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Spain is definitely one of the new-world players to keep an eye on. It is the land of old-vines, american oak and sherry! The main varieties grown in Spain are Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache) in the reds, and Airén, Viura/Macabeo, Verdejo and Albarino for the whites. Lesser grown whites include Palomino. Other reds successfully cultivated include Carignan, Mourvedre and Mencia.
Although Spain can be quite a warm country, the vast majority of vineyards are 600m or so above sea level, so the cooler nights allow the grapes to develop full colour and acidity.
Rioja is undoubtedly the long-standing king of all the Spanish wine regions, where Tempranillo and Garnacha are commonly blended. However more recently many more regions have come to the forefront of interest. Ribera Del Duero is producing excellent Tempranillo blends rivalling those coming out of Rioja. Jerez in the South is the home of the fortified wine Sherry.
Spanish wine laws created the Denominación de Origen (DO) system in 1932 and were later revised in 1970. These include:
- Denominación de Origen Calificada (formerly called DOCa) Priorat calls itself DOQ for Denominació d'Origen Qualificada in Catalan and has a track record of consistent quality and is meant to be a step above DO level.
- Denominación de Origen (DO)- Used for mainstream-quality wine regions. Nearly two thirds of the total vineyard area in Spain is within the boundaries of a DO region.
- Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada (VCPRD) - This is somewhat of a stepping stone to DO status.
- Vinos de la Tierra (VdIT) - A level similar to France's vin de pays system, where the regions are much larger.
- Vino de Mesa (VdM)- The equivalent of 'table wines' from France or Italy
Rioja is located in the south of the Cantabrian Mountains along the Ebro river in the north of Spain. The region also has a river called Rio Oja, which is where the region likely gained its name. There are three main regions in Rioja, with each of them producing quite unique expressions of Rioja wines.
To the west is Rioja Alta, in the higher elevated area. This sub-region is renowned for its old-world wines that are often lighter on the palate due to the higher altitude. The wines coming out of Rioja Alavesa on the other hand are fuller bodies, with higher acid levels than those from Rioja Alta. The third area, Rioja Baja is the warmest and driest of all, and can in summer months can be exposed to very high temperatures drought so irrigation is now permitted in the region.
The reds (tinto) wines of Rioja are generally blends of Tempranillo and Garnacha with lesser amounts of Graciano and Mazuelo. Amongst the white (bianco) varieties, Viura is the most common though normally blended with Malvasia or Garnacha Blanc. Plenty of interesting Rosé wines are produced, most commonly from the Garnacha variety. Note that wineries in Spain are commonly referred to as bodegas.
Rioja Alavesa is one of three subzones – along with Rioja Alta and Rioja Oriental – of the wine region of Rioja in northern Spain. It is also the smallest of the three subzones, and known for producing some high-quality Rioja wines from the Tempranillo grape. Rioja Alavesa sits between the Ebro River to its south and the Cantabrian mountains, the combination of which, along with characteristic cool and wet conditions, provides an ideal climate for viticulture. Vineyards sit at elevations about 700 metres above sea level, atop cool calcareous clay soils. Tempranillo ripens well in this environment. Indeed, red wines are more abundant here, and these Tempranillo-based wines are typically bright ruby red in colour, aromatic, and fruit-forward, with a balanced and velvety palate.
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