I recently had the pleasure of tasting a bunch of Spanish wines, courtesy of Wines from Spain USA. More Americans are drinking Spanish wine these days as far as I can tell just from what I’m served in friends’ houses, what I see on wine store shelves, and what people who talk about wine are, well, talking about. That’s good for Spain (and for consumers) because not too long ago, the only Spanish wine that American really knew was Vino de Jerez—Sherry—and a lot of that was cheap cooking wine you bought at the A&P. That itself was a shame, because Sherry is a delicious and frankly unique type of wine, produced through the Solera system in which some new vintage wine is added to older vintages over a number of years, producing a remarkable complex wine. But Spanish table wine was mostly a cheap, bulk domestic product that the Spanish thought of as food than an alcoholic beverage.
Things have changed. And there’s a good reason: Spain has more land under grapevines than any country on earth. It also has about 600 native grapes—which might also be a record—although 80% of Spanish wine is made from just 20% of those grapes. In the last 30 years, as the folks from Wines from Spain pointed out, Iberia has made some pretty great strides both in improving its wines and telling their story to the world. They noted the creation of the first DOC-status region in 1991, literally “Denominacion de Origen Calificada,” which is supposed to represent and “guarantee” the finest wines. And Wine Advocate gave five Spanish wines an unfrequented 100 points in 2007. Spain is a very mountainous country, too, which means a lot of vineyards sit on microclimates, making them ideal for growing specific types of wine grapes.
Spain has come a long way from Sherry.
But ratings aside, Spain is a wine region that ought to be on your map if it isn’t. And it produces all types: red, white, rose, fortified, and sparkling. In fact, I think some Spanish Cava wines are among the best, and best value, sparkling wines and I think they’re the best-selling sparklers in the world after Champagne.
Some of Spain’s best wines come from the north-central Rioja region, and while it produces red, white and rose wines, the best in my view are complex, perfumed reds based on Tempranillo. Catalonia, in the far northeast corner, produces the most varied wine types from red Tempranillo and white Macabeo and Perallada among others. The increasingly well-known Priorato region gives us dense, full-bodied and tannic wine. From the northwest including Gailicia comes the delicious, zesty white Rias Baixas from Albarino, and the bold and brassy red Ribeiro Del Duero from Tempranillo. But my two favorite Spanish wines are Godello made from, well, Godello in Ribeira, and Bierzo made from Mencia.
Anyway, here are the wines we tasted; unfortunately, some of them were rare or “library” wines that you probably can’t find, but many are available.