Julie Harrison - Spanish Wine

Publish Date
Friday, 13 November 2015, 10:57AM
By Julie Harrison

An increasing range of Spanish wine is being imported into New Zealand which is not surprising as on average Spain is the 3rd largest wine producer in the world. The introduction of more modern wine making and viticultural processes has resulted in a steady improvement in the quality of Spanish wine over the last few years and they are often very good value.

Unlike most countries, Spanish wine is often aged in the winery and the wine label can give you an idea how much aging has gone on before the wine was released. Wines labeled Joven have had very little aging; Crianza labeled reds are aged 2 years with at least 6 months in oak, whites aged 12 months with 6 in oak. Reserva reds are aged at least 3 years with at least 1 year in oak; whites are aged 2 years at least 6 months in oak. Gran Reserva reds are aged at least 5 years with 18 months in oak, whites aged 4 years with at least 6 months in oak. Just to confuse the matter Rioja and Ribera del Duero have some longer “aging in oak” requirements than other regions.

Like France and Italy, Spain has quality system. For quality wines you start with wines labeled VCIG (Vinos de Calidad con Indicacion Geografica) which are on the waiting list to gain the next level up; Denominacion de Origen (DO)status. Each DO has its own rules and regulations that wineries must follow. There are over 70 DO wine regions in Spain with two areas; Rioja and Priorat have the higher DOCa (DOQ) status. Wines labeled Vino de Pago are from single estates of exceptional quality.

As far as red wine goes the main varieties are Tempranillo (also called Tinto Fino, Tinto del Pais), Garnacha (Grenache) Monastrell (Mourvedre), Mencia and Bobal.

DOCa Rioja and DO Ribera del Duero, both in North Central Spain are most famous for Tempranillo wines. Rioja wines range from easy drinking, light, spicy, fruity reds that have seen little or no oak, through to heavily oaked, bold, big styled wines with vanilla, fig and leathery characters. Often Tempranillo is blended with Garnacha and sometimes Mazuelo or Graciano. Traditionally American oak is used to age Rioja wines giving them a characteristic vanilla character but there has been a trend recently toward using the more subtle French Oak. In a good oak aged Rioja you get a balance between the wonderful fruit character of Tempranillo and oak characters that enhance rather than overpower the wine. Becoming increasingly popular, wines from Ribera del Duero are almost always just Tempranillo. Young Ribera del Duero vines have blackberry, raspberry characters with the oak aged wines being complex, dark and velvety with intense fruit and well worth trying as an alternative to Rioja.

Tinta de Toro is the main grape of the high altitude Toro region with many old, bush vines still in production. This clone of Tempranillo produces powerful, gutsy, spicy reds. Bobal is mostly grown in the east of Spain in particular the Utiel-Requena region west of Valencia.   It has a thick skin which contain a high level of anthocyanins (resveratrol) producing deeply coloured, purple wines with good tannins and acidity and dark fruit characters. Priorat is an old, mountainous winemaking region with unique slate soil near Barcelona making wonderful premium red wines. Like Rioja wines from this region have DOCa (DOQ) status. Priorat makes wines that are blends of low yielding Garnacha and Carinena often with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Good Priorat wines are concentrated, inky, earthy and intense. Garnacha is grown throughout Spain and is often blended with other varieties. When young it is smooth and all strawberry and red sweet fruit and is good for making Sangria. The Mediterranean coast is home to Monastrell (Mourvedre) which likes the hot climate and makes wines that are blackberry, smoky, bold and tannic and are more often than not part of a blend. Mencia is grown in the cooler North West of Spain with some particularly good medium bodied wines coming from Bierzo with black fruit and herbal characters.

A variety called Airen is the most commonly planted white grape, not just in Spain but in the world. It is used in bulk blends and brandy which is why you have probably never heard of it.  More interesting whites come from the cooler North West in particular DO Rias Baixas and DO Rueda. Riax Baixas is home to Albarino. Albarino wines are usually unoaked, crisp with peach, floral and citrus characters and are great with oysters and seafood. Rueda is famous for Verdejo, sometimes blended with Sauvignon Blanc or Viura (Macabeo). Verdejo wines are crisp but with good body, floral and citrusy with an almond finish. White Rioja wines are made from the versatile Viura grape (Macabeo) often with some oak aging. Valdeorras, just inland from Rias Baixas produces white wine from the Godello grape.  Lemon, herbs, minerality but also richness is what this up and coming white wine is all about. In the North near San Sebastian a unique wine Txakoli (Chacoli) is a crisp, often slightly fizzy, low alcohol white wine with green apple or citrus flavours that is perfect with Tapas or seafood.

Cava is the sparkling wine of Spain.  Most cava is made near Barcelona using the Methode traditionelle method. It is usually a blend of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel.lo with some producers experimenting with the traditional Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend. It is usually dry (brut) and is a great alternative to Champagne.

Overall Spanish wine usually represents good value and it is worth searching out some Reserva or Gran Reserva wines when you get a chance.

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