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Untangled Vine

An attempt to sort through all things wine. Specifically of, and about, but not limited to: Food and Wine in Toledo, Ohio. Plus the day to day musings of a Wine Distributor...

Sí España!

10 years ago, the mere mention of Spanish wine, invariably received a mixed bag of emotions. This enigmatic wine region had been overlooked for far too long, and today, The United States wine market is beginning to reflect that sea of change. But what has brought about the (seemingly) sudden transformation, and is this a passing trend, or are we staring at the next bona fide wine region superstar?

History has a funny way of shedding light on a current situation, and with the Spanish Wine market, this couldn’t be truer. 140 years ago, phylloxera hit France thanks to an Ohio wine grape farmer. As this disease infested every winemaking region of France, the people in the French wine industry followed the jobs right to Spain. Spain didn’t get hit as hard by phylloxera because of the Pyrenees Mountains. This range proved to be the only thing to slow down this incessant pest. With them, the French brought some of their favorite varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Mourvedre. After 40 or so years, the French went home after the phylloxera issue was resolved (perhaps a discussion for a future article). Their influence remains today, nowhere more than the “international” grape varieties commonly used there. Fast forward to 1975- Franco dies, and tyranny ends, opening up wine trade in Spain for essentially the first time. At this point, there were a few regions exporting (Rioja, Ribera del Duero), but many were of questionable quality. The wine revolution in Spain had begun.

Over the next 30 years, a few important events occurred, most notably irrigation. Irrigation became legal in 1996, opening up a new world for winemakers in La Meseta (the center of Spain defined by arid climate and high elevations). Winemaking prowess has continued to improve, as has viticulture. A seemingly collective conscious towards high quality, and exporting have made Spain the #1 nation in the world under vine. With 5500 wineries (and growing) and 2.64 million acres planted to the wine grape, the Spanish wine revolution is upon us.

In order to truly understand the diversity of Spanish wines, one must first explore the grapes employed throughout this vast winemaking region. We previously discussed the “International” varietals, but that’s only part of the story. Spain is proud of its many noble varietals, and some are among the best in the world.
Tempranillo- Without question, the most important Spanish varietal, this grape can be very tannic and long lived. The best examples are in Rioja and Ribera del Duero, although, it’s dependable in most regions. Also known as Tinta de Toro and Tinto Fino.

Garnacha/ Grenache- This is probably a noble grape, dating back to the days of Aragon, although the French may disagree. It is arguably better here than anywhere. A hundred years of neglect has been good for these grapes, the older the vine the better. Deep and dark to bright and red, this is certainly Spain’s most versatile red, finding it’s way into Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Navarra and to new heights in Priorat. Also labeled as Garnaxta Negre.
Monastrell/Mourvèdre-Another assumed French varietal, probably originated in Spain. This grapes shows some serious Terroir, and can be almost gamey. Grown extensively throughout Alicante, Almansa, Jumila and Yecla.

Mazuelo/Cariñena/Carignan- ¬Used to add structure and color to blends in need, this is most common in Rioja, and the regions surrounding Tarragona.

Maccabéo/ Viura- One third of the famed trio of grapes in Cava (Spain’s amazing and inexpensive Sparkling Wines), this lovely white does well in warmer regions, particularly where oxidization can be an issue. It has elegant low acidity, and a nice floral character.

Albariño- One of the few Spanish wines that is consistently labeled as the varietal. It can have high acidity and alcohol. Aromatic and peachy, it’s reminiscent of Viognier. Found most commonly in the Galicia Region, specifically in Rias Baixas.

Verdejo- The grape of the famous Rueda. It is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc. This grape is aromatic with an herbaceous quality reminiscent of Laurel.

Xarel-lo/ Pansa Blanca- Another important component of Cava, this grape is most notably grown in Penedès. Early ripening, this can be an intensely distinctive grape.

And here are a few key terms you will eventually come across on Spanish Wine Labels:

¬Cosecha: year or vintage
Joven: 12 months or less in oak.
Crianza: six months in oak casks, and at least a year and a half in tank, cask, or bottle. Requirements many vary slightly from region to region.
Reserva: Minimum of three years in both cask and bottle, with at least one of those in cask.
Gran Reserva: Wines that may not leave the winery until at least 6 years of ageing ahs elapsed, of which 2-3 years are in Cask and 2-3years are spent in the Bottle.

One of the best things about Spanish wines is the fact they seem to have one foot firmly entrenched in the old world, and the other firmly in the new world. Straddling styles seems to wear well on them. They are at once accessible and cerebral, both cathartic and delicious. They are certainly something for everyone to enjoy. Now armed with inspiration and a wealth of info, you can continue on the wine route unsupervised. Please take some time to enjoy Spanish wines of all colors and prices; you will be impressed time and time again.
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