SUNDAY DECEMBER 17:
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.
Few Spanish Wine Regions
Conca de Barber
Costers del Segre
|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
"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
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.
Campo de Borja
|Just south of the French/Spanish border and inland from
this area has, typically, been overlooked for its wines.
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!).
||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.
|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.
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
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
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
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.
||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
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.
Ribera del Duero
|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 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
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
variety gaining attention far away in Argentina. Red wines in this region are minor,
at this point.
|Located along the east coast of Spain, the Levante has six major
wine regions. It is said that paella originates in Valencia.
is famous for its oranges, along with paella. There are three sub-districts to
Valencia. White grapes include Merseguera, Pedro Ximénez, Macabeo and
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
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.
Vinos de Madrid
|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.
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.
Condado de Huelva
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.
Light and dry, its special character comes from the yeast which forms a layer atop
the wine in partially-filled barrels.
and Manzanillas left to mature are stronger and more intense and these are called
Amontillados. Typically these are dry.
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.
This is a fino type which has not developed the "flor" yeast on its
surface. It is somewhere between an Amontillado and an Oloroso.
The sweet wines are made of Pedro Ximenez
|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.
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
Montilla-Moriles is located northeast of Jerez, north of Malaga
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.
||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.