"Vino" also means "wine" in Spanish, and in the last few years, we’ve seen Spanish wines make a stratospheric rise in quality and popularity. No longer should we think Sangria for Spanish wine, but instead varietals such as Tempranillo, Garnacha, or Viura.
There are vines in Spain dating back more than 3,000 years. In fact, Spain is the third largest producer of wine in the world, behind only France and Italy. It also dedicates more land to its vineyards than any other country. You may ask, "So where has all this wine been hiding, and what do you recommend?"
Here’s the story. Although the Spaniards have been making wine for thousands of years, it hasn’t always been a quality wine. Looking at their wine production of the last 150 years, quality has usually been secondary to quantity. The rural poor had produced most of the wine for their personal consumption or as a cheap wine to export. Even in the past 30 years, the unwillingness to invest in new oak barrels has caused the quality of wine to continue to suffer.
So the wine hasn’t been hiding at all; it just wasn’t worth shipping to the New World. This has all changed as Spain has introduced modern technology and viticulture to their wonderful climate, soil, and grape varietals. This has resulted in some fantastic, yet affordable, wines.
Spain uses a similar wine classification system as France and Italy, with all classified regions regulated under the Denominacion de Origen (DO) system. Red wines are often labeled as Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva. In the Rioja and the Ribera del Duero regions, Crianza wines must be two years old with at least 12 months spent in oak cask; elsewhere, the oak aging may be legally restricted to just six months. Reservas are three years old with at least one year in oak cask. Gran Reservas are five years old with two years in cask and three in the bottle.
Spain’s most famous wine growing region is Rioja. It has a longstanding reputation for making Spain’s finest red wines. These wines are primarily from the Tempranillo grape. It’s believed to have been brought to Spain by pilgrims during the Crusades and to be a variant of Pinot Noir. Tempranillo tends to have low acidity and therefore is usually blended with the Garnacha (Grenache in the U.S. and France) to balance the wine and provide longevity. You’ll find the red wines from Rioja range from easy drinking to cellar worthy.
Other regions to look for are Ribera del Duero, Somontano, and Jumilla. Ribera del Duero has a reputation for outstanding wines, as they’re known to blend Cabernet Sauvignon with Tem-pranillo. Somontano and Jumilla are both recent success stories, so you should still find them to be outstanding values. AA!