Wine scribes across the world have indentified Spain as a wine country to watch. The most talked about wines are the vibrant, Albarino based, white wines from Galicia in the Spanish northwest, a new breed of elegant red wines from Bierzo and the highly structured and prized red wines from Ribera del Duero and Priorat.
Let’s not forget, quality Spanish wine was long associated with one region, La Rioja. Rioja, which is located in northeastern Spain, came to prominence in the latter part of the 19th century when French winemakers, who lost their vineyards due to a louse called phylloxera, migrated across the border to Spain.
They brought with them modern techniques and French barriques (225 litre oak barrels). The Tempranillo based wines of Rioja have come to be defined by their oak influence. Over the years, most Rioja winemakers switched from the relative expense of French oak to cheaper American oak barrels and the quality of the wine identified by how long it spent in the barrel.
The end result was the top wines of Rioja (labelled as Gran Reserva and Reserva) have been greatly influenced by their oak character.
Traditionally, top Rioja wines have boasted sweet, toasty and spicy American oak character on the nose along with Tempranillo’s (the main grape of Rioja) own classic character which runs from strawberry and cherry notes to dark fruits (in warmer climates), leather and spice.
In the central part of Castilla Y Leon, Ribera del Duero producers are crafting impactful red wines (with more French oak influence) from Tempranillo and dashes of local and international grapes.
A great tasting is to compare a classic Rioja with a Ribera del Duero.
Everyday: Campo Viejo Reserva (NSLC, $22.99)
At just over $20, this on the higher end of everyday wine but it is well worth the price. It is a solidly constructed Rioja from a big producer. You’ll find lots of sweet vanilla and spice oak aromas along with supple cherry and berry flavours. This a silky style that has mass appeal.
Serving Suggestion: Toasted bread topped with sautéed mushrooms and Manchego cheese
Gourmet: Bodegas Casajus Anitguos Vinedos Ribera del Duero (Bishop’s Cellar, $34.61+tax)
This wine shows the massive concentration expected from great Ribera del Duero wines. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet the winemaker, Jose Alberto, on a few occasions. His wines reflect him. They are pure, honest and reflect the incredible age of his vines (most are 60-100 years old). Expect intense spice, dark blackberry fruit, some leather and mineral tones along with some meat loving tannins in the finish.
Serving Suggestion: Grilled lamb chops.
By the Glass tours conducts annual pilgrimages to Spanish wine country. The next tour is a women’s only tour of Spain and Portugal scheduled for April, 2013.
Mark DeWolf is the Food & Drinks Editor of Occasions Magazine, a sommelier instructor and owner of By the Glass.