Spain has arguably one of the most amazing arrays of grape varietals in the world. With over 600 types of wine making grapes to choose from, Spanish wine makers have an arsenal of choices to make that perfect wine, and Spanish wine comes close to perfection.
Going to your local wine store’s Spanish section could be a bit overwhelming. Spanish wine varietals are confusing even for me. I’m going to write a quick guide to help you navigate and understand Spain’s most popular varietals, but before we can go into that, a consumer must first interpret Spanish labeling terms.
Most Spanish wines are labeled based on how long the wine is aged and the region the wine comes from. If a label has the term joven, this indicates the wine has not been aged in oak. The term crianza means red wines are aged at least two years with a minimum of six months in oak barrels, reserva means red wines are aged at least three years with a minimum of one year in oak barrels, and the term gran reserva means the wines are aged at least five years with a minimum of 18 months in oak. Also on the label of Spanish wine is the region the wine comes from. Premium wine regions of Spain include Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat, Catalunya, Rias Baixas, Jumilla, and many other smaller regions.
The main grape of the Rioja region, this grape gives full or medium-bodied reds, with medium acidity, medium tannins and red fruit flavors,. One of my favorite Rioja’s that uses predominately tempranillo is the 2008 Muga Rioja Reserva. This wine has been given over a year of oak ageing making it a perfectly smooth balanced wine with powerful fruit flavors.
Garnacha grapes are large thin-skinned grapes that ripen perfectly in hot, dry climates such as Spain’s. Garnacha wines are full bodied and high in alcohol content. Garnacha typically have red fruit character with spicy notes and a low amount of tannins. Garnacha is grown in many premium wine-growing regions of Spain and often blended with tempranillo in Rioja. My favorite Garnacha is the 2011 Evodia. This inexpensive wine scored 90 points from Stephen Tanzer’s International wine cellar and sells for only $11.99.
Monastrell is the most significant grape of the region of Jumilla. Typically difficult to grow, Monastrell is a wine with high levels of tannin, high alcohol content and a slight sweetness. Monastrell’s are typically earthy with hints of herbs and very low level of fruit notes making it a rich savory wine. My favorite Monastrell is the 2011 Juan Gil Monstrell. This wine is aged in French oak for one year making it a perfect wine that balances fruit, alcohol and oak tones.
One of my favorite white varietals in the world, Albarino is grown in the Riax Baixas region of Spain. Usually unoaked, this grape variety gives light to medium-bodied wines with fresh green and citrus fruit and refreshing high acidity. Albarino pairs perfectly with any seafood dish as well as on it’s own for casual consumption. My favorite Albarino is the 2011 Burgans Albarino. This fruit driven acidic white is light, crisp and extremely food friendly. Excellent alternative to your everyday whites such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon blanc.
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