Spain is one of the oldest wine producing Mediterranean countries.
Phoenician traders, who dominated the merchant marine trade in antiquity, are said to have brought vine cuttings from Lebanon to Andalusia. At the time manufactured goods used to “flow” from east to west and Lebanon was on the crossroads of transactional trades.
Spain has been producing wine for over 2800 years and today the country’s vineyards occupy more land than anywhere else although production trails France, Italy and Argentina.
This means that Spain’s average yield per hectare is much lower than anywhere else thus yielding more concentrated wines. In addition to deeply flavoured and dark wines, Spanish products are very affordable, but above everything else they represent good value.
Being a Mediterranean country, vines thrive in most parts, and today there are over 40 delineated regions entitled to make wine with special attributes.
D.O (Denominacion d’Origen) coupled with Reserva or Gran Reserva on a label means the wine comes from a specific and recognized region ad has been aged for a number of years. Crianza on the other hand signifies only one year of aging, and sin crianza, none, which applies to white wines.
Wine making and grape growing have undergone a revolution since 1980’s European Community headoffices in Brussels poured huge amounts of research money in the country and made credit available for the purchase of modern equipment. Today most Spanish wines taste far superior than 20 years ago.
Grape growers use native varieties and some imports from France.
For red grapes Tinto Fino (a k a Tempranillo), Garnacha (Grenache), Carinena (Carignane), Graciano, Monastrell (Mourvedre), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc are preferred. For whioes Albarino, Macabeo, Loureria, Moscatel, Parellada, Pedro Ximenez, Palomino, Verdejo, Xarello, Viura, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and a few other experimental varieties are grown.
Export oriented Spanish wineries visit Canada (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) to showcase their best wines. Strangely although the Spanish government poured significant amounts of money to promote wine both in Canada and the USA, today it limits North American promotional activities to a minimum.
More than anything else, when buying Spanish wine, consider the region and the name of the winery.
The following regions produce fine wine regardless of vintage. In Spain vintages matter only in northern wine producing regions like Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Catalonia.
Below, please find brief profiles of well-known Spanish wineries:
There are thousands more, but most specialize in exporting to EC countries or market their products internally.
Jerez de la Frontera: This region’s fortified and solera-aged wines were famous by English wine merchants and much more appreciated in the United Kingdom than in
Spain. Even today there are many British companies producing and exporting appreciable quantities to the United Kingdom, the
U. S. A., Canada, and Euroepan Community countries.
Emilio Lustau’s almacenista sherries enjoy a legendary status world-wide. They are lovingly made by individuals, sometimes one cask at a time, and sold to Lustau for “maturing” in their cellars. Two centuries ago almacenistas were the link between individual vignerons and markets, much like wine Burgundian wine merchants who buy batches, cellar them, and on occasion blend and bottle to export.
Lustau’s cherries are consistently of high quality and must be tasted to be believed. The company was founded in 1896 by French entrepreneurs focusing on quality and preferring to remain small, until 1990 when Luis Caballero, a wealthy Spanish businessman with a range of investments in a number of industries decided to buy Lustau.
Since then, small quantities of centenary sherries of extraordinary quality have been released annually from their ancient soleras.
Attending a tasting at Lustau’s cellars is an experience any wine enthusiast will never forget.
LCBO’ Vintages imports Lustau sherries from time to time, but John Hanna and Sons in Toronto, the company’s agents, would be pleased to arrange for special imports.
Here are some highly recommended Lustau sherries:
Puerto Fino Solera Reserva
Jarana Light Fino Solera Reserva
Papirusa Light Manzanilla
Manzanilla Pasada de Sanlucar
Los Arcos Dry Amontillado
Peninsula Palo Cortado
Emperatriz Eugenia Gran Reserva Rare Oloroso
Oloroso Pata de Galina
Reserva Emilin Moscatel
Olorose del Tonel
One of the largest sherry shippers, this English-owned and managed company maintains huge aging cellars (60,000 casks!). It produces a range of sherries from driest to deliriously sweet.
Tio Pepe is a world-famous, delightful, consistent fino sherry.
The following Gonzales Byass sherries are highly recommended
(Ontario agent Russell Woodman Agency)
Amontillado del Duque
Olorosoe Seco Alfonso
Oloroso Viejo Apostoles
Oloroso Muy Viejo Metusalem,
This old, up to recently family-owned sherry institution, has a history of over 270 years. Domecq’s bodegas in Jerez (Bodega Mesquita) represent old Moorish architectural ingenuity and Spanish workmanship. Domecq also owns over 250 hectares prime vineyards in Jerez, which few bodegas can claim. The company’s La Ina fino has been a staple of millions of sherry connoisseurs. Domecq also produces a range of high quality brandies.
(Ontario agent Corby Distilleries)
Sabarita Rare Palo Cortado
Domecq Light Manzanilla
Founded by Thomas Osborne Mann, an English entrepreneur in 1772, Bodegas Osborne is Spain’s largest wine and spirits producer. The Osborne “bull” (a huge silhouette) is installed on thousands of hills in the country. Osborne brandy happens to be a household word, not only in Spain, but also in England. Osborne style sherry is always rich nutty, and soft, particularly designed for the English palate
( Ontario agents Petere Mielzynski Agencies)
Oloroso Abocado Solera India
John Harvey and Sons of Bristol, England, William and Humberts of Jerez de la Frontera, and Valdespino are other well-respected sherry shippers.
Montilla-Morilles: Bodegas Alvear, Montilla, Cordoba
Alvear was founded in 1729 and is still run by the family. It produces sherry-style fortified wines aging them in huge clay jars, rather than in casks. Alvear products are always of high quality despite the huge production surpassing 11 million litres annually. Their two listed brands in Ontario are absolute bargains for those who like to have a glass of aperitif before their meal. Alvera Amontillado and Alvear Fino Montilla
PENEDES – located in Catalonia, this region boasts the majority of Spanish sparkling wine producers and many high-quality wineries.
Penedes wines are Mediterranean in nature and mostly well-extracted, along with high alcohol. Generally they are dark and soft, but grapes from high-altitude vineyards can yield French style dry, excellent and age worthy wines.
Bodegas Torres- Villafranca del Penedes
Once can easily claim Torres to be the most progressive and export-oriented winery of Spain. The production of 18 million litres shows how large and well managed it is. This author has never come across a badly made Torres wines in over 30 years of tasting.
The company was founded in the 18th century and started growing by leaps and bounds after the university of Dijon-educated Miguel Torres took over both wine making and management. Since then, new grape varieties on high-altitude vineyards were planted and up-to-date winemaking technology introduced in an attempt to produce world-class wines. Torres also owns and operates a winery in Chile’s Curico valley and another winery in Sonoma County, California.
Mas La Plana, Gran Murailles and Atrium are the best red wines, but all Torres wines represent excellent value. Torres is represented by Mark Anthony Wines in Ontario
Codorniu – San Sadurni D’Anoia
Although founded in the 16th century, Codorniu became famous after discovering and implementing the cava technique in 1872. It largely duplicates the Champagne method of sparkling wine production with the exception of hand-riddling and manual disgorging.
Today, Spain produces more sparkling wine than any other in the world and Codorniu and Freixenet are neck and neck in their domination of both domestic and export markets.
Codorniu’s cellars cover 25 km in length spread over five floors accommodating over 120 million bottles. Under the control of the raven5tos family, the company produces a range of quality products the best of which is Anna de Codorniu.
Regular Codorniu wines are gently sweet, but invigorating and fruity.
Codorniu bought two Penedes wineries (Masia Bach and Raimat) in recent years, expanding into the still wine business. In addition, Codorniu purchased hundreds of hectares of suitable land in Ribera del Duero, Rioja, California, and Argentina, with plans to expand their global reach in the near future.
Freixenet- San Sadurni d’Anoia
A large cava producer rivalling Codorniu, its roots go back to the 12th century, but the company grew to its present size in the 20th century. Frexeinet understood the importance of advertising and marketing, hiring companies to position the brand in the USA, (their most lucrative market) as an everyday and pleasant, and affordable sparkling wine. The company has huge cellars with a storage capacity of over 120 million bottles.
Freixenet ranks 15th amongst wineries of the world and owns Segura Viudas another cava producer, Rene Barbier, Gloria Ferrer in California and Henri Abele, Champagne, France.
Carta Nevada, Carta Negro and Segura Viudas labels represent excellent value.
Located in the northeastern Spain very close to the Pyrenean Mountain chain that divides Spain and France, Rioja has been pre-eminent ref region of the country.
It is divided into three sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa, Traditionally, Rioja made red wines using only Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Garnacha but now many wineries employ varying proportions of cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other experimental grapes. While some are successful with their blends, traditionalists like Vina Tondonia believe old techniques and acclimatized varieties yield more substantial wines. Today, Rioja also produces considerable quantities of dry white wines using Viura and Muskat grapes.
The total production amounts to approximately 160 million bottles, the majority of which is exported to EC countries. The U K, U.S.A. and Canada are also major importers. Increased demand precipitated prices to escalate and encouraged progressive wineries to produce more appealing fruit-forward wines.
Bodegas Martinez Bujanda – Oyon
Founded in 1899 Martinez Bujanda is a family owned 400-hectare estate. Young Bujanda likes to experiment with new technology, and viticultural methods to improve quality. He is also export oriented and exports fine wines to both the U.S.A. and Canada.
The new winery is equipped with the most up-to-date machinery and sufficient barrel capacity (14,000barrels) to age wines long enough to be marketed . Conde de Valdemar crianza is the best known and most affordable of all Martinez Bujanda wines.
Finca Valpiedra in Rioja Alta is a spectacular 80 hectare property planned to produce the flagship wine of the company.
Bodegas Palacio- Laguredia
This once family-owned bodega has been producing avant garde Riojas since its inception. In 1972 the Domecq Winery from Jerez purchased it. Later they sold to Seagrams and now Antonio Barcello group owns it. Michel Rolland, the famous Bordeaux consulting wine maker, was hired to improve quality. Now long maceration and shorter aging in French Allier oak barrels are practiced with predictably superior results. Palacio wines are always elegant, firm, and refines, but more geared to please international palates than those of Spaniards who like long-aged almost oxidized wines.
Marques de Murietta- Oyon
One of the oldest and most traditional wineries of Rioja operation located in the Castillo Ygay. Unlike most Rioja wineries, Marques de Murietta grows all its grapes and presses in a basket press. Marques de Murietta wines are made to age are well extracted, and delightful.
Vina Tondinia- Haro
Managed by the descendants of the founder, Vina Tondonia, is one of the most traditional Rioja wineries and considerable prime location vineyards. It produces fine, elegant, refined, and long-lived wines.
Remelluri, CUNE, Federico Paternina, Bodegas Barberana Marques de Riscal, Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Bilbainas, Marques de Caceres, Baron de Ley are other highly recommended Rioja wineries.
RIBERA DEL DUERO
Located just 160 kilometres north of Madrid along the Duero River, this region has become world famous in the past 20 years mainly because Mr. R. Parker Jr.’s, the lawyer turned wine critique, favourable reviews.
The region’s red wines are outstanding, refined, long-lived, and possess flavour dimensions no other Spanish wines offer. Tempranillo is the main grape variety here, nut Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and few other experimental grapes are also used.
Vega Sicilia, Vina Mayor, Pesquera, I. Arroyo and Pingus are some of the best in the region.
Bodegas Julian Chivite, Bodegas Nekeas in Navarra, Vina Extrmena in Badajoz, and Extremadura are fine wineries with value-priced wines.