This month Great Domaines focuses on Spanish Wine, and we’d like you to rediscover with us the country with the most land dedicated to vines in the World. As Spain has so many regions we have decided to only focus on our top five.
Wine is heavily embedded in Iberian culture, when the Phoenicians made it to the peninsula they found vines already being cultivated, and estimates date their origins as far back as 4000BC. Successive civilizations only influenced an already strong tradition of viticulture.
When the Bordelais fled in terror from the Phylloxera scourge, they settled on the far side of the pyrenees along the banks of the Rio Oja. Reminiscent of their homeland, they quickly began crafting wines from the native Tempranillo grape, and introduced the concept of barrel ageing. They quickly discovered that the varietal had an incredible natural affinity for wood, and was capable of long periods of ageing. A classic young Rioja is full of fresh red fruits and sweet spice, while older styles develop complexity and a dried fruit element as well, and can often be confused for Bordeaux at twice the price. A small amount of white wine is also made, and also sees significant barrel ageing. A Rioja blanco is a great alternative to fairly priced Chardonnay.
Recommended: Valenciso Rioja Reserva 2009
Situated a couple of hours from Madrid on the Iberian plateau, the Duero is the Spanish continuation of the Portuguese Douro – one of the most famous rivers in the wine world. Planted primarily with Tinto Fino (the local clone of Tempranillo) wines from this region at their best are rich, dark and powerful with ripe juicy tannins – an enticing combination. The altitude of the region means that despite hot days, the nights remain cool and the fruit is able to preserve its freshness while building up considerable sugars and flavours. Ribera is home to Vega Sicilia – Spain’s one-and-only ‘First Growth’ and has a strong cult following. A small amount of white wine is also made from the Rueda varietal. Rarely amazing but generally reliable, a Rueda is a good alternative to a reasonably priced Sauvignon Blanc.
Recommended: Alion 2012
Follow the Duero closer to the Portuguese border and you’ll come to the region of Toro. Named after the Bull, this animal best describes the nature of the wines from the area. Big powerful, and more rustic than their neigbours upstream, these wines made from Tinta del Toro (yet another Tempranillo clone) and regularly nudge 15% alcohol. At their best they are said to taste of the blood of the beasts themselves – no prizes for guessing how best to match them with food!
Recommended: Pintia 2011
Priorat is now Catalunya’s premier red wine region, but this was not always the case. For years it was a producer of cheap red and rosé made from Garnacha (Grenache) but it’s potential was recognized in the early 90’s by Alvaro Palacios (then working in Rioja). Yields were drastically reduced, and international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were introduced. Situated on the steep volcanic slopes leading up to the Iberian Plateau this enabled the region to unlock its true potential, and now produces some of the most sought after wines in the country.
Recommended: Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofi (new vintage arriving late Feb)
Nestled in the elbow of the Galician mountains, this is a region of historic importance in the wine world which was obliterated by the phylloxera blight in the 19th century. More recently this wine has failed to hit its potential, producing cheap, bland wines with a few notable exceptions. Alvaro Palacios has had huge success here, invoking the same quality focused principles employed in Priorat and producing wines from the Mencia grape, as close to red Burgundy as you’ll find this side of the Pyrennees.