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Spain

wpe1E.jpg (27053 bytes)When with first posted this web page, we noted that Spain had been doing some "catching up" with the rest of the wine world in terms of making international caliber/quality wines.  Of course, Spain has long made some exceptional wines, but as of 2011 when we've updated this page, there's no question Spain is a major player in the wine world, not only for its grand wines of indigenous grape varieties, but for other international grapes as well.



Oak has been a mainstay in the major red wines of Spain.  Today many white wines are fermented in stainless steel and bottled without wood.  There is a tremendous range in the quality and style of Spain's table wines.

We've noticed a move towards deluxe bottlings aimed at those with a large wine budget or the perception of drinking "the best."  Having a large price-tag on the bottle doesn't necessarily make it a deluxe wine, however.  That being noted, Spain still offers, if you choose carefully, some of the best buys in today's wine market.

Savvy buyers look towards Rioja for an amazing range of wines.  Some of the red Reserva level bottlings are exceptional and available at attractive price levels.  There are a handful of exceptional bottles in the shop presently for $10-$20 that are wonderful.

 

A Few Spanish Wine Regions

CATALONIA

Sub-regions:

Ampurdan-Costa Brava

Penedes
Conca de Barber         

Tarragona
Priorato

Terra Alta
Costers del Segre

Alella

Officially bi-lingual (I once said I was able to understand some of the Catalan "dialect" and was told that if I didn't call it a "language" they would "deport me back to Spain!"), this region makes some fabulous wines.  Most people know the Spanish "Cava" (sparkling wines) from Penedes, Freixenet and Codorniu being the huge companies dominating this landscape.  

From Penedes, you might be familiar with the wines of the Torres family. 

"Cava" (methode Champenoise) bubblies are typically made from Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada, though some are using a bit of Chardonnay, too.    Penedès red wines are typically made of Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo under a different name), Garnacha, Monastrell (Mourvedre), Cariñena, though Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir are also being cultivated.  For white wines, you might find Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and even Gewürztraminer!
Alella, an area just north of Barcelona, is typically producing white wines made of the Xarel-lo variety, but here it's known as Pans Blanca.
Conca de Barber is west of Penedes and most of the wines grown here are folded into the  Penedès.  Along with Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo and Chardonnay, the local grape of note is "Trepat" and is used, typically, for rosé.

Tarragona is the southernmost Catalan region and this has three major sub-regions:  El Campo de Tarragona, La Comarca de Falset and La Ribera d'Ebre.
Priorato, intertwined with the Tarragona area, is making some stunning (and stunningly expensive) wines.  Its rugged, mountainous terrain means rather low yields, often 45-135 gallons per acre!  Garnacha, Cariñena, Garnacha Peluda, Cabernet,  Merlot and Syrah are to be found here. 
Ampurdan-Costa Brava wines are made from traditional and non-traditional varieties.  As a result, this small area in the northeast part of Catalonia, makes wines of Garnacha and Cariñena, though recently Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Tempranillo have been planted.    White wines are produced of Macabeo and Xarel-lo, though there is now some Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.  

ARAGON

Sub-regions:

Somontano

Cariñena

Calatayud

Campo de Borja

Just south of the French/Spanish border and inland from Catalonia, this area has, typically, been overlooked for its wines. 

Somontano lies at the foot of the Pyrenees.  New plantings include Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer.  Traditional varieties are the Garnacha, Tempranillo and Moristel (said to be related to Monastrell -Mourvedre-).

Cariñena is located south of Zaragoza and its wines used to be overwhelmingly powerful, 14% alcohol being the <minimum!>.  This is changing and the wines of this region, formerly Garnacha, are now being made of Tempranillo and Cabernet.  Mazuelo (or Mazuela) is a local variety and is probably the Carignan grape.  White wines are made of Macabeo, Garnacha Blanc and Moscatel Romano, with Parellada being a recent addition to the mix. 

Calatayud is an area with lots of fruit trees, especially famous for its peaches.  Reds and roses are made of Garnacha with a bit of Tempranillo.  Some Cabernet is planted, as well.  White wines are made of Macabeo, but this grape is known as Viura here. 

Campo de Borja is west of Zaragoza and you'll find olives, asparagus, beans and wheat here, in addition to some wine.  Garnacha predominates, though there's a bit of Tempranillo and now some Cabernet and Merlot.  Whites are minor.   We have a spicy, berryish young red for seven bucks from this region (which is pretty good vino!).

NAVARRA This northern region is south of the French border, west of Aragon and neighbors the Basque country and La Rioja.  Garnacha is the main variety here and the area, aside from the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, is noted for its magnificent rosé wines.    We are seeing some Tempranillo, Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnays from this region.  A few offer fabulous quality for modest prices.  We also have a famous, very dry Garnacha rosé.
LA RIOJA

 

Sub-regions:

Rioja Alavesa

Rioja Alta

Rioja Baja

This is the region of Spain with the longest history of producing "world-class" wines or, at least, wines of international interest. Winemakers from Bordeaux came to this area in the 1800s to escape the scourge of phylloxera.  Tempranillo is the main grape variety, along with Garnacha Tinto, Mazuelo and Graciano.  Some reds are even blended with the Viura or Macabeo.   Cabernet is just now being planted here, and then only as an experimental variety.  

Vino de Cosechero is young wine from the previous year's harvest.  Often served by the glass in Riojana restaurants.

Crianza is the term for "aged" wine which is sold after its third year, having been matured, at least, 12 months in "barricas," 50 gallon oak barrels.

Reserva wines may not be sold until their fourth year and, like a crianza, 12 months aging in small oak is mandatory.  These are, supposedly, only from good vintages. 

Gran Reserva are well-aged and, theoretically, only from excellent vintages.  These may not be sold until their 6th year and two years in oak are required. 

Viura is the main white variety of La Rioja, with Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca also being used.  Some producers make wood-aged whites which spend a long time in the barrel.

BASQUE COUNTRY With but a tiny winemaking area, this region is noted for a little wine called "Chacoli" or in Basque "Txakolina."  This dry, light white wine is made of the white grape Hondarribi Zuri and the black Hondarribi Beltza.   Grown in the village of Guetaria, the wine pairs marvelously with the fresh seafood served in its plethora of restaurants and private clubs.  I liken it to a French Muscadet, though often it's more acidic.  
Castilla y Len

Sub-regions:

Ribera del Duero

Rueda

Toro

Bierzo

Cigales

Covering some 20% of Spain, this large region is now producing some of Spain's most stellar wines.  It neighbors Rioja and Aragon to the east and Galicia (and Portugal) to the west. 

Ribera del Duero is the home of Spain's most famous traditional winery, Vega Sicilia, and Spain's most famous new-wave (by comparison, anyway) producer, Alejandro Fernandez and his Pesquera and Condado de Haza estates.  Tinta del País, also known as Tinto Fino, is the Tempranillo in disguise. 

Rueda is an area known for white wines.  These are based on the Verdejo grape.  New plantings of Sauvignon Blanc are proving quite successful.   There's also a bit of Viura (Macabeo, elsewhere). 

Toro is 96 miles north and west of Madrid.  Its red wines are made of Tinta de Toro, probably a clone of Tempranillo.  Malvasia is the primary white grape, but the region produces mostly red wines. 

Bierzo is a small outpost in the very western part of this region and its red grape is called Mencía (some say this might be Cabernet Franc, or related to it).

Cigales is a small area north of Valladolid and is noted for its minor dry rosado wines.

GALICIA

Sub-regions:

Valdeorras

Rias Baixas

Ribeiro

Galicia is the strangest place I've been to in Spain.  It has its own language and is influenced by Ireland and/or Scotland.  Yet the "Cocido Gallego" is much like a German Sauerkraut or French choucroute!  You can imagine the mix of cultures.

Valdeorras is north of Zamora and west of Bierzo.  The reds are not notable here, but of interest is the wine made from a white grape called Godello.  When modestly priced, this can be an attractive wine.

Rias Baixas is the coastal area north of Portugal and it's the home of the Albarino grape.  Some lovely white wines are made of this variety, thought to be related to the Riesling of Germany.  Some people have likened this variety to Viognier.  At its best, Albariño makes a fragrant and mildly fruity/flowery white wine. 

Ribeiro is a modest, inland area where the primary white grape has been the Palomino (of Jerez).  It makes a rather bland little wine.  Often replacing it when vineyards are replanted are the Treixadura (also grown in Portugal) and Torrontés, a variety gaining attention far away in Argentina.  Red wines in this region are minor, at this point.

LEVANTE
Sub-regions:
Valencia

Utiel-Requena

Alicante

Yecla

Jumilla

Bullas

 

Located along the east coast of Spain, the Levante has six major wine regions.  It is said that paella originates in Valencia. 

Valencia is famous for its oranges, along with paella.  There are three sub-districts to Valencia.  White grapes include Merseguera, Pedro Ximénez, Macabeo and Malvasía, while there's a variety called Bobal and Garnacha for grapes of color along with Garnacha, Monastrell, Tintorera and Tempranillo.

Utiel-Requena is well inland, west of Valencia.  The color-poor "red" grape called Bobal is widely planted, making lots of rosado.  New varieties include Cabernet, Merlot, Tempranillo and Syrah.

Alicante, south of Valencia and along the coast, it is famed for its beaches.  Monastrell is the main grape variety, used for making reds, rosés and a curious sweet wine called Fondillon, aged 6-10 years in wood! White grapes, accounting for a tiny percentage of plantings, include Chardonnay, Moscatel Romano, Planta Fina, and Merseguera.  Red plantings, hither and yon, include Bobal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo and Pinot Noir!

Yecla is situated north of the Jumilla region.   It's rather warm and though white wine is made here, red takes the heat (seemingly) better.  Monastrell predominates, followed by Garnacha. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cencibel (Tempranillo), Merlot, Tintorera and Syrah are also planted.

Jumilla is subject to intense heat in the summer and very cold temperatures in the winter.  With very chalky soil and very little rain, the region is planted to something like 90% with Monastrell.  There are also vineyards of Garnacha Tinta, Garnacha Tintorera, Cencibel (Tempranillo), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  A few white grapes of this region include Airén, Macabeo, Malvasia and Pedro Ximénez.

Bullas is in the western part of Murcia and there's almost no white wine, but lots of rosé and a bit of modest red. Tempranillo, Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Syrah and Merlot are cultivated for the reds, with a bit of Macabeo and Airen for white.

CASTILLA-
LA MANCHA


Sub-regions:

Valdepenas

La Mancha

Almansa

Vinos de Madrid

Mentrida

From the country of Don Quixote is one of the largest winemaking regions, La Mancha.  With some 420,000 acres of vines (Holy Toledo!  That's immense!), you'd think there'd be some major wines from this region.    Apparently many of the vines have been planted for distillation.

Valdepenas is the southern-most area of this region, due south of Toledo.  With extreme heat in the summers and cold winters, there are but two grape varieties typically found here.   The white is called Airen and the red is called Cencibel (which is Tempranillo elsewhere).  Experimental plantings are in the ground: Cabernet, Merlot, Garnacha and Macabeo head these trials.  There are also plantings of Viura, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Verdejo and Moscatel.

La Mancha is noted as also having an extreme climate.  Locals will tell you they have 9 months of winter and 3 months of hell!  Much of the wine produced here is sent to Jerez and Sherry producers distill it.  Airen is the main grape.  Red wines are made from Cencibel and Garnacha, though Cabernet is now being planted along with Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Moravia Dulce.

Almansa is in the southeast part of this region, bordering Jumilla and Yecla.  Having not quite as extreme a climate as La Mancha or Valdepenas, it's still rather dry and hot in the summer.  Monastrell is the important variety here, along with Garnacha Tintorera, some sort of deeply-colored Grenache.  Cencibel is now accounting for many new plantings, but there's also Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  In whites, there's Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo and Moscatel de Grado Menudo.

Vinos de Madrid come from vineyards south of the capital city.  With three sub-zones, white wines are typically made of a variety called Malvar along with Airen.  Reds are Tinto Fino or Tempranillo in the region of Arganda, while in Navalcarnero and San Martin de Valdeigleisias, Garnacha predominates.

Mentrida you'll find south and a bit west of Madrid.  It is a very large area, but most of the wine is sold in bulk, so the region is unknown.  There is one producer in the region who is attracting attention.  While most of the area makes Garnacha, Carlos Falco has planted Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah.  Some of his Marques de Grinon wines are rather expensive and some of them are close to being worth their lofty prices.

ANDALUSIA
Sub-Regions:

Jerez

Condado de Huelva

Malaga

Montilla-Moriles

Sherry Types:
Manzanilla

This comes from one small region called Sanlúcar de Barrameda and is usually a dry wine.   Due to its proximity to the sea, these tend to be almost salty.

Fino
Light and dry, its special character comes from the yeast which forms a layer atop the wine in partially-filled barrels. 

Amontillado         Finos and Manzanillas left to mature are stronger and more intense and these are called Amontillados.  Typically these are dry.

Oloroso
With little or no contribution of the "flor" yeasts, these should be more fragrant and when dry, it's marvelously complex.  Some sweeter versions may be found.

Palo Cortado
This is a fino type which has not developed the "flor" yeast on its surface.  It is somewhere between an Amontillado and an Oloroso. 

Cream
The sweet wines are made of Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel. 

From the vast southern region of Spain come a number of wines which are either fortified to some high degree of alcohol or wines which are naturally strong and need no further fortification.  "Table wine" production is rather minor here, the stars of this area often requiring you to fasten your seat belt.

Jerez comes from the southwest part of Andalusia, touching the Atlantic ocean.   The chalky soil is said to impart a special character to the Palomino grape, which makes the drier and lighter Sherries.  Other varieties allowed here include the Moscatel and the Pedro Ximenez.  These two are typically used for sweeter Sherries.

Condado de Huelva is north of Jerez and on the Gulf of Cadiz.  Palomino is grown here, as is a variety called Zalema.  This latter variety is predominant in the region, but is falling out of favor. 

Malaga is located along the Mediterranean, east of Gibraltar.  The Pedro Ximenez variety is grown here, along with Moscatel.   The region makes wines from sun-dried fruit as well as grape juice which has been boiled to concentrate it (like they don't already have a high enough sugar content!).  There is dry Malaga made, but most people know the sweet versions.  Most firms here also make sweet Moscatel wines.

Montilla-Moriles is located northeast of Jerez, north of Malaga and south of the city of Cordoba.  Pedro Ximenez is the predominant variety.  The region gave its name to the Sherry-type "Amontillado."  "Fino" type wines are usually not fortified as they're strong enough on their own.   "Amontillado" here is a fortified, aged "fino."  You might also find "Oloroso" type wines here.

The Islands These curious regions may have some potential for interesting wines.  The Balearic Islands have some 2,500 hectares of vines.  The wine area of Mallorca is called Binissalem.  The native varieties are Manto Negro and Callet for reds.  White wine is typically made of Moll (also known as Prensal Blanc).   Other Spanish varieties are now being planted.  These include Tempranillo, Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot for reds and Macabeo, Parellada, Moscatel and Chardonnay for whites.

The Canary Islands of La Palma and Lanzarote continue to produce Malvasia, though experiments with Cabernet and even Ruby Cabernet are taking place.  The local grapes are Listan Negro and Negramoll.   Listan Blanco is also grown and I am, frankly, unclear if this is the Palomino under a different name. 

SOME SPANISH SELECTIONS

 

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