Literally Everything You Need to Know About Spain's Castilla La Mancha
A complete guide to Spain's most underrated wine region. If you like impressionable, rich reds and seriously fun Rosés and Whites, this is for you!
A bit of Perspective and History... but not the dreary kind.
Castilla La Mancha is a decent sized wine region that occupies 16% of Spain’s mainland. It is relatively diverse and contains a variety of microclimates that have made it a prized area for agriculture since 2000 BC. The Phoenicians introduced the vine to Castilla La Mancha around 1100 BC. Just prior to the Romans marching in, Castilla La Mancha was one of the most profitable agricultural areas due to their wine trade during the Carthaginian’s rule in 3rd century BC. After the fall of Rome, it was ruled by the Visigoths, who were then conquered by the Moors/Berbers, who were then conquered by the Christians, and finally after all that drama, Castilla La Mancha became part of Spain when the country united in 1512 AD. But the drama didn’t stop there. From 1936 to 1939, La Mancha was a bloody battleground during the Spanish Civil War, and the dictator, Francisco Franco, suppressed their redeveloped wine trade. As a result, they still struggle today to reclaim the fame they once had. In modern days, the region is producing a lot of delicious wines that are very popular in Spain, but are only just now catching on in the US and major wine importing countries.
The City of Toledo, in the Méntrida DO
Terroir... as in Climate, Natural Factors, and Soil
The climate is very warm and quite arid with only 8-12 inches of rainfall a year. Annual temperatures range from as low as 10*F in the dead of winter, to 104*F at the peak of summer. This is what makes for such rich red wines. Although, without a few natural factors, this region would be ill equipped to produce such fine wine. The constant Northern wind the locals’ call Levante helps moderate temperatures while the altitude (1600 to 3000+ feet about sea level) provides a cooling influence as well. This slows the grape's ripening allowing them to gather more character and quality in the growing season. The vineyards are predominantly chalky, calcareous soil with sandy-clay patches peppered about the region. They provide a balance of good drainage and just enough water retention for the vines to survive this sun-scorched environment.
Important Sub-Regions of Castilla La Mancha
Also known as DO’s (Denominación de Origen), wines from these more specific regions tend to have unique attributes and a distinct quality that sets them apart from the more generic Spanish wines.
This is the logo you will find on Almansa DO certified wines.
Almansa is known for their Alicante Bouschet, which is actually called Garnacha Tintorera over there. They also grow Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah and other hefty red grapes. Only 2% of the wine production in Almansa is white, but you can find Chardonnay, Torrontes, Muscat, Verdejo, and Viognier grown here as well. This is a solid value-for-money DO.
The La Mancha DO insignia
La Mancha is not to be confused with Castilla La Mancha, the larger territory it lies within. It is the largest DO in the world, and produces mostly Tempranillo and Garnacha Tinta (Grenache), with loads of Cabernet Sauvignon, Bobal, Graciano, Mencía, and you might find some Pinot Noir on the cooler side. 75% of the DO is devoted to red wine, with small amounts of white, rosé, and sparkling. Airen is the most planted white grape, with Chardonnay, Viura, Pedro Ximénez and Verdejo being equally important.
This is the Manchuels logo you should look for on the back of Spanish wine
Manchuela produces mostly red wine, followed by Rosé. Bobal is the signature red grape of this region followed by Tempranillo (aka Cencibel), then a handful other resilient red varietals. One technique used to concentrate the wine in this area is called Doble Pasta, where they use twice as much grape skins in the maceration during fermentation as normal. Albillo Real, Chardonnay, Viura, and Perdillo are just a few of the white grapes you can find in this area as well. The Levante wind is strong in Manchuela, so the vines have to be supported by stakes, situated in a goblet shape low to the ground, and pruned to circulate more airflow while providing adequate shade for the grapes.
Certified Méntrida wines will have this logo on their bottles
The Méntrida DO ranges in altitude as high as 3000ft and is know for their berry and spice driven Garnacha. The DO includes the city of Toledo and is a huge economic force in the city. I'm not sure if the expression "Holy Toledo" has to do with the strong Christian presence here, or the fact you can find these wines for a mere $15 USD that have a level of quality that rivals Europe's most prestigious regions for Garnacha.
The Mondéjar stamp of authenticity
Mondéjar is the Northernmost DO in Castille la Mancha and has dedicated 95% of it’s plantings to Cencibel, aka Tempranillo. Rosé production is on the rise, but the regional white grape, Malvar, is an important contributor to a local sweet wine that is rather difficult to find outside of Spain. Nevertheless, it is certainly one to try with a bit of Flan if you ever get the opportunity.
Ribera del Júcar's certifying logo
One of my favorite sub-regions, Ribera del Júcar was awarded their DO in 2003, and is one of Spain's newer DO’s. The region operates mostly on a cooperative level, which means the vineyards are managed by several owners who grow for select producers. Being situated on the far eastern side of Castilla La Mancha, it is the coolest growing region and produces more delicate Tempranillo and small amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat.
This is logo found on the back of certified Uclés DO wines
Uclés was awarded their DO in 2005, and yet the region has many vines in the 30 to 40+ year old range. Vines younger that 6 years old are not used in DO designated wines. The elevation here reaches a sky scraping 3900ft above sea level and produces mostly Tempranillo (Cencibel), Cabernet Sauvignon, and for whites, Verdejo and Chardonnay.
At this point, you know what you're looking at.
Valdepeñes is not just known for their Tempranillo and Garnacha, but also their archeological sites! This region is also the producer of a rare and bespoke blend of red and white wine called Aloque that is traditionally aged in large clay vats. Aloque is a very unique and hard to find wine outside of Spain, but if you stumble up one, definitely try it out with some jamon and chorizo.
Illustration courtesy of Pago la Jaraba
Vinos de Pago, (wines of the soil)
This is a top quality designation awarded to only the best estates. The wines are 100% estate grown and the entire production must take place on the property. Castilla La Mancha is home to 13 of Spain’s 19 Vinos de Pago wineries. They are: Dominio de Valdepusa , Finca Elez, Guijoso, Dehesa de la Guardia, Florentino , Casa del Blanco , Pago Calzadilla , Vallegarcia , La Jaraba , Los Cerrillos, El Vicario, and my favorite, Marques de Giñon
Other Producers to Look for
Bodegas Borsao, Volver, Finca Antigua, Campos de Sueños, Rio Madre, Venta Moranles, and Campos de Viento.
Notice the course, rocky soil that fights against the roots of the vines. The result of this is a grape with more intensity.
That's nearly everything you can possibly know about Castilla La Mancha, Spain's most underrated, high quality wine region for concentrated, warm climate wines. Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, this exceptional region will impress the more you experiment.
Now, I don't normally write about wine in such depth, but please let me know if this was digestible, or too nerdy. I refuse to undermine my readers potential for knowledge retention, but if you prefer to see more "entry level" posts, please let me know in the comments.
Thank you for the privilege of your time.
- The Angry Somm