When it comes to old world countries, Spain is an easy fit. Grapes have been growing on the Iberian Peninsula since 4000 BC. However, Spain’s popularity got a late start in the wine market we know today.
When Spain was building a reputation for its sherries and to some degree its riojas, France and Italy were focused on traditional grape varieties, such as caberent sauvignon, chardonnay, sangiovese, and nebbiolo. But when the root louse phylloxera devastated most of the vineyards in France, Spanish wines – spared from the disease – got a foothold in the European wine market. Eventually, phylloxera spread to Spain in the early 1900s, but by then, there were remedies to the disease.
Couple disease with the domestic turmoil that came with a repressive government, the Spanish Civil War and World War II and the Spanish wine market was virtually frozen. It wasn't until the mid 1980s that domestic stability, economic freedom and government reform kindled the country's export market.
Today, the shelves are exploding with great values from all over Spain with new regions and producers being discovered by consumers every day. And the Spanish wine market is much more than Rioja, one of the smallest areas by size yet the one most commonly known. Regions like Rias Baixas, Rueda, Priorat, Bierzo, Ribera del Duero, and Galicia are producing refreshing white wines and delicious, approachable reds.
Eighty percent of Spain's wines come from 20 grape varieties, but these are varieties unique to Spain and not commonly known by most consumers. Tempraillo, garnacha (grenache), monastrell (mourvedre) are perhaps most well recognized. Cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are becoming more common, but for us, it's the indigenous grape varieties that intrigue us the most.
We get giddy exploring albarino, mencia, verdejo and godello wines. These grapes have great acidity, citrus and stone fruit flavors with a consistent mineral note. They are great aperitifs in warm climates but also match everything from shrimp to curry.
Several importers have made a name choosing the best wine producers and we have grown to depend on them. Eric Solomon, Jorge Ordonez and Steve Metzler have been amassing envious portfolios that represent the best Spain has to offer. Look for their names on the back of the bottles.
Here are several recent discoveries:
Burgans Albarino Rias Baixas 2016 ($13). This wine is part of a Martin Codax cooperative, not uncommon in Spain where small growers can't get their wines into the international pipeline without help. The Burgans albarino has ginger and melon aromas with tropical fruit and peach flavors.
Argami Rueda Verdejo 2016 ($15). Medium body with melon aromas and notes of tangerine and citrus. Medium body.
Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2014 ($16). We've been drinking this wine for years and it never ceases to impress us. From the Campo di Borja region, this delicious and surprisingly complex grenache has intense red fruit and floral aromas. Plum and blackberry flavors with a heavy dose of oak-infused vanilla and leather.
Melis Priorat 2015 ($90). Priorat has a reputation for making some of the best wines in Spain and this wine shows why. It is a full-body blend of 60 percent grenache, 30 percent carignan and the rest made up of syrah and cabernet savignon. Very textured with layers of fruit ranging from blackberries to black cherries. Very floral aromas and long in the finish. It is a beautiful wine that can be aged for years but enjoyed on release.
Matsu El Recio 2015 ($22). Matsu's creative labels are photos of the people who work in the vineyards – very eye-catching. The wines are from the Toro region in western Spain. This El Recio, made entirely of old-vine tinta de toro grapes, has a round character with forward and ripe plum and blackberry fruit. Hints of oak-inspired vanilla and chocolate.
Bodega Classica Lopez de Haro Reserva 2013 ($16). Delicious and inexpensive, this Rioja blend of tempranillo, garnacha, and graciano has a spicy aromas and dark fruit flavors with a hint of truffles.
There is nothing like a sparkling rosé to put some bubbles into your summer dining. Here are a few we recently tried:
Gustave Lorentz Cremant D’Alsace Rosé Brut ($33-35). A delightful sparkling wine from the Alsace region in France. Made from the pinot noir grape this wine offers a beautiful salmon color with strawberry and citrus notes and a lovely finishing creaminess. A real winner!
Amelia Brut Rosé ($16). This is a new sparkling wine entry from Bordeaux, of all places. It shows us the growing popularity of everything rosé . A blend of merlot and cabernet franc, it has strawberry and raspberry notes with a round texture.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Extra Brut Rosé ($70). Add some bubbles to rosé and you've got a marriage made in heaven. Paillard is getting deserved acclaim from critics even though it wasn't founded until 1981 – recent for Champagne standards. This rosé , a blend of 25 vintages dating back to 1985, is an astounding example of the finesse and elegance that comes from French champagne. Vibrant red berry and nectarine fruit, yeasty and cherry aromas, long finish. It is mostly pinot noir.
J Brut Rosé ($45). The wine spends two years aging en tirage – the time when the yeast adds flavors after bottling but before release. During this period, this wine developed apple, orange and raspberry notes with hints of almonds.
Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé ($100). Laurent-Perrier redefines luxury with this exquisite, rich blend of 12 crus. Entirely from pinot noir grapes, it is left on the skins for 48 to 72 hours and aged in bottle for 5 years before release. Dark in color, it has raspberry aromas and lively red berry flavors. The shape of the bottle, inspired by those used during the time of Henry IV, is as attractive as the wine.
Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé ($29). With 60 percent of the wine pinot noir and the rest chardonnay, this sparkling rosé is heavy on the palate. Strawberry and cherry notes.
Moet Imperial Brut Rosé ($40). Seductive, medium body, bright strawberry and raspberry flavors.