If you’ve read my previous posts on deciphering wine labels from France and Italy, you’ll have noticed a trend in the way wines from these two nations are classified. They are generally split into ‘Quality Wine‘ and ‘Table Wine‘. Further subcategories may be found in the Quality Wine section (especially in Italy). ‘Table Wine’ contains two subcategories; the higher of the two, Vin de Pays (France) or Indicazione Geografica Tipica (Italy), preserves some sense of place within the legal framework.
The Spanish wine classification system follows this trend. Denominación de Origen (DO) is the Spanish equivalent of AOC or DOC and applies to quality wine with certain legal requirements ensuring the quality and typicity of the wine. Within this classification are two smaller sub-groups that you may encounter on a wine’s label. DO – Pago applies to single estates that produce wines of excellent quality, yet they lie outside the geographical boundaries of DO regions. Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) is a higher qualification for exeptional wine regions, such as Rioja and Priorat.
Confusingly, the classifications are sometimes made in the regional languages of Basque, Catalan or Galician, depending on the subregion of origin, resulting in different acronyms. The Spanish wine laws are also in flux, with the names of these classifications apt to change.
‘Table wine’ is fortunately a bit simpler. Vino de la Tierra (VdlT) is a direct equivalent of Vin de Pays and Vino de Mesa the same as Vin de Table.
The other peculiarity of deciphering a label of Spanish wine is to ascertain the level of ageing a wine has seen. Vino Joven refers to a wine that has not necessarily seen any time in barrel before release. These ‘young wines’ are indeed that – designed to be drunk young. Crianza red wines must have been aged in a barrel for at least 6 months and be a minimum of two years old before release (for reds). White and rosé Crianza wines get away with one year.
Reserva wines are often selected from the better cuvées although there is no guarantee of this. There is a guarantee, however, that a red wine has seen oak for a minimum of one year and a total of at least three years before release. For white and rosé Reservas the time is 6 months in oak and two years in total.
Gran Reservas are the big daddies. Reds must be at least five years old before release, which includes two years in cask. White and rosé wines require 6 months in barrel and a minimum release age of four years. Unfortunately buying a Gran Reserva wine does not guarantee a gran experience. In some cases, too much oak is not a good thing, and such wines don’t warrant the price their label commands. I prefer to stick with Reserva wines if I’m trying something unfamiliar; I’ve found them to be better value and far more reliable.
Portugal’s wine classification system is directly analogous to that of France. For quality wines: Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) equates to AOC; Indicação de Proveniência Regulamentada (IPR) is like the French VDQS. Similarly, Vinho regional is like Vin de Pays, and Vinho de mesa like Vin de Table.
In Portugal, the term Reserva indicates a wine of higher quality. It must have passed a tasting test and come from a single vintage. The term Garrafeira indicates a wine that must meet the Reserva standards and spend at least two years ageing in barrel for reds (6 months for whites), followed by a year (6 months again for whites) in bottle before release.