The name Valdepeñas means Valley of Stones. The soil in this valley along the Jabalon River is rich in limestone and clay and scattered with stones, the kind of inhospitable earth that grows the most flavorful grapes. People have had vineyards in this region since at least the 4th century BC. The Valdepeñas DO is encircled by the larger wine DO of La Mancha next to the hunting grounds of the Campo de Motiel, all within the Castilla-La Mancha region. Visiting a bodega (winery) for a tour and tasting is a great way to experience this area of south central Spain.
Bodegas Real, a winery located about 11 miles outside of the city, sits within the western edge of the Campo de Motiel on an 800 ha (nearly 2000 acres) estate called Finca Marisanchez, where grain, olives, and of course, grapes are grown. The Barroso family acquired the property in 1984 and has been producing wine since 1989.
Bodegas Real is an easy day trip from the city of Valdepenas; at least it was supposed to be. I put my faith in Google maps and convinced my husband to turn left onto a dirt road when logic said to stay on the paved road. Luckily, we had a car that could go anywhere – a rental car. Google took us by the alleged shortest route which directed us through the middle of the vineyards. At one point, a farmer that was blocking our path crawled down from his tractor and kindly gave us what were probably better directions, but we couldn’t understand most of what he said. I can still see him shaking his head as we continued through the vineyard, that rocky Valdepeñas soil scraping the bottom of our car. We were amazed when the road dropped us right in front of Bodegas Real.
Our tour guide, Mari, spoke a little English and was very gracious and patient with us. Once again, because it was an off-season weekday we were the only people. She gave us a very personal tour, even loading us into her car to drive back out into the vineyard. We walked through the vines that were just beginning their spring bud break and took in the view of the entire finca (farm). The vineyards cover 280 hectares (690 acres) of the estate, with Tempranillo accounting for 80% of the vines. The remaining 20% are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay, and Viura (also called Macabeo). Most of the vines average 20 years old, but there are some 50 year old Tempranillo vines that existed on the property prior to the Barroso’s acquisition.
After a tour of the winemaking facility and cellars, we sat at a table set for a tasting. Mari poured two wines, one white and one red. The white Vega Ivor Viura was light and citrusy, very nice for a €3.50 bottle. She also poured the Finca Marisanchez 2009, a delicious red blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, and Syrah produced in limited quantities. The age on this rich wine added an earthiness that would compliment food well. At only €8 per bottle, we wanted to take some of this home with us but it was sold out in the retail shop. Fortunately, we were able to purchase a bottle in the restaurant for €17 to have with our meal.
The Bodega has a lovely restaurant called El Umbráculo, which means The Shade House. The winery tour is free if you eat in the restaurant, but I would recommend eating there anyway. They specialize in regional La Mancha gastronomy including products from the Campo de Montiel such as rabbit, quail, and red partridge.
We started with an appetizer of ravioli with rabbit escobeche and mushroom. Hiding under a tangle of kataifi (crispy fried strands of pastry), the two delicate ravioli were loaded with marinated chunks of rabbit.
For entrees that would play well with our complex Finca Marisanchez wine, we selected a venison loin cooked rare with mushrooms, and beef tenderloin topped with foie gras and sherry reduction. The tenderloin was so perfectly cooked, I couldn’t resist showing the photo with juices flowing. This is the kind of food that red wine is made for.
We were the only people in the restaurant. This was a little uncomfortable but also very special and they seemed glad to have us. In Spain, they don’t rush you through your meal. We were pretty happy with where we were and ordered dessert to extend the experience. Mousse of violets on chocolate cake with ice cream gave us something sweet to linger over. The total cost for this extravagant day: €80
Leaving the bodega we followed the paved road out of the parking lot. It took us along the Mari Sanchez Reservoir where it met up with main road CR-624 that led straight back into the city of Valdepenas via a quick, smooth ride.
Bodegas Real tours are offered Tuesday through Sunday at 12:30 pm for €6 per person. The 1.5 hour visit includes the vineyard, cellars and tasting. The restaurant is open for lunch from 1:30 – 4:00 pm, except closed Mondays. To arrange a tour, we sent an email to Mari with our request written in both English and Spanish. See the Bodegas Real website for details and Mari’s contact information.