Spanish Wine: New Regions and Grapes at Great Prices

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Spanish wines are truly experiencing an explosion in quality and diversity. Gone are the tired oxidized wines of yore. Much more careful handling of the fruit both in the vineyard and winery as well as more judicious use of oak is resulting in one of the most exciting wine countries to buy wines from at the moment. And at great prices!

Read on for an overview of some of the most exciting regions in Spain, and some of the best deals in delicious wine coming from their vines.

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Last week I attended the 15th annual Great Match Wine and Tapas Tasting in New York City. Organized by the Trade Commission of Spain, these tastings are held annually in a various cities across the United States. For a long time Spanish wine meant Rioja and Ribera del Duera, and the Tempranillo grape. But now wine drinkers are becoming as familiar with designations like Jumilla, Yecla, Bierzo, Castile-Léon and Rías Baixas, as well as Albariño, Monastrell, Garnacha and Mencía grape varieties.

As I wandered around the tasting savoring the different wines and the delicious array of tapas on offer, I was impressed with how many really excellent wines I tasted for less than $15. Important, given how concerned we all are by the current economic and financial outlook. As many of us cut back on eating out, we are looking for good value wines to enjoy at home. Venturing into uncharted waters to try unfamiliar wines from unfamiliar grapes or places can be daunting, as none of us wants to get it wrong. Hopefully, this short tour of some of Spain's less well known wine regions will help.

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Firstly, for anyone not familiar with Spanish wine labeling laws the letters 'DO' on the bottle refer to the Denominación de Origen (authorized demarcated area of origin). There are 67 DO's in Spain, including Rioja and Priorat that qualify for the superior DOC (Denominación de Origen Calificada) status. VT on a label stands for Vino de la Tierra (wine of the country) and equates somewhat to the French Vins de Pays category. While, traditionally, VT signaled a lesser wine, this is not always the case today, because many producers deliberately opt to use the VT denomination, if they want to make a wine that does not fit within the strict rules of the DO.

Spanish Regions

DO Bierzo: Located east of Galicia in the region of Castilla Léon. Red wines prevail, and the predominant grape variety is the native variety Mencía. Huge quality improvements have resulted in wines with greater concentration, better fruit and structure and more age-worthyness.

DO Calatayud: A recent DO, created in 1990. Located southwest of Zaragoza in Aragon. Predominant black grape is Garnacha (Grenache in France), but you also find Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. Main variety for white wines is Macabeo.

VT de Castilla: From the La Mancha area. Today there are many innovative and interesting wines coming from this region. A zealous focus on quality combined with the more flexible viticultural and winemaking regulations of the VT denomination.

DO Jumilla: The DO was created in 1996. Thi is a dry, hot area, in the province of Murcia. The black variety Monastrell (same as Mourvèdre in France) accounts for 85% of plantings. An area that is quickly gaining a reputation for excellent full bodied, concentrated wines.

DO Montsant: In the Catalonia region. The DO was approved by the Catalan Government in 2001 but is still awaiting EU ratification. Located right next to the much-lauded Priorat DOC area, it takes its name from the rocky massif of Montsant. Cariñana (known as Carignan in France) is the prevailing variety alongside plantings of Garnacha and Tempranillo (called Ull de Llebre in Montsant).

DO Penedés: Also in Catalonia. Better known for its sparkling Cava wines, Penedés also has a thriving still wine industry. Many different varieties (both indigenous and international) planted, and both red and white wines are produced. Bodegas Miguel Torres is probably the most well known producer from the region.

DO Rías Baixas: Located in Galicia, northwestern Spain, and the home of the wonderful Albariño grape. These white wines are becoming firm favorites in the US market. See my earlier post on Rías Baixas.

DO Rueda: Dry windswept region. Located in Castilla Léon. Although red wine can be produced, Rueda is mainly a white wine region, where Verdejo, Viura and Sauvignon Blanc are the main varieties. Huge winemaking improvements have resulted in cleaner, purer and fresher wines.

DO Yecla: Near Jumilla. Monastrell is also the predominant variety, along with Tempranillo and Garnacha. A lot of organic vineyards. Hot, Mediterranean climate.

The Wines

And now here are some of the wines that I really enjoyed tasting, and that represent great value for money:

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2007 Burgáns Albariño, Bodegas Martín Códax $13 - 100% Albariño. Crisp, refreshing and brimming with peachy, stone fruit. Long length.

2007 Albert I Noya Xarel-lo, DO Penedés $11.99 - 100% Xarel-lo, a white variety more associated with Cava production. Organic vineyards. Lovely floral aromas, with crisp apple, citrus and pear notes. Long length.

2007 Ermita Veracruz, DO Rueda $10 - 100% Verdejo from 50 year old vines. Unoaked. Very fresh, clean, bright fruit with zesty aromas. Flavors of lemons, limes and ruby grapefruit, with a touch of white flowers.

2007 Ilex Tinto, Bodegas Castiblanque, VT de Castilla $12.99 - A blend of 50% Garnacha and 50% Tempranillo. Aromas of ripe red fruits with lifted violet notes. Full bodied, smooth tannins with intense fruit flavors.

2005 Lo Brujo Garnacha, Virgen de la Sierra, DO Calatayud $10 - 100% Garnacha. Fresh and easy drinking with ripe red fruits - strawberries, raspberries and hints of spice.

2005 Pittacum, Terras Gauda, DO Bierzo ($14.99) - 100% Mencía. Earthy, leathery, spicy with lots of bramble and blueberry flavors. Robust and meaty. Would be great with hearty stews.

2006 Casa Castillo, DO Jumilla $12 - 100% Monastrell. Rich and concentrated flavors of plums, wild strawberries, cherry, blackberry and earthy, spicy notes.

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2004 Casa de la Ermita Crianza, DO Jumilla $14.99 - A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot. Concentrated ripe black and red fruit with spicy, earthy notes. Ripe tannins and smooth finish.

2006 Carro, Señorío de Barahonda, DO Yecla $9.99 - Great value. 50% Monastrell, 20% Syrah, 20% Tempranillo and 10% Merlot. Unoaked with quite a pure upfront fruit character. Packed with plummy, black berry wild red fruits.

2003 Fra Guerau Red, DO Montsant $15 - Blend of Syrah, Garnacha, Carignan, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon. Fresh and crisp. Easy to drink with cherry, brambley and spicy flavors.

2003 Falset Old Vines, DO Montsant $17 - Even though above $15 I felt I should include this wine. 58% Garnacha, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Very good structure and balance with lovely concentration of ripe juicy fruit, toasty, spicy notes and good oak integration.

These few recommendations do not do justice to the vast array of well-made and affordable Spanish wines available. So if, these appellations are not your usual choices, try them out. I'd love to hear what you think of these wines or other tasty Spanish wines that you are enjoying at the moment.

So until next week.

(Images: Map of Spain and Great Match logo courtesy of Wines from Spain)