We just finished Unit 4 in which we covered Italy in 4 days and took our written exam which included a blind tasting of 2 wines, 1 red and 1 white. It was then I thought I couldn’t fit any more data into my head and yet it was time to move on to the next major wine region in the world. Unit 5 of the Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Center in Campbell California covers the Wines of the Iberian Peninsula – Spain, Portugal, Sherry and Madera – in just five days.
An Overview of Spain
Spain is the 3rd largest producer of wine in the world and they have more vine acreage than any other country. The top white wine is Spain is Albariño and other important white grapes include Airen, Viura (Macabeo), Verdejo, and Chardonnay.
The top red grapes are Tempranillo and Garnacha. Other important red grapes include Cariñena (French: Carignan), Cabernet Sauvignon, Menica and Monastrell (French: Mourvèdre; Catalan: Mataró).
The top wine regions are Rioja DOCa, Priorat DOCa and Jerez DO (Sherry). Other important regions include Ribera del Duero DOCa, Riaz Baixas (pronounced (ree-ahs buy-shuss), and Cava DO.
Varieties for Cava production include Xarel-lo, Macabeo, Parellada, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.
Spanish Wine Laws
The regulatory body which oversees the nation’s wine industry is called Instituto Nacional de Denominaciones de Origen (INDO). Spain’s system of wine laws are known as the Denominación de Origen (DO) laws and they are based on the French AOC laws which are as follows (from lowest to highest):
(1) Vino (formerly Vino de Mesa “Table Wine”) - The lowest level of wine and loosest quality requirements.
(2) Vino de la Tierra (VdlT) - It means “Country Wine” and it is a sub-classification of Vino, it is similar to the IGT classification in Italy. It is table wine of a demarcated area with a minimum of 85% of the grapes coming from that region.
(3) Vinos de Calidad con Indicación Geográfica (VCIG) - Includes stricter and higher quality requirements for wines from important regions.
(4) Denominación de Origen (DO) – Considered equivalent to an AOC in France. Each district has its own Consejo Regulador to monitor quality and classifications. The Vinos de Pago (DO Pago) is a sub-category of DO with single estates only (15 as of 2012), with each estate guiding its own production.
(5) Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) – The strictest and highest quality classification regulating only select appellations. Wines for this classification have the name “Vino de Calidad” on the label followed by the name of the specific region of origin.
Spain’s Labeling Terms
There are several Spanish terms that one must know in order to read the wine labels, which are as follows:
– Bianco = white
– Tinto = Red
– Rosado = Rosé
– Cosecha = Vintage (85%)
Aging terms for non-DO wines (in barrel and/or bottle) are as follows:
– Noblé = 18 months
– Añejo = 24 months
– Viejo = 36 months (wines must show oxidative character)
The Terroir of Spain
Spain covers the entire Iberian peninsula with the exception of the southwestern corner where Portugal is located. The southern latitude of Spain creates warm conditions that are moderated in the west and in the north by the Atlantic Ocean. The Mediterranean Sea warms the climate to the east and south. Overall, Spain is quite arid with very little rainfall with the exception of a few coastal regions. Northern Spain is dominated by mountain ranges and river valleys that create microclimates. At the center of Spain is an enormous plateau that covers half of the country’s landmass known as the Meseta Central. This entire region is hot and dry and it is sparsely planted.
Standard Aging Requirements for Spain
North-Central Spain essentially comprises the three autonomías (autonomous communities) of La Rioja, Navarra, and Aragón. These are sheltered by the Pyrenees Mountains to the northeast, which divide France and Spain, and the Cantabrian Mountains to the northwest, the region’s highlands are in a rain shadow, and summer temperatures rise further inland. The Ebro River flows from the western Cantabrian Mountains southeasterly towards the Mediterranean, passing though the Rioja DOCa.
Rioja is named after the river Oja. Throughout the Middle Ages Christian monks were the dominating influence in Rioja as they developed Spanish viticulture and the King of Spain granted Rioja legal recognition in 1102. In the 17th century the wine’s regional identity was given further protected but in the 19th century the style of Rioja wine shifted due to the influence of French viniculture.
In 1991 Rioja became the first region in Spain to be designated as a Denominación de Origen Calificada. Aging wine in American oak barrels then became a standard practice and the classic style of Spanish red was developed: Soft, with muted red fruit, firm acidity and the unmistakable oak aromas of dill, vanilla and cedar. However, recently they have begun to develop new styles as many producers are utilizing French oak with more extraction and riper, darker fruit. Likewise the region’s white wines also are also being produced in these Old/New styles with traditional winemakers producing wood-toned, oxidative and textural wines whereas more modern winemakers are producing wines in a clean, fruity style that at times may be off-dry.
Tempranillo is the dominate red grape of Rioja and it is traditionally blended with Mazuelo (Carignan), Graciano, and Garnacha. Together, these four grapes (along with Maturana Tinta, authorized for Rioja in 2007) must comprise a minimum 85% of the red Rioja blend or 95% if destemmed. Other grapes such as Monastel or Cabernet Sauvignon may make up the remainder of the blend.
The dominate white grape is Viura (Macabéo), followed by Garnacha Blanca, Malvasía Riojano, and Maturana Blanca. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Verdejo may be used but cannot account for a more than a combined 49% of the blend. Rosado wines require a minimum 25% of red grapes.
Rioja Ageing Requirements
Rioja casks must be the size of a barrique (225 liters). Whereas producers may age white and rosado crianza wines in a non-oxidative environment such as stainless steel, reserva wines must remain in oak or bottle for the minimum period of aging.
From Haro in the northwest to Alfaro in the southeast, Rioja follows the path of the Ebro River through 3 climatically distinct subzones:
(1) Rioja Alavesa is the smallest, northernmost zone (it is located within Basque country) and Tempranillo here often produces vino joven wines for early consumption often utilizing Carbonic maceration.
(2) Rioja Alta is the southwestern zone, its slightly warmer climate is capable of producing classic, age worthy Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano. Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa share a similar soil structure, with a high proportion of calcareous clay.
(3) Rioja Baja is the hottest sub-region. It contains more alluvial soils and ferrous clay and Garnacha performs well in this climate. Many producers will source blends from all three sub-regions to create a base style, combining the freshness of Rioja Alavesa, the extract and alcoholic warmth of Rioja Baja, and the acidity and structure of Rioja Alta. Traditionalists, however, prefer the typicity that results from single region and single vineyard bottlings.
Navarra DO is adjacent to the northern and eastern borders of Rioja. Historically it has been well-known for its Rosado, but today red wine accounts for approximately 60% whereas rosado wines now only a represents 25% of the region’s production.
The top red wines in Navarra are Garnacha and Tempranillo and the top white grape is Viura, but white grapes account for only about 6% of vineyard acreage.
The region also produces a number of international grape varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.
Navarra contains five subzones:
(1) Valdizarbe – Bordered on the west by the spurs of the Sierra de Andía and, to the north, by the Sierra del Perdón, it has a higher altitude.
(2) Baja Montaña - Located in the east, bordering with Aragon.
(3) Tierra Estella – Located in the north.
(4) Ribera Alta - Located in the center.
(5) Ribera Baja – Located in the hot southern sector.
Three of Navarra’s estates have received their own DO Pago appellations:
(1) Señorio de Arínzano - This Vino de Pago is located in the municipality of Aberin (Merindad de Estella), in the Foral Community of Navarra, Spain. The 300 hectares (740 acres) estate was purchased by the Chivite family in 1988 and is operated by Bodegas Chivite.
(2) Prado Irache - This Vino de Pago is located in the municipality of Ayegui, near the town of Estella.
(3) Bodegas Otazu - This Vino de Pago is located in the municipality of Echauri, a village only 8 km (5 miles) from Pamplona, the capital of the Foral Community of Navarra, Spain.
The autonomía of Aragon, to the east of Rioja and Navarra, contains 4 DOs:
(1) Campo de Borja DO - It is a transition zone between the plains of the River Ebro and the mountains of the Sistema Ibérico. The DO comprises 16 municipalities. The Moncayo Mountain is the dominant feature of the DO and creates a microclimate which gives the wines a special character.
(2) Calatayud DO - Located in the southwestern corner of the province of Zaragoza about 90 km (56 miles) from Zaragoza and covers over 5,600 ha, extending over 46 different municipalities.
(3) Cariñena DO - Cariñena vineyards are located near the center of Aragón, about 50 km (31 miles) southwest of Zaragoza, on a plateau known as the Campo de Cariñena. The lower vineyards lie at an altitude of 400 meters, rising to 800 meters as they approach the Sierra de la Virgen Mountains. To the west they border on the Calatayud DO.
(4) Somontano DO - Created in 1984, in the province of Huesca, (Aragon). It borders the regions of Sobrarbe and Ribagorza in the North, Hoya de Huesca in the West, the Monegros in the South, and the region of Litera in the East. Wine production is centered around the town of Barbastro. The name Somontano, means “beneath the mountain” – and this geographic area which spreads out from the foothills of the Pyrenees down to the Ebro valley. The DO includes 43 municipalities, most of them in the Somontano area, and a few bordering on Ribagorza and the Monegros. There are over 4000 hectares (984 acres) of vines and about 500 individual grape-growers.
The hot climate of Navarra’s Ribera Baja and Rioja’s Baja zones extends southward into the Campo de Borja DO, where approximately 2/3 of the vineyards are planted with Garnacha. Both red and rosado wines are produced, principally from Garnacha and Tempranillo. Garnacha also dominates the vineyards of Calatayud DO and Cariñena DO to the south. Cariñena, one of Spain’s longstanding delimited zones (dating to 1932) is the ancestral home of the Carignan/Mazuelo grape, but today the grape is a secondary player in the region’s blends. The up-and-coming Somontano DO (“beneath the mountain”) lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees near Catalonia, producing wines from local grapes such as the white Alcañón and red Parraleta, as well as a larger compliment of Spanish and international varietals. White wines are based on Viura.
Learning Objectives of Unit 5 – Day 1: Overview of Spain, Rioja and Navarra
At the beginning of class lectures a list of learning objectives is provided to the students. By the end of the class, the students should have a certain degree of understanding from their own reading and the lectures and be able to provide the answers to a list of questions. The Learning Objectives for Unit 5 - Day 1 along with the answers are as follows.
By the end of class, students should be able to answer the following questions:
(1) What are the 5 quality levels for Spanish wine?
Answer: Vino, VdIT, VCIG, DO, DO Pago, DOCa
(2) What are the 2 DOCGa regions?
Answer: Rioja, Priorat
(3) Briefly describe the Vinos de Pago (DO Pago) category.
Answer: A subcategory of PDO, single estates only (15 as of 2012), sub-classification of DO level with each estate guiding its own production.
(4) What is the principal red grape of Rioja?
(5) What is the principal red grape of Navarra?
(6) What is the principal white grape of Rioja?
(7) Identify the best sub region of Rioja and its principal soils.
Answer: Rioja Alta: clay soils with chalk and iron deposits
(8) What are the differences between the ageing requirements for Spain and Rioja?
Answer: Crianza (2 years, 6 months), Rioja (2 years, 1 month;
Reserva (3 years, 1 month); Gran Reserva (5 years, 18 months).
Reserva (3 years, 1 month); Gran Reserva (5 years, 18 months).
(9) Describe the attributes of any wines tasted today
Answer: See below
On the first day of Unit 5 we tasted the following wines from Spain:
1. 2010 Llopart Reserva Brut Rose Cava, Penedes, Spain
This is a clear, pink-red wine with very little rim variation and minute bubbles. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of strawberries, watermelon and tart under ripe cherries. On the palate it has flavors of under ripe strawberries, tart cherries, with a hint of lees. It is dry with very low tannin, medium+ acidity, moderate alcohol, light body, and a medium length finish. A simple refreshing sparkling wine, it sells for about $16 to $18 per bottle.
2. 2004 Lopez de Heredia, Gravonia Rioja Blanco Crianza
This is a clear white wine, yellow-gold in color with medium concentration, and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of baked apples, caramelized pears, almonds, cashews, rye bread, and damp autumn leaves. On the palate it has flavors of lemon custard, eggnog with nutmeg, and toasted coconut. It is dry with very low tannin, medium+ acidity, high complexity, medium bodied with a round creamy mouthfeel, and a medium+ length finish. This wine is made 100% from the Viura grape, it was aged for 4 years, being racked twice a year and fined with fresh egg whites. I have never experienced this grape varietal before so I don’t have any basis of comparison to evaluate its quality. Having said that, I found this wine to be very intriguing so this oxidative white wine was actually very enjoyable. It sells for $25 to $30 per bottle.
3. 1998 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva, Rioja DOCa
This is a clear white wine, yellow-gold in color, medium- concentration with minimal rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of cooked cherries, caramelized pears, crème Brule, toasted almond, marzipan and a hint of kerosene. On the palate it has flavors of dried apples, lemon custard, and creamed corn. It is dry with low tannin, medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, medium bodied, highly complex with a long finish. This wine is a blend of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia. It was aged for 6 years, being racked twice a year and fined with fresh egg whites. As with the previous wine, I have never experienced this grape varietal before so I don’t have any basis of comparison to evaluate its quality. It is a very unique style of wine and one that I found a bit difficult to accurately describe. This wine sells for about $42.
4. 2012 Artadi Bodegas y Vinedos Artazu 'Artazuri' Garnacha Rosado, Navarra
This is a clear rosé wine, rosy-red wine with medium- concentration, minor rim variation and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of fresh strawberries, watermelon, cherry, fresh roses and a hint of spice. On the palate it has flavors of strawberries, zesty cherries with a hint of paprika, clove and sandalwood. It is dry with low tannins, medium+ acidity, medium bodied and a long spicy finish. This wine is made from 100% Garnache (Grenache). It sells for about $8 to $10.
5. 2007 Viña Real Oro Reserva, Rioja
This is an opaque red wine, dark ruby at the core to garnet at the rim, day-bright with moderate rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of dried plums, dried cherries, canned black olives, dried herbs with a touch of VA. On the palate it has flavors of cooked cherries, baked strawberries, black olive, wet leather and dried herbs. It has HIGH tannin, medium+ alcohol, medium+ body and a medium length finish. This wine is a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano, Grenache and Mazuelo (also known as Carignan, Bovale Grande, Cariñena and Carignane). This is a very rustic wine that isn’t for sipping on the back porch on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it needs to be pared with food. It sells for about $22 to $29.
6. 2005 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Rioja
This is an opaque red wine, dark ruby at the core to garnet at the rim with medium+ viscosity and tears that stain the glass. On the nose it is “clean” with moderate intense aormas of dried plums, black olives, dried herbs and black licorice. On the palate it has flavors of cooked strawberries, cherries, wet leather, paprika, and black pepper. It has HIGH tannin, medium+ acidity, medium body, high alcohol and medium length finish. This wine is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano. It sells for about $50.
7. 2005 Fernando Remirez de Ganuza Finca de Ganuza Rioja
This is an opaque red wine, dark ruby at the core to garnet at the rim, day bright with medium+ viscosity and tears that stain the glass. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of cooked strawberries, cherry-cola, sweet pipe tobacco, paprika, and dried herbs. On the palate it has flavors of cooked strawberries, medicinal cherries, barbeque potato chips, paprika, black pepper, and cooked coconut. It has HIGH tannin, medium+ acidity, medium body, high alcohol and medium length finish. This wine is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano. This wine is a blend of 85% Tempranillo with the balance Graciano, Garnacha, and “other,” It sells for about $70 to $85.
8. 2001 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Rioja Reserva
This is a clear red wine, dark ruby at the core to garnet at the rim, a bit hazy with medium+ viscosity and tears that stain the glass. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of cooked strawberries, cooked cherries, old leather, black licorice, dried meat and On the palate it has flavors of cooked strawberries, medicinal cherries, dried meat, barbeque potato chips, sweet pipe tobacco, paprika, black pepper, and cooked coconut. It has HIGH tannin, medium+ acidity, medium body, high alcohol and medium length finish. This wine is a blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha 5%, Graciano and 5% Mazuelo. It sells for about $40.
All of these wines represent the “old school” of Spanish wine making. While I found the white wines to be intriguing I personally found the red wines to be too old, tired, lacking vibrancy and overly tannic. Yet, many wine critics give them high scores (90+). I suppose this just isn’t my style of wine.