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Bordeaux and Rioja Wines

Spain is set to take over from France as the world’s largest wine producer by 2015 according to a recent study. Under the current trend France will fall behind Spain in 2015 as wine production drops to 1.16 billion gallons from the 2000 – 2004 annual average of 1.39 billion, according to a study by Credoc, a research group, for the Vignerons Independants winemakers association. The Spaniards are best known for producing Sherry , Cava and Rioja. Rioja is Spain’s best known quality red wine and you will be surprised to learn that it owes a lot to Bordeaux.

The Bordeaux connection goes right back to 1852 when the idea of using top-quality Bordeaux casks for fermentation and maturation gave birth to the “modern” style of red Rioja. When the disease powdery mildew hit Bordeaux followed by the phylloxera epidemic in the 19th century many French winemakers fled south with as many clean vines as they could, over the Pyrenees to Rioja. They established the first substantial Bodegas (châteaux) in Spain’s Penedés and La Rioja wine regions. Their presence influenced Spanish wine making for the next 150 years. A number of Bordeaux négociants also set up shop in the Rioja, bringing with them French techniques. With the end of the phylloxera devastation, the Bordelais went home, but their standards and techniques remained to set the stage for the modern Spanish wine trade.

Spain’s wine making history dates back to the Phoenicians (an ancient seafaring people whose original home is present day Lebanon) who were transporting sweet wines in clay amphorae as far back as 1100 BC, into modern day Sherry Country around Cádiz and Jerez. The Romans brought new viticultural methods, and vines and with the fall of the Roman Empire, the North African Moors arrived on the scene, introducing the method of distillation (originally only used for medicine, but later on for spirits, such as brandy).

In the 16th century, Sir Francis Drake sacked the town of Cádiz, making off with about 3,000 barrels of Sherry and creating a huge market for the distinctive wine back in the UK. Many of the traditional sherry wineries were in fact founded by British and Irish immigrants: Osborne, Harvey, Croft, Garvey, De Terry and Williams & Humbert, among others.

However Spanish wines did not win popularity until fairly recently. Historically, Spain was a country of prohibitions and Civil War and their wines were often rustic, coarse and alcoholic – however that has changed rapidly and Spain is now in the throes of a renaissance. The Spanish have adopted the French concept of terroir – known as terreno in Spain and French oenolgists such as Stephane Derenoncourt are lending their expertise to modern Spanish wine makers.

Unlike Bordeaux, where the dominant variety is Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja’s red wines are made predominantly from Tempranillo (an early ripener) with Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan) in the blend. Rioja wines are named for the region. The name itself is a made up of the words Rio (meaning, “river”) and Oja, the name of a tributary that feeds into the Ebro. The wine growing area is a hot, dry section of north-central Spain just west of Navarra, running from just below Bilbao toward the south along the Ebro River. The Pyrenees Mountains shield the vineyards from lashing wind and rains blowing in over the Bay of Biscay. The region is separated into three parts: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. Climate and soils differ in each of these sub regions, and often juice from more than one sub region is blended together to create a certain style.

Rioja wines are sometimes compared to the wines of Bordeaux due to their ageing potential but in contrast to Bordeaux, Rioja uses American oak barrels. The higher vanilla tones and lower acids of the Tempranillo grapes produce a softer, more diffuse fruit structure – vaguely a strawberry or raspberry flavour – closer to California Pinot Noir than Cabernet Sauvignon and Rioja is often mistaken for an old Burgundy.

If you are keen on Spanish wines why not try the Brissonet Tinto and Blanco (£3.15) – both are easy drinking. The Brissonet Blanco has a very pronounced nose with good ripe fruit. It is a brilliant yellow with a green bloom has a bouquet of exotic fruit (melon and pineapple) and is a super summer aperitif.

The Brissonet Tinto is a very powerful fruity wine on the front palate which is good to sit back and relax with. It is fresh and aromatic wine, concentrated with no acidity, is cherry red in colour with a violet bloom. This wine is a real must with spicy tangy based dishes such as Thai. Indian, Chinese and Barbeques. It is low in alcohol (11.5%), full in fruit and as such enhances the flavours of these dishes without fitting with it. Thereby letting the spices shine through without masking it via alcohol or mineral content. Try it and you will understand what I mean – anything must be better than bloating yourself with lager when you are enjoying your favourite take-away!

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

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One Response to Bordeaux and Rioja Wines

  1. Wilf G.K says:

    Nick, what an excellent summation on Spanish wines. I took the Wine Academy of Spain’s three day course when they made their North American tour last year and Vancouver was one of their venues.They should read this and make it mandatory reading for all students taking their course. Well done as ever, Nick.