Beginners beginners guide to Spanish wine.
Is there more to it that Sherry, Sangria and Rioja? Well if you are just at the start of adventuring into the world of wine and were wondering about Spain, here’s a very brief guide. If you are already a connoisseur of them and know your favourites then this isn’t aimed at you!
You might not know that Spain is the third largest producer of wine in the world, right behind the likely leaders -- Italy and France but it is! Spain devotes over 2,000,000 acres of land to wine growing, and there are over 200 types of grape grown. That's more than anyone else does by far.
If you have ever holidayed in Spain you will know there are some excellent wines of quality to be drunk, however in the UK, their price tags are low compared to those of Italy and France simply because they are lesser known. Yet as word of mouth continues from traveller to traveller as we travel throughout the world and more advances are made in the making of wine in techniques and equipment [viniculture] the popularity of Spanish wines is sure to grow. There are six key regions that produce quality wine. They are Rioja, Penedes, Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Jerez and Valdepenas.
Keep an eye on the label to see if it is a quality wine or a ‘plonk’. DO on the label shows the wine is regulated and is a mainstream quality wine. DOCa or DOQ shows a wine has had a long track record of producing very good quality wine and has been assessed as better than just DO wines and finally look out for DO de Pago. DO de Pago indicates a single estate with an international reputation. There are about 16 of these but the number is open to ‘discussion’.
So what may they taste like? Remembering that each individual will only pick up what they recognise…however. Garnacha; should be soft with strawberry and cherry in a fruity dry red. Tempranillo; both for Rioja and Ribera will be herbal dry reds soft and with a whiff of tobacco about them. Ruedas should be a light herbal and grassy tasting white wine. Most Sherries are considered to be nutty and almond tasting, but remember they are classed as desert wines. As for Valdepenas it will depend on the blend but Hemmingway was always happy to be drinking wines from this region and he knew a thing or two.
Spanish wine is better than the old reputation it carried around from the past days in the UKs consciousness. Look out for the designations on the bottle that tell you how well regarded the wine is in Spain and work out what sort of wine you like and look for the Spanish compadre. You should be able to pick up a good bargain and surprise yourself with the quality.
A big part of what sets Spain apart is its native grape varieties. There are hundreds that are only grown in Spain. The most common of which are Albarino, Malvasia, Verdejo and Viura, used to make white wines, as well as Monastrell, Temparnillo and Garnacha, considered to be the major reds
Just as there are a large number of native grape varieties in Spain there are also a large number of wine regions. Presently, more than 50 are D.O. registered, the D.O. label guarantees the origin and class of grapes, as well as the methods used to produce the wine. It does not guarantee the quality levels however. Among all those D.O. registered regions of Spain, there are six key regions that produce wine. They are Rioja, Penedes, Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Jerez and Valdepenas.
The Garnacha variety, you might not think you have heard of, but, was actually taken to France where it is known as Grenache. In the UK a huge amount of Grenache is drunk especially in rosé blends. So Garnacha is the original. Spain also has varieties of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Pinot Noir, but they are generally used only for blending for local wines and not found too often in the UK.
Rioja comes from northern Spain, in the shadow of the Pyrenees. Ribera del Duero also is produced in northern Spain mid-way between Madrid and Bilboa. Rueda region is north east of Madrid. Jerez is down in the south on the Atlantic coastline and Valdepenas region is south of Madrid, halfway to the coast. These six are considered key regions and each is distinctly very different and important to the history and tradition of Spanish wine growing.
Rioja is home to 14,000 vineyards, many of which were founded by the Ancient Romans. So what did the Romans ever do for Spain? Rioja only covers 120 km on either side of the Rio Oja River. The region is known for its red, white and rose wines. In the UK Rioja is mainly known for the reds [tinto] it produces, but the rosés [rosado] and whites [blanco] are well worth hunting out. The main grape used in the tinto is Tempranillo, usually 60% of the blend will be Tempranillo and then other grapes from the region. Tempranillo is used in Portugal as a main grape in port. In a blanco the major grape is Macabeo. These whites are good to drink quite young, and it is also one of the main grape varieties in Cava. The rosados are usually made from the Garnacha grape, which is also known as Grenache in France.
Penedes, located in the Northeast, close to Barcelona, is known for its production of white wines, especially Cava. Cava is a sparkling blanco or rosado wine, made in the same method as Champagne and has been since the 1850s.
Ribera del Duero is found on a plateau along the banks of the Duero River as it wends its way into Portugal. The climate works with the land to create ideal conditions for the Tempranillo grape however in this region it is called Tinto Fino. If you enjoy Rioja then you’ll enjoy discovering Ribera del Duero. By all accounts Sir Alex Ferguson’s favourite wine comes from this region.
Rueda consists of only 47 vineyards and 7,700 hectares of land, taking up less than 1percent of the total land Spain devotes to wine growing. These crisp white wines from the high plains of Spain are perfect with the fresher, lighter cuisine of today, and match well with sushi .
Jerez, located in the Andalusia region of Spain, is home to Sherry, a fortified wine famous for its high alcohol content, which is between 15 and 20 percent. There are many types of Sherry available in the UK and more of that later in the series.
Valdepenas, which is known for its soft, ripe red wines, is located in South-central Spain. The white Airen grape is the dominant variety of the region. The most famous red wine produced in the area is made from a blend of white and red grapes. These wines are designed to be drunk young and although there are changes afoot the traditional wine is known for its blending of grapes.
So if you’ve never considered a Spanish wine, go ahead and give one a try, you could be very pleasantly surprised.