31 Jul 2012

A river runs through it (Bordeaux, France - Day Three)

There are many places in the world where a river is a divider both from a geographical perspective but also in an intangible way. Some of the most famous cities in the world are split by equally famous rivers, like the Thames in London and the Seine in Paris. Not that it is any comparison to these cities but Melbourne is also divided by the Yarra River, and a common question asked is 'which side of the river are you, north or south?' There are often philosophical, political and financial divisions around this that have a lot to do with history. Wine region sometimes have this and none more so than Bordeaux, which is seperated by the Garonne River. On the right bank you find Saint-Emilion and Pomerol where merlot is the major variety. On the left bank you have the Medoc with Margaux and Pauillac, and cabernet sauvignon is king. Winemaking is pretty similar which means the selection of variety and the terroir. On the right bank there is more clay in the soils which is better for merlot, and on the left bank it is a little warmer and therefore better for the later ripening cabernet sauvignon. The left bank wines tend to take longer to age in the bottle which is why I tend to prefer right bank wines younger. But there is plenty of spoils for all and as always every vintage is different. For my third day I visited one estate on each side of the river, and then met with one of the more important Bordeaux negociants to discuss how the wines are sold in their own unique way.

One of the coolest spitoons I have encountered

Everything's bigger in Bordeaux (Bordeaux, France - Day Two)

How did Bordeaux become the most important wine region in the world? With 120,000 hectares it is by far the largest single viticultural area in France, and when you consider the density of planting here that results in a lot of production. It has some of the highest and lowest yields in France as well, which means you can have some of the best quality and the lowest. Bordeaux was the first region I visited in Europe back in 2010, and it amazed me the size of the area and the extent to which vineyards are planted here. In spite of the quantity of wine they produce they seem to do a pretty good job of selling it, and the reason has less to do with quality and more to do with image. Bordeaux has developed one of the strongest connections with quality in wine second only to champagne. Through the classification system that designates quality of vineyards, to the glamour of the chateaus and then to the system of selling, all combine to make bordeaux wine one of the most immediately recognisable but also mysterious. My second day was spent at two estates on the left bank; Chateau Montrose and Chateau Pichon-Longueville.

The soils of Saint-Estephe

30 Jul 2012

Full circle (Bordeaux, France - Day One)

There is a kind of poetry to my arrival in Bordeaux at this point in my trip. After this week I will be taking a hiatus from the wine discovery for about seven weeks, travelling through the UK, Ireland and Northern Europe playing the part of the cliché Australian backpacker. After this I will be working the vintage in Germany and will be having a different wine experience to the one I have had over the past 10 months. This therefore means that Bordeaux is the last wine region I will visit until November when I finish vintage and finish off my French wine discovery in places like Burgundy and the Loire Valley. In a way my journey has been leading up to Bordeaux as it is considered to be the greatest wine region in the world. Wine consumers and critics are more widely enamoured of this region than any other to the point that Bordeaux wines often sell for exorbitant prices in secondary markets if they are from a prestigious house and a great vintage. Bordeaux has created such a strong image around itself, the wines and the appelations that very few wine connoisseurs would struggle to name at least one left bank appellation. This region is the reference for marketing, branding and wine style for so many regions around the world that the cabernet sauvignon variety is the most widely planted in the world. There are thousands of wineries around the world who attempt to produce wine in the Bordeaux model, using the classic varieties and winemaking techniques to produce robust full-bodied and oaky wines. Almost every country I have visited has at least one Bordeaux variety planted, and there are many examples of the blend from Germany, Italy, Portugal, Chile and the USA. So after being shown so many ‘bordeaux’ wines in my journey coming here to taste the original and still the best is like the end of a pilgrimage. My first day was spent in the south eastern parts of Bordeaux at Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere, Chateau L’Eglise Clinet and Chateau d’Yquem.

Outside the famous Chateau d'Yquem

24 Jul 2012

Nobody expects the Spanish disposition (Rias Baixas, Spain - Day Two

When people think of Spanish wine 90 times out of 100 they would think of red wine. Nine times they may think of cava depending on where they are from, and maybe one time they would think of sherry. Chances are they wouldn’t think of white wine but there are two places in particular where white wine is pretty much all they make. The first is Rueda where wines made from the verdejo grape are one of the fasting growing in the country. The other place is Rias Baixas where they make wines mostly from albarino. In my opinion Rias Baixas white wines are the most Spanish that a wine can be. Firstly as a country that is mostly surrounded by water they eat a lot of seafood and other fresh and often salty dishes that are perfect matches with albarino thanks to its high acidity and szingy freshness. Secondly the country gets very hot as I have discovered myself, and as a chilled wine albarino is much more refreshing than a glass of Rioja tempranillo or oloroso sherry. As albarino wines are almost always made in a simple way they are also a reflection of the simple lifestyle that Spanish people lead, particularly in the current difficult economic situation. Then add to this the fact that albarino is very cheap to produce and can therefore be more affordable than many wines produced in Spain for the Spanish people. There aren’t really any complicated terms or levels of quality like crianza or reserve that mean almost nothing, it is simply good or it isn’t. Albarino can be enjoyed across the whole country with any myriad of different dishes and is so easy to drink. What I’m trying to say is that Spanish should be drinking more albarino, but only as long as there is enough for the rest of us too.

Have you ever seen razor clams before?

23 Jul 2012

Pretty simple, simply pretty (Rias Baixas, Spain - Day One)

Travelling around Europe these past six months I have encountered a select few regions that exemplify my general philosophy of elegance in simplicity, and that there are varieties that express their origin much better than others but should only be grown in certain places. I have mentioned a few of these in the past, but it is safe to say that I would add the albarino variety and Rias Baixas to these lists. Many people have compared albarino to riesling which is a pretty fair assessment, not only for the fact that the wines are generally made without oak in a fresh mineralic style, but also the tendency for mature albarino wines to acquire the same oily aromas and viscosity that riesling does. It is the first reason that I feel so strongly about these wines, as albarino can be amazingly uncomplicated and unpretentious yet filled with character and style, the purest expression you can imagine. These are wines that everyone can enjoy for various reasons, and also everyone can afford. With so little influence from the winemaker there is really nothing to hide; if you don’t have good grapes then you don’t have good wine. Pretty simple really but with the propensity to use so many techniques to influence wines in the winery I think this is lost somehow, and the wines are thought of merely as simple. Why should all white wine be made like white burgundy?

A beautiful albarino leaf

Impressions of Portugal

Firstly I’d like to point out that I only spent two weeks in Portugal and only nine days of which was spent visiting wineries. Secondly I only visited four (five if you treat Oporto separately) regions in Portugal, all of which are in the northern part of the country. I was also able to visit some of the absolute top producers in each of these regions and thus was only able to experience the best of what Portugal produces. This does also mean that I was exposed to the cutting edge and future of Portuguese wines, and meet people with experience in different regions and producers representing different elements of the wine industry. So it seems a little silly to be making assumptions and assessments about a country that requires significantly longer to get to know, but I wanted to talk about Portugal which is a producer that certainly I had very little experience with and understanding of, but feel that everyone out there needs to get to know better.

Traditional method sparkling wine in Bairrada

21 Jul 2012

It's not easy being green (Vinho Verde, Portugal)

The Vinho Verde region is in the far northern part of Portugal on the border with Galicia, Spain. The astute amongst you would have noticed (if you didn't already know) that the translation into English is literally 'green wine'. I'm sure most people would hear this name as I did when I was out for dinner in Lisboa, and be slightly shocked at the idea of green wine. The name of course refers to them being young wines that need to be drunk within 12 months, and the fact that the grapes are harvested a little early to retain the acidity. There are around about 30,000 growers in the region who predominantly grow the fruit in pergolas so that they can grow other crops underneath and more intelligently use the land. The wines are pretty awful in general, and are mass-produced and often pumped with carbon dioxide to give it a little spritz. As far as I know this is the only region where the region is named after the wine rather than the other way around. The associations with the region and the quality of the wine don't make it way for the few producers who are trying to make higher quality wine, the most prominent of which I visited in the evening.

Duck rice, a typical dish from Minho in northern Portugal

Extremes (Duoro, Portugal - Day Three)

Considering there are about 44,000 hectares of vineyards planted you can imagine the size of the region and the range of terroirs, so there are a myriad of opportunities for different expressions. There are so many elements of the Duoro that are taken for granted in many other regions well known for super-premium wines, such as very old vines, steep slopes and thousands of  different vineyard owners. Something that they haven't had in the past was wine that was designated as a single estate or vineyard, something that is so common in places like Burgundy, Mosel and Alba. The Duoro Boys are at the forefront of raising the Duoro Valley to the same level as such iconic regions, highlighting the aspects generally regarded as of the highest quality. They are also attempting to differentiate the Duoro through the very traditional elements like the great range of varieties planted often in a field blend, and the fermentation and maceration of red wines in lagares mostly made of stone. Having the abilities and technology to much better understand their terroirs, varieties and wines there is very little to stop Duoro wines in the future.

Amazing vineyards at Quinta do vale Dona Maria

Alright, still (Duoro Valley, Portugal – Day Two)

The shift of focus from fortified port wines to still wines could not have waited much longer in the Duoro. The entire fortified wine market has been diminishing since the 1980s as more people have been drinking dry wines all over the world. The limitations of matching port with food don’t help with the accessibility of these wines as well, as there are only so many styles and they are generally sweeter and all more alcoholic. In the past fortified wines were one of the most popular categories – particularly port and sherry wines – and they were even produced as far away as the USA and Australia. The growth of still wine production of course has been seen all over the world to the unfortunate detriment of fortified wines. Thus in an effort to stay alive it was important for the producers of the Duoro to explore the opportunities of still wine production, and in a sense it couldn’t have come at a better time. The climate is one of the biggest influences on the style of wine they can produce which is big, rich and red. This style of wine has been popular for about 20 years in a number of key markets around the world, thanks in part to the influence of US wine critic Robert Parker who loves this style of wine. Thus a confluence of factors has provided them a great opportunity into the future. The producers I visited on my second day are some of the most important producers of still wine in the region.

If it weren't empty I would be making wine angels

19 Jul 2012

Déjà vu (Douro Valley, Portugal – Day One)

After six months visiting wine regions in Europe I feel like I am beginning to come full circle. Every major wine-producing country has been covered, and with the exception of Bordeaux (next week) and Burgundy (the end of the year), every important wine region has been visited. The experience and knowledge I have acquired since the beginning of the year scares me slightly, and I hate the idea that I am becoming jaded with my knowledge of wine. I think the time I have planned in the UK and Ireland through August will do me some good, as it will refresh me for working vintage in Germany from mid-September. Probably the main reason that I am feeling a sense of déjà vu is the similarities that the Duoro Valley has with the Mosel Valley, which I visited all the way back at the end of January. The way the calm and wide river makes its slow progress to the Atlantic Ocean is hauntingly similar to the Mosel, as well as the deep valley with steep slopes planted with terraced vineyards. They even have some slate/schist here, but a lot more granite and even limestone. There is obviously one glaring difference which is the climate. It is very hot here, often reaching well over 40 degrees in summer, whereas the Mosel is not. When I was in the Mosel it wasn’t getting over zero degrees; on my first day in the Duoro it got up to 39 degrees. So a little bit different. I came here to not only actually see the vineyards where the port wine comes from, but to also explore a rapidly growing part of the Duoro for dry table wines, getting quite a following.

High above the vineyards of the Duoro

17 Jul 2012

Porto to the past (Porto, Portugal – Day Two)

In case you weren’t aware (and I certainly wasn’t), the Duoro Valley where port wine is produced was the first officially demarcated viticultural areas in the world in 1756, although Chianti and Tokaji were regionally defined but not regulated before this. The actual viticulture and initial fermentation is no different to any other red wine, but the fruit can tend to be a little riper with more natural sugar in it. After the fortification the wine used to travel down the river on boats in barrels, but today the wine travels on the road in climate controlled tanks. When you visit Vila Nova de Gaia on the left bank of the Duoro in Porto, you can still see the barcos rabelos moored and floating, and now they are only used for racing and tourism. British merchants were permitted to import port at a low duty in 1703 which led to the wine gaining much popularity, partly because the war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine. The English involvement in the port trade grew much like in sherry, and still remains today in the names of many port shippers such as Cockburn, Croft, Gould, Osborne, Offley, Sandeman, Taylor, Graham, Dow and Warre, the last three of which are owned by the same family and I had the chance to taste on my second day in Porto.

Port boats docked in Villa Nova de Gaia

15 Jul 2012

Hard a' port (Porto, Portugal - Day One)

Only a week a go I was talking about a style of wine considered to be very old fashioned and makes one think of old British movies. This wine was sherry, and it is interesting that about two weeks later I am here where they produce the other wine that comes to mind which is port. Sherry and port share a few things in common apart from being thought of as an old persons drink. Firstly they are both fortified wines, but in the case of port the fortification is made during the fermentation to stop it and retain a residual sugar, whereas sherry with the exception of pedro ximinez and muscatel are fortified after the fermentation. Secondly the fortification was important for the transportation and spread of port as it was for sherry, but it was actually British wine merchants who introduced the process into port whereas the Moors introduced it in sherry. The third similarity is with the fact that like dry sherries, cask-aged port doesn’t age in the bottle and should be consumed pretty soon after bottling, whereas vintage port ages in the bottle and can keep for a very long time indeed. The first fundamental difference between the two is that the vast majority of port is made from red grapes, whereas more sherry is made from white grapes. Along the same lines, almost all port is sweet whereas the majority of sherry is either dry or medium-dry. Like sherry however, port is also undervalued and underappreciated, and the best examples are truly exceptional wines regardless of their style.

The port halls of Taylor's

14 Jul 2012

The future starts here (Dao, Portugal - Day Two)

Knowing so little about Portuguese wine everything I am experiencing is new to me. With such an objective opinion of wine and the wine industry here, I am open to different ideas and I have been developing some ideas which may or may not be particularly accurate. One of the first things I noticed about wine in Portugal compared to other European countries is that more premium wines tend to be a little more expensive, particularly in restaurants where they have pretty much the same mark-up as in Australia. The second thing I have noticed is that there is a big difference between commercially produced wines and more premium boutique wines both in terms of quality and volume, but there seems to be a huge gap in the middle with very few medium-sized wineries. The third thing I have noticed is a lack of cooperation between wineries, which I experienced when visiting one winery and them talking in a slightly negative or condescending way about other wineries. Obviously these wines are competing with each other, but perhaps they need to look a little bigger and consider that they are actually competing with other product categories like beer, spirits and countless non-alcoholic beverages. You also can’t ignore the trend for the best Portuguese wines to be consumed within Portugal, with port the only exception. All of these reasons combine to create a situation where very few outside the country know how good the wines are, and as such not much is exported in a profitable way. Hopefully this will change as new groups have been established to promote the wines around the world. The two wineries I visited on my second day in the Dao region are probably the most important for the region in the export markets.

Sandy granitic soils in Dao

Terroir hunter (Dao, Portugal - Day One)

The Dao and Bairrada geographical regions are part of the same political region in Portugal known as Beiras. I don’t recommend mentioning that with them, as the two regions couldn’t be more different from each other in a great many ways. Firstly the Dao region is more continental in climate than the Bairrada which is closer to the Atlantic Coast, and thus has more temperature variations between day and night time. Secondly the Dao region is higher in altitude sitting at over 250m above sea level, whereas the Bairrada isn’t much more than 100m. Thirdly the region works with very different grape varieties; the Dao is much more known for red wines whereas Bairrada produces sparkling wine in high volumes, with red and white wines occupying a smaller piece of the pie. The wine styles are quite different, with the maritime wines of Bairrada being more linear, fresh and crisp and the wines of Dao being fuller and more robust. The final difference is in the landscape itself, as the Dao is much more wild and rugged, reminding me of the Grampians in Victoria where I come from. The Dao is a valley formed over time like a big bowl, and in this protected climate the touriga nacional grape is the undisputed king.

The Intrepid Wino in a medieval lagare in the Dao, Portugal

13 Jul 2012

Baga me (Bairrada, Portugal – Day Two)

There are a small number of grape varieties can be set apart from all others. Their defining characteristic is that they can only be grown in a few specific parts of the world, and can only be made well in the best places by people who truly respect the partnership between the vine and the environment. Another of their defining characteristics is that they are the few that should always be made as mono-varietal still wines, and are also hugely influenced by the viticulturalists and winemakers who work with them. For white wines there is really only two in my humble opinion - riesling and chardonnay – although the latter is one of the most planted white varieties in the world. In terms of red wine there is a select group with a few knocking on the door. The outsiders are syrah, sangiovese and tempranillo, whilst the insiders are pinot noir and nebbiolo. There is one Portuguese variety that has been spoken about as joining this elite few, and that variety is baga. I agree that the variety has the potential to have the same silky tannins, delicate yet firm structure, and brightness of fruit that characterises the other two, but I need to taste more before I am certain it isn’t an also-run. I also believe the winemakers here need to get more experience, as they have only been making premium wines from this variety quite recently.

Above the vineyards of Campolargo in Bairrada, Portugal

Living on the edge (Bairrada, Portugal – Day One)

I could have picked a lot worse places to celebrate entering my fourth decade on the planet than Lisbon, a city that lives up to its status as a European capital city. Much alcohol and little sleep was enjoyed over the weekend, and many visits to the Bairro Alto part of the old town as well. Whilst it was nice having five days off from the wine as I celebrated my 30th birthday, it was almost relief to get back into the familiar territory of visiting wine regions. The only problem with that idea is the fact that I know almost nothing about Portuguese wine, even the most famous one of all, port. I’m always up for a challenge, and relished the chance to learn about a country not really appreciated outside their borders, mostly because they aren’t great at promoting their regionally distinct premium wines, and partly because most of the good stuff is consumed within the country. I chose to visit only three regions which represent the top quality wines and are all in the northern part of the country within Oporto, the second largest city. The first was the coastal region of Bairrada, which has been known for its sparkling wines for many years but is starting to gain recognition for its red wines made from the indigenous baga variety.

Traditional method sparkling wines at Sidonio de Sousa

The Sherry Revolution (Jerez, Spain - Day Two)

As I talked about in my previous post, most people think sweet when they think sherry, but there is far more to it. Different styles were developed over time, but essentially the principle of the fortification process was to allow the wines to age in an oxidative process whereby barrels were not completely filled and in the case of the dry styles a thin layer of yeast was allowed to form on the surface of the wine known as flor. With the sweeter and higher alcohol wines this flor does not exist and are thus more oxidative in nature, and often age for longer both in solera and bottle. After all, if the wine is already oxidised in the barrel it hardly matters if you drink it several months after opening the bottle. With the sherry rainbow of styles on offer, it actually means that sherry is a versatile and unique companion to food. Possibly one of the most famous food matches with manzanilla for example, is freshly grilled sardines which are very salty and pair perfectly with the fresh acids of the sherry. There is currently a sherry revolution as new generations are discovering this ancient wine style, most notably in London and New York. Several wine experts still maintain that sherry is woefully undervalued and I couldn’t agree more. It just takes a little while to understand the wine, and shake the image of it being for old fuddy-duddies.

Can you tell I'm missing home?

12 Jul 2012

Hitting the flor (Jerez, Spain – Day One)

What comes to mind when you hear the word sherry? Depending on where you are from, the most likely response is little old ladies of British descent sipping on sweet wine out of small glasses. Considering the history of this particular wine this image is makes a lot of sense, but certainly isn’t 100% accurate. There is a certain irony I the fact that many of the sweet wines in the world were actually heavily targeted towards the British markets of the past, possibly none more so than sherry. They even designed specialty wines for them, most notably cream sherry which is still today the most familiar style to consumers in many parts of the world. Sherry wine as it is today is one of the oldest wine styles in the world, dating back to the Moors who introduced distillation and fortification over a thousand years ago. The British fell in love with the wine after Francis Drake sacked Cadiz and took several thousand casks back to England, and since then the UK has been their biggest market. To maintain consistency a system was devised to always have a constant supply, and this was the solera system. A minimum of four rows of barrels were stacked, and a minimum of three times a year the barrels are filled one third from the top down. In the past this was done by hand using jugs, but today the wine is transferred to tanks and blended before being passed down. Therefore you can bottle sherry three times a year, which is important for the drier styles which are much better when they are fresh. With the higher alcohol fortification the wine can live longer in the bottle even after opening, which is why it is so common to find really old bottles in your grandparents bars. But the dry styles really need to be drunk within six months of bottling, as they tend to become a bit tired. Not easy for us down in Australia, hence my desire to taste from the solera when I visited. The two producers I visited are some of the oldest and most important in the region.

The first of many attempts to remove some sherry from the solera

5 Jul 2012

Sea change (Malaga, Spain)

What motivates people to step away from their comfort zones and start a new adventure in an unfamiliar place? This is a question that I ask myself quite regularly as I make my journey around the world, and encounter people that somehow have ended up somewhere far from their roots, much like myself. In my travels I have encountered viticulturalists and winemakers who are working in a region or country not their own, mostly for the love and challenge of great wine. Everything from Kiwis in the United States, South Africans in Canada, to Swiss in Germany and Spain, and Germans in Italy. And without question there are French everywhere, which is probably to do with the fact that outside of France there are more opportunities to create a reputation for themselves and build something from the ground up. This has particularly been the case in Spain, with at least six wineries I have visited being either founded by a French winemaker or at least employing one.

A cortijo where moscatel grapes are left to dry in the sun

Vote for pedro (Montilla-Moriles, Spain)

Quite often on my trip I show my ignorance and/or naivety when it comes to wine. This isn’t hard to believe considering how big the wine world is, how many wineries and how many regions there are. It was one of the first things that excited me about working with wine, is that it is essentially impossible to know everything about wine, but I liked the challenge regardless. Sometimes these instances are a little more embarrassing, such as not knowing what the whole left bank-right bank thing referred to. My former employer King & Godfree prides itself on the range of fortified wines it stocks, particularly their sherries, so I was familiar with the different styles and many of the better known houses. So when I got in contact with one of my favourite producers noting my dates in Jerez, I was very embarrassed to discover that they aren’t even in the same province. The surprises didn’t stop there, as I had one of my most enlightening visits in Spain.

Dreams can come true

The heat is on (Yecla, Spain)

I’d just like to point out a few things about myself and where I come from. It is true that I come from Australia, which is very hot and dry and is famous for the outback and the beaches, the latter I am familiar with but not the former. I’ve spent 29 summers in Australia, and I know how hot it can get. The part of Australia I am from is far from the hottest in the country, and is actually more famous for the rain. Particularly in winter it can get pretty chilly (rarely below zero), and doesn’t fit the image of Australia that most people may have. Thus I was somewhat unprepared for example, for the desert like conditions of Mendoza in Argentina, where the sun beats mercilessly down for 16 hours a day with very little respite or anywhere to hide. Nor was I prepared for southern Spain, particularly in the centre of the country, where you can easy go through six t-shirts in a day through sweat alone. Priorat and Montsant were pretty hot, but this was worse because it seems much drier. In a way it did remind me of some very well known regions in Australia, and I wasn’t surprised that famed Barossa winemaker Chris Ringland is actually making wine in this part of Spain. What did surprise me is that there hasn’t been more investment in the Yecla region, as the potential to make the kind of wines the markets are crying out for is outrageous. With very little time to spend I was able to visit the cooperative winery, which is doing an outstanding job bringing Yecla to Spain and the world.

Sadly it is empty

Resurrection (Alicante, Spain)

Alicante just ain't what it used to be. At one point it boasted one of the most important wines of Europe, found in cellars of royal families, even referenced in books by Alexandre Dumas. Back in these day most wine was being sold in bulk to other parts of Europe to be bottled or blended with other wines, but this changed at the end of the 19th Century. The first enemy was the phylloxera epidemic, and the second was changes in markets and politics domestically and overseas. There are two main areas for viticulture in Alicante, and they each have a major indigenous variety. Closer to the coast where it is lower in altitude and a bit warmer and more humid grows moscatel, used to make sweet wines. Further away from the coast is where you find a bigger range of varieties, most importantly monastrell. I visited two estates in Alicante that represent a resurgence in interest in the region, but one is in a modern and the other a traditional model.

Fireworks over the beach in Alicante

2 Jul 2012

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