The DO. Almansa region is located between the lands of Levant and the La Mancha plains and is known for their cultivation of two robust grape varieties: Monastrell and Garnacha Tintorera. Taking advantage of intense cold winters, a reasoned vintage and modern technology has resulted in wines with finesse and nuances very different to the hardy, concentrated, high alcohol and bulk produced wines that the region was formally known for.
DO Almansa is a transit zone between the high central plateau and the Mediterranean Sea, sharing the wine history and features of both regions. The main difference between the territory of the Denomination of Origin Almansa and the area of Levante, is the great difference in altitude, reaching from 400 meters above sea level in the town of Fuente La Higuera, up to 700 meters above sea level in Almansa, even though the two are only 15km apart. Formerly, this area of Castilla y La Mancha was a border territory, where the Almansa Castle (Castillo de Almansa) was built by the Moors to protect the Vinalopo Valley (Valle de Vinalopó) which was for a long time the frontier between the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragón.
For many decades, the region of Almansa supplied wines to bulk buyers and exporters, who took advantage of the fact that wines from the region were able to give strength and colour to fragile and weak wines from other regions and latitudes, generally from poor harvests and cold climates.
However, with the falling trade of bulk wines, wineries began to believe in the importance of quality over quantity. Wineries finally began to invest in research to improve and refine their winemaking techniques, from the cultivation of their vineyards up to the bottling of the wine. This change in attitude lead to the formal recognition of the DO Almansa in 1973.
The DO Almansa is situated in the central-eastern Spain, in the province of Albacete, in the Autonomous Community of Castile-La Mancha, bordering Alicante, Valencia and Murcia. The wine production area of the DO Almansa includes lands and plots located in eight municipalities (Almansa, Alpera, Bonete, Corral Rubio, El Villar de Chinchilla, Higueruela, Hoya Gonzalo, Pétrola), which are home to more than 8,000 acres of vineyards.
The Garnacha Tintorera and Monastrell are two local grape varieties, important for the production of the DO Almansa wines.The Garnacha Tintorera has become a symbol of wine within the region, representing the authenticity, and original character of the area. Garnacha Tintorera, named after its coloured pulp, has arguably the strongest colour intensity of any grape variety in the world. This variety came about by cross breeding Petit Bouchet with Grenache, and was introduced around the year 1800 by French traders in the area, following the outbreak of phylloxera in the Gallic country.
The ideal climate conditions, together with harvesting at the optimum point of maturation and the application of modern oenological winemaking technology, has allowed winemakers in the region to obtain wines of moderate alcoholic strength, that are either single variety or even wisely blended with other vinifera, that able to undergo a moderate oak aging, acquiring fine complexity and nuances that were unthinkable a few years ago.
Climate, Soil and Varieties
Despite its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, tho DO Almansa is home to an extreme continental climate, with very cold and dry winters accompanied by very hot summers. Rainfall is concentrated in spring and late summer, with an average of 250 per year mmm. The climate is less extreme than La Mancha, although summers are also very hot, with temperatures reaching 40° C with ease.
The soils are generally rich in limestone, alternating between areas that are stony, and areas that are sandy and deep. The soils are not very fertile, giving low yields per hectare.
Most vineyards are planted on largely flat terrain at around 750 – 1000m above sea level. This altitude tends to mitigate the heat and lengthy sunshine hours somewhat. Although the Garnacha Tintorera and Monastrell are the predominant grape varieties of the DO Almansa, Tempranillo, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot are also grown, while in white varieties such as Verdejo, Moscatel de Grano Menudo, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also present.
DO Almansa Wines and Wineries
The 8,000 hectares of vineyards in the DO Almansa are cultivated by over 750 winegrowers, yet there are only 12 wineries in the region. One reason for this is companies such as the cooperative Bodegas Santa Cruz de Alpera, a company that umbrellas over 400 winegrowers and oversees 3,000 hectares of vineyards. The cooperative is an example of modern times and progress, with a large portfolio of red and rosé wines made exclusively from Garnacha Tintorera and some Syrah, as well as whites made from Verdejo.
Another modern winery located in the region is the Atalaya winery, a project of the Gil Famiy Estates with the participation of the López Family, from Pilar de la Horada. Since they released the first vintage (2007), the winery has focused on researching in the development of the Garnacha Tintorera and Monastrell grape varieties. Their current range of products includes the red wine Laya, a blend of Garnacha Tintorera (70%) and Monastrell (30%) from vineyards situated at 700-1000 metres above sea level. Laya is then aged for 4 months in French oak barrels. Another wine from the winery inclused the Atalaya del Camino, 80% Garnacha Tintorera and 20% Monastrell aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. Finally, their single variety Alaya Tierra, made using Garnacha Tintorera from old low-yield vines located 1000 metres above sea level, aged for 15 months in French oak barrels with a small proportion of American oak.