Arlene Reich

A Brief Guide for Spanish Wine

For this post, I decided to research and put together a short guide to wine in Spain. The social taboos of drinking on weekdays or before 5 p.m. are generally scoffed at here in Spain, where it is not uncommon to split a bottle of Crianza with lunch (and to do so every day). Any wine lover’s eyes will brighten when they realize that they can find bottles of decent Spanish wine for less than 4 euro in the nearest El arbol, Carrefour, or Hipercor. The Spanish interest in and production of wine is impressive, boasting the most land dedicated to the growth of grapes and to viticulture of any country in the world. Spain is comprised of over 70 wine regions, again divided into over 600 varieties of wine. Most restaurants will serve table wine with dinner; this is mixed with a fizzy lemon seltzer called Casera in order to muzzle the afterbite of cheap wine. This table wine is inexpensive yet generally reliable. Most reputable restaurants will even have their own brand of table wine to align with their individual menu.

The best known region is certainly Rioja, which embodies and epitomizes Spanish reds. These general consist of some blend of tempranillo and garnacha grapes. The tempranillo grape is indigenous and unique to Spain. They create wines that are a deep blood red, but generally low in alcohol content and acidity. It is thus blended with the garnachas to compensate for these deficiencies. The garnacha grape is the most commonly found in Spain and also the easiest to grow. Wines made from garnachas tend to be sweeter and of higher alcohol content; some blends even attain 16%, whereas most wines fall somewhere under 12%. Some of the more reputable Rioja wine houses include C.U.N.E., Berberana, Marques de Caceres, and La Rioja Alta.

In most restaurants and wine bars, these wines are divided by age into one of three groups: crianza ($), reserva ($$), and gran reserva ($$$$). These groups are determined by the amount of time spent in both the oak cask and in the bottle. The term cosecha can be used to determine the harvest period/vintage. Crianzas have so far been extremely attainable on a student budget. Depending on the restaurant, one can find a glass of crianza for a little less than 2 euro, or a bottle on average for 10 euro. It is also standard fare in wine bars, so if you do not specify age when ordering Rioja, it will be Crianza. This term itself details that the wine is two years old, with at least six months spent in an oak cask. Reserva indicates that the wine is three years old in total. Gran reserva indicates five to seven years old. I have not ventured outside of Crianza, mostly because they have been immensely satisfying thus far. Also, though I don’t want to be the person who uses a phrase like “more bang for your buck”, there it is. Another deeply embedded Spanish value is entering the siesta hour with a slight buzz, making for better naps.

While the north of Spain has attained a better reputation for its table wine, the south finds its specialty centralized in the Sherry district. This area is found in the Andalucia region. Sherry is wine that has been left exposed to air for longer periods of time. It reacts with oxidization and the development of yeast before being processed. Because of this, it is not generally dated like most wines. Sherry comes in five styles: manzanilla (dry), fino (dry), armontillado (medium-dry), oloroso (medium-dry), and cream (sweet).

The Catalunya region in the northeast specializes in cava, the Spanish equivalent of champagne. It is extremely sweet, though shrouded with a taste I have come to identify with rust. We enjoyed this my first night in Madrid, excited by the 2 euro price tag. Warning, it is also the cause of the fiercest resacas (hangover). I actively veto cava consumption, though many people do enjoy it for the same reasons listed above. Catalunya is further recognized for its higher quality table wine in the Cabernet Sauvignon variety.

As far as whites go, the Airen grape is the most common. Drought resistant, it is found throughout the dryer parts of central Spain. A very polarizing grape, it is also known for its participation in some of the most horrible viticultural creations on this earth. The Rias Baixas region in Galicia specializes in another indigenous white, the Albarino. Ribera del Duero in Castilla-Leon is a region known for its creation of the most expensive Spanish wines.


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