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Wine enthusiasts think of Spanish wines as sherry from Andalusia; sparkling from San Sadurni di Noya; red wines from Catalonia, Rioja, and maybe Ribera del Duero. Actually, Spain has the most surface covered with vines of any country in the world.

To date, authorities recognize over 40 regions as appellations and the number is growing constantly.

South and central Spain’s dry, sunny, hot climate is conducive to viticulture and permit almost organic cultivation, as spraying can be kept and is kept to an absolute minimum. Spraying several times through the growing season in northern French, German and Italian vineyards is an absolute must which adds to cost and also helps change the taste of wines.

Among the less known regions of Spain there are four that deserve the attention of wine consumers. They represent excellent value.

Somontano (at the foot of mountains) sits west of the Pyrenees Mountains that divide Spain and France to the east.

Here 2000 hectares of volcanic rock, chalky and sandy soils have been included in the Denominacion d’Origen (D.O). The summers are warm but not hot, and winters mild, making the region ideal for viticulture.

Roman legionnaires were the first to plant vines here, but vitiviniculture started to thrive only after 1985 when authorities granted D O status. Besides Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo, and Viura, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer have been planted with very encouraging results.

Bodegas Pirineos, Enate and Vinas del Vero are only three of the many wineries that export to North America. Bodegas Pirineos and Vinas del Vero produce excellent Cabernet Sauvignons that are widely available in both the USA and Canada.

Priorato is a small region with a spectacular landscape. It’s rocky, harsh, mountainous vineyards have been producing wine quietly for centuries, attracting very little attention. In the past decade mainly due to the personal efforts of  Alvaro Palacios Priorato’s red wines have gained cult status. The wines are dark, aromatic, full bodied, brilliant, offer ripe tannins, high alcohol and correspondingly high extract to compensate for it. They last a long time and can be cellared for a long time. Once you taste a well-made Priorato wine you will want to enjoy it all the time.

Garnacha, Carinena (Carignane), Merlot, and Syrah are the preferred grapes for the rocky and agriculturally poor soils. Drainage is excellent, particularly on sloped and terraced vineyards. Yields are naturally low, and kept low on old vineyards, some of which go back over a century.

The following wineries enjoy an excellent reputation worldwide: Cim de Porrera, Alvaro Palacios, Clos Mogador, Morlando and Clos Martinet. Miguel Torres of Bodegas Torres in neighbouring Catalonia bought land here and soon be marketing his wines.

Navarra used to be a powerful kingdom between France and Catalonia. It used to be described as a region north and east of Rioja but in fact it has a well defined terroir. The climate is influenced by both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Seas. There are 15,000 hectares in five sub-regions: Valdizerbe, Baja Montana, Ribera Baja, Ribera Alta and Terra Estella.

Here Garnacha, Tempranillo, Graciano, Viura, Macabeo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc thrive, and are often blended for fine balanced wines. Navarra’s Garnacha-based rose wines are particularly noteworthy, but must be consumed within a year of harvest to enjoy their subtle fruitiness and lively acidity.

Navarra’s wineries of note are: Bodegas Julian Chivite, Bodegas Guelbenzu, Bodegas Irache, Vinicola Navarra, Nekeas and Bodegas Ochaoa.

Toro – located just west of Ribera del Duero used to be more famous than Rioja for its powerful red wines which were exported to many countries in the 19th century. Then vineyards were uprooted and converted to wheat fields for political reasons. It is only in the last 15 years that Toro vineyards have been revitalized, in many cases wheat field were planted anew, and millions were invested to restart a potentially lucrative wine industry.

Tempranillo, arguably the most important and flavourful red grape of Spain, thrives and yields superlative wines. Some Cabernet Sauvignon is also planted for blending. But what is most important for the wine consumer is that Toro’s wines are still reasonably priced.

Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu

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