Castilla – La Mancha

Last week I attended a seminar and tasting on the wines of the Castilla – La Mancha region of Spain.  The region is in south-central Spain kind of wraps around Madrid with most of the wine regions being south of the city.  Wine has been produced there for well over two  thousand years. The reputation, however, has fallen seriously over the last hundred years.  Most people have long regarded the area as being a producer of cheap plonk and alcoholic bulk wines.  Winemakers in the area are working hard to change that impression but it is still very much an emerging area for good wine.  That is exciting for someone like me who is interested in trying new wines.  That most of them are quite inexpensive is a real bonus.

The seminar, led by Doug Frost, an eminent sommelier, was interesting and informative.  He discussed the area’s history and climate and gave a brief description of the regions nine major wine areas.  I particularly liked his emphasis on enjoying the wines you drink.  I intend to buy his book on Spanish wines.  Look for a review here some time later.

There were twenty-three producers at the tasting and unfortunately I did not get to all of them.  Even when I don’t swallow I can’t objectively taste that many wines in a few hours.  The wines I did taste covered a wide range of styles and grape varieties, both native and international.  This makes sense as it is the biggest wine producing district (by volume) in the world.

Here are a few highlights.  A quick note first: many of these wines have limited distribution and can be hard to find.

Viña Cerron is a family run, organic, winery in the southeast of the region.  I tasted their 2010 Remordimento Red, a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Syrah at the seminar.  It was my favorite of the wines at the seminar.  It was very well balanced with enough acidity and tannin to make me think it would age well but with a nice level of fruit (I tasted blackberry) that let me enjoy it now.  There were some interesting herbal aromas too.

Their 2009 Rabia was one of the best wines of the day.  It is made from Petit Verdot.  Petit Verdot is a minor variety in Bordeaux.  It’s funny, Bordeaux is the most written about wine area in the world.  Petit Verdot is part of the blend in some of its most prestigious wines.  Yet you hardly ever find anything written about the variety.  The most I could find was a passing reference that it was added for color and tannins but was being used less and less as it requires a longer growing period to ripen than other varieties.  Based on this one event, Castilla – La Mancha has taken the variety as its own.  This makes sense given the longer growing season in the area.

So what does Petit Verdot taste like?  Well this one tasted a lot like a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend.  It definitely had some of the flavor of violets and black currants that are looked for in Cabernet Sauvignon.  It also had the flavors of berries and plums as well as the big body of a Syrah.  The wine was well balanced and had plenty of tannins.  I really enjoyed it but would love to try it again in another five years.

The winery Dehesa Carrascal provided a very nice range of wines.  Their Tudon’s Syrah Rosado, 2009 was one of the nicest rose’s I have ever had.  It had plenty of fruit and acidity that you would expect but there also were mineral notes that I would look for in a good white wine.  It’s clear red color made it a very pretty wine too.  There was none of the orange tint that so often indicates oxidation in rose’s.   They too made a Petit Verdot, Tudon’s Petit Verdot Criaza, 2008 showed that the area is on to something with this variety.  It was a bit less fruit forward than the previous one I tasted but that was not a flaw, just a different style.  I would love to drink it while eating grilled lamb.

Garnacha, known as Grenache in France and the US, is a native Spanish grape that spread through France and Italy long before it became a player in many new world wines.  It is the principal grape in Chateaux Nuef Du Pape and in most Cotes Du Rhone.  This one could hold its head up in that company.  Once again it was not a fruit forward wine but it was very well balanced with a long finish (after taste).  I tasted it a few times, something I didn’t do with most of the wines that day.  Each time I tasted it I found more to it.

One of the most interesting wines was their desert wine offering, Dulcemar Garnacha Tintoria.  This wine is made from Garnacha using a variant on the ice-wine technique much used in northern cold climates.  The technique freezes the grapes to concentrate the sugars and flavors.  I liked this wine a lot but it didn’t taste like an ice wine to me.  It reminded me of some Italian wines made with using the passito method of drying grapes on mats.  It had darker, coffee, toffee and chocolate flavors.  This wine is available in some parts of the US.

Another winery that had a good range was Bodegas Los Aljibes.  Once again the Petit Verdot, a 2008, was very nice.  They also had a Cabernet Franc based wine, a 2007, that was very flavorful with raspberry and currant flavors nicely balanced with some herbal notes and a peppery finish.  People frequently drink Cabernet Franc based wines fairly young as light quaffing wines.  This one was five years old and still tasted young and vital.

I tasted two wines from Bodegas Y Viñedos Sanchez Mulitero and they both wowed me.  The Viña Consolación, 2004 is a Cabernet Sauvignon that had everything you could want in one.  If this was made in California, the wine press would be falling all over themselves to praise it and turn it into a cult wine.  I have not found a US source for it but if I do I will stocking up.  Their Syrah based wine, Magnificus, 2006 was, if possible, better.  With a name like that, my inclination was to look for faults.  I didn’t find any.

It is a shame that these wines are still unknown here in the US and have very limited availability.  I will be keeping an eye on the area and tasting as many of its wines as I can find.

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