In partnership with ARAEX GrandsExplore further afield in Spain and discover a new region to try....
In partnership with ARAEX Grands
Spanish wine regions to discover
Sitting essentially between Madrid and Toledo, DO Méntrida has never suffered to have a ready market for its Grenache-based wines. There have however been many ebbs and flows in terms of quality, and the wholesale emigration of people from the region to the cities has taken its toll in terms of massive decreases in production due to the abandonment of the vineyards.
However, while the majority of production has been tied up in the larger producers and cooperatives, the last decade or so has seen many smaller producers taking advantage of the old-vine plots of Grenache tucked away in the Gredos mountains.
Largely planted on poor, granitic soils at higher elevation these have allowed for a unique, lighter profile of Grenache to emerge, which has helped define the quality possible in contemporary times.
DO Terra Alta
Terra Alta’s total production has long been higher than that of its neighbours, although its actual number of bottles lower as it has provided countless kilos to larger producers in Catalunya who source grapes that are then bottled as the regional, DO Catalunya. Due to its high altitude (thus the name, which means, ‘high land’) it benefits from a continental-coastal climate that allows for warm days and even ripening of the grapes, but cool nights that maintain acidity.
Starting in the mid-2000s, smaller producers started to grow and give friendly challenge to the larger cooperative producers. With these smaller producers, there has been a heavy focus on white Grenache and in fact, production is now split evenly between white and red wines.
They are indeed able to make unique varietal wines from white Grenache that, in recent vintages have shown not only the potential of a grape that is usually blended due to its inherent strength, but also the potential of their little region at the border of Catalunya and València.
The production of Txakolí is contained completely within the borders of Basque Country. For anyone who has not visited this region, it offers a very different take what Spain “should” be. With 1,200mm of average yearly rainfall, it sees more than triple of what Spain’s more famous regions receive. Given this verdant, lush tendency, the profile of the wines as well as the varieties of the grapes are unlike those typically associated with Spain. With an Atlantic orientation and terraced vineyards that often have an ocean view, the influence of salt air as well as the cool temperatures distinctly impacts the overall flavour profile of the wines.
Txakolí is essentially shorthand for one of three DOs: Getariako Txakolina (the oldest), Bizkaiko Txakolina, and Arabako Txakolina. The wines heavily lean towards whites which comprise about 90% of production. That remaining 10% lies in the rarely-found reds and rosés.
For the white wines, the typical style is a lightly fizzy, frizzante/pétillant as well of a great wealth of acidity and generally low alcohol of around 11% although this is changing and dependent upon the vintage. There are also many still wines now as well. Authorized grapes include but are not limited to: Hondarrabi Zuri, Gros & Petit Manseng, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Chardonnay for the whites and Hondarribi Beltza for the reds. Despite this range to work from, it’s Hondarrabi Zuri which is far and away the dominant grape for production.
Given the magnitude of the acidity, the wines pair wonderfully with the local seafood pintxos and can be found served all over the region including the main cities of Bilbao and Donostia (San Sebastián). The serving method is as unique as the wines given that they’re usually poured from a height of one metre into a tumbler glass below. The say that the drop opens up the wines. Whether this has any real effect or not, given how these are usually quite young wines, it makes for good photos and a fun tale to tell when back home.
At the border of Castile y León and Galicia, Bierzo has made waves in the wine world. Its star grape has been the red, Mencía grape which occupies some 2/3 of the planted vineyards. The rise of this region in the early 2000s is due to a handful of key producers, who have worked to redefine Bierzo.
The slate soils of the region have proven to bode well for the Mencía grape which many producers have taken from being a grape known to make simple, fruity wines to what are now wines with layered complexity. It is a finicky grape that requires exacting precision when choosing when to harvest, but it can ideally have lower alcohol compared to what is often found in other Spanish regions.
As is often the case, the old vineyards of Mencía, that are low yielding, have shown capable of producing very intricate and complex wines.
Toledo & La Mancha
There are countless curiosities about wine in Spain. For instance, many people would assume that the most typical grape would be Tempranillo due to its fame and wealth of production from the likes of DOC Rioja, DO Ribera del Duero, DO Toro, and many others. But, it’s actually a white grape called Airén that claims this title and it comprises over 25% of all the vineyard plantings in Spain with the majority based in Castilla-La Mancha, wrapping around the city of Toledo.
To date, it has been exceptionally rare to find varietal wines produced from Airén as the vast amount of production is distilled for brandy. Slowly, things have been changing as several producers have been working to reduce yields and make use of old vines to create crisp, neutral wines but this is an involved process given the modern history of the grape.
Above and beyond Airén, what is more typically found from La Mancha are red wines and at very friendly prices. The profile of these wines is changing as well from being what was Spain’s Languedoc, producing untold hectoliters of wine to new cellars opening with a focus on quality production. The wealth of old vines on limestone soils with cool summer evenings due to the elevation at 1,100m on Spain’s central plateau have shown that there are all the right ingredients for excellent wines to emerge.