Spain is a vast, wine producing country; the third largest in the world, in fact. With more acres dedicated to viticulture than any other country on the planet, and leading the way in exports by volume, you might expect the wine-drinking world to be quite familiar with the vinous offerings from our corner of it. However, not only is this not the case but even within the major cities of Spain itself, the wines you’ll find in many bars and restaurants tend to centre around some of the largest, best known regions in the country. This makes complete sense from a commercial perspective but it is a little sad that some perfectly good wine is passing us by untasted, simply because the wines have such a limited market here.
The other factor to consider is that some regions simply don’t produce a great deal of quality wine, hence their respective obscurity. The reason that DO Ribera del Duero, DOQ Priorat and DOC Rioja are amongst the most prestigous regions within the country is their ability to produce reasonably large quantities of good quality wine, year after year. This is a problem for producers who do make excellent quality wine in the lesser known regions, as it’s considerably more difficult to be heard when the label on your bottle says “DO Cigales” instead of “DO Ribera del Duero”. The same is of course true for other wine producing countries as well, just ask any producer in the south of France or Italy, eastern Germany or even some of the lesser known regions of California, South Africa and Argentina. This week, we’re going to focus on five wines from the lesser celebrated regions of Spain and well… celebrate them!
DO Bizkaiko Txakolina (Basque Country). When it comes to cooler climate white wines in Spain, Rias Baixas, Rueda and Ribeiro tend to dominate proceedings. However, in 1994 DO Bizkaiko Txakolina was created in the Basque Country, in the very north of Spain. Whilst still considerably warmer than most of northern Europe, this is a chilly, wild part of the country by Spanish standards and so it comes as no surprise that the majority of the production here is white; a perfect pairing with the local seafood. White wines tend to be produced from Hondarribi Zuri ,with some 80% of all plantings, supported by a mixture of Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Folle Blanche and other international varieties. The wine we’ll be tasting is Marko 2015 by Oxer Bastegieta, a family winery better known for their small production of high quality wines in Rioja under the label “Oxer Wines”. Crisp, clean and very acidic; DO Bizkaiko Txakolina in a glass!
VdlT Cadiz (Andalucia). If you haven’t come across ‘VdlT’ before, it simply means ‘Vino de la Tierra’ and is a step down from DO in the appellation pyramid, coming from a broader geographical zone with laxer regulations when it comes to the production of wine. VdlT Cadiz was originally created to take advantage of the surplus of Sherry grapes, in order to make light, dry wines for the local markets of Jerez, Sanlucar and Puerto de Santa Maria. There are, however, one or two very brave and amibitious producers using older, almost extinct grape varieties in tiny quantities, such as the Compañia de Vinos del Atlantico, a project set up in 2002 to showcase these sorts of wines from across 18 lesser known regions of Spain. Vagar y Pulgar 2012 is such a wine, made from the exceedingly rare Tintilla grape variety, considered to be a mutation of the medium-bodied, floral Graciano from Rioja. Whilst they didn’t make it into our tasting, Barbazul are also a good producer of this variety, blending it together with French varieties for a rounder profile.
DO Manchuela (La Mancha). This is a great example of a wine producing region that should be doing better than it currently is. Whilst located inside the enormous DO La Mancha, having separated in 1982, it has considerably more rainfall, cooler winds, greater concentrations of limestone in the soil and opportunities to grow at altitude; basically, there’s no reason why top quality wine can’t be made here. Like most of Spain, the cooperative structure is vitally important and that might be holding proceedings back a little in terms of innovation and risk taking, whilst producing a large quantity of young, fresh wines for the local market. To showcase the potential here, we’ve gone for Finca Sandoval 2010, produced by the Finca Sandoval estate. Famously created by veteran Spanish journalist, Victor de la Serna, in 1998, it takes a more modern approach to the appellation. Blending the native Monastrell and Bobal together with a healthy dollop of Syrah and then ageing it in new oak for 11 months for the stabilisation of colour, addition of flavour and some extra tannin brings this style into a new, modern era without overwhelming the flavour of the grapes themselves. Delicious stuff.
DO Tarragona (Catalunya). With the creation of DO Montsant, DO Tarragona has very much sank back into the production of young and easy red wines, some interesting sweet and rancio wines from Garnacha and produces a surprising amount of white grapes which head to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia to be turned into the most basic expressions of Cava. This anonymity does no favours for the region and so it’s left for quality-minded producers to make their own success and hopefully, put DO Tarragona back on the map. Vinyes del Terrer is such a producer, and we’ve chosen their Terrer d’Aubert 2010 to showcase it; an unusual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha, aged for 14 months in 5,000 litre French barrels for a long, slow ageing with minimal oak flavour. Fresh and clean, dominated by black fruits, graphite and floral notes; are we drinking young Bordeaux here or Spanish Cabernet Sauvignon? I’ll let you be the judge.
DO Cigales (Castilla y Leon). DO Cigales is a large but relatively unknown wine producing region, not far from the considerably more illustrious DO Ribera del Duero. Historically important for producing stunning rosé wines, it has now turned its attention to replicating the success of its neighbours by focusing on Tempranillo as a grape variety for red wine production and indeed, has not only the same limestone bedrock as the rest of its competitors but also large, ‘pudding stone’ rocks that lie on the surface of the vineyards reflecting the suns heat. Bodegas Traslanzas are one of the more celebrated producers in the area and their signature wine is a beautiful expression of Tempranillo, with lower alcohol (13.5%) and enormous amounts of freshness, even after 8 years of age. Telmo Rodriguez, famous wine-maker and terroir-guru, claims that the soils of this area are absolutely perfect for Tempranillo production but the truth, as always, is in the glass.
Whilst there are many, many more areas, wines and producers to discover, I’m very much looking forward to sharing some of these lesser known areas in this weeks tasting. There are, at the time of writing, still three spots available so if you’re interesting in attending, it will be on Thursday 19th at 19:00, 25 euros per person. If you’re interested in a spot, please contact me at email@example.com for payment options.