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Wine - Spanish Style

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Although Spain is a country steeped in vinous history, its modern producers are making sure that it’s still one of the world’s most exciting wine regions. Chris Losh reports


Spain has always been one of the world’s biggest wine-producing countries, with a long history of winemaking. But in recent years it’s also become one of the world’s best – and most interesting. Indeed, probably no other country has made such great strides in improving the quality of its wines. While more established regions, such as Rioja, have grown in size and influence, less famous areas such as Priorato have also exploded from obscurity to become some of the most dynamic in Europe. Part of the key to Spain’s rebirth has been its use of indigenous varietals. Modern winemaking methods and better practices in the vineyards have allowed these native grapes to shine, producing a whole raft of wines that are both in tune with modern tastes and also uniquely Spanish.Spain - wine regions

RIOJA

For many wine-lovers, Spain is Rioja and the region’s influence extends all over the world. Typically Rioja is a blend of several grape varieties, but Tempranillo dominates. The grape is to Rioja what Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are to Bordeaux; it’s the region’s most widely planted variety, capable of making soft, fruity wines when young, and also more powerful, concentrated wines for long-term ageing.

This ageing has always been central to Rioja’s philosophy and nowhere else in the world has such stringent laws governing the time a wine spends in barrel and then bottle before release. Nonetheless, over the past decade a small but growing number of producers have been making wines that don’t conform to these rules. Modern Riojas tend to be richer and more concentrated, with bigger fruit and more obvious new-oak flavours.

NAVARRA

Attached to Rioja’s north-eastern border is Navarra. Cooler than its illustrious neighbour, Navarra has long been established as Spain’s best rosé-producing region. But it’s also had plenty of success with red and white wines that blend local grapes such as Viura and Tempranillo with international ones such as Chardonnay
and Merlot.

RIBERA DEL DUERO

About 150km south west of Rioja lies its big winemaking rival. Ribera del Duero doesn’t produce anything like as much as Rioja, but it certainly makes some of Spain’s most

expensive wines. The king here is Tinta del País, a local version of Tempranillo. In this hot, high, dusty land it gives wines of real power and depth, and, when mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon, the wines can last for many years. They’re not cheap, but they
can be exceptionally good. Spain - vineyard

RUEDA

While Ribera is all about red wines, Rueda, it’s near neighbour, is nearly all about whites. The local grape variety is the zingy, aromatic Verdejo, but it’s often mixed with Sauvignon Blanc to produce an exceptionally fresh, flavourful, thirst-quenching wine.

RIAS BAIXAS

With its rolling hills and pine forests, Spain’s westernmost wine area is a long way from what most would think of as typically Spanish. This is white wine territory, where rising star Albariño has come from almost nowhere to emerge as one of the most sought-after styles in the world.

PENEDES

Home to Spain’s famous sparkling wine, Cava, but also a good place for reds and whites made from a wide variety of indigenous and international grapes.

LA MANCHA

This massive, sun-drenched area south of Madrid is the engine room of Spanish wine production and home to some of the most innovative plantings in the country. It’s now making good-quality, good-value wines from Tempranillo (here called Cencibel), Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

OTHER REGIONS…

Bierzo - wine barrelsSpain’s lesser-known regions are producing some of its most exciting wines. Priorato is not the place for bargain hunters, but it is the source of some thrilling wines, made from ancient Garnacha vines. Further inland, Cariñena also has plots of Garnacha, but produces wines with a more modest price tag that represent great value. Further east, Toro has its own local version of Tempranillo (Tinta de Toro) and is home to some of Spain’s boldest red wines. To the south, Jumilla is producing spectacular reds from the Monastrell grape.

SIX KEY GRAPES

ALBARINO

A fabulously flexible white variety. Can give soft, aromatic wines with peach-stone flavours and soft, but persistent freshness as well as steelier, more serious versions that can age.

GARNACHA

Tempranillo is Spain’s best-known red grape, but there’s an awful lot of Garnacha (Grenache) in Spain, too. Gives exuberant, red-fruited, alcoholic wines, and makes fine rosados in Navarra.

GRACIANO

A red grape which is often a component in Rioja, but less commonly found on its own. It has dark, intense flavours and firm tannins. Usually needs some ageing.

MONASTRELL

An easy-ripening red grape variety from Jumilla in the south east that makes some of the best-value wines in the country. Often displays juicy marzipan and strawberry fruit, with soft tannins.

TEMPRANILLO

This red grape can make wines in almost any style, from light and easy-drinking to big and powerful. Usually defined by strawberry flavours, but can move through plums and even into blackcurrants. Smooth, medium-bodied and with soft tannins.

VERDEJO

Spain’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc, and often blended with the latter in Rueda. Fresh, aromatic and grassy, with a hint of gooseberry and lip-smacking acidity. The finest are probably Spain’s best white wines.

The 20th Annual Wines From Spain Tasting

12 March 2009, 6.15–8.30pm Old Billingsgate, 16 Lower Thames Street, London, EC3R 6DX

  • 200 wines to try
  • Wine walks and advice from experts
  • Live music
  • Spanish bowl food
  • £15 a ticket
  • A great evening out

See www.squaremeal.co.uk/diary for further information and tickets


Editorial feature from Square Meal Restaurants & Bars Guide 2009


« Wine - Spain