Matt Monk from the Whalley Wine shop tells of the delights of Spanish wine

Spain is the country with the largest area of vineyards in the world

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 3:45 pm

When it comes to wine varieties, Spain is up near the top. It is the country with the largest area of vineyards in the world, albeit this does include table grapes as well as grapes used for the production of wine. But the variety of styles range from the crisp, dry whites of north west Spain, like Albarino, through the oaky, vanilla-scented Riojas and way down south to the alternative styles of sherry, with a little bubbles thrown in from various regions around the region.

Combine this with the history of Spanish influence around the world and it is obvious why they are still so popular.

When the wine-loving, Phoenicians founded the city of Cadiz (home of sherry) around 1100 BC they arrived to an already-thriving wine-producing region. By the time the Romans appeared around the 2nd century BC, trade was firmly established and Spanish wines started being sent around the empire, as far afield as the German border with Rome, and outposts in England.

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Spanish wines

By 1250, casks of Spanish wines were arriving into the ports of Bristol and Southampton. While the quality of these wines could be quite varied, the best barrels ended up being stored in the cellars of Edward III. This trade with England has carried on to the present day, pausing after the defeat of the Armada but resuming after the death of Elizabeth I.

It’s always good to start with something bubbly, and Spain has Cava. Cava is a little unique in its origin, most sparkling wine producing regions are restricted to one region, but Cava can be grown in several areas dotted around Spain, includinf Rioja, Navarra, Aragon and Valencia.

One of my favourite Cava’s is produced by Vilarnau. Their Brut Reserva is produced from the three main grapes of Cava – Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. Each grape is made into a still wine separately, and then blended together before it’s put into the bottle to finish off its cycle into becoming a sparkling wine. Vilarnau works hard to maintain an organic approach to their wines, and this sparkling wine is vegan too. The pattern on the bottle is from a style of mosaics called ‘Trencadis’, much used by Gaudi in Barcelona.

It has a crisp dry style, with aromas of white flowers and apple skin. The flavours are light with a touch of citrus. Just so good on a sunny day as an aperitif or with light lunch style foods, such as a chicken salad. Not too much alcohol at 11.5%. There is also a Rose style available.

Vilarnau Brut Reserva £11.99

My next choice comes from the far north west of Spain, called Rias Baixas. This region produces some of the best Spanish dry white wines, and this one is made from the Albarino grape. The vines for this wine look out to the Atlantic ocean, which keeps the vineyard cool with the sea breezes.

The grapes are all hand harvested, and kept in cooled stainless steel tanks to maintain the grapes’ fresh fruit aromas and flavours. The wine is kept for four months in these tanks. The family tries to keep the use of sulphur to a minimum.

Light yellow in colour, there’s lots of fresh citrus aromas and hints of floral notes. On the palate, it’s bursting with lemon and lime, peach and apricot. A touch of flint stone as well. Right at the end the sharp citrus note is softened with a creamy finish.

Albariño Genio Y Figura Bodegas Attis 2019 £14.99

My last wine comes from a region that we are asked about most often, Rioja. Named after the Rio (River) Oja which runs through the region, Rioja is separated into three areas, Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Each brings its own style to the Rioja wine ‘brand’. A little like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rioja (both red and white styles) can be a blend of different grape varieties.

From their winery based in Rioja Alavesa, the Larrieta family make this Rioja from 100% Tempranillo. They also use a mix of American oak and French oak barrels, each one imparting a different set of aromas and flavour profiles.

The wine spends 12 months in these oak barrels and then a further 6 to 12 months in bottles kept in the cellars until it is released.

Lots of red and black fruit aromas, including plum and cherry. There is a smoky note too. Those fruits are present on the palate and are accompanied by flavours of dark chocolate and a touch of liquorice. After all that time ‘sleeping’ the wine is silky smooth.