The wine in Spain grows mainly on the plain
Every autumn since 2005, a group of us (usually eight, but occasionally more) spend a week discovering new wines in some part of Iberia. This year our destination was La Mancha in Spain.
On our way to our base in Toledo, Helga and I stopped overnight on Sunday in Guadalupe. We stayed at the Parador, which is perfectly located in the centre of the picturesque small village, very close to the Royal Monastery of St Mary of Guadalupe complex that was our objective.
The monastery, built in the 14th century, was one of the finest and most important monasteries in Spain for many centuries and was declared a World Heritage site in 1993. The building stands on the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to a shepherd.
The monastery complex has three main parts: the temple-basilica, the Mudejar cloister and the Gothic cloister. It is in the Gothic-Mudejar style with a flamboyant Gothic façade, and is flanked by eight towers. It was begun by King Alfonso XI to celebrate a battle victory.
Columbus made his first pilgrimage after discovering the New World to the monastery to thank God for his achievement, and it became a tradition for Spanish Conquistadores to pray to the Black Madonna – Our Lady of Guadalupe – for success in their conquests in Latin America.
On Monday morning, we continued through the beautiful rolling countryside, about 200km to Toledo. On our way, we passed the Roman ruins of the Marble Temple, beautifully situated overlooking the Valdecañas reservoir formed by the Tajo River.
Toledo, a city of 85,000 people, rises dramatically on a granite eminence encircled by the Tajo. It is as spectacular a setting as it is rich in history, buildings and art. The Romans called it Toletum. After being occupied by the Barbarians, the Visigoths and the Berbers, it was conquered by Alfonso VI in 1085, who moved his capital to Toledo from León.
We had time to explore the cathedral and to walk around the old city. The Spanish gothic cathedral was begun in 1227 by Ferdinand III and wasn’t completed until the end of the 1400s. It is huge, second in size only to the cathedral in Seville, and is notable for its gaudy overwhelming decoration (made possible by all the silver and gold brought back by the Conquistadores) and works of art. The chapter house and the sacristy feature paintings by El Greco, Goya, Velázquez and Van Dyck amongst the very many treasures.
The old city is wonderful but, because Toledo is very much a hilly city (like Lisbon), walking around can be difficult and tiring. One could spend days exploring. We didn’t have days, so we limited ourselves to an afternoon highlighted by the El Greco Museum, which is, of course, full of his paintings. El Greco (real name Domenikos Theotokopoulos), born in Crete in 1541, arrived in Toledo in 1585 and died there in 1614.
As astonishing as Toledo is, we were actually there to taste wines and, in this venture, we were joined Monday evening by three other couples from the Algarve – Linda and David Gindley, Vibeke and Poul Snorgaard and Loes and Henk Vooijs.
Over the next four days, we visited six wonderful wineries, four of which were “Pago”, which is Spain’s highest classification for an individual winery (there are only 23 “Pago” wineries in all of Spain).
These wineries ranged in size from 50,000 to 250,000 bottles a year – small and specialised, rather than large and industrialised. The wines were wonderful. We discovered a number of excellent whites based on Airén, native to Spain and grown in great abundance but rarely, until recently, used in quality wine. However, probably about 85% of the production of our wineries was red – lovely wines often based on Grenache, a late ripening grape that needs the hot, dry conditions offered by Spain. We also found a strong French influence and a number of “Bordeaux blend” wines using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah.
It is impossible to pick a favourite winery of these six, so I will just list them in the order we visited them: Jiménez-Landi, Pago de Vallegarcia, Pago de Dehesa del Carrizal, Pago Martué, Más Que Vinos and Pago Casa del Blanco. We visited Casa del Blanco on Friday morning, had a marvellous paella lunch at the winery after our tasting, and headed back to the Algarve. Our car boots were full of our discoveries.