The entire country of Spain is only about two-thirds the size of the State of Texas, but whereas the Lone Star State is home to eight distinct wine regions, Spain boasts about 80 — it’s the third largest wine producing country in the world! So when the Advice Sisters were offered the chance to taste a huge range of Spanish wines at the Spain’s Great Match event in New York, the 20th annual celebration of Spanish wine, food and design, we jumped at the chance. This particular event featured literally hundreds of different wines and varietals from many of the different regions; so many in fact, that we simply had to limit our own tasting to those from key regions.
The wine regions in Spain are referred to as “Denominaciones de Origen,” and are similar to Appellations in France or American Viticulture Areas (AVAs)in the United States. Many of the regions in Spain are tiny, and centered on just one town or even one hillside. Even with these small geographies, many of the regions are amazingly distinct. An Albarino from Rias Baixas for example, is very distinct from one from the neighboring Ribeiro DO, even though the same grape and same growing techniques are used in both.
At this event, the Advice Sisters visited the booths from Drink Ribera, Rioja Wines, Rias Baixas, and Rueda, and also sampled wines from Sherry and a couple of Cava’s from Codorniu. We jumped right in, with our first stop at Rioja, a region well represented in American wine stores. Rioja is located in north central Spain and is know predominantly for wines produced using the tempranillo grape. White wines are also produced in the region revolving around the Viura grape.
Interestingly, in all of the 6 wines that we sampled from the region, there was a distinct minerality, which is one of the qualities that makes Rioja an excellent food wine. The Viura called Vinos Libres (2012) from the Luis Alegre Blanco bodega was a great example of the region’s white wines. Crisp with a lot of minerality would pair well with everything from spicy foods to fruits. A rose made with tempranillo and granache Marques de Caceres Rosado 2012, was an inexpensive lighter wine from the region that also held the distinct minerality.
Tempranillo is the king of red wine grapes in Rioja and a range of wines from young to old, showed how the high mineral content in the soil led to excellent ageing. Beginning with El Circulo from the Consecha bodega (2012), to Beronica a 2009 tempranillo from Crianza, to the 2009 Lorinon Reserva from Bodegas Breton, the character of the Riojas was very consistent. Dark ruby red wines with red berry flavors all with an overlay of minerality that gave them a sense of bitterness and some spiciness. By the time the wine has aged, this dissipates.
Moving north from Rioja we entered the Rias Baixas region of what is called “green Spain.” This DO is located in the far northwest of Spain and owes its allegiance to the Albarino grape. This grape accounts for 90 percent of the production in the region and produces a crisp dry white wine with apple, citrus and melon aromas. It is an excellent pairing wine and is recommended for seafoods and spicy dishes (particularly Indian and Thai foods). We sampled four wines from the region, ranging from the inexpensive Martin Codax 2011 Albarino, to lower production offerings like Bodegas Castro Martin’s Sobre Lias 2012 Albarion. All of the wines had the classic citrus (some lemon, some lime) and apple flavors, and all had a hint of saltiness suggesting the coastal nature of their origin. We were particularly impressed with Bodegas Coto Redondo’s Senorio De Rubios 2011 Albarino barino was more bouncy than the others. The wine was bright and crisp with a light minerality. The classic citrus, melon, and apple flavors predominated but there was a hint of peach. At $20.00 a bottle, some might consider this more of a splurge, but it’s well worth it.
While Albarino is king of the Rias Baixas region, other grapes are produced. One wine we tasted Santiago Ruiz, 2011 was a blend of Albarino, with some Loureiro, Caiño white, Treixadura and Godello. While the Albarino was still dominant, the blending gave the wine more of an Italian – Pinot Grigiot character, with aromatic with some pair and minty notes blending in with the citrus.
Moving back inland to the Ribera del Duero region, we enter an area where winemaking dates back over 2,000 years to the Roman era. The region’s underground cellars with their distinctive chimneys were built in the thirteenth century in towns across the region, and still serve to protect wines from the extreme climate. Like Rioja, the tempranillo grape reigns in Ribera, with about 75 percent of all production being that varietal. We dried two wines from this region. The first was Tamaral Crianza (2009) from Bodegas y Vinedos Tamaral. This vintage was considered one of the region’s best, and this wine shows it. The nose combines red fruits with notes of licorice, and while the wine is minerally, it is not to the degree of the Riojas made from the same grape. Intense fruits linger on the palate suggesting that this is also a great wine for pairing. We also tried Mibal (2011) from Hornillos Ballesteros. The bright cherry flavors give this wine a fruit forwardness that one might expect from California. Mibal probably will not age like the Rioja’s but at $17 .oo a bottle, it makes an excellent bring to dinner wine.
From Ribera we move slightly south to Rueda. Known for its white wines produced from the Verdejo grape Rueda wines are easy drinking and easy on the wallet – kind of the savegnon blanc of Spain. We sampled three wines from this region all priced at under $20.00 in New York. The first, Agricola Castellana’s Cuatro Rayas Vinedos Centerarios, was a verdejo from 2012. Produced with grapes from 100 year old vines, the wine was golden yellow, with a clean fresh nose characteristic of the grape. The taste was a bit more herbal than we expected with a tough of licorice. Overall, it was well balanced and would serve as an excellent warm weather picnic type wine. Next we sampled Palacio de Bornos Verdejo from 2012. Also priced at about $15.00 a bottle, we found this wine to be less herby or grassy and tasted some pair on the finish. This easy drinking wine would be a lovely “share on the porch with friends” wine.
The last Rueda that we sampled was Angel Rodrigues Vidal’s Martinsancho Verdejo. This wine was slightly pricier at $18 .00, but was more complex than the others, with just a hint of minerality. The bodega suggests that this is a terroir-driven wine, and we agree, in that it is very different than similar wines produced literally across the street.
From Rueda we head south to the Sherry region on the Mediterranean coast. For Americans, sherry is not a wine, but a region, that produces a distinct fortified wine primarily from the Palomino grape. Sherries range from sweet to very dry, and get their distinctive taste from a long barrel aging process. We tried two, Gonzales Byass Tio Peppe Fino, and aJerez-Xeres from Lustau Don Nuno Oloroso. This second sherry was more traditional with a slightly savoury edge and crisp notes offsetting the nutty syrupiness of the sherry. The Tip Peppe Fino was a white dry sherry, less familiar to American palettes, but quite common especially in southern Spain. The wine was very dry with a hint of saltiness of the type that makes Sherry so good with tapas.
We rounded out our visit to Spain’s Great Match with a glass of Cordoniu’s Anna cava. This sparkling wine which sells for about $15.00 is the premium wine of that grand cava house. Presented in distinct white and pink bottles (denoting brut and rose blends) this packaging and very vine cava will likely be a crowd pleaser as the holidays approach.
When you taste a lot of wine at once, it is really imperative to use a spit bucket (yes, it is sort of gross, and it is just as it sounds; a large bucket into which you spit out the wine you’ve just sloshed around in your mouth). But even if you spit and don’t swallow all the lovely wine at a tasting or sampling, after a while it does get overwhelming. While it would have been great to taste more of the hundreds of offerings from Spain, at some point we simply had to stop! But the brief regional tour that the Advice Sisters took, provides a good starting point – and a reason for continuing to taste the wide range of Spanish wines.
If you’d like learn more about the wines of Spain, a good starting point is: http://www.winesfromspainusa.com/
*the Advice Sisters want to thank our Wine columnist John Dunham for helping us to put together this report