FROM the 1970s until recently, if someone mentioned Spanish wines your first (and only) thought was Rioja.
Or, if you were adventurous, a bottle of Sangre de Toro. Rioja is Spain’s most famous wine region, but it is often outflanked these days (in price and star status) by wines from Ribera del Duero and elsewhere.
There is a bewildering array of obscure Spanish wine regions worth exploring. The three main red grapes are Tempranillo (sometimes called Cencibal or Tinta del Pais), Garnacha (Grenache) and Monastrell (Mourvèdre). There are small pockets of unusual grapes, such as Mencia, in Bierzo, in the north-west.
Spain’s best white grapes are Verdejo (mainly in Rueda) and Albariño and Godello from the north-west — I recommend them. Viura is the other white grape, particularly in Rioja, and it is serviceable if insubstantial — drink the youngest (or, paradoxically, the wonderful barrel-aged version by Marques de Murrieta).
Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva are the three levels of quality and you will find these descriptions on wines throughout Spain. These are not an indication of quality, but of how long the wine has been aged in barrel and bottle.
Often, Crianza, the youngest of these designations, has the more interesting wine, thanks to a richer fruit content that did not seep into the barrel as it aged.
Spain is one of the cheapest producers, with fine quality wines from 70 regions. Other regions I recommend are Cariñena, Cigales, Jumilla, Navarre, Penedes and Toro.
¦ For the Diary: Kelly’s Hotel, Rosslare, are organising tastings from Nov 5-9, with Benjamin Leroux, of Burgundy producer Comte Armand, David Whelehan, of TV3, and John McDonnell, of Wine Australia. Call 053-9132114. www.kellys.ie.
BEST VALUE UNDER €10
Herbis Verdejo 2011, Rueda, €9.95
Jus de Vine Portmarnock, Vineyard Galway, Online via www.TyrrellandCompany.com
The Rueda region in the Castille-León region of northwest Spain was dragged into the limelight by Marqués de Riscal, who blended the local grape, Verdejo, with Sauvignon Blanc, before realising that they should be concentrating on the local grape. This has good, zesty grapefruit and lemon flavours with a mineral complexity. A clean finish.
La Bicycleta Tempranillo-Garnacha 2010, €6.99
Various independents and symbols, including Mace and Costcutter
Light and juicy, with aromas of cherries and flavours of plums and raspberries, this is very drinkable, but would benefit from being served with food to soften the structure a little. I drank this with a Spanish omelette topped with fried chorizo, and it worked wonders.
Viña Decana Crianza Tempranillo-Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Utiel-Requena, €5.49
This wine is soft and fruity and very drinkable, and shows just how approachable Spanish wines can be in even the lowest price range. The Crianza designation means the wine has been aged (or cradled) for a couple of years before release and this shows itself in the soft fruitiness of the wine.
BEST VALUE UNDER €20
Valdamor Albariño 2010, Rías Baixas,€14.99
World Wide Wines Waterford and other indepen -dents, Pettitts Supermarkets
Albariño is probably Spain’s finest white-wine grape and is mainly found in Rías Baixas, in Galicia, where it produces aromatic, fruity whites that taste of peaches and baked apples. Rich, complex aromas of baked pears and apples, with a hint of apricot and similar flavours on the palate, but with a good, crisp finish.
Mosaic Priorat 2010, Priorat, Spain, €16.99
Grenache is usually the primary grape in the region, but this version contains almost equal parts Carignan and Syrah. Ripe blackberry and blackcurrant, on the nose and on the palate, with a pleasing, refreshingly bitter kick on the finish.
Olvena Crianza 2007, Somontano, €13.95
Independents, Next Door, Carry-Out
Somontano is a tiny region just below the Pyrenees. While many wines in the region are made from Tempranillo and Garnacha, you will find some pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. This wine still seems recognisably Spanish, with juicy, blackcurrant flavours and a mouth-filling fruitiness.
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