The excitement, attention and demand surrounding wines from Spain today has been in the making for more than 3, 000 years and today boasts the world’s largest vineyard acreage. From long established and respected wine growing regions to exciting new ones, from indigenous grape varieties to international varietals, and from traditional to modem wine making techniques, Spanish wines offer something for everyone, from good value in an everyday wine to wines for laying down.
History plays an important role in understanding Spanish wines. Acting as a bridge between Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Spain’s territories have been inhabited by different civilizations throughout the ages. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, Celts, Goths and Visigoths have all dwelled in Spain and made a contribution to Spain’s wine tradition. Each brought different preferences and therefore different wine making techniques that have been transmitted to Spain’s national heritage, giving birth to the wide variety of wines that exist today
Spain is surrounded by water on three sides, the cold Atlantic in the north and west and the warm Mediterranean in the south. Spain’s physical geography is dominated by numerous mountain chains with their critically important foothills, and also great rivers and their tributaries. These physical characteristics combined with the climatic influences of the seas and winds from all four directions provide one of the broadest varieties of grape growing environments in the world, ranging from gently rolling hills to spectacular terraced vineyards.
Type of wine, grape variety and quality level (vino de calidad or vino de mesa) are just three key factors to consider when choosing a Spanish wine.
Type of Wine
Spain is a prodigious producer of white, red and rose, Sherry and other fortified wines as well as sparkling wines known as Cava. Each type displays characteristics reflecting the region in which it is grown. Red, white and rose wines are classified according to their maturation process.
National minimums are as follows but different Denominations of Origin may have longer maturation periods.
Joven (Young). Wines with or without some wood ageing that are sold in the year following the harvest normally light and fruity.
Crianza: Red wines matured for a minimum of 24 months, six of which is
in small oak containers. White and rose – a minimum of 18 months with a minimum of six months in bottle.
Reserva. Red wines matured for a minimum of 36 months in oak and bottle with a minimum of 12 months in oak. White and rose – a minimum of 24 months in oak and bottle with a minimum of six months in oak.
Gran Reserva: Red wines matured for a minimum of 60 months in oak and bottle with at least 18 months in oak. White and ros6 – a minimum of 48 months in oak and bottle with a minimum of six months in oak.
Sparkling wines (Cava).- These are natural sparkling wines obtained from a second fermentation within the bottle in which they are sold. Cava can only be made in Cataluna, Aragon, Navarra, Extremadura, La Rioja, Alava and Valencia. To be a Cava ‘Gran Reserva ” the wine must have been matured for a minimum of 30 months on its lees.
Sherry. Spain is the home of Sherry, one of the world’s most famous wines. True Sherry can only come from Spain. Known in Spain as “Jerez” (translation “Sherry”), Sherry is produced in the southernmost region of the country in the areas surrounding the city of Jerez de la Frontera. Another famous fortified wine from Spain is Montilla.
The predominant grape varieties in Spain are native, traditional varieties, some of them 2,000 years old. International grape varieties, however are also grown very successfully in some regions, producing outstanding wines as single varietals or blended with others.
The main grape varieties in Spain are:
Perfect for making the wide variety of Sherries that exist on the market
Pedro Ximenez.- The main grape used in sweet natural wines such as Sherry Montilla, and also used in making Milaga wines.
Xarel-lo.- Provides the weight and power necessary for making an outstanding Cava.
Carinena (Mazuelo). Results in robust, well-balanced wines. It is grown in Rioja, Priorato, Montsant, Carinena and Somontano. Old vines (80 years old) produce excellent wines.
Garnacha.- This is Spain’s most widely planted red grape. It is great for blending and is widely used in Rioja, Navarra and Priorato.
Graciano. Imparts finesse and ageing capablllty. It Is a staple in great “Gran Reservas “and is used throughout Rioja.
Monastrell. The variety of Jumilla and Yecla, it produces vibrant, fruity wines. ft is also grown in Catalufia where it is used in making Cava rosds.
Tempranillo (also known as Cencibel, Tinta de Toro, Tinta del Pais, Ull de Llebre).- Spain premier red grape variety. On its own, it results in splendid young wines and spicy “Crianzas. ” In Rioja, it is blended with Graciano, Garnacha and Mazuelo resulting in great aged wines. In Navarra and Cataluna, it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon producing spectacular results.
Quality and denomination of origin
The regulations concerning the classification of wines according to their quality and origin are complex. In the big picture they are consistent with European Unlon (EU) regulations and classified into two groups.- ‘Vinos de Calidad’ (Quality Wines) and “Vinos de Mesa” (Table Wines).
“Vinos de Calidad” includes wines of a distinguishable quality made in a specific area with specific varieties and following a particular wine making method. Within this category one finds the Denominations of Origin (D. 0.) of wines. Spain has 65 D. 0. s, each with its own unique characteristics.
When a D. 0. provides wines of exceptional quality over a period of time, it has the potential to achieve the denomination of “Calificada, ” (D. 0. Ca.). There are presently two in Spaln, Rioja D 0. Ca. and Priorat D. 0. Ca.
The highest distinction in quality, “Vinos de Pago, “Is awarded to small, unique wine making estates. The wines are produced on the estate from grapes grown on the estate and are wines whose quality has earned them an international reputation.
In the second group, ‘Vinos de Mesa ” (table wines), is included the qualification ” Vinos de la Tierra ” (V T) which includes areas from all over Spain whose wines are identifiable by certain unique characteristics of the region. This category contains wines of exceptional value.