Vineyards of Spain
In the past Spanish wine makers did not actively seek to export their wines to the world market, they have mainly been consumed at home or used for blending abroad. Consumers outside of Spain are familiar with only the most famous wines such as sherry from Jerez, Rioja’s red wines and the sparkling wines called cava, although the UK and Germany have been importing some of Spain’s lesser-known wines for some time. There are also good reds that come from Ribera and Rueda makes quality whites while Penedés provides both white and red wines. The quality wine regions are Jerez, Rioja, Montilla and Catalonia.
Rioja, Penedés, Ribera del Duro, Valdepeñas, and Rueda and Cava sparkling wine made by méthode champenoise produced in the North East of Spain from Rioja east to Gerona and south to Valencia.
Spain is organized into districts, these areas are classified and recognized by the “Denominación de Origen” label. The D.O. system is in fact a quality control system, which guarantees the origin and class of grapes, as well as the methods used to produce the wines.
The following is a partial list of the current Demominación de Origen. Giving the registered name, geographical area and the wines grown there.
Alella – Northeast Mediterranean, fruity whites; Alicante – Central Mediterranean, solid reds; Almansa – South central, heavy reds; Ampurdan-Costa Brava – Northeast Mediterranean, rosés, “cavas” and reds; Bierzo – Northwest, fragrant reds; Binissalem – Island of Mallorca, “Manto Negro” reds; Bullas – Southeast, rosés; Calatayud – North Central, spicy reds, fine rosés; Cigales – Northeast central, rosés; Conca de Barbera – East (near Barcelona), whites and “cavas”; Jerez-Xéres-Sherry, Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda – Southwest Altantic, sherries and “manzanilla”; La Mancha – South central, whites, table reds & rosés; La Palma – Canary Islands, whites & table reds; Lanzarote – Canary Islands, “malvasía” whites; Málaga – South Mediterranean, dessert “moscatels”; Méntrida – Central plateau, strong reds; Montilla-Moriles – South, sherry-like “amontillados”; Navarra – North Pyrenees, vibrant reds & rosés; Penedés – Northeast Mediterranean, whites and “cavas”, smooth reds; Priorato – Mediterranean, robust dense reds; Rias Baixas – Northwest Atlantic, young fruity whites; Ribeiro – Northwest, whites; Ribera del Duero – Northwest central, quality reds; Rioja – North central, quality reds; Rueda – Northwest central, quality whites; Somontano – Central Pyrenees, reds with body; Tacoronte – Canary Islands, table reds and whites; Tarragona – Mediterranean, light whites and robust reds; Terra Alta – Mediterranean, solid whites; Toro – Northwest central, strong reds; Valdepeñas – Central plateau, whites and reds; Valencia – Mediterranean, aromatic whites, solid reds; Vinos de Madrid – Central, sturdy reds and varietals; Ycoden-Daute-Isora – Canary Islands, table reds and whites.
Rioja is not far from the French frontier and is distinctly mountainous; with plenty of rainfall and long springs and autumns it is exceedingly better than most Spanish wines, and not as heavy.
In the 1870’s when the vine disease phylloxera hit France, winegrowers from Bordeaux migrated to Spain where phylloxera had not arrived yet, and settled in the Rioja. When phylloxera finally struck the Rioja the Bordelais returned to France but they left behind methods that are still in use today, and are almost the same as was used in Bordeaux in the last century. Red wines are made with the idea that they should have barrel age for several years, which replaces the fruitiness with a darker color and smooth vanilla flavor from the oak. Lately things are beginning to change and some winemakers are using a more modern style of wine making.
The cool and wet regions of Rioja Alta, including the city of Logroño, where the wines are lighter and more claret-like, and Rioja Alavesa producing wines that are full-bodied and heavier. The climate is the same as it is around the Basque coast and the Bay of Biscay, and so is not unlike Bordeaux. Two dangers threaten the vines in this area: late spring frosts and the scorching, local wind, solano, coming out of the east. Rioja Alta has the lightest and best wines; Rioja Alavesa produces slightly heavier wines that taste similar to a Rhône wine. The Rioja Baja has a more Mediterranean climate and produces “hotter,” more alcoholic wine that is used for blending and rarely bottled. The white wines can not compete with the reds and are sometimes maderized. Clarete, (rose wine) sometimes made by mixing red and white wines in La Mancha is, fortunately, not the case in Rioja and most of the pink wines are the real thing obtaining their color from leaving the skins in contact with the wine for a short time. Tinto, the Spanish word for red wine is used, not the literal word rojo, although the literal word blanco is used for the white wines. All the good Rioja wines, either red or white, are a blend, as no single grape variety has all the essential ingredients although when blended they combine to give the correct acidity, richness and finesse. The varieties used in the red wines are Garnacha, Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano, Miguel del Arco, and Monastrel. Garnacha, which resembles French Grenache is widely used in Rioja due to its ability to resist oïdium, a mould causing powdery mildew. Tempranillo contributes good color although it does not keep well and is quite neutral. Graciano has a distinct perfume and Mazuelo, a close variety to the Carignan of the Rhône and Provence in France, would be in wider use if it were not for its susceptibility to oïdium.
The white wines are a blend of Malvasía, Viura, Calagraño, Garnacha, Moscatel, and Turruntés. White wines from Riojas’ fundamental defect are their low acidity.
The red wine was famous in the old days but is now lumped under the general name of Montaña that include wines that have lost their identity due to blending.
Location: Various areas in the NE quadrant of Spain – Rioja east to Gero south to Valencia
1994 Production: 129,302,399 bottles
Authorized Grape Varieties
Whites: Macabeo (Viura), Parellada, Subirat (Malvasía Riojana), Xarel-lo &
Reds: Garnacha Tinta and Monsatrell
Cava sparkling wines
Some good pink wines can be found and also the white Conca de Barbará. There are two different types of terrain and if it were not for the blending process the wines would be quite different.
Around Barcelona Panadés and Sitges are well known and the best of the Panadés are good to drink with seafood.
In La Mancha miles and miles of short pruned vines grow on the arid plain, olive-trees sometimes are planted among them to give some shade. Both red and white wines are made and the whites are dry and pleasant to drink. In the town of Valdepeñas, south of Madrid, there are more than fifty bodegas.
There are wines grown in Toro and Rueda, Valdeorras, Noblejas (Toledo), Majorca and the Canary Islands.
Durius is the Latin name for the Duero River that is home to such wine regions as Ribera
del Duero, Toro and Rueda, they are rated “table wine” because the region does not carry a DO label, the grapes for Durius red come from the Toro district.
Following are some interesting wines from Rioja.
Bodegas Heredad Ugarte
In the town of Laguardia the Ugarte family has been making wine in this region since 1870. DO red wines: Cédula Real Gran Reserva, Dominio de Ugarte Crianza, Término de Ugarte, (Beaujolais type) Dominio de Ugarte Reserva.
Bodegas Virgen del Valle
In Samaniego in Rioja Alavesa this winery produces wines using traditional methods aging them in their hand carved caves. They produce: Cincel, Cincel Reserva, Cincel Gran Reserva.
Señorío de Lazán Reserva, made from Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Moristel. One year in oak and 24 months of bottle age. This is also the oldest of the DO Somantono Reservas.
50% Tempranillo, 50% Moristel with 8 months in American oak plus bottle age.
Monasterio de Puyeo Crianza
Tempranillo, Cabernet grapes; 8 months in American oak & 12 months in bottle.
Tempranillo and Moristel are the basis of this young wine in its second year.
Made from Moristel and Tempranillo grapes.
“890” Gran Reserva 1982, La Rioja Alta
Viña Albina Gran Reserva 1982 DOC Rioja (Riojanas)
A classic well aged Rioja from one of the region’s larger producers and exporters.
100% Macabeo. Good acidity and pleasant to drink with seafood.
100% Macabeo. Goes well with fish with slight frizzante on the tongue.
Vina Ardanza Blanco, Rioja 1989
Made from Tempranillo, Moristel, Macabeo and Garnacha. Cristaline
Made of Moristel, Macageo and Garnacha.
When talking about the Wines of Spain it would be impossible to leave out Sherry.
At little bars in Jerez, among the bodegas of the shipping houses, you may sample the fresh, cool Finos accompanied by tapas of all descriptions; cheeses, sausages, streaked raw ham, olives, and seafood.
Around Jerez de la Frontera, which gives its name to sherry, close to the city of Cádiz grow the golden Palomino grapes are almost cooked by the reflection of the sun on the blistering-earth. Sometimes before pressing, the grapes are laid out in bunches on mats in the sun, to raise the sugar content to deliver strong and stable wines.
In an odd way, there is a comparison between champagne and sherry in that they both are white wines grown in chalk soil, both aperitifs that are blended and require similar tedious time-honored methods to bring them to maturity.
After fermentation the sherry is sorted into categories, each category has a name and is put into its appropriate criadera or nursery. Flor, the microscopic yeasty flowers that form a scum on the wine are thicker on a must going to Fino than on one going to Oloroso. The shipper then tops up a number of soleras (a series of casks graduated by age) the solera system is simply topping up older barrels from younger ones of the same style, making sure to mix air in while pouring. The wine is than stored in the dark, cool bodegas of the great wine firms, at ground level all facing south-east to the sea.
Finos, which are the best of Sherries, delicate and young where the flor (the flowers of a mould that forms on the fino that eventually becomes a thick white crust) has developed fully.
Amontillado, old finos that are softer and darker with one to three degrees more alcohol.
Oloroso is a heavier wine that shows little disposition for the growth of flor and it is kept suppressed by a larger dose of brandy than given to Fino. It will age well and is the basis for heavily sweetened sherries sold as Bristol Milk and Bristol Cream and bottled in Bristol, England, although to meet rising demand they are now also bottled in Jerez.
Amoroso a sweetened Oloroso with a dark color created for the English taste and unknown in Spain.
Palo Cortado, is a rare type, an Oloroso with a character of the Fino group; Raya, very common in Jerez, a lesser Oloroso not to be found abroad.
Manzanilla finos from the whitewashed seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda are the palest of the Finos. They are light, tart wines that have a special tang or bitterness found in the aftertaste due to the sea air blowing through the bodegas. Manzanilla is classified into five types: Manzanilla Pasada, Manzanilla Olrosa, Manzanilla Fina, Manzanilla, and Amanzanillado.
Young, red Beaujolais-style wine could not generate much interest among Spanish wine enthusiasts until recently. It must be said, however, that young wines called cosechero have been made at the local level for years and are all consumed locally. Grape varieties are mostly confined to Tempranillo with a smaller mix of Viura and fermented in concrete vats. These wines have little to do with Beaujolais from France, as they are more pronounced and forward with less perfume than their French counterpart.