Grapes of Spain
Cariñena (Car-in-yena): Generally produces robust, well-balanced wines, adding color and body. Known as Mazuelo in Rioja and Carignan in France. Originally from Aragon in Spain, this varietal is one of the most widely planted varietals in the world. In Spain, however, it is not extensively planted because of its easy tendency to powdery-mildew (a fungus that spreads rapidly). For this reason, the world knows it by Carignan and not by its Spanish name. Mazuelo buds late in the Spring, making it susceptible to frost. It produces high yields, is thick-skinned, rich in color and high in tannins and acidity. As mentioned above, the varietal is very prone to mildew and so wider plantings are not being made.
Garnacha (Gar-nah-cha): One of Spain's most widely planted grapes, producing wines that are big and bold and spicy, it is also known as Garnacha Tinto, (Grenache in France and America). This varietal, Spanish in origin, is very comfortable in arid conditions; therefore, making it a very successful grape throughout the many areas of Spain. Influenced by the Mediterranean. (It is grown in the Penedés region, where surrounding mountains keep the humid climate locked in.) More commonly used for blending, Garnacha has a relatively long-growing season, but buds break later in the Spring than Tempranillo. Its must is low in malic acid, which can cause easy oxidation. However, the wines it produces are high in alcohol , 15- to 16 percent is not unusual. The wines from Garnacha tend to have a more fruity, sweet flavor, which makes them perfect for Rosés. Red wines produced solely from this grape can be big and clumsy and are not usually produced; although there is a very small handful of bodegas that have vinified 100% Garnacha wines very successfully
Graciano (Grah-thee-ah-no): Blending grape used in some red Ríojas to add finesse notes of aroma and flavor to Tempranillo.
Mencía (Men-thee-ah): A grape that, according to recent studies, is very similar to Cabernet Franc, with which it may share a common ancestor. Mencía, grown primarily in Northwest Spain, the finest from Bierzo, produces wine with fresh, crisp fruit and elegant tannin.
Monastrell (Mone-ah-strell): A high-yielding, easy ripening grape that produces wines of vibrant fruit and delicious ripeness, while maintaining crisp acidity. Known as Mourvedre in France, the quality of monastrell wines has risen greatly over the past number of years. It sees its best success in the south-east regions of Jumilla, Yecla, and Bullas. Use of new and better virus-free clones as well as serious investigation into how to handle it (i.e. when to pick, how long to macerate, fermentation temperatures and when to bottle) have resulted in admirable increases in quality.
Prieto Picudo (Pree-ay-to Pee-coo-tho): A very interesting varietal found only in León, Spain. It has deep color and as it doesn't go solidly tannic in new oak as tempranillo is prone to doing. It has round full fruit flavors, but wouldn't be considered overtly fruity. and generally makes full flavored wines of good balance and acidity. Bodegas Villacezán is leading the charge in quality wines based on this exciting varietal.
Tempranillo(Temp-prah-neeh-you): Spain's principal native red grape. The big boy. With more identities than Walter Middy, tempranillo goes by the name of Ull de Llebre in Catalunya, Cencibel in southern Spain, and Tinto Fino, Tinto del País, and Tinta de Toro in Castile-Leon. The varietal is believed to have been brought to Spain by pilgrims during the Crusades and to be a variant of Pinot Noir. (Genetically, it has been determined that there is no relationship between Pinot Noir and Tempranillo). The name derives from the Spanish word temprana, meaning early because the grape usually is harvested during late September. It has generally been planted throughout Spain and in the Rioja region, but thrives particularly well in the Rioja Alavesa. Temparnillo prefers a soil that is rich in calcium and limestone. This varietal is thick-skinned and produces wines of deep-color, but not necessarily high in alcohol. Naturally, Tempranillo tends to be lower in acidity and more "malic," which means that wines made solely from this varietal will hold back their color but not loose fruit over time. Generally, Tempranillo is blended with small amounts of Garnacha, Mazuelo and/or Graciano to compensate for lack of acidity and longevity.
Other Red Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the backbone of Bordeaux wines, are widely planted in Spain with varying degrees of success. They seem best when blended with indigionuos varietals. Syrah plantings have sky-rocketed and early results are very promising.
Airén: Though formerly looked down at as an inferior varietal producing tasteless wines, Airén, when cared for can deliver some tasty, clean, fruity young whites. While it will never achieve the status of the major whites of the world, dollar for dollar, sound Airén wines provide a substantial amount of drinking pleasure. Lower crop yields (for the area) and the grapes' thick skins along with cold soaking and temperature controlled fermentation help retain the lovely aromas and fresh flavors, and make wines of this varietal easy to drink.
Albariño(Ahl-ba-rinyo): An extremely aromatic grape grown in the Rías Baixas DO of Galicia, which makes flavorful wines that are rich and dry, full of apricots, white peach and citrus, and are a perfect accompaniment for seafood. The origin of the grape is widely disputed, but as the Germans are keen to assert, the varietal might have been taken to Galicia by Cisterians from vine-growing regions on the Mosel and Rhine. Documents suggest monks planted the first grapes of this variety at a monestary in Val do Salnés in 1185. The relationship to Riesling would make sense as the name albariño means "Rhine white." This, coupled with the flavor profile (think Riesling, viognier with a splash of sauvignon blanc), seems to support the German connection. Whatever the origin, the varietal makes some outstanding, fresh, fruity, almost ethereal whites.
Godello (Go-day-o): A high-quality, aromatic grape which is a native of Galicia and makes wines that are rich (though not sweet) with good acidity.
Macabeo (Mah-kah-bay-oh): Also known as Viura , Macabeo Alcanol (Maccabeu in France). Two theories exist as to the origin of this varietal, one is that it is from the Middle East, the other is from Aragon in Spain. Whatever the origins, generally the wines made from this grape today are lighter in style, drier, relatively higher in acid, not easly oxidized, and are aromatic. The principal grape in Spanish cava it is also grown in many other regions of Spain.
Parellada(Par-eh-yah-dah): Important grape for Cava and still wines providing the soft, creamy base and body. Also known as Montonec and native to Catalunya, it grows best in the cooler areas of Penedés. It has a fruity quality and high acidity, which makes it pleasant and, therefore an integral part of Cava.
Treixadura: A blending grape for Albariño for body and added aroma.
Verdejo (Behr-they-ho): The principal varietal of Rueda and other DOs in León which can make wines of crisp, mouthwatering fruit, good aromatics and a bone dry finish. Reaching it's fullest potential in the Castile-León region, Verdejo seems poised to become Spain's second great white (following on the heals of Galicia's Albariño.) When grown in the right locations, under the proper conditions, verdejo possesses ample fruit, acidity, and glycerin to provide some exciting drinking. Presoaking prior to fermentation, as is practiced with Elverite, also adds to wine's complexity. Though Elverite sees no oak (and we prefer it that way), verdejo's structure and complexity can handle judicious use of wood and also exhibits some potential for short-term aging, picking up nutty and honeyed notes after a few years in bottle.
Xarel-lo(Chah-rayl-lo): A major grape for Cava which provides weight, power, and alcohol. Also known as Pansa Blancaan used exclusively in Catalunya.. It is planted in the lower levels of soils and produces an acidic wine perfect for sparkling wines. This grape is also the preeminant grape used in the small but highly regarded D.O. of Alella.
Viura: See Macabeo.
Other White Varietals: Chardonnay, the darling white of Burgundy, is planted in Catalunya and sees some success. Sauvignon Blanc is an integral varietal in Rueda, where it is blended with verdejo and viura.