Spanish Wine and Grape Varieties

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007 at 12:00 am

spanish wineMajority of Spanish wines are produced from native grapes. Since there are hundreds of recognized grape varieties in Spain, this list includes the best-known ones and are used in the main wine-making regions. Most wines are produced by mixing several varieties to achieve the required characteristics of color, alcohol content, balance, aging process, among others.

Red Grape Varieties:

Cariñena– It is a Spanish name for Carignan, an extremely productive red grape variety that buds late and therefore suffers frost damage. It also ripens quite late, so it can only be grown in warm to hot climates. It produces relatively tannic, slightly-acidic wines with good color that are mostly used in blend with other grape varieties.

Garnacha– A strong variety of red grape that well supports extreme heat. It has a thin skin with little pigment in it, making it very suitable for rosé. It ripens slowly and thus may develop a high level of sugar. The red wines created from Garnacha can have a lack of color and characterized by a very fruity, almost sweet taste.

Graciano – A red wine grape variety grown primarily in Rioja. The vine produces a low yield of delicately-scented grape that are normally harvested late in October. The wine that this grape produces is characterized by its deep red color, strong aroma, and ability to age well. It also contains low alcohol.

Monastrell– Also a strong variety of red wine with a very thick skin that produces wines that has lots of tannins. These are planted in Spain, as well as in Australia and California. Wines made from these can taste and smell blackberries, spices, pepper, and also leather as well as more earthy tones.

Tempranillo – This red grape variety is native to northern Spain and is widely cultivated in both northern and central parts of the country. It grows best in cooler regions, as it does not tolerate hot or dry weather well. It is usually blended with other grape varieties because of its low acid level and sugar content. Its wines can be consumed when young, but are considered at their best when aged, especially when aged in oak. Tempranillo is also called Ull de Llebre (literally “Eye of the Hare”).

White Grape Varieties:

Garnacha Blanca – Originated in northeastern Spain, more than half of the world’s production of this white grape variety is grown in its native country. Often compared to Marsanne or Viognier, Garnacha Blance produces a rich, textured wine with floral notes and flavors of peach, apricot, and green apple. It has a high extract, high natural alcohol, and a velvety texture that makes its wines very intriguing and complex.

Malvasia – One of the oldest grape varieties for white wine. Today it is not much used, although its wines are quite heavy and have a clear tone of nuts with the right acidity. These grapes are used to produce white—and more rarely, red—table wines, dessert wines, and fortified wines of the same name, or are sometimes used as part of a blend of grapes.

Pansé – A white grape variety that creates coarse wines with high alcohol content.

Parellada – This white grape variety is used with Viura and Xarel-lo in Spain’s Catalunya in creating Spanish sparkling wines or Cavas. With the right conditions, Parellada produces a fine, aromatic, and refreshing wine. Low-yielding in poor—somewhat cold—climates, it then produces crispy, perfectly balanced wines with sufficient acidity to last.

Pedro Ximénez – This white grape variety is predominantly grown in the Andalusian regions such as Montilla, Málaga, and Jerez, as well as Valencia and Extremadura. It normally produces wines that are sweet, when sun-dried it creates fortified wine, and it produces light crispy wines when vinified early enough. Famous for its high-quality sweet wines with a fruity flavor and a distinctive aroma of figs and nuts.

Viura– It is also called Macaebo and is the most widely-planted white grape variety in Rioja. It is a fairly straightforward grape to cultivate, although it is susceptible to disease. It yields generously. In Rioja it tends to be blended with Malvasia to produce classed White Riojas, while it can also be blended with Tempranillo to produce high-quality Red Riojas. Viura is a variety that only skilled winemakers can produce. In the wrong hands, it can create rather neutral-tasting wines.

Xarel-lo– A type of white grape used in Northeastern Spain, this is especially used for sparkling cava wines. If used for still wines, they often are high in acids.