Murcia is a city, province and autonomous community of south-eastern Spain. Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the east, Alicante to the north, Albacete to the west and Granada and Almería to the south, the Murcia region consists of just one province, unlike most other autonomous communities. Murcia city was founded in the 9th Century by the Emir of Cordoba at the time, Abd ar-Rahman II, with the Arabic name Mursiya. How the name evolved to be Murcia is still the subject of speculation, with suggestions that it is a corruption of the Latin word Myrtea, meaning 'land of myrtle,' or Murtae, meaning 'mulberry,' both of which plants flourished throughout the region for many centuries. This mountainous region is part of the larger Levante (east), a term occasionally used to collectively describe the eastern provinces of Spain or sometimes just the communities of Valencia and Murcia.
Murcia's landscape offers, aside from myrtle and mulberry, mostly mountains and thirsty terrains. The obvious exception to this is the Mar Menor ('minor sea'), a large salty lagoon in the south-eastern corner of the province, next to the Mediterranean Sea. The Segura River provides much-needed water to the inland areas. Many agricultural products are grown along the river; tomatoes and citrus fruit are popular.
In terms of wine, Murcia houses three DOs (Denominaciónes de Origen) – Bullas, Jumilla and Yecla. Vines are said to have been introduced to the region by the Phoenicians in ancient times. Murcia's winemaking reputation has fluctuated down through the centuries. During Roman rule, demand and esteem were high. The region came into prominence again in the latter half of the 19th Century, when the vineyards of neighbouring France were destroyed by the phylloxera louse and the growers there turned to other European producers to fill the gap for their robust red wines. Murcia was one of the natural choices – the conditions there suit the production of the Monastrell grape (France's Mourvèdre), which yields wines with high tannins and deep color, suitable for barrel maturation.
Unfortunately, the status of the wine slipped after this period, as quantity took precedence over quality. There are some notable modern-day exceptions, however, mainly from producers who have experimented with the latest winemaking techniques and grape varieties and have conscientiously eschewed the traditional bulk-production race. This has catalyzed into a general movement toward modernization and a new focus on quality, and the results look promising.
Apart from a tiny portion of the Bullas region, the designations within the province are some way inland, but still experience a strong Mediterranean influence. The most appropriate term for the area's climate would be 'transitional,' with the coastal effects giving way to the hot and arid influences of the central Iberian plateau. These are some of the hottest places in Europe, with temperatures of up to 113°F (45°C) not uncommon. All these factors contribute in shaping the styles and types of wines produced in a region which, unsurprisingly, is heavily favored towards reds.