Posted 25 April 2003 - 08:08 AM
I agree that the U.S. markup on many Spanish wines is quite high. We purchased a bottle of Guelbenzu Lautus (Latin for ‘magnificent’) in Pamplona for the equivalent of $23.00 (USD). When we could find it back in the U.S., the exact same wine cost $64.00. Although, if we are discussing the Priorat wines which tend to be priced especially high, this is an area where part of the higher cost can be attributed to the harsh growing conditions of the area. The vines must struggle to generate even the low grape yield produced. While less fruit per vine lends great concentration of flavor and power to each grape and the resulting wine, it also makes these delicious wines a scarce commodity.
The D.O. (denominación de origen) is equivalent to the French A.O.C. (appellation d’origine controlée). In Spain, the D.O. refers to a specific geographical area controlled by a Consejo Regulador, which specifies the area in which the grapes of that denomination must be grown, the grape varieties permitted, grape vine density, pruning methods to be used, how the wines are to be matured, and limitations on the alcohol and sugar content of a wine. A stricter denomination category, the D.O.C. (denominación de origen calificada), was created in 1991. A wine must meet even more definitive standards in order to earn this label. To my knowledge, only wines in the Rioja region have been able to meet these higher standards. When I visited the Rioja Alta winery, our tour guide said that their ability to label a wine 'reserva' did not ensure that that wine would be better than a well crafted crianza with less aging. It merely meant that they jumped through the required hoops to obtain the label for that wine. You may find some excellent wines that have not received a D.O or D.O.C. designation merely because the winemaker chose a variety of grape that is not traditionally grown in the region, or he or she used grapes obtained from an area beyond the exact area designated by the government.
In bars in Rioja we have had some vinos jovenes (young wines) that are apparently not even bottled, never exported, and are quite good. They are truly traditional wines in that they are drunk almost immediately and never leave the area.