Like most countries that border the Mediterranean / Atlantic Ocean wine is a staple with vineyards throughout Spain. I find it very confusing trying to figure out what is a good geographic location to match with food we are preparing. To me Spain is even more confusing as I have not toured or otherwise visited this lovely country. Touring Spain’s vast wine culture is definitely on my bucket list.
Before outlining what wines are in the market to procure let’s take a few moments and discuss some of the more important wine growing regions of Spain.
Rioja, Spain’s most important wine region, delivers consistent quality year to year. Just as Ribera’s reds are typically more structured than Rioja’s, those of Toro are a step more powerful yet, showing black fruit, tar and spice flavors over firm tannins. In Rioja, wines designated Gran Reserva have traditionally been selections from the best vineyards in top vintages, given long aging in neutral American oak barrels before release. In the 1990s, a new wave of vintners began to explore shorter periods of maturation in new French oak. While the traditional style could produce elegant, complex wines, the new approach aimed at enhancing structure and fruit character.
Rioja has three distinctive wine growing regions –
Rioja Alta and Ebro
Located on the western edge of the region and at higher elevations than the other areas, the Rioja Alta is known more for its “old world” style of wine. A higher elevation equates to a shorter growing season, which in turn produces brighter fruit flavors and a wine that is lighter on the palate.
Despite sharing a similar climate as the Alta region, the Rioja Alavesa produces wines with a fuller body and higher acidity. Vineyards in the area have a low vine density with large spacing between rows. This is due to the relatively poor conditions of the soil with the vines needing more distance from each other and less competition for the nutrients in the surrounding soil.
Unlike the more continental climate of the Alta and Alavesa, the Rioja Baja is strongly influenced by a Mediterranean climate which makes this area the warmest and driest of the Rioja. In the summer months, drought can be a significant viticultural hazard, though since the late 1990s irrigation has been permitted. Unlike the typically pale colour Rioja wine, Baja wines are very deeply coloured and can be highly alcoholic with some wines at 18% alcohol by volume. The wines typically do not have much acidity or aroma and are generally used as blending components with wines from other parts of the Rioja.
Green Spain: Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra and Rias Baixas
The northwest corner of Spain, between Portugal and the Atlantic, is cool and wet. The conditions create crisp whites and savory reds. This is “green Spain,” home to some of the country’s most distinctive and intriguing wines. Bierzo is a transition zone, just on the border between green Galicia and the high mesa of Castilla y León.
In the far northwest corner (just north of the Portugal border), “Green Spain” is the home of the now popular Albarino grape, grown mostly in the Rias Biaxas region. This cool and lush countryside is a challenge for grape growers, due to the high humidity and rainfall of the region. A fascinating little region near Rias Baixas is Valdeorras, making wine from the Godello and Mencia grapes.
Albariño, the backbone of most whites from Rías Baixas, is better-known in the U.S. Albarinos are typically enjoyed young in the freshness of their youth.
In Melgar de Abajo, a small town lost on the high plains between Valladolid and León, a group of some 170 vintners have banded together to create a bodega called Melgarajo, which focuses primarily on this local variety.
Across the northern edge of Spain lies the Basque region, an area with a culture, cuisine, language, and wine style all to themselves. You will find these wines distinctiveness that show the terroir of the area. . The Txakoli, a sparkling wine which is consumed very young, of the region is one of the best wines around for oysters according to some.
Last but not least, the commanding wines of Ribera del Duero are vying for the spotlight with Rioja as arguably the greatest wines of Spain. The wines of Ribera del Duero and mostly Tempranillo based.
Wines from the Navarra region have fallen of many peoples radar in recent years. The volume of international bulk wine varieties has increased substantially since the 1980s putting Navarra in the rear view mirror. But the region is still a fine source of values. The huge region called Castilla y León encompasses much of northern Spain and many ancient vineyards. An indigenous red grape called Prieto Picudo has been reclaimed there and is now delivering interesting wines that share the leafy, minerally character of Tempranillo and Mencía. The region’s whites use mostly indigenous varieties, principally Albariño and Godello (often cited on the label, when they make up at least 85 percent of the blend, or in some cases higher, depending on the DO).
Garnacha, known as Grenache in France, is actually indigenous to Spain. It reaches its heights in terms of elegance and ageability in Priorat. Garnacha more often produces luscious reds, juicy with ripe red fruit flavors, full-bodied and plus. Garnacha is typically a workhorse grape, delivering rich texture and ripe fruit. L’Ermita—from old vines rooted in Priorat’s distinctive slate soils, farmed biodynamically—proves that it can also be elegant and complex. On release, the wine can be deceptively supple. But its inner strength gives it the muscle to develop for years in the bottle, as its red fruit, garrigue, mineral and spice flavors deepen and evolve.
Tempranillo carries many names in Spain, differing from one wine region to the next, but consistently makes Spain’s most harmonious, complex and long-lived reds. It can be bottled alone or as part of a blend, generally with Garnacha, Mazuelo (Carignane) and/or Graciano.
Bodegas Cepa 21 Ribera del Duero Hito 2010 90 $14
This firm red displays well-integrated flavors of black cherry, licorice, cola and mineral, with solid tannins and a savory finish. Shows good balance and density, but remains slightly austere for now. Drink now through 2018. 30,000 cases made. –TM
Bodegas y Viñedos Maurodos Toro Prima 2010 90 $24
This polished red exhibits harmonious flavors of black cherry, chocolate, licorice and mineral, with well-integrated tannins and fine acidity. Not showy, but retains depth and focus. Tinta de Toro and Garnacha. Drink now through 2020. 13,250 cases made.
Bodegas Patrocinio Tempranillo Rioja Zinio Vendimia Seleccionada Crianza 2010 89 $19
This polished red offers a balance of ripe fruit and fresh acidity. The black cherry, licorice, toast and spice flavors are supported by light, firm tannins, while chocolate and floral accents linger. Drink now through 2018. 7,000 cases made
Bodegas Ontañon Rioja Viticultura Ecológica 2010 88 $13
Floral and spice notes frame black cherry and blackberry flavors in this velvety red, with coffee and toast accents chiming in on the finish. Shows a good balance of balsamic-tinged acidity and ripe tannins. Drink now through 2017. 5,000 cases imported
Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Campo de Borja Monte Oton 2011 89 $8
This polished red is both fresh and intense, with focused black cherry, boysenberry, licorice and ginger flavors backed by smooth tannins and well-integrated acidity. Drink now through 2016. 5,000 cases imported
Can Blau Montsant Blau 2011 89 $12
Supple and tender, yet expressive, this red shows wild berry,
Bodegas Carchelo Jumilla 2011 88 $16
This solid red features a thick, polished texture carrying flavors of plum, chocolate, loam and toast. The tannins are firm but well-integrated, with enough acidity to keep the austere finish fresh. Drink now through 2018. 30,000 cases made
Bodegas Campante Ribeiro Viña Reboreda 2010 89 $11
Firm and fresh, this white offers focused, clean notes of pear, almond and mineral. The texture shows muscle, but this remains lively through the finish. Drink now. 25,000 cases made
Terra de Asorei Albariño Rias Baixas 2011 88 $15
Firm and savory, this white offers ginger, herbal and briny flavors, with undertones of dried apple and citrus zest. Quite rich on the palate, but remains focused. Drink now. 300,000 cases made
Can Feixes Penedès Blanc Selecció 2012 89 $17
Fresh and aromatic, featuring melon, honeysuckle, mandarin orange and ground ginger flavors, with a note of zesty minerality echoing on the finish. Drink now through 2016. 8,000 cases made.
wine reviews from WineSpectator.com