The Vintage Roots Guide to Spanish Wines
Ahhh, Spain! We British love Spain – its climate, dramatic scenery, outstanding food, beautiful beaches and wonderfully warm people make it irresistible.
Our love-affair extends to Spanish wines which have been thrilling British taste buds for centuries. Famous names like Rioja, Priorat and Sherry dominated the wine drinkers psyche for a very long time in the last two or three decades things have changed dramatically.
In short, Spain has it all: great value red wines and white wines, divine sweet wines, hedonistic sparkling wines and some seriously classy red wines to rival the fine wines of France, Italy and beyond.
Organic viticulture: A top-priority for Spain
Spain has long been at the forefront of organic viticulture. Between 2008 and 2013, the surface area given to organic vineyards grew by a whopping 172%! At the time that represented 84,000 hectares of vine, a number that had increased to over 106,000 hectares by 2016.
Food and Wines from Spain haven’t updated their statistics in the last three years but in 2016 there were almost 900 wineries and bottling plants involved in the organic wines business with Catalonia and Castile-La Mancha the two most organically-dominated Spanish wine regions.
In October 2018, organic and biodynamic wine expert, Monty Waldin wrote “Spain is the most versatile and best-value source of organic wine right now”.
It is also true that the individual Spanish DO’s are doing much to promote and encourage sustainable and organic viticulture. Where funding is available, precision agriculture is allowing producers to understand in unrivalled detailed the make-up of their vineyards; from soil nutrition to temperature changes, metre by metre. This allows for smart choices in terms of vine and site selection.
In September 2014, the Spanish Organic Wines organisation was created to promote Spain’s organic wines at an international level. Members are mostly small to medium-sized wineries and its creation shows a strong commitment to organic viticulture in Spain. Its members make everything from cava to fortified wines, red, whites and rosados (rosés).
Spanish Wine Types and Styles: Discover the diversity of Spanish Wines through the Vintage Roots Range
If someone said you could only drink Spanish wines from now on, it might sound restrictive but the contrary is true… Given a chance to focus on just this country’s wines you would discover that it really does have something for everyone.
You’ll find exhilarating fortified wines, breezy white wines, elegant red wines, fine sparkling wines and moreish rosado wines too…
We cannot list them all but at Vintage Roots we are very proud of our Spanish wine selection that showcases some of Spain’s top organic producers and covers a range of styles that means nobody, no matter what your taste, will go thirsty.
Spanish Rosado (Rosé) Wines
Some of our juiciest and most delicious rosé wines come from Spain. Tempranillo plays a star role, imparting strawberry and raspberry fruits to these glorious, year-round wines.
Arguably offering some of the best value on our list is the Toscar Tempranillo Rosé which is full to overflowing with cherry and red berry fruit flavours.
Spanish White Wines: Live the renaissance
Spanish white wines rock! It’s taken a while but today there is a global acceptance that Spanish whites are every bit as good to drink as their international peers. For many years we have had a fine selection of white wines from Albet i Noya in the north-east of Spain but if you head west, you’ll find there’s some seriously exciting stuff going on!
Rías Baixas in Galicia is right on the Atlantic coast and the centre of fine wine production in Spain. Some say it looks more like Limerick than Spain; vividly green with more than the average Spanish rainfall! It also has 2,200 hours of sunshine (very un-Irish!), mineral-rich terroir and breezy Atlantic influences in which the local white grape, Albariño thrives.
Spanish Red Wines: A world-class range from a host of indigenous varieties
A little further down in this blog we are going to pick out some of Spain’s most exciting native grapes. You know Spain is home to a truly great and fantastically diverse range of red wines so we’ll not waste your time by wittering on about what you already know…
What we will do is shot loudly, from the top of any passing wine pallet, about the delight that is Graciano. Almost wiped out at one point, quality producers have steadily put this Spanish red grape back on the map. Low-yielding and not the easiest to grow, it does give supremely elegant and unique wines.
Viña Ijalba are responsible for making the first, organically-certified, 100% Graciano in the world, Vina Ijalba Rioja Graciano. It’s a wine treasure and we love it! If you want to experience uniquely Spanish red wine then this is the bottle for you!
Spanish Sherry: Be Cool and embrace the joys of this very special wine
There are lots of very good reasons to drink sherry but here’s a cool fact: Gómez Nevado, who wake two of ‘almost-sherries’ are believed to be the first certified organic winegrower in Spain. An accreditation that came in 1988. Why wouldn’t you drink a wine made by a pioneer?
The Dorado is a golden jewel and very much in the Amontillado style. Nutty with sea salt, orange and caramel-like qualities. How to drink it? Lightly cool (not fridge cold) as an aperitif with nuts and cheese.
The Fino can take being served cooler and is a brisker style than the Dorado – nutty, yeasty and tangy this is a great glass with a selection of tapas.
Please note that unlike true sherries, the wines of Gómez Nevado are NOT fortified. The estate’s vineyards lie outside of the DO Jerez and that’s why they’re not true sherries.
For those, you need to look to Piedra Luenga from whom we buy an Amontillado, Fino and unctuous Oloroso. We like to drink the Amontillado with smoked meats or roasted root vegetables. The Fino comes into its own with a homemade mackerel pâté or, if you’re feeling less industrious, a bowl of lovely olives! The Oloroso is a luxurious vinous treat all by itself.
Spanish Fine Wines
Spain is blessed with some of the finest vineyards and native grape varieties. It’s also a country that has welcomed investment and embraced international stars like merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay and made them their own.
Whilst many celebrate the value that Spanish wines offer this is also home to some very fine wines indeed.
The Vintage Roots range includes some real gems. Of particular note is Pago de los Balagueses from Bodegas Vegalfaro. A single-vineyard wine, it was welcomed into the elite Vinos de Pago in 2011. To be a certified pago, the vineyard must be owned by the winery who make the wine, it must be located within a registered DO and the wine must have unique quality characteristics that make it a worthy member. There are not even 20 pagos in Spain at the moment, so this is a very special wine! With great texture and breadth, Balagueses is a judiciously made wine. A real treat.
The Wine Regions of Spain and the DO System
Wine is made all over Spain! You’ll find wine makers from the Balearic and Canary Islands, to Catalonia, Galicia, La Mancha and Andalucía. Within each region there are sub-zones that the Spanish refer to as DO (Denominción de Origen).
There are dozens of DO’s in Spain including Priorat, Penedès, La Rioja and Navarra. Just as is the case with the French AOP system, each DO is strictly regulated and the winemakers who name the DO on their label must adhere to strict rules that can include permitted grape varieties, yields and length of oak ageing. In other words, see DO on the label and it’s a signpost to the wine’s quality and how it has been made.
The Wine Grapes of Spain: The Indigenous Collection
At the heart of Spain’s success as a wine producing country is its host of indigenous grape varieties. With few people able to name over twenty grape varieties grown across the globe, you might be surprised to learn that Spain has some 600 indigenous varieties! And nope, we can’t name them all but we can tell you about some of the most interesting and commonly seen ones that are represented in the Vintage Roots selection…
Contributing to juicy, easy-drinking white wines, Airén is Spain’s most widely grown grape variety. It is the main variety in the Vinos de Madrid DO but you’ll also find it in Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Toledo and Murcia.
Try the Toscar Airén / Sauvignon Blanc if you want to get to know this variety better.
Making some of Spain’s most delicious and highest-quality white wines, Albariño is native to Galicia and the star of Rías Baixas. Perfumed and elegant, the wines from this grape are often the perfect match to fish and seafood in general.
We love Bodegas Corisca Albariño – a peachy, floral, saline-fresh delight.
Here’s a variety that’s starting to show its prowess in the hands of talented and judicious winemakers. The second-most widely planted red variety after Tempranillo, Bobal yields deep-coloured wines with good dark berry flavours.
Utiel-Requena is a region at the forefront of raising Bobal’s fortunes and we think the rich, balanced and complex red from Caprasia is a superstar. Bobal makes up 55% of the blend with merlot adding juicy plushness.
Okay, hands up, we are cheating here… Garnacha (aka Garnaxa in Spain and Grenache in France), isn’t exactly indigenous to Spain but it’s a blooming good red grape variety and we love it so we’re not going to miss a chance to extol its many virtues.
The most widely planted red grape variety in Spain, the wines it yields are full of fruit; juicy, soft and supple, this is a grape that simply oozes charm. You’ll find plenty of champions for the variety throughout Spain and we have several irresistible Spanish red wines that are Garnacha-driven. View our full range and take your pick, you will not be disappointed!
This is a superstar red variety that makes highly-sought after wines from mostly La Rioja and Navarra. Graciano is a low-yielding grape that makes up for what it lacks in volume with brilliant complexity, structure and ageing potential. You’ll find this gem of a variety in some of the finest Spanish red wines.
We think Viña Ijalba were amongst the first producers to have enough Graciano to make their single-variety red, Vina Ijalba Rioja Graciano, (and definitely the first organic estate to do so). A long-standing presence on our wine list we adore this award-winning wine and know it has a strong and loyal following.
So rare is this white variety that it doesn’t even appear on the ‘comprehensive’ list from Foods and Wines from Spain! Indigenous to Rioja, it is claimed that it was the first grape to be documented in the region.
Viña Ijalba are leading the charge to bring the grape back to prominence and show its aromatic qualities to a wider wine-drinking public. Support the underdog and give this very rare, complex and creamy Vina Ijalba Rioja Maturana Blanca a try.
Another cheeky cheat, you may well know Monastrell as Mourvèdre, as it is named in France. However, the Oxford Wine Companion is almost certain that this red grape originates from Spain. Monastrell wines are typically pretty robust with oodles of hearty flavours.
For a brilliantly representative Monastrell experience, look no further than the full-bodied and wonderfully smooth, Old Hands Monastrell Roble.
Winemakers think a great deal of this white grape which is grown predominantly in Catalonia. Parellada is famed for its aromatic qualities and its role in the fine wines of Cava.
All of the Albet i Noya sparkling wines are a treat but a great start is the Petit Albet Brut which has Parellada in the blend.
Described as “the star of Spanish grapes”, this red variety makes top-quality wines across Spain and is the mostly widely planted red grape in the country. It’s hard to pinpoint a specific flavour profile for Tempranillo but many associate it with bright red summer berry fruits but it can also be more spicy and darker. Delivering some of Spain’s finest and most age-worthy red wines, Tempranillo is at the heart of La Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Costers del Segre and beyond.
To get a flavour of the diversity and quality that Tempranillo can offer, look to the Generacion 76 Tempranillo from Bodegas Tempore which is made from old vine fruit.
Viúra (aka Macabeo)
A key player in the wines of Cava, the folks of Rioja like to call it Macbeo. Look, the still wines are never going to rival the great white wines of the world but Viúra is an important component in the refreshing, vivacious sparkling wines of Cava.
An important grape in the renaissance of Spanish white wine, Verdejo is commonly associated with the region of Rueda. The wines are typically very aromatic and soft.
We are big fans of the 100% Verdejo from Bodegas Piqueras which is textured with lots of body and a creamy mouthfeel.
Xarel.lo is a powerfully flavoured white grape that is used predominantly in Cava wines but also delivers some pretty tasty still wines too!
Try the Albet i Noya Curiós which is unoaked and unbridled example of Xarel.lo’s fresh, sunny personality.
We thank Foods & Wines from Spain for this grape-related information and please do visit their website for more information on the wines from Spain.
Cava & Spanish Sparkling Wine
Cava is not a place, nor is it a grape! Cava is a sparkling wine, made mostly (though not exclusively) in Catalonia. Cava producers make their wine just as they do in Champagne, following the traditional method that sees the second fermentation (the one that produces the bubbles) in bottle.
Cava is typically made from the three native varieties: Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel.lo. There are plantings of other varieties including international names like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
For Vintage Roots customers the important thing to know is that not all Spanish sparkling wine comes under the Cava name.
Though they’re located in the Cava heartland and once used the name on their sparkling wines, our friends at Albet i Noya now put the DO Penedès stamp on their sparkling selection. Why? Well, for them it’s about quality and the international standing that the Penedès DO now has.
We are big fans of the Albet i Noya range. It has the quality of some Champagnes but at a substantially lower price. They are also offer more complexity than many Prosecco wines, without being much pricier!
We don’t really like to choose one above the others but there’s no harm in drawing your attention to the Efecte Brut Reserva which has the native trio of grapes as well as Chardonnay in the blend, that makes it just that bit different. Stunning!
A note on pairing Spanish Wines & Food
Where to begin?! It’s an impossible task. So, this list of our five top tapas and a great pairing wine is a little bit of inspiration to get you started.
These spicy, tomato-y potatoes are a Spanish staple. If you want a Spanish white, head for Verdejo whilst red wine lovers can enjoy a bold, full-bodied Tempranillo.
Perhaps the ultimate comfort food, a well-made Tortilla is just the best! And the best wine to have in your glass… Well, a Fino sherry. Of course!
We are assuming it’s a fish-led Paella and, if it is, you’ll not go far wrong with a rosado/rosé
You can play it safe and enjoy any number of crisp, dry Spanish white wines but if you feel like treating yourself, then what about popping open a Spanish sparkling?
Jamon.com is the ultimate celebration of the Spanish pig and, in their words, “the bold wines of Ribera del Duero, Toro and Rioja compliment the dark flavourful Iberico ham perfectly… the refreshing white wines of Spain are also a good compliment to Serrano ham…”