When it comes to wine, the Castilian country is gaining momentum.

WITH ALL DUE RESPECT TO FRANCE AND ITALY, NO OTHER OLD WORLD COUNTRY is as fashionable in the world of wine today as spain. The exports of spanish wine to the world grew to almost 1.5 billion euros last year with the u.s. accounting for 125.6 million of those euros representing and increase of more than 26 percent to an already “mature” market. What is remarkable about this growth is that it is not like spain is new to winemaking. Their history and lineage spans hundreds of years.

A perfect example of this is in spain’s northeastern state, catalonia. This area runs from the pyrenees Mountains to just south of tarragona and includes the Mediterranean coastline as well as one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities in Barcelona. its two most famous wines are cava and priorat. The former is spain’s great gift to the world of sparkling wine. The latter is a one of the brightest stars in the constellation of spain’s great red-wine producing regions.

Cava as a DO (Denominacion de Origen, Spain’s version of appellations) is made in seven different regions throughout spain but the traditional heart and the best are made in and around the town of sant sadurni d’anoia in the penedes region just south of Barcelona. Much like the city of reims most of the grapes are grown outside of the city but the great houses are located within.

Like champagne, the grapes are hand-harvested; the wine is fermented bottle by bottle, riddled and aged just as the greatest bottles of champagne deep beneath the city. speaking of riddling, the technology of the Gyropalette-a machine that vigorously shakes the sediment or lees of a sparkling wine bottle from the bottom to the top of the bottle so that it can be expunged to make a clear wine-was actually invented by the famous cava house of Freixenet.

This machine does in two weeks what a master riddler would normally take six to eight weeks with much more accuracy and consistency. This wonderful invention can be credited with advancing the quality of not only cava but all sparkling wines throughout the world. This is part of the heritage and tradition of cava.

Despite the fact that cava is well known throughout the world, for the most part it is also associated with inexpensive and lowend fizz. here is where the dichotomy of tradition and modern comes into play. Many of the top producers of cava are actually leaving the do. They want to bottle their wines under another regional do known as conca del riu anoia because many of the standards by which cava is made are not high enough for them. This is a bold statement by producers turning their back on the traditional cava do in order to put quality first. The list of producers includes raventós i Blanc one of the area’s greatest producers. Their non-vintage blend l’hereu is truly a sensational value that shames some champagnes at twice its price. and their 2003 Manuel raventós is the most exclusive cava to date.

Made from two special plots on their estate and aged for seven years before release, this Cava plays in the same league as Tête de Cuvée Champagnes-as does its price.

The Spanish red wine that comes to mind when anyone thinks of Spain is Rioja. Rioja’s tradition and pedigree spans centuries. Rioja is one of only two DOCa’s (Denominacion de Origen Calficada, the top of Spain’s quality wine law). The other is Priorat. Its ascent to the top of the quality wine pyramid in just over a decade of existence is unprecedented. The area was almost completely unknown until 20 years ago when a small group of pioneering wine-makers began prospecting areas outside of Rioja to make great red wine. This group includes the likes of Rene Barbier with Clos Mogador, Alvaro Palacios of l’Ermita fame and Daphne Glorian of Clos Erasmus.

The flagship wines of the region now read almost like a list of Bordeaux First Growths in terms of collectability and critical acclaim. Alvaro Palacios’ l’Ermita almost pure Garnacha from centenary vines and is one of Spain’s most hedonistic offerings. Glorian’s Clos Erasmus adds 10-percent Syrah to ancient vine Grenache creating another behemoth of a wine, something that would make Hermitage and Chateauneuf du Pape shy with prices that can reach the four-digit range. In quantity, these are even more rare than any First Growth of Bordeaux with production a

scant 300 to 400 cases for anyone of these. And yet none of these are older than 1989 (Clos Mogador’s first vintage.) The stamp of quality given to this region by Spain’s government is only equaled by the fervor with which collectors and wine lovers around the world gobble up the tiny allocations of these wines.

They are not only world-class but reference standard.

This internal discovery and pioneering is what has propelled Spain to new heights. Spanish wine is re-inventing itself with innovation and an upward quality movement. This is just part of the “New Spain” that has everyone drinking.

SPANISH WINE GLOSSARY

ALBARINO – Perhaps Spain’s most formidable white wine.

AÑEJO – Wine that has been aged in a wooden cask or bottle for at least three years.

CAVA – A refreshing and light sparkling wine.

GARNACHA – A widely planted red wine grape.

GRAN RESERVA – In order to be classified as a gran reserva, a tinto wine must be aged for at least 24 months in oak casks and for at least another 36 months in the bottle.

RESERVA – In order to be classified as a reserva tinto, wine must spend at least 36 months in a cask or bottle, of which at least 12 months should be in oak casks.

RIOJA – This is Spain’s indigenous version of Bordeaux.

TEMPRANILLO – This black grape is a major component of Rioja.