After years of standing in the shadow of its French and Italian counterparts, Spanish wine is having a major moment. Spanish wine exports have tripled in the past two decades—last year, that figure was around 22.8 million hectoliters of wine. And there’s a lot more to the category than the cheap stuff that goes in your sangria (although we do love sangria).
These days, more wine drinkers than ever before are becoming familiar with the country’s most well-known grape varietals—from the famously fruity, often aged-in-oak reds made from tempranillo to the silky, acidic whites made from albariño. And don’t forget xarel-lo, macabeo, and parellada, used to produce the immensely popular Spanish sparkling wine, cava.
But as popularity soars, Spain’s winemakers are bulking up their portfolios, experimenting with new grape varietals and terroirs. At the recent 10th Guía Peñín Selection New York wine tasting, Spanish wine luminary José Peñin presented an astounding range of bottles from his comprehensive annual guide. The selection showcased dozens of grape varietals and regions, from the secluded Bodegas Avancia in the northwestern of Spain to Vinos de Madrid, an urban winemaking operation based within the city of Madrid.
“For Spanish wine, the most important thing is the personality—not that it’s the best wine” Peñin tells Gotham. “The whole world makes good wines. But we have natural elements to produce distinct wine—grape varietals and terroirs—in many different styles.”
The good news is that many of the most exciting Spanish wines generally won’t break the bank. But with so much diversity, choosing the perfect bottle can be a little tricky. To get you started, we’ve gotten some expert advice from Matthew Kaner, Director + Owner of Good Measure in Los Angeles. Here are eight excellent bottles—at any budget—to help you dip your feet in a little vino.
Vinos Jeromín Purita Dynamita Garnacha 2014 ($11.95). vivirelvino.com
Yes, you can get great, affordable wine produced right in the city. “Vinos de Madrid got my attention a few years ago when I was searching for wines made in metropolitan cities—you don’t see a lot of it,” says Kaner. “Madrid and Vienna are the biggest city producers. Garnacha grown and produced around Madrid has a certain delicacy that you don't find in Campo de Borja or Rioja.”
Anna de Codorníu Blanc de Blancs Reserve ($14.99). totalwine.com
Bubbly Cava is the perfect drink for an intimate elegant aperitivo moment—or buy a case and make it a sparkling-wine affair. A festive bottling for the modern day, Anna de Codorníu is named after the titular heiress of the Codorníu winemaking empire. The first in the Cava category to add chardonnay grapes in to the mix, it’s won several international awards for its pleasant tropical-fruit nose and soft, creamy palate with citrus notes.
Cellers Santamaria Gran Recosind Criança, Emporda Spain 2013 ($15.99). licolnfinewines.com
This exceptional red with balanced tannins and a fruit palate offers great value for its pocket-friendly price tag. Dating back to the 1880s, the Cellers Santamaria winery of northern Spain has not altered their approach winemaking since its inception. “Their Criança is a blend of five grapes and is aged a total of five years—between oak and bottle aging—before it's ever released to the lips of drinkers around the world,” says Kaner. “Get it while it's available.”
Bodegas Avancia Avancia Mencía 2015 ($19.99). wine.com
It’s been suggested that Mencía grapes are genetically-related to Cabernet Franc. “This wine made from 100% Mencía shows a delicacy and vibrant earthiness that speaks to the majesty of the picturesque hillsides along the river where it's grown in Valdeorras,” explains Kaner. Drawing from two vineyards in the northwest part of Spain, this bottle offers dark fruit and minerality characteristic of that region.
Abadía Retuerta Selección Especial ($21.28). decantalo.com
Blending tradition with outside influence, the Selección Especial from Abadía Retuerta in northwest Spain uses both Spanish and international grapes. “Tempranillo is the top dog of the area, and to that end, they've blended it with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon to show the presence of international varieties, and how they add to Tempranillo to make a more complete ‘reserve’ style wine,” says Kaner. Aged for sixteen months in both French and American oak, the wine stands up excellently to savory dishes like grilled meat and winter stews.
Bodegas Bilbainas 2011 Viña Pomal Reserva ($24.99). wine-searcher.com
La Rioja is one of Spain’s most renowned wine-producing destinations—for reference, the region uses more barrels for aging wine than the entire country of France. A classic example of Riojan tempranillo wine, this 2011 release by Bodegas Bilbainas offers bold red fruit and smoked coconut aromas along with a smooth-textured palate of berries and vanilla.
Jané Ventura Sumoll 2013 ($26.28). petitceller.com
Nestled in the Lower Penedès region between the Mediterranean Sea and Pyrenees Mountains, this all-organic winery highlights lesser-known indigenous grapes, like this locally-grown Sumoll red grape that confounds many wine tasters on their first sip. “This is one of the most interesting Spanish wines I've EVER tasted,” says Kaner. “[It] drinks like one of the greatest Nebbiolos you've had in years—such a mind-blowing experience.” With floral aromas and a medium-bodied palate of red fruit, this is a fun sip for any occasion.
Cellers de Scala Dei Cartoixa ($54.99). winesearcher.com
Founded by Carthusian monks in 1163, Cellers de Scala Dei is a storied, isolated winery near Montsant mountain Priorat. Boasting a distinctive terroir, the vineyard is known for intensely-hued red wines with black-fruit and plum aromas and a robust palate. Pair this big red with cured meats and cheeses.