Spanish Wine is not just about Rioja...
But a lot, I would say even the vast majority, think that it is. Going back to the 1970’s that may have been the case but not now and there is no going back.
The upsurge of other regions started in about the mid eighties, though not too many people outside these regions noticed, beginning with Valdepenas, Navarra and Ribera Del Duero. Noted particularly for their concentrated rich red wines, wine writers started to enthuse about these ‘new’ regions and although not always living up to the hype, these areas are now well established. Then followed Priorato and Somontano written about enthusiastically in the 90’s closely followed by Penedes mostly due to the fact that it is the capital of cava production. But despite the fact that slowly but surely Spanish wine is being more noticed, especially the reds, there are still a group of wine producing regions that are still relatively unknown but producing a good product. These regions I refer to (the underdogs) are La Mancha, Tarragona, Campo de Borja and Carinena these were, and to a lesser degree today, traditional producers of vast amounts of low quality, massed produced wines or ‘plonk’. Areas dominated by massive wine cooperatives who transported vast quantities of cheaply produced wine around Europe to bulk up a particular countries own wines and for filling those awful cheap wine boxes of the day, in other words -quantity over quality. But now it is time to reassess these regions especially if you are looking at value for money as they have been improving their products over the past few years with the introduction of new ideas, technology and a fresh brigade of enlightened young wine makers. Just recently I was reading a review of a wine writers visit to these areas, she admitted she was not particularly looking forward to it, going on past performances, it was deemed a ’workhorse’ assignment in the trade, wading through an ocean of undistinguished plonk. To her surprise and delight in the three days of visiting varies wineries, tasting and observing she didn’t sample a single truly poor bottle. Massive government and local investment has enabled enormous improvements in equipment and practices helping the regions as a whole to gradually move away from bulk production to estates producing their own bottled wines and selling them under the regional label. Yields of the widely planted granacha grape have been drastically reduced improving the fruit on the vine. Older vines have been either pulled out or nurtured better to produce grapes of character and taste plus particular importance is now put on the transportation of the harvest from field to winery.
So better practices, respecting the fruit and the finished product- resulting in quality over quantity. The raw material has always been there but outdated traditional practices used in the commercial production of wine are now being abandoned in favour of a modern progressive method. Add to this the new gleaming stainless steel fermentation vats, high tech regional labs, the influx of young Spanish wine makers plus the ever present wine consultants from all over the world guiding present and new owners, for a fee of course, to a better understanding of modern production techniques and things have improved. We are now starting to find fresh, modern wines, especially reds, coming out of these regions that are not expensive but good value for money which is what the paying public are always looking for regardless of the item. Of the regions I have mentioned I will take Ribera Del Duero as a good example of how to get it right. This area produces mainly red wine and in the past these reds were rough, acidic and just badly made and the wider wine drinking public ignored them, rightly so. Some forward looking owners and many people from around Spain and the world recognised that this area had potential and bought into it either by investing in present going concerns or buying out existing ones. Over the years this has led to Ribera Del Duero being recognised as a major player in good quality wine production, pushing areas like Rioja for top spot and claiming prizes in worldwide wine competitions for their wines. I would say only one thing that these improved areas should be aware of and that is the final price of their bottle of wine on the shelf. No matter how much the hike in quality, in your view has developed, keep humble and don’t over price your product as so many others do once they see an increase in sales and popularity. Another area gaining recognition is Yecla in Murcia, east of La Mancha. Here the monastrell grape is finally reaching its potential, producing spicy reds either on its own or part of a blend. From that region we have Bodega Castano which produces the Vina Montana, a monastrell/ merlot blend, that won a gold meddle in the worlds largest wine competition The International Wine Challenge in London. The rise of the monastrell grape is interesting as it highlights Spain’s wealth of indigenous grape varieties found throughout all the wine producing regions and there are fifty nine of them. Other regions I would like to highlight are Tarragona for its production of inexpensive appealing joven (young) wines. Utiel- Requena in Valencia, Calatayud in Aragon and Extremadura near the Portuguese border. They are all producing appealing tasteful wines at moderate prices. And last of all a big mention to Rias Baixas in Galicia for its production of white wines made from (in my opinion the best indigenous white grape in Spain) the albarino grape, similar in many respects to the world renowned German Riesling. Rioja still producers good wines but don’t ignore other regions as this is where you can find little gems that suit your palate and your pocket.
Let us drink and be merry, dance, joke
and rejoice with port and sherry, theorbo and voice.
- Thomas Jordan, 17th Century.