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| Commentary by MadridMan
|Spanish Wine: An Education in the Wines of Spain
You are viewing PAGE 2 of the Spanish Wine page. If you are here by mistake please GO BACK TO PAGE 1. Otherwise, scroll down and learn all about Spanish wine by contributing author Brian Murdock, author of the Spanish Wine books, "Let's Open a Bottle" & "Spanish Wine: A Pocket Guide". Enjoy!
[CLICK HERE to read "About the Author" or scroll down to the bottom of this page.]
| Spanish Wines: A Spanish Wine Education for the OLD & New World
| (continued...) by contributing writer, Brian Murdock
Know thy grape
Though ordering by the region is still far and away the most common method in Spain, grape variety awareness has increased over the years. Both foreign and domestic varieties abound, and even some little known local varieties have resurged. Here?s a sampling of what you can get.
Many consider it the country?s finest and most noble contribution to the wine world. It plays a major role in some of Spain?s most prominent regions such as Rioja, Navarra, Ribera del Duero (where it known as Tinto fino or Tinta del país) and La Mancha (called Cencibel) and can now be found practically anywhere else. It is a very well-balanced grape. Not only does it age very well but it is also capable of coming up with fine fruity young wines. Not bad, right?
The mostly widely-planted red grape Spain, Garnacha for years earned a name as a kind of work-horse for the wine industry. It tended to go bad quickly though, and that made the much revered aged wine a far reach. In the last few years, it has made an enormous turn-around. In certain regions, like Priorat, it has proved capable of producing wine for blending of a quality light-years beyond anyone's wildest dreams, and we are seeing a resurgence of this fine variety. Garnacha produces fruity and intense, often hearty, reds, and in Navarra, it is the backbone of most of the region?s exceptional rosés.
Mazuela or Cariñena (carignan)
Has for long been in the same boat as Garnacha. Carignan actually gets its name from the Spanish wine region Cariñena, where, ironically, it is about as common as coconuts. Cariñena is a high in acid and ages well, making it a wonderfully key figure in blending.
Grape variety closely related to the Cabernet Franc. It is very popular in León and Galicia and yields a dark red, fruity perfumed wine. Though some wineries are toying with aging, its best virtues tend to appear in young wine.
Popular in southeastern Spain, (Jumilla, Yecla, etc.), this variety stands out for making somewhat dry reds as well as appreciable sweet dessert wines. I have to take my hat off to Monastrell, because few biological specimens could do as well in the punishing heat of Murcia as this one. You would think it was a cactus. Great on its own and compatible with other grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Others include Bobal, Graciano, Prieto Picudo, Negramoll, Listán, Manto Negro
Those are the local ones (there?s a whole slew of other minor ones), but you will also find the foreigners making their presence known. Here are the biggest for reds: Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot , Syrah (becoming very popular)
Lately the jewel of Galician white wine. Fruity, aromatic and very smooth. This grape has been the force behind Galicia?s incredible revival and its wine has become Spain?s undisputed superstar in the white wine world. It's very fruity and crisp. Fermentation in the cask is on the rise with some stunning results.
Verdejo: One of Spain?s most well-established whites. Grown primarily in the small region of Rueda, these whites are famous for being dry and full of character.
Pale and light and low in acid, this white is popular in many parts of northern Spain with irregular results. It also contributes to Catalonia?s cava.
The big one in La Mancha. Probably the most widely planted vine on earth, and exclusive to Spain. Traditionally a good example of the more the worse, but that characteristic is changing. It may never be an outstanding variety, but some feel, including me, it is sorely underrated and that it can produce some pleasant wine.
Another Galician goody. Well in the shadow of Albariño, it has made a strong case for its reputation of late. Highly aromatic, it can be somewhat softer than Albariño.
Used mainly for Ribeiro, traditionally Galicia?s most famous wine.
Common on the east coast of Spain and used for traditional sweet dessert wines.
Malvasía Though found on the mainland and used for sweet and semi-sweet wines, much of its fame originated in the Canary Islands during the 16th and 17th Century. It has made a notable comeback of late.
When you think of sherry, this is the one you want to thank. Light and fresh, it is also found in other northern regions of the country.
This one is common in Malaga and Montilla-Moriles. The screw-top bottle looks suspicious, but the sweet wines often earn raving reviews.
And, of course, we cannot forget a few friends from abroad:
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc (Common in Rueda), Riesling
What exactly does Crianza mean?
The Spanish have always been crazy about aged wine. In the past, anything briefer than a turtle?s lifespan seemed just plain inadequate if the wine was to rise to immortality. Thank God that mentality has taken the route of the VHS videotape. Today, there are great wines both young and old. Nonetheless, aging is still a common technique and a source of countless classic labels from all over the country.
You may have (or may not have) come across the word ?crianza? before in your life. It is sometimes a source of confusion because it actually has two meanings. In a larger sense it refers to the general aging of wine in a barrel and bottle. This practice can be broken down into three categories:
Overall aging: 2 years. 6 months in a barrel and 18 months in a bottle before hitting the market. Here?s the other meaning. Whenever you see it on your bottle, more often than not it refers to this specific period of maturing.
Overall aging: 3 years. 12 months in a bottle and 24 months in a bottle.
Gran Reserva: Overall aging: 5 years. 24 months in a barrel and 36 months in a bottle. That?s a good way to raise expectations.
Many regions follow these guidelines but the specifics can vary from one to the next. Plus, there are many fancy new-style wines which adhere to their own aging processes and which have nothing to do with the traditional methods. Another ever-increasingly popular method is the one termed ?Roble? or ?En barrica?. These are wines with a hint of wood barrel aging.
If you don?t see any of these terms printed on the label, or if your wine doesn?t cost three hundred dollars, more often than not it is a young wine and should be drunk as soon as possible from the vintage printed?but first pay the cashier, please!
A look at One Wine Region
The former information should help you feel more than adequately prepared to take on the Spanish wine experience. You are already probably familiar with world renowned giants like Rioja. This remains Spain?s premier region in terms of recognition, exposure and, in many ways, overall quality, especially in the red wine department. If your local wine shop abroad is going to have one bottle from Spain laying around, chances are it will be a Rioja. And, as I always say, when you?re not a 100% sure and don?t want to take any chances, you can almost always count on a Rioja to pull you through. But you also have rising-star reds from Ribera del Duero, Toro, Priorat, Jumilla and La Mancha, as well as fantastic Albariños from Galicia and refreshing rosés from Navarra. The list just goes on and on, so let?s just take a peak at one.
Here?s a white wine region nestled in the very heart of red wine land, Castilla y León. It?s called D.O. Rueda and it has comfortably wedged its way into the Madrid market as the white wine to drink. Nowadays, if you order a white in the capital without specifying, this is probably what you?ll get. And the funny thing about that is that about thirty years ago, Rueda wines looked, smelled and tasted nothing like the ones we enjoy today. The classic Rueda was a sherry-like wine, slowly oxidized in a big dark glass container which kind of resembled one of those pods you saw in the 1950s sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It essentially took the foresight of a legendary Rioja winery, Marqués de Riscal, to turn things around in the 1970s. Now the region produces some of Spain?s finest whites, and at great prices too.
The local variety is called Verdejo, but Sauvignon Blanc has adapted very well here as well. Verdejo has an apple-like aroma to it, as opposed to Sauvignon, where tropical fruit dominates. Verdejos are crisp, dry wines. Sauvignons are a little more fruity. If you feel your nose is up to it, give it a whiff and see if you can detect these characteristics.
Ruedas can be split up into three categories. Since the information stated on the bottle isn?t always very explicit, let?s give you a rundown on what you are getting:
If it just says Rueda, that generally means it has 50% Verdejo and 50%
from another variety such as Viura.
Verdejo Means all or most of the wine is Verdejo.
Sauvignon Blanc Most or all is Sauvignon Blanc.
You may also find red wines, but they have just arrived on the scene and need time to improve.
With the passing of each year, the offer expands and Ruedas are now fairly frequently sighted at wine shops abroad. Whether you are in your country or in Spain, especially in the center of the country, here is a selection of a few Ruedas you might like to try:
Cuatro Rayas Verdejo
Mantel Blanco Verdejo
Martilli Sauvignon (also the Verdejo is very nice)
Palacio de Bornos (both Verdejo and Sauvignon)
Castelo de Medina
Oro de Castilla Sauvignon (also Verdejo Jóven)
Marqués de Irán Verdejo
Marqués de Riscal (Sauvignon, Verdejo and Limousin)
As I said before, these wines are still a steal compared to other hip regions, many going for less than 5 euros, so they are an excellent way to start out on Spanish whites without paying a hefty price. They go well with fish, seafood, soups and fresh cheese.
D.O. Rueda (Province of Valladolid, Comunidad Autónoma Castilla y León)
Famous for Dry whites made from Verdejo and fruity ones using Sauvignon Blanc
How to Visit the Region Head 100 miles straight up the highway from Madrid to Galicia (A-6) and you can?t miss it. Rueda has its own exit and many of the wineries are located there.
|About Brian Murdock, author of "Let's Open A Bottle" & "Spanish Wine"
Brian Murdock was born in New York but grew up in Connecticut. His first contact with Spain would come in 1988 when he spent a semester abroad in Madrid while a junior at college. Like many, he soon fell in love with the country in every way. After returning to the U.S. to finish his degree at the University of Richmond, followed by an eight-month stay in Mexico, Brian went back to his "native" Connecticut to gather his bearings and find a calling. Many offers came to his attention, but Spain never left his mind. In 1991 he headed for the Iberian Peninsula again "just to see what happens." He has been residing there ever since.
He is now married to a Spaniard, her name is Carmen, and they have two daughters, Ana and Clara.
Though an English teacher by trade, in May 2004, Brian realized one of his lifelong dreams. He published a book. It?s a fascinating and amusing look at the Spanish wine revolution called Let?s Open a Bottle.
A lover of Spanish gastronomy from the first day he arrived, he didn?t actually begin to take an interested in wine until soon after his first daughter was born (a pure coincidence, he asserts!). The birth of the book itself was almost as arbitrary. "The genesis of this creation," he states in the opening line. "...came about pretty much in the same way wine probably did: by chance!"
How? Well, it all started when he accidentally stumbled upon a scathing internet article on Spanish wine. A furious Brian wrote another article in defence of what he believed had been a terribly misrepresented symbol of Spain. Wine was good in Spain, he cried out, and getting better every day. At the time, it was a belief based more on instinct than expertise, but he firmly stood by this claim and further research would confirm his intuition.
It was his brother Pat, a long-time member of the publishing world and a man with another personal goal (starting up his own business) who took the idea and told Brian to turn it into a full-fledged book. "This is going to work," said Pat. "Trust me." Thus a brotherly partnership fused two aspirations and launched this incredible journey through Spain and its wine.
As one reviewer has put it, "(Let?s Open a Bottle) is more than just a book about Spanish wine." It?s nearly a microcosm of Spain itself. Its diversity, its history, its mystique, its verve for life. In addition to riojas and sherry, learn about the bones beneath the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, how some wild boars spend their free time in Murcia, the ingredients that go into the stew cocido madrileño and where the Spain?s best haunted house is. Brian takes you through this adventure personally. He invites you discover what he?s discovered. You can meet his friends and family along the way.
Let?s Open a Bottle will appeal to the wine enthusiast as well as the novice; the seasoned traveler and the first-time visitor to Spain alike. Or anyone just looking for a good adventure story. Its informative, fun, easy to read and filled with charm and wit. Open it up and see for yourself!
He is currently preparing a pocket guide of Spanish wine and another book on living in Spain.