Spain produces a huge amount of wine. Until recently much of it was of the bulk variety. With Spain's entry into the EU, everything is changing. Modern wine making, better communication in the industry, and worldwide attention have all helped to increase the quality of wine throughout Spain.

The Regions

Navarra (na-var) A wine making region in northern Spain, once only known for its rosé wines. Increasingly, red wines of note have been coming out of this region.

Penedes (peh-neh-dess') A wine producing region in Spain, just west of Barcelona. Most of Spain's sparkling wine, Cava, is produced here. There has been an explosion of red wines produced in the area, many from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. The well known producer Torres is one of the leaders in the region, as well as Jean Leon who helped to made Spanish Cabernet popular in the US.

Ribera del Duero (ree-bair'ah del doo-eh-roh) While this wine region in Spain is not well known among many wine lovers, it is the home of two of Spain's greatest producers, Vega Sicilia and the Alejandro Fernandex, maker of Pasquera. The region is in the north of Spain at 2600 feet, along the Duero River, the same river that will become the Douro in Portugal on who's banks the grapes for Port are grown. The red wine grape here is the Tempranillo, which is also responsible for the high quality of Spain's most famous red wine, Rioja. Tempranillo is known locally as Tinta del Pais. The incredible quality of Vega Sicilia has in the last few decades prompted more producers and consumers to pay attention to this high altitude treasure.

Rioja (ree-oh-ha) One of the best known wine production regions in Spain. Red wines are made from Tempranillo and Grenacha (the Grenache of France). Whites are primarily made from Viura. The region is proud of its heritage, which dates back to the 19th century when groups of wine makers from the Bordeaux region of France settled here, trying to escape phylloxera. The insect finally made its way south of the border to Spain, but not before the Bordelais had made their mark. Because of the hot weather the wines can suffer from being baked before and during vinification. This led to inconsistent quality, and damaged the reputation of the region. Enter modern wine making techniques, along with temperature controlled vats, and Rioja is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. This is doubly true for the white wines which were once brown and maderized, but are now fresh and fruity.

Valdepenas (val-deh-pay'-n'yahss) A wine producing district in central Spain, known for its light reds.

Xeres (sair-ress) The old name for the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Spain, where Sherry is produced. It was the mispronunciation of this word that led to the name of Sherry.

The wines of Spain

Fino (fee-noh) A dry type of Sherry (a fortified wine from Spain). It is one of the styles of Sherry which is created by the presence of flor (A type of yeast found on some wine).

Manzanilla (mahn-thah-nee'-yah) One of the styles of Sherry. Very dry, and some say, almost salty.

Oloroso (o-lo-ro'-soh) A Sherry that has not been aged in the presence of "flor." Dry, as is all Sherry when aging in a barrel, this is the Sherry that is often sweetened and sold as Cream Sherry.

Sangria (sahn-gree'-ah) An iced red wine and fruit mixture from Spain. The concept of adding fruit and/or sweetening agents to wine is of ancient origin. Originally used to hide the fact that the wine has gone bad, today it is a delightfully cool drink for a hot day. Similar products (e.g. wine coolers) make the rounds every generation in the US, but it can not compare to the carefully crafted Sangria of Spain. One of the secret ingredients in my personal recipe is the addition of Spanish brandy, which is slightly sweet.

Sherry (share-ee) A fortified wine made in the Sherry district in southern Spain around the city of Jerez de la Frontera. The wine is made primarily from the grape Palomino. The grapes are brought into the winery and pressed. The first pressed juice (that of the highest quality) is reserved to make the "Fino" styles. The remaining "press wine" will be used for the "Olorosos" style. The wine is vinified in the traditional manner, until dry. That wine which is to become Fino is placed into a partially filled barrel, so that the special yeast called "flor" can develop. The Olorosos wine is placed in completely filled barrels and fortified to 18% alcohol to prevent spoilage or the accidental introduction of flor. Once the Fino wine has developed flor, it is first fortified (to 17%) to prevent the further growth of flor and then allowed to continue to age, and oxidize, developing a rich dark brown color and nutty flavor. If the bodega (warehouse) is near the ocean town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, the fino will be allowed to develop into the very dry Manzanilla style. Some claim to be able to taste the salt of the ocean breezes in this wine. This is where the Solera system comes into play. Six or more barrels are stacked up. Each of the barrels contains wine of different ages, in different proportions. Wine is drawn from the oldest barrel, and replaced with the next oldest, and so on. The theory is that in this way you "train" the younger wines. The final solera barrel may contain a fraction of wine that is fifty years old or even more. The Sherry that is brought to market is a blend of the wine from these barrels. Sherry, like Champagne, is sweetened just before bottling to determine its final style. The sweetening agent is often concentrated grape juice from the Pedro Ximenez grape (PX is also increasingly being used on its own to make very sweet styled Sherrys). A final fortification is also performed before bottling to bring the final product up to 19% alcohol. The Olorosso style Sherry that did not benefit from the introduction of the flor yeast is usually sweetened heavily and ends up as Cream Sherry.

Vega Sicilia (vay'-gah see-see'-l'yah) A Spanish wine that is very famous, among a select few. The producer's top label, Vega Sicilia Unico, is often aged for decades before bottling, and sells for prices that rival the finest Bordeaux or Burgundies.

Terms found on Spanish wine labels

Bodega (boh-day'-gah) The Spanish term for a winery or above the ground wine storage.

Cava (cah-vah) The Spanish term for cellar it is also refers to Spanish sparking wine.

Crianza (cree-ahn-zah) The Spanish term for oak aging. The terms "con crianza" or "vino de crianza" on the label require that the wine has been aged for at least one year in oak. Similarly "sin crianza" means that the wine was never aged in oak before bottling.

Denominacion de Origen (deh-noh-mee-nah-th'yon' deh oh-ree-hen') The Spanish term for their appellation laws. Established first for the wine growing region of Rioja in 1926. Often abbreviated DO.

Denominacion de Origen Calificada (deh-noh-mee-nah-te'zee-ohne' dee oh-ree-jeen cal-ee-fee-ca-dah) The Spanish term for their appellation laws. Abbreviated DOC.

Gran Reserva (grahn reh-zehr-vah) A Spanish term for a red wine that has been aged for a minimum of five years (with at least two in wood) before being released. For whites and rose, it is four years before release and six months in wood.

Reserva (reh-zehr'-vah) A Spanish term that is regulated by law to mean a red wine that has been aged for at least three years before release, at least one of which must have been in a barrel. For rose and white wines it is two years before release and six months in wood.

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