Spanish Wine 101
Spanish Wine 101
As a fairly new member of the wine world I love to pick out a region that I am unfamiliar with and learn anything and everything I can about it. Spanish wines have been my most recent conquest. I visited Spain last Spring and sheepishly admit that my drink orders only consisted of cheap sangria and 2 euro cervezas. (Hey, they came with free tapas!) Tasting my way through some of Spain’s popular styles has inspired not only some of my new favorite wines but also the hope of booking another plane ticket someday. I have been delighted to learn that as the largest grape growing country in the world, Spain offers varieties and values unmatched by other regions.
Spanish wine making history dates back over two thousand years. The focus is largely on terroir, or the environmental factors such as soil and climate that greatly affect each wines unique flavors and aromas. Therefore, Spanish wine labels tend to denote the region where the wine is made versus the grapes that it contains. This can be a bit confusing for a novice like myself, however, understanding a few of the most common labeling practices is a great place to start your Spanish wine education.
Spain’s wine classification system follows a quality pyramid similar to the rest of the European Union. Vino de Mesa is at the bottom of the pyramid and incorporates two categories: Country Wines (wines that can be produced anywhere in Spain) and IGP wines (Protected Geographical Indication) where 85% of the grapes must be grown exclusively where the wine is produced.
The next step up on the pyramid is Vino con Denominación de Origen (Denominations of Origin), where 100% of the grapes must be grown exclusively where the wine is produced. This category is broken down further based on the prestige of each specific region, of which there are currently 69 Denominations of Origin.
The highest level of Spanish wine classification one can achieve is D.O.Ca. (Qualified Denomination of Origin). There are currently only two Qualified Denominations of Origin: Rioja and Priorat. The Rioja region is most famously known for growing Spain’s most common red varietal, Tempranillo, as well as the white varietal Viura (Macabeo). Priorat is best known for Garnacha Tinta as well as other varieties of Garnacha along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
The other important piece of the Spanish wine label puzzle is the denotation of the wines length of ageing in wooden barrels:
Joven (meaning young) and Cosecha/Cosechero (meaning vintage) both indicate a wine with little to no oak ageing. These wines are typically made in stainless steel, tend to be more fruit forward and are designed to be quickly consumed and easy to drink.
Barrica (meaning barrel) and Roble (meaning oak) are wines that are lightly oaked and typically aged for three to six months. While still fruit forward, these wines begin to introduce a minor amount of toasty wooden flavors from the barrels they are aged in.
Crianza (meaning aged or nursed) are wines that are required to be at least two years of age with a minimum of six months spent in oak. These wines are more structured, clean, balanced and contain a more varying and prominent degree of oaky flavors.
Reserva (meaning reserved) are wines that are required to be at least three years of age with a minimum of one year spent in oak. It is common practice for most producers to barrel age these wines for even longer than the required one year. These wines tend to be more intricate and less fruit forward while bringing to life the underlying flavors of earth.
Gran Reserva wines are at the highest level of Spanish ageing requirements. These wines tend to only be made during peak vintages when the best fruit is available. The minimum requirement is five years of age with two of those years spent in oak, though many coveted producers go far beyond the minimum requirements. These wines are known for their elegance, subtlety and highly developed delicate flavors.
Rey Santo Rueda, 2015
Our Price: $10.99
I can’t imagine a better pick for Summer wine drinking! The wine is crisp, fresh, aromatic, floral and just fruity enough. The blend is 50% Verdejo and 50% Viura (Macabeo) and the grapes are harvested at night so the wine making process begins at a naturally cool temperature. Rey Santo was founded in La Seca, the best growing region in Rueda, by the current producer’s great grandfather in the early 19th century. After four generations of winemaking, Javier Sanz showcases his experience with meticulous attention to his vineyards and production. The 2015 vintage boasts flavors of pears, white cranberries and citrus peel.
Perfect substitute for: A light Sauvignon Blanc.
Burgans Albarino, 2014
Our Price: $15.99
Burgans is the name of the hill where the Bodegas Martin Colfax winery is located. It overlooks the Rias Baixas region and provides a view that inspires the winery to this very day. Burgans Albarino is made using new vinification techniques such as a vertical design of the winery and a temperature controlled cold system. The winemaker refers to this vintage as modern and stylish with highlights of ripe apple, apricots and peaches and an off dry finish.
Perfect substitute for: A fuller bodied Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris.
Evodia Garnacha, 2014
Sale Price: $9.99
Produced by winemaker Jean-Marc Lafage, Evodia Garnacha is both sustainably grown and vegan friendly. The grapes are hand harvested and fermented in stainless steel tanks in Calatayud, a rural region of Spain. The area is known for having the same black schist soil found in Priorat. The unique terroir combined with old vine Garnacha grapes creates this exceptionally smooth, fruit driven wine featuring flavors of blueberries, plums and black currant.
Perfect substitute for: A bold Syrah.
Honoro Vera Organic Monastrell, 2014
Sale Price: $8.99
Bodegas Juan Gil was originally built in 1916 and is currently run by its fourth generation of family members. Their Honoro Vera Organic Monastrell is made using grapes grown by following a strict adherence to the organic regulations of both the U.S. and the European Union. The family namesake is full of pride for their long stemming tradition of trademarking quality products. The area suffers from harsh conditions and little rainfall, creating low but intensely concentrated and flavorful yields. The 2014 vintage is aromatic, complex, rich and drinks far above its price point with a perfect harmony of fruit and spice.
Perfect substitute for: A full bodied red blend.
Montecillo Rioja Reserva, 2010
Sale Price: $13.99
Montecillo grapes are carefully selected from the best vineyards of La Rioja. The wines are traditionally made in artisan casks made of both French and American oak and are known for being exceptionally smooth, supple and full of personality. The 2012 Reserva is beautifully aged with hints of vanilla, licorice, mint and black fruits, a firm structure and balanced tannins.
Perfect substitute for: A fruit forward Cabernet Sauvignon.
DON’T FORGET THE FOOD!
Wine and food pairings can happen in one of two ways; finding flavors that balance one another or to simplify things; matching region with region. This is one of those times where I would encourage you to keep things simple and have some fun exploring all of the beautiful flavors that Spain has to offer. Focus less on the details of which exact wines match each exact food and simply enjoy each unique and sensational flavor.
Tapas are traditional Spanish “appetizer” type dishes that focus more on fresh, simple ingredients than anything too complicated. Tapas bars adorn most Spanish street corners and the purchase of a beverage typically accompanies complimentary small plates of fresh Mediterranean olives, Spanish cheeses, Jamón (Spanish ham), patatas bravas (potatoes with a spicy aioli-like dressing) or fresh bread. Wine is such a huge part of the culture that if you’re traveling on a budget, you’re usually better off purchasing a glass of wine than a bottle of water!
Paella is arguably the most famous Spanish dish often containing rice, saffron, olive oil, vegetables, beans and seafood, chicken or rabbit. Paella dates back to the 19th century and hails from Valencia, Spain’s third largest city after Barcelona and Madrid. Other popular Spanish favorites are tortillas (an egg dish similar to quiche), empanadas (pastries stuffed with meats & potatoes), gazpacho (chilled tomato soup) and bocadillos (simple sandwiches).
Siesta time is a large part of every day Spanish life. Most of the businesses shut down for several hours in the late afternoon while locals enjoy long lunches and socializing with friends and family followed by an afternoon rest or nap. The high heat during Siesta time encourages life to move at a slower pace and meals can take hours, always complimented by delicious food and crisp, cold beverages. It’s almost impossible not to embrace the Spanish philosophy of “Manana” while you are visiting. Literally meaning tomorrow, or sometime in the un-specified future. Figuratively meaning, what’s the rush? Sip your wine and take your time.
-Kelsey, Divine Wines
*Prices quoted in this article may reflect current sales or specials and are subject to change.