I recently attended a tasting of wines from the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain. The tasting started with a flight of 9 wines two of which I had never tasted before. The moderator for the tasting was Karen MacNeil a well know author and commentator of wines. She did a fine job of providing a preview of La-Manche with respect to: topography, climate, soils, vines, enological trends as well as what to expect from the wines in the glasses. Spain as a country is the third largest producer of wine in Europe with 1,240,000 acres of grapes, only France and Italy surpass it in production. With such a large amount of land under production tonnage is low due to poor soils and older vines.
I learned that there are 52 different varieties of vines grown in the LaMancha region of Spain 26 each red and white. The La-Manche region is the second highest in Europe next to Switzerland. It should be understood that Spanish wines like many other countries are best understood when consumed with food. They tend not to be fruit driven wines with any residual sugar in the glass. This was obvious when the wines were paired with typical Spanish foods: paella, serrano ham, manchego cheese, empanadas, tortas etc. These wines compliment the food but do not dominate the flavors. All I tasted had solid acidity and smooth texture when blended with the dishes.
I tasted the following wine varietals which I had never had before Reds: Bobal, Graciano, Agria and Whites: Airen, Macabeo, Albillo and Jaen. The red wines as a group tended to veer toward being very dry and lightly tannic. There is still a standard of aging noble reds in barrel for years and then holding them in bottle for release 4/6 years after the vintage. Wines aged a long time in neutal oak tend to not have distinctive aromas or for that matter flavors which set them appart. I did find the Rose wines to be exceptional and distinctive in all aspects. Summer time with a cool bottle of Spanish Rose is a perfect match for any light meal and satisfies the palate when mixed with fresh summer dishes. The white wines also had a lot of mineral aromas and flavors due to the high altitude of the vineyards.
Things to look for when buying Spanish wines. They are some of the best deals with respect to dollar value and wine quality most fall into the $8-$25 bracket with most at the lower end. There are many co-operatives which produce large volumes of very well crafted wine and they are not to be missed because of their price to quality ratio. Pair your Spanish wines with foods and your experience will be much improved. Search out wines from La-Manche and you will open a new door in your wine experience. My favorite wines were Roses and then the wide range of reds many using such Rhone grapes as: Monastrell, Syrah and Grenache. The whites are at their best quite young and fresh.
Seek out the wines of Spain for a wonderful experience. Slip a bottle into a dinner with friends and get their opinion when they mix and match the wine with food. I think you will find it very rewarding.