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Book Review: Penin Guide to Spanish Wine

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Do you like Spanish wine? If you are like most wine aficionados, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.” Why do so many people around the world prefer Spanish wine? Well, for one thing, in today’s challenging economic climate, Spanish wine is a delicious bargain. And there isn’t anything remotely close to “generic” Spanish wine because each region has its own grape varietal and vinification technique.

Making Spanish wine easy to understand is Jose Penin and his Penin Guide to Spanish Wine. The 2008 guide has just come out, and many producers from Spain came to celebrate and showcase their wine at New York’s W Hotel. The wines exhibited were rated 87 to 93 points, and reflect the “New Values” of Spanish Wine.

Jose Pennin is Spain’s version of Robert Parker. His guide rates wines and provides very vivid descriptions, and also educates the reader about the various regions, terroir, and soils. Even if you know nothing of wine or Spain, by the time you finish reading this book you will be an expert.

The book begins with a discussion of Spanish varietals. White grapes include Airen (Spain’s most widely planted grape), Albarino, Garnacha Blanca, Malvasia, Palomino, and dozens of other white grapes you probably have not heard of. You probably are already familiar with Spain’s reds, which include the famous Tempranillo, Garnacha, and the very trendy Mencia from Bierzo. Scanning the other red grape varieties in Penin’s book will alert you to know many other dozens of grapes you can find in Spain.

In the next chapter, Penin introduces you to the best terroirs in Spain, which includes stony soils, clay-calcareous soils, sandy soils, and volcanic soils. The influence of the soil on the aroma of wine is tremendous. Granite and sandy soils, for example, provide a certain bluntness to the wine and give it clean aromas. Gravel soils produce wine with earthy aromas. Simply scan the information about the soil’s effect on aroma and you will surprise and amaze your friends with your knowledge.

Next, you will learn about climates and microclimates. The Atlantic, as you may well imagine, is humid and wet with rain all year round. Wines struggle to mature and are high in malic acid (which is why some of the best wines from Galacia are so acidic and mineral-driven). In contrasts, wines from a Mediterranean climate like Jumilla produce fuller-bodied wines with a higher alcohol content. If you want to go to Spain to experience the wines first hand, Penin also includes a list of local wine fairs in Spain, along with his personal comments and contact numbers.

However, the “meat” of the book is the reviews and ratings of the wines themselves, organized by Denomination of Origin (DO), which is the Spanish ranking system of quality wines. You will find illustrative maps of the DO region and main concentration of vineyards, a general view of the area with a brief commentary on its current situation and foreseeable future, general characteristics of the regions wines, and a fantastic index. This book is really a must for the casual wine drinker as well as the connoisseur. Cheers!

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