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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

Understanding red wines in Spain
29 April 2015

Different types of vine have been peppered across large areas of Spain for centuries. Their fruit provides excellent quality wines that achieve prestige far beyond their humble beginnings. Wine growers’ good practices have helped create a catalogue of wines that now place Spain as a global leader for quality in this field.

Viniculture has come a long way to reach the position it is in today. There is no consensus on where the first vines were cultivated within Spain. Some theories claim that the first vineyards would have been on the Andalusian coast, a region that has some of the oldest vines in the country.

The Romans extended wine production throughout the peninsula, as well as introducing particular preparation methods. The use of clay pots for crianza ageing led to a revolution in wine making, as this technique produced different textures, tastes and aromas.

According to data from the Ministry for Agriculture, Food and Environment, the total surface area in Spain dedicated to vineyards is approximately 950,000 hectares. Great wines can be sampled in each of the autonomous communities and farmers make great efforts to create exceptional products.

So to help you choose the right wine and understand what you are buying here is a description of each type of Red wine.  In my next post I will explain the different white wines available.


'Gran Reserva' :

These wines are oak-aged for a minimum of 24 months, followed by a bottle-ageing period of at least 36 months, the time needed for these robust and noble wines to take on the characteristics that make them unique.
Much of what has been said about Reserva wines is true for Gran Reserva wines in terms of organoleptic properties. These wines are robust, broad, warm and have a noble distinction.
Changes in the aroma and the colour clearly reveal the ageing process of Gran Reserva red wines.
Their distinctive features are the most pronounced on the palate and finish. The Gran Reserva winemaking renders a more complex yet elegant wine.
Once a Gran Reserva red reaches its point of maturity or peak, it will start to decay. When it will reach this point is difficult to detect and especially to predict.


'Reserva' :

Wines are considered Reserva wines in Spain when they have been in oak and bottle-aged for a minimum of 36 months, with a period of oak-ageing of at least 12 months.
Reserva wines are more complex and sophisticated that Crianza wines. Their colour evolves, losing the bright red tones while they take on ochre and brick red tones. The loss of the natural red pigment in favour of more yellow hues is an indication that the wine has aged.
The same thing happens with the aroma; the young, primary and secondary fragrances become lost and give way to the aromas of preservation or tertiary aromas. The floral and fruity hints give way to  notes of wood, resin, spices and truffle that are unique to red Reserva wines.

In addition, they now take on what is referred to as a bouquet which is by definition the aroma of aged wines.

On the palate, Reserva wines become robust, broad and warm, with velvety tannins and a noble disposition. They have a longer and more satisfying finish that produces, in general, greater pleasure.

'Crianza' :

These are the most-consumed wines in Spain. The ageing process gives these highly regarded wines a softness and perfects their characteristics.
Crianza wines are probably so successful because they are in the best stage of their lives. It is the point where the wines take on their best colour and aroma, and their body and structure become smooth and stable. They are also accessible in terms of price.
Only in Spain are Crianza wines regulated in terms of ageing time. In other countries this term is equivalent to the ageing and start of the preservation process and the development of the wine.

Crianza wines are made from grape varieties that allow the wine to evolve well over time. The grapes that lend themselves to this are the Tempranillo, Graciano, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.

The best and most common Crianza is made in Bordeaux barriques-style barrels that hold 225 litres made of American, French or Central European oak. The process will be reflected in the wine type and in the choice of wine experts. It is also carried out with a careful control over temperature, humidity and oxidation and with the best timing.

Basic changes made during the ageing process are noted in the colour. Red wine loses its violet and bluish tones and takes on burgundy and maroon red tones. In white wines, which can also be Crianza wines, the lemon yellow turns to a pale straw gold yellow and in rosés the strawberry red turns to orange.

The aromas lose their floral and fruity notes and evolve towards hints of spice, wood or minerals. The mouthfeel of Crianza reds improve in terms of tannins and the wines become well rounded.

Once the oak-ageing of the wines is finished, they soften in the bottle once they have been clarified and sometimes filtered, stabilised and bottled.


'Joven' :

The most valuable feature of young red wines is the fact that they preserve the characteristics of the raw ingredients. Their colour, aroma, acidity and the juiciness of the tannins are what stand out the most.
The juice and solids of red and teinturier grapes ferment together during the winemaking process. Once the grapes are gathered, the whole stems are ground and fermented. Then the wine (liquid) is separated from the solids that have fermented.
Reds undergo a second process known as malolactic fermentation, transforming the green malic acid into lactic acid, which is much more pleasing to the palate. Once this process has finished, the usual technical processes are carried out until the wine is bottled.

Although as a general rule, young reds are not oaked, sometimes they are in brief contact with the wood, ranging from two to four months.

These young reds manifest an intense red to violet colour. They have fruity aromas with hints of fresh red berries and floral notes. Their youth makes them more jubilant wines that are lightly acidic on the palate and meaty and flavourful.

The soil and climate in Spain are ideal for producing young red wines based on native grape varieties such as the Tempranillo, Mencía or Grenache grapes. Recently, exotic grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah have been used, which are perfectly adapted to Spanish winemaking.


'Roble' :

'Oaked' red wines are usually very tasty and sweet wines. Their notes of fruit and barrel give them elegance, consistency and allow for a longer life.
These are wines that usually age between three and six months in barrel. To this period, a time of bottle ageing is added. This turns them into half-way wines, they are neither young nor aged.
The first Designation of Origin to use the “oaked” classification was Ribera del Duero, then it extended throughout Spain.

Oaked red wines receive different names: semicrianza (barrelled for three months), tinto roble (oaked red), joven con barrica (young with barrel), although sometimes none of these classifications are on the label for regulation purposes of the designations of origin.

These wines are in increasingly high demand because they are easy to drink, besides offering great versatility and a good price-quality ratio.

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The Bride's Jump
14 April 2015

The long, white, radiant water of the Brazal waterfall drops from a ledge 30 metres high, resembling the train of a wedding dress, and falls onto the rocky banks of the Palancia River, creating one of the most hypnotising aquatic landscapes in Spain. However, calling the place the Salto de la Novia, or Bride's Jump, is not due to the waterfall, but because they used to say that brides had to jump into the river if they wanted to ensure a happy, fertile marriage. According to legend there was a bride who slipped when she jumped, dragging her fiancée, who was trying to help her, to the bottom of the river. As you can imagine, the wedding was called off.

From the waterfall you can see Mount Rascaña, which houses the mysterious Cueva del Reloj (clock cave). It owes its name to the pointed stone guarding its entrance and whose shadow used to show the time to the farmers who worked on the neighbouring land.

The Bride's Jump is next to Navajas, a village overflowing with fountains (many of which have medicinal mineral water) and an elm tree, planted 1636, that is included in the Guinness Book of Records. Even older is the Altomira Tower. Built by the Arabs in the 11th century, it is in the Arab-style, cylindrical and finished off with crown-shaped battlements. Located five kilometres from Navajas is the historical town of Segorbe, where, whether you are with friends or family, the cathedral and the masterpieces of Valencia Gothic art on display in the Diocesan Museum are a must-see. 



A great place to eat in Segorbe itself, is in María de Luna in the old Misericordia hospital. There is an attraction on the premises that children will love: Segóbriga Park, an aquatic park with Mediaeval settings . It only opens in summer, a moderately warm period because the weather in the area is mild, with pleasant temperatures all year round and infrequent rainy spells during the summer months.




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Caves of Carranza
02 April 2015

Unlike conventional stalactites, which are formed in a downwards direction in accordance with the law of gravity, eccentric stalactites grow randomly in any direction, like the branches of a tree. They are not very common and when there are two or more in one place they are quite spectacular to see. The Pozalagua Cave in Carranza, the westernmost town in Biscay, has an abundance of them. No other cavity in the world has so many.



It is a speleological feast, a marvellous pandemonium of eccentric stalactites woven together forming masses like roots and corals. It was discovered in a somewhat unusual way in 1957, not from careful prospecting, but from a charge of dynamite in a nearby dolomite quarry; this accidentally opened up this 125-metre long, 70-metre wide and 12-metre high vault. The guides explain to visitors that no air currents, roots or magnetic fields were involved in the formation of the eccentric stalactites. They crystallise like that.



Outside of the cave, the old dolomite quarry has been restored and is now the site of an amphitheatre where concerts are held in the summer. The limestone rock has been cut with diamond wire so perfectly that it seems the terraces have been sculpted from a block of marble.

In the same town there is also the Karpin Abentura Wild Animal Shelter, where visitors can go to see a large number of illegally trafficked animal species, abandoned exotic pets and other species unable to return to the wild. They are all cared for in a privileged environment with a multitude of flora species from all the continents. Another great curiosity of the Enkarterri area is the Miguel de la Vía collection, in Galdames. It is made up of more than 70 antique and classic cars, which are displayed in the 13th century Loizaga Tower. The collection includes all models of Rolls-Royce up until the company was taken over by BMW in 1998.


If there is still time and you would like to see more of the area, in Balmaseda there is the Muza Bridge. It exudes the Middle Ages from all of its stones and even the tower where the 'bridge tax' was paid in the middle ages is still intact. You can also visit the Boinas La Encartada factory/museum. Balmaseda is also a good place to recharge your batteries. The typical dish here is 'putxera', a bean stew that was cooked in a pot by workers on the La Robla-Bilbao mining railway using the steam generated from the engine. The putxera has a monument and a festival, on 23 October, dedicated to it. No less traditional is the 'txakoli', which has been made in Balmaseda since the end of the 15th century.

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