The north west
The following autonomies or areas are found in north-western Spain: Galicia, the Pals Vasco, Castilla y Leon, Asturias, and Cantabria. The latter two of these autonomies only produce vinos de mesa. The other areas can be split into their DO wine-growing areas.
The climate of north west Spain is clearly influenced by the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean. The weather is much cooler, wetter, and more windy than the rest of the country. Daily life is clearly marked by the sea and fishing.
This part of Spain is less typically Spanish, having more Celtic and Basque characteristics with little sign of the Castilian and Moorish invasion. The local dishes are inspired by the sea's harvest: fish and other seafood. The local Spanish wine is generally white, dry, fresh, and light, with the exception of a few red wines.
The Greeks called the town Zera (the dry land), the Romans, Ceritium, the Western Goths, Ceret, the Arabs Sheriz or Sherish, the French Xérès, the British and the Dutch call it Sherry, and the Spanish call it Jerez, pronounced ‘Heref’.
In terms of area this is by far the largest DO of Spain at 194,864 hectares. In this immense area of La Mancha, where once the legendary Don Quixote tilted at windmills, the wine-growers fought against what they regarded as arbitrary rules laid down by the European Community. Even today not every-body in La Mancha accepts that there is a vast lake of surplus wine in Europe. Fortunately more and more bodegas are addressing themselves to the demands of the market and improving the bad name associated with La Mancha wine. These bodegas have substantially replaced their equipment and directed themselves towards making quality Spanish wines. Thanks to the effort of these innovative houses the name of La Mancha has increasingly been linked to quality wines, that can be
Granted DO status since 1994, there are three sub- areas of Hoyo de Mazo (south-eastern hills of Santa Cruz de La Palma through to Mazo), Fuencaliente- Las Manchas (south-western hills of Tazacorte to Fuencaliente), and the northern area of Tijarafe to Puntallana.
The vineyards are sited on black volcanic soil at heights of between 328 and 3,280 feet(200 and almost 1,000 metres). Because of the strong winds, the vines are each planted individually inside a shelter of a stone wall in a slight depression in the ground. The climate is sub-tropical but with strong maritime influences (La Palma is the most westerly island of the Canaries).
The Malvasia from the grape of the same name is available as seco, semi-dulce, or dulce.
The territory of the Lanzarote DO includes the majority of that island. Lanzarote was promoted to DO status in 1994. The soil here in the vineyards too is black and volcanic in origin, known locally as picón. Each vine is planted separately in a small depression which is protected by a low circular stone wall. This is necessary to prevent damage by the strong winds, especially the Sirocco from the Sahara, that can be devastating. The depressions surrounded by their little walls give the landscape a somewhat surrealistic appearance from a distance. The vines are planted at 400-500 per hectare. For a decade now there have been good white, rosé, and red Spanish wines made for the tourists. Although these wines are well worth tasting, the true strength of the island lies in the superb Muscatel and Malvasia wines. The Muscatel is available as dulce and licoroso.
The area of Castilla-La Mancha is so large that it is dealt with in two parts. In the previous section that dealt with the high plateau of the Meseta we travelled through the western part of Castilla-La Mancha (Vinos de Madrid, La Mancha, Mentrida, and Valdepeñas). It is now time to visit the eastern part of Almansa.
Almansa is situated on the high plateau of the Levante, close to the autonomías of Valencia (Alicante, Utiel-Requena, and Valencia) and Murcia (Bullas, Jumilla, and Yecla). Although Levante is the Spanish name for the east coast and therefore strictly only applies to Murcia, Almansa’s position and isolation justifies our dealing with this enclave of La Mancha within our section on the Levante. The climate in this eastern part of Spain varies between a distinctly Mediterranean one on the coast to a semi-continental one with Mediterranean influences in Almansa.
Madrid, the capital city of Spain, has been better known for centuries as a large consumer of wine than as producer. The Vinos de Madrid only made their appearance on the market in 1990. This Spanish wine is produced close to the city, at Alcorcón, Móstoles, Leganés, and Getafe in the west, Arganda and Aranjuez in the south-east, and a very small area of Alcalá de Henares between Guadalajara en Madrid. Because of the large market on the doorstep no attempt has yet been made to export these Spanish wines. For this reason you are unlikely to encounter these wines of the Meseta.
Matanegra surrounds the small town of Zafra, approximately 19 miles (30 km) south of Almendrajelo. The production of Spanish wines in this area with 8,000 hectares of vines in cultivation is mainly in the hands of family businesses. Ribera Baja del Guadiano (the lower loop of the Guadiana, that extends to 7,000 hectares) is situated just to the west of Badajoz.
Ribera Alta del Guadiano (upper loop of the Guadiana, that extends to 8,500 hectares) is found around the towns of Don Benito and Villanueva de la Serena, about 75 miles (120 km) upstream of Badajoz. Montanchez is a small territory of 4,000 hectares, situated surrounding the small town of the same name, about 44 miles (70 km) north-east of Badajoz. This area is known for its ancient vines and olive trees. It is a picturesque region with lots of gently undulating hills and hospitable valleys.
This area to the south-west of Madrid (close to the small towns of Mentrida and Torrijos) was also renowned for its cheap but heavy and highly alcoholic Spanish wine which sold readily through bars and cafés in Madrid. Even after the authorities gave a quandary to the apathetic growers, who had little ambition, with DO recognition in 1960, little appeared to change among the local bodegas. It was only after nearby Madrid gained its own DO and threatened Mentrida’s market that the growers in Mentrida woke up. Since 1991 the Spanish wine making equipment has been replaced at a vigorous tempo or at least greatly improved. The Spanish wine has been somewhat amended to meet the wishes of today’s wine drinker with a lighter structure and less alcohol but above all more refinement in taste.
Like Jerez, this is one of the oldest wine-growing areas of Spain. The history of Montilla-Moriles is similar to that of Jerez. The Montilla wines were adored by both the Greeks and Romans but what has become known as the characteristic Montilla style was only developed in Medieval times. Despite its reputation, Montilla has always remained in the shadow of sherry. In an ironic situation, the growers of Jerez have named one of their best sherries after the old-style Montilla wine: Amontillado.
The Spanish wine-growing area of Montilla-Moriles is situated around the towns from which the name is derived in the province of Cordoba.
The best soil is located in the centre of the area and is known as the Superior wine territory. The soil here is also albariza in common with Jerez (which the locals here sometimes call alberos); soil that is high in chalk that stores water so that the vineyards do not dry out in the hot summers. In the rest of Montilla-Moriles the soil is sandy, which is termed arenas in Jerez but ruedos in these parts. The vineyards are sited at an elevation of between 984 and 2,296 feet (300 and 700 metres).
The autonomia of Murcia is trying to forget its past. Here too heavy and very alcoholic wine was produced for cutting with lighter wines and here too the trade specialised for centuries in the sale of wine in bulk. In recent years however there has been a definite change in direction by a number of the serious and forward-looking bodegas. This Spanish wine is only one of the local agricultural produces and certainly not the easiest or most financially rewarding. Times change and today’s market has no demand for the heavy, alcoholic, and heady wines of Murcia. The bodegas of Jumilla DO and to a lesser extent Yecla are taking action to react to this change in the market. It was only much later that the third DO of Murcia, Bullas jumped aboard the departing train.
The Basque country has three faces: the picturesque coastline with endless countless beaches and fishing harbours, the large industrial towns, and the interior. The Basques have their own culture and own language that is possibly the original European language, and above all their own character. The Spanish part of the Basque country still has close ties with the French part (Pays Basque and Gascony or Gascogne). In this section we restrict ourselves to the north of the País Vasco, and in particular the areas of Bizkaya (Vizcaya) and Getaria (Guetaria). We use the Basque spellings with the Castilian spelling in brackets.
The whites Spanish wine from Penedés vary widely. Most are a blend of local varieties and ‘foreign’ varieties. The basic grapes for Cava (Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo) are frequently mixed with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, which leads to countless different types and varying tastes.
Generally the ordinary Penedés whites are dry, fresh, and fruity wines which are mainly for drinking when young. Drinking temperature for this Spanish wine is 46.4- 50.0°F (8-10°C).
Penedès is situated to the south of Barcelona, divided between the provinces of Barcelona and Tarragona. While the centre for Cava production and trade is San Sadumi d’Anoia, the main centre for still wines is Vilafranca del Penedès. The vineyards are sited between the coastal strip of the Mediterranean and the central plateau, the Meseta. In practice Penedes is subdivided into three large sub-regions. The vineyards of Baix Penedes lie along the coast at a height of 820 feet (250 metres). This is the hottest area and the wines produced here are for daily consumption.
Priorat, or Priorato as it is called in Catalan, is one of the oldest wine-growing areas of Cataluña. The landscape of Priorat is reflected in the wine, with the strength of the mountains, the warmth of the sun, the gentle embrace of the valleys, the blissful scents which are spread by the mountain winds, the ruggedness of the granite beneath the feet of the vines, and the sparkle of mica in the sun. Few wines in the world reveal so much of themselves as the Spanish wines of Priorat. A Carthusian monastery (priorat) was built on the site where about 1,000 years ago a shepherd saw an angel climbing to heaven on a hidden staircase. Only ruins now remain of the monastery but the village of Scala Dei (staircase to God) that was built around the monastery now flourishes as a wine centre. J6WAGX3X62Z8
The climate of Priorat is also different from elsewhere. The heat of a continental climate is moderated by the south-easterly mistral, while the cold and usually wet northerly winds are able to penetrate the valley. The winters are generally fairly cold but not extreme, while the summers are long, hot, and dry.
The most widely used variety of grape in Priorat is the Garnacha (both Tinta and Peluda), often supplemented with Mazuelo (Cariñena). Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo, and a small amount of Pedro Ximénez are used for the rarer white Spanish wines and liqueur wines. J6WAGX3X62Z8
This is certainly the best known but not the only quality DO of Galicia. The white Spanish wine of the Albariño grape is deservedly famous. Galicia has an attractive coastline with large inlets or estuaries here and there known as rías baixas or 'low rivers'. These are slightly reminiscent of the Scandinavian fjords. The rest of the country consists of green valleys in which the coolest and moistest vineyards of Spain are to be found.
There are three different soil types in Rías Baixas: bedrock of granite covered with alluvium, alluvial deposits, or a bedrock of granite with a covering of sand. The average height at which the vineyards are situated is about 1,476 feet (450 metres) . This Spanish wine is mainly white and made from 90% Albariño grapes. These Albariño grapes are said to be a twin of the Riesling. These are said to have been brought to Santiago de Compostella as gifts by German monks. Some wine is also made with Treixadura and/or Loureira Blanca, and also an extremely rare red produced from Brancellao and Cañio.
This Spanish wine region of 11,500 hectares, situated at the centre of a square formed by Burgos, Madrid, Valladolid, and Soria, makes the best and most expensive wine of Spain. Many will have heard of Vega Sicilia, but just as in France there is both Mouton and Lafite Rothschild, there are also countless superb bodegas to discover in this region. Ribera del Duero is ideally suited for the making of quality wines, with its favourable soil, climate, and use of the best grapes. The economic strength of the region has also played its part for it is far easier to find people ready to invest in a wealthy area than a poor one and there is then also a more ready market at hand for more expensive wines.
This is the newest DO of Spain (1997) located in Extremadura, the region which borders on Portugal, in the extreme west of central Spain. Wine had already been exported from this area for some years under the name of the Tierra de Barros sub-region of Ribera del Guadiana.
Renewal has also won the day in Extremadura. It had seemed as though Extremadura would forever remained linked with past glories of towns such as Badajoz, Câceres, and Trujillo, renowned from the past history of the sixteenth and seventeenth century conquistadors. The landscape here is attractive, hilly, soft, and green, but there are also high plateaux which are the domain of agriculture and cattle breeders. The economy of Extremadura once relied on the income from cork and the output of the olive trees but with drastic renovation of the Spanish wine-growing hopes for a better economic future have also grown.
Rioja is made in three different areas as previously indicated: the southern Basque country, Navarra, and La Rioja. The area of La Rioja and Rioja wine derive their name from the small river Oja, hence Rio Oja. The river flows into the Ebro near Haro. This Spanish wine region region is subdivided into three areas: the highlands of Rioja Alta in the north west, the most northerly vineyards of Rioja Alavesa in Alava Province, and the lowlands of Rioja Baja in Navarra and La Rioja. The entire area is protected from the cold north winds by the mountains of the Sierra Cantabrica. The river Ebro rises in the Cantabrian mountains and flows towards the Mediterranean.
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