Saturday, September 26, 2015

Spain Unit 6 - The Levante



The following are my notes for the Advanced Study of the Wines of Spain covering the Levante. The notes include information about the history, topography, climate, soils, important red and white grapes, the various Denominación de Origen (DO) of the region and the wines I tasted during this study.

Geography and Climate
The Levante is located on the eastern shoreline of Spain along the Mediterranean, which has a heavy influence on its climate. The region derives its name from the Spanish word Levantarse, which means “get up” which refers to the region being located “where the sun rises.” The Levante consists of two autonomias – Valencia and Murcia. Valencia consists of three provinces Alicante, Castellon de la Plana and Valencia itself and is home to three Denominación de Origen: Alicante DO, Utiel-Requena DO and Valencia DO. Murcia consists of one province and is also home to three Denominación de Origen: Bullas DO, Jumilla DO and Yecla DO. [1]

History

The city and port of Valencia were exporting goods before many other major Spanish business centers were established. Although Barcelona is the country’s largest port, Valencia is its largest port for exporting wine via train, plane, ship or truck.

Paella
The region is also Spain’s largest rice producer and is the birthplace of paella, a Valencian rice dish that originated in its modern form in the mid-19th century near the Albufera lagoon, a coastal lagoon in Valencia, on the east coast of Spain. The dish is made in a pan which gives the name to the dish as the word “paella” derives from the Old French word paella which means “pan”, which in turn comes from the Latin word patella which also means “pan”.[2] Paella was created in an area around Albufera (a fresh water lagoon near the city of Valencia). At lunch time, workers in the fields would make the rice dish in a flat pan over a fire. They mixed in whatever they could find - such as snails and vegetables. For special occasions, rabbit and later chicken were added. Today paella is made in every region of Spain, using just about any kind of ingredient that goes well with rice. There are also different types of paella including Valencian paella (Spanish: paella valenciana), seafood paella (Spanish: paella de marisco), and mixed paella (Spanish: paella mixta) so it may contain chicken, pork, shellfish, fish, eel, squid, beans, peas, artichokes or peppers. Saffron, the spice that also turns the rice a wonderful golden color is an essential part of the dish.[3]
 
Utiel-Requena Vineyard
The Grapes of the Levante
The major grapes of Spain were discussed in the Introduction. However, the Levante is also home to some local varietals as well.
White Grapes
Moscatel de Alejandría
Also known as Muscat of Alexandria, Zibibbo, and numerous other names. The grape originated in North Africa and in Spain it is grown in Málaga, Alicante, Valencia, and the Canary Islands.[4]
Planta Fina
The grape is also known by 64 other synonyms including Farana, Kanaän, Majorquen, Plant de Languedoc, Uva Rei, and Valenciana Barbera. It may be related to Verdejo. Information about the grape is scant other than it produces a light, aromatic wines.
Merseguera
The grape produces fairly neutral wines with low acidity, it is usually used in blends. It is found primarily in Alicante, Jumilla, Valencia, Yecla, Tarragona and Utiel-Requena.
Verdil
Also known as Verdosilla, it is a golden-yellow grape grown in the Valencia DO, but plantings are on the decline. Dry wines tend to have notes tea, grass, herbs, with a hint of smoke while sweet wines may display aromas of peach, passion fruit and honey.
Airén
Also known as Aidén, Lairén, Burra Blanca, Burrablanca, Manchega, Valdepeñera or Valdepeñas, Forcallet Forcayat and Valdepenas. This native drought-resistant grape is planted throughout central Spain, particularly La Mancha and Valdepenas wine regions and it represents about 30% of all grapes grown in the country. The vine's high yields and low maintenance requirements took precedence over the quality of the wine it made, so Airen has traditionally been used by Spain’s brandy industry, and to produce oxidative, high-alcohol white wines. It was also blended with Cencibel (Tempranillo) to produce lighter-bodied red wines. In the Canary Islands, Airen goes by the name Burra Blanca (“white donkey”), and is used mainly as a blending ingredient to produce dry white wines, alongside Malvasia, Breval and Listan Blanco (aka Palomino).[5]
Macabeo
Also known as Alcañón, Viura, or Macabeu. It is widely grown in Rioja, the Cava producing areas south of Barcelona, and the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. It is mostly used to produce mildly acidic and young white wines or for blending with other white and red varieties. It is the primary grape of white Rioja and is sometimes blended in small amounts with Tempranillo and red Garnacha, both in un-oaked and oaked versions. It was introduced in Rioja after the phylloxera epidemic, where it largely replaced Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca, partially because of the ability of its wines to better withstand oxidation. It is also used in Reserva and Gran Reserva white Rioja subjected to extended aging that can span decades, resulting in a highly distinctive and aromatic wine.[6]
Malvasía
A family of grape varieties grown historically in the Mediterranean region, Balearic islands, Canary Islands and the island of Madeira where it is known as “Malmsey.” Scholars believe it is likely the wine given highest accolades by the world’s first authority, Pliny the Elder, who coined the phrase “Vino Veritas” (“In wine there is truth”).
Tardana
Also known as Planta Nova and Coma. It is native to the Spanish Utiel-Requena Wine D.O. It produces pale, golden-yellow toned white wines with distinct and intense fruity aromas of pineapple and apple.
Pedro Ximénez
Also known as Pedro Jimenez, Perrum, Don Bueno or simply referred to as “PX”. It is best known for its role in the sweet sherries of Jerez. It has very low acidity so it does not produce quality table wines.
French varieties:
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
Red Grapes
Monastrell
Also known as Mataró and Mourvèdre (France), it is grown in the Valencia DO and Jumilla DO. It tends to produce wines with aromas of red fruits, with wild game and/or earthy notes that are tannic wines that are high in alcohol. Young wines can come across as faulted due to the reductive, sulfur notes and “barnyard” aromas that mellow with age.
Garnacha Tinta
Also known as Garnatxa (Spain), Madrid region as Tinto Aragonés (Madrid), Grenache (France) and Guarnaccia (Italy). It is a late ripening variety so it needs hot, dry conditions to achieve full maturity. It is generally spicy, berry-flavored (raspberry and strawberry) with a subtle, white pepper spice notes. Structurally, it tends to be soft on the palate due to low tannin and acidity yet with a relatively high alcohol content. As Grenache ages the wines tend to take on more leather and tar flavors. Grenache wines are highly prone to oxidation with even young examples having the potential to show browning (or “bricking”) coloration that can be noticed around the rim when evaluating the wine at an angle in the glass.[7] It is commonly blended with Carignan and Tempranillo or outside of Spain with Syrah and Mourvèdre.
Garnacha Tintorera
Also known as Alicante-Bouschet, it is a teinturier grape that is a hybrid created by Henri Bouschet in the late 1800’s. On its own it creates wines with black fruit and mocha flavors with firm but elegant tannins, it is usually used as a blending grape.
Tempranillo
Also known as Cencibel, Ull de Llebre, and Tinta del Pais. The name is the derived from the Spanish word temprano (“early”). It is native to northern Spain and is widely cultivated in Rioja and as far south as La Mancha. It is an early ripening variety that tends to thrive in chalky vineyard soils found in the Ribera del Duero DO. Table wines tend to be ruby red in color, with aromas and flavors strawberries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather and herbs. In Portugal, it is known as Tinto Roriz and Aragonez and is used to make fortified Port wines.[8]
Bobal
The grape is native to the Utiel-Requena DO in Valencia where it represents about 90% of all vines grown, and is also present in significant quantities in Valencia, Cuenca and Albacete. The name derives from the Latin bovale, in reference to the shape of a bull’s head.  It is the third most planted variety in Spain with 90,000 ha (8%), coming behind Airén 305,000 ha (27%) and Tempranillo 190,000 (17%). At its best, Bobal makes wines known for their dark color, chewy tannins and spicy dark fruit notes with a juicy acidity. It is also widely used for making rosé. [9]
French varieties:
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir. Syrah, Petit Verdot.



Denominación de Origen (DO) of the Levante
The Levante wine region includes 6 Denominación de Origen (DO) which are as follows:[10]
Alicante DO
Established as a DO in 1957. The DO divides broadly into two areas and wine styles. The larger area, the arid valley of Rio Vinalopó, stretches inland from the city of Alicante. The second area of La Marina, on the northern coast, was incorporated into the DO in 1987. It has a warm, humid climate. There are 14,254 hectares (35,222 acres) under vine. Primary white grapes include Moscatel de Alejandría used to produce the sweet wine Moscatel de Alicante. Other white grapes include Planta Fina, Merseguera, Chardonnay, Verdil, Sauvignon Blanc, Airén and Macabeo. Primary red grapes include Monastrell plus Garnacha Tinta, Garnacha Tintorera, Tempranillo, Bobal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah. The region is known for dessert wines, particularly Fondillón which is a solera-style, oxidative non-fortified dessert wine produced from overripe Monastrell grapes. Ageing requirements: Crianza - 6 months oak and 12 months in bottle, Reserva 12 months in oak and 12 in bottle, Gran Reserva - 24 months in oak and 36 months in bottle. Fondillón is aged for a minimum of 10 years in barrels.[11]
Utiel-Requena DO
Established as a DO in 1957. It is named after two local towns located inland from the city of Valencia. There are 41,000 hectares (101,313 acres) under vine planted on loamy, limestone soils at elevations from 2,000 feet to almost 3,000 feet. Primary white grapes include Tardana, Macabeo (Viura), Merseguera, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Primary red grapes include Bobal, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Ageing requirements: Crianza - 6 months oak; Reserva - 12 months oak minimum, 36 months total ageing; Gran Reserva - 24 months oak, 60 months total ageing. The region produces a wine known as Doble Pasta. These wines are macerated and fermented with twice the normal amount of grape skins and pulp, resulting in a wine of intense concentration, tannin and color. These wines are often used to strengthen weaker blends. In 2001 the term Vino de Heredad (estate wine) was introduced by the Consejo Regulador to encourage producers to focus on their best vineyard sites and to aim for higher quality.
Valencia DO
Established as a DO in 1957. There are 19,490 hectares (48,160 acres) under vine. Primary white grapes include Merseguera, Malvasía, Pedro Ximénez, Moscatel, Planta Fina, Macabeo (Viura) and Chardonnay. Primary red grapes include Monastrell, Garnacha Tintorera, Garnacha Tinta, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Ageing requirements: Crianza - 3 months oak; Reserva - 6 months oak; Gran Reserva - 9 months oak.
Bullas DO
Established as a DO in 1994. It is the most southern of the DOs of the Levante and borders Andalusia to the west and the plains of the Mediterranean are located to the east. There are 2,258 hectares (5,579 acres) under vine planted on Limestone and alluvial soils. Primary white grapes include Macabeo (Viura) plus Airén, Chardonnay, Malvasía, Moscatel de Alejandría (and Moscatel de Grano Menudo), and Sauvignon Blanc. Primary red grapes include Monastrell plus Garnacha Tinta, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Ageing requirements: Crianza - 6 months oak, 24 months oak/bottle age in total; Reserva - 12 months oak, 36 months in oak/bottle in total; Gran Reserva - 12 months oak, 36 months oak/bottle in total.
Jumilla DO
Established as a DO in 1966. There are 29,000 hectares (71,660 acres) under vine planted at 1,750 feet to 2,600 feet, high above the nearby coastline. Primary white grapes include Airén, Macabeo (Viura), Pedro Ximénez, Malvasía, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Moscatel. Primary red grapes include Monastrell plus Garnacha Tintorera, Cencibel (Tempranillo), Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha Tinta, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot. Ageing requirements: Crianza - six months oak and 12 months in bottle; Reserva - 12 months in oak and 12 months in bottle; Gran Reserva - 24 months in oak and 36 months in bottle.
Yecla DO
Established as a DO in 1975. There are 6,500 hectares (16,061 acres) under vine. Primary white grapes include Airén, Merseguera, Macabeo (Viura), Malvasía, Chardonnay. Primary red grapes include Monastrell. Others: Garnacha Tinta, Garnacha Tintorera, Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Ageing requirements: Crianza - 6 months oak, 18 months bottle age; Reserva - 12 months oak, 24 bottle age; Gran Reserva - 24 months oak, 36 bottle age.

While studying the Levante I tasted the following wines:

2014 Albero Bobal Rosé, Utiel-Requena DO


This wine is made from 100% Bobal. It is a clear, translucent wine, candied-cherry red in color with moderate viscosity. On the nose it is clean with medium- intense aromas of under ripe strawberries, cranberries, roses, with a hint of citrus. On the palate the wine is dry and slightly tart with low tannins, medium+ acidity, medium body and a moderate length finish. This wine sells for $5.99 at Trader Joes

2008 Raspay Primitivo Quiles, Alicante DO


This wine is made from 100% Monastrell. It is an opaque red wine, dark purple/black at the core to garnet at the rim showing some signs of age with minimal variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of figs, dried plums, black licorice, damp earth, cedar, old leather, hints of smoke with some balsamic notes and a hint of VA. On the palate it is dry with moderate tannins, medium+ acidity, it is full bodied and has a long earthy and dried black fruit finish. The wine is somewhat rustic in character and is not for the “New World” palate. But, it is a great wine for only $21.99 at The Spanish Table in Berkeley, CA.

2010 Tarima Hill, Alicante DO


This wine is made from 100% Monastrell. It is an opaque red wine, dark purple at the core to violet at the rim with minimal variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of blackberries, blueberries, violets and lavender, with subtle notes of dark chocolate, black licorice, graphite and a hint of spice. On the palate the wine is dry but has loads of fruit, it is full bodied and powerful with moderate acidity and a long finish. This wine sells for $14.99 Prima Vini in Walnut Creek, CA.

2012 Casa Castillo Monastrell, Jumilla DO


This wine is made from 100% Monastrell. It is an opaque red wine, dark purple at the core to violet at the rim with minimal variation and moderate viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of blackberry jam, blueberry compote, lavender and violets, with a hint of spice. On the palate the wine is dry with moderate tannins, mouthwatering medium+ acidity, and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for $11.99 at The Spanish Table in Berkeley, CA but only $9.99 at K&L in Redwood City, CA.

2013 Atance Bobal, Valencia DO


This wine is made from 100% Bobal. This is an opaque red wine, dark purple at the core to violet at the rim with minimal variation and moderate viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderately intense aromas of blackberries, black plums, very intense fresh cracked black pepper, lavender and violets and a hint of wet stone. On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ tannin, medium+ acidity, it is medium bodied and has a medium+ length pepper and spice driven finish. This wine sells for $11.99 at The Spanish Table in Berkeley, CA

2013 Albero Tempranillo, Utiel-Requena DO


This wine is made from 100% organic Tempranillo grapes. It is a semi-opaque wine, dark ruby in color at the core to garnet at the rim with moderate viscosity. On the nose the wine is clean with medium intense aromas of baked strawberries with hints of sandalwood, paprika and spice. On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ tannins, medium acidity, medium body and a moderate length finish. It is a fairly simple that sells  for only $5.99 at Trader Joes.


[1] John Radford, The New Spain: A Complete Guide to Spanish Wine (Mitchell Beazley; 2nd edition, 2006), 134.
[4] Jancis Robinson, Vines Grapes & Wines (Mitchell Beazley, 1986), 185.
[6] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 414.
[7] Wine & Spirits Education Trust, Wine and Spirits: Understanding Wine Quality (Second Revised Edition), 6-9.
[8] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 691.
[10] Much of what follows is adapted from: http://www.winesfromspainuk.com
[11] John Radford, The New Spain: A Complete Guide to Spanish Wine (Mitchell Beazley; 2nd edition, 2006), 138.

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