Spain hasn't always enjoyed a reputation for the out-and-out quality of its wines. Much of Spain's production was of bulk wines: cheap and hearty reds with little finesse. The Rioja region was one exception, finding fame at the end of the 19th century when phylloxera devastated the Bordeaux region of France. Bordeaux merchants turned to Rioja, importing the wines and encouraging the bodegas to adopt classic Bordeaux techniques such as de-stemming of grapes and barrel ageing. map
Other than that, the only wines of international quality were the fortified wines, particularly Sherry from the town of Jerez on the Southern coast. Spanish wine making has been changing gradually through the latter half of the 20th century, particularly since the 1980's. Spain's entry into the European Community brought new funding to many run-down wine-producing areas. Couple this with a burgeoning confidence in the post-Franco era and a willingness to experiment with new ideas and new technology, and Spain today is truly one of the most exciting “New” wine regions of the world.
Rioja remains at the fore-front of quality wine in Spain. Sitting in the North of the country and straddling the river Ebro, Rioja is composed of 3 sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Alta and Alavesa are to the west, where the climate is mild and temperate. Rioja Baja sits further East, exactly where the temperature is hotter and also the land more arid: consequently the wines from this region are usually considered inferior.
label Rioja wines are associated having a lush, velvety appeal and also the sweet scent of vanilla, largely the outcome of lengthy ageing in American oak barrels. Tempranillo will be the principal grape of red Rioja, though a handful of other grapes generally go in to the blend. One from the first Spanish regions to be regulated back in 1926, the words Reserva and Gran Reserva on Rioja labels have strict legal which means:
Reservas should be aged for at least three years prior to release, including a minimum of 1 year in oak. Gran Reservas may be released only following five years, including a minimum of two years in oak. Numerous traditional Riojas actually spend much much more time than this. In current years there has been a definite split within the Rioja camp, with many bodegas aiming for a lot more vividly fruity wines, where oak plays only a supporting function. Numerous more wines are appearing at Crianza level, with minimum oak and bottle age. Names to look out for consist of: La Rioja Alta, Marqués de Murrieta, Marqués de Riscal, Bodegas Montecillo, CVNE, Martínez-Bujanda and Bodegas Palacio.
pesquera The “hottest” streak from the previous decade or so has belonged towards the Ribera del Duero. Lying Southwest of Rioja, the region's wines are also Tempranillo based and oak-aged. The biggest fish from the region is undoubtedly Vega Sicilia, whose wines are so highly prized as to become nearly unobtainable. Blended with international grape varieties such as Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot, Vega Sicilia is aged for a decade or more in oak. The estate of Alejandro Fernández produces “Pesquera”, an fine wine that's reasonably priced and extensively available. 'Condado de Haza', their second wine, is also nicely worth trying.
Numerous other regions of Spain, like Toro, Penedés and Somontano within the far North and Valdepeñas in the South, are producing outstanding, fruit-driven wines inside a contemporary style. Using a combination of indigenous and international grape varieties, producers employ the latest technologies (stainless steel fermentation, refrigeration and cultured yeasts) to make wines of some style and worth for money.
Another undoubted revolution has taken place in the Spanish white wine scene. 10 years ago or so, white wines from Spain were best avoided: rough and oxidised bottles were all too typical. New World methods have already been brought to bear here too and finally some top-quality white wines have emerged. White Rioja is being produced in a fresher, more lemony style than rather oaky versions of old, and fine wines emanate from the Rueda region. cvne
Perhaps the most fascinating white wines come from Galicia in the far Northwest. In particular the wines of Rías Baixas, produced from the delicate Albariño grape, are well worth looking for out for their perfume, balance and refreshing acidity.
Sherry is arguably Spain's greatest glory. A fortified wine (produced using the addition of grape spirit), Sherry is created inside a tremendous variety of styles and is tragically misunderstood by numerous customers. The name has been bastardised more than numerous years and applied to inferior quality wines from Cyprus and England amongst other people. 1 of the saddest and most common mis-conceptions within the wine world is the fact that Sherry is no more than the middle-of-the-road stuff that languishes in the back of a cupboard, awaiting the go to from a maiden aunt.
The secret of fine Sherry is in its ageing and blending. An individual sherry is blended from a collection of casks from the exact same wine from different vintages. This is known as a Solera. Within the Solera method, the wine to be bottled is drawn from the oldest casks, but only a proportion from the wine is utilized. The cask is then topped up with wine from the second oldest cask, then it's replenished from the third oldest and so on. Within this way, the bottled wine is actually a complex blend of numerous aged wines.
The numerous various styles of Sherry consist of:
- Fino - a light, dry wine which is ideal on its personal or with soups or shellfish.
- Amontillado - an aged fino with darker, nuttier flavours. Dry.
- Oloroso - a weightier wine, rich, dark and toffee like. Dry or semi-sweet.
- Manzanilla - aged close to the sea at Sanlúcar, said to possess salty tang.
- Pedro Ximénez (PX) - grape making intensely sweet, raisin-flavoured wine.
Sherry producers to appear out for include Don Zoilo, Lustau, Hildalgo and González Byass (particularly their range of old, uncommon wines like “Amontillado del Duque”, “Apóstoles” and “Matúsalem” - even at £20/$30 per bottle 1 of the world's fantastic wine bargains).