In comparison to its European counterparts, many consider Spanish wines to have a very high ratio between quality and price. Indeed, many French winemakers have moved to Spain, convinced that they have discovered the next ‘big’ region. Spain is a very large country with pronounced climatic differences across the nation. The coastal areas foster Mediterranean climates, producing well-balanced reds and whites. The centre of Spain is extreme, with incredibly hot summers, followed by intensely cold winters. The wines from this central region are full-bodied, with an abundance of fruit, spice and tannins.
Spain is the third largest producer of wine in the world, behind France and Italy, but ahead of the United States, and yet Spanish wines are infrequently mentioned.
Economic and political circumstances have not been good for the Spanish wine industry since the Phylloxera epidemic (at the beginning of the century) until the 1970’s when it joined the EU. A devastating civil war, followed by World War II, isolated and destroyed the country. Since the 1970’s, things have improved radically, but the long period of isolation before the 70’s has left its mark on Spanish wines. Having a large internal market of avid wine drinkers, Spain made wine for Spaniards. That meant the use of indigenous grapes and a certain style of winemaking of long aging in old casks, which impart the wine with strange aromas from rancid to mildewy; not exactly the right wines for demanding international palates.
In a decade, Spain became a modern European Nation. Businessmen and owners of large vineyards were quick to modernize and plant new vines including, Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay, transforming the old “Lagars,” where grapes were trodden by foot, into ultra-modern stainless steel installations and filling their cellars with thousands of new barriques from France. The results were quite impressive.
Like any country around the Mediterranean, ‘viticulture’ in Spain goes back to ancient times. The Phoenicians probably brought the first grapes with them, while other species are known to have come from Africa. Due to the formidable natural barrier formed by the Pyrenees mountains, very little influence from the north has been felt over the centuries and the traditional Spanish grape varieties have remained on the Iberian peninsula; Albariño, Torrontes, Verdejo, Viura and Xarello for the whites and Garnacha, Mazuelo, Monastrell and Tempranillo for the reds.
Two major improvements completely transformed Spanish wines and have raised them to world class levels.
- 1. Integration of stainless steel installations with temperature control during fermentation. Control of temperature during fermentation is absolutely essential. In Spain at harvest time, temperatures can still be in the high eighties. Cooling systems in stainless steel tanks now permit maintenance of an ideal low temperature for long fermentation, which leads to greater fruit extraction.
- 2. Rapid adoption of new oak barriques for aging wines: Out went the musty old barrels, some of which had been around for 20 years. They were replaced by new Bordeaux barriques (225 liters) made of French oak at first, but, more recently, made of American oak as it gives better results with the sundrenched Spanish wines. Of course, these barriques have to be replaced every two or three years and the price of wine has gone up accordingly.
Vino Joven (Young Wine) or Sin Crianza means that the wine has not been in an oak barrel. They are usually young wines which have huge amounts of up-front fruit and which can taste very good.
Vino Crianza, which translates as “upbringing” (of the wine), indicates that the wine has been “raised” in oak barrels for at least 6 months (or a year in the Rioja region).
Reserva wines must have 3 years aging at the winery, of which at least one year must be spent in oak barrels.
Gran Reserva is made only in good vintages. Reds must be aged for at least 5 years, two of which must be spent in oak barrels and of course, beyond this aging, there are all the years in the bottle between the winery in Spain and the final destination of the bottle in a cellar.
Jumilla is located in the south-eastern corner of Spain in the province of Murcia. The wine region covers an area of 50,808 hectares. The influences of the dry Levante winds and breezes off the Mediterranean help produce a semi-arid climate in this region. Jumilla has been known for its production of heavy full bodied red wines with 17% alcohol, however in recent years there has been a shift towards producing younger and lighter styles of wines. The grape varieties permitted by the regulatory body of Jumilla for the production of red, white and rose wines are Monastrell, Garnacha and Tintorera Cencibel for the red and rose wines and Merseguera, Airen, Pedro Ximenez for the white wines. There are 50 wineries registered in Jumilla. The average yield is down as a result of the replanting that is taking place. In the last few years the average yield has been 150,661 hectolitres.
If you would like to visit a local bodega, then read all about Bodega Silvano Garcia who are based in Jumilla.