Spanish Wines: 3-2-1 3 Wines from 2 Regions Profiling 1 Grape
The allure of Spanish wines is undeniable. Whether you are sipping refreshing whites like crisp Verdejo, aromatic Albarino and zippy Viujra or exploring full bodied reds like meaty Monastrell, peppery Grenache or the leather/cherry richness of a Tempranillo (Tinto Fina), an exploration of Spanish wines will never disappoint. This summer we consumed copious amounts of Verdejo, a wine that is as welcoming with a large serving of Mussels or salad as it is with any sunny patio. But with fall upon us, today I want to focus on the full-bodied options that Spain can offer with particular focus on one of my favourites- Tempranillo.
Two of the key red wine-producing regions in Spain are Rioja and Ribero del Duero. While both regions trace their wine roots back thousands of years, Rioja is often more recognized for its broader commercial success with Ribero del Duero fast making an annual argument for why they should be the premier red-wine producer. Both regions have so much to offer to both the discerning wine drinker and the weekend leisure drinker. In this article we’ll discuss 3 wines from 2 regions profiling 1 grape in an effort to help you build confidence when you hit the Spanish Wine section of your local Wine Store.
To better understand wine offerings in each region, let’s first examine the wine making/aging requirements of both DO’s, which carry very similar rules:
Joven/Barrica (Ribera del Duero) or Rioja- These are the youngest versions of Tempranillo-based wines in each region always spend less than 1 year in an oak aging barrel.
Crianza- Must be age two years with 12 months in oak and is aged for 24 months before release.
Reserva- Must be aged for 3 years with at least 12 months in oak.
Gran Reserva- Must be aged 5 years prior to release, with a minimum of 2 years on oak.
Reserva and Gran Reserva wines are not necessarily produced each year and are often dependant on vintage quality. These designations are also not always prevalent on the label but will often appear on a separate “Consejo” label on the neck or back.
With this knowledge under our belts let’s explore some of our favourites from Spain and explore their flavour profiles.
Sarmentero Vendima Seleccionada- At $36 per bottle in our region, this is a premium offering from the Ribera del Duero sources grapes from only two chalky/clay vineyards and carries accolades from World Wine and Spirits Competition (Gold Medal) and a Distinguished/Superior rating from Jancis Robinson. With 12 months in new French oak, this 100% Tempranillo Crianza profiles aromas of rich cherries and candied fruit and flavours of black cherry and plum. It is excellent with red meats and cheeses.
Avelino Vegas Fuentespina Roble 3/7 Meses- It’s fun to explore the nuances of these two wines and at $19.37 and $27.60 CDN we’ve discovered two wines that won’t break the bank and are worthy of further attention. With only 3 months and 7 months in American oak barrels these younger versions of Tinto Fina and would be classified as Joven/Barrica- they’re both meant to be consumed young. The 3 month version shows more cherry and a softer palate while the 7 month wine profiles dusty red fruit and notes of chocolate. It is a great pairing for pizza, tomato-based pasta and grilled meats.
Valenciso Reserva- A perennial 91+ rated wine, this producer was recently flagged by Master of Wine- Tim Atkins as one of the top producers in Rioja. With 15 months in New French Oak and several years of aging before release this age-worthy wine still punches above its weight at $40 per bottle in Nova Scotia. The Rioja Alta region has a well-earned reputation for being demonstratively “old world” and this wine delivers complex vibrant cherry, spices and nuanced leather and tobacco with balanced acidity and notes of vanilla. Pairs beautifully with any lamb dish, pork and mild chili.
The punchline for these wines is that “Tempranillo” means many things based on the region that it is grown and the influence that it receives as it is elaborated to perfection. While prices have risen somewhat in recent years as the world starts to truly appreciate Spanish wines, this is still a country that has a great reputation for value. Personally, when comparing Rioja to Ribero del Duero I don't think one region is actually better than another. Rather, I love the wines of both DO's and am continuously curious about the differences between each one. Further, I appreciate what wine makers are doing in Spain as they respect certain Old World traits while trying to evolve their craft to today's consumer.