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Blogging will be light this week while I get the newsletter out.

But I did find time yesterday to attend a seminar and tasting of Spanish wines from Castilla/LaMancha. This is the most productive wine region in Spain, but most of it is cheap bulk wine to be exported. So I didn’t know what to expect.

But the seminar was headed by Karen McNeill, author of the Wine Bible, and one of the most respected wine educators at work today. This would be time well spent regardless of the wine.

The wines tasted at the seminar were mostly Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tempranillo, the dominant Spanish grape, can often have a hard, leathery mouthfeel with pronounced oak, and Cabernet usually has a large frame with significant tannin. When you grow these grapes in the very hot, dry climate of Castilla/La Mancha you would expect very ripe grapes, fruit-driven, with high alcohol, and a big profile.

What we tasted was not only excellent; I was surprised by the elegance and velvety mouthfeel of these wines with very muted fruit and lovely earth notes, even in wines that were very young.

Karen McNeil’s explanation was interesting and I think important in understanding how our approach to wine will develop in the future. Castilla/LaMancha is exceedingly hot during the daytime, often over 100 degrees. With annual rainfall less than 11 inches and little maritime influence, the vineyards are exposed to intense sunlight throughout the growing season.

But Castilla/LaMancha also sits on a high plateau with many vineyard sites 3000 ft. above sea level. As a result the nights are very cool, with temperatures dropping sometimes 50 degrees. The result is that sugar ripening slows down at night because of the low temperatures extending the length of the growing season time and the time it takes the grapes to fully ripen. And this means the tannins and other flavor components of the grape have the time to mature and the grapes can be picked before reaching full sugar ripeness.

The result is a wine with moderate alcohol, very soft, fine-grained tannins, and emphasizing earth and minerality rather than fruit. McNeil’s main point was that it is important to distinguish heat from light exposure (what she calls luminosity). High altitude vineyards have the advantage of lots of light exposure while getting a night-time break from the heat resulting in wines of extraordinary elegance.

The Cabernet’s were especially surprising, having all the structure you expect from this grape but with the finesse of a pinot noir.

If Castilla/LaMancha is able to kick up their marketing game—and this event was well-done and well-attended—expect to hear more from this fascinating regions. And their wines are likely to be a bargain for now since they are very much under the radar.

These wines will be hard to find but I enjoyed the following: Villavid Tempranillo 2011, Remordimiento Red 2010, Alloza Reserva 2005, Nuestra Seleccion, 2005, AurumRed Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009, Senorio de Guadianeja Gran Reserva Cabernet, 2004.