Spain’s northern, Atlantic Ocean–influenced winegrowing zones were virtually unknown to most wine lovers only a decade ago, but things have changed dramatically. The popularity of some of Spain’s high-quality red wines and racy whites from the area continues a steep upward trajectory.
Traditionally made Riojas are having a moment. Old-school, elegant Riojas have caught the attention of collectors and sommeliers around the world, putting pressure on the supply of some of the region’s most famous wines. At the same time, a number of modern-leaning producers have begun to throttle back on assertive oak, extraction and alcohol levels, which is a highly welcome development. The recent 2016, 2015 and 2014 vintages have been very good to outstanding, with healthy yields that ensure there’s plenty of wine to go around.
Cellar Favorites, featured, Spain
I always get goose bumps when I see the 1970 Único. Remarkably dense, powerful and seamless in the glass, the 1970 boasts off the charts concentration and depth.
After struggling with difficult weather in 2014 and 2013, producers in Spain were thrilled with a healthy crop of fruit in 2015. Early indications are that this vintage produced a bounty of top-notch wines that should provide abundant pleasure in their youth.
Overall quality of Spanish wines continues to rise, as does their availability in export markets. The result is a rapidly increasing number of wines that are worthy of consumers’ attention. This year we will be publishing several articles throughout the year in order to align coverage with what has become a continuous stream of new releases.
Attempting to categorize a stretch of Spain that runs from the French border down and then west across to Jerez is a challenge that is best achieved by taking a closer look at some of the individual regions that make up this vast swath of land. The wines produced in the zones that lie on or near the Mediterranean coast vary considerably. The northeast section, Catalonia, tends to produce more graceful wines that reflect the area’s relatively cool climate, while those farther down the coast display the ripe, powerful character one would expect from hot, arid conditions. Throw in the elegant wines being made on Spain’s islands, especially the Canaries, and you’ve got an area that defies simple generalization.
As might be expected, wines made across Spain’s Atlantic regions, both whites and reds, tend to be cool and restrained, strongly reflecting the ocean-influenced climate. They are quite unlike their lush, ripe southern cousins, which mostly come from vineyards that are among the hottest, driest and sunniest in Europe. Conditions along Spain’s Atlantic coast often bear striking similarity to those of southern England and the wines reflect it.
Central Spain is a distinctly homogeneous area, geographically speaking. The majority of its red wines are made entirely, or in large part, from Tempranillo, which is Spain’s single most esteemed variety and the grape that most often places the country among the world’s elite wine-growing regions.
Diving into the Rioja red wine piscina can be at turns fascinating and confusing. My advice is to approach the region without preconceptions. Rioja produces Tempranillo-based reds that range in style from hyper-traditional, often rustic and austere wines that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to a time traveler from the 19th century to flamboyantly rich, fruit-driven, new oak-influenced bottlings that would blend in well—and even stand out for their sheer quality—in blind flights of high-end Napa or Bordeaux wines.
Cellar Favorites, Spain
The 1976 Viña Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva is a wine of great clarity and finesse, with a very long, ethereal finish featuring fully resolved tannins and an impression of weightlessness.