The Wine Region of Castile and Leon

Castile and Leon is an autonomous community located in northwest Spain. It is the largest such community in the entire European Union and covers an area of 94,223 square kilometers. Around twenty five million Spaniards call Castile and Leon home (as of 2011). The region is of considerable historical value, and it is claimed that 60% of the country's artistic and cultural heritage stems from Castile and Leon. 8 properties are part of the World Heritage, and there are 112 historical sites, 400 museums, 300 castles, 11 cathedrals, and the biggest concentration of Romanic art on the planet. Castile and Leon is also a truly integral part of the world's wine culture. Many Spanish DO's are based in Castile and Leon, and each of them provides a rich and unique wine that is based on one of the many local grapes. Most of the wine coming out of Castile and Leon is red, although one winery in particular offers a delicious white wine that is enjoyed worldwide.

HISTORY OF CASTILE AND LEON

Castile and Leon is an autonomous community located in northwest Spain. It is the largest such community in the entire European Union and covers an area of 94,223 square kilometers. Around twenty five million Spaniards call Castile and Leon home (as of 2011). The region is of considerable historical value, and it is claimed that 60% of the country's artistic and cultural heritage stems from Castile and Leon. 8 properties are part of the World Heritage, and there are 112 historical sites, 400 museums, 300 castles, 11 cathedrals, and the biggest concentration of Romanic art on the planet. Castile and Leon is also a truly integral part of the world's wine culture. Many Spanish DO's are based in Castile and Leon, and each of them provides a rich and unique wine that is based on one of the many local grapes. Most of the wine coming out of Castile and Leon is red, although one winery in particular offers a delicious white wine that is enjoyed worldwide.

Castile and Leon became an autonomous community in 1983. Though the community itself is young, each of the regions that comprise it is rich with history. The separate kingdoms of Castile and Leon have flown the same flag at multiple points throughout their past, before finally becoming united permanently in the 13th century. Castile actually started as a county in the Kingdom of Leon, though, in the 11th century, it became a kingdom itself. In the name of Christianity, both Castile and Leon fought against the Moors in the Reconquista, which was a centuries-long war to reclaim land.

In 1037, Count Ferdinand of Castile defeated his brother in battle and became ruler of both kingdoms. This was short lived; however, as Ferdinand died in 1065 and the two kingdoms were passed on to different children. His children, however, fought over the kingdoms regularly, and Castile and Leon were united and broken apart several more times over the next hundred or so years. Finally, Castile and Leon were permanently united in the 13th century and have remained united to this day.

The primary language of Castile and Leon is Spanish, though many parts of the Leon province speak Leonese, an ancient language that modern day residents are trying to keep alive.

GEOGRAPHY IN CASTILE AND LEON

Since Castile and Leon is so vast, it is bordered by a number of other communities- Asturias, Cantabria, Aragon, the Basque Country, La Rioja, the autonomous communities of Madrid and Castile-La Mancha, Extremadura, and Galica, in addition to the country of Portugal. Castile and Leon itself consists of nine different provinces- Avila, Burgos, Leon, Palencia, Salamanca, Segovia, Soria, Valladolid, and Zamora. Each of these provinces is unique in their own way.

The terrain in Castile and Leon is mostly an arid, high plain called the Meseta. Surrounding the Meseta are a number of different mountain ranges. Many rivers run through the community, the biggest of which is the River Douro. Douro runs from its headwaters in Soria for 897 kilometers to its mouth, which is in Portugal. Many cities have been formed along the Douro's banks, and the river is one of the main sources of water for the communities many vineyards.

CLIMATE IN CASTILE AND LEON

Due to Castile and Leons size, the climate varies throughout the provinces. Overall, though, Castile and Leon's climate is mostly Mediterranean, except with more extreme temperatures in the summers and winters. This is called a continentalized Mediterranean climate, and the entire community feels its effects. Temperatures range from the 4 to 7 degree Celsius mark in the winter and from the 19 to 22 degree Celsius mark in the summer. Rain is minimal, ranging from 450 to 500mm annually, and mostly falling only in the lower altitudes.

SOIL IN CASTILE AND LEON

Because of the climate, the soil in Castile and Leon is mostly dry and lacking in nutrients. However, the fertile land around the region's rivers (especially the Douro) is perfect for grapevines, and so this is the soil that is primarily used for wine production.

WINE HISTORY

Now that you know the basics, it's time to move on to the good stuff. Castile and Leon is world renowned for its unique red wines, though it boasts some magnificent white wines as well. The community's grapes are unique to the region, and so wine from Castile and Leon is an individual blend that is loved worldwide.

DO Rueda, right in the middle of Valladolid, is the home of Castile and Leon's white wines. Before the 1970's, Rueda was famous for its lighter sherry-style wines, which travelers would often stop and purchase on their way to and from Madrid. They certainly had a unique taste, and the flavor was quite different from modern light wines. Once the 1970's hit, Rueda changed its focus and instead started producing lesser-alcoholic whites with the Verdejo grape. These white wines were a humongous hit, and Rueda found its niche as Castile and Leon's premier white wine producer.

For the red wines, one must travel to DO Ribera del Duero. This region was immensely popular as far back as the Middle Ages, but a drop in desire for Ribera del Duero's wine made grape growers consider throwing in the towel as recently as the 70's. But with hard work and dedication, the wineries were able to turn things around and transform Ribera del Duero back into the wine making powerhouse it once was. You may have heard of Vega Sicilia, which is undoubtedly the country's most respected winery. And if you have had any of the wine from this DO, then you are probably familiar with Tinto Fino, the grape behind it all. Tinto Fino is found in both the fruity younger red wines of the region as well as the older more complex ones.

Tinto de Toro is the grape responsible for all of the wines coming out of the Toro region of Castile and Leon. The River Duero runs calmly through Toro's valleys, giving the soil the perfect amount of moisture for their bold grape. Tinto de Toro provides more of a full-bodied, strong taste, like that of a bull (which is what Toro means in Spanish, of course). Despite its full taste, Toro wines are not considered overwhelming, as winemakers have spent a long time perfecting the blend, bringing it down from the rugged blend it once was.

DO Bierzo specializes in more of a lighter-bodied fruity red wine, and they use the Mencia grape to achieve this. The characteristics of Bierzo wine have been compared to a Cabernet Franc- intensely fruity, lively, and refreshing. Bierzo is a relatively young location, hidden in the fertile valleys of north-western parts of Castile and Leon. Many of the Spains premier winemakers are moving to Bierzo, wanting to test the Mencia grape for themselves.

The more aromatic, fruity reds are a specialty of DO Cigales. This region is an up-and-comer, with a strong selection of wines promised in the near future. Their current blushes are perfect for summer weather, and leave the drinker refreshed and pleased with their breezy blend. The main grape used in Cigales is the Tinto Pais, which is used to make many popular blends. The Pisuerga river snakes through Cigales, and its moisture is an enormous factor in local wine production.

FOOD WITH YOUR CASTILE AND LEON WINE

In addition to being heaven on earth for wine connoisseurs, Castile and Leon is also an excellent destination for delicious Spanish cuisine. Lamb, pig, and fish provide the majority of meat in the region, and a few of the main dishes include Cordero asado, Cabrito asado, and cochinillo. Because of the rich climate and moist soil along the river, there are many options for vegetables in the region, as well. Common tapas include, but are certainly not limited to, Esparragos, Alubias con chorizo, Jamon Serrano, y Morcilla. Because of the rich wine history of the region, most of these dishes and tapas have been specially prepared to complement all of the region's best wines- from Toro's strong reds to Rudea's fruitier whites.

GETTING YOUR HANDS ON THE WINE OF CASTILE AND LEON

If you're interested in sampling any of these wines yourself, you can always make a trip to Castile and Leon. The countryside is gorgeous, the people are friendly, and the wine is delicious. It is certainly worth a flight out, and should be an integral part of any wine tour that you take through Europe.

If you can't make it out to see Castile and Leon in person, you still have the opportunity to taste the wine by going through a wine merchant or searching wine-selling websites online. In fact, there are many wine merchants online already that can help you get your hands on one of Castile and Leon's bottles. Looking up a wine merchant can really enhance your experience, and many of them can get unique deals with DO's in Castile and Leon, ensuring you get your bottles quickly and inexpensively. So look one up today, and enjoy your new favorite Castile and Leon blend soon. As the Spanish say, "Salud!"