The great wines and wine regions of Spain
Wine Regions of Northern Spain
In the most north-western part of Spain lies Galicia with its DO regions of , Monterrey Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra , Ribeiro and Valdeorras, an area which produces a variety of high quality red and white wines.
The White wines here are made mostly from the Albarino grape ( small and sweet ) many of which are cold-fermented to maintain freshness. Other grape varieties used for white wine production include Loreira, Treixadura, Caiño Blanco, Torrontés and the Godello variety. For red wines, Caíno Tinto, Souson, Mencía, Espadeira, Loureira Tinta and the Brancellao grape varieties are ever present.
Recommended wines from Galicia
Burgens Rias Baixas Albariño 2005: ( White ) Pale golden Straw, rich, alive, flowery, peach and green melon.
Martin Codax; From the Martins Codax bodegas. ( White ) Has an attractive straw-greenish yellow colour, with ripe lemon nuances. Bright and slightly sparkling. Aroma: Stands out for its special intensity and elegance, its aroma reminiscent of damp, dewy fresh herbs with a perfume of semi-ripe apples. Palate: A fine sparkling sensation on the palate, with a complexity of tastes denoting the freshness of vegetation in the valley and the essence of the variety. Persistent, full-bodied and tasty.
Pazo de Seoane Albariño 2005/06 : ( white ) Fresh, acidic and a full tropical fruit flavour with delicacy and finesse on the palate. Long on the finish, this wine is ideally suitable with fish stews or paella.
Moving on across, to the southeast of the Rias Baixes is the DO area of Rueda which has a reputation of producing sherry-like wines although it is now the home of some very fine red and whites, this time made from the Verdejo grape.
Hermanos Lurton. ( Red ) This Tempranillo astonishes by its garnet-red colour, unusual for Spanish wine. It is very spicy on the nose with leather and toasted aromas. It is very fresh and velvety in the mouth bringing pleasant hints of red fruit and vanilla.
Belondrade y Lurton 2005: ( White Crianza ) Intense and brilliant colour, aromas of mature fruit and wood with a hint of exotic overtones ( mature mango and Pineapple ) along with a smoked touch and milk. The taste is long, intense, elegant and persistent.
Coming further across to Ribera del Duero, a region of vineyards situated around the river Duero which, as it flows west through Portugal, becomes the Douro where the famous Port wine is produced.
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La Rioja, Navarra and Pendes
Next on our Northern trip lies Navarra, home to the DO wine regions of Navarra and La Rioja, home to the best wines in Spain for generations. The Rioja wine region is divided into three main producing areas, Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. It is from the Rioja Alta estates where arguably the best wines are produced. Tempranillo is the main grape variety used here along with Garnacha Tinto to a lesser degree.
World-renowned wines are produced in the Rioja region of Spain including Vega Sicilia, arguably one of the finest red wines in the world. Regularly voted top wines are both from this region and are the Vega Sicilia Unico 1970 and in close 2nd place is the Pingus 1995. Most of the wines here are based on a mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon and the indigenous Tempranillo grapes.
The wine styles here are split up into different categories depending on the ageing process ( in American oak barrels ) and are:
» Crianza - a minimum of two years ageing before sale; red
» Reserva - at least two years (of which one must be in oak barrels); red
» Gran Reserva - at least two years in oak and three in the bottle). Gran Reserva guarantees five years' ageing (of which six months must be in oak).
Recommended Rioja wines
Vega Sicilia (Unico ) 1994: Very deep almost black in fact, overtones of overripe berries, low acidity, and layer upon layer of fruit, the density is quite unbelievable. If you decide to really splash out one day I would highly recommend you go for a Vega Sicilia…. An unforgettable experience.
Condado de Haza: ( Red) For a more inexpensive wine: Full and toasty hint of roasted fruit, meat with a robust bouquet. Blackberry and plum flavours are also there.
I guess Navarra will always be in the shadows of its famous neighbour, Rioja, many a yarn has been spawned and many a village been divided over which region produces the best wine. The majority vote is for Rioja for now although Navarra does produce some first-class Rose wines such as Castillo de Monjardín Rosado de Lágrima, Gran Feudo Rosado and the Chivite Colección 125.
Other great Rioja wines include Marques de Murrieta, Marqués de Riscal, Muga, Marqués de Cáceres, Campo de Viejo, Faustino, Darien, Berbarana, Torre Muda, Izadi, Pagos Viejos and Lanzaga.
Rioja Wine Tourism
If you are thinking of planning a dedicated wine trip to Spain try the Hotel Marques de Riscal in the heart of the Rioja wine country. The hotel is nestled within the renowned vineyards of the Marques De Riscal´s near the medieval village of Elciego.
The stunning twenty-first-century avant-garde design was created by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry.
Moving east to the Mediterranean shores there a number of Catalonian DO regions which include Priorato, Somontano, Penedès. The latter is home of the Miguel Torres Bodegas which produces a really fine selection of wine, including Reds and sparkling Cavas from a number of indigenous and international grapes.
Are from the Torres Bodegas and are all reasonably priced and excellent quality.
Gran Sangre de Toro ( Red) . The best Garnacha, Cariñena and Syrah grapes are used to produce Gran Sangre de Toro. All the exuberant aroma traditionally found in an intense, ripe red wine, with a sensual background of fine spices in good balance with perfumed notes reminiscent of blackberries. Full, long finish on the palate
Reserva Real: Intense deep mahogany red colour. On the nose this wine is intense, complex and very fruity (blackberry and raspberry jams). There are clear signs of oak in a series of toasted aromas (toasted almonds and toasted bread) and a slight hint of smoke over a spicy background of cloves and bay leaf.
Gran Caronas: The rich, sensual aroma is typical of the grape varieties recalling small red and blackberries (cherries and blackcurrants), green coffee beans and licorice.
Central Spain Wine Regions
The main wine-producing regions in central Spain include La Mancha, Valdepeñas, Jumilla, Almansa, Valencia, Mentrida, Mondejar, Manchuelo and Pagos.
The dominating region here though is La Mancha, home to Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza, now one of the oldest wine-producing regions in Spain. Wines exported from La Mancha have steadily increased in sales over the last decade.
The main grape varieties used here are Airen and Tempranillo ( often called Cencibel by the locals ) and Garnacha Tinta, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Valdepeñas is mostly a red wine-producing region, and although not in the league of La Rioja or Ribero del Duero, it does produce some pleasantly oak-aged wines such as Viña Albali Gran Reserva, a very good quality inexpensive red available throughout Spain.
Further to the east are the DOs of Almansa, Valencia, Alicante, Jumilla, Yecla and Utiel-Requena. There are some good value wines to be found here such as Castaño Dulce, Castaño Monestrell, Detras de la Casa and Castaño Syrah.
Viña Albali Gran Reserva: Red 100% 50 yrs old Tempranillo aged 24 months in new American oak barrels. Fresh and juicy, with layers of quality red fruits well balanced by the tannins of the oak, aromas of vanilla, caramel and nutmeg.
Southern Spain Wine Regions
An area close to my heart alter residing in this area for so many years and soaked up the atmosphere of Jerez on many occasions.
The wines from this region come from Jerez, Montilla-Morilles, Condado de Huelva and Malaga. Jerez is of course is the main producer where the finest Sherry in the world is produced. The Palomino and Pedro Ximénez are the main grape varieties used here with a touch of Moscatel.
The grapes are harvested and fermented in the normal way, but the wines are then left in contact with air for a prolonged period of time. Some will simply oxidise, whereas some develop a coating of flor, a thick layer of yeast, on the surface. This yeast imparts a distinctive flavour.
The wines are produced using the solera system, a tier of barrels containing wine of differing ages, oldest at the bottom and youngest at the top.
The wine in the lowest barrel is drawn off and bottled, and each barrel is topped up with wine from the one above. This maintains a steady stream of wine of similar character year after year, and explains why sherry is almost never vintage-dated.
Although basically the wines come either dry, Sherries come in a number of styles. These can broadly be divided into dry, medium or sweet they are classified in the following manner:
- this style of Jerez, produced at Sanlúcar de Barrameda, is very appreciated for its elegance and finesse. Thanks to the influence of the moist airstreams coming from the Atlantic ocean, Manzanilla is dry, characterized by a pleasing salty hint and a taste that could be defined as “sea”.
Manzanilla, which belongs to the family of fino, depends on the development of the so-called flor, the layer of yeast which forms on the surface of the wine inside the cask. Because of its extreme fragility, many producers bottle the wine only upon order.
This wine should be served chilled and an opened bottle can be rarely kept for more than two days
with refined and complex aromas, fino has a pale colour, strong and dry taste, it is considered the most typical style of Jerez. Even this style depends on the development of flor and it is more robust and strong than Manzanilla. An opened bottle should be consumed within two or three days
Is aged in the cask, after having been drawn off from the solera, it is fortified and then kept in a cask where it will be allowed to age without the protection of the flor. In this way the wine will increase its oxidation and its color will get darker, while exalting toasted and nutty aromas. Amontillados have a demi-sec taste because of the adding of a small percentage of Pedro Ximénez and few producers make this wine in the dry style
» Palo Cortado
A pretty rare and sought Jerez style, for its qualities it is often considered as an in-between wine from fino and oloroso. It is a particular style of dry Amontillado which after having aged for a long time, it develops the typical qualities of oloroso, which is a higher structure, concentrated and creamy. Palo Cortado reminds aromas of Amontillado, whereas the taste reminds an oloroso
- style of Jerez produced without the development of the flor and therefore strongly exposed to the effects of oxidation which gives a very dark color, toasted and dried fruit aromas. Olorosos have a higher alcohol percentage than finos, typically 18-20%, full-body and higher concentration. The trend is a production of sweet or demi-sec Olorosos whereas dry styles are considered a rarity. Sweetness in Olorosos is obtained by adding variable quantities of Pedro Ximénez
in the beginning, this style of Jerez was created for the English market and they are characterized by a higher sweetness than Olorosos. Sweetness in Creams is obtained by adding high quantities of Pedro Ximénez, variable from producer to producer. Creams are pretty dense with aromas of chocolate, licorice, jams and dried fruit
» Pedro Ximénez
this style of Jerez is exclusively produced with Pedro Ximénez grape, as opposed to the other styles where Palomino is the predominant grape. Pedro Ximénez styles are very dense, syrupy and sweet, robust structures and complex aromas of dried fruit. Pedro Ximénez is generally used for sweetening other Oloroso styles, however, they are very appreciated and sold as a style of their own, in particular for being paired to desserts
If you ever do visit Jerez I would highly recommend you take one of the tours available at most of the big-name bodegas such as Tio Pepe ( Gonzalez Byass ) or Osbourne. I have toured the bodegas on various occasions, each visit as interesting as the first, the overwhelming sweet smell or fermenting Sherry is one never to be forgotten.
Jerez Bodega visits
The most popular bodegas visits are arranged by:
Recommended Sherry wines
Tio Pepe – Fino. From the Gonzalez Byass Bodega, Pale Gold in colour from the Palomino grape, Crisp, fresh, clean, very dry and fragrant. Accompanies any type of aperitif (olives, cheese, nuts, etc.) and goes especially well with shellfish or seafood.
Pale Cream Another Gonzalez Byass Sherry, Pale gold in colour, well balanced, mild and slightly sweet. Accompanies any type of nuts and pates. Good for drinking at any time of the day.
Nectar Cream A fine sweet Wine from the Byass bodegas Golden dark in colour, full-bodied with a long finish. It is perfect for drinking at any time of the day.
Fino Qunto: A real classic from the Osbourne bodegas. One of the most traditional Spanish finos. Aged under the flor in American oak butts using the traditional system of soleras and criaderas. Average age: 4 to 5 years.
To end our trip across the top wine regions of Spain a mention should go Montilla-Moriles and Málaga wines produced in Andalucia. Malaga is a sweet fortified wine originating in the Spanish city of Malaga made from Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grapes. Theses wines are produced mainly in the Sierra de Almijara, Antequera, Archidona, San Pedro Alcantara, Velez Malaga and Competa.