BY LYNNE BRITTON
Spain has more acres of vineyards than any other country in the world, but for many years Spanish wine has taken a back seat to its counterparts from Italy and France. That is changing, with several new wine-producing areas achieving international acclaim and some native Spanish grapes attracting the interest of wine lovers. Spanish reds in particular provide a great source of high-quality wine at reasonable prices.
Spain is between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and its terrain ranges from cool, coastal lowlands through rugged mountains to hot, dry plains in the south. Most of the major wine-growing areas line river valleys, such as the Ebro, home of Rioja, and the Ribero del Duero. With its varied climate, Spain produces many types of wine. It includes crisp acidic whites, sparkling wine, roses, medium-bodied reds, bold tannic reds and fortified wine (sherry.)
Though known for its reds, Spain offers some unusual and interesting whites. Albarino is a native grape grown in the far Northwest close to the Atlantic. With scents of almonds and citrus, it has bracing acidity and is a great match with shellfish. Any food you would squeeze a lemon on will be enhanced by Albarino. Verdeho comes from the Rueda region and is often blended with Sauvignon blanc, producing a wine with more body than Albarino but lighter than Chardonnay. The Godello grape, from Valdeorras, yields a soft, mellow white.
Spanish sparkling wine is called Cava, made in the mountainous northeast near Barcelona. Though it is a blend of several native grapes, it is made in the same way as Champagne, with a second fermentation in the bottle producing the bubbles. Dry or slightly sweet, it is an economical alternative to Champagne.
The two major red-wine-producing regions are Rioja and Ribera del Duero, and both focus on the king of Spanish red grapes, Tempranillo. Rioja usually blends in other grapes, while Ribera del Duero is generally all Tempranillo. Government-controlled labeling indicates how long the wine was aged before release: Joven means little or no time in barrel, Crianza spends one year in oak barrel and one year in bottle, Reserva has one year in oak and two years in bottle, and Gran Reserva has two years in oak and three years in bottle, so that it will be at least five years from harvest before it reaches the market. Longer aging results in more complex, developed flavors and higher prices, but the younger versions can be appealing, with soft tannins and exuberant fruit.
The smallest designated wine area in Spain is Priorat, in Catalonia near Barcelona. Only 50,000 acres, it is completely surrounded by another wine domain, Montsant. The Priorat vines grow in solid slate and their roots snake their way along cracks in the rock for 30 feet or more. Grape varieties include Carinena and Garnacha, sometimes blended with French imports such as cabernet, merlot and Syrah. Priorat wines are dark, dense, full bodied and age-worthy.
Other emerging areas to look for include Toro, with reasonably priced Tempranillo wines, and Bierzo, showcasing the native Mencia grape.
Many experts regard Spain as the new culinary capital of Europe, supplanting France. Traditional foods such as paella and tapas have worldwide appeal, but the buzz is about molecular gastronomy, invented by chef Ferran Adria. While some of his inventions might seem far out (shrimp ice cream, mushroom foam), his techniques have revolutionized cutting-edge cuisine in Spain and around the world.
Winery tourism in Spain is in its infancy compared to Napa and Sonoma, but many wineries are starting to open tasting rooms and give tours. It’s best to go with a specialized tour operator, such as Niso Wine Tours (www.nisowinetours.com), started by Nicole Andrus, whose father was a well-known California winemaker. Their tours encompass all the major wine regions, as well as culinary, historical and cultural destinations.
Madrid and Barcelona are full of fascinating attractions. And of course, the classic Spanish traditions of bullfighting and flamenco dancing and the magnificent Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim museum in Bilbao are worthy of a detour from the wine road.
The following selections are available at Wine Spirit Shoppes in Dauphin and Cumberland counties.
- Finca de Arantei Albarino 2009, $12.99
- Blanco Nieva Verdejo Rueda 2009, $11.99
- Albet I Noya Cava Brut $18.99
- Dinastia Vivanco Reserva Rioja 2005, $17.99
- Bodegas Vizcarra Ramos Vizcarra Roble Ribera del Duero 2006, $17.99 (East Shore only)
- Bual and Gine, Gine Gine Priorat 2008, $19.99
WORLD OF WINE: Midstate wine enthusiasts Terry Lehman and Lynne Britton
focus on key wine regions around the world in this wine series, which
discusses reasons for visiting the region, the food scene and a few wine
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