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The Misunderstood Wines of Spain

Living in Indiana, you would hardly know that Spain is the third largest producer of wine in the world and that Spaniards are second in the world in per capita wine consumption. The Indiana Beverage Journal lists only 26 Spanish wineries as being imported into the state while Italy boasts 220. Half of the answer to this enigma is that the heritage of our domestic wine industry comes from the Italian immigrants who built the California wine business. We were also influenced by the traditional British fondness for the French wines of Bordeaux that we inherited from our founding fathers. Remember, Thomas Jefferson maintained a lavish cellar filled with French wine. The other half of the answer is that Spanish wines are truly designed for Spanish tastes and Spain has steadfastly resisted the internationalization of wine styles that has taken place in rest of the wine world. Since we have a Spanish wine tasting planned next week at Cobblestone Grill, I thought a little research into Spanish wine-making was in order.

Spanish Wine Regions
Like the American "Appellation of Origin" or the French "Appellation Controlee" the Spanish strictly regulate the region of origin for their wines. Spain is divided into 50 regions called "Denominacion de Origen." The most famous of which are:

Rioja - Spain's largest and most famous wine region. The red wines of Rioja are dominated by the Tempranillo grape (actually the Tempranillo grape dominates all of Spain) and are often blended with Granacha (Granache) and to a much lesser degree, Graciano and Mazuelo. Spanish regulations permit only these 4 grapes to be used in wine bearing the Riojo Denominacion.
Ribera del Duero - Is the region where Spain's most exciting new wines are being made. The primary grape is still Tempranillo but many of the finest wines are blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbac.
Navarra - Originally known for Roses they are producing wonderfully concentrated reds made from Tempranillo, Granacha and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Jerez - Xeres - Sherry, Manzanilla Sanlucar de Barrameda - Home to Spain's famous Sherries.

Regulated Spanish Wine Classifications
By law Spanish wines are classified into these 5 categories:
Vino de Mesa - Table Wine (more a warning than a classification)
Vino Joven - Young Wine, usually from a qualified DO region, often with a bit of aging.
Crianza - Aged for at least 2 years - 6 months in oak and 18 months in the bottle.
Reserva - Aged for at least 3 years - 1 year in oak and 2 years in the bottle.
Grand Reserva - Aged for at least 5 years - 2 years in oak and 3 years in the bottle.

Useful terms for understanding Spanish Wine Labels

Bodega = Winery
Anejo = Aged
Cosecha, vendimia = Vintage Year
Tinto = Red Wine
Rosado = Rose Wine
Blanco = White wine
Cava = Sparkling wine
Dulce = Sweet
Seco = Dry
Brut = Very Dry
Fino = light dry Sherry
Manzanilla = Very dry Sherry from Sanlucar
Amontillado = An aged Fino
Oloroso = Dark, full-bodied Sherry
Cream = Very sweet Sherry