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  • Writer's pictureKate Simpson

Red Wines of Spain

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

Tonight's tasting was a little different: instead of tasting the same vintage across a specific region or type of wine, tonight we compared seven different regions of red wine from within Spain. We got to explore the grapes of the different regions plus the styles of wine that are produced in each.

Our speaker this evening was Jason Axmith: winemaker, wine enthusiast, and founder and principal of Cosecha Imports, a boutique Ontario wine agency that represents artisan wines from Italy, Portugal, and an extensive lineup from Spain.

Spain has a rich and diverse wine-making history, dating back to the Phoenicians who introduced grape vines to the country more than 3,000 years ago. Today, Spain is the world's third-largest wine producer and home to a vast array of indigenous grape varieties and wine styles.

Our first region is Rioja, perhaps the most famous wine region of Spain, and is located in the north-central part of the countryandis known for producing some of Spain's finest red wines. Made primarily from the Tempranillo grape, the wines from Rioja are known for their bold, full-bodied character and having notes of dark fruit and spice. There were two wines from Rioja - were you able to tell the two from the rest of the pack?

Slightly south-west of Rioja is another famous region, Ribera del Duero, which is known for producing rich,full-bodied red wines, also made from the Tempranillo grape (often called Tinto Fino locally). Our tasting featured one wine made from 120-year-old vines from this region. At that time it was common to plant red and white grapes on the same vineyard (the white grapes adding a refreshing acidity to the wine).

In the northwest corner of Spain, just north of Portugal, is the region of Bierzo, located in the Province of Castilla y León. Bierzo is home to the Mencia grape and the master of making wine from Mencia is Raul Perez, a person many consider to be one of the greatest winemakers anywhere. Our tasting included a wine from an estate the Perez family has owned since 1752.

Moving east, near Barcelona, is the Priorat wine region in Catalonia. Priorat wine is typically made from old-vine Garnacha and from Carignan. Our selection for this region is an old vines blend that is mainly made from Carignan (66%) with Garnacha (Grenache), Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon playing a supporting role. This was the wine I was most looking forward to tasting tonight, as Carignan is one of my favourite grapes!

Turning south, along the Mediterranean coast is Valencia, the birthplace of the wonderful saffron rice dish, Paella. The heavier wines from the north may not work well with the local cuisine but a Valencia red wine made from the local grape Bobal will provide something fresh with elegance and good acidity.

Not much farther south of Valencia is a little-known Denominación de Origen (DO) called Jumilla. Here Monastrell dominates and Garnacha is becoming increasingly important as the terroir shares similarity to that found in the southern Rhone. José María Vicente, the winemaker of the wine in our tasting (75% old vines Monastrell and 25% Garnacha) is famous in Spain, known as “Patrón” in the industry and is an icon to many younger Spanish winemakers.

Our final destination this evening was a place one might consider more African than Spanish, but culturally and stylistically, the Canary Islands are very Spanish. The wines from the island of Tenerife are the most unconventional in this tasting. The varietals have obscure names and are ungrafted, centenarian vines as these islands were sheltered from the impact of phylloxera. The wine representing this region has depth, intrigue, and energy that characterize the style of wines produced on the island.

Here are the scores from the night. Quite a variation between Guest and Group this month!

And here is the original notice (with tasting notes) for this event:

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