Feb 012011
WINE BARRELS IN LA RIOJA - (Courtesy Wikipedia Tunguska)

WINE BARRELS IN LA RIOJA - (Courtesy Wikipedia Tunguska)

Three or four decades ago Spanish wine producers could not care less whether their region was classified as DO or not (DO: Denominación de Origen, equivalent to the French Apellation d’Origine Contrôlée).

A few metres can make the difference to whether a Spanish wine is classified as, for example, a Rioja, or a vino de mesa (non-DO), even though, in the latter case, it may have all the qualities required.  Obviously the boundaries of the Spanish DO regions have to be set somewhere, and there are always going to be unlucky wineries just outside.  But are they necessarily so unlucky?

When Spanish wines started to become accepted by the non-Spanish drinker, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in a rush to make the most of this new phenomenon, awarded the DO classification to as many regions as possible.  In the first round there were just three regions but today there are over 50 -although having awarded it to every area in the country making wine, its initial purpose of controlling price and quality has been somewhat compromised.

So, what happens if you make wine outside a DO area?

Actually a couple of things: firstly no-one tells you what grape varieties to use and how much wine you can sell and, secondly, you can set your own price.

Recently I bought an excellent red Rioja from Martínez Bujanda (of Conde de Valdemar fame), which sells at less than 12 euros because nowhere on the bottle is there a mention of Rioja.  It is simply a vino de mesa and only your friendly neighbourhood wine merchant will tip you off.  If it had said Rioja on the label then it would have cost 15 euros.

The excellent Abadia Retuerta winery in Sardón de Deuero, owned by a Swiss multinational, is not included in any DO category and yet it produces wines as good or better than many from inside the official Duero region.  Mauro, in the same area, is also in this category.  The Marqués de Griñon’s Dominio de Valdepusa wines from Toledo are justly famous. Ronda wines were in a similar situation until their inclusion in the Sierras de Malaga DO , and the unfortunate result has been an increase in price, unjustified in my opinion.

So, it may not be such a bad thing if your vineyard is not within the magic triangle.

An outstanding example that was brought to my attention recently is the wine made in the small Alta Pavina bodega in La Parrilla (Valladolid).  Starting production in 1990, there are several excellent varieties, each characterising the best features of the Ribera del Duero region, and the Selecto (pinot noir and tempranillo)can be found on offer in some outlets at an outstanding 12.50 euros.  All are aged in American oak and clarified using egg whites, rather than chemical fining agents.  Production from the small 10-hectare vineyard is limited, but already an export market which includes the UK, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland has been established.

There are myriads of Duero DO wines selling at two or three times this price that are nowhere near as good, Alta Pavina is worth watching.

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