Spain boasts by far the largest land area of vines in the world - at a stunning 1,000,000 hectares of vines, making our paltry 35,000 look like we aren't even trying! Land area doesn't necessarily equate to volume though, with Spain sitting firmly in third place for wine produced in litres thanks to sparse vine plantings and low yielding vines with often harsh climate conditions. Compare Rioja planting density at 1400 vines per hectare with Burgundy that can approach 10,000 per hectare.
That said - Spain stil produces enormous volumes of wine, and much of it very reasonably priced. Our recent tasting in store brought to the table an array of 9 different wines from Spain demonstrating the value, variety and quality of their wines from all around the country. Tapas on the tables, and festooned with glasses, we dive in.
We started off with a Sparkling Cava - made in the method of a French Champagne but using grapes native to Northern Spain. Crisp and dry, elegant, citrus and hints of toasted nuts complementing a delicate floral touch and minerality.
We tasted both white and black versions of Grenache - or Garnacha as the Spanish call it. This is a grape that thrives in the hot and dry climates of Northern Spain. The white version being fresh and lively, sporting honeydew melon, lemongrass, white pepper and nuances of beeswax candles. Not dissimilar to a menage of Chenin and Gruner. The red version is produced in massively higher volumes, producing a plump and round easy drinking wine with plums, prunes, raspberry and spice.
No tasting of Spanish wines would be complete without Tempranillo - the king grape of the regions of Rioja, Toro and Ribera del Duero. We tasted all three - starting with the cheap & cheerful version with a light and fruity Rioja, brimming with red cherries and berries, smooth and easy sipping. Compare this to a more concentrated Ribera - brooding and deep with black fruits and a sumptuous mouth filling roundness. Ultimately a stunning and leathery Toro showed what old vines and harsh climates can produce - like eating a fine suede leather jacket.
Adding to the mix we tasted reds from both the Navarra region, in the shadow of the Pyranees mountains - perhaps more famous in our travel diaries for the running bulls of Pamplona. Our tasting includes a somewhat rustic blend of French grapes Merlot and Syrah, rounded out with a good dash of Tempranillo.
Next we travel to Southern Spain to taste the fruits of the Alicante region - made from 100% Monastrell (Mouvedre as the French call it). Made with a fair dash of carbonic maceration to tame the bold spicy tannins into a lush and smooth wine oozing with blackberries, raspberries, balsamic with hints of aniseed and plum chutney.
We polished things off with a beautifully sweet sherry - Pedro Ximinez is about as far from the salty olivey dry sherries as you can get. Imagine the fattest raisins you can find, soaked in brandy, chocolate and olive oil for a few years and you can start to get the idea as what PX is about.
We finish up by voting for our favourite wines - it's the Ribera del Duero by a landslide. While we might fill our boots with Spanish wines, its the good stuff that keeps us coming back for more.