Spotlight on Spain


This month, expert Hannah Wilkins is looking straight at you Rioja-lovers – and tackling the popular misconceptions that surround the iconic wine

Spain’s famous La Rioja region

This year, I firmly believe, will be a big year for Spanish wine. Both reds and whites are simply going to shine. Why? The wines from Spain are so versatile and they partner beautifully with food, so they are a great choice for get-togethers, but are equally enjoyable in front of the TV with a handful of nibbles.
Most people have tried a Rioja or two, but despite the fame and quality of wines from this iconic region, there are still so many common misconceptions. The first is that it is a designated wine-producing region in Northern Spain not a grape variety. Up second in the not-true race is the idea that Riojas are only red. Sometimes a customer will look at us in a strange way when they ask for a Rioja and we clarify whether they are looking for a red or white; white Rioja exists, and it brings a lot of flavour to the white wine drinking party.
The final most popular misconception we encounter, although there are certainly more, is that all Rioja is bursting with oak ageing notes of vanilla and winter spice – true, many do, but as with any wine, the winemaking techniques applied after harvest really do vary – and therefore so does the wine!
What’s rather cool about Rioja wine ageing is that there is a specific classification system, unique to this style of wine. It ranges from no oak ageing for ‘Joven’ Riojas to Gran Reservas that require a minimum of five years (with at least two in barrels and two in a bottle). Why is this great? Because it means there’s lots to explore beyond the grape variety! But there’s so much more to Spain than this one iconic region – as delicious as it may be!

Let them drink grapes
It’s perhaps best to take the approach of trying grapes over regions. So, let’s start with whites; there are so many native and borrowed grape varieties used in Spain, but the main ones are Viura, Malvasia, Verdejo, Airen (Spain’s most widely planted grape of any colour), Albarino, Godello, Chardonnay etc., which all bring a difference to the wine. For example, Albarinos are grown mostly in the Rias Baixas region in the Northwest, close to the Atlantic, so they take on a saltier/saline character – great with fish and seafood dishes or Greek salads that need something refreshing to cut through.
When it comes to red grapes, you have your indigenous grapes like Bobal, Garnacha (you may know it as Grenache), Mazuelo, Carinena (also known as Carignan), Mencia, Monastrell (sometimes Mourvedre or Mataro), Tempranillo etc. Depending on the grape chosen, the mouthfeel and weight in the glass can vary considerably. Bobal for example gives you a fuller style with lots of jammy fruit, whereas a Monastrell gives you a hedgerow fruit character with subtle spices.
As ever, there are many factors that contribute to a wine; the climate, the terroir, the aspect; the winemaking, the ever-changing conditions and decisions made by the winery – it’s what makes it exciting.
We’ve got some cracking examples of Spanish wine at Vineyards right now – pop in and we’ll help you start exploring.
Cheers! Hannah


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