The wine appellation of Valdepeñas DO is located south of Castila-La Mancha in central Spain. It is almost completely encircled by the massive La Mancha DO and borders Andalusia to the south.
It has always remained an independent DO entity, not least thanks to its long history of producing a distinctive, traditional style of light red wine known as aloque or clarete, which is created by blending the local white Airén and red Cencibel grapes. Since the late 1990s, Valdepeñas has been following in the footsteps of La Mancha, with new plantings of ameliorateur grapes and investment in modern winemaking facilities and practices – Félix Solis, the biggest single winery in Spain, has its base in the region.
The authorised varieties are for the whites: Airén, Macabeo, Chardonnay, Verdejo, Sauvignon Blanc and Moscatel. For the reds: Tempranillo (aka Cencibel), Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot.
The best-located vineyards are in Los Llanos (‘the plains’) in the west and in Las Aberturas (‘mountain passes’) in the north. The climate is extreme continental (ie scorching hot summers and bitterly cold winters), with temperatures reaching 40°C in summer and down to -10°C in winter. Summer droughts, spring hail and winter frosts create a harsh environment for viticulture.
These climatic conditions, combined with the destruction caused by Phylloxera in the early 1900s, explain the dominance of the drought-resistant, sturdy Airén (planted over 80 percent of the vineyard area), which makes squeaky-clean, light-bodied, cool-fermented, pleasant, uncomplicated whites.
The future of the DO lies with its red wines, made from Cencibel, which has the capacity to age well in Reservas and Gran Reservas, often supplemented by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and even Petit Verdot. The best examples display silky-textured, vanilla-accented, fruity characters and are well-priced alternatives to young Tempranillo wines from established regions like Rioja.