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Tasting Spanish Wines

Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 18.56.00F F T rounds up some of the most promising Iberian bottles.

For so long in the shadow of French and Italian wines, Spanish wine has only recently begun to get the respect it deserves. Spain has a wine history dating back over 7,000 years and, in that time, over 100 recognized wine regions have developed. And with more vineyards planted than any other European country, Spain is currently the world’s third largest wine producer. The best quality wines tend to come from the more northerly parts of Spain, where the sun exposure is good but the nights are cooler. Antonio Lorente, a prominent wine importer, describes Spanish wines as “extrovert”, with a lot of character, expression and elegance, more experimental than Italian wine and better value than French.

Reds from the Rioja region are Spain’s most popular wines, and with good reason. Rioja, one of only two Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa), produces perfect sipping wines that pair brilliantly with rich cooked meats, cheeses and seafood. The Tempranillo grape, native to Rioja, is capable of producing wines that can withstand long ageing periods, with a good balance of colour and acidity, and a fruity mouth-feel that gets smoother over time. Dalcassian Wines stock a fine Tempranillo from the Langunilla winery. Deep ruby red in colour, Langunilla Tempranillo, boasts an Aroma of ripe plums with a vanilla finish on the palate thanks to its ageing in American oak barrels.

The Altanza Lealtanza Crianza 2006, stocked by Pallas , is another great red from the Rioja region. 100% Tempranillo, fermented with native yeasts and aged for a year in French and American oak, this intense red has a complex fruity and spicy nose, ripe tannins, and a smooth finish with well-structured acidity. Awarded 88 Points by the International Wine Cellar and 89 by The Wine Advocate, this Rioja is a real crowd pleaser.

Pallas Penedés in Catalonia, is home to Spain’s most popular celebration wine, Cava. Generally a mix of three grapes, Cava has three different levels of sweetness and ageing; Semi-seco (semi-dry or sweet), Brut (dry) and Brut Extra (totally dry). Available from Febvre Wines, The Sant Manel Brut Cava consisting of 50% Xarel lo, 35% Macabeo and 15% Parellada, is an exceptional sparkling wine. Straw yellow in colour with hints of green, Sant manel has a complex bouquet. Dry and well balanced on the palate, with a gentle acidity, this is a very elegant Cava that pairs well with pork or poultry dishes and sweet desserts.

Homage to Catalonia

Catalonia is also known for making good rosé or rosado as it’s known in Spain. Miguel Torres De Casta Rosado, available at Findlaters, is made from a blend of Granacha and Cariñena and matches well with any recipe that uses tomato or tomato sauce, such as pasta or pizza. Cherry coloured with a light purple background, this rosada has a floral aroma and discreet hints of plums and cherries while its smooth, rich palate and delicate aromas are prolonged in the finish. Perfect for terrace dining on a sunny day.

While Spanish reds and rosés have been a popular choice with Irish consumers for a while now, white wine from Spain has traditionally been a hard sell. But, gradually people are realizing that a number of Spanish vineries are now producing whites of high quality. Comans stock some fantastic whites from the Rías Baixas Denominación de Origen (DO) region, with some of the most interesting coming from the Valdamor winery. Family owned, the Valdamor Bodega is located in Meaño, in the Northwest of Spain, and has Galician D.O. classification. One of the most eminent wineries in Galicia, it produces 100% Albariño wines, a grape noted for its distinctive green apple, apricot and peach aromas, Valdamor Albarino, the winery’s signature bottle, uses a mixture of young and old vine stocks giving its wine a special character; aromatic, richly structured on the mouth with a lingering finish. A recent winner of the Golden Medal in Vinalies Internationals, Wine Spectator awarded Valdamor Albarino 88 points.

Findlaters also stock a fantastic white called Marques de Riscal Rueda. This white is made from the local Verdelho grape, known for making fresh well-balanced wines with intense aromatic tropical flavours. Lemon-straw in colour, Marques de Riscal has hints of fennel and fresh green grass and pairs well with seafood and cold cuts.  Syrupy but refreshing on the mouth this white has a slightly bitter finish


Popular grape varieties

Albariño: A thick skinned white grape grown in Galicia, aromas of apple, apricots and peaches

Carineña: A red grape primarily used for blending. Makes highly acidic wines with strong tannins, often blended with Garnacha

Garnacha: A dark red grape with flavours of coffee and leather. In Spain, it is mainly used in Navarra, Rioja and Priorat

Monastrell: An extremely popular grape, particularly in the regions of Jumilla and Yecla, creates dark wines with high alcohol levels, high concentration and fruity flavours.

Tempranillo: Spain’s most famous grape. Used in some top wine regions like Rioja and  Ribera del Duero. Makes savoury red wines that possess tobacco, leather and vanilla hints. Matures well in the bottle.

Verdejo: A white grape from Rueda,  known for making sweet, aromatic white wines with low acidity.


Panel: Spanish Wine Basics

  • Añejo: Aged
  • Bodega: Winery
  • Cepa: Vine or name of grape:
  • Cosecha, vendimia: Vintage year
  • Joven: A young wine which has had little or no oak aging, usually fruity and meant to be drunk within a few years of release.
  • Crianza: has spent one year in oak barrels.
  • Reserva: has been aged for two years; one of these years has to have been spent in oak.
  • Gran Reserva: has been aged for two years in oak and three years in the bottle.
  • DO wine: has protected ‘designation of origin’ from the EU, production is strictly regulated to ensure quality standards are maintained.
  • DOCA or DOQ: The highest wine classification, currently held by Rioja, which got the classification in 1991, and Priorato which got the classification in 2002
  • VDT: Vino De La Tierra, experimental wines usually composed of a wide variety of grapes.  Made by producers who do not want to be constrained by the DO regulations.

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