In my research and travels as your wine adventures columnist, I have the opportunity to attend several wine showcases offered exclusively to the wine trade during the year.
Recently, the Foods and Wines From Spain consortium presented its 25th annual “Spain’s Great Match.” My invitation was enticing: “meet the winery representatives, importers and distributors of Spanish wine, while discovering new wines, varieties and regions.” My impression of the event? ¡Viva España!
My day-long sojourn of walking from the tasting floor to seminar halls re-inspired my appreciation of Spanish wines and food, so much so that I’ve decided to reprise and update a series of column themes I wrote several years ago in this space.
My continuing – and growing – affinity for Spanish wines is largely attributable to the progress made by a new breed of pioneering winemakers. The Spanish wine industry is an amalgam of the old and new. The older generation of today’s winemakers are emblematic of their forebears, staying the course of old-world techniques. The younger generation, as they transition into and assume decision-making roles, have embraced 21st century techniques and technology in their pursuit of more modern expressions of the 100-plus indigenous grapes of Spain.
Yet the centuries-old wine industry and its recent growing popularity in the United States is more than a wine-centric phenomenon. It is the combination of wine, food, culinary innovations, passionate people, art, architecture, design and a deep-rooted geopolitical history. It is this broad influence on the American palate that has formed a cultural profile that is the foundation for a rich culinary experience.
I began experimenting with Spanish wines in the 1980s. Typically, the wines were produced from a region I was unfamiliar with (Rioja), a grape I was unfamiliar with (Tempranillo) and wines that were nondescript. In the past decade, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the arrival on the American shores of high quality, unique wines, grown from previously unknown grapes.
A brief history: Phoenicians planted vines over 3,000 years ago. It wasn’t until the 12th century that winemaking surged as French and Italian monks, banished from Catholic Western Europe for political power-brokering, migrated to Spain, planting vines they brought with them. In the 19th century, French vineyards were devastated by the Phylloxera insect and the French ventured over the Pyrenees to save their vines. While there, they introduced modern techniques and the Spanish wine industry began to gain legitimacy. Fast forward to the 21st century and we see the confluence of these factors in the wines available in the states.
Today, Spain has the most acreage dedicated to vines anywhere in the world and is third in wine produced. The spectrum of Spanish wines runs from sparkling wine to whites to rosés to young reds to full-bodied, aging-worthy reds. There are 69 designated wine-producing regions bearing the highest classifications. Two bear the highest (DOCa) and 67 the next highest (DO). The next tiers, DO de Pago, VdlT and VdM are subsets of the 69 regions. The premier wine-producing regions and the dominant grape in each region are listed below. It is these regions we will explore in depth in future columns.
- Rioja (DOCa, Tempranillo). 2. Priorato (DOCa, Garnacha). 3. Ribera del Duero (Tempranillo and Garnacha). 4. Penedès (Cava, Macabeu, Xarello and Parellada). 5. Rueda (Verdejo). 6. Rias Baixas (Albarino). 7. Navarra (Tempranillo). 8. La Mancha (Airen, Garnacha). 9. Jumilla (Monastrell). 10. Jerez (Palomino).
Don’t be intimidated if you’re unfamiliar with one or more regions or grapes. Within a few columns you’ll have sufficient familiarity to feel comfortable with the vocabulary, and most importantly, to walk into your local wine shop and begin experimenting with these hot wines. Soon you too will be chanting ¡Viva España!
Note: I will be hosting a fundraising wine and food pairing event, featuring little known Italian wines, to benefit A-Home, a provider of local affordable housing. It is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 9 at the Holy Innocents Church social hall in Pleasantville at 7 p.m. For tickets ($75), contact Barbara Coleman at email@example.com or 914-741-0740.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.