There is no doubt that Spain’s Rioja region turns out some pretty amazing red wines. Made predominantly from the Tempranillo grape (with some garnacha sometimes blended in to add red fruit and body, and temper the tannins), they are made in a variety of styles--from young, frisky, fruity Jovens to well-structured and earthy aged Gran Reservas--that can appeal to a wide-range of palates and cuisine-pairing situations. But just as French wine is way more than Bordeaux and Burgundy, and American wine encompasses more than bottles from Napa and Sonoma, Spain has many other regions making exciting wines. Wine pros in-the-know from three of the DMV’s newest Spanish spots share up-and-coming areas, and the bottles on their menus that will give you a good introduction to what they have to offer:
Joselito Casa de Comidas General Manager / Sommelier Gustavo Iniesta
Exciting regions: Though he believes it’s a pretty spectacular time in general right now for Spanish wine, Iniesta cites three specific regions that are particularly stellar. Hardworking producers in Bierzo D.O. are doing radical wines on slate soils and steep vineyards, he says, putting this region on the map. Jerez offers inexpensive wines with a lot of potential which are becoming increasingly popular due to crafty bartenders doing amazing sherry cocktails. La Mancha D.O.’s unique soils and climate make it one of today’s most interesting regions. “I believe something unique and special is brewing in La Mancha,” he declares.
Biggest misconception about Spanish wine: Tempranillo is not a region, and Rioja is not a grape.
Standout wines on Joselito’s list:
- 2010 Signo Bobal & Syrah, Manchuela D.O. ($13/glass, $52/bottle): “This wine is unique not just because of the bobal grape, but because of the blend. No one until now had this blend mastered as Victor de la Serna is doing in his winery. The wine is vibrant, fresh, medium to full body with sharp tannins but not intimidating. It’s something you can drink by itself or with a really good piece of red meat like our Wagyu bavette dish.”
- 2015 Fatum Airen, Macabeo, Sauvignon Blanc, La Mancha D.O. ($9/glass, $36/bottle): “An interesting blend. Smells like gummies with tropical fruits, hints of anise and green apple notes. Grapefruit and mango comes to the mouth with notes of fennel and very good acidity; it’s perfect for this coming spring and summer with seafood or fish dishes such as our fresh cod with mushroom consomme and seaweed garnish.”
- Fino El Cano, Palomino, Jerez D.O. ($10/glass): “The driest wine in the world and the most refreshing. It has a gold color and sharp aroma but is delicate at the same time, with almonds and dried nuts in the palate, fresh; it’s lively even after being aged under the lees for at least three years. This pairs perfectly with mixed olives, jamon Iberico and Manchego cheese.”
SER Proprietor Javier Candón
Exciting regions: Candón points to white offerings made in Ribera Sacra from the godello grape (which tend to be smooth, velvety and rich, and stand up to hearty seafood dishes) and tempranillo-based bottles from Toro (big, bold, tannic, “in your face” wines that are reflective of the region’s name, which translates to “bull,” and pair perfectly with the the region’s meats and stews), as wines to watch. “Many wine experts consider [Toro] as the rising star of Spanish wine.”
Biggest misconception about Spanish wine: Not all sherry is sweet; there are ten different styles of sherry, and the majority of them are dry.
Standout wines on SER’s list:
- 2014 Adras Godello, Ribera Sacra ($48/bottle): “Made with grapes from forty-year-old vines, fermented entirely in stainless steel. Displays aromas of tangerine, pear and melon with notes of finer and dusty minerals. On the palate, it's silky and offers juiciness of citrus fruits and a smooth, floral quality. The finish is long, dry, stony and floral. I love to pair this with our seafood paella.”
- 2012 San Roman, Tinto de Toro, Toro ($90/bottle): “Very mineral aromas of red clay, iron, and a mixture of plums, black and red cherries. This is a very earthy, elegant and complex wine developing meaty notes as it begins to open. The palate is full-bodied, with very fine tannins and very good acidity. Pairs beautifully with roasted baby lamb or our steak of the day dish.”
Boqueria Beverage Director Kieran Chavez
Exciting regions: Chavez says Catalunya (known mainly for its sparkling Cava and red wines from Priorat) is a hotbed of activity right now for Spanish wine. “From sunny Terra Alta and Montsant, to the cooler climate of Conca de Barberà and Costers del Segre, there are a number of regions finally coming onto the international stage.” Look for light-bodied reds made with the Trepat grape, to wines from Montsant D.O., reminiscent of those from the South of France. The Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco, grows its grapes on the side of a volcano or in deep ditches to protect them from brutal winds; white wines have minerality and salinity, while red wines tout wild, peppery notes. Up in the mountains above Madrid, wines from Sierra de Gredos are being produced from long-ignored garnacha vines in a fragrant, Burgundian style that’s full of finesse, he points out.
Standout wines on Boqueria’s list:
- 2014 Edetana Blanco, Garnatxa Blanca, Viognier, Terra Alta, Catalunya ($56/bottle): “Bright minerals and white fruits with subtle flowers and fennel. Great texture and still fresh on the finish. Very Mediterranean.”
- 2013 Suertes del Marqués Listán Negro, Tenerife, Canary Islands ($14/glass, $56/bottle): “Smoky minerals, earth and wild red fruits all mingle together. Medium bodied, energetic and surprising.”
- 2014 Commando G ‘La Bruja de Rozas Garnacha, Sierra de Gredos ($65/bottle): “Fragrant and perfumed, with tea and dusty herbal notes and sweet cherry fruit. Silky texture, balanced and vibrant.”