How to read a wine label: Part Five (Spanish Wines)

I’ve shared tips on how to decipher wine labels from various regions like Chile, France, New Zealand and the United States. This week, let’s talk Spain!

Spain (Classified as Old World)

Grape Varieties

Spain’s premier red wine region is  Rioja and was the first region in Spain to be christened as Denominación de Origen Calificada—in 1991. Tempranillo is the main grape of Rioja. Here’s a link to an interactive map to Spain’s wine growing regions.

Wine Regulation (systems of defining and regulating wine growing regions and practices)

  • DOC or DOCa – Denominacion de Origen Calificada (highest classification)
  • DO – Denominacion de Orgien
  • Vino de Mesa (lowest classification)

DO wines have additional regulations for aging:

Joven: No Cask aging (replaced Sin Crianza)

Crianza: Red = 2 years of age, 6 months in oakspanish-wine-label
White = 1 year of age, 6 months in oak

Reserva: Red= 3 years of age, 1 in oak
White = 2 years of age, 6 months in oak

Gran Reserva: Red= 5 years of age, two in oak
White= 4 years of age, 6 months in oak

Aging Terms for Non-DO wines:

  • Noble – 12 Months
  • Anejo – 24 Months
  • Viejo – 36 Months

Although I’ve spent time studying Spanish wines, I admit that when I’m shopping for wine, I rarely pick up a bottle from Spain. Do you have a recommendation?

How to read a wine label: Part Four (Chilean Wines)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sharing tips on how to examine wine labels from different regions. First with US wines, next France, then New Zealand. This week’s region was requested by a fellow grape geek, John. Let’s discuss Chilean wines!

Chilean Wines (Classified as New World)sena

Red grapes account for approximately 73% of the total acreage in Chile

Wine Regulation (systems of defining & regulating wine growing regions and practices)

  • Established in 1995, instituted the 75% rule: vintage, varietal, and denomination of origin must, if listed on the bottle, comprise a minimum 75% of the blend.  (although many wineries observe an 85% minimum for all three categories, in order to comply with EU standards for export).
  • Only permitted varietals may be used, and hybrid grapes are forbidden.
  • Must show a minimum alcohol content of 11.5%.
  • Wines labeled “Reserva” and “Reserva Especial” must have a minimum 12% abv, and wines labeled “Reserva Privada” and “Gran Reserva” require a minimum 12.5% abv.
  • In addition, “Reserva Especial” and “Gran Reserva” wines spend mandatory time in oak.

*In 2011, the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture amended wine law to support three new geographic terms: Costa, Entre Cordilleras, and Andes.  On labels, producers may now append one of the pre-existing DOs with one of these three new appellations, which signify the proximity of a vineyard to the coast (“Costa”) or to the mountains. Entre Cordilleras – – “between mountains”- –  describes the valley areas between the coastal range and the Andes (3/4 of Chilean wine grapes are grown here). In order for a wine to qualify for one of the new designations, at least 85% of the grapes must be harvested in the appropriate region.

From north to south, the regional Denominations of Origin (DOs) of Chile are Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcagua, the Valle Central (Central Valley), and Sur (the Southern Regions).

Atacama and Coquimbo DOs

  • Northernmost winegrowing region in Chile (requires irrigation)
  • Pisco and table grape production dominate both regions but in Coquimbo’s northern valleys (Elqui and Limari) are developing a reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Aconcagua DO

  • Subregions: Aconcagua Valley (warm climate) with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grape varieties
  • Casablanca and San Antonio are located along the coast (cool climate)  with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grape varieties.

Fun fact:One of the premier reds of Chile, Errázuriz’s “Seña” (a Bordeaux-style blend), beat both Château Lafite and Château Margaux (remember those names from my  earlier post?) in the 2004 Berlin Tasting… a true testament of the quality of Chilean wines!.

Central Valley DO

Chile’s oldest and most established winemaking region

Cabernet Sauvignon.  Over 50% of the region’s more than 10,000 hectares are devoted to the grape, followed by Merlot, Chardonnay and Carmenère.Purple Angel

Subregions: Maipo Valley, Rapel Valley, Curicó, and Maule Valley

Puente Alto region produces some of Chile’s most premium red wines such as Concha y Toro’s “Don Melchor” and Errazuriz’s “Vinedo Chadwick” Cabernet Sauvignon varietal wines.

Sur DO

Itata, Bío Bío Valleys produce País and Muscat de Alexandria grape varietals.

Malleco Valley is a tiny region, with just a few hectares of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Was this helpful? Grab a Chilean wine and share your thoughts with me!

Basic Champagne and Sparkling Wine Tips

There are certain holidays and special occasions that call for bubbly… Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Weddings… but I’m a strong believer for any-occasion champagne drinking. Can’t agree on what wine to pair with your dinner? Attending a company cocktail party? Getting together with friends on a Saturday afternoon? Champagne or sparkling wines are the answer.

Here’s a few basic tips on Champagne and Sparkling Wines:

Sweetness levels (for both Champagne and Sparkling Wines): Brut = Dry, Sec = Dryish, Demi-sec = Medium, Dry Doux = Medium Sweet.

Champagne must come from the region of Champagne in northeast France. There are only three grapes permitted for the production of champagne; Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

How to read a champagne label.

Tips and tasting notes from my mentor, Tylor Field III.

A few of my favorite Champagnes: Taittinger, Ruinart Brut Rose

Sparkling Wines can come from any region and can include additional grape varieties such as Pinot Gris, Muscat, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, etc.

Names of sparkling wines by region: Cava = Spain, Spumante = Italy, Sekt = Germany, Cap Classique = South Africa.

Sparkling wines are usually more reasonably priced and are great to experiment and enjoy. I recommend Cristalino Brut and Nando Asti Spumante.

Since we are quickly approaching a champagne worthy holiday, I’m also including a sophisticated champagne cocktail recipe to ‘Cheers’ to your Valentine!


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