Category Archives: Spain

The third largest country in production, Spain ranks first in land under vine. Diversity and innovation are the key factors bringing Spain back into the world wine market.

The most popular red varieties of Spain include Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache). Whites don’t garner quite as much recognition, but there are some regional varieties not to be missed, like Albarino and Verdejo. The popular red regions of Spain include Rioja, known for its outstanding wines of the Tempranillo grape; Ribera del Duero, producing high quality reds from Tempranillo and Garnacha; Galacia, with the sub-region of Rias Baixas, home to the deliciously crisp and floral Albarino grape; and Priorat, a region increasing in popularity with its high-quality cult reds. Other regions of note are Rueda, growing the Verdejo grape, La Mancha, a wide desert region, covered in the most planted white variety in the world, Airen, and Jumilla, making wines based on Monastrell (Mourvedre).

Spain’s wine laws are based on the Denominacion de Origen (DO) classification system, devised in the 1930’s. A four tiered system, the most basic level is Vina de Mesa (table wine) followed by Vino de la Tierra (country wine), DO and at the top DOC. Currently, only Rioja and Priorat have DOC status, while over 65 DO’s scatter the country.

Most DO regions are classified and regulated by how long they age the wines. On a red wine label, one may find the terms Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva, denoting the wine’s barrel and bottle time. Crianza is usually two years between barrel and bottle (the time in each depends on the DO and/or the winemaker), Reserva up to 4 years and Gran Reserva 5 – 6 years. Classifications of each region and wine are controlled by the region’s Consejo Regulador.

Great European Garnacha/Grenache for Toasting #GarnachaDay 2017

Garnacha, one of Spain’s signature red wine grape varieties, is known and loved as “Grenache” in France, where it enjoys exceptional plantings in the warm Mediterranean climate of Roussillon. While staking claims on being one of the oldest and widest planted red wine grapes in the world, with its origins firmly planted in the varied terroirs of Spain and France, the EU boasts over 97% of the grape’s plantings on an international level.

Garnacha/Grenache – The Grape: Early to bud, often last to harvest, this hardy, thin-skinned red grape is thought to have originated in the landlocked region of Aragon in northeastern Spain. Because Garnacha/Grenache acclimates quickly to the varying demands of crazy continental climates as well as the warm weather patterns of the Mediterranean like a champ, it is a go-to grape for all sorts of winemaking missions. From world class rosés to concentrated collectibles and fortified favorites, and routinely bottled as a key contributor in synergistic blends or flying solo as a single variety, Garnacha/Grenache brings plenty of vinous charm and outright versatility to the winemaker’s cellar. After all, what other single grape variety can lay creative claim to redwhite, and rosé, dry, off-dry, and sweet, fortified along with sparkling wine renditions?

Garnacha/Grenache Flavor Profiles: In general, Spain and Southern France’s warm, sunbaked growing season gives rise to well-ripened Garnacha/Grenache grape clusters that may carry considerable sugar, which converts to elevated alcohol levels in the bottle. Ranging from medium to full-bodied, often hauling higher alcohol levels (15% is not uncommon), with lower levels of innate acidity, and sporting thinner skins that give way to modest tannins all balanced by engaging aromatics, Garnacha/Grenache shines bright with delicious ripe red fruit character. Expect a berry medley to take center stage with raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and cherry dominating initial impressions. Peppery influences along with cinnamon and cloves, earth and herbs, chocolate and coffee, savory spice and smoky notes may all debut in the bottle. Tapping into old vines that produce lower yields, allows many Garnacha/Grenache vineyard managers to deliver assertive wines with remarkable flavor intensity that showcase a rich, full-bodied, concentrated palate profile. Just to keep things interesting, Garnacha/Grenache may also be crafted as delicious white wine, ranging from fresh and mineral-driven to rich, round and full-bodied, dubbed appropriately as “Garnacha Blanca” or “Grenache Blanc.”

Pairing Picks for Garnacha/Grenache: With its less intense acidity and tamer tannin levels offset by ripe fruit forward flavors, European-style Garnacha/Grenache is a versatile, food-friendly partner for all sorts of delicious fare. A natural for grilled meat, smoked baby back ribs, a mix of regional barbecue, burgers, brats and brisket, chorizo and shrimp paella, seasonal gazpacho, Serrano ham and Manchego, slow roasted lamb, chicken stuffed with chorizo, lentils, the Paleo favorite of bacon-wrapped dates, spicy tacos and burritos, hearty stews, and meat lover’s pizza, Garnacha/Grenache promises and delivers some serious pairing partnerships.

Regional Garnacha/Grenache in Spain and Roussillon:
Today, Garnacha/Grenache finds firm footing throughout Spain and the Roussillon region of France. In Spain, the most passionate producers and classic wines can be found from these five DO regions: Campo de Borja, Terra Alta, Somontano, Cariñena and Calatayud.  Campo de Borja, the self-proclaimed “Empire of Garnacha,” was the first to embrace and develop the concept of modern varietal Garnacha wines. Its picturesque wine route is a haven for wine country tourists. Terra Alta, the white Garnacha specialist, delivers mineral-driven wines that highlight the grape’s versatility. Somontano approaches the grape with a New World spin, crafting luxury wines built to age. Cariñena  is an up and coming region that combines altitude, wind, significant diurnal temperature swings with old vine concentration, but let’s face it Cariñena is not quite a household name (yet!) for Spanish wine growing regions, which means that the price to quality ratios are still stellar. Calatayud often delivers its Garnacha in a versatile light. From intense, hot pink rosés to full throttle, full-bodied high-octane reds.  Grenache is the enterprising go-getter of Roussillon, backed by 28 centuries of vineyard prowess and a coveted Mediterranean climate, this French wine growing region is bringing laser-like focus to biodynamic and organic wine offerings. From the Spanish border along the coast, the Roussillon region caters to old Grenache vines that produce both dry and fortified wines from the grape.

Classified as PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin) by the European Union, wines from all of these regions are upheld to strict standards to ensure the highest level of quality.

8 Popular Garnacha/Grenache Bottles to Try (all under $20) – Delve into the delicious array of European style Garnacha or Grenache from a variety of regions and styles at stellar values with prices ranging from $10-20.

 

Riveting Reds from Ribera del Duero

Ribera del Duero – The Place
Image by José I. Berdón

Sitting high on a chalky plateau at 2,500 feet, tucked into northwest Spain, the sultry Spanish wine growing region of Ribera del Duero DO enjoys a heady mix of cool nights and sizzling hot days, showcasing the perfect climate for bringing out the best in the region’s dominant grape variety, Tempranillo.  Ribera del Duero, literally the “bank of the Duero” river, finds firm footing in the extremes of the land. From scorching summers, shielded by rain from two dominant mountain ranges (the Sierra del Guadarrama and Sierra de la Demanda), to harsh, cold continental winters and annual temperature extremes swinging from 0° to 100+°F, Ribera del Duero faces significant threats from both spring and winter frosts. Yet it’s this climate of extremes that also sets the stage for significant temperature shifts during the growing season (often to the tune of 25 degrees or more) between day and night. This diurnal range, or wide temperature variation, allows the grapes to retain high levels of acidity, along with elevated levels of pigmentation in the grape skins while simultaneously preserving the innate fruit-themed aromas and phenolics during the grape’s ripening phase.

Ribera del Duero – The Grape
Copyright: José I. Berdón

Ribera del Duero is red wine country, with a splash of rosé thrown in to lighten things up. Hands-down the region’s shining star is the Tempranillo grape, known locally as Tinto Fino. In fact, Ribera del Duero must contain at least 75% Tempranillo to fulfill the DO requirements in every bottle. Garnacha is a key component of the regional rosé, while Malbec and the international superstars of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also find their way into many of the regional blends. Not surprisingly, the clone of Tempranillo that thrives in this rugged region typically sports a thicker skin which expresses itself in wines that often carry more color pigmentation and higher-powered tannin profiles than their nearby Rioja-based cousins. The wines of Ribera del Duero show an alluring mix of supple intensity, ready to rumble with an impressive array of foodie favorites and quite capable of standing solo.

Ribera del Duero – The Reputation
Courtesy of Tempos Vega Sicilia

Established in 1860, the outstanding Spanish producer Vega Sicilia single-handedly catapulted the region of Ribera del Duero and the Spanish the wine industry at large onto the international wine stage. Unico, Vega Sicilia’s ultra age-worthy and highly collectible cuvee is built on Tempranillo with enthusiastic support from a handful of Bordeaux varieties, adding to the mystique is its decade long aging prior to release. Happily, Unico’s sister label, Valbuena, carries a somewhat lower price point and enjoys considerable accessibility. For decades Ribera del Duero has maintained a sturdy reputation for powerfully built wines with extensive aging potential.

Today, the region offers buyers a full spectrum of wines. From youthful, fresh, fruit-forward delights that spotlight more elegance and enduring finesse to the full-throttle, high tannin, high acid wines that beg for a bit of cellar time, the variety of styles, palate profiles and price points coming out of Ribera del Duero welcomes a broad range of wine enthusiasts from seasoned collectors to curious consumers. Food-friendly, rich and distinct, the most affordable styles represent excellent quality to price ratios, while higher-end bottles are built to get better with time and are intended to showcase specific aspects of regional terroir, often estate grown fruit and an impressive aging structure.

Ribera del Duero – The Wines
CRDO RIbera del Duero

With such a dramatic range of styles and pricing available in today’s Ribera del Duero market, this is a tremendous time to get to know the regional red wine offerings from one of Spain’s most distinguished wine producing regions. Expect dark fruit namely blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and sometimes a swirl of strawberry laced with a dash of espresso, dark chocolate and earth-driven components. In terms of texture and mouthfeel, Ribera del Duero reds range from round and silky to quite soft and velvety with a fuller-bodied profile and exceptional pairing potential with a variety of red meat options, aged cheese, pork and lamb chops.

Ribera del Duero Wines to Try: 
  • Finca Villacreces Pruno 2014  – An easy entry-point into the world of Ribera del Duero, this bottle shows exceptional quality at a budget-friendly price. Ripe blackberry and juicy raspberry fruit mingles with black licorice and a decent dose of earth.
  • Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2014 – Fresh, lively and filled with a snappy balance of well-formed tannins and zesty acidity, this bottle shows some serious cherry and black plum aromas on the nose with the warm tones of vanilla and a dash of mocha singing backup.
  • Hacienda Monasterio Ribera del Duero 2012  – A high-octane wine that is versatile and well-managed, ready to roll now or just as happy cellaring for another 5-7 years. Expect a feisty balance between earth, fruit and sleek, malleable tannins ending with enduring concentration and clarity.
  • Bodegas Vega Sicilia Valbuena 2009 For those that want to live the legend, but don’t necessarily want to spend the extra cash, you might opt to sip the sister label of Unico, Valbuena. Accessible and sophisticated, Valbuena carries a consistent mix of Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon giving it a bold, age-worthy profile wrapped up in oak-induced spice and rich, black fettered fruit.
  • Dominio de Pingus Psi 2014The pet project of Danish winemaker Peter Sisseck, Pingus Psi is cultivated using biodynamic techniques to give greater voice to the 70-year-old vines. Distinctly dominated by Tempranillo with 10% Garnacha in the blend, this bottle delivers an unexpected “fresh factor” that wows with bright cherry and end-of-summer raspberry in an ongoing, elegant medley of fruit meets oak.
Photos courtesy of CRDO Ribera del Duero and Tempos Vega Sicilia

The Albariños of Rias Baixas

Many regions throughout the world are known for a particular specialty—gastronomic or otherwise—but some more than others have the ability to conjure up vivid sensory memories. One such region is northwestern Spain’s Rías Baixas. To the uninitiated, this may just look like a confusingly-spelled set of words. But to those who have visited or tasted the wines and cuisine of this region, the phrase “Rías Baixas” is enough to make the mouth water, evoking the sensation of salinity in many different forms: a refreshing glass of white wine, a briny seafood meal, or the crisp, fresh air of a picturesque oceanside vista.

The wines of Rías Baixas owe much of their personality to the geography and terroir of the lush, verdant region. Situated along the Atlantic Coast, the relatively modern DO (established in the 1980s) is unique within Spain for its focus on white grapes, which thrive in this relatively cool, damp corner of the country. The name “Rías Baixas” (pronounced “re-ass by-shuss”) comes from Galician—”rías” is the word for the sharp estuaries that cut in to the “baixas,” or the lower-altitude region of southern Galicia. These narrow, finger-like bodies of water that stretch inland from the Atlantic Ocean contain a mix of fresh and salt water, making them an ideal home to an incredibly diverse array of delicious maritime creatures that make up the cuisine of the region. Hard granite soils combined with mineral-rich alluvial top soils provide optimal growing conditions for top quality white wine production.

The other key component of this region is its star grape variety: Albariño. While other varieties are permitted, Albariño makes up the vast majority of plantings, and with good reason. It has the ability to produce distinctive wines that maintain their unique varietal character in a wide range of styles, owing both to the diversity of the five different sub-zones and to winemaking decisions such as maceration length,  the use of wild yeast, barrel fermentation and aging, malolactic fermentation, and lees contact.

Texturally, Albariño typically falls somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, while flavor-wise, floral perfume, zesty citrus, stone fruit, and minerality are ubiquitous. In the warmer sub-regions of Rías Baixas, ripe melon and peach flavors dominate, while bottlings from cooler climes are often marked by lean acidity as well as grapefruit and lemon notes. An undercurrent of salinity runs through most examples, making them an unparalleled pairing with the region’s plentiful seafood offerings. The Albariño grape is so integral to the style of the wine produced in Rías Baixas that the name of the variety is printed on every bottle—a practice rarely seen elsewhere in Spain (or most of Europe, for that matter).

Thanks to the adaptability of Albariño and its friendly, near-universal appeal, the Rías Baixas DO has something to offer just about every white wine drinker. These wines can be enjoyed year-round, but are especially delightful during the spring and summer, when warm, sunny weather calls for a crisp, refreshing beverage. They sing when paired with any kind of marine life—particularly oysters or scallops—but are equally fantastic on their own. If you can’t make it to Spain for a vacation this year, a bottle of Rías Baixas Albariño just might be the next best thing.

Some of our favorites include:

Granbazan Etiqueta Ambar Albariño 2015
Bright yellow stone fruits come to the forefront here in this complex example, with notes of marzipan, rose, spice, and citrus pith. The palate is round and fleshy, but vibrant acidity keeps it light and freshing.

Condes de Albarei Albariño 2015
This is all about the floral side of Albariño, with a lovely perfume and high flavor intensity on the palate. The luscious texture brings to mind peaches and cream.

Martin Codax Albariño 2015
A great entry-level option—the price is right, and the fruit is ripe and mouthfilling. The flavor profile is simple and straightforward, with plenty of fresh apple and pineapple as well as some nutty character.

Valminor Rias Baixas Albariño 2014
Stone fruit and grapefruit shine in this flavorful bottling, with hints of dried herbs and spice on the long finish. Searing acidity means that this one may not be for beginners, but makes it an excellent complement to grilled fish, lobster, or crab.

Pazo de San Mauro Albariño 2015
This is a big Albariño, with a rich creamy texture and notes of baking spice and marzipan alongside yellow peach and nectarine.  If you’re looking to make the transition from red to white wine for summer, this would be a good place to start!

The Next Great Grape: Garnacha From Cariñena

At times, it can be a little bit tricky to keep up with the world of wine. Ancient grapes like Saperavi and Trousseau cycle back into fashion just as quickly as brand new regions are planted with vines. Learning about wine can sometimes feel a bit like waiting in line at Disneyland—once you’ve made it through the room of Cabernet, Pinot, and Chardonnay, you turn the corner and there’s a whole other room filled with obscure varieties and appellations to learn. In fact, the more you learn about wine, the more you realize there is still left to learn!

To help you stay ahead of the curve, we’ve done our homework on one of Spain’s most exciting up-and-coming regions. It’s still under the radar, so even your wine-loving friends will be impressed by your discovery. Continue reading The Next Great Grape: Garnacha From Cariñena

Summer in a Bottle: The Albariño of Rías Baixas

Many regions throughout the world are known for a particular specialty—gastronomic or otherwise—but some more than others have the ability to conjure up vivid sensory memories. One such region is northwestern Spain’s Rías Baixas. To the uninitiated, this may just look like a confusingly-spelled set of words. But to those who have visited or tasted the wines and cuisine of this region, the phrase “Rías Baixas” is enough to make the mouth water, evoking the sensation of salinity in many different forms: a refreshing glass of white wine, a briny seafood meal, or the crisp, fresh air of a picturesque oceanside vista.

The wines of Rías Baixas owe much of their personality to the geography and terroir of the lush, verdant region. Continue reading Summer in a Bottle: The Albariño of Rías Baixas