Never having been a wine drinker when I first arrived in Mallorca I found myself drinking mainly local white Mallorquin wines at meals. Red wines never seemed to appeal considering the lovely warm climate and I don’t recall sampling the fine reds produced in Binissalem in those days.
Moving to Madrid after a few years this was all to change as I discovered heavy red wines and have never looked back. Not surprisingly it was Rioja wine that first caught my attention, the strong oaky flavour proving particularly appealing. When buying Riojas it’s easy to recognise supposed differences in quality according to whether they were labelled Rioja, Rioja Crianza, Rioja Reserva or Rioja Gran Reserva …
‘Rioja’ simply means the wine has spent less than a year in an oak barrel whilst ‘Vino de Crianza’ is wine in its third year, matured for at least one year in the oak cask. ‘Reserva’ is aged for at least three years with at least one in an oak cask. ‘Gran Reserva’ is a vintage wine which has aged at least two years in an oak cask and three years in the bottle.
My favourite based on value for money is certainly the ‘Crianza’ wines. Personally I can’t justify the additional cost of buying ‘Reservas’ and ‘Grand Reservas’ as I can’t appreciate any noticeable jump in quality. As a poor man’s Rioja I’d recommend Navarra wine which is produced further east around Pamplona.
A lesser known region abroad is Ribera del Duero which is centred on the town of Aranda del Duero between Madrid and Burgos. Its wines are recognised in international circles as the finest of Spanish reds. A couple to keep an eye out for are Pesquera and Vega Sicilia.
Catalonia is home to the Penedes wine region just south-west of Barcelona. Whilst I’m partial to the red Sangre de Toro as an everyday wine it’s the whites which are particularly rated for their quality notably the Viña Sol and Viña Esmeralda from the Torres winery. This region is probably more famous as a producer of Cava, Spanish champagne, at a fraction of the cost of its French counterpart. I’m not a great Cava drinker as it makes me fall over very quickly (!)
On the opposite side of the peninsular from Catalonia is Galicia where you’ll find a wine region called Rías Baixas, home of the Albariño grape. This grape is difficult to cultivate and yields are low yet it produces what for me is the finest white wine I’ve ever tasted. Albariño wines are known as the ‘wines of the sea’ given that their production is so close to the Atlantic ocean and how they complement the delicious seafood of the region so perfectly. If I lived in Galicia I’m sure I’d be a white wine drinker. The whites from the nearby Ribeiro region are also outstanding.
Another white I’d recommend comes from deepest Andalucia and is one of Spain’s best selling wines. It is labelled Barbadillo (Castillo de San Diego) and is produced in Sanlúcar de Barrameda which is one point of Spain’s ‘sherry triangle’ consisting of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar. This triangle represents the biggest sherry producing area in the world where you can combine a tour of one of the sherry bodegas with a visit to the Royal School of Equestrian Art where you can see a performance of the famous dancing horses.