Let’s face it, when you hear someone say, “La Mancha,” you think of windmills – and a certain self-styled knight – rather than wine. It’s time to connect this region’s name not only to Miguel de Cervantes’ famous novel but also to La Mancha’s wines. After all, La Mancha isn’t just Spain’s largest wine region, it’s the largest in the world.

The La Mancha DO covers about half of the Castile-La Mancha region, stretching from just east of Toledo south to Puertollano, and east to La Roda.

The region is fairly flat and has a continental climate. This means that wine growers must contend with extreme temperatures as well as frequent droughts; La Mancha doesn’t get much rain because mountains encircle the region. Winters are cold, with temperatures as low as 10°F, and summers are blazing hot, with highs in the low 100’s.

It is almost impossible to look at La Mancha’s landscape without thinking of Cervantes’ hero, Don Quixote. In some respects, the area looks much as it did when Cervantes wrote his famous novel. Hilltop castles with sturdy, round towers and crenellated walls dot the landscape. Small, white clouds float across the intensely blue sky, and rows and rows of grapevines spread across the dry plains. You can visit a line of windmills near Campo de Criptana and imagine the Don himself, attacking these towers and muttering about giants. There’s even a Don Quixote Route you can travel, which bills itself as Europe’s “longest eco-tourism route,” according to Spain’s official tourism website.

Like Don Quixote, La Mancha’s wines are an integral part of the region’s history. You can take the La Mancha Wine Route (“Ruta del vino de La Mancha”) to see the entire DO, or stop by a bodega or two to experience wine production and tasting from start to finish. With approximately 300 wineries to choose from, you won’t have much trouble finding a tasting opportunity. Some wineries prefer that you call in advance to set up an appointment, while others are closed on Sundays, so it’s best to telephone the winery before you arrive.

La Mancha produces red, rosé and white wines, with whites predominating. Airén is planted in approximately 80% of La Mancha’s vineyard acreage. Macabeo, the next most popular white wine grape, trails far behind at about 1% of planted acreage. Red wine grapes include cencibel (also known as tempranillo), 12%, and garnacha, 3%.

If you’re interested in visiting a La Mancha winery, consider traveling to Finca Antigua in Los Hinojosos. Part of the Martínez Bujanda family of wineries, Finca Antigua features a sleek, über-modern winery building, complete with reservoir. The tasting room includes a long, white tasting bar that looks out over the vineyards and surrounding countryside. Finca Antigua offers tours Monday through Friday by appointment.

Perhaps you’d like to stay overnight at a winery. If so, Viñasoro, near Ciudad Real, offers hotel accommodations and wine tourism weekend experiences. You can enjoy a meal at the winery’s restaurant if your schedule doesn’t permit an overnight stay. La Mancha is famous for manchego cheese and is part of Spain’s saffron-growing region, and you can sample dishes that feature these ingredients at Viñasoro.

Eco-tourism is an increasingly popular theme in Europe, and La Mancha is home to Europe’s largest organic winery, Explotaciones Hermanos Delgado, S. L. (EHD), in Socuéllamos. Half of EHD’s vineyards are planted in white grapes and half are planted in reds. EHD’s wines are bottled under several different labels, including Señorío de Los Santos, Sol de Agosto and EHD, and it won’t be too long before you see these wines around the world. EHD is introducing its products at international BioFach organic trade fair events, including BioFach Japan and Latin America.

While La Mancha has had a reputation for producing mediocre wines, things seem to be changing for the better. Wine writer José Peñin notes in PeñinGuide to Spanish Wine 2007 that La Mancha’s wine cooperatives are showing “slight, but evident, progress in terms of quality.” Canadian sommelier Normand Bélanger recently profiled Spanish wines, including those from La Mancha, for CBC Radio, stating that Castile-La Mancha is one of Spain’s up-and-coming wine regions, offering good quality wines at excellent prices.

La Mancha wines are readily available in the U.S., Canada and many other countries. Look for the DO logo – it features that certain knightly gentleman, Don Quixote.