The next hurdle for oenophiles is to learn about various wine regions. France has long stood as the standard for fine wine, but it’s going to get a lot more expensive this year thanks to a rash of foul weather in the country.
Spain has sprung up in as a place to get good wine for a good price. Northeastern Spain has some of the most porous soil in Western Europe, which means the vine roots can dig deeper and grow heartier grapes that are less affected by the weather.
Business Insider spoke to Natalie Sanz, the sommelier at New York City’s Tio Pepe and five other nearby restaurants, to give us a crash course on Spanish wine. She covered everything from why it’s good to how to order an exceptional glass.
What sets Spanish wine apart: “Other Old World wine makers sell wine that you have to cellar for a while longer,” she said, “but Spanish wines won’t show up at the restaurant until they’re ready to drink.”
“In a country pretty much the size of Texas, Spain has amazing wine variety. In the north, the soil is tropical. It’s almost like a rain forest climate, very lush and green. A lot of whites are produced there. Right now, central Spain, where it’s very hot, is known for reds.”
The hotter the climate where the grapes grow, the higher the alcoholic content in the wine they make. But with the global climate changing, it’s almost getting too hot to produce red wine in the center of the country, Sanz said.
Wine makers now think there’s a lot of promise in Northwestern Spain for red wine. Since that trend is only just beginning, there’s a good chance you could get a top notch red wine from the area for an especially affordable price.
For more information on Spanish wine by region, check out Wines From Spain.
What To Order
Popular grapes in Spain include garnacha, the most planted grape in Spain for red wine; mencía, for a light red, drinking wine that used to be popular among workers; petit verdot, a red wine grape with French heritage that’s grown in central Spain to produce a heavy rosé; and tempranillo, a high quality dark red wine grape used especially in Rioja.
There’s also albariño, which makes a fruity, light and acidic white wine; and verdejo, an affordable alternative.
If you’re just starting out in Spanish wine, Sanz recommends ordering a verdejo from Rueda or a mencía from Galicia. For a more adventurous wine drinker, try an alta expresión from Rioja or a Priorat wine, which is a powerful red.
Read The Label
Spain has very strict laws governing its wine production, called “denominaciones de origen,” Sanz said.
Each region’s governing body stipulates what grapes and winemaking techniques are allowed to be used, as well as how long they have to be aged in order to earn a black and gold sticker on the back of the bottle that says the wine maker followed all the rules for wine from that region.
“It helps with consistency,” Sanz said.
“Reserva” on the front label means the wine has been aged for the region’s minimum required time, while “Gran Reserva” means it has been aged for a specified longer amount of time. For instance, “Reserva” on a bottle from Rioja, the most famous wine-making region in Spain, means it has been aged for three years, while “Gran Reserva” means it has been aged for five.
Don’t Forget Sherry
People think of sherry either as a sweet after-dinner drink, like port and brandy, or a cooking ingredient. But Sanz says it’s actually best as an opener to a meal.
“A dry sherry opens up the appetite,” Sanz said. “If I were to sit down at a restaurant waiting for my friends to arrive, I’d order a bone dry sherry. It creates a neutral palate and pairs well with hams, cheeses and olives; common tapas in Spain.”
Technically, a wine can’t be called “sherry” unless it was produced in the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain. “Sherry” is an anglicanized pronunciation of “Jerez.” A good Spanish sherry is made with yeast that exists in the air and settles over open barrels of grapes. Because it’s produced in a coastal town, it tends to have a briney flavour.
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