Anyone who lives in, or regularly visits, Spain will have no doubt about why it’s practically impossible to find imported wines – why bother selling coal to Newcastle, or oranges to Valencia? With just about every grape variety on earth, prices ranging from 99 cents to several hundreds of euros, and wine regions in almost every province, whatever your palate and however much is in your pocket, you’ll find the perfect homemade tipple.
But why does Spanish wine have such a poor reputation beyond its own borders, especially compared with those of France, Italy, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa? The answer is purely marketing. If you’re in the UK, you might occasionally see ‘Spanish wine’ – unbranded – on the shelves, and if asked to name one, would probably hesitate and then say ‘Rioja’. If you’re in France, ‘Spanish wine’ is also undefined when it’s on sale, is cheap, and sold purely for cooking, and not gourmet, either. In either country, it’s synonymous with budget plonk that needs mixing with lemonade and doubles up nicely for cleaning blocked plugholes.
Spanish wine is screaming out to be recognised, valued and understood. It needs to clear its name and rise onto the pedestal of the world’s top brands. And although seven types have reached the world’s top 100 list, only one is in the top 25, according to the global booze bible Wine Spectator in its 2018 edition.
Three-quarters of the top 100 are from Italy – including the winning red, the Bolgheri-Sassicaia 2015, which retails at €216 a bottle – or from France or the USA. The top 10 includes Chiantis, Burgundy, Dom Pérignon Champagne, Aubert Chardonnay, Dopp Creek Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley Bedrock Heritage, Le Vieux Donjon – all from these three countries.
But in a rare coup, Spain has managed to creep into number four with its 890 Rioja Gran Reserva 2005, now officially the best wine in the country.
Next on the list is at number 26 and the lowest-placed is at number 59, but we’re sure that if Spanish wines were better known, they’d be giving their European neighbours a run for their money.
Luckily, the top seven Spanish wines of 2018, according to Wine Spectator, are highly affordable – okay, a bit more than the very pleasant and quality brands in supermarkets which range from €1.50 to €8 a bottle on average, but for globally-endorsed varieties, they are excellent value for money. Push the boat out and give these a chance – then tell everyone you know outside of Spain about what they’re missing.
Number 4: Rioja 890 Gran Reserva Selección Especial 2005 (La Rioja Alta wine merchants)
Mostly Tempranillo – 95% – and the remainder a blend of Graciano and Mazuelo, the 890 Gran Reserva is aged in barrel for six years, swapped into 10 different barrels which are each fumigated with a sulphur wick in advance. Aromas of red cherries, aged leather, dried herbs, and fresh flowers, with a hint of vanilla and coconut. Notes of raspberry, cedar wood, sour cherries and fresh herbs. Mellow and harmonious but with just the right level of acidity – a classic Rioja.
Alcohol content: 13.5% Price per bottle: €155
Number 26: Valderiz 2015 (Ribera del Duero)
An easy-to-drink red Tempranillo described as solid, rich, with aromas of blackberry, spices and violets, notes of chocolate, blueberry and cardamom, with well-integrated, assertive tannins, full-bodied and dark purple in colour.
Alcohol content: 15% Price per bottle: from €19
Made with the red Mencia grape – native to the centre-northern region of Castilla y León – the Pétalos 2016 was aged in new French oak barrels for a few weeks then for six to 10 months in seasoned barrels.
Like most other Mencia varieties, the Pétalos is described as balanced with silky tannins, with an earthy, red-fruit taste and notes of flowers, spices and black pepper, black cherry, blackcurrant, liquorice and mineral with a smoky flavour, firm but subtle, and an ideal introduction to Bierzo wines.
Alcohol content: 14.5% Price per bottle: average €17
The world’s most-sold Manzanilla sherry straight from the heart of fino country is made using Palomino grapes native to the province of Cádiz and is named after the gypsy woman who ran the bar in Málaga where the largest amounts of it were consumed.
Described as lively, dry, light and crisp, with aromas of yellow apple, lemon, camomile and dried flowers and a hint of sea breeze, its flavour includes discreet hints of salted almonds, light herbs and liqorice, with a short finish.
Alcohol content: 15%
Price per bottle: approximately €8 to €15
A Tempranillo wine from the Toro region in the province of Zamora, close to the north-eastern border of Portugal, the San Román 2014 has a medium-long finish with fruity afternotes, just enough acidity to prevent it being too fruity or sweet and an exquisite structure with grippy tannins, aromas of cherries and fruits of the forest and notes of blackberries, black cherry, plum, vanilla oak, and hints of cedar with a slightly smoky taste
Alcohol content: 14.5%
Price per bottle: average €28
Among the most highly-acclaimed – and smallest – producers in the Terra Alta wine region near Barcelona, the Edetària’s star product uses 100% white Garnacha grape.
It contains aromas of orange zest and tarragon and has a short, dry finish with notes of almonds and green melon, moderate acidity and a slightly salty aftertaste.
Alcohol content: 13%
Price per bottle: from €7.90
Number 59: Viña Gravonia Blanco 2008 (Rioja)
A classic, oak-aged Rioja vintage, but nonetheless youthful and fresh, this white variety has a delicious flavour reminiscent of honey, nuts, dried flowers and petrol with hints of saffron and a salty, spicy finish, with highly-developed aromas of yellow fruit. Pale gold in colour, complex and developed, and ideal with fish, seafood and pasta, this Viura wine is relatively low in its alcohol content compared with its fellow Spanish brands in the world top 100 lists.
Alcohol content: 12.5%
Price per bottle: from around €15 to €21