This very small area just east of Somontano is closer to the Mediterranean but receives none of its ameliorating influences. The quality producer Raimat has invested heavily in land reclamation and restoration and almost single-handedly created its modern persona. The weather is very severe, both cold and hot, in this semi-desert near the Catalan city of L??rida. With only 15 inches of rainfall annually, it has been granted an "experimental" status that allows Costers del Segre to practice limited irrigation and achieve acceptable yields. French varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay have been planted as well as the native Tempranillo, Parellada (white) and Macabeo or Viura (white). The most celebrated wines are red: the Cabernet Sauvignon is earthy and highly extracted, with fine texture and black cherry fruit flavors as well as herbal, tobacco aromas; while the Tempranillo is well-rounded and lush with plum, smoke and chocolate flavors, but not as heavy as in other areas.
Adjacent to the Strait of Gibraltar in Spain's far south, the three centers of Jerez (sherry) production are located within a ten mile triangle along the western coast: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda, and Puerto de Santa Maria. Atlantic breezes offer a moderating influence to the warm Mediterranean climate, lending the wines various almond, salty and olive aromas depending on their microclimates. The prized albariza soil which seems crucial for the Palomino grape is mostly found around the city of Jerez de la Frontera, and the majority of vineyards designated Jerez Superior are near this city, with other parcels occurring in Sanlacar de Barrameda, Puerto de Santa Maria, Chipiona and Rota. The current total vineyard area, much reduced from the past, is under 32,000 acres, predominantly planted with white Palomino and small amounts of Pedro Ximinez and Moscatel.
On the arid plains south of Madrid, La Mancha's 419,000 acres make up Europe's single largest denomination of origin, but with average annual rainfall of only 16 inches (400 mm) and typical summer temperatures rising to 104 F (40 C), yields are naturally small. La Mancha was long out of favor with connoisseurs for old-fashioned techniques that allowed wines to become oxidized before their time, but temperature control and stainless steel fermentation and earlier harvests have improved the wines. Much La Mancha wine is sold in bulk or distilled for Spanish brandy. The traditional red varietal is Tempranillo (here called Cencibel), but new plantings also include Cabernet Sauvignon. La Mancha whites are simple everyday wines, quite inexpensive, made with Airein, a native vine with extremely high drought resistance. Some Chardonnay is also being planted.
Malaga lies less than 150 miles to the east of Jerez on the southern coast. As Andalucia's (and Spain's) smallest DO, it has a long and illustrious wine history that is now threatened by modern development. Disastrously hit by powdery mildew and phylloxera in the second half of the nineteenth century, many areas were never replanted, and today an influx of tourism competes with vineyards for the hillsides overlooking the Mediterranean. The wines were traditionally made from partially dried grapes, giving them a legendary sweetness, but today may also be sweetened with arrope (concentrated grape must) or arrested with brandy during fermentation to maintain residual sugar. The main varietal is Pedro Ximinez, with some Airen and Muscat of Alexandria. The intense wines are aged in the city of Malaga in oak barrel soleras with resulting alcohol levels ranging from 15-23 percent. Though produced in a range from dry to sweet, the most exported Malaga is unctuously sweet with a raisiny, almost burnt character -- a wine that is, without any other accompaniment, a dessert.
The hot, dry Montilla-Moriles area to the northeast of Jerez shows the temperature extremes of inland Andalucia. Its vinification methods and history parallel other sherry style wines, but its products are usually considered lesser versions. In contrast to Jerez, the main grape here, with over 70 percent of production, is Pedro Ximinez. Other varieties are Airen and Muscat of Alexandria. Fino, amontillado, and oloroso styles are produced in Montilla, but EU regulations do not allow them to be exported as such; they are more generically labeled Pale Dry, Medium Dry, or Cream. Many of the strong, dark Montilla olorosos and heavy alcoholic Pedro Ximinez wines are shipped and blended into true sherries or Malagas.
The Navarra region borders Rioja to the northeast and southwest. It has traditionally been known for dry roses, but is now exporting a number of slightly lighter Rioja-style wines at more moderate prices. Red varietals include Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Whites are the traditional Viura newly supplemented by Chardonnay.
Nearby regions have seen big changes within the last ten years and are still in the process of establishing themselves, particularly Priorat (also called Priorato) and Costers del Segre in Catalonia, and Somontano in Aragon. These areas are producing some of the most exciting wines in Spain for some time.
Somontano is a relatively new DO region in Aragon, in the Pyrenees foothills of northeast Spain. All of its new investment has been made since joining the European Union in 1986. The geography (about halfway between the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts) and climate --plentiful rain with moderate but sufficiently warm summer temperatures up to 95 F (35 C) -- are both promising viticulturally. A number of international and native varietal vineyards are recently planted, but thus far one cooperative produces over 80 percent of Somontano's wine. The traditional reds were Moristel (believed to be Monastrell) and Garnacha, while newer experimental vineyards now include Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and some Pinot Noir. The traditional whites Viura and Alcanan are now being supplemented by Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Gewerztraminer. Clearly the area is trying to find its true personality, and improved winemaking facilities promise some enchanting wines.
The The ValdepeÃƒÂ±as region, situated on the Meseta at an average elevation of 2,300 feet (700 m), is really a southern extension of La Mancha with a similar continental climate, but its wines are slightly more interesting and therefore have their own DO. ValdepeÃƒÂ±as produces soft aged red wines; they are something like lesser Riojas in their characteristic vanilla flavor but still have high alcohol content (approaching 16 degrees). The classic red varietals are Tempranillo (Cencibel), Monastrel and Tintorera. The sturdy white Air??n is the most planted varietal and produces ordinary quality, high alcohol white wines (13-14 degrees), and being plentiful, is often blended into lesser red wines. The results have lighter color and less body (and character) than most Tempranillo.