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Making Sense of Spanish Wine, One Grape at a Time
Spain can seem like a complicated place when it comes to wine. It may feel as though there is just too much going on there, how can you make sense of it? For sure, they make a lot of wine there. Not quite as much as France or Italy, but still, a lot. Spanish wines cover the whole range, from juicy rose wines to fresh white wines and all the way up to full bodied, powerful red wines. They’ve got sparkling wines and they’ve even got fortified wines (Sherry, anybody?).Certainly, there is a Spanish wine for every occasion and for every budget. This is both good and bad for the average wine drinker. With so many styles of wine available, things can sure seem complicated and you might have questions: Which Spanish grape type is best for my taste?How do I pick a wine from Spain?How do I know if I will like the wine? What food does this wine go with? In order to be able to answer questions like this, it’s important to know what you’re talking about. Let’s start at the beginning, then: the grape variety. How many Spanish grape types do you think you can name? Even though may have had a lot of Spanish wine, you may not be too familiar with the grapes that go into them! Maybe you’ve enjoyed a Rioja, a Navarra, a Ribera del Duero, a Cava, or even a Sherry. And that’s great. Those are all high-quality Spanish wines, though none of these names actually describe Spanish grape types! Don’t worry about it, though. In Spain, as in many other “old world” (read: European) countries, they generally label their wines according to the region, not the grape. Rioja wine comes from La Rioja in the north of the Iberian peninsula, and Navarra originates close by too. Ribera Del Duero wine is produced from vineyards located along the Duero river in Castilla y León. Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, must legally be produced in a denominated area in the Catalonia region. Sherry (or Jerez in Spanish) is from the town Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia. Let’s take a look at some of the more important Spanish grape types, then:
Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines are best known for the Tempranillo grape. This red grape is often considered to be the most important Spanish grape type. In terms of flavour and aroma, Tempranillo can be neutral, so it is often blended with older grapes such as Garnacha and Carignan. Tempranillo wines are often aged in oak barrels, such as in Rioja Reserva and Rioja Gran Reserva. This can give the wine oak flavours, or flavours of vanilla, coconut and spice. You will find high-quality Tempranillo at a low price if you look outside of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, and instead look at Valdepeñas or Toro.
It may not be as well-known as Tempranillo, but Airén is actually the number one planted Spanish grape type. It is a white wine grape that can produced wines of high alcohol, and was historically the basis for Spanish brandy.
The Albariño grape produces lively and fresh white wines, at their best from the Rias Baixas region. These wines are low in alcohol though high in acidity, leading to a refreshing and zesty flavour profile. Fruit flavours of apricot and peach are common in the best examples. So there you have it, a quick primer on Spanish wines, starting from the bare basics – the grape.