The Other 'Ribera' - Ribera del Júcar and the Lands of the Meseta

Jun 2, 2010

"In a place in La Mancha... of which I do not remember the name..."
- Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote

The land of the Meseta, of Madrid and New Castile is the land of high central plains. It is the heart of Spain, decked with flat landscapes of red soil and stubby vines. In the distance, the sunburnt circle of mountains  gives one the feeling of immense isolation and wonder.

The windmills here aren't giants, no, they are short and their sails fly fast in the winter months when the plain's winds rush with a solemn howl over the landscape, creating Spain's lowest temperatures (-22 degrees Celcius). 

Following the Reconquista, Madrid became the capital. The city stood as far away from the coast as possible, central and also out of the greedy reaches of the regal but older kingdoms. Castile, Aragon, Navarre and Catalonia had longed scrapped and  squabbled with each other - Madrid would be free but  also become the new bureaucracy of the recently liberated 'Spain'. 

Hands down, La Mancha makes the most wine in the Meseta. These are the value wines you find on the supermarket shelves of Europe and in the cheap wine section of the LCBO. They are big and fruity and simply fun to drink. Just look for Tempranillos from Vino de la Tierra de Castilla.

Valdepeñas, or 'Valley of the Stones' lies just south of La Mancha and produces some excellent Reservas and Gran Reservas. The area's history goes back to the Romans but many believe it was the monks of 12th century Burgundy who first brought Cencibel (aka Tempranillo) here. In the twentieth century, it was often considered the "Poor Man's Rioja" but as we find in the Twenty-First century, the wines can stand up to the best of North-Central Spain.

Almansa is considered 'the forefinger' of Castilla-La Mancha and could well have been assigned to the DO's (Denominación de Origin) of Valencia and the Levant. But politics is politics and borders fall where men lie but one thing's for sure, culturally, the region is more northern than Mediterranean. If anything, the one great common factor it has with its more eastern neighbors is the vast planting of Monastrell which dominates half the vineyards.

And there's also Manchuela, second-largest in size after massive La Mancha. The main grape here is Bobal which accounts for around 70% of the vineyard. 

In the world of wine, we remember the big names: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Rioja, Jerez, Barossa, Marlborough, Mosel-Saar-Ruher, Napa, etc...etc...

Even in Spain-loving wine circles, the word 'Ribera' is often followed by 'del Duero' and we think of the robust, passionate and heady wines of the north. We think of Vega Sicilia's famous dark wines that can age for decades. 

There are other Ribera's, however. There's Ribeira Sacra in Galicia; Ribera del Andarax in Andalusia and Ribera del Guadiana in Extremadura in western Spain on the River Guadiana. 

In the Meseta, we find Ribera del Júcar fiendishly sandwiched between La Mancha and Manchuela. The D.O. lies in the province of Cuenca and surrounds seven small villages. 

There is more of a Mediterranean climate at work and it's not as harsh as the heated plains of La Mancha. It also rains more in Ribera del Júcar than in the land of Don Quixoite's  monstrous windmills: 20% percent higher to be exact. This means the vines don't have to dig down so deep to find water. 

The soils of La Mancha are red-brown sand and clay while in Júcar you'll notice outcrops of marl and limestone. This makes a difference as well. La Mancha, as I mentioned produces busty, brawny reds but here, although the wines are also big there is a seductive, perfumed quality which makes the reds intoxicating even before you sip them. 

The main grape varieties include Cencibel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bobal, Merlot and Syrah.

La Mancha and Castilla are all about value. The same goes for Ribera del Júcar. 

The 2006 Casa de Illana Bobal/Tempranillo/Syrah blend offers the wine lover a gorgeous red without the hefty price tag. On the nose you'll notice perfumed black pepper and blueberries. An earthy spice seems to float and flower in the glass. Take a sip and the dark fruit will rush over your palate along with hints of smoke and dashes of baking spice. A lovely, delicate wine and only $12.95 at the LCBO in your Vintages section.

Radford, John, The New Spain. Mitchell Beazley, London, 2007.



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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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