Sweet Spanish wine is world renowned, particularly varieties of sweet Sherry, as well as Malaga, delicious Moscatels, and sweet reds made from Garnacha grapes. These wines pair well with savory foods like cheese, as well as making an excellent dessert wine.
A Tour of Spain's Sweetest Vintages
You can find sweet wines throughout Spain, each region producing its own version of a sweet-style wine. Spain has come a long way in the past couple of decades, with many wines now commanding serious prices on the market. However, because they are only truly popular within the country, most sweet Spanish wine is well priced. The only dessert wines that you will spend big bucks on are rare sherries that are perfectly aged.
Málaga is a sweet, fortified Spanish wine. These wines were popular for centuries and Catholic priests often used them at the altar. However, after the 19th century, the fashion for sweet wines waned and Málaga consumption dropped dramatically. Today, there has been a renewed interest in sweet wines and dessert wines, so much that Málaga today is once again becoming a household name. You can trace the modern versions of Málaga back to the famous Spanish winemaker Telmo Rodriguez. Rodriguez crafted Molino Real (which means the royal mill), which is now considered one of the top dessert wines from Spain. As with all Málagas, vintners make this wine from the Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grapes, which both impart amazing depth and complexity.
Málaga is one of the oldest winemaking areas of Europe and even though this area only has about 16 wineries between the villages of Frigiliana and Vélez, it is booming with business.
The most well known of all Spain's sweet wines, sherry is produced in a small region called the "Sherry Triangle", which includes the towns of Cádiz, Jerez de la Frontera, and El Puerto de Santa María. Sherry makers craft this wine from the Palomino and Pedro Ximénez grapes, sometimes including a bit of Moscatel. One of the key characteristics of sherry is the result of the "Albariza" soil, which is white and chalky, and provides a distinctive terroir when combined with the local warm, Atlantic climate.
The process for making sherry is distinctive from other wines. After the grape harvest, sherry makers leave them in the open air for a long period.
- Because of this style of fermentation and exposure to air, some of the juice oxidizes and develops a thick coating of flor, or yeast, on the surface. This yeast is what imparts the very distinctive flavors of sherry.
- After fermentation the sherry passes through a solera system, which is a series of barrels that contain wines of all different ages. The oldest is in the bottom barrel and the youngest is at the top. This process removes the wine from the oldest barrel and the wine from the top barrel is added to the bottom and so on in perpetuity.
- This system creates a steady cycle of wine that is all very similar in flavor and character, which is why sherry is rarely dated with a vintage.
While sherries can be everything from dry to sweet, the most well-known are the dessert sherries. Vintners make dessert sherries from Oloroso wines and sweeten them with the Pedro Ximénez grapes. There are also cream sherries and brown sherries.
Priorat and Montsant
In Catalonia, the wine region called Priorat is to many, one of the most interesting wine regions in the world. It is a mountainous region near the Mediterranean, approximately two hours south of Barcelona. Red dessert wines come from this area of Spain. They are very different from sherries because the main grapes used are Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan).
East of Spain's famous Rioja region, Navarre is known for its rosé wines and dry reds. However, the region is also producing some excellent Moscatels that are fruity and sweet, but have a lovely acidity to them as well. These wines are very food friendly and are becoming some of Spain's hottest new buys.
Pairing Food With Sweet Wines
If you are thinking about serving sweet Spanish wines, they are best as an accompaniment to cheeses such as Manchego. You can also serve them with dessert, particularly those with stone fruits, such as peaches or apricots. They are best served cool, not chilled and not room temperature. These qualities make them perfect during the warm summer months.