion de Origen
Jumilla DO was created in 1996 and has been creating ever better wines over the last two decades. Monastrell and Garnacha predominate. A key unusual feature of Jumilla is its sandy soils, which meant the phylloxera epidemic never took hold here. As such, many of the vines are original, ungrafted stock. Along with the Canary Islands, this is one of the few regions in Europe not to have been affected.
For the last two decades Jumilla has crafted elegant and smooth wines, whether from Monastrell, Garnacha or blends. Most wines are very reasonably priced and are often rich and delicious. The result is a new generation of wines in which the Monastrell grape is showing remarkable results in the hands of skilled winemakers. Jumilla wines have, therefore, begun to make an impact abroad.
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