Spain is the next country on our list of value-wine producers from Europe. Spain ranks third in volume of all the wine-producing countries behind Italy and France.
The Agarena Cabernet Sauvignon-Tempranillo 2011
Spanish wine has a history as ancient as these neighbours, and it is home to hundreds of indigenous grape varieties.
With notable exceptions, Spain was a major contributor to the bulk production of low-quality wine in the last century. With democratic reform and entry into the European Union in the 1980s came investment and modernization for the native wine industry. New wine-producing regions and Denominación de Origen (DO) classified locales have been established.
In older times Spain’s reputation for quality wine rested on the special products of Sherry and Malaga in the south, and the wines of Rioja in the north. In the south, the important grapes were the Palomino, Muscat, and Pedro Ximenez.
In Rioja, the principal grapes were Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinto, Mazuelo, and Graciano for the reds, and Viura, Garnacha Blanca, and Malvasia for the whites. (Note that Garnacha Tinto and Blanca are the same vines as the Grenache Noir and Blanc found throughout southern France. Similarly, Mazuelo equates to Carignan.)
Quality wine production got kick-started in the mid-1800s when the vineyards of France were devastated by the phylloxera wine pest epidemic that eventually marched across the continent. Wine drinkers needed new suppliers and French wine-makers brought new methods and experience to northeastern parts of Spain, including Rioja and Catalonia. Phylloxera was late reaching Spain and the preventative technique of grafting European vines to American rootstock was well known by that time, saving some Spanish vineyards from the fate of their neighbours.
Today the top, most expensive wines from Spain are found in the regions of Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat (in Catalonia).
You can certainly find less expensive wines from these same regions, such as the Marquis de Riscal Reserva from Rioja for $15.20. The real bargains, however, are generally to be found in less well-known territory such as Galicia and La Mancha.
In such places we run into different grape varieties, such as Mencia, Bobal, Monastrell, Godello and Albariño. We also find, particularly in the newly defined areas, that many international varieties are well represented, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. For value wines be prepared to seek out Spanish varieties or blends with Spanish varieties from less well-known areas.
The Agarena Cabernet Sauvignon-Tempranillo 2011 (NLC $11.99) from Utiel-Requena is an example of such a value. It is a 70 per cent Tempranillo, 30 per cent Cabernet blend and it shows all the berry aromatics of these varieties in abundance. On the palate it is smooth and medium-bodied, with just enough tannin to give it some presence. It was not aged in oak, which has helped keep the price affordable. Score: 14/Good.
You will find another dozen or so good offerings from Spain for less than $15, including some sparkling wines. Spain produces excellent “cava” (sparkling wine) using the same methods as Champagne but based on the grape varieties of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo.
Spain offers value in sparkling, red, or white so long as you are willing to try new regions and new grapes!
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him