It was a fresh autumn morning for the start of our wine trip, but the day turned into clear blue sky and the sunshine of an Indian summer.
When we reached Almansa and Bodegas Piqueras we saw the grapes arriving from the harvest in tractors that emptied their loads into the awaiting bins and on to a moving belt.
After pressing the wines are fermented and stored in huge stainless steel vats. The vats are temperature controlled according to the time of harvest. Those brought in from a night harvest are kept at a much lower temperature for two days. When the fermentation process is complete the wine goes into the ageing room in barrels made in Rioja from American and French oak. The temperature here is kept between 16-18C and it is important to regulate humidity or wine can be lost through evaporation causing air to get into the barrels. When the wine is ready for bottling it is laid to rest and will only be labelled when ready for drinking. There are different labels for the same wine according to which country it is marketed. 95% of this bodega’s output goes for export.
The young red wine not suitable for ageing is packed into ‘bag in a box’ which keeps good for about a year. This is good quality wine, but the bag in box is not popular in Spain as it has the reputation of being inferior quality. However, it does sell well in Northern Europe.
We went to the tasting room for nibbles and samples. On the wall were photos from the 1960’s. This family business has been producing wine since 1915.
Later we checked into Hotelblu, http://www.hotelblu.es/index.php?lang=en an innovative modern design within walking distance of the centre and shoe shops offering irresistible bargains.
We took a walk up to the castle.
During the re-conquest in the mid 13C Almansa Castle was a frontier between the Christian Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and the Muslim Kingdom of Murcia. The castle was built by the Moors in the 12C and there are some remains from this time in the present structure. It is one of the best preserved castles in Albacete province.
That evening we enjoyed our reception and dinner in the black and smoked glass, state of the art bar and dining room of the hotel.
Next morning we visited Bodegas Almanseñas where they too were processing the harvest.
They grow mainly Monastrell and Garnacha Tintorera which gives the wine its rich red colour. Garnacha is supplied to Rioja bodegas to give their wine a deeper colour.
In their tasting room we tried those deep red wines.
From here we moved on to Alcalá del Júcar known for its picturesque countryside and cave houses. Before exploring we lunched at Casa El Moli. Here is our chef preparing the BBQ and the view from the garden.
It was a long way up to the church and then the castle but we were rewarded by some good views of the roman bridge and the river.
About half way up we spotted this sign.
We paid our 3€ and mine host with his ‘Dali’ moustache welcomed us into his front room.
He took us through the house and we entered this 50 meter long tunnel which led to huge caves right inside the mountain, one of which featured as a bar should you be thirsty after your climb.
The following day we made our way to Yecla and Bodegas Castaño , 92 hectares of vines on the border of Murcia and Alicante. At this impressive bodega they concentrate on only the best.
The estate was purchased in 1999 and the very first vintages (2001 to 2003) were produced in the 100 year old building on the site. In 2004 production was moved to the new building, but work continued through 2004 to 2006 to complete it.
The very best quality grapes are collected in small containers so they don’t bruise and lose their flavour and the wine is matured in French oak barrels costing 800€ each. The time for maturing the wine in the barrel varies with the vintage. The barrels are replaced every three years when the hint of chocolate they give the wine has been used.
Our hostess Raquel told us the stony soil here is good for the grape. The rocks absorb sunshine to keep the vines warm at night and in this area of low rainfall they also keep the ground moist. We were assured that the 2010 vintage would be the best for many years as the weather conditions for the growing and harvesting of the grapes has been perfect. Raquel recommended that ‘reservas’ could be laid down for up to 10 years after bottling and the wine should be kept at a constant temperature of no more than 20 degrees C
This superb wine is ‘resting’ before being labelled ready for its customers.
Please form an orderly queue.
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