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Wines from Castilla-La Mancha: A Quixotic Dream Come True

Coincidiendo con nuestra misión comercial de vinos y productos de Castilla-La Mancha a Australia, publicamos este artículo invitado de Brian Murdock, estadounidense afincado en España autor, entre otros, de dos libros sobre el vino español.

Wines from Castilla-La ManchaThough Spain is a land with thousands of years of experience in the tradition of winemaking, it hasn’t been until the last 30 years that it has begun to flex its muscles and shown the world what it can really do. Castilla-La Mancha is no exception. In fact, I’d say it is one of the finest examples of this exciting and delicious phenomenon.

This region in the heart of Spain currently comprises the largest grouping of vineyards in the world. Traditionally this land focused on quantity and paid less attention to other details like good quality. That meant very inexpensive but rather uninspired products that supplied the almost insatiable needs of daily wine consumers in places like nearby Madrid. Faced with changing drinking habits and greater demands for higher standards, the winemakers of Castilla-La Mancha have proven they can rise to the occasion and now offer an impressive array of terrific wine at generally very competitive prices.

While the white grape variety Airen is so widely grown here it is currently the third most widely planted in the world, ironically red wines dominate the picture. Tempranillo (still locally called Cencibel in some cases) takes center stage, but others, like Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah also appear frequently. At their simplest, they are flavorful and go down easily.

Castilla-La Mancha is home to nine appellations (denominaciones de origen), the total of which makes up one third of all the vineyards in Spain. The largest, D.O. La Mancha, is the biggest region in the country. D.O. Valdepenas was once one of the biggest suppliers of Madrid’s thirsty drinkers. It still produces light and easy reds for nearly a steal.

There are a handful of smaller appellations which complete this mosaic and are marketing some outstanding wines. These include, the meaty reds from D.O. Méntrida, D.O. Manchuela and its characteristic reds and roses made from the Bobal grape, D.O. Almansa with its fine Monastrell reds, D.O. Mondéjar, D.O. Uclés, D.O. Ribera del Júcar, and D.O. Jumilla, though this last one is centered in the neighboring region of Murcia. They all have excellent selections for great value.

The term VT (Vino de la Tierra) can often refer to wine regions that aspire to be a D.O. one day, but VT Castilla has a twist to it. It is a super viniculture region which includes wines from any part of Castilla-La Mancha. Many wineries from the regular D.O.’s produce for this one and some of the finest bottles are marketed under this label.

In addition, this is also a region fraught with maverick winemakers who wish to do things their own way. Half a dozen of them have established their own very D.O.’s, a distinction which allows them to design very personal wines and which list among the best Spain has to offer. They are called vinos de pago (essentially “estate wines”) and they include Dehesa de Carrizal, Dominio de Valdepusa, Finca Elez, El Guijoso, Florentino and Calzadilla.

So, in the land of Don Quixote, where it was previously believed that winemakers might never live up to their great potential, we can gladly confirm that the once “impossible” dream of turning wines from these regions into international hits has now happily come true.

Brian MurdockBrian Murdock

Spanish Wine and Spanish Culture

Let’s Open a Bottle (2004) – updated version on the way
Spanish Wine: A pocket guide (2006)
A Pilgrim with no Direction (2012)
Un peregrino sin rumbo (2012)

Brian R. Murdock
Madrid, SPAIN