Spanish Wines

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We get together for wine tasting once a month or so. There is usually a theme and we each bring a bottle and a dish to share.

Late last year we had a Spanish wine evening and, because I was in a brief period between jobs, I had the time to research and select all the bottles for the evening. Since them, I have continued to taste the Spanish wines I can find in California. I think they are under appreciated here and decided to put together this post.

At its worst, I think wines made of Tempranillo have a similar character as cheap Chianti wines you pick up from the bottom shelf in supermarkets. At its best, Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines made of Tempranillo are considered some of the best wines in the world.

Photo Credits: Margaret N

The line up for that night sampled the main wine regions and styles of Spanish wine: we had a Jerez Sherry, an Albariño, a pair of Riojas (wanted to compare a Crianza with a Reserve), a couple of Ribeira del Duero. I had a bottle of Cava and a couple of Priorats, which we saved for a later day. For food we had Marcona Almonds, Manchego cheese, Jamón Serrano, and several other dishes. I also tried to cook a Paella (my Spanish friends said Scallops would be a very unusual ingredient).

Spain is one the most traditional producers of wine in the world, with the largest planted area and third largest production of wine worldwide (behind Italy and France).

Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha, Cariñena are some of the most common grapes. Rioja is the premier wine producing region, with Ribera del Duero and Priorat also producing great wines. The region of Jerez produce Sherry (fortified wine) and Catalonia produces Cava (sparkling). Rias Baixas produces white Albariños.

Besides the use of the Tempranillo grape, Spanish wines are thought to be more “rustic” and employ more traditional wine making methods. Modernization of the industry happened later compared to other wine producing countries.

Spanish wines are often labeled by age. Crianza are young wines (aged 2 years, with at least 6 months in oak), Reserva (at least 3 years with one year in oak), Gran Reservas are produced only in above average vintages and require 5 years, with 3 years in oak. Not unusual for Spanish wines to be released only after 10+ years of aging.

Rioja reds usually are made mostly with Tempranillo, with some blending of Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes. Rioja was influenced by Boardeaux producers in the 17th century and uses oak barrels to age wine.

Ribera del Duero is the second wine producing region, also using mostly Tempranillo grapes. Tinto Pesquera produces wines that are often among the top rated by wine experts.

Priorat is less traditional (and sometimes more innovative) and uses Garnacha and Carineña grapes.

Rias Baixas Produces the best whites from the Albariño grapes.

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