With a viticultural heritage dating back to 4000BC you’d think that Spain would have been leading the international wine pack for some time. However, it seems experience doesn’t necessarily lead to quality. In fact it could be argued that Spain’s ancient involvement in wine so deeply rooted it in tradition that it struggled to move with the times at all – churning out over-aged, over-oaked domestic plonk and sherry.
Modern times have seen something of a turnaround throughout much of Spanish wine making. Dropping a little pride and learning a thing or two from the neighbouring French, regulating quality with the introduction, in 1932, of the Denominación de Origen (DO) system and Spain’s acceptance into the EU, have allowed winemakers to break free from their centuries-old heritage, to experiment and ultimately to create exceptional, world-class wines.
Spanish wine labels are often confusing to the uninitiated. Complete with DO classifications which assign regional quality, there are generally age designations as well. Essentially, Vino Joven is a very young, happy thing that needs to be drunk quickly. A bottle of red marked Crianza is two years old and has toyed for 6 months with some oak (whites and roses are probably only one year old with 6 months of oak). Reds labelled Reserva are three and have spent at least one year ageing in oak (whites and roses are two with 6 months in oak). And Gran Reserva tells you that you are about to drink something that has aged for at least 5 years, has enjoyed at least 36 months of oak and is most probably something quite special.
Probably the most internationally popular Spanish DO wines come from Rioja, and this region, along with its compadre Priorato, are the only two Spanish regions to be given the special classification of Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa), which essentially means they are wonderful wine growing regions and everything that comes out of them is heaven in a bottle. Rioja predominantly delivers Tempranillo which some consider to be Spain’s signature grape. Priorato offers full bodied, voluptuous Garnache (Grenache) and Carinena. But wait, there’s more..
Penedes in Catalonia! Funky, bubbly, dynamic Penedes. Famous for its Cava, Spain’s Champagne equivalent but with other treats to offer too, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Monastrell. And what about Rias Baixas’ Albarino? And Sherry from Jeres? More and more and more. There are over 600 grape varietals grown throughout Spain – you’ll probably want to stop reading now and get into them…