"I must have a drink at eleven, It's a duty that must be done; If I don't have a drink at eleven, then I must have eleven at one." Anonymous
The history of wine grape cultivation in Spain goes back millennia, with records of some varieties known for 300 years. In the collection are native or indigenous grapes like the white Alcanon and international varieties such as Riesling.
In the late 1960s, the taste for white wine in Spain was for wines that had lost their freshness months ago, if not years and become oxidized wines. The cause was due to the wines being left too long in old oak tanks, before bottling.
It was an alien experience, similar to tasting a Chilean wine that had been aged in a local evergreen beech called rauli, or a California wine rested in redwood. In both cases these woods were what was available locally when the more desirable, and more fashionable, French oak was too expensive.
In the latter part of the 20th century, the world wine market began to contract and a new phenomenon, called the "international style," began to emerge. Some saw this as an homogeneous expression of wine (i.e., there was little detectable difference between an inexpensive Chilean Chardonnay, a California Chardonnay and a Chardonnay from the South of France).
There has always been an objection to the "international style" at the higher end of the market, where styles move more slowly. Recently, though, Spanish winemakers have been experimenting with skin contact for whites, like Macabeo, a technique that helps add more body and texture to the wine, while hopefully putting the "international" wines to rest.
Wineries were faced with the decision to continue to satisfy the local market, or change the way they matured their wines. Large wineries had the luxury and funds to keep some of the production in wood tanks for local sale and bottle a part, with no or little wood aging, mostly in small barrels, for export.
Of the hundreds of grapes that are grown in at least one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions, most are red. But interest in Spanish white wine is growing. In the first of a two-part series on Spanish white grapes and associated wines, posted on Nov. 2, the focus was on Palomino, Moscatel, Macabeo and Albarino.
In this part: Xarel-lo, the foundation of Cava wines; Pedro-Ximenez, a classic grape in Spanish sweet wines; Parellada, another important part of Cava; and Verdejo, once a problematic grape that now promises greatness.
Xarel-lo -- One of the gratifying things about following wine for so many years is to see grape varieties get a second chance. Such is the case with Xarel-lo, a common grape in Catalonia that suffered for years from oxidation, but was rescued from certain obscurity by research advances in the vineyard and winery.
It can be aggressive in flavor, even herbaceous and must be grown with care to keep these characteristics under control. It is this strength of character that, along with Macabeo and Parellada, form the blend for Cava sparkling wine.
Parellada -- Grown throughout Spain but mainly in Catalonia where it is valued for its contribution to sparkling wine. Parellada is a cool-climate grape with good aromatics.
Parellada contributes a soft, creamy base to the blend for Cava. It is also occasionally made as a varietal still wine.
|Sun drying PX grapes|
Pedro Ximenez -- PX, as the grape and wine are commonly known, is grown in the southern Spain region of Andalucia and more specifically in the sub-regions of Montilla-Moriles and Jerez.
Growers in both areas sun-dry PX to concentrate the grape sugars into a very sweet sticky liquid that resembles treacle. Sherry and Malaga producers use PX from Montilla-Moriles in blends, as well as varietal wines in Jerez.
In Jerez, Sherry bodegas have cut back on PX plantings due to the grapes tendency to be disease prone. And PX is lower in acid and alcohol than Palomino Fino, the predominant grape of Sherry.
Varietal PX has an opaque dark brown/black color, sweet molasses nose, sticky texture and a very sweet taste with hints of spice and molasses. PX and Malaga are highly valued by lovers of sweet wine as dessert or an after-dinner drink.
Verdejo -- This is one of the most fashionable white grapes in Spain, especially from Rueda, a popular wine region along the Duero river in Castilla y Leon, just west of the famed red wine area of Ribera del Duero.
In 1970, the noted Rioja vintner Marques de Riscal, recognized the potential of Verdejo in Rueda. The appeal was the grapes highly aromatic aromas and clean, crisp acidity.
Verdejo is often blended with Macabeo and more recently Sauvignon Blanc, producing a wine with slightly herbal flavors that transform to nutty with bottle age.
The take away for Spanish white wine grapes is versatility. Most of the eight grape featured in the two essays are considered important to growers and winemakers for their use in blends. However, more white grapes like Albarino and Verdejo are building popular reputations as varietals in their own right and most are still better values as wines with food than Chardonnay.
Next Blog: "My Life in Wine" Episode 8
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