Spanish Wine is a Big, Colorful, and Confusing Kaleidoscope, by Melissa Gardner

by Patty Ryan posted on 20 January 2015

Perhaps you’ve had this experience? When you enter the wine section of your local grocery store, or wine shop, with all those bottles, and you’re not sure which one to choose. You sigh, and roll your eyes and go with the same bottle you always select. Because sometimes wines are intimidating! When I am planning and searching for wines for a tasting, I get dizzy with all the choices of Spanish wine! There are soooo many bottles to choose from, you wish you knew more about them, before you put down your money. You certainly wouldn’t want to be disappointed with your purchase.

Some Spanish wine is made with grapes I know: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and of course, the famous grape of la Rioja – Tempranillo. There are many Spanish grapes that most people haven’t heard of: Godello, Tinto País, Graciano, Viura, Juan García, Garnacha, Verdejo, Bastardo Chico (yes, really!), along with many others.

Getting to know Spanish wine regions is another challenge. There are approximately 70 D.O.s in Spain with many new D.O.s coming into the marketplace. D.O., or Denominación de Origen simply means the wines produced in that region (the D.O.) are recognized as distinctive and of a high quality. Here’s a little map to guide you:

Maybe you’ve grown adventurous and bought a bottle of Verdejo, Spain’s zippy answer to Sauvignon Blanc. You’ve probably enjoyed some wonderful Albariños, to the envy of your friends back home. My friends in the U.S. are soooo jealous that I can browse high-quality Rioja Grand Reservas at the supermarket. Back home, they are usually sold in a wine shop at a significantly higher price. In addition to the premium brands, I can’t leave out all the delicious Spanish wines you can find for under 6€ or 7€.

But what is the difference between a bottle from Rioja and Ribera del Duero? What should I know about La Mancha, and why is Priorat a big deal, anyway? Is Albariño a grape or a region like la Rioja? If you too want answers to questions like these, here’s some tips.

Visiting the bodegas is a wonderful way to learn about Spanish wines. In my career as a wine professional I’ve toured & tasted at wineries in France, Italy, Spain, and the US. The wineries welcome the chance to talk to visitors about their wines and food pairings. With these visits I understand a little more of the mystery of the unopened bottle in front of me.

Many residents of Madrid, (including Madrileños), aren’t aware there is a thriving wine region right here in the state of Madrid, called the Madrid D.O.. There are at least 45 bodegas in the Madrid D.O. With a little advance notice, some of them will happily receive you for a tasting. I recently sampled several delicious Madrid D.O. wines made with Garnacha at the Guía Penin’s tasting of wines they scored 95 points or better.

Getting back to the tasting I had planned for October—I used to run educational tastings all the time in New York and Dubai. For my tasting here in Madrid, held at a local wine shop, I chose 3 white wines and 3 red wines, made from indigenous Spanish grapes from all over the country. Although I’ve led many consumer & corporate tastings over the years, I’m always nervous until it happens…that after a few tastes of wine, everyone relaxes, chats with their neighbor, and lets the tensions of the day fade. The tasting was a success! Maybe next I’ll organize a “Wines of Madrid” tasting.

Resources: If you want to learn more about wine, you can come to one of my wine tastings
Or check out or take a course at The Wine Studio (if enough people are interested, classes will be held in English).

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