When I received my invitation to the Wines of La Mancha event in Houston, I was excited because, despite a fairly serious effort to learn about wine, I still knew very little about this region. I had never even tasted any wines from La Mancha while taking classes from the ISG or the WSET.
What I had been taught was:
- It is the largest D.O. in Spain.
- It has an extreme continental climate.
- Airen, one of the world's most widely planted white grapes (but I had never tasted it), is the main grape grown there.
- Tempranillo plantings and other international grape varieties are on the rise.
- It has long been considered more of a bulk wine region but after much investment, quality is on the rise and there is "good value for the money" wine to be found.
- Much of their production is consumed locally.
I tasted the biodynamically produced 2011 Viento Aliseo Viognier which was nicely balanced and had a distinct Fruit Loop character from the Dominio De Punctum Organic Estate and Winery. I also enjoyed their Tempranillos and their Cabernet/Graciano blend. While most of the wineries emphasized the new barrels, equipment and just generally the investment in both the winery and vineyards, Dominio De Punctum promotes their specific terroir; their vineyards are located at a higher altitude on a sandy loam, limestone-rich soil in Las Pedroneras.
I tasted through a lot of Airen and found most to be very light and fresh with a slightly floral nose and a fairly neutral flavor with a bit of minerality, some had a bit more fruit than others. The majority seemed priced for retail in the $8-10 range.
I also tasted through a fair amount of Verdejo. One standout was the 2011 Parra Jimenez from Parra Family Organic Imports priced at approximately $10. It was light bodied and crisp with a citrus/melon character. Their Graciano and Earth Tempranillo were also quite good.
I would say that many of the white wines were better than others that I have had in the same price range from elsewhere in the world.
One of my favorites of the day was the 2011 Artero Rose which is made from 100% Tempranillo. It was like a glass of fresh strawberries. I also enjoyed the Coeli Del Cielo medium sweet sparkling rose wine which was really nice with my crackling pork sandwich.
Some of the Tempranillo-based red wines that were being showcased would certainly be mistaken for Rioja in a blind tasting. The best of which move into a higher price category starting around $30.
The main issue, aside from the region's former reputation, seems to be a lack of availability in the American market right now. I did talk with some importers who were making the rounds and who seemed pleased at the good quality of many of the wines particularly for the cost. It will be interesting to see how this promotion goes and whether our market is ready to believe that La Mancha's wines are indeed worth discovering.