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Spain’s earthy Castillo de Jumilla is a bargain

Don’t want to open up an expensive bottle of wine for a quick summer meal? Try this $9 monastrell bursting with ripe fruit and earth tones.

It’s a typical evening with lots to do and so little time. The kids are finally asleep, but the race goes on. I'm determined to quickly grill that steak before the next episode of “The Sopranos.” Nothing fancy. Just a good piece of meat, some mashed potatoes, and maybe some sautéed asparagus. Hurry up. It’s almost time to relax. And no need to open a bottle of expensive red wine.

The 2004 Castillo de Jumilla Monastrell from Spain will do just fine — in fact, more than fine. This $9 wine from the Jumilla region is one of the best under-$10 wines I’ve tried in recent months.

Monastrell? It’s the most important red variety in Jumilla (pronounced hoo-ME-uh), a hot, dry, rocky area in Spain’s southeast. It’s the same grape known as mourvèdre in the Rhône and other parts of southern France, as well as in California, where it is grown in limited quantities.

A taste of the monastrell from Castillo de Jumilla will quickly demonstrate why it does so well in Spain. The slightly earthy fruit is vivid and focused, with ripe, deep raspberry and cherry the main components, joined by supporting notes of sage and vanilla. It also has good acids, decent structure and an overall complexity that belies its price. Made without oak aging, it retains a bright and fresh quality.

It is produced by one of Jumilla’s better-known wineries, Bodegas Bleda, a family-run affair that has been at it since 1935. The importer, Michael Lerner, notes that the grapes are grown without irrigation because the limestone soil retains water well. (Vines that are not irrigated tend to produce more complex wines because the roots are forced to dig deeper for water and pick up minerals and nutrients as they do so.)

It’s tempting, of course, to say that other regions could learn a thing or two from this wine in terms of the quality that can be achieved at the price. The French certainly have the knack for it and, while I’m sure many in California would like to, I imagine that wine real estate there is just too expensive to even think about producing bargain wines at this level.

And that’s OK. The Spanish, no doubt, are happy to supply a growing thirst for original wines at unbeatable prices like this one. Whether it’s called monastrell or mourvèdre, the grape is one of those less familiar varieties that may seem slightly intimidating when spotted on a label in a wine store. But these are the wines that can be among the most delightful discoveries, the ones that expand our wine horizons.

The Castillo de Jumilla Monastrell, by the way, was perfect with our steak the other night. And yes, we sat down to enjoy it just in time for the familiar, thumping theme from “The Sopranos.”  (For more information about the wine you can write to the importer, Michael Lerner, at info@michaellernerselections.com.)

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch