Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wines From Spain: Castilla-La Mancha

The land of Don Quixote has a lot more than windmills to tilt.  Wine glasses, for instance.  The Castilla-La Mancha region is located just below the central portion of Spain.  It's a big wine region - the biggest in Europe.  The specialties of the casa are wines made from Tempranillo and Airen grapes.  However, there are 23 white grapes and 23 red grapes permitted, so choosing a favorite may be difficult.

In early June, the La Mancha region brought its wine to Los Angeles for a tasting event - appropriately - at The Bazaar by José Andrés, in the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills.  I didn't get to taste from every table, and each stop I made offered more delights than the one before.  Here are some highlights:

Vinos & Bodegas - The company was founded in 1997, but the Cantareto family's wine roots go back five generations.  Their Imperium Vini Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is produced without the use of oak, so it has a fresh flavor that is all fruit and herbs with a dash of citrus zip.  The Barón de Larrainz Red Semisweet 2011 is just slightly earthy Tempranillo with a nice touch of sweetness.

Arrayan - This winery in the northwestern part of the region has an unoaked Syrah/Merlot blend - La Verdosa First Wine 2011 - that is dark and fresh tasting.  The Arrayan Rosado 2012 uses the same grapes to their pink advantage.  Very fruity with a nice acidity.  The Arrayan Syrah 2009 is very savory and earthy, while their Petit Verdot 2007, with a year in oak, is savory and dark.

Bodegas Santa Cruz poured a pair of Verdejo wines - produced in different styles - that provided a great side-by-side comparison.  Santa Cruz de Alpera White 2012 shows great minerality and salinity, while its sibling - Santa Cruz de Alpera Partially Fermented Must White - is on the sweet side, with a bigger acidity.  I'm told that must wines need not carry a vintage, but this one is 2012.

Encomienda de Cervera not only makes wine, but olive oil and Manchego cheese, too.  Their 19th-century winery has been restored to modern standards.  The Soto de Zemtinar White 2011 is a surprisingly earthy Chardonnay loaded with minerality.  Vulcanus Syrah Rosé 2010 is deeply pink with a huge nose, great acidity and a mouthful of plums.  They saved their best for last, the 1758 Selección Cencibel 2010.  This vibrant red is Tempranillo under its La Mancha name, Cencibel.  The 50-year old vines contribute an amazing spice character which is even more interesting when you note that it is unoaked.  It's an incredible wine.

Domino de Punctum Organic and Biodynamic Wines' Viento Aliseo Graciano/Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 has an enormous nose and a palate of red fruit, graphite and oak spice.  It has a great backbone, too.

Bodegas Romero de Ávila Salcedo wins awards all over the world, which may explain why their export department speaks several languages.  Their Portento Tempranillo 2011 is a no-oak wonder, with bright and fresh red berry flavors.

Altolandon's altitude - 3,600 feet - makes for a cool-climate area.  Altolandon White 2010 mixes Chardonnay with Petit Manseng for minerals, herbs and fruit on the nose and palate.  The L'Ame Malbec 2010 is a perfumed, bold, spicy red.  Rayeulo 2009 is made from the locally popular Bobal grape.  It should be popular in more places.  This rather brawny wine sports a juicy, red nose with a slightly sour touch and plum flavors galore.  Great tannic structure, too.

Finca Los Alijares is a relative newcomer in a land with as much history as La Mancha - founded in 2005.  The Finca Los Alijares Viognier 2012 is pure fruit - a floral nose and lemon zest in the mouth make for a great sip.  Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2010 is earthy, plummy, clean and pure in the mouth.  There is a touch of roses on the cherry flavors.

Bodegas Cristo de la Vega produces the Marques de Castilla line.  Their White Airen 2012 puts a savory angle on the white peach flavor and offers stirring acidity.  Their Rosé of Tempranillo and Garnacha 2012 made me wish the tasting had been held out in the warm sun.  The Reserva Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 shows caramel notes on the nose and is fruity and elegant on the palate, with a touch of smoke.


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