Not so long ago, it used to be the case that you would have to travel to Spain to get good, cheap Spanish wine.
There’s an increased awareness of Spanish wines in Melbourne these days, thanks in part to the proliferation of tapas bars and Spanish restaurants. Iberian drops seem to be everywhere on wine lists, and in bars and bottleshops.
A high Aussie dollar has no doubt fuelled the latest influx of wines, but the trend of importing quality, cheap Spanish wine in large volumes started well before parity with the US dollar and the euro debt crisis hit Spain.
The past decade or so has seen a rapid increase in quality of Spanish wine, which has driven demand around the world.
For a long time, many of Spain’s wineries were part of large regional winemaking co-operatives that operated with a focus on quantity rather than quality.
Grapes from precious old vines with the potential to create wines of quality and complexity were often lost in the mix as the co-ops produced bulk wines for the local market. Think of it like adding Grange into the mix of wine destined for a cask or flagon.
Like many places around the world, there’s a new breed of ambitious young winemakers who aren’t content with churning out the same old generic wines. They’re often from winemaking families with rich and long histories who have set about modernising their vineyards and wineries and are producing wines of consistently high quality and good value.
This value is seen in many of the Spanish wines coming into Australia – from $10 quaffers to bottles costing more than $100. At every price point there is a bargain to be found.
Here’s a handy list of Spanish regions you’re likely to find at the local bottleshop and the grapes you’re likely to find in the bottle. This is just the tip of the iceberg – there are scores of interesting wines and varieties available, which you’ll find at specialist, independent wine shops.
The earliest evidence of wine production in this region dates back to 873. Split into three principal subregions, Rioja Alavesa, Alta and Baja, red wine accounts for 85 per cent of Rioja’s wine output. A typical red will be a tempranillo-dominant blend with grenache, graciano and mazuelo making up the mix.
Ribera del Duero
Named after the Duero River that flows through it, the region is almost solely dedicated to the tempranillo grape. Its wines are capable of great depth and intensity, along with genuine ageworthiness.
Ninety-five per cent of all Spain’s sparkling wine, cava, is produced in a region not far from Barcelona. Made from grapes such as xarel.lo, macabeu and parallada, to be certified as cava, the wine must be bottle fermented to create the bubbles naturally, just like Champagne. I reckon this makes many of the sub-$20 bottles, such as Freixenet, you’ll see on shelves great value.
Part of the Castilla y León region 170 kilometres north-west of Madrid, it’s the widely planted grape verdejo that was introduced from northern Africa in the 11th century that gets all the attention. Selling for as low as $10 at the chains, the cheaper offerings may be blended with high proportions of sav blanc.
Pronounced “ree-ass by-shass”, the region is in the north-west tip of Galicia, just above Portugal. Albarino is the region’s most widely planted grape, where mild maritime weather helps the grapes ripen to produce refreshing, perfumed wines.
Solar Viejo Crianza 2008
(Rioja) $35; 13.5%
Part of the Freixenet group, this tempranillo is brimming with old-world charm. A bouquet of strawberry, plum, cherry, cola, spice and cedar oak benefits from being served with a light chill, as do medium-bodied earthy flavours of plum, cherry, tobacco and leather. Nice mouthfeel, with luxurious texture, fine powdery tannin and fresh acidity. A lengthy finish of cherry, cola and spice adds to the experience.
Food match \ Chicken and chorizo stew
Peramor Verdejo 2010
(Rueda) $22; 13%
I was first introduced to verdejo by the sommelier at Mugaritz, a restaurant outside San Sebastian. That glass cost a measly €5, and I have been hooked on it ever since. Pretty and perfumed, this is packed with juicy tropical fruit, honeydew melon, blossom, stonefruit and pear flavours. Grassy notes, along with lemon juice and pith, temper the flavours nicely. Dry and refreshing, there’s good texture and grip to this moreish wine.
Food match \ Pan-fried whole flounder
Neo El Arte de Vivir 2010
(Ribera del Duero) $29.99; 14%
The sample I tasted was fresh off the boat and needed time in the decanter to open up but, when it did, it revealed aromas of cherry, strawberry, tobacco, herbs and a touch of spice. Tasting of cherry, blackberry, orange zest, spice and vanilla, it’s in the mouth where this tempranillo shines. Silky smooth with great sandy tannins that drive the flavours with a vibrant acid balance.
Food match \ Grilled pork chops
Giró Ribot Mare
Gran Reserva Cava 2006
(Region) $39.99; 11.5%
Hand-picked, hand-sorted grapes (a blend of xarel.lo, macabeu and parellada) from 30- to 50-year-old vines, with ageing on yeast lees for three years. It’s complex, with white peach, apple, fennel seeds, minerals and orange rind on the nose. Granny Smith apple, lemon, minerals and yeast mix nicely with a creamy texture. Dry, grippy finish with salty biscuit and lemon flavours on the finish.
Food match \ Pintxos
Love a bargain?
Vela Blanca Albariño 2010
(Rías Baixas) $19.99; 12.5%
Vela is the Galician word for a boat’s sails, which is fitting, given Vela’s vineyards are close to the sea. This has pretty floral aromas of apple, blossom and tropical fruits. It’s unoaked, but there’s a smokiness to the wine that adds to the complexity found in its weighty yet delicate melon, pear, brine and nectarine flavours. It has a lovely texture but is dry and refreshing and, with good intensity to the finish, it’s a highly gluggable wine.
Food match \ Grilled octopus