There are many choices for the consumer in today’s wine world, as production expands to new countries, new areas and ever more boutique wineries and winemakers lending their personal interpretation to wine styles. As such it is sometimes too easy to forget about the old guard, the foundations of the world wine community that have always been there and still make great juice. Now, no one is likely to forget France anytime soon, or Italy, or California. But there is one country, one that vies annually for the largest wine producer title, which many people don’t think about when they think about wine. This is a shame, as some of our long-time favorite wines come from here. We are talking about Spain.
Sharing a border with southern France, and a peninsula with Portugal, Spain is a storied land rich in history. Its wine history goes back three thousand years to when the Phoenicians planted vines in today’s Sherry region. They have been making wine here a very long time. Outside of the long standing world acceptance of Sherry, and of Rioja, most of Spain’s wine regions remained little regarded by the world in general until after the Franco regime fell in the 1970s. At that point things began to open up, and the intervening time has seen amazing wines develop in areas throughout Spain. While it is considered a uniformly hot country by many, it possesses significant changes in elevation, moderating ocean breezes, and deep river valleys that provide ideal conditions for growing premium wine grapes. In this series we’ll look at many of the major regions, and some of the lesser known as well.
As you can see in the map, wine is produced throughout the country. They make red wines, white wines, fortified wines and sparkling wines. The whites come from many grapes. Verdejo and Albarino are used as varietals. Viura, the most prevalent, could be called Macabeo and be in your Cava, or it could be a sublime white Rioja. Other white grapes make up the rest of Cava or the base of Sherry. The red side is dominated by Tempranillo, a wine of many names and faces. This is the primary grape of Rioja, almost the sole red grape in the Ribera del Duero, and prevalent throughout much of the rest of the country. In Catalonia, to the east, Garnacha and Carinena grapes form the bulk of the vineyards. There are smatterings of other international favorites, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, but they are a small portion of what is grown. They are likely to grow in importance going forward, however, as many winemakers look to the current international palate and what is selling elsewhere.
When I think of Spain, I really do tend to think of value. They make many great wines which can be had for relatively small money. There is no better place from which to buy aged wines, with the exception of some Portuguese producers. You can get bottles which are 8, 10 or more years old, that were aged in barrel for 2-3 years+, for $15-$20. Reserva and Grand Reserva wines are a crazy good deal, usually.
The world wine community has now recognized many areas of Spain as producing world class juice. Certainly the aforementioned regions of Rioja and Sherry, but also others including Priorat, Ribera del Duero and Toro. Over the past few years we have had staggeringly good wines from Jumilla, Montsant and La Mancha. Fabulous whites from Rueda and Rias Baixas are also available pretty much everywhere. This is a great time to get to know Spanish wine.
Since we love aged wines, there are always some Spanish stalwarts in our cellar. Generally some Rioja from relatively young to quite old is represented, as well as bottles from Priorat, Ribera del Duero and frequently Toro (although at present we have exhausted the Priorat and Toro bottlings, which were excellent). In the photo at the top of this article you can see a few of the bottles from Rioja which are currently inhabiting our wine cellar. Two of these are 2001 vintage, the other is 2010. All are very reasonably priced.
This should be a lot of fun, as we explore the different areas over the next few months. Tag along if you have the time. First up will be, of course, Rioja.
You can learn much more about the wines of Spain at http://winesfromspainusa.com/.
A votre santé!