Special mention must be given to the grape from which the local wine is made. Wine is the most important drink of this region and in Tomelloso the largest co-operative in Europe is found. There are various Denominations of Origin: La Mancha, Valdepeñas, Méntrida, Almansa... and the recent Dominio de Valdepusa and Finca de Elez. The most famous wines are those of La Mancha and Valdepeñas, which have been written about on many occasions. Light red and white wines are drunk young, at a maximum of one or two years old and their alcoholic content oscillates between 11 and 13 degrees. At present, a great effort is being made to obtain good ageing wine. Those wines which have been awarded the "Great Selection Award 2002", by the local government of Castilla La Mancha are as follows: red wine over 5 years old: Viña Albali Gran Reserva 91; red wine over 3 years old: Torre de Gazate Reserva 98 and red wine over 2 years old: R.V. Ruiz Villanueva 99.
In Castilla la Mancha, a flat farming area, agricultural produce is a very important component of the local cuisine. A few tomatoes, red and green peppers and a little courgette is enough to make a dish which has become a national speciality: "pisto manchego", a type of ratatouille which can be served either hot or cold and contains, in addition to the ingredients mentioned above, any other ingredient the cook fancies.
More examples of some of the recipes which are based on country produce are the famous roasted red peppers, which are chopped, roasted, mixed with tomato and dressed with oil and garlic, the popular "ajoarriero" and "tiznao", which are untypical examples of Castilla La Mancha dishes as they contain filleted cod which is flame-grilled in an earthenware dish with the ever-present pepper, tomatoes, onions and garlic. Other very typical dishes include the garlic soups, which may or may not contain cumin and paprika and the "migas de pastor", (fried breadcrumbs), which does not differ that much from the variations of this dish found in other places but which can be soaked in milk or accompanied by chocolate, pork products, sardines, grapes, etc.
Natural, yet rich cuisine
However, in addition to the agricultural products, another main ingredient of La Mancha gastronomy is meat. An example of this are the "galianos" or "gazpachos de monte" (which must not be confused with the Andalusian variation), prepared using unleavened cakes and any type of poultry (including game) which is at hand. This dish must be tried when the opportunity presents itself as it is not served throughout the year. There are more delicious meat dishes: the visitor to Toledo must try the delectable marinated partridge hotpot. Also the "tojunto", a rabbit stew from Ciudad Real; the "morteruelo", a paté made of pork and game birds from Cuenca and roast kid from Guadalajara. To finish off the meal and freshen out the mouth, the diner has a wide variety of desserts to choose from. The most important include the lardy cakes, the oil buns and the flower shaped sweets and flakes with honey. Worth special mention are the "bizcochás de Alcázar", a tart soaked in milk with sugar, vanilla and cinnamon and the bizcochos borrachos, sponge soaked in wine and syrup. And most of all we must not forget the marzipan from Toledo, a remains of a Muslim past, which is made from sugar and almonds, the "alajú" from Cuenca, an almond and nut pastry, almond soup, syrup, "marquesitas", pastry rolls, etc.
The gourmet traveller can try the traditional dishes from La Mancha, at times prepared with modern touches, in the restaurant called Adolfo, which figures in the CAMPSA guide with two suns. This restaurant is located in the centre of the old quarter of Toledo and serves traditional and local dishes. It is not the only restaurant; other places which will not disappoint the visitor are El Bohío (awarded one star by the Michelin Guide and two suns by the CAMPSA guide) located in Illescas, Toledo, Las Rejas, in a town near Cuenca called Pedroñeras (awarded two suns by the CAMPSA Guide), El Mesón de Pincelín, in Almansa, Albacete and the Mesón El Corregidor in Almagro, Ciudad Real. Castilla la Mancha, Quixote cuisine.