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10 Cool Things You Probably Don’t Know About Spanish Wine (but should)

Spain…a place so diverse yet the first thing that comes to mind for most is the grand region of Rioja, followed by wines like Tempranillo, Cava or Albariño. Dig in a little deeper and you’ll discover Spain has so much more to offer. So I’m going to let you in on ten little secrets — well, to be more precise it’s more like a few inside scoops, a few predictions and a challenge or two.

spain_diversity

By the end of this post, you’ll be a savvy Spanish wine guru doing the funky Hondarribi Zuri dance.

1. The next big white: I know many of you have a long time love affair with Albariño, and who can blame you?  She’s rich and tart, with unrivaled character and finesse. But if you’re looking to cheat on Albariño, try Godello. It’s a superbly perfumed, aromatic white with arrays of mineral, peach and melon with zesty lemon-lime undertones. I wasn’t expecting to cheat on Albariño, but when mistress Godello does a little table dance, she’s hard to ignore.  Native to Galicia, Godello’s home is tucked away in a remote and rustic region known as Valdeorras although smaller plantings are found in the Bierzo Denominación de Origen (DO).  So now that you are in the know, keep your eyes peeled for Godello’s rising stardom.

2. The next big red: Everyone’s familiar with Spanish Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta and Monastrell, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Think Mencía. It’s not a well-known grape here in the U.S. but I predict it’s popularity will increase in the coming years.

It’s similar to a Cabernet franc producing a high quality wine with high acidity and a super-fragrant bouquet that will knock your socks off. Think fruity yet complex; sexy and structured; elegant and silky withcastro_ventosa1 aromas and flavors of black pepper, violets, mineral and earth enveloped with red and black fruits. If you want to splurge, go for the ’05 Castro Ventosa “Valtuille Cepas Centenarias” Mencia from Bierzo, which is spicy with mineral and black cherry notes. This is a wine that really showcases the Mencía profile with layered complexity and a sexy appeal.

I had an opportunity to try other great examples at a Spanish Wine Educators course, which were equally impressive. The ’06 Bodegas Casar de Burbia is one that fits the Mencía profile with youthful yet complex qualities with flavors of red fruit and dusty tannins.  The ’07 Tercer Motivo was earthy and well structured with dark fruits and mineral.

calimocho

Calimocho. Chronicle / Craig Lee

3. Wine-based drinks: Many of you might be surprised that young adults in Spain don’t drink wine straight out of the bottle. Now I don’t mean that literally, I mean they usually mix it with coke, lemonade, Sprite or 7-UP. Tinto de Verano is one part red wine and one part gaseosa, which is low sugar lemonade. It’s sort of like Sangria but not, and you can substitute Gaseosa for Sprite or 7-Up. If you’re in the Costa del Sol region, it’s common for locals to drink this concoction as tourists drink Sangria. So the next time you’re visiting Spain and you want to be a cool cat, forgo the Sangria and ask for a Tinto de Verano. You’ll avoid looking like a tourist and you’ll get a little respect from the locals.

Another drink, Rebujito, is Fino mixed with Sprite or lemonade. Another ever-popular drink, calimocho or kalimotxo (in the Basque Country and Navarre) is a mixture of wine with coke.

4. Garnacha Tintorera: Wine Geek Alert! This red grape, also known as Alicante, is the only variety, along with Alicante Bouché, which produces colored juice. Press a grape by any other name and you’ll get clear colored juice. Garnacha Tintorera is widely planted in Albacete, Alicante, Orense and Pontevedra, and it’s considered a main variety in Almansa DO.

ribeiro_taza5. The Ribeiro drinking vessel: Ribeiro is a Spanish DO for wines located in the northeast of the province of Ourense (Galicia, Spain).  White wine represents about 80% of the wine produced, and most of it is made out of the Treixadura variety, which is native to the area. Tradition is to drink this light, fresh, fruity and floral wine out of a white cup called a ‘taza‘ or ‘cunca‘.

6. Navarra doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up: Big brother Rioja in the Ebro River Valley overshadows smaller DOs like Navarra, which is experimenting with a number of grape varieties and styles. In terms of red wine production, Garnacha and Tempranillo roughly account for 61% of the total grape production. Coming in at a distant third and fourth, Cabernet production is approximately 15% and Merlot accounts for roughly 12%. Lost for identity, I’d like to put Navarra out of it’s misery and pronounce Bordeaux blends for its future. Call me crazy, but some of the best wines I’ve tasted from this region are just that.

Take for example, the 2006 Bodegas Vina Magana Calchetas Navarra, which is a Merlot, Cabernet, Malbec blend. Its complex, concentrated and round filled with lots of blackberry, cassis and cherry notes. The balance was superb, ending with dry, ripe tannins. This was one of my favorite wines tasted during the Spanish Wine Educators class.

7. Cencibel: If you see this word on a bottle of Spanish wine, don’t fret. It’s another word for Tempranillo, often used in central and southern Spain, especially in the La Mancha region. Drink it, you’ll love it!

8. I predict Sherry will be your new addiction: I know what you’re thinking. I’m not drinking granny’s stale bottle of cream sherry. This might come as a surprise to you, but Sherry has so many different styles, its hard not to find one that fits your personality.  Once you try them, I’ll guarantee you’ll find one you like — and who knows, you might even find a mistress to keep Godello company.

sherry_styles2

So here’s the challenge — invite a group of friends over for a Sherry tasting. Have them bring different styles of Sherries and taste though a flight. Have plenty of food on hand like green olives, artichokes, nuts, asparagus, cured meats, shrimp and sushi.  The beauty about sherry is that it pairs well with foods that are difficult to pair with wines. To get you started, I’ve listed sherry styles and food recommendations:

Dry Styles:

tio_pepe21Fino: This style has a light, salty, nutty flavor with hints of yeast and dried fruits with bright acidity. Serve it well chilled.  Pair with sushi, green olives, artichokes, pickled items, asparagus, shrimp, and pistachio nuts.

Manzanilla: This style is light, crisp, and dry with a pungent, yeasty nose and delicate flavors of almonds and chamomile.  Serve chilled. Pair with sushi, green olives, artichokes, pickled items, asparagus, shrimp, and pistachio nuts.

Amontillado: Slightly pungent with a deep, complex nutty nose; light and smooth. Pair with gorgonzola, roquefort or stilton cheeses and toasted almonds.

Oloroso: Deep mahogany color with warm, round and complex flavors. Pair with cured meats, brie, toasted nuts and bitter chocolates.

Natural Sweet Wines: px

Moscatel: Intense mahogany color; very sweet, nutty, fresh & velvety. Pair with blue cheese, toasted almonds, dried fruits, sweet desserts or drizzle over vanilla gelato.

Pedro Ximenez: Dark mahogany color; deep aromas and flavors of dried fruits, toffee and liquorice. Pair with blue cheese, toasted almonds, dried fruits, sweet desserts or drizzle over vanilla gelato.

Blended:

solera21Pale Cream: Slightly pungent, sweet, light and fresh with notes of almonds. Pair with fresh fruit, blue cheese, prunes, or spicy sausage.

Cream: Full-bodied, sweet and velvety with intense oloroso aromas. Pair with fresh fruit, blue cheese, prunes, or spicy sausage.

…and if you are interested in learning a little bit more about Sherry before your party, check out Catavino’s post, Sherry 101.

canary_islands9. Canary Island vineyards: If you had no idea that the Canary Islands produced wines, you are not alone as few wines make it to the U.S. market. If you have a chance to visit the region, head to D.O. Lanzarote, were you will see some of the most spectacular Viticultural landscape on the planet. The center of Lanzarote is a vast landscape of black solidified lava, and the outer edges of the lava field are terroir rich with volcanic ash called lapilli. Vines are planted in hoyos or trenches, (also called zanjas), and cairns protect each hollow to shelter the vines from the Sahara winds.  I can guarantee you won’t see anything quite like the Viticultural landscape of the Canary Islands.

10. Hondarribi Zuri & Hondarribi Beltza: White (zuri, in Basque) and red (beltza) are varieties used in the traditional Basque chacolí (a.k.a. Txakoli, pronounced chaw-KO-lee). The white version is common in Chacolí de Guetaria DO, and the red is ample in Chacolí de Vizcaya DO. This variety is as hard to pronounce, as it is to find it at your local wine store. Hondarribi-Zuri is pronounced “on-dar-ee-bee zoo-ree” — store this away for the next time you play a wine trivia game (ah hem, #VinQ!).

…and until next time, try a few Spanish wines and enjoy the diversity that Spain has to offer.

Oh, and if you’re looking to learn more about wines, follow me on twitter. You never know what I might leak out for the next big prediction or wine find.

Many thanks go out to The Wine Academy of Spain and to Catavino for sponsoring my attendance at the Spanish Wine Educators Program as well as to my professor, Estaban Cabezas, for all his knowledge and passion and to Simone Spinner for her assistance and sound advice :)

This post was written by:

- who has written 298 posts on Enobytes Wine Online.

Editor and co-founder of Enobytes.com, Pamela is a former restaurant manager, wine buyer, and sommelier with WSET, CMS & Center for Wine Origins certification. She has contributed to or been quoted by various publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Sommelier Journal, Vegetarian Times, VIV Magazine, UC-Berkeley Astrobiology News, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and USA Today. True to her roots, she seeks varietal and appellation integrity and is always passionate about finding the next great bottle of wine.

Contact the author

34 Responses to “10 Cool Things You Probably Don’t Know About Spanish Wine (but should)”

  1. Fantastic post! Thanks so much for sharing your bite sized bits of wisdom with us.

  2. Julian says:

    I enjoyed that! I wish you’d been at our Spanish tasting the other week. Come to think of it, the post would make a tasting in itself.

    • Kien says:

      Off to Portugal November 7th to try the wines of Dao, Bairrada Beira Interior. I will be giving daeily updates on the tastings and their results. Look for the pictures and articles.

  3. Nice post and thanks to mention Garnacha Tintorera. Spanish people should read this. Most of the grapes varieties you talk aobut are unknown also in the Spanish market although the things are changing little by little.

  4. Great job! There are SOOOO many different types of wines out there to explore, especially from a place like Spain, which enjoys a multitude of growing areas and therefore produces a multitude of different varieties!

    Cheers!

  5. Darcy MacPherson says:

    I am a HUGE fan of Spainish wine. This was a great article. I highly recommend the sherries especially as the weather turns to Fall.

    Great article Pam, and I want to hear more about the Spanish Wine Academy.

  6. enobytes says:

    Thanks all for your wonderful comments.

    Julian, I’m always up for a Spanish tasting :)

    Javier, I’d appreciate it immensely if you’d circulate the article in Spain :)

    ~Pamela

  7. Pamela-

    What a thoughtful and informative post! Always a pleasure to read your work.
    Thanks for the support and for participating in our class, our fun, and our tasting!

    Good luck with your decisions on which path to take…not to evoke Led Zeppelin or Tolkien. (MW) I am sure our paths will cross in the classroom again…I hope.

    Simone

  8. enobytes says:

    Hi Simone! thanks for the compliments…and see you in class :)

  9. ahli anggur says:

    Old news, but good news. And where’s my Palo Cortado?

  10. Michele says:

    I had no idea Spain had so many different types of wines. I can’t wait to try some of them. Thanks for such an extensive report! Cheers.

  11. Elise says:

    Great post! I’m about to head off to Basque country on a wine and gastronomy tour of the Rioja region and this will definitely come in handy. Thanks for letting me look like I know what I’m doing!

  12. enobytes says:

    Michele, glad you found the article invigorating. I hope you try some of the wines and report back & share some of your favorites. ~Pamela

  13. enobytes says:

    Elise, thanks for the kudos! I’m envious of your trip – keep us posted on your wine and gastronomy travel experiences!

  14. Albertina Torres says:

    Really interesting, Spain is so rich in grapes varieties. It is really worth to come and visit the country enjoying good wines.

    http://www.vimeo.com/3221371

  15. Angel Soto says:

    Gracias. Muchas gracias.

  16. Mary says:

    Elise, I visited Rioja last year and I really enjoyed the region. You should not miss modern wineries such as Lan and other more traditionals as Paternina ancient cellars in Ollauri or Franco-Españolas next to the river Ebro in Logroño. The gastronomy is superb and you should also go for a round in Logroño tapas street (Laurel).
    I highly recommend San Sebastian city if you go to the Basque country. Enjoy Spain and Rioja wines!

  17. enobytes says:

    Thanks for the comments Angel & Albertina.

  18. enobytes says:

    Mary, great tips and thanks.

  19. Bradski says:

    I think I went to school with an Al Barino.
    Great article. Learned a number of new things, and, since you learn something new everyday, I’m pretty well topped up for the balance of next week.

  20. enobytes says:

    Hey Bradski! Thanks for stopping by. I think Al Barino retired last year:) How’s harvest coming along in the Okanagan Valley for ’09?

  21. Jake Nieminen says:

    This is a really great article. I got great info here that I could not find anywhere else. Thanks!

  22. Arte funerario says:

    Me gusta el estilo con el que escribes , os pongo en mis favoritos. Mucho animo y seguir asi

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