E viva España! We love sensual and modern Spain, marked by the many twists and turns between periods of glory and despair. The strength of resilience and renewal is reflected in the multi-faceted Spanish wines. The Spanish art of living necessarily involves appreciating the depth and richness of everything we do and everything we taste. Emoti...
E viva España! We love sensual and modern Spain, marked by the many twists and turns between periods of glory and despair. The strength of resilience and renewal is reflected in the multi-faceted Spanish wines. The Spanish art of living necessarily involves appreciating the depth and richness of everything we do and everything we taste. Emotion comes first: and Spanish wines inevitably follow this trend: greediness and sensuality!
Subject to climatic constraints limiting productivity, it ranks third in terms of wine production, behind Italy and France. Its vineyard is compartmentalised, sometimes landlocked, given the great variability of climates and terroirs. This arrangement confers a rich range of local specificities.
The history of Spain is exceptional! Colonised then colonising, united then divided, the ups and downs of its history have shaped its wine-growing landscape. Introduced by the Phoenicians, organised by the Romans, limited (but tolerated) by the Ottomans, transported by the Conquistadors and then exported throughout the world, Spanish wines have followed these ups and downs and have adapted brilliantly. This process has given rise to innovative techniques and avant-garde wines, that incorporate international novelties while preserving tradition.
Today, Spanish wines are top-of-the-range products which make some of their more pretentious neighbours pale. If for more than a century, the legendary Vega Sicilia alone has been the flagship of Spanish wines, other great names have been forged in recent decades such as Pingus, Ermita and the famous Clos Mogador. Loyal to the culture and climate of Spain, Spanish wines always offer a festive and bewitching emotion whatever the price range. With the progressive arrival of legislation on the protection of appellations, it would not be surprising to see more and more pearls emerge in the years to come?
Spanish wines are very varied. A multitude of grape varieties are cultivated, although some, such as Tempranillo, are present in several appellations. Most of the appellations are very recent, while for others, the legislative processes are still ongoing... How do you untangle all this? The online wine shop offers a variety of information about wines, producers and wine-growing regions in Spain...
Although Spanish wines are dominated, at least in reputation, by red wines based on Tempranillo (Rioja, Ribera del Duero, etc...), Grenache (Priorat, Montsant) or Monastrell or Mourvèdre (Valencia, Almansa, Jumilla, Yecla, and Alicante), the most planted grape variety in Spain is Airén. It is in fact the third most planted grape variety in the world in terms of surface area (behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot), although it is almost exclusively planted in Spain. The most surprising thing is that it is a white grape variety! It is authorised in the DOs Alicante, Bullas, Jumilla, La Mancha, Valdepeñas and Vinos de Madrid for the production of table wines. Its main use remains, however, for the production of brandy.
Large areas of Catalonia are dedicated to the cultivation of the grape varieties Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo, which are also white. They are used in the composition of the famous Cava, a sparkling wine produced using the traditional method.
Spanish wines from the south of the peninsula are dominated by the production of Xeres DO (or sherry), fortified wines made from the Palomino, Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grape varieties, which are also white!
At the end of the 19th century, Priorat had about 5'000 ha of vines, but the arrival of phylloxera led to the devastation and near abandonment of this vineyard. Replanting was carried out sparingly from the 1950s onwards. At the beginning of the 1980s, a group of visionary winegrowers, led by René Barbier, spotted the potential of the region and decided to revive the production of quality wines, based on Grenache, but also on international grape varieties such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan. Five winegrowers worked together until 1989, when they produced their first joint vintage, marketed under five different labels: Clos Mogador (Barbier), Clos Dofi (Palacios, then Finca Dofi), Clos Erasmus, Clos Martinet and Clos de l'Obac.
The wines of this region have since reached the heights of notoriety among the greatest sommeliers and wine lovers of the planet! Yields are generally maintained at levels well below the legislation in order to obtain exceptional concentration and precision. Priorat, an enclave in Montsant, is today the only region along with Rioja to enjoy the DOQ or DOQa classification, a guarantee of the quality of the wines it produces.
Spain has always been at the heart of great movements of conquest, contributing to the fabulous history of the migration of grape varieties and the development of winemaking techniques.
Trade relations with England have always involved the wine trade. Following the loss of Gascony by England in 1453, Spain took a leading position in wine exports against Bordeaux! Then, Spain of the Conquistadors, wine was very much in demand for their travels. It is thus reported that Magellan's budget for Jerez wines exceeded that of his weaponry! At the same time, Spain was considerably developing viticulture in South America, which would later contribute to the exceptional growth of Argentinean and Chilean vineyards! The loss of the supply of sweet wine from the eastern Mediterranean (Ottoman Empire) then contributed to the dominance of the export of Spanish wines of this type.
Then comes the arrival of phylloxera. Its late arrival in the vineyards of the Iberian Peninsula has allowed Spanish wine producers to reap two benefits! At the very beginning of the disease, they were able to continue exporting and then they were able to take advantage of the experiences and solutions developed by its neighbours.
The many journeys that Spanish wines had to make favoured the development of ageing techniques, such as fortification and maturing in barrels. As a result of their many journeys, today we find varieties endemic to Spain such as Grenache and Mourvèdre in the great appellations of neighbouring countries and all over the world.
Rioja DOC and Ribera del Duero DO (hopefully soon DOC) are among the most renowned regions in Spain. In both appellations, we can find a favourable terrain for Tempranillo, the great lord of the Spanish red grape varieties. But what makes the wines that are produced in one region different from the other?
A history of climate
Sometimes called Tinto Fino or Tinta del Pais, Tempranillo is an early ripening grape variety. Thus in cooler regions, such as Rioja, it will offer finer and more delicate wines with more pronounced tannins. On the other hand, in the Ribera del Duero, where the drier continental climate can sometimes be very extreme, it will offer more power and seduction with more ripe and silky tannins.
A history of blending
Although a few prestigious houses vinify their great vintages with Tempranillo as a single variety, most make light blends with other varieties. In Rioja, blending is generally done with Grenache, Graciano or Marzuelo. These more traditional blends with endemic grape varieties bring a great authenticity and a beautiful expression of the terroirs. In Ribera del Duero, on the other hand, blending is done preferably with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Malbec. They strengthen the structure and the fruit bringing a modern touch to the wines produced.
A history of taste
In short, and without making too generalised trends, Rioja wines will be lighter, more rustic and will offer both pastoral and authentic comfort. Ribera del Duero will present more powerful, more elegant wines, capable of offering a solemn, even baroque warmth.
There are 4 different types of Spanish wines, depending on the length and type of maturation:
Roble : 2 years of ageing, including at least 4 months in oak barrels ;
Crianza : 2 years of ageing, including at least 12 months in oak barrels;
Reserva: 3 years of ageing, including at least 12 months in oak barrels;
Gran Reserva: 5 years of ageing, of which at least 24 months in oak barrels.
Due to the complexity of the terroirs and the diversity of grape varieties that Spain has to offer, this brief presentation does not present the richness of Spanish wines as a whole. From the great diversity, we have selected for you over the last few years, some nuggets that are produced there. By clicking on the category of Spanish wines in our online wine shop, you will access all the relevant information to find the wine that corresponds to the criteria of your choice. Whether you are looking for the charm of Ribera del Duero, the power of Priorat, the elegance of Montsant, the seduction of deep white wines or whether you want to let yourself be tempted by the discovery of unknown regions, we offer you educational sections as well as technical descriptions of the wines in our assortment. Good research and good discoveries!
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Your Spanish wine expert and advisor, alfavin.ch
Priorat and Montsant are wine regions situated in the province of Tarragona, in the southwest of Catalonia, Spain. In recent years, both regions have developed spectacularly, and their reds now figure amongst the most expensive and sought-after wines in Spain.
Priorat wines qualify as DOCa – the highest qualification level for a wine region in Spain. Rioja DOCa is the only other region in Spain to achieve this qualification. Priorat is renowned for producing high quality wines, full of minerality, fresh and fruity – wines for the body and mind!
Montsant wines qualify as DO. This was approved at a regional level in 2002 and the area has experienced rapid growth since then with over 55 official cellars. Montsant is renowned for producing fresher and fruitier red wines than Priorat.
The Cartoixa (Carthusian Monastery) of Scala Dei is where wine and winemaking was introduced in this region. The Carthusian monks came to the region from Provence in France in the 12th century and brought with them their knowledge and techniques to develop a winegrowing culture. The monks tended the vineyards until 1835 when they were expropriated by the state and their lands distributed to smallholders.
At the end of the 19th century there was the phylloxera epidemic, which devastated the vineyards and was an economic disaster for the region. In addition to the epidemic, the explosion of the textile industry in Catalonia ensured that the entire workforce moved to the cities and new vines were not planted again until the 1950s.
Much of the redevelopment of the region has been credited to a group of enthusiastic winemakers including René Barbier, Alvaro Palacios, Josep Lluis Perez, Daphne Glorian and Carles Pastrana. Winemaker René Barbier was convinced of the region’s potential and bought his first land to plant vineyards in 1979. He convinced the others to follow suit and plant new vineyards in suitable locations. In 1989 and for three vintages the group of five wineries pooled their grapes and made one wine under five labels : Clos Mogador, Clos Dofi, Clos Erasmus, Clos Martinet and Clos de l’Obac. From 1992, these wines were made completely separately. This group of winemakers have been recognised for producing high quality wines and placing this small region on the world wine map.
Priorat is a wine region situated in the province of Tarragona, in the southwest of Catalonia, Spain. It covers a small area, less than 20’000 hectares, of which just 2’000 are planted with vines. 12 towns make up the DOQ Priorat: Bellmunt del Priorat, Gratallops, el Lloar, la Morera de Montsant, Porrera, Poboleda, Scala Dei, Torroja del Priorat, la Vilella Alta and la Vilella Baixa, and the grape growing zones of Masos de Falset and Solanes del Molar.
Montsant wine region forms a horseshoe around Priorat and almost completely encompasses it in a full circle. The denomination covers part of Priorat as well as part of Ribera d’Ebre – in total 17 villages are included. It covers an area of 1,900 hectares.
The region is mountainous and is made up of steep slopes and spectacular countryside. The terrain is very abrupt, and it is wondered how vines can grow there - the vineyards are planted on the steep slopes on terraces built specifically, at altitudes of between 100m and 700m above sea level. This makes wine growing hard, demanding and costly. The soil is rich in slate with layers of powdered clay in between. There are several different microclimates present as the area is surrounded by the Montsant mountain range.
This all results in low yields compared to other wine growing regions, which rarely exceed 2,000 kilos per hectare.
The vineyards are found on the steep slopes of the Montsant mountains, around 200m and 700m above sea level. There are three main soil types: chalky clay, granitic sand and slate. Although located close to the Mediterranean Sea, the surrounding mountains isolate it somewhat from the sea giving it more of a continental climate.
TAll the above characteristics allow the regions to yield exceptional grapes which, in the hands of their dedicated winemakers, are transformed into wines renowned all over the world for their strong character and extraordinary complexity.
In a very short period of time, the wines of Priorat and Montsant have managed to earn the respect and admiration of leading experts all over the world for their quality and strong personality.
The most well known native red grape varieties are Grenache and Carnigan. Also permitted are the following red varieties: Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah.
The traditional reds are a varietal bottling of Grenache or Carignan, or blending of these two grapes in a Bordeaux style with other French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah, among others.
The permitted red grape varieties are Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Grenache is the most planted grape, producing rich, full-bodied, high alcohol wine.
The permitted white grape varieties are white Grenache, Macabeu, Pedro Ximénez, Chenin Blanc, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Xarello and Piquepoul.
The permitted white grape varieties are white Grenache, Macabeu, Chardonnay, Muscat of Alexandria and Cartoixa.
Alfavin.ch is proud to work with some of the best producers of Priorat:
Ribera del Duero is a large wine-growing region in the autonomous community of Castilla y León to the northwest of Madrid. The Duero is an important river in the Iberian winemaking world since it originates in Spain and crosses the DOs of Ribera del Duero, DO Cigales, DO Rueda, DO Toro and DO Arribes del Duero before crossing the Portuguese border and becoming the mythical river that gave birth to the Porto wines, Douro. The Spanish wines of Ribera del Duero are essentially red and are mainly made from Tinto Fino (Tempranillo). They are particularly dark and concentrated, and are high quality wines with medium to long ageing potential.
The Denominacion de Origen was obtained in 1982, yet wine has been made in the region for more than 2,000 years. In the 10th century it was already considered one of the greatest Spanish wines. One estate in particular has helped to propel the region's fame, the Bodegas Vega Sicilia. The estate received the most prestigious international awards as early as the 19th century and helped to bring recognition to the quality of the Ribera del Duero's terroir and wines all over the world. Since the announcement of the D.O., the region has been considerably modernised and has received numerous financial and technological investments that have allowed the quality of the wines to be raised even further.
Castilla y León is located on the great plain of the Meseta, wedged between Cantabrian Cordillera to the north and Sierra de Guadarrama to the south. The Basque coast is more than 250 kilometres away, so it is very hot in the Valladolid region, and the River Duero is more than beneficial for cooling and humidifying an almost desert-like region. The chalky soil is a blessing, absorbing and retaining the little rainfall to return it to the vines throughout the season.
Ribera del Duero is one of the largest DOs in Spain! There are more than 8,500 estates on 22,000 hectares. Almost exclusively red wines are produced here. Some of them are made from young vines and are supple and fruity and ready to be drunk quickly. The exceptional heritage of old vines enables the production of the great cuvées of Reserva which are called this due to long passages in new French oak barrels and can be kept in bottles for 10 to 20 years.
Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) is necessarily the majority in the Spanish red wines of the Ribera del Duero. This grape variety reveals a concentration and structure much more powerful than its neighbour from Rioja, which is grown in a less extreme climate. When it is not 100% present, it can be accompanied by native varieties such as Garnacha (Grenache) or international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Malbec.
We can sometimes find on the labels the same terms related to ageing as in Rioja : Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. Crianza and Reserva are certainly the 2 terms most used in Ribera del Duero to indicate a rather evolved and lightly to moderately woody wine. Roble is frequently encountered, it is a woody Joven style. Gran Reserva is much more rarely used.
Until recently, no one had had the chance to taste the extremely rare Ribera del Duero white. In fact, the little wine produced was reserved for the personal consumption of the winemaking families. The local native grape variety, Albillo Major, is nevertheless present in the vineyards (almost 500 hectares) and has mostly been used to give natural freshness and delicate aromas to red wines or to be distilled to produce Spanish Brandys (grape brandy, similar to Cognac). The first white wine was officially created in 2018.
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Ibernoble (Winner Wines)
La Rioja is a small autonomous community in the north-central part of Spain, wedged between the huge regions of Castilla y León in the west and Aragón in the east, and the small neighbouring regions of Navarre and the Basque Country to the north. Spanish Rioja wines are fruity and mouth-watering when young, and bewilderingly complex when aged for long periods in oak barrels. It produces 70% red wines, 20% rosé wines and 10% white and sparkling wines. The two main red grape varieties used here are Tempranillo (the "precocious") and Garnacha (Grenache). The entire region dedicates all its production to a single appellation, the Rioja DOCa (Denominacion de Origen Calificada, a sort of super D.O. recognising the high quality of the wines).
Rioja has been noted for the quality of its wines since the 10th century. However, the wines of this region were not exportable due to the remote location of the coasts and the lack of transport infrastructure. In the 12th century, the wines of Duero and Toro were much more prestigious. Rioja wines could not even accompany the Hispanic colonial expansion. They were far too fragile for the long journeys to the tropics and arrived vinegary. After the 1855 classification of the Grands Crus of Bordeaux, it was clear that the best wines in the world are Sherry, Port, Mosel and Bordeaux. As early as 1850, the Marquis de Riscal, wishing to restore Rioja's coat of arms, planted the same grape varieties in order to produce the same type of wine as in Bordeaux. At the same time, the Marquis of Murrieta travelled to Bordeaux to study new wine-growing techniques before returning to Logroño to create modern Rioja, that subtle blend of Tempranillo and Garnache, aged for a long time in oak barrels. The efforts of the 2 Marquises were rewarded, the first of whom was awarded "First Prize" at the Bordeaux Wine Competition as early as 1862. The second caught up Vega Sicilia in the pantheon of the greatest Spanish wines.
Geographically, Rioja is protected to the northwest by the Cantabrian Mountains and extends along the entire length of the River Ebro. It is divided into 3 sub-regions: to the north of Logroño, straddling the Basque Country is Rioja Alavesa, to the west is Rioja Alta and to the east is Rioja Baja. On plateaus 400 metres above sea level, the first two regions have a cooler climate and are perfectly suited to the good ripening of the Tempranillo. The Baja, located in a lower plain, is ideal for producing the powerful Grenache.
Rioja has invented an extraordinary ageing system! Spanish Rioja wines, whatever their colour, can be classified into 4 categories: Joven are simple and fruity wines that are aged in oak barrels and are bottled in the year after the harvest, Crianza gain in complexity after one year in oak barrels and one year in bottle, Reserva must be 3 years old, one of which in oak barrels, Gran Reserva must be 5 years old, 2 of which in oak barrels. These last 2 categories are rare because they are produced in very small quantities and not every year.
Tempranillo represents 70% of the vines. It has medium acidity and tannins. This grape variety gives primary aromas of black fruits and develops tertiary aromas linked to the ageing of cigars, leather and chocolate. Garnache represents 15 to 20% of the vines and brings red fruits and spices, alcohol and body to the whole. Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano represent the rest of the grape varieties and complement the first two admirably by bringing their great acidity, powerful tannins and superb complexity.
Viura (Macabeo) is the main grape variety used for white wines. It produces generous and well-balanced wines, easy to drink when young and terrifyingly complex as they age. It is traditionally complemented by Malvasia and White Garnache, the former providing unrivalled power and aromatic complexity and the latter adding volume and alcohol.
Rioja has always produced delicious sparkling wines. Surprisingly enough, Rioja has the right to the Catalan designation of Cava for these traditional method wines. They are made from Viura, whose high acidity is reminiscent of Parellada de Cava and Chardonnay de Champagne.
Alfavin.ch is proud to work with the producers of Rioja: