Fact Sheet: Discovering Spain
The news may not have hit the American mainstream yet, but Spain, the country with the world's largest vineyard acreage, is the source of some of the world's most astonishing wines. Many of the best (and best-priced) come from regions most of us have never heard of: Rias Baixas, Yecla, Somontano. A new generation of winemakers is reviving old grape varietals and traditions, or in some places, like Priorato, creating entirely new and glorious reds and whites.
Price: No other country in the world produces so many exciting wines between $5 and $25--U.S. prices helped by a very favorable exchange rate. From crisp, ocean-influenced whites to superdense reds made in often harsh inland climates, there is a vast array to choose from.
Importers: Confused by Spanish wine labels? A simple solution is to check the importer's name on the back. Even if you have no clue what's in the bottle, the best scouts can be relied upon to choose tasty wines. Look for these names: Classical Wines, European Cellars, Jorge Ordoñez's Fine Estates from Spain, Tempranillo and MRR Traders.
Terminology: Bodega means winery. Tinto is red wine, and blanco white. Crianza means aged for two years, reserva at least three (two for whites) and gran reserva five (four for whites).
10 Top Bottles
2001 Pazo de Señorans Albariño ($20) This bright-flavored white from Spain's rainy Galician coast is sturdily constructed, with crisp notes of peach and grapefruit.
2001 Bodegas Godeval ($15) Made at a mountainside winery in Valdeorras, this white from the obscure Godello grape is pure peach-apricot and citrus fruit.
2001 Martínsancho Verdejo ($13) Crisp melon flavor and a full body describe this old-vine white from the Rueda region, just north of Spain's center.
2001 Torres Viña Esmeralda ($15) Light-bodied but billowing with exotic aromas of rose petal and spice, this blend of Moscatel and Gewürztraminer comes from one of Spain's most reliable producers.
1999 Huguet Cava Brut Nature Reserva ($18) This is my new favorite Spanish sparkling wine--elegant, dry and, thanks to a 30-month Champagne-style fermentation, also possessed of wonderfully rich, toasty flavors.
1998 Condesa de Leganza Crianza ($9) This is a plump, plummy wine from Don Quixote land (La Mancha). The mildest touch of oak doesn't interfere with the lovely character of the Tempranillo grape.
2000 Vega Sindoa el Chaparral ($9) Made with grapes from 60- to 100-year-old Grenache vines, this ripe, blossomy, supervalue red comes from a high-quality eight-family operation in Navarra's Valdizarbe district.
2000 Capçanes Mas Donís ($10) I had to wrestle this luscious Côtes-du-Rhône clone (a Grenache-Syrah blend) away from everyone at the table just to get a taste. Its soft, juicy character puts most French versions to shame.
1999 Cérvoles ($23) Made from high-altitude mountain grapes, this graceful, well-delineated red from the Costers del Segre region has a surprisingly rich core of fruit. It's a wine that's easily worth twice the price.
1999 Bodega Pirineos Marboré ($28) This polished, generous red, made just south of the Pyrenees in Somontano, is another wine I'd happily pay more for. A blend of Tempranillo, Merlot and the indigenous grapes Moristel and Parraleta, it's aged in oak for two years.