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Exploring wine - Valdepeñas
Hal Harley  , Friday, October 10, 2003

After starting this series last week with Alicante, I am moving on this week to Valdepeñas. The reason for this will be revealed
later in this week’s column.
Surrounded by an area that, for generations, was known only for producing everyday wines, Valdepeñas has
managed to turn out wines of good quality, at the very least, since the 13th century. That was when Queen Berengula brought together a number of small villages in the newly-reconquered Valle de La Penas (‘Valley of the rocks’) and in doing so, created the town of Valdepeñas. At that time (1243), the town was used as a strategic position for Castilian forces against the retreating Moors, and its importance as a military base far exceeded its prominence as a trading center.
The moors left Spain in 1492 (Columbus discovered the Americas in the same year) but with the establishment of Madrid in 1561, Valdepeñas was set for another boom.  Naturally the town was already well known to the
government, and this government was now only two days travel away. The market came closer still when the railway arrived in 1861. Suddenly Valdepeñas was just a few hours journey from Madrid, and the town boomed once again.
Valdepeñas is in the far south of the Meseta in the province of Ciudad Real.  The Meseta is the high, central plateau that forms the center of Spain. This vast table rises gently before dropping down into the town itself, which is set within a ring of mountain ranges. The vines of  the Valdepeñas D.O. are planted on a small plain surrounded by mountain peaks which are considered the best areas for vines.
Soil conditions throughout Valdepeñas are fertile and thick, with sandy clay lying over chalk bedrock, which provides excellent water retention during the ripening period.  This has been a contributing factor in the ability of Valdepeñas to grow good-quality Cencibel (Tempranillo) grapes even in years when, just over the border in La Mancha, the heat has been so intense that they simply withered on the vine.
This week I attended a wine tasting at ‘La Parrilla del Cellar’ in Jávea, presented by one of the best bodegas in Valdepeñas. Bodegas J A Megia e Hijos, SL was founded in 1994 by the Megia family. The bodega has 90 hectares of vines, 80% is dedicated to the Cencibel (Tempranillo) variety and the other 20% is shared between Airen, Macabeo and Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines made by the bodega generally come under the brand name ‘Corcovo’.
Corcovo wines are the result of an annual crop of 1,700,000 kilos of grapes, (a total crop of 150,000,000 kilos from all of Valdepeñas, with 60% of the wine being exported) which are grown at an altitude of 700 metres.
Irrigation is only allowed for one month, and is strictly controlled by the local regulator.
The wines – Corcovo 2002 Tinto – This is a young (joven) wine made from 100% Tempranillo grapes.  It has a good aroma of red fruit (cherries etc.) with a  smooth taste of ripe fruit and a round, slightly tannic (young) finish – 3.50 euros.
Corcovo 1999 Crianza – I have tasted this wine before (it came 3rd in a recent blind tasting of good quality wines) and really liked it, well my opinion has not changed.  This wine has to be one of the best
value-for-money wines in Spain!  Made from 100%  Tempranillo grapes, picked from the vineyards older vines, it spends 8 months ageing in new American oak casks (barricas) and a further period of 12 months in the bottle. It has a wonderful aroma of dark fruit, toffee, vanilla and a touch of black pepper. The taste is dry but smooth with just the right balance of fruit and oak – incredible value at just 4.50 euros.
Corcovo 1998 reserva – Again made from 100% Tempranillo, and also with grapes picked from old vines, but this wine spends the extra time required for the reserva process (15 months in new American oak and 24 months in bottle). It is not big on aroma, but the taste is dry, smooth, full bodied, extremely well balanced and has a nice persistent finish – excellent value for a reserva at 6 euros.
Corcovo 1998 Magnum – Yet again made from 100% Tempranillo, and with selected grapes from their oldest vines being aged for 12 months in new American oak and 18 months in bottle. It has aromas, dark fruits and vanilla (oak) with a silky smooth and well balanced taste of mature fruits, resulting in a well developed and persistant finish – an excellent wine for Christmas (1.5 litres) l5 euros.
A well-presented, pleasant and well organised afternoon at La Parilla del Cellar.  So thanks to Domingo, who came all the way from Valdepeñas, to bring the very good wines he so proudly talked about, and well done Pepe and Francis, for organising another memorable wine tasting!
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