How to Order Wine in Spain Without Sounding Like an Idiot
“They don’t seem to have rosé here,” she said, demoralized. The thing is, they do, but it’s called rosado. Before traveling to one of the most spectacularly diverse wine countries in the world, brush up on all the terms you need to know so you don’t get laughed at or end up with an overpriced carafe of wine that’s not the color you wanted.
Jonah Miller, chef and owner of the Basque-inflected East Village restaurant Huertas, spent his formative years cooking (and drinking) across Spain. He says ordering wine in the country is pretty straightforward once you know the basics.
“At your typical tapas or pintxo bar, don't expect a long list,” says Miller. “That makes things easy. Simply order a glass of tinto (red)—not rojo!—or blanco (white). If you're at a more modern restaurant with a large wine list, instead of going for the familiar Rioja or Albariño, ask the server or sommelier what their favorite local wine is.”
While sangria is ubiquitous across the country—and can be quite good, especially when made fresh—Miller suggests opting for a different refreshing drink. “Avoid ordering sangria, and if you see a place offering vermút del grifo, or vermouth on tap, give it a try,” he says. “It's often served with a splash of soda and a slice of orange and hits the spot on a warm Spanish night.”
Here are the key terms to know before your trip to Spain.
Red wine. If you’re interested in venturing away from the standard Rioja, look for Ribera del Duera wines from central Spain. “They’re getting better and better; it’s the best bang for your buck,” a native of Costa Brava tells me. “Rioja is quite overvalued.”
Tinto de Verano
Served across the country, the cold summer drink is one part red wine, one part sparkling soda or water. Warning: Sometimes rum is added.
A DOC red that’s been aged a minimum of two years with at least six months in a barrel. (White Crianza wines must be aged for at least one year.)
Rosé. Increasingly, Spanish rosados are earning the respect once reserved exclusively for Provence’s rosés. Mostly made from Garnacha grapes (and sometimes Tempranillo), rosados come in vividly pink colors, are somewhat dry and offer tangy finishes.
As detailed in this handy piece, Cava is Spain’s most popular sparkling wine and is largely produced in Catalonia. Unlike Champagne, which it’s often compared to, Cava is often sipped as a dessert wine, a Barcelona native tells me. Freixenet and Codorniu are its two main producers. (Worth noting: Cava sangria is exquisite.)
White wine. If you’re in the Barcelona area, look for the Perafita wines from the Cadaqués vineyards. A good rule of thumb for whites is to order whatever is local.
Referred to as the “Bordeaux of Spain,” this wine region produces medium-bodied reds that feature Tempranillo grapes.
Reserva and Gran Reserva
Reserva means the red has spent at least one year in oak and two years in a bottle, while Gran Reserva signifies two years in oak and three years in a bottle. The latter tends to be more expensive.
Be careful—this pomance brandy is basically Spain’s grappa. With an alcohol content of over 50%, it will mess you up.
Sherry. The fortified wine, typically produced in southern Spain, is made from Palomino grapes. If you’re looking for something light, go for a fino sherry, which hovers around 16% alcohol content. Manzanilla, an especially light fino, is your ideal aperitivo sherry, perfectly paired with some jamón and tapas.
A demarcation applied to sherry (or jerez) that’s been aged over 20 years. (VORS sherry is aged at least 30.)