Difficult pronunciations for one whose Spanish proficiency does not extend beyond the menu at Taco Bell.
That Spain has so many grape varieties likely has to do with climate diversity. The snowcapped Pyrenees separate Spain from France in the northeast. In the northwest and southwest, Spain borders the North Atlantic. The North Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea collide to its south at the Strait of Gibraltar, where Spain’s southernmost tip is only nine miles from Morocco. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the east.
Temperatures in Spain range from desert hot to subarctic. Remarkably, wine grapes are grown across almost the entirety of the country.
The Phoenicians are often credited with originating the wine cultures of Europe, but when they arrived in Spain, a wine culture had been in existence for hundreds of years, preceding their first settlement of Cadiz in 1100 BC.
Spain ranks third in world wine production, behind France and Italy. Spanish wines are well known in Europe, but they are a tougher sell in America. This is changing due to their attractive price-to-quality ratio.
According to Patrick Mata, Spanish wine expert and owner of Ole Imports, the average Spanish vine age is 30 years. Some of the oldest vines in the world grow in Spain.
Of those, 95 percent are dry farmed — meaning they are not irrigated. Vines have to struggle. As a result, Mata said, “wines speak the language from which they come.”
Spanish wines are inexpensive because vintners are, by and large, farmers interested in making just enough wine to sustain their way of life, Mata explained. Vineyards are owned by families. Cost of production is limited to labor and perhaps oak barrels. Producers don’t incur cost for irrigation, new plantings or marketing.
Mata’s family has been in the wine business in Spain for more than 200 years.
I recently tasted through an array of Spanish wines from Mata’s portfolio. Listed below are some favorites. All are in stock at Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs or by special order from your favorite wine merchant.
Cava Casteller. “Cava” is Spanish terminology for sparkling wine. From the Pened’s growing region that borders the Mediterranean near Barcelona; 95 percent of cava comes from this region. Made by the exact methods used in making true champagne. This cava is from 20 percent xarel-lo, 40 percent macabeu and 40 parellada. (Remember, I warned you about unfamiliar Spanish grape varietals.) Wonderful effervescence, deliciously refreshing with lots of citrus on the palate. $11.75.
Zestos Blanco. “Zestos” is Spanish for “basket.” From 100 percent malvar, a big-berried, robust white grape used in the past to produce rustic wines, but now used for lighter white wines reminiscent of a sauvignon blanc. Cries out for oysters on the half shell. $9.
Papa 2010. From 100 percent godello, a white grape roughly pronounced “go-deh-yo.” Godello is an up-and-coming white grape. Unlike other Spanish whites, wine made from this grape can be cellared for a few years. Citrus aromas. Crisp. Refreshing. Wonderful nose. Versatile wine for summer fare. $13.75.
Series Monastrell 2010. “Monastrell” is the Spanish name for the French varietal known as mourvedre. From the southeastern growing region of Yecea, not far from Alicante on the Mediterranean. Luscious. From 40-year-old, low-yielding, non-irrigated vines. Slightly sweet on the approach, with concentrated dark berry fruit flavors. This wine spends some time in oak and behaves like a New World wine (although my Spanish friends might not appreciate this descriptor). $12.75.