At that time the youngest son of La Freixeneda, Pere Ferrer Bosch or El Freixenet, married Dolors Sala Vivé, the only daughter of the Sala family. The Salas had been making wine at their Casa Sala property since 1861, and Dolors’ keen interest in the process was easily complemented by Pere’s business savvy and community involvement.
Their marriage coincided with the arrival of the Phylloxera plague in Spain, which wiped out most of Europe’s vineyards. Far from being deterred, the couple replanted their decimated land with white varietals to make sparkling wine. In 1914 the first bottles were released with Pere’s childhood nickname on the label. Freixenet had been born.
Spain has a similar classification system to France and Italy, with all classified wine regions regulated under the Denominación de Origen (DO) system. With over 60 DOs, Spain has more acreage devoted to vineyards than any other country.
Red wines are often labeled as Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva. In Rioja and the Ribera del Duero, Crianza wines are two years old, with at least twelve months spent in cask (elsewhere the oak ageing may legally be restricted to just six months). Reservas are three years old (at least one year in cask), Gran Reservas five years old (two in cask, three in bottle).
Leading the country in the production of the finest wines are the vibrant DO’s of Ribera del Duero, Priorat, Rías Baixas, Montsant, Rioja and Rueda.
Rías Baixas (REE-us BUY-shus) is located along the western edge of Galicia, the northwest Atlantic coastal region often referred to as España Verde or “Green Spain”. Cool and verdant, this appellation is regarded as the source of the most phenomenal white wines of Spain. The Albariño grape is the prize of the region, producing a fragrant, full-bodied yet extremely crisp wine, which is undeniably the perfect match for all fish and shellfish. Yields in the region tend to be very low, and the abundant rainfall has traditionally obliged winemakers to trellis vines high off the ground on stone pergolas to allow greater air circulation and stave off mildew, a practice which results in dramatic vineyard views.
Vionta Albariño is part of the Ferrer Family Wines of ultra-premium wines. The estate of Vionta is in Vilanova de Arousa in the Salnés Valley, the most northern subzone of Rías Baixas. It is also the coolest growing region in the Rías Baixas.
Ribera del Duero
Ribera del Duero (ree-BEAR-ah del DWEAR-oh), situated on the high plains along the Duero River north of Madrid, is arguably Spain’s brightest star. Planted primarily with Tempranillo grapes, known locally as Tinta del País, the region is dry with a harsh, arid climate and short growing season, but one that consistently produces critically acclaimed, powerful wines, structured with spicy character and richly concentrated fruit.
Note: The local name of the grape is spelled with an “a” — Tinta del País, not Tinto del País
Long known as Spain’s greatest wine region, Rioja stretches 75 miles along the Ebro River in northern Spain. The first region to be named a qualified denomination of origin (or DOC), Spain’s highest wine category, Rioja wines are celebrated for their elegance, structure and the finesse of the Tempranillo grape, considered the country’s noble variety. The appellation is divided into three growing regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Encompassing higher elevations, Rioja Alavesa features the coolest temperatures of the three districts, and a distinctive chalky soil, producing high quality grapes and fruitier wines with heightened aromatics.
A young yet progressive region full of confident, under-40 winemakers experimenting with new approaches, the Montsant denomination of origin is comprised of less than 5,000 acres of mountainous vineyards nearly encircling the Priorat region. Similar to that of its lauded neighbor, the landscape is rugged and stony, with hand-hewn terraces winding up steep hills, though Montsant soils are a mix of granite, sand, calcareous soil, large pebbles and slate. The region benefits from a Mediterranean climate but its altitude provides for cooler temperatures at night. Montsant is best known for its reds, which are rich and concentrated with an attractive mineral component, as well as a small production of distinctive rosé wine.
Priorat (pree-or-OTT) is a tiny pocket spotted with just 2,000 acres of old vines and new plantings in the arid and rugged mountains of northeast Spain, approximately 90 miles west of Barcelona. Priorat is one of only two Spanish appellations to have been granted DOC (qualified denomination of origin) status, a premium designation indicating the wines are subject to more rigorous quality standards than their DO counterparts. The slate soil vineyards in this petite appellation are planted primarily to Garnacha (gar-NACH-ah), Cariñena (car-ee-NYEN-ah) and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in rocky hillside terraces. Due to wide fluctuations in temperature, dry winds and severe terrain, yields tend to be extremely low, yet the incredibly complex, concentrated and age-worthy wines born here have elevated this sparsely populated region to international renown.
DO Rueda was the first DO to be designated within the autonomy of Castilla y León, and is now one of the most important in Spain. It is located in the central part of the Duero valley, on a high northern plain of gentle undulating terrain, cooled by Atlantic winds.
Rueda is one of the few wine regions in Europe specializing in white wine production and is focusing on the development of its indigenous grape variety, which for Rueda is Verdejo.
Verdejo from Rueda is a growing category in the US, growing 15-20% in 2013. (source: Impact Databank).