FOOD & DRINK: The wines of Spain

There's more to Spanish wine than just Rioja

SPAIN has the largest number of vines in the world but does not produce the most wine.

That is because many of the vines are old, producing less but better quality wine.

If we leave out those splendid wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, there are plenty of splendid reds and white wines from other areas and from unique Spanish grape varieties.

Being less famous, prices are relatively low.

For white wines:

Galicia on the north-west corner of Spain is the area where the warm days, moderated by cool sea breezes, develop delicious flavours. This is known as ‘Green Spain’ and the area of Rais Baixas produces fine white wines from the Albarino grape. The vines here are grown high on trellises.

Here are three good ones but there are many more:

Candelilla Albarino 2018 Martin Codax Winery, Rias Baixas (M&S £9) A fresh, mouthwatering, unoaked white with flavours of apricot, lemon peel and a touch of saltiness. The young wine is kept on its fine lees to develop added creaminess.

Castro Martin Abarino 2016 Rais Baixas 12.5pc (Lightfoots, Wentworth £9.00) A clean and intensely fresh wine. Ripe and aromatic, with overtones of peach, melon and honey, offset by a crisp tangy acidity that helps to balance the rich fruit flavours.

Faustino Rivero Albariño Hacienda y Viñedos Marqués del Atrio 12pc (Sainsbury £12) Clear lemon yellow with golden hues, it shows citric hints on the nose, like lime. Floral notes with an elegant herbal background. Fresh in the mouth with a good volume and citric finish. Going east to Rueda and the Verdejo grape. Verdejo may not be a grape you’ve heard much about, but it’s certainly worth trying.

Back in the 11th century in Spain, King Alfonso VI offered land to new settlers and monastic orders who brought vines with them to set up their own vineyards. The Verdejo grape was one that really flourished in the Rueda region and its fresh apple and citrussy flavours have made it a hit ever since.

Try these two:

Morrisons Rueda Canto Real Verdejo 13pc (£7.75) Fresh and fruity, it’s one to have with paella and tapas, and great with fish and chips. Beronia Rueda Verdejo 2018 13.5pc (Waitrose £8.99) A nose of ripe stone fruits and aromatic herbs, with floral touches. Full, fruity and dry with a long finish, the wine has a balanced acidity and a characteristic attractive bitterness.

Now for some good reds:

Bierzo is a region in Castilla y León in northwestern Spain, just east of Galicia, a region that has helped usher in the exciting modern era of Spanish wines.

In an elevated position, the region experiences bitterly cold winters and long, dry summers. The following two wines are from the Mencia grape.

Waitrose and Partners Mencia 2017 Bierzo 14pc (£7.99) Fruity, raspberry and cherry and some spicy notes. Great with lamb.

Ulver 2013 Crianza, Bierzo £14.5pc (Lightfoots, Wentworth £9.99) From 40-year-old Mencia grapevines. Matured in French and American oak barrels this has dark plum and berry aromas. This Mencía is balanced and nicely textured, with blackberry, prune and licorice flavours. Some bitterness comes up on the finish, but mostly this ends like it starts, with jammy richness and dark-fruit notes.

Next to Rioja is Navarra.

Navarra is a huge region with a variety of different climates, from the cooler, damper northern mountains to the dry, continental conditions of the centre and the more Mediterranean climate of the south.

Navarra has embraced international varieties, and are making well-made, inoffensive, relatively cheap wines:

Sainsbury’s Sierra de Andia Navarra 2017 Taste the Difference Bodegas Manzanos 13pc (£7) Grapes: Garnacha, Graciano and Tempranillo. This is a good example of the best of the cheaper end of Navarra reds: bright fresh juicy fruits-blackberry and blueberry - similar to a warm peppery sweet southern Italian red. Good value as an undemanding easy quaffer.

Vina Zorzal Garnacha, Navarra 2018 13.5pc (£7 The Wine Society ) Smooth, juicy black and red fruits in this easy-quaffing unoaked Garnacha. This shows what good value Navarra Garnacha can be.

Going east across Spain to Catalunya, one of the oldest winemaking regions in the whole of Europe, dating back to the time of the Phoenicians who arrived on the Iberian Peninsula long before the Romans.

Food and wine culture goes hand in hand here. Catalan cooking is all about fresh produce. The soil here is predominantly limestone, which is perfect for viticulture.

Firstly two Torres whites:

Torres Vina Sol 2018 11.5pc (Widely available around £7.50 to £8) The grapes are Parellada and Grenache Blanc. Fresh floral aromas with strong fruit undertones and an intriguing exotic note. Light and silky on the palate. Excellent as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to rice dishes, seafood and fish.

Torres Vina Esmeralda 2018 (Waitrose £9.49) An unusual blend of 85pc Moscatel and15pc Gewürtztraminer. Honey and grapefruit,floral aromas, hint of sweetness. Great as an aperitif.

Two areas of Catalunya producing good to great reds are Montsant and Priorat. Montsant mountains sit in the heart of Catalonia, forming a ring around the Priorat region. Wines have been made in its hills and valleys for thousands of years, and this bold and fruity red is a great example:

Les Tallades Montsant 2016 13.5pc (M&S £11) 40pc Merlot, 30pc Garnacha 15pc Tempranillo and 15pc Mazuela.Bold and fruity, medium bodied,flavours of ripe berries, pomegranates and balsamic.

On to Priorat and its powerful reds:

Many of Priorat’s vines are very old and produce tiny quantities. These old vines grow on difficult to work terraces and hillsides in a unique soil called llicorella, made up of tiny pieces of slate which reflect the heat. This combination of low-yielding vines, soil and oak ageing produces wines of real depth and complexity:

Sainsbury’s Priorat, Taste the Difference 2017 14.5% (£10) Made from Garnacha, Carignan, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, this has aromas of black fruits, vanilla and toasted almonds with concentrated blackberry and cocoa flavours. This robust red is perfect with roasted meats, game or strong blue cheeses.

Wm Morrison Priorat 2014 14.5pc Cellers Unió, Winemaker Jordi Puxeu (£10) A blend of Garnacha,Mazuelo and Syrah. Concentrated cherry and blackberry fruit flavours with a touch of dark chocolate and velvety oak. Age it for four or five years or drink it now with red meat, duck or game.

Miguel Torres Priorat Salmos 2014 14.5pc (Waitrose £19.99).

Light tannins, notes of black olive and forest bramble mingle with tart cherry and red plum flavours in this lively red. Drink now through to 2022.

Finally, an area about 50 miles inland from Valencia that has really improved resulting in some good inexpensive wines. Jumilla, Yecla and Utiel-Requena used to produce bulk wines but are now making some very stylish reds:

Carta Roja Gran Reserva 2013 Jumilla 13.5pc (Sainsbury £5.75) Carta Roja is made traditionally from Monastrell grapes which producerich and intense wines. This Grand Reservadais full-bodied with red fruit aromas and intense flavours of ripe plum and vanilla. Aged in vat, American oak barrels and matured in bottle, this wine has soft, smooth tannins.

Finca El Paso Monastrell 2014 14.5pc (Lightfoots £8.95) is one I particularly like with its bright, juicy fruit and a little leather and spice.

Tapa Roja Old Vines Monastrell 2016 14pc (M&S £7) Yecla. A deep and sumptuous fullbodied red with intense plum and blackberry aromas and flavours with a herbal twist. Yecla, in the south eastern province of Murcia, is on of Spain’s smallest wine regions. Its vineyards sit on a high, exposed plateau, where the Monastrell grape ripens perfectly to create intense reds like this one from local winemaker Mariano Lopez.

Toro Loco Reserva 2015, Utiel Requena 13pc (Aldi £5.49) Flavours of plums, dark cherries and hints of vanilla. Great value. Try it with duck breasts, pasta, roasted meats and mild cheese.

There are other pleasant wines from areas such as Toro, Castile and Catalayud, but space is limited and there are so many good Spanish wines around.

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