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A Brief Intro to Spanish Wines

As an Iber­ian trav­el spe­cial­ist, I’m sup­posed to know a lot about wine. And in some ways I do. I know the main vari­etals and the most pop­u­lar appel­la­tions. One of my first projects after my mil­i­tary ser­vice was con­sult­ing work for a good friend here in the US that was launch­ing a wine import­ing busi­ness focused on Spain. It was tough work, I can tell you! I had to accom­pa­ny him from vine­yard to vine­yard through­out Spain tast­ing all the wine along with the inevitably incred­i­ble food pair­ings we were always offered. All this being said, my actu­al cat­e­go­ry as a wine afi­ciona­do is prob­a­bly best defined as knows what he likes”. As I research and design my future blog posts, I will be attempt­ing to edu­cate both of us. We can get smarter about Iber­ian wines together. 

A good place to start is with appel­la­tions. We’ll tack­le Spain today. Like most wine grow­ing coun­tries, Spain has a qual­i­ty con­trol sys­tem that divides wine into Denom­i­naciónes de Ori­gen (DO). This is sim­i­lar to the Appel­la­tion d’O­rig­ine Pro­tégée (AOP) sys­tem of France. The DO’s rep­re­sent dis­tinct geo­graph­i­cal areas and estab­lish stan­dards for the giv­en areas of pro­duc­tion. What do we mean by stan­dards? Typ­i­cal­ly, stan­dards include the ratios of vari­etals (grape types), min­i­mum aging times, as well as label­ing require­ments. Many Amer­i­cans are famil­iar with the major denom­i­na­tions such as Rio­ja. Spain has about 70 DOs, with 3 spe­cial DO’s labeled as Denom­i­nación de Ori­gen Cal­i­fi­ca­da (DOCa). The lat­ter being award­ed to DO’s that have main­tained a very high lev­el of con­sis­ten­cy and qual­i­ty over a long peri­od of time. DOCa’s include Rio­ja, Pri­o­rat, and Rib­era del Duero.

Its impor­tant to know that not all Span­ish wine is pro­duced with­in the DO sys­tem. Almost ⅓ of Span­ish wine (such as table wine) does not car­ry a DO label. This wine may be of very high qual­i­ty by a pro­duc­er that may feel boxed in by DO stan­dards. Or it may be less expen­sive wine meant for the mass mar­ket. In any case, there is no need to be a DO snob”. 

To put all this in con­text, my favorite Span­ish wine is Albar­iño. (This is a bit odd since Spain is best known for its reds (tin­tos)). Albar­iño is the name of the grape as well as the vari­etal, found main­ly in north­west Spain (Gali­cia) and north­ern Por­tu­gal, pro­duc­ing acidic but fruity qual­i­ties. This grape has a remark­able his­to­ry that I won’t go into here. The point is that in Spain, the grape can be found pri­mar­i­ly in the DO Rias Baixas. So don’t con­fuse the grape with the DO. The same grape can be found in mul­ti­ple DO’s. I’ll do a sep­a­rate blog post in the future on Albariño. 

I hope you enjoyed this brief for­ay into the high-lev­el orga­ni­za­tion of Span­ish wines. I pro­vide the links so that you can explore these top­ics fur­ther on your own, (and in many cas­es to hide my lack of acu­men). If you are like me and need a sim­ple approach to all this, you can’t go wrong with Wine Fol­ly.