Deep earthy browns, oranges, and reds. Strong bold letters celebrating both history and culture. Elegance and beauty displayed in the gold detailing. Tradition. Pride. After 30 years of being a closed culture under Franco, it is of no surprise that Spanish wine labels express both a deep connection to their past, as well as a desire to reach towards the future.
Spanish wines have a mysticism and a beauty that both elicits curiosity and intimidation in one fell swoop. More practically, most of the bottles are in Spanish. And if you are anything like me, and chose to skip out on 7th-period Spanish class in hopes of making a quick run to the 7-11 for a slurpy, you may be a bit in the dark when trying to decipher a Spanish label. Hopefully, you can keep your 20-year-old dictionary in its dusty battered box and still feel slightly more confident, after reading this article, when choosing which wine would pair well with a sharp Manchego or Chorizo.
Generally, the labels are intended to convey information about the contents within the bottle; however, the majority of the jargon on the bottle has little to do with what you will actually be drinking – tending to confuse the average wine-buyer more than helping them. Additionally, in the age of marketing and information overload, it is far too easy to get swept up in the image, losing sight of the wine itself. Therefore, let’s us join hands and start at the ground level.
“Reading Between the Lines” by W.R. Tish, describes two basic types of wine labels: geographic and varietal based. Geographic is a characteristic of Old World (European) countries, whereas, New World varietals encompass all of the remaining wine producing countries such as Australia, Chili or Iceland. Although both labels include the producer, vintage, and region of origin, the New World labels will also include the grape varietal.
Quality: The type of grape maturation.
Bodega: The name of the vineyard.
Region: The location where the grapes were grown.
Varietal: The grape used to make the wine.
Vintage: The year the wine was made.
Wines in Spain are classified into three distinct categories: 1) vino de mesa – table wine, 2) vino de la tierra – regional wine, and 3) vino de calidad – quality wine.
Quality wines are further divided into Denominaciones de Origen (DO) or Denominaciones de Origen Calificada (DOC). DO define specific wine growing areas such as La Mancha, Ribera del Duero etc, whereas DOC are regions rated of the highest quality over a long period of time and currently include only Rioja and Priorato. However, it is worth noting that although many Vino de la Tierras are of excellent quality, not all Riojas are of equally high quality.
Semi-crianza, roble, fermentada en barrica, ‘x’ meses en barrica: are all terms used to describe wines that have been placed in oak barrels for a few months less than the regulatory requirements. This can be a good indicator of a well-made wine, though nowadays, the movement away from oak has opened up a wide range of fresh vibrant wines to the market.
Crianza: aged for 2 years with a minimum of 6 months in oak and 18 months in the bottle before being sold. These wines tend to have more body and strong acid helping them to pair well with your heavier foods – think roast meats and rich sauces.
Reserva: aged for 3 years with a minimum of 12 months in oak and 24 months in the bottle. Increasing in age, you can expect to find rich and concentrated wines tending towards a silky flavor after softening with age. We like these wines with delicately roasted meats like the renown suckling pig from Segovia.
Gran Reserva: aged for 5 years with a minimum of 24 months in oak and 36 months in the bottle. For many, these are perceived as the pinnacle of Spanish wine – even though in the past, they were often overly oxidized and woody. Today, we are starting to see more care used in the crafting of these wines and as a result, there often is a magical blending of both the oak and the fruit. At their best, Gran Reservas can develop in your mouth bringing forth new and exciting flavors with every sip.
The majority of regions follow these guidelines proudly, however, the specifics can change slightly from one to the next. Additionally, with the surge of new-style wines hitting the market – choosing to adhere to their own aging processes, traditional methods have occasionally taken back seat to innovation and technology.
The back label contains additional information, normally in Spanish, which may give further details about the wine, such as:
- How the wine was made
- Tasting notes
- Recommended serving temperature
- Suitable food to accompany the wine
- Whether the wine contains sulfites
Now that you are well armored to walk into the store with confidence and savvy, let’s make sure you can actually decipher the language itself.
Now that you’re armed and dangerous with information on Spanish wine, let’s get you on a Spanish vinous adventure to savor what you’ve learned! Options are endless, but it could include a simple Food and Wine Tour in any number of cities in Spain, a multiday tour through famous wine regions such as Rioja, Pais Vasco, Ribera del Duero, Penedes or Priorat. Finally, why not join us on a week long Harvest Tour?! Seven days basking in vineyards heavy with juicy, ripe grapes. Seven days tasting a wide array of world class Spanish wines under the warm golden rays of autumn. Seven days savoring mouthwatering cuisine crafted from fresh ingredients taken directly from the stunning landscape of Rioja or Priorat?! Fill out the form below and join us!
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