Tips for buying wine in Spain
Recently I needed to buy 15 different bottles of Spanish wine – three for guests coming to our house, and twelve to take to France. Taking coals to Newcastle? Well, it sounds like it, I admit - but actually, it’s more of a question of economics!
Mind you, considering the recent, confirmed, news that criminal proceedings have started against a number of people/companies in France who have been allegedly labelling Spanish produced wine as being made in France, I did wonder if I might have been stopped at the border, believed to be part of the gang! I wasn’t, and I’m not!
However, I digress. I was conscious, whilst buying said 15 bottles, that I was taking a considerable time doing so. There’s a lot to consider when buying wine and it’s time consuming – and that’s for me, a guy who reckons he knows a little about the subject! It occurred to me that others, also looking for Spanish wine, might have at least similar problems, and probably far worse, if popping in the dark, so to speak (i.e. buying without much/any knowledge of the subject).
So I thought that some basic rules of thumb might be appreciated.
I needed sparkling wines. I’ve very recently written about the importance of the date of disgorgement on the back labels on sparkling wines, so I won’t go into it again, save for reminding readers that this is a consideration when buying fizz. Essentially, this date advises the consumer, roughly, how long the wine has at its best. I believe this date should be on all traditional method sparklers, but, purely for commercial reasons, and not for the benefit of consumers at all, it is often left out! (Please visit https://www.colinharknessonwine.com/articles/ and scroll a little way down).
This ‘best by’ concept is also important when buying particularly Spanish rosado wines, as well as whites, though the latter to a lesser extent. Spain is a hot country, I was in France very recently, noticing that the grapes on the immaculate vines there were not as developed as they were here – there’s less sunshine!
Generally speaking, the Spanish harvest occurs before that in France. If Spanish grapes were left on the vines until the French start picking, the wines would lose that essential acidity, fundamental in white wine. Therefore, it’s not a quantum leap to realise that Spanish grapes are generally less acidic, even when harvested earlier, particularly those grown in the south of Spain.
Acidity is an essential requirement for wines to be able to age. Less acidity, equals less time before the wine goes past its best. Spanish rosado wines have the least time. Therefore, it’s recommended, and not just by me, that most should be consumed by the Christmas of the year following the harvest. The same applies to many Spanish whites, except that their ‘best by’ dates are extended to, perhaps 18, or 20 months, though some varieties can last longer than others.
Typically, every ‘rule’ has an exception. The above applies as stated, except when the rosado or white wine has had some form of oak influence. A wine of either colour which has been fermented in oak will last a little longer. One that has been aged in oak for longer than just the time it takes to ferment, will last longer, etc.
We have to be careful with red wines too. Wines which have the word ‘Cosecha’ on the back label, are usually young wines, what are intended to be consumed in their youth, perhaps up to three years old, though often younger still. So, if you see a red ‘cosecha’ wine that is more than three years old, it’s probably best to avoid it.
Roble wines are wines which have had some aging, so as above with whites, these will age quite well. Crianza wines must have had at least 6 months in oak, plus a further 12 months on bottle before their release. Some areas of production insist on longer in oak for their Crianzas, but never less than the minimum 6 months. Reserva the same, but more so. Gran Reservas need a minimum of 5 years in total, two in oak and three in bottle, though many exceed this.
These terms are starting to fade out these days, with producers preferring to mention the time in oak on the label instead of having to have their hands tied, and leaving it to consumers to decide how much they want oak to have influenced the wine.
In all cases, buy wines that have been shelved horizontally, out of direct sunshine and are preferably kept in cool(ish) conditions. If all on show are vertical, ask for one from the storeroom that has been kept horizontal.
For more detailed help when choosing your Spanish wines please read my article here, and by all means share! http://avinawinetools.com/reading-spanishwine-label/ email@example.com www.colinharknessonwine.com
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