Over the past decade, US wine enthusiasts have explored far-flung wine regions and little-know varietals. Pinot Noir from Tasmania? Check. Frumint from Hungaria? Done. Tannat from Uruguay? Of course. But one region we have only begun to sip the wines of is Castilla-La Mancha, in central Spain. Castilla-La Mancha produces 6% of the world’s wine. Yes, the world, not just Spain or Europe. In fact, the more than five million gallons of wine made in this region tops the combined production of Argentina and Chile. With 600 wineries making wine from 46 indigenous and international varietals, there is plenty to taste.
The winemakers of Castilla-La Mancha are preparing to conquer the US market in the coming months and years with a targeted marketing program to increase awareness and consumption. Part of their strategy is reaching out to retailers, bloggers and writers for traditional media outlets, and importers while on a tour of US markets. On January 14, the tour stopped in Boston for an educational seminar led by Dr. Michael Apstein, followed by a walk-around tasting at Symphony Hall.
Dr. Apstein admitted that he, like many in the seminar, was unfamiliar with the wines of Castilla-La Mancha until very recently. In preparing to talk about the region, he had a chance to taste some of the wines and told the audience that he was “stupefied by the price/quality ratio” of these wines.
With 1.25 million acres under cultivation for wine grapes, Castilla-La Mancha is a vast area that is home to several quality wine designations or Denominacións de Origen (DO). Also, notably, eight Vino de Pagos are located in Castilla-La Mancha. Pagos are single estates, which have received Spain’s highest wine classification. There are only 13 in the entire country, and unlike the traditional European wine hierarchy, the government gives these wineries great flexibility in winemaking, resulting in greater experimentation. While the D.O.s and pagos denote quality, about half of the wine is bulk wine. Whereas the excess supply of wine in Southern France has been deemed a “wine lake,” the excess produced in Castilla-La Mancha, noted Dr. Apstein, is a “wine ocean.”
Given that Castilla-La Mancha is a very hot region with a continental climate, the wines can reach high alcohol levels suitable for use in blending and industrial applications. The saving grace for fine wine production is altitude. Most vineyards are located at 2,000-3,000’, which provides some relief from the heat and results in diurnal temperature variation that helps to keep acidity in the grapes.
As in many other regions (notably Alto Adige), cooperatives play an important role in wine production. While many wine drinkers hold the belief that cooperatives make poor quality wine, Dr. Apstein stated that this is not the case in Castilla-La Mancha. Dr. Apstein believes that in the next ten years we will be hearing a lot more about wines from Castilla-La Mancha. And we agree!
For more information about this region, visit www.tierradevinedos.org
The following wines were tasted during the seminar:
Bodegas San Dionisio | 2012 Señorío de Fuenteálamo | D.O. Jumilla
85% Macabeo, 15% Airén
A fresh, lively wine with peach and canned corn on the nose. A good palate-cleanser.
About $9 retail.
Bodegas Santa Cruz | 2012 Santa Cruz de Alpera | D.O. Almansa
Tropical nose hints at ripeness, and indeed, this wine is slightly off-dry, pleasantly so, I might add. Bitter almond rounds out the fruit flavors.
About $12 retail.
Bodegas Villavid | 2011 Villavid | D.O. Manchuela
A very fresh nose with lots of cherry and red fruit. Palate is soft and pleasant with hints of cedar and black pepper. Moderate acidity and tannins.
About $8 retail.
Bodega Soledad | 2011 Solmayor Red | D.O. Uclés
The vines that produced the grapes for this wine are more than 100 years old, resulting in low yields and concentrated aromas and flavors of cherry, blackberry, herb, and chocolate. Medium-plus acidity and tannins create great structure. Lasting flavor.
About $8-10 retail.
Finca Los Aljibes | 2008 Aljibes | Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla
50% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon
Aromas and flavors of cherry, flowers, cloves, anise, and a bit of green pepper. Some herbal notes. Medium acidity and tannins, some heat.
About $16-18 retail.
La Verdosa | 2008 Arrayán Petit Verdot | D.O. Ménrida
100% Petit Verdot
An organically-grown wine (though it is lacking certification) that is naturally produced. The nose is a bit dumb at first, but dark red fruit and cherry aromas emerge eventually, along with dust, garden, and floral notes. It has a very tactile mouthfeel, which I like a lot.
About $20 retail.
Manuel Manzaneque | 2005 Nuestra Selección | Pago Finca Elez
40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Tempranillo, 20% Merlot
With vineyards at 3,300’, diurnal temperature variation plays an important role. A modern Spanish wine that follows in the footsteps of Italian Supertuscans. Blackberry, plum, wet stone, herbs, and spice on the nose and palate. The grippy tannins that are evident on the lips and gums are balanced by acidity and fruit.
About $22-24 retail.
Vinicola de Castilla | 2001 Señorío de Guadianeja | D.O. La Mancha
100% Tempranillo Gran Reserva
Aged wines are the specialty of this winery and this Gran Reserva is more traditional than any of the other wines tasted during the seminar. Aged fruits and spice.
About $15 retail.