Wines from Jumilla
Our race begins on a steady, loping downhill trajectory, and then meanders through the intermediate sprint, into a circuit that has the riders ascending the Cat 3 Alto de la Cresta del Gallo not once, but twice. Perhaps a juicy opportunity for the climbers; however, a flat 12 km stretch to the finish may tempt sprinters who successfully haul themselves over the Cresta del Gallo’s steep, narrow roads the second time. Each stage finish thus far has been hotly contested (quite literally, some days) and I expect this to be no different. It’s likely to be a jumble of GC contenders, punchy climbers, and numb-legged sprinters trying to out-maneuver each other in the last few kms. Crash potential and attacks are also likely. Stay tuned . . .
Now, on to more interesting things – food and wine! Our departure point, Puebla de Don Fadique, is celebrated for its lamb, known as Cordero Segureño (photo above), which they grill over a wood-fired parillada. It is of such high quality that the Spanish government recognizes it with a classification of PGI, or Protected Geographical Indication. This means that the product (usually wine or agricultural in nature) is closely linked to the geographical area in which it is produced, processed or prepared, and that it has specific qualities attributable to that geographical area. In this case, the lamb must be raised within a designated area, fed a prescribed diet, and be processed when it is no more than 95 days old and between 9-12 kg in weight. Traditional cooks prepare it with potatoes, tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley and extra-virgin olive oil. (See photo, top.)
So what goes better with grilled lamb than hearty red wine? Stage Eight takes us throughout the region of Murcia, which is also home to the winemaking area of Jumilla, itself situated just north of the city of Murcia. Monastrell (a.k.a. Mourvèdre in Southern France) is the king of the vineyards here, and he can be mighty indeed! Wines made from 100% Monastrell are typically black-red, like the darkest, ripest cherries, and have intense tannins that need to be tamed. In France, this grape is usually blended with Grenache and Syrah to create what are known as “GSM” blends. Modern winemakers in Jumilla are also experimenting with blending Monastrell, usually with Tempranillo or Merlot, with positive results.
Traditional wines produced in this region were known as Doble Pasta, and underwent a process by which some of the fermenting must was drained out of the vat after a few days. The vat was then refilled with additional crushed grapes, thus dramatically increasing the skin/pulp ratio in the vat, leading to inky-black juice with feral tannins. Most Doble Pasta, however, was destined for the blending barrels, probably to give more structure to less complex wines.
Wines from Jumilla are widely available in the States, and usually at a favorable price point. The bottle pictured at left, from Juan Gil, runs about $15 and is 100% Monastrell. Pick one up at your local shop and compare it with a GSM blend from the Southern Rhone in France.
Viva la Vuelta!