Our May 2013 trip took us to La Mancha, the largest DO of wine producers in Europe. After a comfortable journey to Alcazar de San Juan, we found the Hotel Intur extremely well appointed. After a group welcome reception on the courtyard terrace to mingle with our fellow travellers we moved on to their relaxing dining room for dinner.
The following day we visited Bodega El Vinculo whose wines all score 90s in the Guia Peñin. Their Pesquera is rated as one of the five best reds in the world and the Haza is also world famous. Here we tasted four wines. An oaked and complex white Alejairen 2010, Tinto Crianza 2006, Tinto Reserva 2005 followed by the magnificent Tinto Gran Reserva 2003 14% matured in french oak, it was a real treat and rated by everyone as superb. Despite its price of 20.00€ a bottle, a good number of bottles found their way onto the coach. All Bodega El Vinculo’s wines are produced by natural process without added chemicals and should be decanted to allow the flavour and persistence to develop. They use only the highest quality cork so that the wines can breathe in the bottle whilst maturing before labelling and capping.
Suitably fortified we made our way to the Sierra de los Molinos, Campo de Criptana to see the famous windmills of Don Quixote. This, by far the most famous book in Spanish literature, was originally intended by Cervantes as a skit on traditional popular ballads, but he also parodied the romances of chivalry. He wrote one of the most enduring adventure stories of all time and created in Don Quixote and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, two of the greatest characters in fiction. When he died in 1615 his book was already famous in both French and English.
At Campo de Criptana we were warmly welcomed by the local guides and their pupils who were so pleased to entertain us and practice their English.
Today there are 10 windmills, although in Don Quixote’s time there were 30 to 40 of them which he was convinced were giants and proceeded to engage them in ‘fierce and unequal battle’. Unfortunately he got the worst of it when the wind turned as he punctured one of the sails with his lance and he was thrown from his horse.
One of the mills is fully restored and is worked on the first Sunday of each month to grind flour for bread making. We went right inside the mill and climbed to the very top where the wheel turns. Around the circumference are 12 small windows so the miller can test the wind to judge in which direction to point the sails. When the direction of the wind is assessed the pole reaching the ground is hauled into the correct position. The sail frames are covered with heavy linen similar to the sails of a boat.
There were various museums to see. One of the mills houses the memorabilia of the Spanish singer and actress Sara Montiel born in 1928. In the village we saw the tiny rooms of a typical miller’s home which had been hewn out of the rock.
Another museum showed work from local artists. Here we see two items from Eloy Teno sculpted in used iron. A backlit view of the village and a bust of Don Quixote.
We enjoyed a superb lunch at restaurant Las Musas who presented a series of local
tapas for starters which included an empanadilla made from locally ground flour.
The next morning we visited Bodegas y Viñedos Verum a family owned and run business in Tomelloso. We descended steps to the most amazing man made cave under the bodega which covers 80,000 sq ft. It is possibly the largest cave in Europe without artificial support. Here the ageing process takes place. Amongst the wine are barrels of cognac and, you will see in the picture, a moveable rack to store sparkling wine, this turns all the bottles at once saving the manpower of turning them all individually.
We were introduced to square oak ageing barrels. This new invention allows the barrels to be stacked higher and they are more easily moved with a fork lift truck. The traditional barrel was made in the rounded shape so that they could be rolled by hand. The square storage
vessel also provides an increase in the liquid to wood contact surface of about 13%. The structure is recyclable with new oak panels and they can be transported in flat pack to outside purchasers. The Bodega has the European patent for this product and some of these vessels have already been sold to a whisky producer in Scotland.
Here we tasted Verum Blanco 2012, Verum Rosado 2012 and Verum Tinto 2010
After a light lunch by Lagunas de Ruidera we visited Castillo de Peñarroya and its Ermita overlooking the dam and reservoir.
Our next Bodega was Vinicola de Tomelloso a huge winery of originally 28 families of wine growers who formed a co-operative in 1986 and kept their individual wine in the cellars of their family homes. In 1989 they began construction of a new winery which now has 63 members and 2,500 hectares of vineyards producing about 7 million litres of white wine and 4 million litres of red. There are a range of 21 wines, 15 of which are in the Guia Peñin with points from 82 to 87. There we tasted Añil Blanco 2012, Gazate Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Gazate Merlot 2012 and Torre de Gazate Tinto roble 2010.
That evening we visited El Convento Santa Clara which was built in the 16th century and was the home of the order of Poor Clares until 1868. A beautiful old building restored with taste and there we were served with an excellent dinner.
On our return journey we visited Bodegas Lahoz in Tomelloso, a family owned and run business which produced its first harvest in 2004. The stunning building takes on the atmosphere of a monastery with complete peace and cleanliness. The entrance reminded me of the Alhambra.
The Guia Peñin has rated their wines 85-87 points. We tasted an oaked Recato Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Vego Córcoles Rosado 2011 (a fresh young wine suitable for summer drinking) Vega órcoles Tempranillo 2007 roble and Abado de Soto Tinto 2007 which had a rich mature flavour.
We enjoyed a tasty and well presented lunch at Restaurante El Tollo, Alto San Augustin before the last leg of the journey to Javea. The weather forecast for this trip had promised heavy rain, but we were fortunate to make all our outside visits without getting wet and were delighted that our visit to the windmills was bathed in sunshine. This was a most excellent trip enjoyed by all.