Spain & Portugal


Bierzo is a tiny and obscure ancient region in the north-western corner of Castilla y León. Up until recently, it was largely unbothered by the international wine market yet, thanks to the investment and increase in infrastructure that swept Spain in the late 20th Century, it is now one of the country’s rising stars, on a par with the likes of Rueda and Jumilla. Mencía is the main grape here, covering around 60% of the vineyards.
Castilla y Leon, the land of castles, is a large region that covers most of North Central Spain. It nears Madrid on its southern boundary, neighbours La Rioja and Navarra to the east, and stretches as far as, and includes, Bierzo at its north western edge. Perhaps not surprising then that the heartland of Castilian Spain has nine sub-provinces, the most of any Spanish region, and five classified DOs. Yet, this hot, dry part of the world was for most of the 20th Century associated only with hearty, rustic, basic wines, to be consumed locally. That was until the 1990s; a decade which witnessed a boom in quality, plantings, investment and international attention, led by the silky, perfumed reds of Ribera del Duero. It can now count Spanish luminaries Vega Sicilia, Bodegas Aalto and Sei Solo - Javier Zaccagnini’s latest venture - as residents. This means that, with Rioja and Priorat, Ribera del Duero is now rightly considered one of the leading fine wine regions in Spain. Of the four remaining DOs, Toro and Cigales are both regions that produce powerful, intense wines and remain somewhat underexplored, while Bierzo is an area experiencing a steady rise in popularity and international interest, particularly in Mencia, the indigenous local variety. Credit for much of this must go to the Decendientes de Palacios estate; the flagbearers of the region. Finally, and not widely appreciated, Rueda has the potential to produce top-notch whites from the Verdejo grape, given the right vineyard sites and skilled winemaking. Bodegas Ossian, located in the village of Nieva are leading the charge for quality - producing ripe, age-worthy wines with finesse and minerality thanks to some uniquely sandy soils. Sand provides a natural defence against the phylloxera pest and allows Ismael Gonzalo and his team to work with the very best old vines in the region (up to 160 years old).
Catalonia (or Catalunya) is a region in northern Spain made up of 10 sub-regions plus one overall appellation - D.O. Catalunya - and a separate recognised appellation for the Catalan sparkling wine, Cava.
The sparkling wine Cava was born in Spain in 1850. It eventually took on its modern form in 1872 when Jose Raventós of Codorníu introduced the método tradicional, the technique with which Cava is imbued with carbon dioxide bubbles. D.O. Cava was first created as a denominación específica, applied to sparkling Spanish wines that complied with certain production methods and expectations and standards of quality. Now, it is also used to define the areas in which Cava may be made. This area spans eight regions within Spain, although 90% of Cava is produced in Catalonia, with 75% made in San Sadurní d’Anoia in Penedès, where Cava was first created.
The Douro valley is the home of Port production and is one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world. The vineyards follow a band of Schist along the valley rising up in steep terraced slopes from the river. Upstream lies Spains Ribera del Duero. Increasingly, unfortified wines are produced here, but it is really for great vintage port that the region is known.
Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the city of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia. Produced in a variety of styles, Sherry is primarily made from the Palomino grape. It ranges from light versions similar to white table wines, such as Manzanilla and Fino, to darker and heavier versions that have been oxidised and aged in barrel, such as Amontillado and Oloroso. Sweet dessert wines are also made from Pedro Ximenez (a.k.a. PX) or Moscatel grapes, and are sometimes blended with Palomino-based Sherries.
Madeira is a beautiful island located off the coast of Portugal famed for its dazzling array of fortified wines. Discovered by happy accident, it undergoes a fairly brutal ageing process which bizarrely renders the final wine not only highly delicious, but also as age-worthy as just about any wine in existence. 18th century trans-Atlantic voyages saw barrels of astringent wine fortified with a bucket or two of local brandy, a process these days replicated with long barrel ageing in specially constructed hot stores called Estufas. This process of repeated heating and cooling, a sure death knell for any other wine, produces wines that run from aperitif to digestif, with broad swathes of intense flavour always tempered by a keen blade of uplifting acidity.
Its own DO as of 2001, Montsant is in the Cataluna region of north eastern Spain. Old vines Grenache and Carinena vines predominate and the wines produced can bear striking similarities to those of neighbouring Priorat.
Whilst you may think almost exclusively of Port when you think of wines from Portugal there's actually there’s plenty more on offer. Rich reds, adventurous whites and a sweet wine here and there can all be found coming out of this wonderful country.
Having seen a total revolution in the past twenty years Priorat now makes some of the worlds finest grenache based wines, making use of a particular slate and quartz soil type known locally as llicorella. And some incredibly old vines. Single vineyard sites have been identified, winemaking techniques have undergone a revolution and Priorat can now justly identify itself as one of the world's most exciting wine making appellations.
Rias Baixas sits in Galicia to the north-west of Spain. Production centers around the hugely popular Albarino grape.
Ribatejo can be found in central Portugal, just inland from the major city of Lisbon. A warm, dry area, it is also Portugal's only landlocked region – although it's climate is influenced considerably by the nearby Tejo river.
One of the leading wine regions in spain, Ribera del Duero specialises in the production of powerful red wines from the local variety of Tempranillo, Tinto Fino. A real challenger to Rioja in terms of quality this is an area that at first sight looks like a hostile place to grow vines. The vines are grown at altitudes of between 700 and 850m and searing day time temperatures are followed by extremely cold nights. The wines that emerge are firm, deeply coloured, ageworthy, and some of Spains most exciting and longlived.
Spains most famous wine growing region is seeing something of a revolution. A band of new producers are shunning the traditional methods of production in a effort to gain greater purity of fruit, less dominant oak influence, and individual terroir characteristics. The results are wines that have the ability to age and improve in bottle, that have finesse, character and real elegance.
One of Spain's prime regions for white wine where the sand and limestone soils and an altitude of at least 650 metres above sea level produce wines of vivacity and character.
The Sierra de Gredos is the mountain range that lies ninety minutes west of Madrid and widely regarded as one of Spain’s most exciting wine regions, albeit one that is still relatively undiscovered. Old bush vine Garnacha is the name of the game here and vineyard altitude ranges from about 500m of elevation, climbing as high as 1200m, ensuring huge day-night temperature swings – perfect for the later ripening Garnacha grape. The wild, untrammelled nature of the mountain range and remote pockets of vines means that it is common to find around 5-10% of other local varieties naturally co-planted in the vineyard, adding extra complexity and freshness. The soils are primarily granite based. White wines, although a significant minority, are based on a local variety called Albillo Real. It is an early-ripening richly textured variety that takes well to barrel ageing thanks to the stony, mineral character that comes in part from elevation and poor soils. Administratively the Sierra de Gredos sits on the border between three separate zones: Madrid, Castilla y Leon and Castilla La Mancha. Most wine is therefore designated Vinos de Madrid or the (unofficial) Garnacha de Gredos.

The upshot of all this is that there is a small cohort of dynamic producers turning out jewel-like Garnacha that has a unique, almost tremoring, ethereal character. When successful they are wines of presence and rocky structures with a bright, crystalline feel. If the Garnacha of Priorat is deep, rich and slatey and Chateauneuf-du-Pape spicy, savoury and glossy, then Gredos Garnacha is something completely different.
Up and coming region in Spain with the potential produce some of Spain's most glorious red wines. To the west of Ribera del Duero, a similar style of wine is created but perhaps with less tannin but
Yecla was granted official DO status in 1975. It is surrounded on all sides by other DO: Jumilla to the west, Alicante to the east and Almansa in the north. The classic Yecla wine is a rich, dark, fruit-driven red made from Monastrell grapes (better known in France as Mourvedre).