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New Appellation Approved for Spain's Hot Heartland

The Ribera del Júcar denominación de origin is a sign of improving quality in the vast La Mancha wine region.

Richard Neill
Posted: April 22, 2003

Spain has a new appellation -- Ribera del Júcar -- on the eastern edge of La Mancha, the country's biggest wine region.

The Ribera del Júcar denominación de origin (DO), recently approved by Spain's Council of Agriculture and the Environment, encompasses more than 22,000 acres of boulder-strewn clay soils in the heart of the vast tableland south of Madrid. The new appellation brings the total number of Spanish DOs to 62, and it is the second subappellation in La Mancha.

Currently, Ribera del Júcar -- named after the Júcar River that runs down its eastern flank -- contains just six cooperatives and two private bodegas. The permitted grape varieties will be Bobal (a popular local variety with a deep color), Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

Until recently, the arid heartland of Spain -- often called Don Quixote Country -- has had a reputation for making vast quantities of cheap bulk red wine. Now widespread investment in winemaking equipment and drastic cuts in yields are helping to raise the quality of wine and slowly change the image of what is increasingly seen as Spain's answer to Australia. The gradual fragmentation of this area into new DOs is seen by many vintners to be an important part of this reinvention.

"If anywhere can put the brakes on the advance of the New World, it is here," said José Miguel Jávega, manager of the Cooperativa Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza, the most acclaimed cooperative in the new DO and owner of 10 percent of the total vineyard area.

Jávega is planning to release a new Ribera del Júcar brand called Casa Riba, but will continue making his successful La Mancha brand Casa Gualda, which retails in the United States at around $8 a bottle.

However, Jávega is skeptical about the marketing advantage of Ribera del Júcar over La Mancha. "Using the name Ribera del Júcar won't help sell more wine," he warned. "Only the quality of our brands will do that."

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