Spain is a large and diverse country with a long history of wine production.
However, when you mention Spain to most American wine drinkers, they tend to think of sangria or sherry. While both of these are worthy products from Spain, the reality of the Spanish wine scene is much richer and certainly worthy of exploration. It is important to understand that the climates of the various wine-growing regions are quite different, with each subject to various influences, whether from the sea, mountains or simply elevation. It is this variation that leads to the incredibly diverse range of Spanish wines available.
Rioja is perhaps the most famous of Spanish wine regions. Located in north-central Spain, it lies along the Rio Oja, from which it derives its name. The river begins in central Spain and flows to the Mediterranean, which provides the major climatic influence: Warm by day and cool by night, it is perfect for grape production.
The local Tempranillo grape is the backbone of the famous reds of this region. These wines are full-bodied, dry reds that see various levels of oak aging. Typically, they show dusty red fruit with notes of wood and spice. The more substantial wines can age gracefully for a decade or more. Try the robust 2000 Lealtanza Riserva, $27, a succulent red that shows complexity from extended aging.
The Penedes area of Spain, just to the south of Barcelona, is famous for production of Cava, the delicious Spanish sparkling wine that is produced by the same methods employed in Champagne. They use local grapes such as Xarello and Macabeo, although in recent years more Chardonnay is being used. These wines vary from simple and inexpensive to some higher-quality wines that rival Champagne at a fraction of the price.
Cava may be produced as a white sparkling wine or as a Rose. Try the delicious Leopardi Brut Rose, $23, for an incredible taste experience: rich and complex, with the body of a red wine and the refreshing style of a sparkling wine. From this area, as in many areas of Spain, we get delicious, full bodied, dry, still Rose wines. Served chilled, these are incredibly fun wines for spring and summer. Try the 2009 Pares Balta Rose, $13. It is deep, salmon pink in color with explosive red cherry and currant fruit.
Moving a little to the south and a bit inland, we find the Priorat region — home to some of Spain’s priciest and most sought-after wines. Priorat is a mountainous region with many old, steeply terraced vineyards that require intensive hand cultivation, adding expense to the wines. Historically, Garnacha and Carignan were the major grapes, although in recent years Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah have been planted in the region.
The 2006 Ardevol Anjoli Red, $25, is an affordable introduction to Priorat. Ruby red color with bright-red fruit and notes of tobacco and spice, it’s perfect with grilled meats.
If you can envision Priorat as a doughnut hole, then Montsant is the doughnut around the hole as it encircles Priorat. The grapes used are similar, but land is less expensive and cultivation a little easier, leading to excellent wines at fair prices.
The 2007 Coca I Fito Jaspi Negre, $19, is a wine I was introduced to by some people who visited the region and loved the wine.
The majority of the wines discussed have been red. That is what made Spain famous, and I could go on about many other great red-producing areas. However, for the sake of parity I will mention a couple of the delicious whites from Spain.
The 2008 Shaya Verdejo, $15, is from the region of Rueda in western Spain. The vines are very old and produce a crisp, aromatic white with a bouquet of Kaffir lime followed by notes of fig, citrus and mineral. Crisp and refreshing, it is a perfect summer white.
Finally, I must mention the whites from Galicia in far-northwest Spain. This is a cool, green region along the Atlantic coast that is famous for producing crisp whites from the local Albarino grape. The area off the coast holds some of the richest shellfish beds in the world, and Albarino is the perfect accompaniment to shellfish or grilled baby octopus. Try the lush and delicious 2008 La Cana Albarino, $17, to experience the magic of Albarino.
To close, we come back to sangria: a delicious concoction for summer parties. It is possible to buy it premixed, but it is a shame to do so when it is so easy to make. I love the following recipe.
Mix wine in large pitcher with citrus fruit, squeeze the wedges to release the juice, add sugar and orange liqueur, mix and refrigerate overnight. Add Cava/ginger ale, pineapple and berries with ice before serving. It is the overnight mixing that allows the flavors to marry each other and become more delicious. Enjoy often but in moderation.
Story published Friday, May 7, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 3 )