Wine culture in Iberia
The Priorat is one of the oldest winegrowing regions in Spain. Wine has been made here for more than eight centuries. The Priorat is a Spanish wine region of Catalonia enjoying a protected designation of origin (PDO) since 1954. This region of Catalonia The name of name Priorat comes from a Carthusian priory who was the historical founder of the vineyard: Priorat in Catalan, and priorato in Spanish.
The soils of the Priorat terroir are shallow, bedrock constitutes most of the surface. Over the years, soil quality has eroded as soil organic matter has declined on the surface, and are mostly formed by the weathering of slate, called here "llicorella" laminar and layered stones between which the roots of vines thrive through in search of moisture and nutrients.
The tortuous geography of the Priorat region imposes to grow vines on slopes or terraces, some of which do not allow mechanical access, involving forms of culture more traditional. It is located in a mountainous area in the province of Tarragona in North-eastern Spain, with steep slopes overlooking the Siurana and Montsant river valleys. Despite being located relatively near the sea, the PDO Priorat is isolated from the influences of the sea, as it is under the favorable protection of the Montsant mountain. These conditions shape the character of the wines of Priorat.
Four decades ago, a report on agricultural activity in the region, published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), concluded that the Priorat had all the necessary attributes to make one of the best wines in the world. One of these attributes was its exceptional and characteristic soil: a superficial top layer over a substrate of slate – Llicorella – in which the vines cast their long roots into the steep slopes of the mountainside. The vineyards start at around 300 metres and climb up to 600 metres with slopes of between 15% and 20%, interrupted by small sinuous terraces which have become a hallmark of the region.
Another characteristic attribute of the area is its climate. Warmed by southerly winds and offset by the cold winds of the north, the Priorat’s unique climatology makes for long, hot summers and dry, cold winters.
The most cultivated grapes in the Priorat are black, as Carinyena (carignan) and garnatxa (Grenache) which are the principal indigenous grape varieties. The visitors will appreciate the flavours of Priorat wine across vintages offered by the many gems of the Priorat.
The Rioja region of Spain is home to one of the world’s finest, and most long lived wines: Rioja. Rioja's renaissance, in the latter half of the 19th century, was a direct result of the phylloxera bug that decimated vineyards around the globe. The French producers from Bordeaux came to Rioja, anxious to find replacement for wort and vines at a time grapevines went totally affected by the phyloxerra, the terrible vine pest.
Rioja wine is a blend that relies on one main grape: Tempranillo. Wines elaborated with tempranillo give a slight earthy or toasty note to their black and rasp fruit tones. Tempranillo grapes tend to produce a slightly high acid wine of medium to medium-full body. The wines of Rioja are typically blended with additional grappes such as Mazuela, Garnacha and Maciano. The tradition of extended oak aging for Rioja's great wines contributes to a imprint that adds up to the additional layers of flavor and aroma.
Traditionally the aging of wines was promoting American oak barrels to develop some sweeter and balancing aromas like vanilla and cinamon, however an increasing number of producers have turned to French oak, or a mix of American and French oak barrels, favoring some subtle spice tones.
Rioja continues to undergo extended aging in Barrel with Reserva and Gran Reserva bottlings, spending a minimum of 36 months, 60 months years respectively before it goes to market.
Typology of Rioja wines:
Joven: As its name suggest, these wines are best in their youth. They are mostly fruity wines full of red berry fruits.
Crianza: These are wines that spend at least 6 months aging in oak barrels allowing them to soften a touch and pick up subtle vanilla or tobacco notes while preserving most of their intense red fruit tone. hese are wines that can benefit from a year or two in the cellar but are accessible on release.
Roble: Roble means Oak in Spanish. Wine labeled Roble are wines that have had period of oak aging, frequently less than what is required to achieve Crianza status, yet offer the obvious effects of barrel aging, frequently more pronounced than with a Crianza.
Reserva: the minimum aging in barrels for these ones is 12 months in oak barrels, plus an additional 24 months in the cellar before release. Reservas acquire with the time spent in barrels, a silkier structure and richer flavours with emerging notes of soil and spice.
Gran Reserva: the highest classification in Rioja, Gran Reserva wines are kept in barrel for at least 24 months and an additional 36 months in the cellar.
These wines can be lush with an amazing depth of flavor that combines successive layers of red fruit of Tempranillo plus spice tones and vanilla from the aging in the oak. All in all, we have subtle notes of leather, and nuts. These are silky, elegant wines, long in the mouth that stand proudly among the worlds finest.
Ribera del Duero
The DO, with more than 20,000 hectares, produces red wines and some rosados (rosé wines). White wines are not allowed. The red wines are limited to a few varieties of grapes:
The principal grape is tinto fino, also known as tinta del pais, a genetic variation of tempranillo. These grapes are used with a minimum of 75% in the final composition of wines. In Ribera del Duero, tinto fino accounts for more than 85 % of all plantings. All the top wines are made almost entirely from it, although it is not necessarily the sole grape. Secondary grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec. Garnacha Tinta and Albillo, a white grape used only in rosados (rosé wines), can comprise up to 5%.
Traditionally, vines were square planted, bush-pruned, and self-supporting, referred to in Spanish as planta en vaso. In the newer vineyards, vines are espalier-trained, mounted en espaldera. Most of the vines are grafted on to American rootstocks, however there are some very old (100+ years) ungrafted vines, never touched by phylloxera.
The production is limited to a maximum of 7,000 kg per hectare. Whenever the harvest reaches standards over the authorized limit, the areas are not allowed to be designated DO Ribera del Duero. The vintage usually starts in the first ten days of October; however, the starting date for harvest depends on the climate and varies each year.
Viticulture on the Ribera del Duero
Bodegas are quite different from each other: big or small, famous or less known… but all wines produced and belonging to the DO Ribera del Duero stand for quality wines.
The newest cellars are equipped with stainless-steel barrels for winemaking, making use of gravity and even solar energy. Once harvested, the grapes are transported from the vineyards to the bodega and kept at the right temperature in order to avoid their early fermentation. Grapes are destalked and then pressed. The pulp from first fermentation can be pressed and the must may be added to the wine to reinforce the tannins or it may be distilled or sold for cosmetics.
Alcoholic fermentation takes place on the skins for as long as necessary and the new wine is then run off into another tank for malolactic fermentation and, if necessary with warm water in the tank's water-jacket to help the malolactic fermentation take place. The wine is then maintained at a precise temperature to complete malolactic fermentation, which will soften the wine. This process is used in red winemaking, where the malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to a softer-tasting lactic acid.
Depending on the winery’s approach, the wine may or may not be filtered or clarified. Some wineries still apply the ancient technique of pouring egg whites into the wine in order to clarify it. Finally, the wine can be decanted and bottled as young wine, or transferred to oak casks for crianza, reserva or even gran reserva wines. In most wineries, wines are bottled in an automatic bottling line.
The aging classification is as follows: joven, crianza, reserva and gran reserva.
Cellars use French or American oak barrels for ageing their wines. Tinto joven has no oak ageing or is less than 12 months. The crianza wines age at least 12 months in oak barrels, while the minimum ageing is 24 months for oak barrel and bottle ageing. For a reserva wine, we need a minimum 36 month period of oak barrel and bottle ageing, of which at least one year has to be in oak barrels. The gran reserva is not produced every year. It is a special wine that requires at least 60 months of oak barrel and bottle ageing, of which a minimum of 2 years has to be in oak barrels. The classic style of Ribera del Duero wines is rich and extracted, complex with dark black fruit and an aptitude for aging.
The greenish side of the Verdejo
Rueda was officially established as a wine region (D.O. in Spanish) under the authority of a "Consejo Regulador" in 1980. The wine region has been more and more popular ever since in Spain and abroad. The wine has come a long way since, this growth is fueled by the hight popularity of wines elaborated from the autochtonous white grape variety Verdejo, with approximately 90% of vineyards focusing on this grape. More recently Rueda has been growing other red grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha, as well as the traditional Tempranillo. Verdejo has become a highly demanded white wine in Spain, thanks to its fruity character, good acidity levels. Verdejo can be paired with a great variety of mediterranean dishes. This has made of Rueda an increasingly wine popular outside Castile & Léon, with an excellent reputation.
Rueda is located North West of Madrid in the community of Castile and Leon, the first vineyards can be observed after crossing the sierra de Guadarrama, on the way to Segovia and Valladolid. It has an extensive area, encompàssing more than 12,000 hectares of vineyards in the provinces of Segovia, Ávila and Valladolid, the latter being the province where most vineyards are planted. The particular elevation of vineyards in the eastern part of the district (average of 800 m. above see level) gives sharp temperature difference (referred as diurnal range) and cooling patterns can be extremely pronounced too. In general, the region enjoys a typical continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters. The landscape of Rueda is typical of the Spanish Meseta central, encompassing large extensions of open fields, mostly constituted by vineyards and cereals. Numerous castles in perched on rocky outcrops can be visited by small groups.
Bottles titling “Verdejo” have at least 85% Verdejo grapes. Bottles titling “Rueda” the back label are normally made from a minimum of 50% Verdejo grapes, in which case it would be blended with Viura.
Local authorities are in an unprecented effort to promote the many "rutas del vino" or wine routes.
Lush and Irish-like reminiscence of Galicia
This wine region is located in the region of Galicia and enjoys the Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) since 1988. The region proudly produces white wines from the autoctonous Albariño grape variety. This region is located very close to the Atlantic Ocean and this, together with the humid Atlantic climate influence, marks on the way wines are elaborated. The area is characterized by rich soil lush vegetation, and estuaries, deep inlets of Atlantic waters inland. The climate is naturally oceanic, cool and damp, although qualified by micro-climates. This naturally influence the taste of the wine that is elaborated. This also influence the way to plant vines. By tradition, it is through stone pergolas that keep vine leafs and bunches at a certain height (almost 2 metres) from the ground, thus allowing for good aireation and sun exposure that grapes need to ripen (while at the same time preventing from fungus).
Almost 90% of the planted area is of this high-quality white grape variety, which makes Albariño the iconic and celebrated grape of the region. Needless to say, Albariño pairs to the perfection with delicious regional cuisine based on fresh seafood.
Rias Baixas consists of five sub-zones: Condado do Tea on the River Tea (a tributary of the River Miño) where wines must consist of a minimum 70% Albariño, and Treixadura; Ribeira do Ulla where most red wines originate, O Rosal on the southern part, where the microclimate is warmer and where wines must contain a minimum 70% Albariño and Louriera, Soutomaior in hillier areas and Val do Salnés, that covers the largest area. The historic town of Cambados with many vineyards located at sea-level is the center of the sub-district. Soils in this region are mainly granite and sandy with Quaternary deposits, predominantly shallow and acidic.
The white wines from the Rias Baixas are dry wines floral and fruity with a very thin aftertaste and with longlively aromas. The visitors have countless opportunities to visit the outstanding Pazos (Historical wineries of the Rias Baixas) and will appreciate their spectacular setting among vineyards.
Wine Tasting & Styles
Over 99% of all wine produced in Rías Baixas is white. Differences in microclimates, terroir and grape varieties in the five sub-zones, as well as different winemaking techniques, make for wonderful diversity. Styles range from a crisp, aromatic “melony” character in Val do Salnés, to a peachier, softer style in O Rosal, and a less fruity and earthier style in Condado do Tea.
While the different sub-zones express subtle differences, the wines all share a number of characteristics. Pale golden lemon, they are all crisp, elegant and fresh. These wines are bone-dry and aromatic, packed with flavors of white peach, apricot, melon, pineapple, mango and honeysuckle. They share good natural acidity, have mineral overtones, and are medium bodied with moderate alcohol (12%).
DO Rías Baixas permits eight types of wines:
- Rías Baixas Albariño –100% Albariño, grapes can be sourced from any sub-zone
- Rías Baixas Salnés
- Rías Baixas Condado
- Rías Baixas Rosal
- Rías Baixas Barrica – wines aged in oak, can be red or white
- Rías Baixas Espumoso – sparkling wine, limited production
While twelve grape varieties are permitted in the DO, the white Albariño grape represents 96% of all plantings. Other important permitted grapes include Treixadura, traditionally blended with Albariño; and Loureiro, a high-quality local variety particularly associated with O Rosal. Caiño Blanco, Torrontes and Godello are also planted to a lesser extent throughout the region.
Planting Albariño at the proper height and exposure to ensure even, healthy ripening is essential to quality. Vines are traditionally widely spaced and trained on stone pergolas hewn of the same granite as the soils below. To counter the region’s rainfall and humidity, most vines are trained on a wire trellis called a “parra” anchored by granite posts. Parras are up to seven feet high, allowing breezes to flow through for maximum circulation to prevent mildew and to promote even ripening. In the fall, ripened grape bunches form a ceiling-like canopy and are harvested by pickers standing on grape bins. Some vineyards are replacing the traditional parra canopy and using a European double cordon system called espaldera. Throughout the region, yields are low, ranging from three to five tons per acre.
Careful harvesting (the grapes are hand-picked in small plastic 40 pound crates) and temperature control have revolutionized winemaking in Rías Baixas. Grapes are delivered to the winery as fast as possible to avoid oxidation, and the must is fermented under meticulous temperature control in modern, stainless steel installations.
Winemaking Trends & Techniques
After harvest, the Albariño grapes are lightly pressed. The juice, pulp and skins are left to macerate at low temperature from several hours to several days to increase the wine’s aromatic complexity and structure.
This is a practice gaining popularity among Rias Baixas wineries.
Many Rías Baixas winemakers now favor fermenting their grapes with the native yeasts found in their vineyards.
Though it can be challenging to make wine with wild yeasts, they believe the resulting aromas are a more authentic reflection of the characteristics of the Albariño grape and their terroir.
Barrel fermentation and ageing
Barrel fermentation can be used to impart additional texture and increase the ageing potential of Rias Baixas wines.
Though not common, barrel ageing adds complexity, flavors and structure. These techniques are often used in a year of extraordinary ripeness, when the wines are robust enough to benefit from oak treatment.
With abundant natural acidity, Rias Baixas wines are characterized by their crisp personality.
Malolactic fermentation, which mutes the sensation of a type of acid, can be prevented by the winemaker to maintain freshness. Alternatively, complete or partial malolactic fermentation can be used to produce a rounder, softer profile, which helps the wines to age gracefully. There is a minimum alcohol level of 11.3% for Albariño wines, 11.5% for wines aged in oak and 11% for other white wine blends.
Extended contact with the lees
Normally, the sediment that remains in a wine after fermentation is removed. However, the small particles known as yeast lees can release compounds that enhance flavors and aromas, and produce a rounder texture. Contact with the lees also helps to preserve its freshness until bottling.
This is a very common practice in Rias Baixas and is a technique that is constantly being perfected by winemakers.
Wonderful World Heritage Landscape
Portugal is best known for its fortified wines Port and Madeira. But there are also some outstanding examples of still wines, mostly from the north of the country where conditions are not as hot. The appellations are classified as DOC. (Denominacao de Origem Controlada).
Porto is the center of Portuguese shipbuilding and trade, with a history that dates back to the Roman occupation, through the Moorish settlement of the area, and into a strong relationship with England, beginning in the 14th century and the marriage of John I of Portugal to Philippa of Lancaster.
The Portuguese have benefited from years of close military collaboration and subsequently trade with the British. The Portuguese began to observe how the English would add brandy to the wine to preserve it for shipment back to England. This is in short how we can trace the origin of the first Ports. This fortifying process became more refined. To enhance the sweetness of the wine, more brande would be added during the fermentation process, instead of after, to suit the taste of the local consumer in England.
The Port trade began to boom in the early 18th centure, after the Treaty of Methuen (Methwen 1703) was passed between the two countries. This was a landmark from where the Douro region was subdivided and the quintas (estates) were founded.
British merchants then began to set up shop in Porto and buy vineyards for production. By the 19th century, wine-making in the Douro expanded to an unprecedented degree, with vineyards built right into the mountain and mass construction of wine storage centers.
In the 1730s, the Marques de Pombal created the Old Wine Company to regulate the production of Port, which had somehow dropped as a consequence of the malicious tricks of some vintners who were adding excess sweeteners and juices (usually elderberry). The Old Wine Company had control over the quantity of wine produced, the highest and lowest prices possible for trade and they arbitrated all disputes. By mid of the 18th century, the demarcated growing region for Port was established. There would be no subsequent vine replantings outside these demarcation. The rise of estates (quintas) began around mid 18th century.
By the 19th century, the major Port houses had been established: Sandeman, Croft, Taylor, Warre, Graham, Dow, Cockburn and so on. Then the phylloxerra louse came to the Douro and did its damage, but this was turned around relatively quickly by grafting the root stock to American vines and most of the vineyards could be replanted. Business began to boom again by the 20th century.
Some insight in the Port styles
Tawny:essentially wines that have been aged in barrel long enough for it to take on an amber/brown appearance. Usually made from lesser quality grapes than ruby Ports.
Aged Tawny:left to age in casks a minimum of six years with age indicated on the label.
Colheita:Tawny ports from a single year, with the date of the harvest on the label. Aged at least seven years.
Crusted:Blended from different harvests and years, usually younger wines. Wines develop in the bottle and sediment forms. Decanting is necessary for proper consumption.
LBV - Late Bottle Vintage:Wines from a single year and bottled four or five years after harvest.
Ruby(Branded):Blended wines aged in bulk and bottled relatively young before they can take on any color imparted from the barrel. The new trend for labeling is to drop the name “Ruby” altogether in favor of a brand name or style.
Garrafeira:Wines from a single year, which spend only a small amount of time aged in oak. Then it spends a much longer period in bottle. These wines are then decanted and re-bottled after a very long aging time, usually between twenty and thirty years or longer.
Single Vintage Quinta:Wines from one estate and a single vintage, which is displayed on the label.
Vintage:Wines from a single year, bottled after two or three years of wood aging, then aged in bottle for many years before release. These are the most sought after Ports, using the highest quality grapes, usually from the Cima Corgo subregion of the Douro.
White Port:Wines with little or no maceration time during fermentation so the wine takes on a minimum of color. Otherwise, it is made in the same way as red and always has a certain degree of residual sugar despite being labeled “Dry or “Extra Dry.”
Rose Port:Very short maceration time to take on a pinkish hue, and otherwise made the same way as ruby port.
The visitor always enjoys the increadible scenery displayed by the Douro region, declared World Heritage Site in 2003 for the uniqueness and exceptional beauty of the stone terrace-shaped by hands. Its steep terraces were shaped by hand hundreds of years ago from the unforgiving granite mountains, which shelter the valley and give it its unique climate. Conveniently, the Douro is also home to a few of Portugal’s finest hotels, not to mention some of its finest food.