And so, after a siesta that went on for a ridiculously long and unnecessary time but seemed normal to me, it’s further south we go to Spain. This is about the eighth time I’ve started this article but every time I began to build up any sort of momentum I’d stretch, yawn, mumble something about manyana and close down the laptop for a few more weeks.
But we’re finally here and I shall repay your patience by regaling you with stories of wonderful wines from all over this wonderful country of rolling plains, stunning history and beautiful beaches littered with lobster-pink Brits. Yes there will be (brilliant) Rioja but Spain has so much more to offer than that. Of the many highlights, there are gorgeous rich wines from Priorat, underrated fizz from Cava and crisp, juicy whites from Rueda and Albarino.
So here we go. Ok, ok I know this is about as predictable as my siesta intro but let’s dive into the wine that made Spain famous and is still absolutely lovely – Rioja. There’s a lot more to this wine than meets the eye. It’s not all Tempranillo, the use of Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo help to mix things up on the red front and of course there’s white Rioja from Viura grapes and white versions of Tempranillo and Garnacha among others. Read all about them here. The oak and bottle ageing also has a huge impact on flavour from light, stawberryish ‘Joven’ or Young wines to the epic, raisined spice and vanilla of Gran Reservas, those brilliant RiojaWine.com guys tell you more here.
Tesco finest* Vina del Cura Rioja Reserva (Tesco £8) – Buy Here
Despite their financial woes and kneejerk reaction of killing off some truly great wines from their range like a Game of Thrones script writer, there’re still a few reasons to shop at Tesco and this is one of them.
This wine may have changed its name but is still made by the inestimable Baron de Ley from 100% Tempranillo and aged in American oak barrels. What this gives you is the unmistakable vanilla and spice notes caressing the rich raspberry and strawberry fruit as it flows effortlessly into your mouth. Pause to truly appreciate the gorgeous comforting flavours then go in for another sip.
Here is a wine made to serve with a wide variety of meats from pan-seared duck to beef stew but when you match this with a leg of lamb, studded with garlic and rosemary, and an array of roasted vegetables you will soon be on a swift journey to taste nirvana and will never want to go back. The TF Gran Reserva is only a tenner right now and if anything might be even smoother and more sumptuous. Try both and pick a side (sorry Twix).
Rioja Blanco López de Haro (Majestic £8.99 or £6.99 as part of any ‘mix six’) – Buy Here
It’s not all red from Rioja you know. Yes, the majority of wines from this region are red but the whites are picking up in popularity and if you can get your hands on a good one, it’s easy to see why.
Here’s a good one. This wine is made from the Viura grape and has lots of complex fruits of lemon, date and banana with a luscious, weighty mouthfeel. The more perceptive among you will be seeing parallels with Chardonnay in terms of overall balance and richness and you’d be right. Team this wine with a roast chicken dinner to enjoy it in all its Carmen Miranda fruit hat inspired glory.
Sainsbury’s TTD Priorat (Sainsbury’s usually £10, currently £8) – Buy Here
Boom! No it’s not the Spanish Armada trying in vain to invade England but the far more successful venture – Priorat. Priorat was, around 20 years ago and like Viognier before it, on the verge of being yet another forgotten gem. Fortunately a small group of talented winemakers resurrected this great wine and thank goodness they did.
Priorat is a big galloping stallion of a wine and this excellent value for money example is packed to the rafters with deep black fruits, bolstered by seams of rich cocoa and tempered by a surprising smoothness and an orange marmalade like acidity. I enjoy this as a solo fireside sipper but it will wash down richly flavoured meat dishes like slow braised ox cheek or rib-eye steak a treat.
Freixenet Vintage Brut Cava (widely available £9ish but £6 at Morrisons right now) – Buy Here
Previously seen as the value fizz of choice, poor old Cava has fallen out of favour a bit of late due in no small part to the inexorable rise of Prosecco. Now I enjoy a drop of frothy, appley Prosecco as much as a footballer’s wife but we really need to take a fresh look at Cava and remember why we loved it in the first place. It hasn’t changed (well maybe for the better), we have.
This Cava from esteemed house Freixenet (Fresh-uh-net) is made from the traditional trio of Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada and knocks many budget Champagnes off their feet. There’s rich citrus and biscuit notes and a rush of effervescent bubbles holding it all together. Enjoy on its own or with prawn tempura nibbles, at this price it can be a party in your house whenever you want.
Extra Special Rueda Verdejo (Asda £5) – Buy Here
Yes, I can’t believe this fresh, lemon and lime packed classic from Northern Spain can be had for just five quid, and that doesn’t even seem to be the ‘offer’ price. Therefore my first piece of advice is get a load in your trolley before those folks at Asda get wind of what they’ve done and put the price up.
Here’s yet another relatively obscure gem which lovers of Sauvignon Blanc and similarly vibrant wines will take to their bosom like a rich, long lost relative. As well as the strident citrus flavours there’s a nerve tingling acidity which means this wine is excellent with all manner of seafood but my personal favourite is smoked salmon piled onto buttered brown bread with a spritz of lemon. Turn your phone off and try it, you will not wish to be disturbed.
Sainsbury’s TTD Albarino (Sainsbury’s £8) – Buy Here
And finally there’s another delicious, soon to be massively popular drop of elegant Spanish white I want to tell you about. I could have finished with any number of reds including the red berries and spice of Garnacha from Carinena or one of the stable of wonderful chunky, fruity reds from Torres especially Sangre de Toro which is perfect for parties and barbecues when the weather gets better.
But such is the fresh character overlaid with peach tones and wonderful minerality of this wine I had to tell you about it. A brilliant summer white but, once again, a Spaniard which goes so perfectly with seafood it’s as if God had planned it that way. So plate up some oysters and langoustines and wash them down with this. It will be as if Pinot Grigio was never invented.