Valdepenas is a wine-producing zone in the south of Castilla-La Mancha, central Spain. It is almost entirely surrounded by the larger La Mancha region. Valdepenas takes its name from the ancient city of the same name that lies in a sunbaked river valley dotted with small rocky formations – the reason it was named ‘Val de peñas‘ (‘Valley of Rocks’).
The region’s climate is semi-arid and strongly continental; the Sierra Morena range to the south of the designation blocks out most of the Mediterranean Sea’s moderating influences. Soils are largely limestone, sandy loam and clay. The high lime content helps with good moisture retention – vital in these hot and dry conditions, where 2500 hours of scorching sunshine a year are standard. The Jabalon River and its tributaries wind through Valdepeñas, providing water — and respite. The vineyards’ altitude of 2295ft (700m) above sea level also gives some relief.
Valdepenas is a historic wine-growing area, with a long tradition of supplying wine to Madrid and Valencia. It had a flourishing wine trade in the 19th Century until it was struck by phylloxera. The area was then replanted with the hardy Airen variety.
The region’s traditional claim to fame was its Clarete or Aloque, light red and rosado (rosé) wines enlivened by the addition of about 20% white wine (predominantly Airen). Production of Clarete continues today, although the practice now is to blend the musts rather than the finished wines.
Another feature of the winemaking culture of Valdepenas was the use of tinajas, or large clay pots, both for fermentation and storage. These are rarely used nowadays, as stainless-steel tanks and oak barrels are preferred, in keeping with modern trends.
Like its larger northern neighbor, La Mancha, Valdepenas is widely planted with Airén vines, which are tolerant of the harsh conditions here. However, Cencibel (Tempranillo) is the best-known variety, due to its ability to produce a wide range of styles – ranging from young, easy-to-drink wines to more serious examples which respond well to barrel maturation. A growing preference for international varieties has seen increased plantings in recent years of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
The light-red wines upon which the reputation of Valdepenas was founded are slowly giving way to more-serious reds, both aged and unaged. The best examples are velvety soft with bright red fruit flavors. Oak-aged Crianzas, Reservas and Gran Reservas can all be found.
While reds dominate production in Valdepenas and are renowned, some white wines are made using Airén, Chardonnay, Macabeo, Moscastel de Gran Menudo, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo. The production of sparkling and sweet wines is also permitted under the DO laws (which are governed by the local Consejo Regulador wine authority).