Spain is an ancient wine-producing country and has been making wine for thousands of years. Today, it is bustling with bodegas (wineries) and offers a little of everything when it comes to wine. There are several types of unique grapes and wines being produced throughout the entire country, offering everything from a fruity white wine to a full-bodied, bold red, so there is a wine for every person, at every price range.
Although only third in the world for wine production, Spain has the most acres of vineyards in the world with more than 2.9 million acres. Every part of Spain is able to grow grapes, and that they do. Let's visit the land of grapes.
Starting in the very northwest is the damp and wet region of Rias-Baixas which hangs north of Portugal. It is home to albariño, a white wine which continues to gain popularity here in the U.S. This wine generally has an evocative crisp minerality, bright with prominent grapefruit and pineapple citrus notes.
Moving across to the east and slightly south, we reach Rueda, known for its benchmark white grape, verdejo. It can be anything from slightly uneventful to bigger with layers of character, but also is used as a blend. It is crisp and often reminiscent of a sauvignon blanc.
Ribera del Duero, slightly east, is almost entirely devoted to red wine, with tempranillo the most widely planted grape variety. Big, beefy and deeply colored with a firm tannin structure, the wines have complex aromas and can age gracefully. Ribera del Duero also is home to one of Spain’s most famous bodegas, Vega Sicilia, which has been around about 150 years.
Continuing east is the celebrated region of Rioja. Rioja is tempranillo’s true home and the grape is classified here according to the oak treatment and aging: Crianza, Crianza Reserva and Gran Reserva. The Duero river runs from here through Portugal and the Douro Valley and finally to the west coast, which is the heart of famed port wine production.
Travel further east and it’s cava country. Almost all cava is produced in Catalonia, especially in the premiere region of Penedés, although eight different provinces around the area south of the Pyrenees also produce quality cava, a sparkling wine made in the same method as Champagne. Ranging from simplicity to complex, cavas are very versatile and go very well with many foods, especially tapas.
Just south in Catalonia is the appellation of Priorat, a rugged, wildly beautiful region with steep-sided mountains and an abundance of sunshine. Priorat made a big splash in the wine world with minerally reds that many consider among Spain's finest wines. By blending traditional grapes with main grapes such as cabernet, syrah and merlot, it resulted in the production of a ripe, rich flamboyant wine that was awarded high ratings from notable wine publications around the world.
In the middle of Spain is where things start heating up. La Mancha has a warm climate and huge wine production. The quality here has a vast range and mostly inexpensive, but as in other regions, it has some quality winemakers. The most widely planted grape, airen, is grown the central plains, and is used mostly for the production of brandy.
Speaking of brandy, a visit to Spain would be remiss without mentioning sherry, a complex, esoteric fortified wine with the versatility to go from apéritif to table wine to after-dinner sipper. Almost all sherries are made from the palomino fino, a white grape indigenous to the area.
Spain is experiencing a wine revolution that no other wine country has ever experienced in history, and has become very successful in exporting wines due to quality for the price. The other important part is its range in styles from traditional tempranillo to softer garnacha (grenache) or the flashy blends of Priorat. Now, more than ever, is the time to start exploring Spanish wine, learning what it is all about and reaping the rewards. Salud!
Tasting Tip: Oxidized wine occurs when too much oxygen has been exposed to the wine. The result is a loss of color, flavor and aroma. A newly opened bottle of wine generally will only last two days. So if you try and drink the remainder of a bottle--depending on how full it is--after two days, it is probably oxidized.
Wine Recommendation: Try an albarino or verdejo for white, ; they both pair well with seafood dishes especially shellfish. If you want a more traditional red, go with a crianza, tempranillo or for a more New World-style, try Priorat.