Scouting Spanish Wines

3/18/2019

Exploring Spanish Wines

 

Spain has some impressive--and potentially surprising--wine rankings.*

For starters, they have more vineyards by area than any other country at nearly three million acres (2.9M), followed by France and Italy. Also, Spain is the third largest producer of wine by volume, with Italy in the top spot and France in second. 

“Spain has the world’s most acreage under vine, but with such a dry climate, the yields per vine are considerably lower than average,” explained Christopher Rowell, Breakthru Beverage Illinois’ Wine Educator. 

Those three countries have a firm grip on the top spots in the wine industry. 

“For someone just beginning to learn about wines from the Old World,” Rowell said. “I could summarize these three counties like this: France has undoubtedly established the global standard for most of the commercially produced international varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Italy, on the other hand, produces a larger variety of wines, within all 20 of their autonomous regions, and relies primarily on their own native grape varieties. Finally, Spain has a variety of wines, featuring two of the most globally recognized styles, Rioja and Sherry.”

Over the past few decades, Rowell added, a handful of talented and ambitious winemakers have started a trend for an exciting new generation of wines. Instead of fighting with Mother Nature, they are tapping into the natural attributes that she provides to their current landscape, while infusing it with some modern innovation.

Spain’s winemaking culture is rooted in tradition and the Old World but is now turning modern and vibrant. Of course, the Old World producers still make wine the way their ancestors did, but New World producers are exploring modern winemaking ways, some with the indigenous grapes, keeping with heritage and tradition.

“It’s certainly an exciting time to get into Spanish wines,” Rowell said.

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The Spanish Landscape

“Spain’s mountainous geography provides variations of climate, therefore many variations of wine styles,” Rowell said.

Most of Spain’s land sits atop a high plateau, with elevation averages around 660 meters above sea level. 
 
Spain’s diurnal temperature variation, the range between the highest and lowest temperatures that occurs in one day, is warm during the day and chilly at night. As a hot continental climate, the extremes between summer and winter are also quite dramatic.
 
That means that the grapes get exposed to warm sun during the day, increasing the sugar production while it ripens, and when the temperature drops at night, the natural acidity in the grapes gets balanced out to preserve them.

And with this wide range in climate throughout the many different regions, Spain is well suited to grow a variety of grapes.

The Grapes

RED/BLACK GRAPES

Tempranillo

  • Spain’s most widely planted grape, often referred to as the “noble grapes
  • Used to make full-bodied reds
  • Named after the Spanish word temprano, meaning early, attributing it to being ready to harvest earlier than most other grapes
  • Flavor/aroma: herbal, plums, oak

Garnacha

  • Spain’s third most-planted grape
  • Known as Grenache everywhere else in the world
  • Used to make light-bodied reds with high alcohol
  • Flavor/aroma: blackberry, orange blossom, allspice
Mencia
  • Most prominently planted in northwestern Spain
  • Used in high quality, structured wines
  • Flavor/aroma: dark fruit flavors, hint of minerality

 

WHITE GRAPES

Albariño

  • Spain’s number one exported grape (and wine)
  • Primarily grown in the Galicia region
  • Flavor/aroma: citrus, white peach and fresh apricot
Verdejo
  • Known for making aromatic whites 
  • Grown primarily in the Rueda region
  • Harvested at night to get grapes at a lower temperature for minimal oxidation
  • Flavor/aroma: lime, Meyer lemon, fennel and grass 
Macabeo
  • Used in most Cava, then white wines
  • Most widely planted in the Rioja region
  • Flavor/aroma: bitter almonds, mildly floral

 

The Wine Styles

RED

Rioja

  • Spain’s most recognized wine
  • Made from a blend of Tempranillo (most dominant), Garnacha and sometimes Mazuela and Graciano grapes
  • Flavor/aroma: cherry, plum and vanilla
Priorat
  • Most modern of Spanish wines, as it’s garnering the most international attention
  • Full-bodied with high acidity
  • Flavor/aroma: blackberry, plum, fig with hints of spice and minerality

Old Vine Garnacha

  • Often varietally labeled, but sometimes go by a regional name
  • “Old vine” typically means vines aged 50 years
  • Emerging wine, becoming more fashionable (and affordable) than the classic Rioja
  • Flavor/aroma: fruit forward, juicy blackberries, strawberries along with a peppery spice

 

WHITE

Albariño

  • Name of the grape and the labeled wine
  • High acidity with a subtle salt character that finishes dry
  • Nicknamed “wine of the sea"
  • Flavor/aroma: melon, apricot, citrus

Rueda Verdejo

  • Made with Verdejo and blended with Sauvignon Blanc or another white grape
  • Full-bodied with high acidity
  • Must contain at least 85 percent Verdejo to be considered a true Rueda Verdejo
  • Flavor/aroma: clean, crisp bright citrus, melon & fennel 
Txokolina 
  • An up-and-coming wine from the Basque country
  • Was brought to the U.S. by sommeliers and is only consumed locally in Basque country and the U.S.
  • Slightly effervescent, fresh and a little tart
  • Flavor/aroma: floral, peach with a hint of minerality
Cava
  • Spain’s sparkling wine; can be white or rosé
  • Must be produced the traditional way to be labeled Cava (the same way Champagne is made in France)
  • Medium-bodied with high acidity 
  • Flavor/aroma: zesty citrus, hint of apple

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Classifications

Similar to France’s AOC and Italy’s DOC, Spanish wines have their own set of wine laws called the Denominación de Origen (DO) system. Their classification system is a complex one, being governed not only by country-wide laws, but regional ones as well. In certain classifications, grape varietal, aging, yields are controlled.

From least-to-most strict, the classification system is as follows:

Vino de Mesa (VdM)

  • Translation: wines for the table
  • Label typically doesn’t include varietal, region or vintage

Vino de la Teirra (VT or VdT)

  • Translation: wines of the land
  • Minor requirements for site, grape variety, yields or aging

Denominación de Origen (DO)

  • Largest classification with nearly two thirds of the Spanish vineyards within it
  • Each wine region is part of its own DO with its own regulations
  • Consejos Reguladores, the governing body, set the standards and oversees the tasting panel

Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa)/Denominació d'Origen Qualificada in Catalan (DOQ)

  • Strictest level
  • Only two regions qualify: Rioja and Priorat (approval for Ribera del Duero has been pending since 2008)

Vino de Pago (VP)

  • Created in 2003
  • Intended for individual single estates with an international reputation
  • Only 15 qualifying estates
 

DC Spanish Wines 

1) Locations Wine E Red Blend
2) Numanthia Termes
3) Ramón Bilbao Crianza
4) Vaza Crianza
5) Segura Viudas Aria Brut
6) Ramón Bilbao Valinas Albariño
7) Vionta Albariño
8) Vaza Rioja Tempranillo

 

*International Organization of Vine and Wine

 

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