Spain has over 1.15 million hectares planted, making it the most widely planted wine producing nation, but “only” the third largest producer of wine in the world after France and Italy, first and second place respectively. This is due, in part, to the very low yields and wide spacing of the old vines planted on the dry, infertile soil found in many Spanish wine regions. Regarding grape types, Spain has the most amazing array of varieties in the world. Besides Tempranillo, being the most popular known Spanish grape, a lot of grapes that outsiders believe are French, are indeed Spanish. For instance, “Mourvedre”, which is highly used in France, is actually called “Monastrell” and it is a grape originated from Valencia region.
It is considered the reigning indigenous red variety of Spain. Its various clones that are grown in different parts of Spain have very different characteristics: in the south, it ripens early; in Penedés, growers say that it’s low in acidity and doesn’t age well; in Ribera del Duero, it’s an ideal ager with moderate tannins and alcohol; and even in Rioja, growers accuse it of low acidity, yet it ages far better than its structure suggests. The variety has performed exceedingly well in the traditional style of Rioja; the soft, modern style of red wine; and also in powerful, rich, international school-style wines. If Tempranillo still lacks a high profile worldwide, it is because it has failed at becoming an internationally successful grape-it tastes dull and boring grown almost everywhere outside of Spain. Tempranillo grape grows well at a high altitude and seems to respond well to strong shifts in night-time and daytime temperatures. Few grapes in the world can offer such an intense range of wines.
Known as Grenache in the rest of the world, it ought to be called Garnacha, as it originated in Spain and travelled to southern France in the eighth and ninth centuries. The rap on the grape is that it is only great when it’s powerful and alcoholic. That’s not necessarily true, but Grenache does need to grow in a warm spot to display its best character, and it doesn’t age as well as Cabernet Sauvignon or even Tempranillo. It’s the critical grape of powerful Priorat, though it is often bottled as a rosado elsewhere in Spain. It’s the third most planted grape in Spain and the second most planted variety in the world.
Known in the rest of the world as Mourvèdre, Monastrell grape has a Spanish origin. As in France, it is capable of producing truly great wines, but so few people are focused upon that goal.
Some people think it is Cabernet Franc, and it’s easy to understand why. The grape carries the red-cherry intensity and herbal note often found in Cabernet Franc and, like Cabernet Franc, Mencía often can be underwhelming. Even at its best, it is more structured than lush, but there are stunning examples.
It is the most widely planted grape in Spain representing about 30% of all grapes grown, prized for its hardiness and resistance to drop. It is found throughout central Spain and for many years served as the base for Spanish brandy. Wines made from this grape can be very alcoholic and prone to oxidation. These grapes have a cotton-like bud burst, which is bronze or yellowish in colour, with light reddish edge, and not very intense at the tip.
Depending upon the vintage and the sub region of the grape’s ideal vineyards within Rías Baixas, this indigenous variety of Galicia in northwest Spain can be rich, floral, and expressively fruity, with peach and apricot notes, or mineral, tart, and bracing, like green apples and lemon peels. Although comparisons have long been made to Riesling, Albariño grape is very rarely made in a sweet style. There are, however, other ongoing experiments with style: lees stirring, extended aging, and even barrel fermentation may be practiced.
A delightful and textured grape, with citrus elements covering notes of melon, apple, and stone fruits. Often it is blended with Viura in Rueda.
An evolving variety that expresses depth and character in Valdeorras, and increasingly in Ribeiro. Think apples, pears, and plenty of texture; in ripe vintages, add peaches.
A grape that performs differently in different places. In Penedès (where it is called Macabeo), especially in Cava production, it’s the fat and friendly part of a blend. But in places such as Rioja or Navarra, there are masters who can unlock its character and even longevity with careful vinification.
One of the main constituents of Cava, this interesting variety goes into the production of some lovely wines from Alella. It is often the layered and age-worthy part of Cava.
Once seen as plain and simple at best, this grape is suddenly popular, perhaps due to the ever-increasing attention paid to Priorat wines. Though its aromatics and flavours are subdued, it is capable of significant alcohols, and the wines can be textured and weighty as a result. Producers have begun applying many of tricksin their kit bags, including extended lees aging and barrel fermentation, with success.
by Francisco Sobral, Wine Curator