Plateau Wines

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Our wine tasting trip continues around Spain and takes us to visit the producing areas in the central Iberian Plateau/tableland. On this occasion, the team assessed, firstly, wines from La ManchaValdepeñas and Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla and on the other hand, wines from Ribera del Guadiana and Vinos de la Tierra de Extremadura. There was a total of 643 new tastings, that you can find already published and available on Guía Peñín 2019 Online (follow this link to view the results/ ratings).

Last year recorded one of the poorest harvests over the past five years. Spanish wine production falls an estimated 19,6% compared to previous season, according to the information provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and Environment. The main reasons of such fall being the high temperatures and low rainfall during the final stage of spring, together with the damages caused by frosts and hail located in various regions around the Peninsula. Mancha was one of the hardest hit areas in the country as it contains the largest extension of vineyard in the world and is responsible for one of the greatest wine production under a sole denominación de origen, with the permission of Qualified D.O. Rioja true provider, in terms of volume, of D.O wine throughout Spain.

During our stay in Mancha, we always pay a visit to the denominación de origen Valdepeñas. This time we tasted 63 brands from 10 different winemakers of a total 20 registered wineries. The decline of Valdepeñas, over the past 20 years, is evident. From being the most popular wine in Madrid, it now recedes into the background.

La Mancha’s young wine

Mancha continues to be a reference among manufacturers of young affordable wines, for amateur consumers. The mentioned D.O. decided years ago to focus the wines’ main line of argument on simple production processes and with plenty of fruit coming from its earliest harvests. In fact, it is a natural consequence, as they demand excessive performance’s results to their vines, and have to deal with adverse climate conditions and a difficult terrain relief, which means that they cannot easily manoeuvre with acidity, long vintages and bottle ageing.

La Mancha wines are often found in taverns of half of Spain at very affordable prices. Thus, many producers feel comfortable following this business model, since with the sale of these wines and the aid of bulk sale, they achieve juicy results accounts.

Young wines tasted this current year reveal a good balance and, in general, better quality than last vintage. Probably, the main reason for this phenomenon during such a poor and dry year, might be the lower performance of the vines. Less quantity but healthier than during wet years.

Dominio de Punctum left us the best example of young wine throughout the D.O.: Viento Aliseo Tempranillo Petit Verdot 2017, a reference awarded with 90 points. In a less expressive line, but along with well-thought out wines, easy to drink and fruity well-priced, we can find brands such as Ojos del Guadiana Syrah 2017 (3 euros) from the cooperative winery El Progreso or the acclaimed Canforrales Tempranillo Clásico 2017 from the cooperative Campos Reales (2,85 euros), both rated with 88 points.

As usual, within each D.O., there are wines that stand out in relation to style and quality. The best cases, among all 300 tasted wines, were the Clavis 2010 Reserva de Finca Antigua created by oenologist Lauren Rosillo or the Cánfora Pie Franco 2010 from Bodegas Campos Reales.

Lauren Rosillo, from Finca Antigua

Clavis 2010 originates in a 3,99 hectares plot situated in Los Hinojosos, Cuenca, at 840 meters of altitude. Therein coexist, intermingled, mixed vines from diverse provenances. This was already the case when they bought the plot but, curiously, they do not know all the varieties involved. In fact, Lauren acknowledges that a good proportion of this wine’s personality comes from the blend of such vine variety, with different ripping stages and their joint vinification. Soil is a sandy loam soil with a bit of clay, an important ally in the region as it tends to retain water, a valuable resource in Castilla la Mancha, even though a large extension of the D.O.’s vineyard has access to drip irrigation. Lauren Rosillo is a well-organized, pragmatic oenologist, as it should be if looking for good results in a 400 hectares vineyard.

Aside from his work at Finca Antigua, he is also in charge of the famous txakolí K5 owned by Carlos Arguiñano, and he is the owner of a small endeavour, la Sedella, located in the Axarquía malagueña where he cultivates, with similar success, varieties such as romé, garnacha and muscatel, showing he is absolutely capable of managing completely different production models.

Monastrell's vineyard from Bodega Campos Reales

This becomes a significant fact since, in La Mancha region, there are other winemakers more focused on producing millions of bottles and ignoring their clear potential to make more ambitious wines. Good examples are noticed among some cooperatives, like Nuestra Señora del Rosario, known as Bodega Campos Reales. Controlling the overwhelming figure of 4,000 hectares of vineyard, this winery owns some of the best vines in Cuenca. However, they do not hesitate to concentrate their efforts in the production of less demanding wines. In this respect, we miss the development of a line of ‘vinos de parcela’ (plot wine), as we have recently seen in Empordà, where the cooperative winery Celler Cooperatiu de Espolla currently produces its line of Vins de Postal. This line of work would enhance the quality of La Mancha wines and it would translate into a proof of power. This cooperative winery’s best reference, and hence its introduction towards the world, is Cánfora Pie Franco 2010, scoring 92 points, the result of mixed tempranillo plots with over 70 years old, ungrafted vines. A product that reveals complexity, structure and balance.

While among red 2017 wines we found a qualitative improvement, in relation with former harvest, this is not the case among white wines, where there is a clear loss of consistency in the mouth. Moreover, this year, it strikes a rare event as Guía Peñín’s team has tasted more verdejo whites than airén’s. Let us remember airén is the white most cultivated variety (99,054 has), while verdejo, since its inclusion on their ‘regulatory specifications’ 10 years ago, is the third most extended white variety (3,151 has). A good amount of airén is intended for manufacturing of spirits. Winemakers rely on verdejo as a more expressive and viable category and consequently, with better oenologist qualities than airén. The eldest wines within the D.O. La Mancha present an excess of reduction, tanned leather and tobacco notes. Yet when we say old, we do not look too far back. Some 2015 or 2016 wines already show these early reductions and this peculiarity increases as we taste former vintages.  

Wines from Tierra de Castilla

Among the classification Vinos de la Tierra, those coming from Tierra de Castilla represent one of the most tasted types in the Guide together with Castilla y León. There are various reasons for wineries ‘manchegas’ to look for refuge under the label ‘vino de la tierra’. On the one hand, some winemakers consider the D.O.’s contributions have a negative impact, given its tradition of sale of wine in bulk. On the other hand, there are also technical reasons, since being part of a denominación de origen implies a series of technical issues and restrictions regarding grape varieties. However, the latter is not a common justification since La Mancha’s regulations include over 25 grape varieties.

Under Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla’s hallmark, we find the best rated wines from Castilla la Mancha. This fact proves that Mancha’s hallmark is not positively considered by quality concerned producers. The reference 5º Año Finca Río Negro 2013, produced by Fuentes’ family, from Finca Río Negro at Cogolludo, Guadalajara, has been the best scored wine during VT Castilla tasting session. Achieving 93 points, it is an exceptional blend of tempranillo and cabernet Sauvignon. 

Finca Río Negro , at Cogolludo, Guadalajara

More than 250 km away, in El Bonillo, Albacete, it is situated Finca Carrascas, owned by Agrícola Carrascas and responsible of the second-best region’s wine, a white viognier: Carrascas 2016 (92 points) tasty, floral, varietal, fruity, full and balanced. The same winery left us a red, Carrascas 2014, syrah and tempranillo with 91 points and another chardonnay white, Origen de Carrascas (91 points), oak aged, oily, loud and structured.

Further, we stopped in Otero, Toledo, at winemaker Finca Constancia, property of González Byass, and were surprised by two brands, Finca Constancia Graciano Parcela 12 (90 points) due to its singularity and Altos de la Finca 2015 (91 points) with rich herbal tinges typical of petit Verdot and accompanied of a mature fruity shot characteristic of a Syrah subject to continental climate.

Valdepeñas, a lacklustre period

No one, with some years on their back, can hide their surprise when comparing the current situation of Valdepeñas denominación de origen to the situation faced by our grandparents. The wine from Valdepeñas was the most consumed in Madrid and enjoyed a fine reputation. Their wines were known as the manchego’s Riojas at affordable prices. Today, little is left from the brightness of that Valdepeñas. Just ten years ago (Guia Peñin 2008) the denomination of origin was made up of 40 processing wineries, 90 if we go back to Guia Peñin 1998. Today there are only 20 of them left.

During our visit to the beautiful city of Valdepeñas, we had the opportunity to taste 63 different wines from 10 wineries, with a lower volume of young wines (22) than in their neighbouring region, Mancha, and with a clear commitment towards the wines with some kind of wine ageing. The winery Megía e Hijos, better known as Corcovo, has been the best rated winery with their Corcovo Syrah 24 Barricas 2016 which obtained 89 points, a wine which represents the concept of modern wine, opposing to that of Valdepeñas which is the classic style, which could well be represented by Casa Albali Gran Reserva de Familia 2010, wines that include the tertiary nuances thanks to their long ageing. 

The average level of the Valdepeñas wines is correct, with no other claim than to create wines with which to enjoy fruitiness or ageing expression at very competitive prices. The best fruit expression in their wine comes on the younger wines, as it should be, although the loss of the taste becomes evident as the wine starts to age. Even in wines from 2016, we appreciate a considerable loss of fruitiness, and in harvests like that of 2015 there are features of premature reduction, something that is assumed in wines with a longer longevity. Generally, the wood is highly invasive in many of their wines, with sweet flavours on their modern cutting reds and a woody base of old wood on their classics.

Extremadura, garnachas tintoreras, tinta roriz and national touriga?

Wines from Extremadura find the way back to our glasses through the denominación de origen Ribera del Guadiana and Extremadura’s Vinos de la Tierra. Initially, a general vision of the region might reflect some similarities to the mentioned views on Mancha since reds from 2017 are more balanced and fruity than whites.

The 2017 vintage was a very early one, in Ribera del Guadiana, due to the lack of water and high temperatures during the summer. Harvest was brought forward 15-20 days in relation to the denomination regular calendar. During a rather difficult year, losses due to drought, estimated by their board between 25 and 30% less comparing to last years’, acted ultimately as grapes’ natural selection benefiting young wines. 

It is worth emphasising the Vineyard Inspection report released every year by the denominación de origen, given the honesty and objectivity used to analyse data and where they openly assume their need to improve certain wine growing techniques to obtain finer quality grapes. We are not used to such degree of sincerity and it is appreciated. Being able to unemotionally review the productive situation within a denominación de origen offers the opportunity of a joint improvement.

The Denominación de origen Ribera del Guadiana seeks acknowledgement for the quality of their wines, but would they implement a vineyard’s distinction such as the Bordeaux’ type? Mostly, wines ageing in wood, do not have a very invasive timber aroma. Vintage related works are correct; however, there is still a lack of complexity in the nose and mouth which is the reason why wines do not achieve a higher quality level.

Contrary to what happens in Mancha, here many producers tend to move away from the D.O’s quality label, convinced that it does not benefit commercialisation of their wines. Regardless their final labelling, two wineries represent the region’s benchmark: Pago los Balancines and Palacio Quemado.

Pago los Balancines recently opened a new breath-taking bodega located in Oliva de Mérida, and it is responsible for many of the best rated wines in Ribera del Guadiana. Its products show a strong link with the local most traditional variety, la garnacha tintorera. Haragán 2014, produced 50% out of garnacha tintorera and tinta roriz (93 points), Mastines Garnacha Tintorera 2015 (92 points) or Huno Blend 2014 (92 points) shape the elite from Ribera del Guadiana, together with Palacio Quemado 2015 (92 points) from Bodega Palacio Quemado, a tempranillo that can be found on the market at 7,95€.

Pedro Mercado, Pago los Balancines

The denominación de origen currently undergoes the process of adapting their ‘regulatory requirements’ to include Portuguese new varieties, for reds and whites, in order to increase acidity. Such as the touriga nacional that gave such a good result to Palacio Quemado and obviously seems an interesting and plausible decision.

Vinos de la Tierra de Extremadura (42 tasted brands), except those wines from Palacio Quemado and Bodegas Habla, which we are yet to assess, not necessarily offer high quality wines. Under the same roof, we encounter a heterogeneous general approach. Some productions are bottled with an excess of preserves or show premature reductions and others remain in a fruity expression, logically with a good ageing degree, at affordable prices.  

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