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Wine Talk: Spanish Reds


On cold Winter nights big red wines are always a good idea.  They match quite well with hearty meat and pasta dishes.  Rather than the usual suspects, how about trying some of the wonderful big reds from Spain?  Spain is an ancient wine-producing country that vies with France and Italy as the number-one wine producer in the world.  Spain’s wine heritage is at least three thousand years old; vineyards in today’s Sherry region were planted by the Phoenicians around 1,100 BC.  Wines from vines grown along the sunny Mediterranean coast and the cooler Atlantic coast were traded and consumed by the Romans.  But the arrival of the teetotaler Islamic Moors in 711 AD put an end to Spanish wine commerce until the Moors’ final defeat in 1492.  With the Iberian Peninsula freed from Islamic rule, wine returned with a vengeance.

But with the limited exception of Sherry, only Rioja enjoyed much international awareness until the late twentieth century.  Wealthy producers such as the Marqués de Riscal, Marqués de Murrieta and Vega Sicilia had the wherewithal to produce wines that brought international attention, but Spain mostly operated under the radar, ruled as it was by a military dictatorship until the mid – 1970s.  Until the end of the Franco regime, winemaking was sometimes typical of a pre-modern age.  Grapes might be picked unripe, and red and white grapes could be thrown together into the fermenting pit.  Barrels, stainless steel and even sterile wineries were innovations only sparingly used.  Leading minds like Miguel Torres pushed the industry forward, but to turn the ship in another direction altogether required time and the efforts of many.

But since the reemergence of democracy, Spain has grabbed a larger and larger share of the international spotlight.  Competing on the world stage has necessitated embracing the most sophisticated techniques both in the vineyards and the wineries, but certain iconoclasts haven’t abandoned the old ways altogether.  Indeed, some still produce traditional; both modernists and traditionalists are making great wines.

There are 7 major  types of red wines produced in Spain.  They are Young Tempranillo, Aged Tempranillo, Granacha, High End Granacha, Monastrell, Mencia, Bobal.  Young Tempranillo has tasting notes of sour cherry, plum, spicy black pepper and bay leaf.  This is a juicy and spicy style of Tempranillo that typically receives less than a year of aging.  The wines generally cost $10-15.

Aged Tempranillo costs $25-$35 per bottle and it has tasting notes of Cherry, Dried Fog, Vanilla and Cedar.  Garnacha is known as Grenache in France, but the grape originated in Spain.  This fresh and juicy style of Garnacha is a bouquet of sweet red fruit and a smooth iced tea-like finish.  You’ll find this style of Garnacha in Northern Spain close to the border of France in the encompassing regions of Argon and Navarra.  Costs run $10-$15 per bottle.

High end Garnachas are bold and complex with high Tannin and dark raspberry flavors.  These wines are aged longer and typically come from older vineyards.  You can find single varietal Garnacha around Madrid, where old vines in high elevation vineyards produce concentrated wines.  In Spain, blended Granacha is matched with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cariñena and delivers bolder styles with blackberry and licorice.  $25-35 per bottle.        Monastrell is the same wine as Movadre in France, but it’s actually a wine of Spanish origin.  Wines are intensely bold with high tannin, black fruit and black pepper flavors.  This wine is primarily produced in central Spain from the Mediterranean coast in Valencia to inland to La Mancha on the central plateau.  Most wines are produced in affordable style and offer excellent value.  The more aged in oak, the more mocha, chocolate and vanilla notes the wine will have.

Mencía (pronounced Men-THEE-ah) is a unique medium bodied wine that grows in Spain and Portugal.  Wine collectors have likened Mencía to Grand Cru Burgundy because of its layers of red fruit, floral aromas and moderate mouth-drying tannins.  The wines are made in Northwest Spain and costs range $20-$30.

A relatively unknown grape to the US is Bobal.  It is produced in central Spain where it’s prized for its deep opaque purple color, high tannins and black fruit flavor.  So one of these cold winter nights try some hearty big Spanish Red Wines.  You will be glad you did!  Have a great New Year!

Ray Spaziani is the Chapter Director of the New Haven Chapter of the American Wine Society.  He teaches wine appreciation classes at Gateway comunity College, and the Milford Board of Education as well as Maltose wine and beer making suppliers, and is a member of the International Tasting Panel of Amenti Del Vino and Wine Maker Magazine.  He is an award winning home wine maker.  Email Ray with your wine questions and wine events at

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