Other sparkling wines Gran Reserva. 40 months in bottle. Winery: Bodegas y Viñedos Balmoral. D.O. La Mancha. (Castilla La Mancha) Variety: Chardonnay, Macabeo and Pinot Noir.
Many archaeological remains and evidence suggest that vine cultivation in this vast region began in the Roman era, far later than in the coastal regions on the Peninsula. It can be argued that the name ‘Mancha’ originates from the Arabic word ‘Mantxa’, which means ‘dry earth’, but other studies on the language and region suggest that ‘Mancha’ is a contraction of the phrase ‘la más ancha’, meaning ‘the widest’.
In any case, during the medieval period, the area of La Mancha began a tentative expansion of its vineyards under military orders. These orders, especially those issued in Calatrava, were directly linked to the Burgundian Cister, which is why for many years the Cencibel (Tempranillo) variety was thought to be linked to the Burgundian Pinot Noir. While it cannot be denied that vineyards existed in many of the region’s towns during the Golden Age, it didn’t reach the enormous number being cultivated in the area in the present day.
As evidence of this, the mountains and pasture land in the landscape described in El Quijote are given much more prominence than the vineyards. Wine could also be found in skins, an element used for transporting wine, rather than in earthenware jars, which would have been more likely and logical if vineyards were plentiful. However, in the nineteenth century, the number of vineyards and the amount of La Mancha wine produced was increased, not only because of external demand but also due to the plagues that devastated French vineyards and the new proximity of Madrid by train. As a record of this, Spain’s first wine-making cooperative was formed at the beginning of the twentieth century in Campo de Criptana, and years later, in 1927, the Estación de Viticultura y Enología (Viticulture and Oenology Research Station) was founded in Alcázar de San Juan. Vineyard cultivation in La Mancha reached its maximum capacity after 1940, due to the establishment of numerous wine-making cooperatives throughout the region.
Nowadays, La Mancha cannot be understood without vine cultivation, and its unwavering loyalty is demonstrated by having the world’s largest vineyard. Half of the surface area dedicated to vine cultivation in Spain can be found in La Mancha’s lands, and its 600,000 hectares represent no less than 6% of the world’s area devoted to vineyards and 9% of Europe’s. It is the largest vineyard on the planet.
The statistics are staggering: their oenological industry makes up almost 40% of Spain’s wine-making establishments, which unites more than 70,000 families and generates more than nine million salaries, which is equivalent to thirty eight thousand permanent job contracts. In addition, grape production is set at around two million tonnes, and the production of new wine and grape must (‘mosto’) reaches fifteen million hectolitres, a figure that makes up approximately 50% of Spain’s total production.
Although nowadays there is no shortage of admirable oenological initiatives as well as great wines all over La Mancha, for many decades, a large quantity of La Mancha wine was bulk-produced and supplied to regions in Spain and all over Europe. Despite this burden, technological advances and wine-makers’ knowledge of the art of cultivation and production started to pay off years ago due to a well-planned introduction of improved grape varieties, which are harvested early in order to control their level of alcohol. They are then cold stabilised and temperature-controlled during fermentation to produce primary fruity aromas, which did not exist a few years ago, nor were they appreciated or respected.
The D.O. La Mancha was officially inaugurated in 1973 and is situated in the centre-south of Spain with a total of 182 towns: 12 in Albacete, 15 in Ciudad Real, 66 in Cuenca and 46 in Toledo. It is estimated that there could be up to 600,000 hectares of vineyards, but currently there are only around 165,000 hectares registered to the D.O. La Mancha, which means that this D.O. has the largest number of registered vineyards in all of Spain (the majority are situated in the Ciudad Real with more than 81,000 hectares) in which 20,000 wine-makers work and 260 wineries produce wine.
Climate, Soil and Varieties.
La Mancha has a level landscape, with low altitudes and reddish soil due to Miocene sediments with limestone structures. Dryness is another one of its most striking characteristics; humid winds are very rare due to the area’s microclimate and the area receives a very low rainfall of only 300 to 350mm a year. In addition, this area enjoys more than 3000 hours of sun a year, therefore the wines are influenced by an extremely dry atmosphere with a high level of sunshine, reaching temperatures close to 45⁰C. The orography is very flat and the terrain gradually rises from the north to the south, exceeding 485 metres above sea level in the extreme north and 700 in central La Mancha, before descending to 645 in Manzanares. The highest altitudes can be found in specific areas in the Cuenca province and in the area surrounding Montes de Toledo.
However, the average altitude of the majority of La Mancha vineyards hovers between 600 and 800 metres which, combined with the extreme continental climate, makes the winter temperatures very low, even reaching -15⁰C. The composition of the soil is very varied, with sandy clay formations of a pale-reddish colour, low in organic content and rich in limestone and chalk.
In terms of varieties, the Regulatory Council of the D.O. La Mancha authorises the cultivation of the white varieties Airén, Viura (or Macabeo), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, the small grain Moscatel, Pedro Ximénez, Parellada, Torrontés, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Viognier. La Mancha mainly cultivates Airén with more than 100,000 hectares, followed by the Viura (or Macabeo) variety with 4500 and the Verdejo with 3000 cultivated hectares. Among the red varieties, the red Cencibel (or Tempranillo), Garnacha, Moravia, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Graciano, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir are authorised, with the most cultivated variety being the Cencibel with about 30,000 hectares, followed by the Garnacha with 4500 and Syrah with 4300 cultivated hectares. In total, white varieties dominate La Mancha’s vineyards with more than 116,000 cultivated hectares, while the red varieties span around 48,000 hectares.
Wines and Wineries
Mano a Mano is located in El Provencio. It was established in 2003 when four partners with experience in wine production in other wineries decided to join forces and found Mano a Mano. The main building, with modern and functional architecture, is surrounded by 44 hectares of vineyards with the Tempranillo grape as the focus, although they reserve some plots for the Merlot and Syrah varieties. They also have an experimental vineyard, in the nearby area of Herencia, where they study the behaviour of different improved varieties, such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Graciano or Touriga Nacional, some of which are included in the wine collections of the Venta de Ossa brand. So far, they are marketing the Manon Roble and the Mano a Mano, a red Tempranillo with six months of ageing in oak, as well as the Syrah variety Venta la Ossa with 12 months of ageing in French oak barrels, and finally the traditional Venta la Ossa, made up of 95% Tempranillo and 5% Syrah with 12 month’s ageing in French oak barrels. A red wine with spicy memories and an undeniably mineral style; potent, tasty and long, with well-contoured tannins and a global sensation of freshness.
Bodegas Volver was founded in 2004 by Jorge Ordoñez and Rafael Cañizares, two of the leaders in the international Spanish wine boom of the 90s. The winery owns 110 hectares of vineyards in various estates: Finca Los Juncares was planted entirely with Tempranillo in 1957; Paso a Paso Verdejo, 14 hectares, was planted between 1994 and 1997; the Tarima Hill vineyards are older, planted between 1935 and 1970; and Wrongo Dongo are vines planted between 1977 and 1987. With these plots, the winery makes wine under the D.O La Mancha, Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla and D.O Alicante. In fact, the only wine made under the DO La Mancha is Volver, a 100% Tempranillo from the Finca Los Juncares. It is produced using malolactic fermentation in new French oak barrels and is aged for 18 months. The rest of the winery’s brands, such as Paso a Paso Verdejo, Paso a Paso Cosecha, Paso a Paso Tempranillo, Paso a Paso Orgánico Tempranillo, Paso a Paso Orgánico blanco, Wrongo Dongo, Tarima Blanco, Tarima, Tarima Hill, Tarima Orgánico, Triga, Tarima Espumoso and Tarima Rosado, are made under Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla and DO Alicante.
Finca Antigua, founded in March 2003, belongs to the Martínez Bujanda family. The estate is located in the town of Los Hinojosos in Cuenca and owns 421 hectares of vines. It is a beautiful scrubland area peppered with vineyards, and each plot is set aside to produce a different wine, therefore guaranteeing a unique and incomparable style. The winery is a spectacular building made of polished steel, stone and cement, set around a lake; this architecture offers the visitor a surprising contrast of modernity and freshness. Finca Antigua’s crianzas and reservas are aged for 12 and 18 months respectively in French oak barrels. The wine Clavis Pago Pico Garbanzo is obtained from the exclusive Pico Garbanzo plot and 18 months of ageing. More labels from their brand include Finca Antigua Blancos and Finca Antigua Moscatel Naturalmente Dulce.
Bodega Pago de La Jaraba is situated in the historic setting by the same name, between Villarrobledo and El Provencio in the heart of La Mancha. The winery was founded at the start of the twenty first century with wine, Manchego cheese and olive oil, reflecting the winery’s commitment to history and well-made products. Pago de La Jaraba currently has three different product ranges under the brands Azagador, Viña Jaraba and Pago de la Jaraba. The first has the largest presence in international markets, while the second is a red wine made from Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties; Pago de la Jaraba adds the Merlot grape to the previous blend.
Bodegas Lahoz is located in the great plain of La Mancha surrounded by vineyards, with 500 hectares in total, divided into native and a few foreign varieties. The Lahoz family began their path into the world of viticulture last century, and year after year, their expanse of vineyards has continued to grow at the same rate as their enthusiasm for making wine. Finally, in 2004, they carried out their first harvest. There is a serious, monastic atmosphere throughout the winery so that the wines can be made and left to rest in absolute silence. The main exponent is the Tempranillo, although they also have red varietal plantations of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah; as well as Airén, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in the white varieties. They market their wines under the Vega Corcoles, Recato, Abad de Soto and Vinhoz brands.
Finca El Retamar, situated in the Montes de Toledo and within the boundaries of Orgaz, has 650 hectares entirely devoted to agricultural, livestock and wine-making pursuits. It has been owned for 50 years by the siblings of the Peces-Barba family. The winery is settled in a typical La Mancha house with courtyards. The space is full of magic and charm, coexisting perfectly with modern installations. The wines are white (semi-sparkling and sparkling), rosés and reds (crianzas and reservas), and they market them under the Conde de Orgaz and Barbarosa brands.
Bodegas Ayuso islocated in Villarrobledo and was founded in 1847, starting a long family tradition. In 1965, they launched the successful Estola brand, the flagship of the winery and the first Reserva in La Mancha, which very quickly drew the attention of specialised critics. Over the last few years, the winery has made a significant effort to modernise and incorporate technological advances into their wine-making. The reception of the grapes is handled by computer for analysis and classification, and new stainless steel tanks (self-emptying and self-cleaning) control the temperature. In addition, they have a sophisticated bottling line with capacity for 18000 bottles/hour. The Estola label encompasses crianza, reserva, gran reserva and white Verdejo wines. More of their labels include Castillo de Benizar and Abadía del Roble. The Finca Los Azares wine combines Cabernet with Merlot Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc. Their white semidulce wine, called Armiño, also stands out.
Bodegas y Viñedos Bro Valero is set in the La Navarra estate, and is an example of a small, family winery. In a homely atmosphere, the Bro Valero brothers produce high-quality and unique ecological wines, recognised by different awards. A small amount, 10% of the best quality grapes, are set aside to produce artisanal wines naturally and without any additional products. The winery owns 69 hectares of different vine varieties which are part of the plantation of 1500 poplar trees compensating for the CO2 emissions produced during production. Every year, the winery sets aside 0.7% for social objectives, principally for cardiovascular investigation. Their labels include, in addition to the obvious Bro Valero, Meredad de Alhaite, with a collection of Syrah varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Macabeo and Chardonnay.
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