To talk about Spanish Wines is to talk about the Spain's core. Spain is a world class producer of wines, both in quality and in quantity. Better known are the quality reds from the Rioja and Rivera del Duero, reds and whites from the Penedes, fine whites from Rueda, "sherries" from Jerez, and the quality sparkling wine known as cava. But to become acquainted with Spanish wines, you must know that there are 40 recognized wine regions in Spain, you should learn about the grapes and you should be able to interpret the labels amongst other tips, but there is no substitute than to try them for yourself!
When choosing a Spanish wine, these four terms are extremely important and will guide you in choosing the perfect wine for your special moments:
They will help as well to fully understand this page.
There are 40 Wine Regions in Spain, and here is a list of them with their best products:
Spanish wineries are known as "bodegas" and the wine makers, "bodegueros". The bodegueros make their products from a large variety of grapes. It's not unusual to find the typical Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir ...., but the great majority of the wines produced in Spain are completely unknown outside the Iberian peninsula. Also the methods used by the "bodegueros" are based on the same "technology" used in other wine producing areas with of course differences in technique, storage and aging methods, etc. Thus each produces some interesting and often pleasantly distinct wines.
Modern techniques have also made their way into the bodegas. Stainless steel vats as well as controlled temperatures, during fermentation, have done much to improve the overall levels of quality. However some areas still continue to produce their wines using traditional methods, which include fermenting and aging in huge clay pots known as "tinajas", or a modern day replacement in the form of reinforced concrete vats. Here, are three wine making regions that are unique in the world:
Wines from Jerez, Xéres, or as they are known in English Sherries, are in a class all their own. The special taste of a sherry is due to the unique methods that are used in the Jerez area. The main ingredient of the best sherries is the Palomino grape. A sherry is aged in loosely stoppered casks, where a special yeast growth that prevents oxidation is added, which in turn adds that special taste. Towards the end of the maturing process, the "flor" yeast, as it is called, is killed of by the addition of alcohol, and the Jerez is then moved to the "solera".
The solera is a vertical row of oak casks, designed to gradually mix old wine with new one in order to achieve a consistent final product; this mastered process is used year after year. Finally, the end product to be bottled, the sherry, is drawn off from the bottom row of the casks; these are topped off with wine from the next row, and so on. What does all this mean? Well simply that if you see something of the likes of a "Solera 1856" on a bottle, this is the year the solera was originally put on line.
Penedés, north of Barcelona is one of the quality wine producers of Spain, creating some fine reds, fruity whites, and first rate sparkling wines, which are called cavas. The red wines of this region generally spend less time in oak casks than their Rioja counterparts, therefore they tend to be less "oaky". Both native grapes and the better known Cabernets, Pinot Noir, etc. are used by the Penedés bodegeros.
The sparkling Spanish wines, or cavas, are clearly the leading wine export. The best cavas are produced in a variety of geographic areas, generally called their D.O. ( Denomination of Origin). Cavas are generally produced using three distinct methods:
3. "Granvás" (fermented in large vats).
Cava, or "traditional method" uses the Champagne method. This method consists of subjecting the white wine to a second fermentation to add bubbles naturally in the bottle. The bottle-fermented style is made in much the same way, except that the cava is transferred to a new bottle at the end of the process; this is also called the "transfer method".
The granvás system involves large pressurized vats, which hold the wine during the second fermentation; this then means that the bubbles tend to be larger. A fourth class of cheaper sparkling wines that is done through adding CO2 gas directly to the wine to create the bubbles. These cavas are known as "vino gasificado". If you are in doubt about what kind of cava you are purchasing, you'll find that the production method is identified in the label, and as well as at the bottom of the extracted cork (however, if you wait to read it then, you most likely have bought it! Thus we recommend that you read the label, we hope this makes sense).
The Rioja wines are typically built around the Tempranillo grape using traditional production methods, technique that came from Bordeaux in the 19th Century, and oak. Aging in oak is one of the key characteristics of the Riojas even some of their white wines are matured in oak. The 225 liter "barricas" whether new or used, and made from either American or French oak, are always an important part of the best Rioja bodegas.
For the wine drinker, the language and terminology used in labeling can be a serious problem when selecting Spanish wines in the local shop. The following sections should be helpful in both understanding what you are about to buy, as well as how and when to most enjoy it. At first, trying to make sense of a Spanish wine label may seem to be a daunting task; but it's not really that difficult. Rather than run a course in label interpretation, let's just try and get a handle on the basic terminology.
We think that you are beginning to understand how complicated it may be to choose a Spanish wine, but that is not so. There are basic rules to it; first of all, you should keep in mind the 5 basic quality levels of wine according to their quality or aging:
1. Vino de mesa, or table wine.
2. Vino joven, or young wine, usually from a qualified DO region, often with a bit of aging, but not enough to be a "crianza".
3. Crianza is a wine that has aged 2 years with at least 6 months of aging in oak
4. Reserva quality wine, normally has aged at least 3 years with at least 1 year in oak cask, 2 years in the bottle, and are made from top vintages
5. Gran Reserva quality wine has aged at least 2 years in oak and 3 years in the bottle; this wine is made from exceptional vintages.
Then keep in mind these important terms when choosing Spanish wines that will help you on selecting the acquired taste you are looking for:
Seco = Dry
Semi-seco = Medium-dry
Brut = Very dry
As we've seen, the majority of Spanish wines are produced from native grapes. The list of all the known native varieties would but be impractical here, as there are literally hundreds of recognized grape varieties. Let's start with the best known ones, as used in the main regions. The D.O. system includes the grape varieties allowed in each D.O. region. Most wines are produced mixing several varieties to achieve the required characteristics: color, alcohol content, balance, aging properties, etc.
Finally, adding a Spanish section to your wine cellar is neither a hard task nor an expensive investment. . Probably the best advice is to keep it simple, but varied according to the DO and the taste sought after. Adding a reasonable selection of Spanish wines will add interest and variety to your cellar, and to your meals. Crianzas and Reservas tend to be quite good, and reasonably priced, and depending upon you personal taste, and of course budget, there's a lot to choose from in both cheaper everyday wines as well.
Now you can enjoy some part of the Spanish life style at your table. However, let us remind you that there is no substitute than sitting at a Spanish table with us and not only enjoy the wine, but the tertulia as well. What is tertulia? Well,...that is the theme for another page. In the mean time, enjoy and rise your cup high.
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