Decoding Spanish Wine Labels
While New World wine labels are simplified, many Old World European labels can be tricky to navigate, and at times a bit intimidating. This is especially true for Spanish wines, since multiple terms can mean the same thing, thus causing some confusion when searching for the right one. For example, Tinto Fino just means Tempranillo, in the Ribera del Duero region, and there are various ways to make Sherry, all labeled accordingly.
Aside from Sherry, it wasn't until the 1980's that Spanish wines rose in popularity outside of its own borders. Recently the US became the leader in Albariño consumption, including in Spain or Portugal, where the grape originated and is thought to be an Alsace Riesling clone. American producers have also recreated their own versions in many California regions.
The reason for the recent increase in Spanish wine interest stems from the vineyards adapting New World styles on Old World vineyards. Some labels will even note "Old Vines" to ensure the consumer that the grapes were grown on existing plots, not the new ones that have been planted over the last 30-40 years. What were once considered value table wines have been transformed into a carefully crafted, artisan and boutique product. These wines are so much more well received due to improvements in the wine making process; a result of declarations of production laws to ensure quality, and introduce new regions that were once unheard of.
Because of the new laws and many years of wine making now categorized as a blend of New and Old Wine technique, many terms need some explaining as they aren't always completely translated. Below is a list of common terms, notable regions, and popular varietals for Spanish wine. Any of the wines pictured can be purchased at Cosgrove's Liquors. Please include your questions and comments, and Happy Sipping!
Sparkling Wine: when you see the word Cava, it is a Spanish term for sparkling wine made in the same style as that from Champagne, France.
Sherry: fortified wine made from the Palomino grape, in the region of Andalucía. Basic types-
Fino, light & dry. Amontillado, aged at least 10 years. Manzanilla, made only in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Olorosa, rich and sweet. Cream, a blend of other sherry types.
Vintage or Year: seeing the terms vendimia or cosecha refer to the wine's vintage.
Aging: the following terms refer to how long a wine has been aged, from shortest time to longest; vino joven, sin crianza, crianza, reserva, gran reserva. Other terms less common but also referring to aging are añejo, noble, and viejo.
Notable Regions: Castilla Y Leon (Ribera del Duero & Toro), Rías Baixas, Rioja, Catalunya, Jumilla, Andalucía, Castilla la Mancha.
Common Varietals: Garnacha, Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon, Moristel, Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah, Albariño, Chardonnay, Garnacha Blanca, Malvasía, Moscatel, Palomino, Verdejo, Torrontés, Sauvignon Blanc, Treixadura.