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Spanish Wines: Beyond The Reds

November 3, 2019 3 comments

Let me ask you something: if you hear the words “Spanish wine”, what is the first type of wine which comes to mind – red, white or Rosé? I’m a self-admitted Spanish wine aficionado, and I can honestly tell you that my first association will be “red”, then probably Rosé, and only then white (when it comes to Spain, your wine type choices are quite wide, as you got also Cava, Jerez, Málaga – but let’s not make it too complicated).

There is a good chance that your associations were the same – Spanish wine equals Red. I certainly started my Spanish wine love embrace from the Rioja, best known for its reds with Lopez de Heredia Viña Gravonia, one of the best white wines made in Spain, being rather a curiosity than a norm. It took me several years until I heard the name Albariño and tasted what is today probably best known Spanish white wine. And then, of course, let’s not forget about the Rosé revolution which took place around the world over the last 5 years or so – Spain gladly joined the movement with wonderful Rosé, or rather, Rosado renditions of Grenache and Tempranillo rapidly showing up over the Spanish wine map.

Let’s explore a bit a Spanish non-red wine scenery – as I like to say, have wine – will travel. First stop – Rueda, the wine region located almost in the middle of the country.

Rueda is a part of the Castilla y León region in Central Spain. History of winemaking in Castilla y León goes back to the 10th/11th centuries and closely associated with the arrival of Catholic monks, who started vine cultivation and winemaking. We can say that the modern part of winemaking history in Castilla y León started in 1980 with Rueda becoming the first local winemaking region to receive the status of D.O. which stands for Designation of Origin, the quality designation in Spanish wine.

The majority of Rueda vineyards are located at an altitude of 800m (2400 FT) and higher. Rueda is known for its extreme climate conditions, where diurnal temperature shift can reach 50 degrees during the day – which is actually good for the grapes, as it helps to concentrate flavors, sugars and acidity. White grape called Verdejo is typically associated with Rueda wines, even though Sauvignon Blanc wines can also be found coming out of Rueda.

I thought it would be appropriate to give you some fun facts about Rueda, taken from Ribera and Rueda wine website: ”

  • There are 32,500 acres of vineyards in Rueda, of which 28,800 acres are Verdejo.
  • The area has 69 wineries and is cultivated by over 1,500 growers.
  • To be “Rueda Verdejo”, wines must contain at least 85 percent Verdejo.
  • Verdejo is harvested at night to allow the grapes to cool from the scorching summer heat.
  • Verdejo was almost wiped out by Phylloxera in the late 19th century, but it was revived in the 1970s.”

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to taste a few of the Rueda wines offered as part of virtual tasting at Snooth (here is the link to the video recording of this session if you are interested in learning more). The tasting covered wines of Rueda and Ribera del Duero (I only tasted wines from Rueda), and Snooth had a great wine deal offering related to the tasting, which is, unfortunately, already sold out.

We had three of the Rueda Verdejo wines in the tasting, all three were 100% Verdejo, 100% delicious, and 100% great value.

Just to give you a brief summary: Marqués de Riscal is better known as one of the oldest wineries in Rioja. However, they were also one of the first commercial wineries in Rueda, opening the winery in 1972 and being a driving force behind 1980 DO Rueda designation. While Bodegas Menade might be a new kid on the block, with winery established in 2005, the family had been in grape growing business in Rueda for 6 generations, going back to 1820. The grapes used for the Menade Verdejo come from the organically farmed vines which are 80 to 100 years old. The last Verdejo comes from one of the personal favorites – Bodegas Shaya. Shaya Habis, an oaked rendition of the Verdejo, had been my favorite Verdejo wine for a long time. While working on this post it was fascinating (or shameful, depending on your take – I had been writing about Shaya wines for many years, only now finally doing some research) to learn that Bodegas Shaya was a project of Gil family, whose El Nido (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with the addition of Monastrell) is one of the “cult”, sought-after Spanish wines. Bodegas Shaya project was started by Gil family in 2008, with the wines produced from old, low-yielding Verdejo vines.

Here are my notes for the wines we tasted:

2018 Marqués de Riscal Rueda Verdejo Rueda DO (13.5% ABV, $13)
Light golden
Touch of fresh grass, lemon, lemon zest, sage, rocks
Crisp, vibrant, lemon, a touch of gunflint, excellent minerality, medium-plus finish
8/8+, Delicious white wine – by itself or with food.

2016 Bodegas Menade Rueda Verdejo Rueda DO (13% ABV, $18)
Golden color
Great complexity, Whitestone fruit, a touch of honey, honeysuckle, interesting undertones of sapidity
Savory and sweet, minerally-forward, Whitestone fruit, crisp acidity, vibrant, fresh, medium+ finish
8-/8, should be good with food

2016 Bodegas Shaya Rueda DO (13.5% ABV, $13, 20%-30% of grapes fermented in barrels with 500 – 600 liters capacity)
Straw pale
Very unusual, dusty nose, a hint of grass and white flowers
High viscosity, roll of your tongue wine, restrained white fruit, Granny Smith apples, buttery impressions of a good balanced Chardonnay.
8+, my favorite of the 3, especially after being open for a few days.

How do you like the trip so far? Now it is time to move east to the region called Cariñena.

Winemaking in Cariñena goes back to Roman times. History of Cariñena wines includes Royal proclamations of “Cariñena wines above all”, and even the quality control instituted at the end of the 17th century, monitoring yield levels and production areas. Cariñena also managed to escape the Phylloxera epidemic of the 19th century. In 1932, Cariñena became the second D.O. in Spain (after Rioja). Here is the link for you if you want to learn more about the region.

Cariñena is best known and typically associated with Garnacha (Grenache for all outside of Spain), and it is also often considered to be the birthplace of that grape. Some of the Garnacha plantings in Cariñena exceed 100 years of age. The second important red grape in Cariñena actually shares its name with the region – it is called Cariñena, and also known locally as Mazuelo, and outside of Spain as Carignan. Other red grapes can also be found in the region – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Monastrell, Syrah, Tempranillo, Vidadillo. White wine production in Cariñena is much less than red; you can find Chardonnay, Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo (Viura), Moscatel, and Parellada growing there.

At the beginning of the post, we mentioned the “Rosé revolution”. So very appropriately, I had an opportunity to taste two Cariñena Rosado wines, made out of Garnacha, and the Chardonnay coming from one of the favorite producers, Bodegas San Valero. Here are my notes:

2018 Bodegas Paniza Fábula de Paniza Garnacha Rosé Cariñena DOP (13.5% ABV)
Beautiful salmon pink
Delicate nose of tart strawberries with a touch of lemon
Crisp, clean, refreshing, tart strawberries, good minerality, a hint of cranberries
8, excellent Rosé, a perfect wine for a summer day, but will work well with food at any time.

2018 El Circo Payaso Garnacha Rosé Cariñena DOP (13% ABV, $10)
Intense pink
Wild ripe strawberries
Ripe Strawberries all the way, good acidity, lemon, medium body
7+/8-, craves food

2017 Bodegas San Valero Particular Chardonnay Cariñena DOP (12.5% ABV)
Light golden
Touch of vanilla and apple, a hint of white flowers
Crisp, clean, fresh lemon, a touch of white pepper, vanilla, a round finish.
7+/8-, definitely a delightful wine

Here you are, my friends – Spain makes delicious wines, and not all of those wines are red. And let’s not forget that those wines represent an amazing value. Do you have any favorite Spanish white wines? Cheers!

 

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