Wines of Spain and Portugal

Spain and Portugal are famous for the two standard fortified wines, Sherry and Port. Lately, Spanish Rioja has been gaining popularity as a high quality red wine.

Spain

Spain is best known for fortified Sherry and red Rioja on the export market. There might be some other stuff as well, but they are harder to find on store shelves.

The Rioja region is the best known region, and produces high quality red wine from Tempranillo and other grapes. Rioja is regarded as Spain's best red wine production. In addition to the regulatory designations, you may also see the terms Vina de Crianza (aged two years, at least one of which is in oak), Reserva (aged at least one year in oak followed by two in bottle), and Gran Reserva (aged at least two years in oak and three in bottle, plus one more year in either oak or bottle).

The Riax Baixas region is best known for Albarino based white wine. Some people suspect that Albarino originates from the Rhine and was brought over a thousand years ago, as the varietal characteristics bear some resemblance to the common German varietals.

The Penedes region is best known for Cavas, a Champagne-like sparkling wine (the well-known Freixenet is Cavas). It also produces table wine from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Garnacha (Grenache), Cabernet Sauvignon, and other standard varietals. Torres, one of Spain's largest producers, is here.

The Spanish regulatory system goes from Vino de Mesa (table wine), to Vino de la Tierra, to Denominacion de Origen (DO; a quality regional wine designation), to the highest Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa). Note that in Catalonia, the DOCa is sometimes Denominacio d'Origen Qualificada (DOQ; Catalan, I think); they are the same thing in wine terms

Sherry

Sherry comes from Jerez and is a fortified wine (fortified with grape brandy) made from Pedro Ximinez, Palomino, and Moscatel grapes. It may or may not be sweet, and the color ranges from light yellow to deep brown. Sherry has a distinctive strange woody oxidized flavor that is unlike any other wine (if your old Chardonnay starts tasting like Sherry, it means it has gone bad).

There are several distinct classes of sherry spanning a broad range in strength and development. An important factor in some sherries is flor, which is the yeast that floats on the surface during fermentation. Sherries are fermented with significant air exposure, unlike every other wine in existence. This accounts (partially) for its unusual flavor.

From lightest color to darkest, we have:

Fino
This is light yellow in color and very dry, with full flor development during fermentation.
Manzanilla
This is Fino aged by the sea in Sanlucar de Barrameda. They say you can taste the salty influence of the sea air...
Amontillado
This is deeper and darker in color, but permits only partial flor development. The concerns raised in Edgar Allen Poe's short story about a Cask of Amontillado are unfounded in real life.
Oloroso
Deep brown in color, oloroso is full bodied and anywhere from dry to somewhat sweet. No flor.
Cream
Cream Sherry is oloroso that is sweetened with sweet wine made from sun-dried grapes (not quite raisins, but close). It is very sweet and is usually served as dessert wine.

Sherry is not made vintage; the process involves rotating each year's wine through blending and aging with the previous decade or so; the result is wine that comes from a dozen years, added successively, and aged together.

Portugal

Portugal produces a variety of red and white wines, which aren't terribly well known because everyone wants Port, the great fortified wine of Portugal.

In Portugal, the wine regulations include Denominacao de Origem Controlada (DOC; the best), Indicacao de Proveniencia Regulamentada (IPR; a lesser designation), and Vinho Regional (large named region designation). Vinho Regional is not necessarily the lowest designation as the appellation borders are kind of funny, and Vinho Regional allows blending from a broader region that makes more sense. Port has its own set of rules.

All About Port

Port (Porto) is a fortified wine that is produced in the Duoro region in northern Portugal. The fermentation process is stopped prematurely by the addition of brandy, resulting in high residual sugar and about 20% alcohol.

Port tastes sweet but intense, and very heady due to the high alcohol level. It is a deep purple color.

There are numerous levels of Port. Most port is a blend of grapes from several years, but you can also find vintage port on the more upscale end of things. The designations you'll commonly see are:

Ruby
This is young port, aged about 3 years.
Tawny
This is a blending of older, mature wood-aged ports
Colheita
This is port from one vintage aged seven years in wood
Vintage
This is port made entirely from grapes in one year, and bottled after two years in wood. Vintage port should be allowed to age in the bottle for a couple decades before consumption. A producer might not make a vintage port for every year; this is done only on good years.

Vintage port can be very expensive, so watch out.

You'll notice that many port producers have decidedly English-sounding names like Sandeman and Cockburn. This is because the Brits love port, and import it in large quantities, and set up companies to manage production and importation hundreds of years ago. They used to import massive quantities of French and Spanish wines, but for a couple decades around the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars this was impossible (due to being at war with those countries), so they turned to Portugal, and have been loving it ever since.

Wine Comments

Spain

White Triana, Viura 2009 (DO Carinena)
5 May 2011 Crisp citrus and tropical fruit with a slate finish. Faint hints of melons and grapefruit.
$4 / bottle
White Senorio de Fuentealamo, Macabeo 2010 (DO Jumilla)
8 July 2011 Crisp sharp citrus with crisp melons, honey, and starfruit. Very bracing and refreshing. Fun. Blend of 85% Macabeo, 15% Airen.
$12 / bottle
White Bodegas Montecillo, "Verdemar" Albarino 2008 (DO Rias Baixas)
14 February 2011 Lively fruit and citrus with a faint hint of honey on the finish. Potent.
$14 / bottle
White Licia, Albarino 2008 (DO Rias Baixas)
August 2010 Plump and fruity grape jelly with a very soft mouthfeel. Not as crisp as most Albarino.
$14 / bottle
White Martin Codax, Albarino 2007 (DO Rias Baixas)
3 October 2009 Bright and fruity with aggressive sour apples and citrus. Very crisp.
$13 / bottle
White Marques de Caceres, Rioja Blanco 2007 (DOCa)
10 May 2008 Very fruity, dry, and crisp, with abundant citrus and pineapples.
$7 / bottle
White Marques de Caceres, Rioja Blanco 2000 (DOCa)
3 April 2002 Light and crisp fruit flavors, no oak, and a slight citrus and yeast flavor. Relatively simple.
$7 / bottle
White Vicente Gandia "Fusta Nova" Moscatel 2004 (DO Valencia)
6 January 2008 Sweet nectar, white raisins, and almonds. Heady and rich.
$13 / 500ml
White Oro Penedes Hill, Muscat-Xarel.lo 2004 (DO Penedes)
16 October 2007 Blend of Parellada/Macabeo/Xarel.lo/Muscat 20/20/25/35. Riesling-like floral fruit, light tropical hints, slightly sweet, very short and watery finish.
$8 / bottle
White Burgans, Albarino 2009 (DO Riax Baixas)
26 July 2011 Sharp citrus fruit with hints of pear and honey. Strong minerality. Odd but faint barnyard and mushroom notes on the finish.
$12 / bottle
White Luna Miel, Albarino 2005 (DO Riax Baixas)
2008 Medium fruit with a smooth buttery texture. Light riesling-like nectar and floral notes.
$14 / bottle
White Lagar de Cervera, Albarino 2000, Riax Baixas (DO)
2 April 2002 Light, smooth, fruity, with grape, pineapple, citrus, and other tropical flavors. Medium finish. Uncomplicated.
$15 / bottle
White Bodegas Santo Cristo, Moscatel Ainzon NV (DO Campo de Borja)
14 December 2007 Dense, sweet peach, melons, honey, and nectar. Thick texture, bright on the tongue, heady.
$14 / bottle
Rose Marques de Caceres, Rioja Rose 2009 (DOC Rioja)
21 July 2010 Bright strawberries and grapes over a light jelly finish.
$9 / bottle
Red Bodegas Osborne, "Tempra Tantrum" Tempranillo / Grenache 2008 (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla)
24 August 2011 Very bright cherry and raspberry fruit with sweet plums and decent tartness. Faint hints of potpourri and hickory on the finish. Headier than expected.
$11 / bottle
Red Triana, Tempranillo 2008 (DO Carinena)
15 July 2011 Juicy fruit and grape stems on the attack, with weird fungal notes. Hollow in body and lackluster finish.
$6 / bottle
Red Torres, "Coronas" Tempranillo 2000 (DO Catalunya)
2003 Thick, jammy texture, with mushroom and leather flavors. Claret style. Tasty.
$10 / bottle
Red Vina Salceda, Rioja Reserva 2001 (DOCa)
10 November 2008 Dark plummy fruit. Powerful but smooth tannins, with toasted vanilla wood in the finish. Rich flavors coat the mouth for a finish that refuses to leave. More powerful and bigger than expected, and gets better as you go.
$20 / bottle
Red Montelciego, Rioja Reserva 2005 (DOCa)
18 September 2011 Rich ruby fruit with toasted vanilla and mild incense and perfume. Velvety smooth mouthfeel with a hint of tea on the finish. Well-balanced.
$25 / bottle
Red Ramon Cardova, Rioja Crianza 2002 (DOCa)
24 February 2009 Dark and bloody fruit with a slight perfumed touch in the finish. Subdued fruit and surprisingly heady.
$13 / bottle
Red GranRojo, Garnacha 2005 (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla)
23 October 2007 Bold plummy fruit, international style, firm stemmy tannins.
$12 / bottle
Red Capitulo 8, Garnacha NV (Castilla La Mancha)
3 July 2011 Tart fruit with hints of strawberry and raisins. Light potpourri on the finish. Engaging and approachable.
$15 / bottle
Red Castillo de Monseran, Garnacha 2009 (DO Carinena)
25 June 2011 Soft and easygoing cherry fruit with hints of plum and raisin. Light and soft tannins.
$9 / bottle
Red Abrazo, Garnacha 2005 (DO Carinena)
5 November 2007 Forward fruit, stemmy tannins, bloody mouthfeel like Sangre de Toro but not as approachable. Rough and harsh.
$7 / bottle
Red Cruz de Piedra, Garnacha 2005 (DO Calatayud)
17 August 2007 Bold and spicy with long tannins and very pure fruit.
$8 / bottle
Red Les Mines, Priorat 2003 (DOQ Priorat)
14 October 2011 Powerful jammy fruit with strong tannins. Layers of licorice and vanilla. Hot, heady, and alcoholic.
$25 / bottle
Red Red Guitar, Old Vine Tempranillo-Garnacha 2007 (DO Navarra)
7 July 2010 Bright and fruity, with tart raisins, potpourri, and robust tannins. Bold and pleasant.
$9 / bottle
Red Tapena, Garnacha 2005 (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla)
25 August 2007 Dry and fruity with light incense and smoke flavors. Tasty.
$8 / bottle
Red Torres, "Sangre de Toro" 2008 (DO Catalunya)
6 April 2011 Juicy cherry fruit with hints of leather and tobacco in the finish. Moderate tannins and very dry finish. Easygoing.
$8 / bottle
Red Torres, "Sangre de Toro" 2004 (DO Catalunya)
11 October 2007 Dark fruit and strong but not overpowering tannins with leather and oak notes. Very dry but very easy drinking.
$7 / bottle
Red Torres, "San Valentin" Garnacha 2005 (DO Catalunya)
8 November 2008 Soft, fruity, and jammy with strong potpourri and raisin flavors. Delicious.
$9 / bottle
Red Marques de Arienzo, Rioja Crianza 1999 (DOCa)
2004 Biting attack, with strong wood ash flavor and very plummy fruit. Warm and heady.
$11 / bottle
Red Bodegas Palacio, "Cosme Palacio y Hermanos" Rioja Crianza, 1997 (DOCa)
3 April 2002 Fruity with dark incense and smoke flavors with spicy wood. Medium body and intensity, with fascinating cherry and blackberry fruit. Soft, with a medium finish.
$10 / bottle
Red Marques del Puerto, Rioja Reserva 1996 (DOCa)
April 2004 Spicy, heavily oaked chocolate wood. Deep musky aroma with incense and some astringency.
$19 / bottle
Red Bodegas Montecillo, Rioja Crianza 2000 (DOCa)
April 2004 Racy cherry, tea, and leather. Rather astringent, with prominent spicy oak. Warming.
$9 / bottle
Red Castillo Perelada, Reserva 2000 (DO Emporada Costa Brava)
4 October 2007 Rich smoke and incense nose with supple dark fruit and smooth mouthfeel, serious but still easy drinking. Excellent and accessible.
$14 / bottle
Red Borsao, "Tres Picos" Garnacha 2003 (DO Campo de Borja)
28 April 2006 Strong and bracingly tannic, dry and bloody.
$13 / bottle
Red Riscal, Tempranillo 2001 (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon)
21 December 2005 Dark and smoky, with tea and mint tones over heavy earth.
$10 / bottle
Fortified Osborne, "Pedro Ximinez 1827" Sheet Sherry NV (DO Jerez Manzanilla)
26 May 2011 Sweet raisins and prunes with a bit of petrol. Hot and heady. Relatively little wood.
$18 / bottle
Fortified Bodegas Toro Albala, "Don PX" Pedro Ximinez 1971 (DO Montilla Moriles)
26 July 2010 Rich dark sun-dried raisins and molasses. Extremely smooth mouthfeel and very mellow with abundant wood. Clean fruit with minimal earthiness and nuts.
$43 / bottle
Fortified Alvear, Solera 1927 Pedro Ximinez (DO Montilla Moriles)
10 May 2008 Pure liquid raisins, heady with a nutty wood feel.
$21 / 735ml
Fortified Gonzalez Byass "Nectar" Pedro Ximinez Sweet Sherry (DO Jerez Manzanilla)
19 July 2007 Dark and syrupy sweet raisins with toasty nuts and faint mushrooms. Powerful and sweet, very rich, long finish.
$?? / bottle
Fortified Wisdom and Warter, Extra Amontillado Sherry
3 April 2002 Strong nutty flavor, and a primary flavor best described as shitake mushroom. Long and lingering. Very strong and intense.
$11 / bottle
Fortified Domecq, Medium Dry Amontillado Sherry
31 May 2004 Off-dry, with a deep toasty wood flavor and roasted almonds.
$13 / bottle
Fortified Lustau, "Capataz Andres" Solera Reserve Cream Sherry
2003 Rich nutty flavor, with strong wood undertones. Thick, syrupy texture, very intense and alcoholic.
$14 / bottle
Sparkling Segura Viudas, Cava Brut Reserva Heredad NV (Penendes, Spain)
31 December 2007 Somewhat coarse texture with explosive citrus and green flavors, especially apples. Tart but with a slight hint of sweetness in the long finish.
$19 / bottle
Sparkling Segura Viudas, Cava Brut Reserva NV (Penedes, Spain)
1 May 2002 Coarse texture, rather light and simple grape and citrus flavors. Somewhat acid and rather simple.
$9 / bottle

Portugal

Red Dom Martinho, Quinto do Carmo, Alentejano 1997 (Vinho Regional)
3 April 2002 Muted fruit, with a slightly spicy and astringent impression. Light wood flavors with berry fruit dominate. Medium to full body, and slight potential for aging.
$10 / bottle
Red Casa da Corca, Douro 2006 (DOC Douro)
16 July 2010 Zesty dark fruit with a bold attack and a surprisingly mellow mouthfeel. Dark cherries and berries with wood backing.
$22 / bottle
Red Messias, Douro Reserva 1999 (DOC Douro)
2003 Old and leathery, with pepper notes and dense earth and tar and a touch of licorice. Chewy and pleasant, but with a surprisingly short finish.
$10 / bottle
Red Jose Maria da Fonseca, Periquita 2006 (Vinho Regional Terras Do Sado, Setubal)
16 May 2010 Zippy and tart with a slightly bloody mouthfeel. Hints of raisin on the finish. No wood. Grapes are mostly Periquita (Castelao) with small amounts of Aragonez (Tempranillo) and Trincandeira (Tinta Amarela).
$8 / bottle
Red JP Azeitao, Setubal Peninsula Vinho Regional Terras do Sado 2004
13 March 2007 Cloyingly soft and mellow, with simple tannin and fruit and a dry mouthfeel.
$7 / bottle
White Casal Garcia, Vinho Verde 2006 (DOC Vinho Verde)
15 March 2009 Light and bland fruit with a hint of sour apples in the finish.
$6 / bottle
White Famega, Vinho Verde "bottled 2008" NV (DOC Vinho Verde)
31 March 2009 Effervescent and refreshing crisp, with yeast, cirtus, and mellon flavors. Tart finish.
$?? / bottle
White Famega, Vinho Verde "bottled 2004" NV (DOC Vinho Verde)
24 January 2005 Very effervescent, high acid, brutally tart but not unpleasant, with Champagne-like yeast and honeysuckle notes.
$5 / bottle
White Arca Nova, Vinho Verde 2002 (DOC Vinho Verde)
2003 Light and effervescent, with bracing acidity and tart crispness. A touch biting and green. Requires food.
$7 / bottle
Fortified Ramos Pinto Porto Tawny NV
December 2009 Bright and clean raisins with moderate wood, with a mellow and slightly musty finish.
$15 / bottle
Fortified Porto Cordovero Fine Ruby NV
12 January 2009 Dark sweet raisins and surprising amounts of wood for a ruby. Exceptionally heady.
$32 / bottle
Fortified Cockburn Fine Tawny Porto NV
1 June 2009 Bright raisin fruit with somewhat muddled wood. Unremarkable.
$12 / bottle
Fortified Cockburn, Special Reserve Porto, NV
3 April 2002 Sweet grape and raisin flavor, exceptionally smooth. Heady and strong, with a raisin and date finish.
$15 / bottle
Fortified Taylor Fladgate, 20 Year Tawny Porto NV
8 January 2007 Dense raisin, date, and nuts over moderate wood. Smooth.
$50 / bottle
Fortified Cruz, Tawny Porto NV
21 March 2010 Bright sweet raisins with a slight hint of nuts and oxidation on the finish. Relatively simple.
$11 / bottle
Fortified Warre's "Heritage" Ruby Porto NV
13 March 2008 Fruity dark raisins, light wood. Dry and spicy. Very heady and alcoholic.
$12 / bottle
Fortified Warre, 20 Year Tawny Porto NV
11 January 2008 Off-dry, rich raisins and dates over intense wood. Heady.
$45 / bottle
Fortified Warre's, "Warrior" Special Reserve Porto, NV
15 March 2004 Raisin and plum, with prune and wood incense notes.
$16 / bottle