Wine Gourmet  

Vineyard in Spain.  (Photo: Flickr user, prairiegirl33)
Vineyard in Spain. (Photo: Flickr user, prairiegirl33)

Wines of Spain

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Pouring into Vancouver on March 28th and running to April 3rd is the annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. This is the 33rd year of the Wine Festival and it has grown from a tiny one-winery festival into North America’s, if not the world’s, premier wine attraction. As with every year since 1996, there is a regional focus and a global focus. This year, it is Spain’s time in the limelight with the spotlight on fortified wines.

A world class producer of wine, Spain is the largest grape-growing region in the world, covering a surface area of almost 4 million acres compared to France’s 222,000 acres. It accounts of 30% of vineyard plantings in the EU and represents about 15% of the world's vineyards. In spite of this, the country is only the third largest producer of wine in the world, the two largest being France and Italy.

Amongst wine-producing countries, Spain has a history that is hard to compete with. Dating back to the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans, vines have been cultivated and wine has been made in Spain for over 3000 years.

The Romans, in their zeal to conquer the world, contributed to the wine culture by introducing vines during their occupation. The need to supply the vast Roman Empire and its legions with wine played an important part in building up Spain’s wine trade. The arrival of the non-drinking Moors in the eighth century A.D. put a damper on the wine trade which lasted 700 years.

It owes a great deal of its legacy to Phylloxera, which caused extensive damage to the French vineyards in 19th century and triggered a massive exodus of French winemakers into Spain. They brought with them wine making techniques that helped spark the first great wine boom in Spanish history.

Spain's wine industry took steps towards standardization and modernization in the 1920’s and 30’s, but the Spanish Civil War left vineyards in a shambles and World War II destroyed any export market. The industry began to recover in the post-war era of the 50’s and 60’s.

The transformation of the image and quality of Spanish wines during the last quarter of the 20th century has been truly remarkable. During this period, a group of hard-working pioneers began to introduce and apply new viticulture and viniculture techniques that were being used elsewhere. A major force behind the revolution in Spanish wine, this new generation of young Spanish winemakers were educated in countries other than Spain, countries such as France and at the University of California at Davis. This resulted in new ideas being brought back to Spain and a willingness to try new styles of wine and not to be restricted to “making your father's Rioja.”

The types of grapes grown in Spain are, for the most part, ones that North Americans are unfamiliar with. While there is Cabernet, Chardonnay and Merlot grown, the most common are Garnacha Tinta, Tempranillo, Bobal and Monastrell for red and Albariño, Verdejo, Parellada, Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Palomino for the whites.

While Rioja has had the privilege of being the most well-known of Spanish wine regions, it is becoming more innovative by changing its practice of long aging in American oak in favour of longer maceration of the grape and a shorter aging in the softer, more subtle French oak. However, there are now smaller areas, which are showing promise by improving their viticulture and viniculture.

The buzz on the Spanish wine scene is coming from places such areas as Castilla-La Mancha, Catalonia, Extremadura and Valencia. These regions are becoming known for their well-made wines and along with Jumilla, Cataluña, Yecla, Albacete and Uclés, we are seeing another wave of great tasting Spanish wines that do not taste like those of other countries.

This week we take a look at a few of the spectacular Spanish wines currently on the market.

The 2008 Finca La Estacada ($14 PWS) is aged for 6 months in American oak barrels from a selection of 100% Tempranillo grapes. Its deep red and purple colour indicates strength and youth with aromas and flavours of blackberries, black currants and some minerals and balsamic crème notes. The palate is powerful, fleshy and yet refreshing with firm, round tannins and an excellent acidity. Perfect for all kinds of meats, pasta and risottos.

Every once in awhile, a spectacular wine comes along at an unbelievable price and the 2005 Finca Los Aljibes ($19 PWS) is just such a wine.  A tasty little Spanish red, this beautiful mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc would be more at home in Bordeaux, given the blend.  Displaying a deep, rich colour, it offers aromas of spicy blackberry, raspberry, cassis, menthol, smoke, leather and spice.  The palate is medium-full bodied and spicy with black fruit, tobacco, leather, roasted coffee, soft acidity and firm tannins that do not dominate, allowing the juicy black fruit to come through on the mid palate and the finish.  A terrific wine at a recession-busting price, this is one wine to buy cases of and enjoy when the B-B-Q season rolls around or have with the Sunday night roast beast.

From the Almansa region in the southeast of Spain, the 2008 La Huella de Adaras ($19 PWS) is a blend of 60% Garnacha Tintorera, 30% Monastrell, and 10% Syrah from 30 year-old vines. Showcasing an opaque ruby/purple colour, the nose reveals with intense aromas of black cherry, blackberry, ripe plum and dried black olives with smoked meat, chocolate, tobacco leaf and baked earth. The concentrated core of rich black fruit, smoke and luscious, mouth-coating texture is backed up by full-bodied, inky, black fruit flavours, balanced acidity and tannins and a heady, long finish. This wine is under-priced, or a terrific value, whichever way you want to look at it.

From the tiny area of Albacete in Castile-La Mancha in the region of La-Mancha Montearagón, the 2008 Castillo de Morante ($15 PWS) is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. Full of ripe black plums, black cherries, blackberries and ripe raspberries with chocolate, licorice and vanilla on the nose, the soft acidity and firm tannins enrich the round flavours of juicy plum, berries and cherries. Another excellent value from Spain.

The 2005 Bodegas Y Viñedos Del Jalón La Pizarraz Viñas Viejas Garnacha ($34 PWS) is a spectacular wine, produced from 70-100 year old Garnacha (Grenache) vines. Look for a rich deep purple colour with an approachable nose of sweet black cherry liqueur, raspberries and black pepper mixed with sweet black licorice, rose petals and violets and rich loamy earth. Full-bodied, amazingly elegant with a luxurious texture, soft acidity and firm tannins, this is a wine for enjoying over the next 10-15 years.

Produced from 100% Tempranillo and aged in barrel for 18 months, the 2004 Bodegas Valdemar Conde de Valdemar Reserva ($36 PWS) is a rich, juicy wine with aromas of black cherry, raspberry, blackberry and blueberry. Hints of leather, smoke, toasted oak and a touch of vanilla on the palate opens up to a big, rich and mouth-filling wine with a mix of spices and dark berry fruit with a soft, round, supple mouth feel. Soft acidity and medium tannins round out this delicious wine. Open this wine and let it breathe for about 20-30 minutes.

Produced from 100% Tempranillo, the 2005 Sabor Real Viñas Centenarias ($28 PWS) is a spectacular wine for the hot new region of Toro in northwest Spain. This is a dense purple coloured wine, full of soft, rich, blackberry, and black plum-jam aromas with dark chocolate, smoke and vanilla notes. The flavours are ripe and intense with excellent weight and balance. While it is delicious to enjoy right now, it could be cellared away for another 5 years. Let it breathe for an hour or so and serve with roasts, beef stew, lamb, or strong cheeses.

In Vino Veritas

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