The sprawling winelands of La Mancha and the Meseta hold more than half of Spain’s vineyards. Hot and arid, this wine country presents little variety in topography and even less diversity in coloration.
But even if regions like Extremadura, La Mancha, Valdepeñas, Vinos de Madrid and Méntrida are brown and dry, pockets of elevated plateaus and other hidden spots throughout South-Central Spain hold land where good wines are made.
Top regions south of Madrid include Manchuela, Almansa and a handful of individual properties known as Pagos, officially recognized as unique estates worthy of operating outside the denominación de origen system. But with more than 150,000 square miles of vines, quantity often trumps quality in this part of Spain.
Common grape varieties in South-Central Spain include Tempranillo, Garnacha, Petit Verdot and Syrah, all of which can handle the region’s heat. But the workhorse in the area is Airén, a white grape that accounts for about 70 percent of regional production and is used predominantly for basic table wines and brandy.
Located northeast of Madrid, where the Ebro River leaves Rioja Baja on its way to the Mediterranean Sea, Aragón is one of Spain’s oldest wine regions. In this land once ruled by the kings of Aragón, Garnacha is the dominant grape along with Tempranillo and Carignan (known locally as Cariñena).
Prime wine regions for Garnacha include Navarra, Campo de Borja, Calatayud and Cariñena. In all of these locales, unirrigated bush vines thrive in mineral-rich, red-clay soils that bake during hot summer days before cooling off at night. The resulting wines can be made in a fresh red-fruit style if the grapes are harvested early, or in a darker, richer manner when the grapes come in at maximum ripeness and are aged in new French oak barrels.