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The grapes of Spain

Bobal is a thick skinned, dark, flavorful grape high in tannin... and contains more heart-health Resveratrol than Pinot Noir.

'Airén' is a grape few know, even though it is recognized to be the world's most planted grape variety in term of planted surface, almost all of it in Spain. (Cabernet and Merlot actually have more vines in the ground, but in less density.)

Airén is a fairly undistinguished white variety used primarily for making brandy or commercial bulk wine and covers about three-quarters of a million acres in central Spain, but with the European Union's regulations to reduce the overabundance of table wine Airén is quickly loosing ground, literally.

The grapes are large with a yellowish color and are late to bud burst and late to ripen. The grape bunch is quite large with juicy grapes. And since the grape is very resistant to drought, still fertile low to the ground, thus enabling very short pruning with still acceptable yields, it is an ideal variety for dessert-like conditions and poor soil.

However, the resulting wines are not known to be of high quality, characterized generally as not very strong with little body. Thus, the grape is frequently used as table grapes-or to make raisins.

The next most prevalent grape in Spain however is much better known around the world to make very interesting wines: Tempranillo. It covers about half the acreage of Airén, but is widely grown around the whole country, especially in the north.

Tempranillo is prized for its long-lived wines with moderate acidity and aromas of spice, chalk and cherries, often accompanied with a hefty dose of oak aging.

The third most planted grape is another one that is fairly unrecognized and has failed to attract attention outside of Spain: Bobal. It is often an anonymous component of red bulk wines, the source of grape juice concentrates, however recently innovative winemakers have discovered its potential to produce powerful wines from fruit of old vines.

Bobal is a thick skinned, dark, flavorful grape high in tannin. It resists phylloxera, requires hot growing seasons, and contains more heart-health Resveratrol than Pinot Noir. It also lends itself well to blending with Grenache and Tempranillo and is even suitable to blend with white grape varieties.

Other well-respected grapes from Spain are Garnache and Monastrell (which in France and most of the rest of world are known as Grenache and Mourvèdre - sometimes called Mataró -, respectively).

Grenache is generally spicy, berry-flavored with a soft palate and high alcohol content, but lacking acid, tannins and color.

Mourvèdre tends to produce tannic wines also high in alcohol, but with softer red fruit flavors and earthy wild game notes. Both are best known as southern Rhône varieties, where they tend to be blended with Syrah or Carignan, however, in Spain they are usually made into wine of their own.

The rest of Spain's dominant grape varietals are white, with the exception of Mencia, the typical grape for the earthy red wines from Bierzo in northwestern Spain. The white grapes that are best known are Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura), grown mostly in Rioja and known for mildly acidic wines that are typically enjoyed as refreshing and dry young wines; Palomino and Pedro Ximénez, which are usually the base for Sherry; Parllada and Xarello in Cava sparkling wines; and Albariño, the only wine from Galicia north of Portugal, noted for its distinct aroma similar to Viognier or even Gewürztraminer, suggesting peach and apricot, yet unusually light with high acidity and mineral levels typical for such cold growing conditions.

Tagged: Wine, Spain