Juicy. Flavorful. Rich. Drinkable. Versatile. Affordable. Sounds good to me. Let’s take a Sip through Spanish reds – and that means we start with Tempranillo.
Tempranillo is the most prominent grape grown in Spain and key to many of the most popular and best Spanish reds. It’s the grape that shapes the hugely enjoyable red wines of Rioja, Ribero del Duero and Toro, the big name regions for Spanish reds. While there is some blending that’s part of the deal, make no mistake, these are the signature places for Tempranillo. It defines them and the wine in the bottle. From these regions you can expect wines that have lots of character and style offering medium acidity and a disciplined approach to aging before they’re released to us. On the Sip you’ll find red berry along with a spicy flavor that’s often complemented by some mineralty and tobacco along with an aromatic hint of leather.
While the grape is tannic the wines are made to drink by some of that blending, but mostly because there are specific requirements for the aging before they hit the shelves. The aging can also guide your taste expectations since it allows the flavors to integrate, the tannins to soften and the complexity to further shine. Here’s what you will see on the label:
- Crianza. Younger wines with a minimum of 2 years aging, including 6 to 12 months in oak (depending on the region)
- Reserva. 2 years total aging with at least 12 months in oak
- Gran Reserva. 5 years with 18 to 24 months in oak
More to know (but there won’t be a pop quiz). Tempranillo has a few aliases in Spain, not just to confuse us wine drinkers, but because of regional wine culture. So it is also called Cencibel, Tinta del Pais, Tinto Fino and Tinta de Toro.
Next up let’s look at other terrific red grapes and their wines. Garnacha is the Spanish for Grenache. Monastrell is the Spanish for Mouvedre and Carinena is Carignan. Here’s a hint: if you like the red blends of France’s Rhone region then knowing this can help you frame your expectations for a lot of the Spanish reds from Catalonia, the area around Barcelona as well as some of the lesser known regions. Within the Catalan are two specific areas to note: Priorat and Montsant. There are amazing Garnacha driven wines from the Priorat, some of my personal favorites from Spain. Deep and bold, these are habit forming! And from Montsant there are some terrific everyday reds based on the Monastrell/Carinena combinations. Three up and coming areas to look for are Jumilla, Bierzo and Yecla where there are a growing number of wines now showing up in US stores with basically the same grape combinations.
Spain is a huge wine making country so there’s lots more to share with you, like the story of Cava and a deeper dive into the key regions and what makes them tick – but not all in one sitting. For now, enough reading – let’s Sip!
2014 Evodia Old Vines Garnacha $10
Buy it! Great for everyday if you like a pretty big but also softer red.
2013 Castano Monastrell $8
2010 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza $14
2009 Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Reserva $14
Winemaker’s favorite food pairing with this: Lamb chops grilled over dried vine cuttings. How good is that!
2009 Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva $20
The picture at the top of this posting is the amazing Frank Gehry designed Riscal Winery and Hotel.
Guest Sip: (these three are perennial favorites)
2012 Tinto Pesquera Crianza Ribera del Duero $35
2011 Muga Reserva Rioja $28
2012 Alvaro Palacios “Les Terrasses” Villes Vinyes Priorat $35
Love Palacios – my always favorite from Priorat.
Alvaro Palacios Finca Dori $80
It’s the bomb. Single vineyard Garnacha.