The central plateau contains about two thirds of all of Spain’s vineyards. For the most part, these wines are broadly dismissed as having no great importance, but several DO’s are rising above the rest. Though the land is exceedingly hot and dry, many vineyards are located at high altitudes and therefore enjoy cooler nighttime temperatures and a much longer growing season, which in turn produces wines of greater complexity.
There are a total of eight DO’s within this region, one of the largest being La Mancha, though interestingly enough more than half of the vineyards in the region are not allowed to use the DO on the label. This speaks to the values of the DO system in that just being from a region is no guarantee of status – unlike Italy’s DOC system, for example, which only takes into account the allowed grape varieties and a standard winemaking and ageing technique.
It should be stated that it would be an incredibly arduous task to consider every nuance of the nearly 150,000 square miles of geography we are discussing here. There are areas that are infernally hot, and some that have such a short growing season it is hard to believe that anything grows there are all. Some vineyards see little to no rain in a vintage, some irrigated and some not.
The main DO’s of the Central Plateau are La Mancha, Valdepenas, Mentrida, Ribera del Jucar, Manchuela, Almansa and Ribera del Guadiana. Wines of higher quality and perhaps from a single vineyard or property are labeled Vino de Pago. More and more there is a trend toward single varietal labelling, but you won’t find many French varieties here. Reds are from Garnacha, Bobal and Monastrell, and Tempranillo is widely known as Cencibel. Some growers claim that Cencibel is different from Tempranillo, possessing thicker skin and a much deeper colour, but it is more likely that it has mutated slightly to adapt to the intense heat.
DO Pago is much like Cava DO, in the sense that it is not relegated to a geographic region. The term Pago itself means ‘estate’ and so may appear on labels in relation to a specific property, not necessarily even strictly for wine. There is a regulatory group for DO Pago wines, the Grandes Pagos de España, which currently has thirteen estates on its roster, eight of which are located in the Central Plateau Meseta. Once granted, the holder of a DO Pagos designation is not limited to particular grape varietals, wines styles or ageing regulations, only that their wines have proven to be of exceptionally good character, and consistently so.
DO Pagos of the Central Plateau: Domínio de Valdepusa, Calzadilla, Guijoso, Florentino, Finca Élez, Casa de Blanco, Dehesadel Carrizal, Campo de la Guardia.
Other DO’s: La Mancha, Almansa,Valdepenas, Ribeira del Guadiana, Manchuela, Uclés, Méntrida, Mondéjar, Riberadel Júcar and Vinos de Madrid.
by Rafael Segovia, Wine Enthusiast