Man of La Mancha… couldn’t resist (Valdepenas, Spain)

Madrid is everything that a capital city should be; it’s big, busy, historic, cultural, classy and teaming with life. In late June it is also scorchingly hot. It would have been at least 38 degrees in the shade, almost 10 degrees higher than only two hours north. On the Friday night of the weekend I was invited to have dinner with Didier Belondrade, his partner and a friend, where I enjoyed one of the finest meals of my trip and made me miss Melbourne a lot. Madrid is certainly a party town, and I didn’t get much sleep so on the Sunday evening when I got to Valdepenas I flicked on the Italy England Euro 2012 match and fell asleep after only ten minutes. Valdepenas is town that the DO takes its name from, and is the part of the La Mancha DO, the largest producing wine region in the world. Many in the Spanish wine industry look down on La Mancha as a low-quality commercial area, blaming it for the ills of the wine glut. There is however much quality to be found here providing that the price is right, and it is thanks to this region that so many consumers are drinking Spanish wine around the world. Valdapenas is the premium area of the region, and I wanted to find out what the best this wide, dry and healthy part of Spain had to offer.
Traditional fermentation vats in Valdepenas

The origins of Navarro Lopez go back to 1904 as they proudly state on their branding, even having one of their premium wines named after this. Initially it was a small family enterprise but in 1988 there was a rebirth for the winery as the focus changed to premium bottled wine rather than bulk wines. The shift was as a result of the new and still president Navarro Doroteo Donado saw the direction that global markets were heading, and the opportunities for single varietal wines. The production was moved out of the town of Valdepenas in 2001 surrounded by a small proportion of the vineyards that provide the fruit each vintage. Since this time production has continued to increase, and the business has expanded into other regions including Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Rueda.

Healthy bunches in the vineyards of Navarro Lopez

I was welcomed by one of the sales team Giullermo Arce, who lead me through the large and efficient winery after a brief vineyard tour. Like most of La Mancha Valdepenas is pretty flat, dry and warm. Grapes reach ripeness and yields with little problems, and plenty of good fruit is collected each year. Varieties are kept separate in the winery and allocated based on their brand and quality, of which there are many. The idea is to capture the freshness and fruit of the variety and the climate, delivering value at all price points. There are several wines that are made for larger customers in markets like Germany, and a broad range of varieties are used including French imports. Click here to read my notes on the tasting.

Guillermo and I wearing mandatory protective jackets

Guillermo set me up with an appointment at Bodegas Miguel Calatayud, located in the middle of Valdepenas town and one of the more traditional wineries in the region. I wasn’t sure what this referred to, but not long into the visit I realised why. Apart from being one of the oldest wineries in Valdepenas still operating, it is certain practices they use in their production. Firstly they are committed to the use of indigenous varieties, although they have expanded their range to include such varieties as cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Secondly they produce wines in the crianza and reserva system, whereby wines must have a minimum amount of barrel and bottle age to be classified as such. The most important thing however, is their use of large vats to ferment and store wines, made from cement or clay. Technology is used to respect the traditions of wine production without interfering too much in the final product. The wines are all very good examples of fresh approachable fruit-driven Spanish wines, and they are innovating with new semi-sweet styles targeted at new markets. Click here to read my notes on the tasting.

Ceramin vats at Bodegas Miguel Calatayud

Click here to see more photos from my day in Valdepenas, Spain.

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