While taking advantage of a special package at Spa Leana, known historically as los baños de Fortuna (2 nights double room with terrace, half board including wine, and a spa treatment circuit for an amazing 108 euros/person!), a hastily arranged day trip to Jumilla wine country (about 70 km away) resulted in a fantastic visit to Bodegas Juan Gil and an unplanned lunch at Finca de Olmo.
Juan Gil has an impressive winery facility amidst the rocky soils and chaliced
monastrell vines of northern Jumilla wine country. The winery has lots of extra stainless steel vat capacity, including large & small vessels, and vinifies both mid market and finer wines. The mainstay in Juan Gil silver label, which is made from 100% monastrell and receives 12 months of aging in French and American oak. The 4 month, with a new gold label, presents an excellent value. The silver label can stand up to long aging, with at least 5 years recommended. Juan Gil’s great grandson explained that a new 18-month wine will be on the markets this year. Much of Juan Gil’s better wine is made from 80+ year old vines, growing in the starkest, driest, and rockiest vineyard land we have seen.
A little known fact is that many of the vines are on original rootstock, and this part of Jumilla was never affected by phyloxera. The wines produced were famous for their colour, concentration, and ability to produce high alcohol content (reportedly up to 17%!). Today’s finer wines are lean, tightly structured, and still alcoholic (14%)–the 12 month oak-aged wines need some time to open up.
Departing the bodega on the way back to los baños we spot a roadside cortijo and restaurant called Olmo. We arrive just at lunch time, and a table is arranged. Local sausages, a mixed salad with excellent bonito (mackerel) in oil, and fried local goat cheese precede the most amazing dish we’ve had in Spain in quite a while.
While paella is most often associated with Valenica–just over the border with Murcia–Jumilla apparently has its own, unique version. Paella jumilliana was prepared at Olmo in a heavy-bottomed paella pan cooked over a wood fire. One single layer of short-grain rice covered the pan. The paella was escargot and rabbit, with the brilliant yellow color of saffron unmistakable cooked into the rice–a true culinary expression of terroir. The smokiness did not obscure the complex saffron flavor, itself complimented by an excellent stalk, the rabbit (including the liver), and the snails. Perfectly cooked, the bottom was crispy and the rice grains plump and flavouful.