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Like France, Spanish wines are named for the region they come from, leaving the consumer to wonder what's in the bottle. Some producers are beginnig to add the grape varietal to the bottle, especially if it's one that the customer may recognize (like Cabernet). Though they're beginning to use more internationally known grapes in some of their blends, they have fairly strict laws that limit that sort of thing, which is why some producers will make their wines outside the DO system. Following are the main regions you'll find wines from in the US.
  • 92542l.jpgRIOJA: Probably the most famous and important region. The main RED grape is Tempranillo with Grenache occassionally blended in. Due to the extended oak-aging, these are long-lived wines that pack a flavor punch, especially in the Gran Reservas. The region also makes lovely crisp whites (from local grapes) and fruity dry rosés (from Temp and Grenache).

  • RIBERA DEL DUERO: A declared region for about 25 years located in the northern central section of Spain. Tempranillo is also the main grape varietal here, though due to climate, they are usually darker in color and more tannic with dark fruit flavors than those from Rioja. Most of the versions exported cost between $15 and $25 and are rich, complex wines that go great with food.

  • 86656l.jpgJUMILLA: A region found in the Southeastern part of the country, it's currently bouncing back from obscurity by producing lush, spicy, fruit-filled wines from the Monastrall/Mourvedre grape. These wines deliver an enjoyable experience for the price ($10-$20) and are a great option for everyday consumption.

  • Cristalino_Brut_Cava.jpgPENEDES: This region along the Northeastern coast of Spain is responsible for the country's sparkling wine called CAVA. Made mostly from local grape varieties, cavas are an inexpensive way to indulge in bubbly. They are usually made using the traditional Champagne method, though they aren't nearly as complex drinking experiences. They are made to be drunk upon release and cost anywhere from $10-$20. The region also makes RED wines from Grenache and Mourvedre.

  • 90193l.jpgPRIORAT: The country's up-and-coming region that burst onto the wine scene in the last decade by updating their winemaking methods and adding international varietals (Cab, Syrah, Pinot Noir) to the blend. Traditionally the wines from this region were alcoholic, intense and fruity made mostly from Garnacha/Grenache and Carignane. By blending Grenache with the newer varietals, the modern versions are more classically structured still with powerful flavors, but more finesse and good aging potential. There are some cheaper versions, but the base price is usually in the $30 range.

  • martinalbarino.jpgRIAS BAIXAS: This region has only gained popularity and international attention in the last 5 years or so for it's aromatic, yet crisp white wine made from a local grape called Albariño. It remains to be seen if these wines flourish or flounder under the pressure of the wine world's gaze. Many have jumped on the bandwagon, so hopefully that won't affect the quality. Albariño can make a lovely wine, sort of a cross between Viognier and Pinot Grigio, and currently the price is just right ($10-$20). One for white wine lovers to definitely check out.
There are several LABELLING TERMS you should be aware of. Spanish law sets mimimum periods of aging, with slight variences from region to region, but still denotes length of time. CRIANZA is the youngest (2 years), followed by RESERVA (3 years) and then GRAN RESERVA, which are made only in execeptional vintages and aged at least 5 years. If a bottle has the term JOVEN on the label, it was made for immediate release and has not had extended aging. Since Spanish producers age the wine for you, it's usually ready to drink upon release. Their latest releases are usually at least 2 years behind the current vintages of other countries. Spain is making some of the best wines to be had for under $20 a bottle, so check them out before the prices catch up to their reputation.

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