When someone mentions Spanish wines, the first association might unfortunately be Sangria. Of course, there is a lot more Spain can offer than just Sangria! Here is a glimpse into the fine world of Spanish red wines.
The common nominator for many Spanish wineries is that they age their wine in bottles and oak barrels for you. For the consumer, that means getting a taste of finely aged wine without spending a dime for storage space at their place of living. When you notice the term “Gran Reservas” on the bottle, know that the wine has spent the longest possible time in the winery, whereas the term “Joven” means that the wine didn’t spend too long in the some winery’s cellar.
The fact that Spain is part of the EU means that it needs to have a wine labeling system similar to those of other EU countries such as Germany, Italy, and France. Denominación de Origen (DO) is the most common category, which is the same category as France’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. The premium wines have a label saying Denominación de Origen Calificada. If you come across a label saying DO Pago, know that this label is used for single estates.
Spanish Red Wines and Wine Regions
Tempranillo is the single most planted red grape variety in Spain. In different parts of Spain, it appears under various names such as Ull de Lievre, Cencibel, Tinto del Pais, Tinto de Toro, and Tinto Fino. In terms of wine regions for Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero and Rioja are considered the best ones in the country.
Riber del Duero
This region has always been associated with premium Tempranillo wines made from this variety only and not a blend. In terms of age, all bottles contain labels with the following terms: Gran Reserva, Reserva, and Crianza.
Almost by default, winemakers from this region age their wines in barrels made from French oak. That’s is why Tempranillo wines contain strong notes of clove, cinnamon, and vanilla. All in all, Tempranillo coming from this region tend to be more polished and opulent in comparison with the wines produced in Rioja that tend to be earthy and rustic.
This wine region spreads over the north-central part of Spain, along the Ebro River. Wines made there make a fantastic blend of earthy flavors and fully ripped fruit. Unlike the Riber del Duero region, Tempranillo wines are blended with other wines such as Maturana Tinta, Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo. On rare occasions, winemakers make blends with Cabernet Sauvignon.
In Rioja, Crianzas are required to age a minimum of two years, out of which at least one year in oak barrels. The ones labeled as Reserva need to age at least three years, out of which one year in oak barrels. As far as Gran Reservas, they need to spend a minimum of two years in barrels, and three more in bottles before they can be sold under that label.
However, keep in mind that Rioja wines can be either “modern” or “traditional.” The “traditional wines” age in American oak barrels, whereas the “modern wines” rely on French oak barrels. American oak barrels tend to give the wine notes of dill and coconut. On the other hand, French oak barrels impart notes of baking spice and vanilla. Then there are the winemakers that like to mix things by aging wines in barrels made from both types of oak.
Red wines from Priorat tend to be muscular and intense. Most of the vineyards there are spread over steep hills, which are covered with slate soil known as Liicorella. It is a unique terroir where you can find varieties such as Cariñena, Syrah, Garnacha, and others. Most wines made there are blends.
Other Than Tempranillo
…there are other quality red wines worth trying. For example, Granacha, which we’ve already mentioned a couple of times before, is the third most planted variety in Spain. It is a variety that is used for making both rose and full-bodied red wines featuring cherry fruited aromas.
Mencía is a variety used for making medium to fully-bodies red wines with notes of anise and blackberry. Then there is Monastrell that is very popular in the southern parts of the country. Red wines made from Monastrell are full-bodied with hints of meat, pepper, and red fruit.