The Spanish Wine Regions
When Columbus first voyaged to America – sailing under the Spanish flag – they journeyed in three famous ships, which we all know by name: The Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta.
For us North Americans who are interested in discovering Spanish wine for the first time, there are three regions worth committing to memory: La Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Priorat.
These regions are emissaries of a proud wine nation. While perhaps not as renowned as France or Italy, the Spanish have been producing some of the world’s finest wines for many hundreds of years. Over the past few decades, they have stepped up their game, following other Old World vineyards in modernizing techniques and updating facilities. The country now makes some of the best-valued wines.
La Rioja Wine
La Rioja is the most well-known wine region of Spain and easily produces the most wine. It is famous for its reds – dominated by the Tempranillo grape. At 65,000 hectares, it is more than 10 times larger than the Okanagan VAlley. A Joven (or young, unaged Rioja) is a perfect patio sipper, with its fresh, juicy, fruit-driven qualities. At local tapas bars, it is the perfect base for sangria made with fresh fruit. Some even pour it over ice and top it with Coca-Cola. Rioja wines labelled Crianza are barrel aged to increase the texture and flavour profile. Reservas and Gran Reservas spend even more time in the barrel and bottle before being release into the market. The upper tier of Rioja wines are capable of aging decades, which provides for long, layered, and textured experiences that shouldn’t be missed.
Ribera del Duero Wine
Ribera del Duero is the arch-rival of Rioja, with Tempranillo grapes being the variety of choice here too. The high altitudes and extreme temperature variations from day to night offer an entirely different drinking experience than those of Rioja. Wine from these parts has a long and deeply rooted history, but was never widely exported nor thought to be anything to write home about. After leading American wine critic, Robert Parker, started to rave about the regions’s wine – the world took notice.
Ribera del Duero wines are powerful, grippy, and immensely dark in colour. Quality Duero wines are a hi-def experience that must be enjoyed by any wine enthusiast. In 1982, there were only 24 bodegas (wineries). Today there are close to 300! It’s a testament to the region’s new high profile success.
Priorat is the fledgling in the Spanish winemaking family, although its roots go back thousands of years. The region was once blanketed in vineyards tended to by Cisctercian Monks. Unfortunately, it was completely wiped out by a vine disease called Phylloxera. Since the 1990s, thanks to a new generation of young winemakers, Priorat has re-established itself as a one-of-a-kind fine wine region. Protected by the Sierra de Montsant mountains, drenched in sunlight and grown in the famous Llicorella slate soils, the best Priorat wines have incredible concentration and density – offering a full-bodied and almost emotional drinking experience. Grenache and Carignan are the most important grape varieties here, but Cabernet, Syrah, and Merlot play a supporting role.
Expansive … Not Expensive!
Did you know Spain has more acres dedicated to vineyards than any other country in the world (although it does not produce the most volume)? This is due to its arid climate in the centre of the country, where grape vines are planted yards apart so each plant is able to draw enough water from the dry earth.