Foods and Wines

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The Meseta

Almost two-thirds of all Spain’s vineyards are on these arid, lifted plains. Spain’s first three DO Pagos, Dominio de Valdepusa, Finca Élez, and Guijoso, are found in this area, and now there are a total of 14. Why here? The northern portion of the Meseta pitches its arid plateau to the edges of the Meseta Central and the Sistema Ibérico; the vineyards might be hot and dry, but they often lie at high altitudes, and nighttime temperatures can be mild as a result.

For the moment, Airén remains the most widely planted grape at over 70% of the vineyards. In La Mancha, the most extensive wine-growing region in the world, nearly half of the vineyards are not guaranteed to be granted the use of the DO label as they have to comply with strict criteria as set out by the Regulating Council.

3These vineyards don’t suffer from moisture pressures, sun is never in short supply, and a few rivers (the Tajo and the Guadiana, principally) offer sufficient water for agricultural vocations.

The wines of the VT or VdlT appellation known as Vino de la Tierra de Castilla are built upon both new plantings and existing vineyards and take advantage of the more liberal EU policy towards drip irrigation. Perhaps it’s useful to think of this as the Midi of Spain, and as with France’s Midi, a focus upon varietals is fueling a  turnabout in which these wines may become some of the most famous. But which varieties? Bordeaux varieties don’t have much purpose here, though there are a few bottlings, and Tempranillo doesn’t flourish, though it is widely grown as Cencibel. Growers will insist that Cencibel is different from Tempranillo, a thicker-skinned clone of the grape that elicits differently colored wines. Grapes such as Garnacha, Bobal, and Monastrell are probably more at home in this heat.

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Almansa

This relatively large region (about 7,500 hectares —large by most world standards) but one that has only a handful of bodegas. Like the rest of the Meseta, this is elevated property (nearly 850 meters) and enjoys fairly uniform soils of limestone and clay, though the Mediterranean’s influence is felt here a bit more than in the rest of the DOs. Some consider Almansa wine part of the Levante, and though its winters are less harsh than its neighbors on the tabletop, its climate and morphology share more in common with the rest of the Meseta.

For further information, visit DO Almansa Website. (Only available in Spanish)

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La Mancha

With almost 170,000 hectares of vineyard, this isn’t quite the largest demarcated wine region in the world; Meanwhile, La Mancha show that La Mancha wines have a common identity of sorts, a relatively limited number of grapes and mutual challenges among its many growers. Though grape producers are not all in the same business, about three–quarters are growing Airén for brandy production. A few of them are now making crisp, pleasant little white wines out of that quiet little grape, and though only about 5% of the region’s production is bottled at this time, there are some large wine companies jumping in.

For further information, visit DO La Mancha Website.

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Manchuela

Although Airén has featured here in the past, the DO’s first move upon receiving its new status in 2000 was to bar Airén grapes from its officially demarcated wines. That leaves red grapes as the primary source of wine: Bobal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cencibel, Garnacha, Merlot, Monastrell, and Syrah. The traditional grapes often are used for doble pasta wines, where the lees and pomace are reused in a second batch of wine to intensify the character and richness of the finished wine. The DO has promised new planting rights to its vitivinicultors; consequently, the size of this DO is expected to expand in the next decade

For further information, visit DO Manchuela Website.

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Méntrida

Separated from the beautiful city of Toledo by the Tajo River, Méntrida is a vast, flat and sandy expanse crowded with Garnacha, with a few other vines such as Tempranillo, Albillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Madrid is just to the northeast; the reds and rosados have a ready market there.

For further information, visit DO Méntrida Website.

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Mondéjar

This much smaller DO is comprised of chalky hills alternating with sandy clay valleys, reaching into the elevated foothills of the Sistema Iberíco. A few vineyards can be found at elevations of nearly 900 meters, but the region is still a work in progress and one with a strong potential.

For further information, visit DO Mondejar Website. (Only available in Spanish)

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Ribera del Guadiana

A big chunk of Spain that covers much of the larger area known as Extremadura, this sprawling DO is more or less bounded in the north by the River Guadiana, though the “banks” of the river account for only a small portion of that expanse. Calcareous clay and sands provide a solid if dry underpinning for the cacophonous mix of vines: Alarije, Alicante, Bobal, Borba, Cayetana Blanca, Cigüente, Eva, Garnacha, Graciano, Malvar, Mazuelo, Mencía, Monastrell, Montua, Moscatel, Pardina, Parellada, Pedro Ximénez, Perruno, Tempranillo, Verdejo, and Viura, as well as such international varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon. Grapegrowing and winemaking have flourished here since Roman times, and the city of Mérida includes an amphitheatre, an aqueduct, bridges, a circus, and a hippodrome. The Roman presence is still evoked in the ancient wine called pitarra in which the fermentation must is a raucous mix of grapes, skins, stems, and even stalks.

For further information, visit DO Ribera del Guadiana Website.

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Ribera del Júcar

The DO comprises over 9,000 hectares of vines carved from out of the eastern zone of DO La Mancha, much of it along or at least near the banks of the Júcar River. Riverbed soils offer ideal drainage in spots, with classic calcareous clay soils throughout most of the vineyards that wind along as a plateau at around 700 meters in elevation. The altitude helps mitigate the summer’s extreme temperatures, as does the river’s proximity, but winters can still be quite cold. Cencibel and Bobal are the most widely planted grapes; Muscat à Petits Grains (Moscatel) is the dominant white grape.

For further information, visit DO Ribera del Júcar Website.

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Uclés

Almost equidistant between the towns of Toledo and Cuenca, this small DO is another one carved out from the larger La Mancha DO. The vineyards total less than 1,750 hectares, though the region itself is far larger. The Sierra de Altomira runs down its center separating the lower western portion (up to 800 meters high) from the much higher eastern region (as high as nearly 1,200 meters); most of the vineyards top out at 800 meters. Uclés is among the more extreme climates on the Meseta; a range of temperatures from almost -17°C in the winter to nearly 43°C in the summer is typical.

For further information, visit DO Uclés Website.

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Valdepeñas

The DO offers nearly 25,000 hectares of Garnacha, Cencibel, Airén, and Macabeo that have a centuries–long legacy of international popularity. The “valley of the stones” is as stony as advertised, along with chalk, clay, mountains, and hills at the point where the Meseta meets the Mediterranean vineyard region. If it seems too warm for Tempranillo (Cencibel), that never seemed to discourage the Rioja wineries who once came shopping here, at least until the modern era. As with the rest of the Meseta, the heat of summer (over 37°C is not unusual) tells only part of the story; winters see snows and temperatures as low as -12°C, despite the proximity to the Spain’s southern coast.

For further information, visit DO Valdepeñas Website.(Only available in Spanish)

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Vinos de Madrid

Once the alluvial plains around the bustling city of Madrid contained enough grapevines to drown the city’s thirst, but all that bustle has pushed the vineyards farther and farther away. The carafes and porróns of the city’s bodegas have been filled with Valdepeñas and Rioja wines for over a century, instead of the local fare, but DO Pagos such as Guijoso, Valdepusa, and Finca Élez are bringing luster to vineyards that traditionally have been ignored. The granitic soils of clay and chalk compounds are suitable for grape growing and offers on the market more and more competitive wines since the DO label has been granted back in 1990.

For further information, visit DO Vinos de Madrid Website.

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