Any of the five provinces that shape the Castilla-La Mancha community is worth a visit, discovering its customs and festivals, its rich craftsmanship and its varied gastronomy, underwritten by products with a "Guarantee of Origin."
The big daddy of them all is aptly named D.O. La Mancha, the largest single wine region in the world. Its gargantuan dimensions spread into four different provinces, allowing for not only lots of wine, but a great deal of variety, too.
The most widely planted grape is a white variety called Airen. It has never been highly regarded, but when given a little pampering (and some modern technology), this tiny fruit can produce very tasty and crisp wine.
That said, the future of La Mancha's fame resides in its reds. Winemakers employ mostly Tempranillo (often called Cencibel in these parts, so don't be confused by the wording on the label), but increased blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot also is becoming fashionable.
Critics are still heralding the imminent coming of age of this region, but what most fail to realize is that it already has arrived.
You can't talk about Castilla-La Mancha without mentioning a Spanish classic, D.O. Valdepenas. Situated in the south of La Mancha, Valdepenas has been known for its false reds or "aloques" - wine made from a mix of mostly white grapes with a few reds. But Valdepenas fell out of style as the demand for true quality rose increased. Now, its "real" reds, made mostly from Tempranillo, offer very good quality for the price of a beach ball.
Castilla-La Mancha also is home to Spain's first private wine regions, called vinos de pago - single-estate wineries with their own rules and regulations: D.O. Dominio de Valdepusa and D.O. Finca Elez. The wines are more select, as can be the prices, but they are some the best Castilla-La Mancha has to offer.