One of the many reasons why we love Spanish wine is as a result of its diversity, personality and quality. Spain is chock full of dynamic, innovative producers who continually try to push the envelope, living alongside old-school winemakers who have made exceptional wine in the exact same way over centuries. Equally true, Spain is a hotbed of variation, from its extreme microclimate to its auctonomous grape population, there is no shortage of types, styles or blends of wines. The only true challenge facing any wine lover is simply, where to begin.
So today, in celebration of Wine Blog Wednesday #70, we’re going to mythbust what we see as 3 unfortunate and pervasive mistruths about Spanish wine, and in the interm, hopefully provide some fabulous suggestions on wines to seek out and explore.
Myth #1: Spanish Cava is Cheap Wine not Worth Spending Money On
This claim is completely and utterly false. Spain produces many high end cavas, but unfortunately, the majority of which never make their way past the Spanish border, a very sad truth for us to accept. What can be found on retail shelves around the world are generally mid to low end cavas that are dirt cheap and can be quite tasty. What they are not, however, are the complex, rich and beautifully aged cavas that can stand up to any comparable sparkling wine. And even at the high end, they are still considerably cheaper, and of equal quality, as their bubbly counterparts. These are incredible wines to be savored, enjoyed and thoroughly appreciated for their craftsmanship.
If one could ever get your hands on a killer high end cava, here are a few that we highly suggest you try. First and foremost, find the Manuel Raventos Gran Reserva Personal 2001, made with Xarel.lo and Parellada. This is the wine for anyone who says that Cavas don’t age gracefully, poppycock!, we say. This wine is not for the fainthearted, showing gorgeous floral and citrus notes with fabulous acidity and a lovely rich brioche finish. But in the spirit of #WBW, we recently popped open the 2005 Segura Viudas Torre Galimany Gran Reserva. Like the Raventos i Blanc, this wine is absolutely worthy of your attention, in part, because it was created to specifically show the potential of Xarel.lo‘s capacity to age gracefully – a job well done! Though still blended with the dynamic trio of Cava grapes: Xarel.lo, Macabeo and Parellada, the primary grape of the blend, Xarel.lo, is sourced from 70 year old vines planted 280 meters above sea level in clay-chalk soils. Showing more toast and dried fruit aromas than the previous wine, this Brut Nature has aged into a really beautiful cava that has fabulous structure and a lovely melon and brioche finish. We had this on a recent press trip and while not technically drunk on #WBW we still think we need to include it here! (Photo by Ryan Opaz)
Myth #2: Portugal is the Iberian Country with Strange Grape Varieties Worth Exploring
I may have to ram a wine thief down my throat if I hear this one more time! Admittedly, Tempranillo is the champion grape Spain and has done an amazing job of garnering international attention as to the quality of auctononous Spanish grapes, but….Spain has hundreds of native grapes! Hundreds! Many of which we’ve neither heard of, nor tried. Though we are trying out best to remedy this!
Case in point, Prieto Picudo. Primarily grown in Zamora and Leon, and often compared to Tempranillo in both flavor and style, Prieto Picudo has garnered its own reputation for creating lighter, fresher and more aromatic reds. What about Verdil, a generally unknown white grape found in Alicante and Valencia? This little temptress has stolen the hearts of many, but few have actually had the opportunity to be enchanted by her fresh apple flavor and ample body.
In light of the #WBW theme, we opened a wine last night made with Montonega which is so obscure the Wines of Spain website doesn’t list it among their gazillion Spanish grapes (I’m sure that’s the official number). Primarily grown in the Alt Penedes region and said to be similar to Parellada in style, the Montonega is rarely planted as a result of its low yield. We tried the 2008 Mas Rodo Montonega, a lovely light wine with a gentle floral and citrus nose, showing just a touch of flor, but left both Ryan and I a little empty on the palate. Intriguing, fun and very different, it’s not a wine I would most likely suggest for a grand affair, but one I would highly consider picking up if you’re eager to wrap your palate around a new flavor.(photo taken from the Mas Rodo website)
Myth #3: Rioja Makes Great Tempranillo Based Wines, End of Story
We know we asked you not to write about Rioja, but we felt that we needed to bust a serious MYTH in relation to Rioja. Rioja is not all Tempranillo, all the time. If we abided by this rule, adhering only to the famed grapes of every region, we’d never enjoy wines made from Pedro Ximenez in Valencia, Loureiro in Galicia or Mazuelo in Rioja! Assumptions are detrimental to the best of us, and the more we can break out of our norm, continually trying wines that don’t fit an expected profile, the more our palate grows – and in turn, so do we.
Granted, only 3% of the region is dedicated to Mazuelo, which may bolster the idea that Mazuelo does not produce fabulous Rioja wines. But what you may not know is that Mazuelo is also known as Samso, which is also Cariñena or Carignan. And if you’ve followed Catavino over the years, you know that we love this grape, especially when grown in Montsant! So clearly, Mazuelo has potential to craft a fabulous wine regardless of where it is, or what it’s called, but to be honest, we haven’t encountered many 100% Mazuelo’s from Rioja. (Photo by RobWinton)
For #WBW70 we decided to break out a wine that Miguel Merino, along with his son took a shot at making. The 2008 Manzuel0 de la Quinta de la Cruz proves that Mazuelo can make great wines in Rioja. Made with 100% Mazuelo planted in the mid 80′s from the Quinta de la Cruz vineyard; the vineyard is split in two very distinct zones: a lower, south facing vineyard, consisting of primarily clay soils; and a stoney south-west facing vineyard.
The wine was the brainchild of both Miguel’s son and Lars Torstenson, an old friend of Miguel’s who worked closely with Carignan in France, believing its grand potential for Riojan soils. He couldn’t have been more accurate. The 2007 Manzuela de la Quinta de la Cruz shows funky farmyard aromas on the nose with dark, unctuous red fruit and rich black earth. The mouth is zesty, vivacious and alive, showing great acidity, a soft and enduring mouthfeel with a finish that lingers well into the evening of black earth and smoke. It’s a gorgeous food pairing wine that screams for vine grilled chuletas!
We’re honored to be hosting, and revitalizing, Wine Blog Wednesday, and we hope that many of you will continue to submit your Spanish wine entries today, just make sure to email us your link! We’ll be putting together a wrap up post in the coming days, highlighting various Spanish wines tasted around the world! If you have a submission, please email it to: [email protected]
Gabriella and Ryan Opaz