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When most people think of Spanish wine the first thing that comes to mind is likely to be a full bodied Rioja, or a Ribera del Duero. However, Spain is home to some 79 DOP (protected status) wines – in addition to various less official ones – many of which are well known to wine experts. Here are some little known gems you must try.
Just a few years ago this full-bodied red was hardly known outside Spain, but in recent years it has drawn growing attention on the international stage. Unlike other famous Spanish reds such as Rioja or Ribera del Duero, Priorat is a typically unoaked red wine, while nonetheless packing a fullness of flavor and tannin level which makes it perfectly suited to hearty food. Today the region is one of just two to carry the DOC appellation, a special certification which awards the quality and consistency of a particular wine. The other region to hold this status is La Rioja.
If the spelling of this wine seems a little unusual it’s because you’re looking at a Basque name. Txacoli is a type of light white wine native to the Basque Country which is usually served as an aperitif alongside pintxos – the Basque equivalent to tapas – and typically has a relatively low alcohol content. It is usually quite acidic and can at times feel like it has a slight fizz to it, which occurs naturally in the bottle. The wine is traditionally poured from a height through a special pourer – an expert hand pouring a glass of txacoli is an event in itself.
This historic wine producing region is widely believed to be the birthplace of the popular red grape variety known as Carignan, which today is widely cultivated across Italy, France, Algeria and California. Despite the obvious similarity between the names, in Cariñena the Carignan grape is best known as Mazuelo and today is only the second most cultivated variety in the area, behind Red Grenache. Cariñena is one of the oldest protected wine regions in Europe, having been awarded its privileged status in 1932, and is famous for the rich minerality of its reds owing to the presence of slate, granite and chalk in the terroir.
Although this name might not sound familiar, you may well have heard of the grape variety most typically used in the Rías Baixas, the white grape known as Albariño – representing some 90 percent of the overall production in the area. White wine made from the grape tends to be aromatic and full bodied, with hints of white fruit; in fact the variety is believed to be a close cousin to a Riesling and the name itself is rumoured to mean ‘White of the Rhine’ or ‘Alba -Riño’. The Rías Baixas is located in the north-western province of Galicia which has the same cool climate and mineral-rich soil as some of the most famous white wine producing areas in the world.
When it comes to wine some names will always be tied to a particular color of wine, Bierzo is one of those regions where red and white are equally common and equally popular. The area is renowned for its special micro-climate, which means that it has both cool, humid conditions similar to those found in neighboring Galicia, as well as hot, dry spells, which means the harvest usually occurs one month earlier than in neighboring Castille. Using mostly native grape varieties such as the red grape Mencia or the white Doña Blanca, the Bierzo is considered a rising star of the Spanish viticultural scene.
The Rueda is another example of a region where the wines are perhaps best known by the name of the grape variety itself, in this case Verdejo. A Rueda wine must have at least 50 percent of Verdejo content, often mixed with another similar variety, the popular Sauvignon Blanc. This blending of white varietals produces aromatic, full-bodied white wines which are easy-to-drink and perfect for enjoying as an aperitif before the meal. The punchy aroma is comparable in some instances to New-Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Rueda wines therefore can be frequently found on wine lists of trendy wine-bars across the country.