Obviously the greatest Spanish red is a vino tinto from La Rioja, the region in northern Spain responsible for most of the country’s wine exports and also where La Batalla De Vino De Haro, or San Vino, is held every year. If you like parties and love red wine, or the other way around, make sure you become acquainted with this utterly unique Spanish fiesta, which goes down every 29th of June.
But there is more to Spanish wine than La Rioja and there is more to La Rioja than what you think you know. Here’s a little guide to the wines of Spain. When we talk about Spanish wines we talk more about the region than we do the grape variety used, but region does usually denote grape as well. We say don’t worry about that, because we don’t. All you need to know is which regions are good, and we’re bringing that to you here. Want more? Read on.
It should be noted here before we dive to far into this treatise that nobody at Stoke Travel is a sommelier, nor are we confident in spelling the term. Somewhere around 90% of Stoke Travel staff are content swilling whatever fermented grape juice they can get their hands on, and the other 10% feel fancy when they purchase a €4 bottle. This little guide to Spanish wines is for those of us buying bottles within the €2-7 range, from the supermarket, i.e. it’s intended to be completely inexclusive.
La Rioja Reds
As mentioned, red wines from La Rioja are the most famous of Spanish wines. What you need to know, though, is how the wines are designated. When you look at the label it will have La Rioja on it, but then it will have either joven, crianza, reserva or gran reserva. These terms denote how long the wine has been cellared at the winery, and is a good indicator of quality, as only the better wines are afforded time and space to mature. Joven are the youngest wines, from the year before, and are cheaper. They are delicious, but are drink-in-the-park-with-pals delicious.
The crianzas have been in wood barrels for at least one year. That’s when wines begin to get some fun stuff going on in them, weird little delightfully flavours that have been drawn from the oak, whether it’s French or American. Crianzas are what we drink when we go to dinner with friends or with anybody. A good rule of thumb with your La Riojas is to drink jovens every day and then drink crianzas when you feel like you deserve something nice, or you want to impress somebody.
Reservas and gran reservas have been cellared for longer and are the domain of more experienced wine drinkers. You will not get the benefit of the extra fermentation on your pallet, and can probably save your money. If you see a good deal on a reserva it’s probably crap, but try it and you can pretend you’re a fat old American tourist in Madrid being swindled by the waitstaff on an expensive bottle of earthy-tasting Iberian plonk.
They don’t get as much attention as La Rioja reds, but they are particularly good, and in our opinion rival the more popular La Riojas. What we want from a Catalan red is that they come from the area around Tarragona. The best region here is Priorat, but it’s a small area and they can be difficult to find. If you can’t find a Priorat, then consider a Montsant or Tierra Alta as they are the regions that border Priorat and so some of the goodness must cross the frontier between regions.
Other Spanish Reds
Basically almost every region in Spain has its own red wine and to be completely honest, they’re all going to be delicious. Some notable regions include Ribeiro de Duero, Navarra and the Valdepeñas region south of Madrid. The reality is, when choosing a Spanish wine, is you should know how much you want to spend and then based on that choose a label that you feel represents the time you want to have with the wine. If you’re feeling like having a regal evening, grab something with a castle or a night on it. If you want to have sexy times, a bottle with some red lips will do the trick. The key to drinking red wine in Spain is knowing how much you want to spend and then making sure that you manifest the type of evening you need to have. If in doubt, put €4-7 aside and look for something with the word “crianza” on it. Like that you will very rarely go wrong.
And that’s Spain’s red wines. At some point we’ll write about the country’s whites, sparklings, rosés and fortified, but for now this should satisfy you. Like we said earlier, if you do love red wine please join us in La Rioja for the Wine Fight, it is the best fun you’ll have travelling as a fan of vino tinto.