Spain is the country with the largest land area of vine cultivation in the world. The end result is a superb panorama of ‘terroirs’ which conceive a wide assortment of extraordinary quality wines.
“Cloudy Spain” may not have much of a ring to it, but “Sunny Spain” is simply good marketing. Although inclement weather and Spain are not usually linked, “sun and warmth” tell only half the story. In fact, Spain is vastly diverse climate wise. From Atlantic chill in Asturias, to balmy Mediterranean beaches in Almería for example, these two Spanish coasts have little more than sand and water in common. Spain’s meteorological character cannot be classified by just one adjective. The same is true about its viticulture. The end result is a superb panorama of “terroirs” which conceive a wide assortment of extraordinary quality wines.
In raw numbers, Spain is the country with the largest land area of vine cultivation in the world and the 3rd in terms of total wine production by volume. As stated, it’s hugely varying from North to South, East to West, not to mention the very contrasting sets of Islands, Canary and Balearic. Spain also firmly holds a high global position in terms of oenological prestige. Undoubtedly, many professionals and wine geeks around the world would give Spain a spot on the podium in most aspects of wine.
Tracing a funky looking star on an Iberian map, Galicia, Alicante, Cataluña, Cádiz, Mallorca are five very unique regions in Spain that are radically distinct in many ways. A Galician can easily feel like a foreigner on a visit to Cádiz, as can a Mallorcan in Tenerife. There is perhaps more disparity than similarity. The climate, culture, customs and gastronomy are all very different in each region, but they do however, have something remarkable in common; outstanding and original wines.
Here’s a quick look at some of the local varietals that stand out in this small sample of regions:
Galicia: Albariño, a delicate, exciting and complex grape that yields delicious and special wines that often surprise and delight us with small doses of ocean air, has become all the rage in many countries, including the United States. Often compared to the French Viogner in flavor profile, Albariño is the perfect match for many sublime seafood pairings.
Alicante: Monastrell makes up 75% of the red wines in Alicante. Deep red in color, fruity aromas, strong bodied, robust and muscular, this grape couldn’t be more “Mediterranean”. -Perfect for producing powerful young wines.
Cataluña: Although originally from Cariñena, Aragón, the grape Cariñena is the base for most of the prestigious wines of Priorato. Sensitive to mold and mildew, this highly tannic and acidic grape is a best used in the vinification of aged reds, or “vinos de guarda”. Often it is blended with tempranillo and garnacha (two of Spain’s most renowned and prominent grapes) specifically for this purpose. The outcome is wines of intense color, softly (florally) aromatic, silky and tender.
Cádiz: “Vinos de Jerez” or “Sherries”, are terms used to refer to a very special and truly unique wine type that is specific to Spain. The elaboration varies, as do the grapes used to produce the extensive range of these fabulous and broadly divergent wines (Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez being the primary varietal candidates). From deliciously dry, crisp, saline and pleasantly bitter wines like Manzanilla, all the way to the complex, dense, rich and sweet Pedro Ximénez. -A whole universe of wines unto its own.
Mallorca: Manto negro, often blended with Callet and Fogoneu, all native to Mallorca, render some positively interesting and impressive wines. These grapes breed wines of medium intensity color, jammy fruit aromas with solid structure and decent barrel aging capabilities, culminating in finely balanced wine with soft tannins and tertiary aromas.
Although there are probably over 600 autochthonous grape varieties, roughly five more articles like this would cover all of the more commonly used varieties in the elaboration of the majority of Spanish “caldos” nowadays. But grape varieties are only a part of the equation. Hundreds of years of tradition, intense modernization and tremendous “terroir” diversity are all key elements of the formula that has allowed for such a privileged (yet well deserved) position of prestige in the wine world. Spain truly has an amazing abundance of great wine from every corner of the peninsula and islands, all quite worthy of being explored.
A wine: Mauro 2005, readily available at many wine stores, markets and supermarkets.
A tip: Sediment is generally a positive sign and not to be feared. The less a wine is filtered and stabilized, the more intense and “true” it will be. Although most wines don’t need it, this is the main purpose of decanting.
A quote: Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages (Louis Pasteur).