Attempting to categorize a stretch of Spain that runs from the French border down and then west across to Jerez is a challenge that is best achieved by taking a closer look at some of the individual regions that make up this vast swath of land. The wines produced in the zones that lie on or near the Mediterranean coast vary considerably. The northeast section, Catalonia, tends to produce more graceful wines that reflect the area’s relatively cool climate, while those farther down the coast display the ripe, powerful character one would expect from hot, arid conditions. Throw in the elegant wines being made on Spain’s islands, especially the Canaries, and you’ve got an area that defies simple generalization.
As might be expected, wines made across Spain’s Atlantic regions, both whites and reds, tend to be cool and restrained, strongly reflecting the ocean-influenced climate. They are quite unlike their lush, ripe southern cousins, which mostly come from vineyards that are among the hottest, driest and sunniest in Europe. Conditions along Spain’s Atlantic coast often bear striking similarity to those of southern England and the wines reflect it.
Central Spain is a distinctly homogeneous area, geographically speaking. The majority of its red wines are made entirely, or in large part, from Tempranillo, which is Spain’s single most esteemed variety and the grape that most often places the country among the world’s elite wine-growing regions.
Diving into the Rioja red wine piscina can be at turns fascinating and confusing. My advice is to approach the region without preconceptions. Rioja produces Tempranillo-based reds that range in style from hyper-traditional, often rustic and austere wines that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to a time traveler from the 19th century to flamboyantly rich, fruit-driven, new oak-influenced bottlings that would blend in well—and even stand out for their sheer quality—in blind flights of high-end Napa or Bordeaux wines.
Cellar Favorites, Spain
The 1976 Viña Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva is a wine of great clarity and finesse, with a very long, ethereal finish featuring fully resolved tannins and an impression of weightlessness.
Like most of the rest of northern Europe's wine-growing regions, Spain suffered through a cool, rain-plagued growing season and--in many regions--harvest in 2013
Rest of the World, Spain
Micro-negociant Nicolas Palazzi offers magnificent artisan spirits that deserve just as much attention as the best small production wines anywhere in the world.
Veteran IWC readers don't really need to be reminded that Spain is, in our opinion, the world's richest source of outstanding red wine values
Coming on the heels of the challenging 2006, 2007 and 2008 vintages, the mostly very good to excellent 2009, 2010 and 2011 trio is providing welcome relief to growers and importers, not to mention wine lovers
Spain continues to offer extraordinary red wine values at the low end, even in the $8-and-under category, a price point most wine regions gave up years ago