Wine expert Angela Aiello is back to teach us about Spanish wine and the beautiful country that produces it. Angela, also known as @SuperWineGirl is a multi-award winning journalist, educator, creative writer and host. Having traveled to over 14 countries, tasted over 10,000 wines and 20 years in the wine, spirits and hospitality industry. She’s lead over 250 wine school classes, 50 dinner parties, and worked with countless celebrity chefs. As both a leader and executive in the wine industry, her vision is to help people earn their own wine confidence and bring innovation and creativity to entire industry. Learn about Spanish wine, the different regions and grapes, and how we can do our small part to support Spain through the ongoing crisis: by buying, enjoying, and sharing our love of Spanish wine.
As we all self-isolate, now is a good time to learn about areas of life perhaps you might not have had time to learn or read about previously. With the world now being smaller than ever, Europe feels like our neighbour and now is the time to support our neighborhood. Seeing as how it’s impossible to visit and travel, you can show your support by learning new details about a country you love, sharing and reminiscing about your past travel stories, hosting virtual tastings with friends, having themed evenings at home with food and wine.
In this article, I dive into Spain, a vast gastronomic region with so much to offer us when it comes to wine, food, hospitality, architecture, wild and indigenous grape varieties, warm sunshine, wonderful wines and picturesque scenery. Last week I wrote an article about ‘How to Host a Virtual Wine Tasting” with the steps on how to , and this article provides you with the information so you can host your own “Spanish Virtual Wine Tasting” with your friends and family with the fantastic Wines from Spain!
The world of wine is sprinkled with pockets of areas and grapes that are relatively unknown to most of us. This is what makes the world of wine so very interesting. It’s full of magic, mystery, discovery and adventure! Below I outline a few grapes you’ve probably never heard of for a little ‘Spanish Wine 101’ to get your brain waves moving, your palate excited and your heart racing for a new wine at-home adventure.
Below are five Spanish grape varieties and their main corresponding regions for you to get to know so you can enjoy and understand more about the wonderful wines from Spain!
Spanish Virtual Wine Tasting
Five Wine Regions and Their Corresponding Grapes
Region #1 – Rioja (Ree-Oh-Ha)
Probably the region you know and have heard of the most. Rioja is the big brother of Spanish wine regions and is located in the North Central part of the country. Mostly a red wine region (with some rosé and white), if you love Cabernet you’ll love Rioja wines. This region has amazing age-worthy red wines, and is a bit of an underdog compared to California or Bordeaux. Most times you can even find older wines already aged to perfection without having to leave them in your cellar. Just 120 miles south of Bilbao there are approximately 63,000 hectares of beautiful vineyards. You’ll find Rioja on the label and inside the bottle, you’ll mostly find the grape Tempranillo (sometimes in a blend with Garnacha). Although there are mostly red wines in this region, you may find some interesting whites as well! The words Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva on the bottle indicate how long a wine has been aged in oak and bottle. The ageing is carried out in 225-litre oak barrels for a period ranging from 1 to 3 years, and later in the bottle itself for a period of 6 months to 6 years.
Grape #1 Tempranillo (Temp-Prah-Nee-OH)
Known for its early ripening (the word ‘temprano’ means early in Spanish), Tempranillo is the most well-known and noble grape in Spain and around the world. Planted all over the country, it grows well in chalky soils. Filled with plum and strawberries, this grape is loved by many and is well known in the Rioja region. Tinto is another name for red, so if you see that word, there will be red wine in the bottle!
Region #2 – Bierzo (Bee-Air-Zo)
A region in Northwestern Spain in the province of León. The region covers about 3,000 square kilometers and consists of numerous small valleys and in the mountainous part, there is a wide, flat plain with about a population of around 70,000 people. The main red grape planted is called Mencía. This area offers vineyards and grapes a unique microclimate with cool breezes with an intense hot, dry setting The vines receive about 2,200 hours of sunshine annually, which is enough to produce medium to full bodied red wine from old Mencía vines.
Grape #2 – Mencía (Men-Sia)
A super unique red grape variety with thick skins and violet-blue grapes, many of the wines you’ll find will be from old vines, which will produce complex fruit and interesting flavours in your glass. From the spanish region of Bierzo, this region has dramatic high altitude vineyards and low yielding vines, which makes for the perfect combination for really interesting wines.
Region #3 – Rías Baixas (Ree-ash-Bae-shus)
An all white wine producing region, it is located in the very North Western part of Spain in Galicia, bordering Portugal right near the coast. Offering up cool breezes and crisp and elegant white wines, these wines are bone dry, packed with white floral aromas, pineapple, mango, honeysuckle, melon and have a wonderful natural acidity. Due to proximity to the ocean, the climate of the area is mild and moist. The beautiful landscape around the Rías Baixas area is also known for their pine and eucalyptus forests as well as oak and chestnut trees. These gorgeous white wines are perfectly paired with freshly caught fish, seafood and shellfish. You’ll find the region on the label “Rías Baixas” and the grape inside the bottle is the indigenous white grape called Albariño.
Grape #3 – Albariño (Al-Bah-Reno)
A white grape variety with low yields and grown historically in a pergola style where vines rise to 7 ft tall and create a ceiling like canopy where pickers stand on grape bins and pick the grapes by hand. Now, many wineries are training their vines in a double cordon style (you could call this a normal trained style of vines). Alba means white referring to the grape bunch and Spain produces Albariño in the region of Rías Baixas. The wines are floral, filled with stone fruit, and citrus and are very refreshing. On the label you’ll see the region Rias Baixas, not the grape variety,
Region #4 – Rueda (Roo-eh-Duh)
A mostly white wine producing region in North Western Spain. It lies about 170 km northwest of the ever-so-popular Madrid city. The area is a beautiful flat land, with the Duero river flowing directly through it. The grapes and vineyards receive 2,600 hours of sunlight per year – in comparison, Canada receives 2,000 hours. There are long hot summers, cold winters and the soils are built for beautifully structured white wines with limestone, sand, pebbles and clay as their terroir. There are approximately 68 wineries and 16,000 hectares of vineyards plated at 600-780 m above sea level. On the label you’ll see the region “Rueda”, and inside the bottle you’ll find a crisp, refreshing white wine made with the indigenous Verdejo grapes.
Grape #4 – Verdejo (Ver-Day-Oh)
The main white grape of Rueda, this grape is originally from North Africa and was brought to Spain in the 11th Century. Historically, this grape was used to make oxidized Sherry-like wine and is now being made into a dry, aromatic high quality white wine. In the 1970s, the winemaking company Marqués de Riscal started to produce a fresher style of white wine, and they haven’t looked back! A native and indigenous grape of Spain, the white wine is clean, crisp, refreshing with stone fruits of peach, white flower, and citrus. The taste profile of this grape is a cross between an un-oaked Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc. On the label you’ll see the wine region “Rueda”, typically without the grape listed or often possibly on the back of the label.
Region #5 – Cava (KA-VA)
This region produces sparkling wine with their own unique, indigenous grape varietals. Only wines produced in the traditional method are allowed to be called Cava. This means that the secondary fermentation is done in the bottle and not in a tank. About 95% of all cava is produced in the one region of Penedes area in Catalonia, Spain. There are three unique grape varieties used in the production of Cava, Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo.
Grape #5 – Macabeo (Maka-Bay-Oh)
A white grape that goes by two names in Spain – It also goes by Viura – and has many different names around the world! The grape has traditionally been used in Cava production along with other interesting grapes like Xarel-lo and Parellada. Widely planted in the Rioja region of Spain and throughout the Northeast, it is the 2nd most widely planted grape in all of Spain with approximately 45,000 hectares (based on 2015 data). Historically, it was also a white grape used in many different blended wines, but it too is making a name for itself on its own. Take a chance and learn something new!
5 EASY STEPS TO A SPANISH WINE TASTING PARTY BY ANGELA AIELLO
Now that you’ve learned all about the grapes and their regions of origin, here is Angela’s suggested tasting order:
Step #1 – Cheers with Cava
Step #2 – Entertain with an Exotic White
Step #3 – Raise a Glass of Rosado
Step #4 – Time for Tinto
Step #5 – Sip on Sherry
And no tasting would be complete without a selection of wines to sip on. Check out recommendations and their purchase links below!
Wines to Try:
- Marques de Riscal Rueda DO$13.05 at LCBO
- Alba Vega Albariño 2018 750 mL bottle | VINTAGES#: 488973 $15.95
- Honoro Vera Blanco Rueda DO Verdejo 750 mL bottle | LCBO#: 533224 $12.05
- Abad Dom Bueno Mencía 2015 Mencia 750 mL bottle | VINTAGES#: 291989 $16.95
- Montecillo Rioja Reserva 750 mL bottle | LCBO#: 621003 $17.95
- Segura Viudas Heredad Reserva Brut Cava 750 mL bottle | VINTAGES#: 558825 $32.95
- Codorniu Brut Clasico Cava 750 mL bottle | LCBO#: 215814 $14.90