When I was working in wine sales, I often had to pitch some obscure labels. Of course, as a person who loves to learn about wine as much as possible, the weirder the better. There were even times when I had to present wine from a lesser known region or worse, a region known only for bulk wine production and not quality.
This is the reason why I have a complicated relationship with regions like Central Valley Chile or Castilla-La Mancha Spain. On one hand, there’s always a story to tell about these wines—and there are certainly outliers that have surprising quality. On the other hand (and understandably so), not a lot of people will give them a chance, especially when more well-known regions like Rioja can compete with the prices.
These were my thoughts when a friend in my wine group invited us to a tasting of Castilla-La Mancha wines at Makati Shangri-La last September 30th, where 10 producers from the region showcased their wines.
There must have been over a hundred labels that day, but I’ve chosen only the 10 most interesting ones, which will hopefully encourage more people to give La Mancha a try:
Campechano Vino Blanco Organic Airen 2018 (Santa Catalina)
Airen is the most widely-planted grape in Spain but is often used to blend with other grapes, so when I see a single-varietal bottle of it, I immediately give it a try. It did not disappoint at all! The Campechano Airen was round on the palate, had beautiful medium acidity, and offered candied pineapple, lemon pith, and floral notes. It was clean, refreshing, and will go with most lean seafood.
Ojos del Guadiana Verdejo 2018 (Bodegas El Progreso)
I’ll be honest: When I came to the event, I was expecting low-acid wines, maybe medium, medium-plus at most—but the Ojos del Guadiana Verdejo blew my mind with its high acidity while still keeping a relatively firm body (I would evaluate it as a medium on a tasting note). On the palate, it did not disappoint with mouth-watering pineapple and grapefruit flavors, with freshly cut grass and lemon peel that rounded it off. Confession: I was hoping to take some home, but sadly, there were no spare bottles left after the event.
Los Galanes Chardonnay 2018 (Santa Catalina)
My WSET Level 1 teacher Ms. Bel Castro likes to tease me about my love for buttery-banana Chardonnays. Admittedly, it’s one of my guilty pleasures. So, as a form of disclaimer: The inclusion of the Los Galanes Chardonnay was not brought by my diacetyl* addiction (well, maybe a little).
Kidding aside, I found it wonderfully balanced. It was a medium-bodied wine with medium acidity. Having spent a month in new American oak barrels, the wine had a nice toasty addition to its pineapple and banana flavors without the overwhelming coconut and butter notes.
Blanco de Mont Reaga 2010 (Bodega Mont Reaga)
Speaking of oak, the Blanco de Mont Reaga – made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc – was aged 6 months on its lees in French and American oak. The result was a gorgeous dry, full-bodied wine with a velvety palate of mangoes, honeyed pineapple, and vanilla. Some would have called it an “Oak Monster”, but the fruit in the wine stands out quite well.
Cueva del Chaman Rosado Syrah 2018 (Bodegas Santa Cruz de Alpera)
Ta-da, the beautiful outlier I was talking about! The rosé had fantastic high acid thanks to the high elevation of the vineyard. This provides a large diurnal range, allowing the grapes to ripen evenly during the day and retain their fresh acidity during the night. On the palate, the bone-dry wine reminded me of strawberry yogurt, candied raspberries, and cotton candy.
Esencia Rupestre Garnacha Tintorera** 2018 (Bodegas Santa Cruz de Alpera)
While the wine was still admittedly young (read: this producer’s sales manager had to warn us of its high tannins before we tried it), I just had to include it on the list because it showed a lot of promise. In my glass, the wine was inky purple with heavy staining. The tannins were high and incredibly fleshy, but that signature high-acid added a sense of balance to an otherwise rough wine, which will certainly mellow down with time to reveal more of that juicy raspberry and plum.
Mont Reaga La Esencia 2015 (Bodega Mont Reaga)
At some point after fawning over the last producer, Ms. Bel and I decided to do a flight of Bodega Mont Reaga’s Syrahs. I thought that the ‘Crianza-level’ La Esencia was the most expressive with its savory licorice, blackberry and plums on the palate, capped off with black tea on the finish. It was also an outlier with it unusual but lovely high acidity and medium tannins.
Lobetia Single Vineyard Tempranillo-Petit Verdot (Dominio de Punctum)
It was the crowd favorite among the group of wine professionals I was tasting with, and rightly so. While I am no stranger to Tempranillo and Petit Verdot blends, I found that the Lobetia was very well-balanced and full-bodied because of its chewy cherry and vanilla spectrum of flavors (available in the Philippines via Terry’s Selection).
Cueva del Chaman Garnacha Tintorera 2018 (Bodegas Santa Cruz de Alpera)
If there’s one thing Bodegas Santa Cruz de Alpera does well, it’s Garnacha Tintorera. The Cueva del Chaman Garnacha Tintorera is made via carbonic maceration (the same process Beaujolais Nouveau undergoes), which gives it that fruity bubblegum flavor. I know that it’s unusual to include a wine like this on the list, but I found that it worked because it adds a bright-colored element to emphasize and contrast (in a good way, of course) the denser raspberry and plums. It was a fruity wine with hints of vanilla and sweet spices. I know it probably wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea (or glass of wine?), but wines that break the mold always have a spot in my cellar (and heart!).
Puente de Rus Tempranillo 2018 (Bodegas Puente de Rus)
What is more fun than a straight-up amazing wine? A wine that divides a room of wine enthusiasts because man, did this wine cause a ruckus! The first sniff and I literally got barnyard (think: sweaty horse barnyard). It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but we were talking about a young wine. Naturally, I asked Ms. Bel to smell the wine to confirm and before I knew it, we were passing around the glass to all of our industry friends with mixed reactions. This was definitely the highlight for me.
Sidebar: We had a mini discussion as to whether the funky barnyard notes were the result of winemaking or a product of terroir (as in Bordeaux, where the wines have a funkiness to them as well). At the time of this writing, I still haven’t managed at a conclusion yet.
After swirling the wine in the glass, the barnyard notes nearly completely dissipated and what was left was a nice, rich, milk-chocolatey Tempranillo with black cherries and plums. I guess it just needed to breathe to reveal its true self (but don’t we all?).
That it’s taken me nearly a month to finish writing this is because I’ve just started a new job as a sommelier and I’ve been super busy (and having lots of fun). That said, I hope these wines make it to our market in the not-too-distant future, as I would love to pair some of these with the menu at my new place of work.
*Diacetyl is a chemical in some Chardonnays that gives them that buttery flavour and is a byproduct of malolactic conversion.
**Not to be confused with Garnacha, which is also called Grenache, Garnacha Tintorera is also known as Alicante Bouschet.