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Indigenous grapes, both well known and rediscovered, underpin Spain’s most exciting wine styles – and they’re great with food. Patricia Langton reports
The star grape of the Rías Baixas region, this white variety is typically grown by small vineyard holders in the coastal areas of north-western Spain. Highly popular throughout the country, Albariño wines are vibrant and delicate with attractive peach fruit and floral aromas. Generally unoaked and made to be enjoyed in their youth, they are the perfect accompaniment to shellfish or simple fish dishes. But there are also some excellent examples of aged Albariños.
The fortunes of this red grape have changed dramatically over the past few decades thanks to a combination of better winemaking management and the rediscovery of great vineyards for Garnacha. Today the grape has many guises: it is responsible for some of Spain’s finest and most expensive wines in Priorat, it adds structure and gives rich blackberry fruit character to Rioja blends, the variety features in some of the best value Spanish reds from Campo de Borja and Calatayud, and is often the grape of choice for rosé wines, especially in Navarra. Seek out serious examples to accompany wintery game dishes and enjoy both red and rosé wines during barbecue season.
Spanish winemakers admit that this is a challenging grape to grow, but the rewards make the effort worthwhile. Inky black in colour, good Graciano wines offer delicious blackberry and cassis fruit unpinned by fresh acidity. The variety adds finesse to Rioja blends and 100% Graciano wines, though relatively rare, are well worth tracking down. Look to Rioja and Navarra for these wines and enjoy them with beef or duck.
This red variety is found in the south east of Spain, notably Jumilla and Yecla, where it is well suited to the hot climate. Modern Monastrell wines offer plenty of red fruit and they benefit from short oak ageing. These versatile, food-friendly wines are also great value for money. Ideal wines for tapas and informal occasions.
(also known as Tinto Fino, Tinta del País and Tinta de Toro) Spain’s most famous red variety and the star grape of Rioja wines – from young, fruity easy-drinkers to sublime aged wines. Savvy wine enthusiasts are also enjoying wines made from this grape (or a close relative) that come from other regions where winemaking, soils and climate result in alternative styles to discover. Look to Ribera del Duero and Toro and other regions of the Duero Valley for Tempranillo wines of great structure and depth. Then enjoy them as the locals do, with lamb.
One of Spain’s most versatile grapes, Verdejo is credited with making some of the country’s finest white wines. It is the main grape of Rueda, but we’re likely to see an increasing number of wines made from this variety emerging from more regions, including Rioja.
Young Verdejos are often blended with Sauvignon Blanc, which makes an irresistible thirst-quenching wine on a summer’s day or an ideal aperitif wine all year round. After a sojourn in oak, Verdejo takes on a pale golden hue and greater sophistication with lemony citrus characters and great length. Verdejo wines with little or no oak ageing are a good match for fish with sauces and salads, while more complex oaked wines go well with poultry.
'Versatile Verdejo is credited with making some of Spain’s finest white
Cariñena Old Cariñena vines are now highly prized, especially in Priorat and Montsant where this red grape forms a neat double act with Garnacha. Offering deep, crunchy black fruit and impressive structure, the grape is also found in Rioja, where it is known as Mazuelo.
Godello Native to Galicia, the potential of this white grape is starting to show. It performs well on the sloping vineyards of Valdeorras and the slate terraces of Ribeira Sacra. Both young, apple-fruited Godello wines and oaked versions can be found in Spanish restaurants in London.
Mencia This refreshingly different variety is found in Bierzo (and to a lesser extent Valdeorras) in the north-western tip of Castilla y León. A good Mencía wine offers youthful, fresh black cherry fruit, sometimes with a hint of chocolate or spice, and elegant tannins.
Moscatel Looking for a zingy white for summer, a late-harvest wine that’s perfect with foie gras or a classic sweetie to end the meal? Moscatel can be all three depending on the winemaking. Find the wines in Catalonia, Valencia, Alicante, Navarra, Málaga and Jerez.
Pedro Ximenez Commonly known as PX, this is a white variety when it starts out – sweet Pedro Ximénez wines take on a darker hue due to drying the grapes in the sun and long oak ageing. Rich dessert wine with an intriguing almost black treacle-like appearance.
Thursday 11 March 2010, 6.00-8.30pm, Old Billingsgate, 16 Lower Thames Street, London, EC3R 6DX
Tickets on sale from 1 February 2010, see www.squaremeal.co.uk/diary for further information