In the central plateau of the Iberian Peninsula, in the province of Cuidad Real, lies a wine region lined literary inflection and a variety of grapes. The name “La Mancha” is so well known, that the wine DO – considered the largest in the world at over 190,000 hectares – is named for Cervantes’ classic canon.
History Through the Grapevine
Dating back to the Middle Ages (and perhaps even to Roman times), the ancient tradition of winemaking came into its own in 1932, when La Mancha was officially recognized as a Designation of Origin.
The wine culture has always been part of the traditions in La Mancha. Much of the culture, customs, festivals and literature have been culled from this fertile ground. Even in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the Knight alludes to the region’s wine as a symbol of this great land.
La Mancha has a flat terrain that spans 182 municipalities in Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca and Toledo. Colored in red Miocene sediment, the earth resembles a layer cake filled sweet goodness. (And truthfully, this isn’t such a far off analogy.) The temperatures can run to extremes – from freezing to boiling, while the air stays incredibly dry. This special microclimate enjoys over 3000 hours of sunshine per year – allowing the grapes’ juices to sublimely ripen.
The two most popular grapes grown here are the Tempranillo and Airen.
The Tempranillo is the most important grape in La Mancha. While the production is moderate, the quality of its red wine is superior. The fruit presents itself like a Rubens painting, with medium-thick skin, fleshy and full-bodied.
Airen is one of the most abundant white grapes in Spain, constituting over 30% of all the fruit of the vine. This is the Lolita of La Mancha wines: young, seductive, intoxicating.
Cervantes said, “I drink when I have occasion, and sometimes when I have no occasion.” Whichever category you fit into, you’ll easily find a bodega in which to imbibe. There aer over 400 wine cellars in La Mancha, which are carefully watched over by the Regulation Counsel.
These bodegas have elevated winemaking to an art, utilizing facilities equipped with the latest technological innovations, while marketing their wines to national and international markets.
Take El Vinculo, run by “Man of La Mancha” Alejandro Fernandez. He had an idea to make a great wine from mature Tempranillo vines that were already acclimatized to local conditions. The modern winery, located in Campo, was designed to make limited quantities of top-quality vino.
Take ideal conditions, God’s best grapes and a man committed to perfection, and you begin to understand the passion behind winemaking in La Mancha.
What to See: Windmills
“At this point they caught sight of thirty or forty windmills which were standing on the plain…” – Chapter VIII – Don Quixote
In Cervantes Time, windmills were common in Spain. Today, only ten of them remain, in the town of Campo de Criptana. Visitors can take a tour inside the mills and learn about more about their function. Some mills have even been converted to museums: the Pilón is a museum of wine; the Lagarto is an ode to poetry. Check out the Office of Tourism within the Poyatos windmill.
Toast to your Travels
La Mancha lies in the biggest plain in Spain (insert rain joke.) And, to add to this rhyme – the region is easily accessible by train.
The train ride from Madrid to Ciudad Real (the capital of the province) takes just 50 minutes on the high speed AVE trains. Ciudad Real is the perfect gateway to the rest of La Mancha. In just over an hour you can be in Campo De Criptana, the land of windmills, wine and idealistic Knights.
If traveling with a point to point ticket, make sure to select the Madrid Puerta de Atocha station when you perform your search online. Tickets are available in Economy (second class), Comfort (first class), and Premier (business class). If traveling with a rail pass that includes Spain, the pass will cover the ticket price of the train ride, and so you’ll just need to purchase the seat reservation supplement.
The train gives you freedom to explore towns that may not have originally made it onto your itinerary. For example, you can take a small local Renfe train from Campo de Criptana to the equally quaint Socuellamos for a brief day trip – the train ride is only 15 minutes long. This tiny town is home to ten vineyards, including Bodegas Lahoz. Its architecture is at once monastic and majestic, and inside you’ll find a small hotel, wine shop and tastings.
This is your opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Quixote – but in far more comfort. He took an old horse through the roads in search of glory and adventure.
You get to travel in high-speed style.
We’ll continue blazing the wine trail through the Montilla Moriles DO in Andalucia.