Yecla is the smallest and northernmost wine zone in Murcia, far southeastern Spain. Named after the town of Yecla at its center, the zone was delimited and granted official DO status in 1975. It is surrounded on all sides by other DO: Jumilla to the west, Alicante to the east and Almansa in the north. The classic Yecla wine is a rich, dark, fruit-driven red made from Monastrell grapes.
Although officially a single region, Yecla is unofficially divided into two zones, distinguished by their relative altitudes. The higher, northern Campo Arriba, with its older vines and more concentrated wines, is generally more highly regarded than the lower, southern Campo Abajo.
The climate here, 50 miles (80km) inland, marks the transition between coastal Mediterranean influences and the harsh continental climate of Spain's hot, arid interior. Rainfall is low, with less than 12in (300mm) falling annually. Thankfully, the limestone soils here are efficient at storing whatever rainfall the region is fortunate enough to receive. Altitude also serves to moderate temperatures here; the zone sits at the eastern edge of the Cordillera Subbética mountain range. Most Yecla vineyards sit between 1312ft (400 m) and 2625ft (800 m) above sea-level.
Yecla's hot, dry summers are ideal for the late-ripening Monastrell grape variety, which dominates the local vineyards and wines. Roughly 80% of Yecla's total vineyard area is planted to Monastrell, the rest divided between Spanish favorites Garnacha and Tempranillo, and French "international" varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The small quantity of white Yecla Blanco produced each year is made from Chardonnay, Macabeo and Airen.
Traditionally, the local red wines were made in a lighter, fruitier style than they are today. These were often vinified by carbonic maceration, and were intended for consumption within a couple of years of vintage. Today, the fashion has shifted towards conventional winemaking and complex, well-structured, barrel-aged examples which can be cellared for five years or so.
Viniculture was introduced to the Yecla area by the Phoenicians in ancient times, but wine did not become an important part of the local economy until the 20th Century. Yecla's economy has traditionally revolved around agriculture, particularly grain, fruit and oil (the Castaño family produce olive oil here to complement their broad wine portfolio). In more recent years, however, it has become better known for its quality furniture-making and, very recently, quality red wine. Since the 1980s, the local wine producers and the Consejo Regulador (wine authority) have worked to produce distinctly Yecla wines, to create a distinctive personality for the region's wines.
The well-known Familia Castaño group is based here, and produces a range of Yecla wines (white, red and rosé), as well as a few from neighboring Jumilla and Alicante. Also based here is one of Spain's largest cooperative wineries, Bodegas La Purísima, which serves as a reminder of the area's bulk-producing past. Yecla's ever-improving reputation has not gone unnoticed, as demonstrated by foreign interest in the region. Castaño partnered with investors from Switzerland to set up the Sierra Salinas winery in Villena (technically part of the Alicante DO zone), and Hollywood filmmaker and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola added a Yecla-grown wine to his portfolio for at time.