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Castilla y León – One land, many terroirs, the same strength of character

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With Valladolid at its centre and the Duero river as its geographical axis, Castilla y León’s territorial expanse covers an impressive range of landscapes and bears a uniquely rich historical heritage, very much shaped by important pilgrimage and trade routes. Almost entirely contained by mountains, the region is a large plateau that covers roughly a fifth of the Spanish territory.

Sitting at between 700 and 2,648 metres above sea level (with vineyards planted as high as 1,000m), altitude plays a central role in moderating the hard continental climate, with the Cordillera Cantábrica shielding the maritime influence from the Bay of Biscay to the north. Altitude, bitterly cold winters, hot summers and high temperature diurnal range, provide ideal conditions for grapes to ripen with great complexity of flavour while retaining a poised acid structure.

However, if climate and topography provide an overarching theme to the region’s character, there’s an impressive diversity of terroirs, determined by variations in aspect, soil profile and, crucially, local traditions. Some sub-regions have embraced specific local varieties which have thrived and developed distinct characters at a sub-regional level.

It’s within this context of complexity and diversity that Castilla y León defines itself as one of Europe’s most exciting regions, offering a wide range of wines, grape varieties, terroirs and winemaking approaches, with one thing in common: quality and character across price points and styles. Few winemaking regions can claim to offer some of the best-value and most elegant everyday drinking pours, as well as some of the most collectible and sought-after fine wines.

Iconic varieties

What makes Castilla y León’s grape repertoire special is not merely the diversity and character of the local varieties; each of these grapes have, through years of local adaptation, developed a character specific to the local terroir, most obviously seen in the centennial vineyards where, through decades of massal selection, the best plants thrive and produce complex and concentrated grapes.

In the case of Tempranillo, the king grape across the region, such local adaptation has in fact resulted in clones with a very specific phenotype, deserving their own name – Tinto del País (or Tinto Fino) and Tinta de Toro – as the flagship variety of, respectively, the Ribera del Duero and Toro DOs. With their small berries and finely carved aromas, Tinto Fino and Tinta de Toro have become the base for the region’s most famous reds. On the other hand, a renewed interest in lighter-bodied, mineral, fresher styles of reds, is shining new light on Mencía, indigenous to Bierzo, where it thrives on the slate and granite soils.

As the flagship white variety, Verdejo sees its best expressions on Rueda’s limestone outcrops. Here, it has developed an elegant balance between fresh acidity, citrus zing, inviting fruitiness and herbal nuances. While perfect for the production of fresh, easy-drinking styles, it also has the character and structure needed for robust, age-worthy bottles.

Among the other grapes with tradition, and proven potential, in the region, are the whites Albillo, Viura, Albarín, Malvasía and Godello, and the red Garnacha.

Castillo de Peñafiel

Excellence across styles

The red wines of Castilla y León need little if any introduction. Muscular yet elegant, structured yet refined, ageworthy yet inviting, they rank among the world’s best known and much-loved expressions of Tempranillo, in its local guises as Tinto Fino and Tinta de Toro, having long challenged Rioja in both recognition and character. Some of Ribera del Duero and Toro’s producers now rank among the most collectible names in fine wine and investment markets.

But if Tempranillo, with its different facets, was the red grape to first place Castilla y León on the world stage, Bierzo’s Mencía is now earning wide acclaim among consumers, critics and journalists alike. It produces fresh reds, with assertive minerality, fine tannins and nuanced red berry flavours. Such potential has attracted numerous star winemakers to Bierzo; these in turn have elevated the DO to another of Castilla y León’s star sub-regions.

Cigales’ Rosados, meanwhile, have long been the benchmark for rosé styles produced in Spain. High altitude plots and a cooler climate have allowed for fine, fresh expressions of pink Tinto del País,and increasingly Garnacha, with a mineral backbone supporting very refined aromas. Such elegance is increasingly being explored in the production of red wine, following the same lighter trend that first put Mencía on the map.

Castilla y León is also a land of outstanding, and world-renowned, whites. Rueda DO has elevated Verdejo to international star status, with expressions ranging from fruit-driven to structured, barrel-aged examples, from everyday companions one must always keep in the fridge to bottles that deserve cellaring for a special occasion. Blends with Sauvignon Blanc further underline the freshness and herbal lining of the local white variety, as well as its versatility when it comes to food pairing.

Ready for the future

As climate change looms large and wine regions around the world face the prospect of an ever more difficult future, Castilla y León sees itself in a privileged and well-earned position. The region is, thanks to its commitment to preserving its viticultural heritage, uniquely equipped to face the challenges ahead.

The main and most valuable tool is a singular portfolio of old vines, highly adaptive and resilient in the face of extreme weather conditions. Castilla y León’s vineyards miraculously survived a number of historical and political threats that saw, elsewhere in Europe, old vines being pulled out. This now proves to be an invaluable, highly competitive viticultural resource when the main threat is nature itself.

The city of Segovia

Added to this unique vine stock are centuries-worth of winemaking and viticultural knowledge, passed through the generations, and applied to the specific context of each of Castilla y León’s subregions. There has been consistent longstanding investment in precision viticulture and sustainable practices, developed and applied as a natural byproduct of the historical connection of growers with their land and vines, as opposed to following trends.

Castilla y León is naturally placed at the forefront of climate resilience, with the best possible resources – both natural and human – to face the added pressures to both vines and men. There is a unique opportunity to adapt the existing wine styles as well as develop new approaches (stylistic as well as technical) that will make for an exciting new chapter in the region’s long winemaking history.

The success achieved by all of Castilla y León’s subregions at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards is proof that the work of today is forging the right path to an even brighter future.


Castilla y León – One land, 15 DOs

The fundamental facts about the region’s Denominaciones de Origen

Arlanza – 320 hectares under vine. 27 producers. Main indigenous varieties: Albillo Mayor and Viura (whites); Tempranillo/Tinto del País, Garnacha Tinta, Mencía (reds).

Arribes – 270 hectares under vine. 18 producers. Main indigenous varieties: Malvasía Castellana/Doña Blanca (white); Juan García, Bruñal, Rufete, Tempranillo (reds).

Bierzo – 2,349 hectares under vine. 74 producers. Main indigenous varieties: Godello, Malvasía Castellana/Doña Blanca (Doña Blanca) (whites); Mencía (red).

Cebreros – 439 hectares under vine. 20 producers. Main indigenous varieties: Albillo Real (white); Garnacha Tinta (red).

Cigales – 1,814 hectares under vine. 30 producers. Main indigenous varieties: Verdejo (white); Tempranillo (red).

Ribera del Duero – 20,035 hectares under vine. 309 producers. Main indigenous variety: Tempranillo/Tinto del País (red).

Rueda – 19,615 hectares under vine. 72 producers. Main indigenous varieties: Verdejo; Sauvignon Blanc (whites); Tempranillo (red).

Sierra de Salamanca – 115 hectares under vine. 5 producers. Main indigenous variety: Rufete (red).

Tierra de León – 1,308 hectares under vine. 42 producers. Main indigenous varieties: Verdejo (white); Prieto Picudo Tempranillo (reds).

Tierra del Vino de Zamora – 625 hectares under vine. 9 producers. Main indigenous varieties: Malvasía Castellana/Doña Blanca; Moscatel de Grano Menudo; Verdejo (white); Tempranillo (reds).

Toro – 5,418 hectares under vine. 63 producers. Main indigenous varieties: Malvasía Castellana (Doña Blanca), Verdejo (white); Tempranillo/Tinta de Toro (reds).

Valles de Benavente – 625 hectares under vine. 6 producers. Main indigenous varieties: Malvasía Castellana (Doña Blanca), Verdejo (white); Tempranillo, Prieto Picudo, Mencía (reds).

Valtiendas – 70 hectares under vine. 10 producers. Main indigenous variety: Tempranillo (red).

Further to these, the DOCa Rioja spills into Castilla y León’s territory across the latter’s north-eastern border, north of Burgos.

Also of note is the geographical indication Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla y León which covers most of the region and has given producers an important tool to experiment with different terroirs, varieties and winemaking techniques, across multiple DOs.


Character, diversity and value

Castilla y León wines shine at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2022

Regional and varietal expressiveness played a key role in the success achieved by the DOs of Castilla y León at the 2022 edition of the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA), with a sense of tipicity and place repeatedly highlighted by the judges.

Confirming its importance as the region’s flagship variety, Tempranillo, in examples from Toro, Ribera del Duero and Rioja, delivered quality and character while showing its many faces. As Tinta de Toro it made it to the exclusive Best in Show club, the first time a Toro DO wine achieved the highest echelon of the awards. In a hard-to-beat combination, it also made it to the Value line up, underscoring Castilla y León’s ability to deliver indisputably fantastic wines at good, honest prices.

Other red varieties brought their own parent DOs to the foreground. The Mencías from Bierzo shone, with a Platinum showstopper tailed by one Gold and one Silver recipient. Tierra de León’s Prieto Picudo, meanwhile, also made an appearance with a Silver medal, proving that there’s much more to discover in Castilla y León’s red wine treasure chest.

Another common theme was the winemaking expertise and sensitivity on display. The judges were keen to mention the measured use of oak, the efficient management of tannins, the purity of fruit and the overall balance of fruit and structure – such achievements no doubt also reflecting a growing expertise in vineyard work, allowing the grapes to shine without much effort. The Gold medal awarded to, according to the judges, a ‘benchmark for natural wine lovers’, is the ultimate proof of the ability of producers to deliver low-intervention wines of world-class quality.

Mastery of different styles, another of Castilla y León’s key points of difference, was also reflected in this year’s DWWA. While the success of the Verdejos from Rueda might be expected, many will be surprised to find a fortified example among the Gold winners, reaffirming the need to preserve a winemaking tradition that goes well beyond the better-known, more commercial styles. Still, the quintessentially fresh and poised dry Verdejos were also rightly recognised – as they always are – for the vibrancy and textural appeal that have granted them classic status.

Overall, the results achieved by producers from Castilla y León at the DWWA 2022 are testament to the hard work and ability to respond to increasing viticultural, commercial and logistical pressures, following two years of weather, public health and economic hazards. The ability to deliver these balanced, expressive wines, recognised for their quality on the world stage, is also a reflection of the strength of character and grit of the people of Castilla y León.

Platinum

Bodegas y Viñedos Merayo, Aquiana, Bierzo DO 2017
97 points – Platinum
100% Mencía; 14.5% abv
£20 Alliance Wine; $30 Antalva Imports
Judges were taken by this wine’s complexity, length and purity, anticipating a great potential for bottle ageing. A terroir-driven style that highlights the expressiveness of the best Bierzo’s Mencías, with its trademark earthiness, minerality, transparency of fruit and tannic finesse.

Bodegas Mazas, Mazas Roble, Toro DO 2020
97 points – Platinum – Best in Show – Value
90% Tempranillo/Tinta de Toro, 10% Garnacha; 14.5% abv
£12.95 Ultracomida
The first ever Toro wine to feature in the DWWA Best in Show pantheon, showcasing all the idiosyncrasy of the region’s Tempranillo strain (Tinta de Toro). It also features in the Value Best in Show selection, for an unbeatable offer of quality and value – arguably one of Castilla y León’s greatest USPs on the international stage. Measured use of oak lets the black fruit shine, with subtle acidity and plush tannins offering a refreshing counterpoint. Soft, creamy and texturally rich.

Gold

Cantariña, 2 Viña De Los Pinos, Bierzo DO 2018
96 points – Gold
90% Mencía, 9% Palomino, 1% Garnacha Tintorera; 14.0% abv
£25 Raymond Reynolds; seeking distribution in the US
Considered by the DWWA judges to be a ‘benchmark for natural wine lovers’, this low-intervention expression of Mencía (coplanted and fermented with other varieties) has amazing vibrancy and drive, with juicy fruit, fine tannins and a delicious stony edge. The surprising aromatic complexity has anise, menthol and cut herbs mingling with black tea, juniper berry, cassis.

Hacienda El Ternero, Reserva, Rioja DOCa 2014
96 points – Gold
95% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo; 14% abv
£24 Ellis of Richmond; seeking distribution in the US
From Castilla y León’s snippet of Rioja comes this filigreed Reserva, with alluring scents of spice, black fruit and dried flowers. It is mostly marked by its structure – powerfully dense yet soft and charming – and texture. The judges highlighted its ‘long, memorable finish’.

Bodegas Balbás, Reserva, Ribera del Duero DO 2017
95 points – Gold
90% Tempranillo/Tinto Fino, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% abv
£32 Vinals Wine & Food; seeking distribution in the US
It’s not often that the DWWA judges start a tasting note by saying that ‘this is, simply, an outstanding wine.’ Such was the case with this Tempranillo from Balbás, in which fruit density is offset by vibrant freshness. ‘An exercise in power and finesse with a long life ahead’ concluded the judges, impressed by its length and beautiful ripeness.

De Alberto, Dorado, Rueda DO NV
95 points – Gold
100% Verdejo; 17.0% abv
Seeking distribution in the UK and US
A benchmark example of this lesser-known traditional style from Rueda, reminiscent of a refined amontillado sherry. Complex and vibrant, with a pure aromatic profile of dried fruit and nuts. Outstanding, refreshing long finish.

Silver

Bodegas Vidal Soblechero, Pagos De Villavendimia Finca Matea, Castilla y Léon VdlT 2013
94 points – Silver
100% Verdejo; 13.5% abv
Seeking distribution in the UK and US
A rich, full-bodied wine that will appeal to many. Dense orchard fruit is delivered with texture and lined by savoury, herbal and oxidative notes. A touch of citrus adds nuance and freshness.

Bodegas Piedra, Piedra Prohibida, Castilla y Léon VdlT 2020
93 points – Silver
100% Garnacha; 14.5% abv
£13.5 Jascots Wine Imports; $13 JK Imports
Charming expression of Garnacha with ripe red and dark fruit topped by herbal and spicy notes. Firm fresh tannins leading the way to a long finish with an orange peel twist.

Cuatromil Cepas, Díscolo Tinta De Toro, Toro DO 2018
92 points – Silver
100% Tempranillo/Tinta de Toro; 14.5% abv
Seeking distribution in the UK and US
Deemed ‘powerful and delicious’ by the DWWA judges, this is a quintessential Toro wine with its ripe, soft tannins and brooding savoury character. Aromas of cedar, tobacco, leather and forest floor dominate over cassis. Herbal touch to the long finish.

Algil, Crianza, Toro DO 2019
92 points – Silver
100% Tempranillo/Tinta de Toro; 15.0% abv
Seeking distribution in the UK and US
This wine showed amazing ageing potential which, alongside with its complex aromatic profile of dark fruit with floral nuances, ripe soft tannins, mineral acidity and measured oak, earned it a ‘Bravo!’ from the DWWA judges.

Grupo Vinícola Marqués De Vargas, Conde De San Cristóbal, Ribera del Duero DO 2019
92 points – Silver
100% Tempranillo/Tinto Fino; abv 14.5% abv
Seeking distribution in the UK; $30 Torgar Group
An elegantly poised texture and a densely fruited palate topped by floral and sweet spice nuances for an elegant, poised expression of Ribera del Duero.

Bodegas Gormaz, 12 Linajes, Ribera del Duero DO 2019
91 points – Silver
100% Tempranillo/Tinto Fino; 14.5% abv
£18.99 Fareham Wine Cellar; $27.99 Yannis Wine
Masterful use of oak in this powerful yet poised wine, with a soft sweet-spiced nose, firm textural tannins and a long finish.

Bodega Rejadorada, Antona Garcia, Toro DO 2018
91 points – Silver
100% Tempranillo/Tinta de Toro; 14.5% abv
£22.99 House of Townend; $24.99 Regal Wine Imports
Described as ‘superb’ by DWWA judges, this Tinta de Toro showed an impressive and elegant aromatic complexity, with black fruit, pomegranate and liquorice lined by balsamico. A long finish with a smoky edge and beautiful tannins.

Convento Oreja, Crianza, Ribera del Duero DO 2019
91 points – Silver
100% Tempranillo/Tinto Fino; 15.0% abv
Seeking distribution in the UK; $34.99 Kysela Père et Fils
A generous expression of Tinto Fino, ready to drink now, with enveloping, lush fruits and pleasantly grained tannins supporting the long, soft finish.

Juan Miguel Andrés Matey, Carrequemada, Ribera del Duero DO 2019
91 points – Silver
100% Tempranillo/Tinto Fino; 14.5% abv
Seeking distribution in the UK and US
The DWWA judges praised this wine’s structure and length, which wears its bold flavours of blackberry, prune, cherry, tea, spice and chocolate with power and poise.

Melgarajo, Melgus Crianza Prieto Picudo, Tierra de León DO 2014
90 points – Silver
100% Prieto Picudo; 13.5% abv
Seeking distribution in the UK and US
A standout example of Prieto Picudo, Tierra de León’s flagship red variety. Approachable and enjoyable with a layered nose of ripe fruit, tobacco and dried herbs. ‘Super stuff’, the DWWA judges summed up.

Burdigala, Campo Elíseo, Rueda DO 2019
90 points – Silver
100% Verdejo; 13.5% abv
Seeking distribution in the UK and US
Smooth and appealing Verdejo with a sweet nose followed by an expressive palate, full of fleshy quince, candied lemon and grapefruit, leading to a creamy finish.

Viñedos Sampedro Y Alonso, Xardin de Xampedro, Bierzo DO 2019
90 points – Silver
100% Mencia; 14.0% abv
Seeking distribution in the UK and US
This wine stood out for its varietal and regional expressiveness, ‘singing Bierzo already at the nose’ according to the DWWA judges, and ‘offering a gift of originality and identity’. Bags of character in a delicious Mencía, that showcased a wild, rustic and dense expression of the grape.


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