With almost a million hectares of vineyards and 138 officially recognised wine regions, Spain is one of the world’s biggest-hitting wine producers.
For a long time most of the world knew little beyond the output of its most prolific wineries, yet this has changed dramatically. Now, there’s a greater appetite for regional grapes encouraged by a new wave of diverse, vibrant producers who continue to gild Spain’s global reputation.
The stark contrasts between Spain’s cool and wet north and the hot and arid south are what make Spain’s output impressively diverse.
Paul Belcher, owner of The Tapas Rooms in London, says: “Spanish wine will always be associated with the likes of rioja and ribera del duero, and these regions will always make amazing wines. But people’s tastes are changing and there are also plenty of winemakers throwing away the rulebook and making unusual, exciting and often amazing wines.
“Spain has become the number one producer of biodynamic and organic wines and we see no sign of this trend slowing down.”
He continues. “I expect 2021 to be full of weird and wonderful orange wines, pet nats and rediscovered grape varieties from days of yore.”
How we tested
To provide a snapshot of the best Spanish wines on the market we sampled a wide range of styles and budgets, considering the output of both established and up-and-coming producers, pairing them with a variety of foods along the way.
And for our money, the following 12 bottles all offer a vibrant way to bring a touch of Iberia to your everyday.
The best Spanish wines for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Petalos Del Bierzo mencia: £14.94, Decantalo.com
- Best for dinner parties – Baron de Ley gran reserva rioja, 2014: £15.99, Waitrosecellar.com
- Best for full-bodied finesse – Trossos del Priorat ‘90 minuts’ priorat, 2018: £19.97, Shelvedwine.com
- Best intensity – Bardos Reserva ribera del duero, 2016: £17.99, Majestic.co.uk
- Best rising star – Suertes Del Marques el esquilon, 2017: £19.32, Decantalo.com
- Best for alfresco lunches – Izadi Larrosa rioja: £12.50, Salut.co.uk
- Best for pairing with seafood – Paco y Lola albarino: £12, Tesco.com
- Best for a vibrant apertif – Cume do Avia ‘T-reix’, 2019: £15, Wanderlustwine.co.uk
- Best for pairing with white meats – Gorka Izagirre G22 txakoli, 2019: £14.98, Decantalo.com
- Best for freshness – Alemany i Corrio principia mathematica, 2019: £14.99, Virginwines.co.uk
- Best for garden parties and picnics – Freixenet Cordon Negro brut cava: £10, Tesco.com
- Best for special occasions – Roger Goulart gran reserva brut, 2015: £14.99, Fountainhallwines.co.uk
Petalos Del Bierzo mencia 2019, 14%, 75cl
One of Spain’s most buoyant wine regions right now is Bierzo, in north-western Spain, whose impressive reputation for red wine is built upon a newfound appreciation for its native mencia grape. Related to cabernet franc and tempered by the area’s cooler climate, in the right hands it can result in sophisticated, fragrant wines more akin to a burgundy or beaujolais.
This beautifully structured example is made using grapes from old vines at high altitudes and gives a refreshing counterpoint to Spain’s better-known reds. It comes high in acidity and aromatic intensity – blackberries, wild flowers and spicy oak – which delivers a satisfyingly velvety mouthfeel.
Baron de Ley gran reserva rioja 2014, 14%, 75cl
Best: For dinner parties
The first Denominacion de Origen (DO) ever declared in Spain, Rioja remains Spain’s flagship wine region with more than 600 wineries. And this gran reserva, distinct from crianzas and reservas on account of a lengthier ageing process, embodies some of the area’s best qualities.
Made from 100 per cent tempranillo grapes, it’s a full-bodied, yet well-balanced offering. It’s vivid ruby in colour and has big-hitting top notes stemming from two years maturation in French and American oak – think ripe fruit, toasted oak and tobacco. A lengthy, silky-smooth palate that we think pairs effortlessly with barbecued meats and aged cheeses.
Trossos del Priorat ‘90 minuts’ priorat 2018, 14.5%, 75cl
Best: For full-bodied finesse
Located inland from Barcelona, Prioriat’s long, hot summers, steep, craggy landscape and llicorella soil – a glinting volcanic mix of slate and quartz – mean this corner of Catalonia produces some of Spain’s boldest, most characterful reds. With typically low-yielding vines giving concentrated, high alcohol wines, with all the minerals you’d expect from its terroir, Priorat is often rich and dense.
And the family-run winery, “90 Mins”, Trossos del Priorat is more than worthy of an inclusion here. It’s a gutsy blend of grenache and carignan, deep red in colour and defined by punchy ripe fruit and spice on the palate, which we found developed beautifully after a little time to breathe.
Bardos Reserva ribera del duero 2016, 14.5%, 75cl
Aside from rioja, ribera del duero is perhaps Spain’s best known red wine region. This 70-mile stretch of vineyards – that runs alongside the River Duero as it flows through Castilla y León – is exposed to extreme temperature swings from day to night, which create the perfect ripening conditions for the tempranillo grape that defines these wines’ full-bodied flavours.
We loved the refined elegance of this reserva from Bodega de Bardos, which – benefitting from a touch of cabernet sauvignon and 14 months maturation in oak – delivers structure and complexity (think dark fruit, chocolate and vanilla) at great value.
Suertes Del Marques el esquilon 2017, 14%, 75cl
Best: Rising star
The Canary Islands’ unique topography and rich volcanic soils lend character to some seriously impressive wines that are making waves beyond Spain’s borders. Launched in 2006, organic producer Suertes del Marqués plies its trade in the Valle de la Orotava on the fertile lower slopes of Tenerife’s Mount Teide.
We loved this 2017 el esquilon – a particularly vibrant red made largely from 80-year-old listan negra vines. It’s a well-balanced wine with fine tannins that, at a sun-soaked 14 per cent ABV, packs a punch but also offers plenty of nuance, pairing bold red fruits with notes of cocoa and coffee.
Izadi Larrosa rioja 2017, 13.5%, 75cl
Best: For alfresco lunches
While production in Rioja is overwhelmingly dedicated to red wine, the region’s white and rosé wines can be equally attention-grabbing. This seductive, salmon-hued rosado by the family-run Viña Izadi estate, is almost Provençal in style and tailor-made for summer days. Made using grenache grapes from old vines grown in Rioja’s highest vineyards, it’s a lively, elegant wine defined by subtle aromas of strawberry and raspberry followed by bold hits of peach and pear. We found it well suited to warm-weather gatherings, where its bold acidity and refreshing crispness works beautifully with salads and seafood.
Paco y Lola albarino 2020, 13%, 75cl
Best: For pairing with seafood
One of Spain’s best loved white wines, albariño’s refreshing vibrancy and brilliant acidity often draw comparisons to sauvignon blanc and vermentino. And, at its best, it is a sure way to imagine yourself away to sunnier climes. Most of the world’s albariño crop is grown in Rias Baixas on Galicia’s Atlantic coast, which is where Paco Y Lola – a hip new winery with distinctive branding has established itself as one to watch.
This beautifully bright wine packs in plenty of green fruit and citrus notes, as well as a hit of minerality and refreshing acidity that ensures it works as well with fish and chips as it does with more refined seafood dishes.
Cume do Avia ‘T-reix’ 2019, 11.5%, 75cl
Best: For a vibrant aperitif
Another Galician grape making waves of late is Treixadura. Traditionally used as a blending grape in the north-western regions of Ribeiro and Rías Baixas, more and more producers are developing impressive single varietals and this playfully labelled example is a case in point.
This is a highly enjoyable white courtesy of the family-run Cume do Avia vineyard, which advocates for organic and biodynamic principles in their production processes. The T-reix features all the refreshing salinity we’d expect from its origins on the Atlantic coast as well as zesty citrus aromas and a satisfying palate of apple, peach and floral notes that help it sink easily on sunny days. It is currently out of stock, but you can sign up with your email to be notified when it’s back.
Gorka Izagirre G22 txakoli 2019, 12.5%, 75cl
Best: For pairing with white meats
From the mountainous slopes above the Bay of Biscay, this impressive winery puts an elegant spin on the Basque Country’s ubiquitous txakoli wine. A family-run business that counts Michelin-starred chef Eneko Atxa among its number (his three-starred venue sits next door), they’ve released a small selection of excellent wines since opening in 2005, with the G22 one of the stars from the range.
It’s a brilliantly intense white made from the native hondarribi zerratia grape that – thanks to extra ageing with its lees in stainless-steel tanks – offers weight and complexity beyond its initial freshness. Vivid pear and apple notes give way to floral accents making it simply sublime to sip.
Alemany i Corrio principia mathematica 2019, 12.5%, 75cl
Best: For freshness
This characterful Catalonian white is made by husband and wife team Irene Alemany and Laurent Corrio, who – after studying in Burgundy – launched this small-scale “garagiste” operation in Vilafranca, Penedes, with a focus on organic methods. They’ve created a bold, expressive white from indigenous old-vine xarel-lo grapes (usually used for cava), which is aged in oak for eight months and comes slightly cloudy in colour.
We found plenty of crisp white fruit on the nose alongside apricot and buttery notes that provide elegance and sufficient structure. This ensures the wine is versatile enough to pair, not just with seafood, but also grilled lamb or pork.
Freixenet Cordon Negro brut cava 2016, 11.5%, 75cl
Best: For garden parties and picnics
With a history stretching back to the 1860s, Freixenet is Spain’s biggest and best-known cava producer – and with good reason. Clocking in at an accessible price point, this particularly easy-drinking bottle is made with traditional champagne techniques using a blend of macabeo, parellada and xarel-lo grapes. It also proved an excellent example of cava’s better qualities – clean, crisp and boasting plenty of freshness.
Pale straw in colour, the Cordon Negro comes with a zingy palate of apple and citrus with toasty notes on the finish. While, a refreshing thwack of acidity ensures that – served suitably chilled – it works particularly well as a summery aperitif.
Roger Goulart gran reserva brut 2015, 12%, 75cl
Best: For special occasions
This elegant wine comes courtesy of another cava producer with a storied history. Dating back to 1882, Roger Goulart – whose winery is set below a striking modernist cathedral – was one of the founding wineries of the cava DO (denominacion de origen) in the 1970s. And this vintage gran reserva, is a beautiful expression of the methode champenoise.
Produced with xarel-lo, macabeo and parellada grapes and packing plenty of delicate sparkle, it’s had five years ageing on its lees. This gives it a beautiful complexity and powerful bouquet, with a bright palate of big-hitting stone fruit flavours that make it stand out.
The verdict: Spanish wines
With such incredible variety stemming across Spain’s diverse landscapes, not to mention a raft of innovative new producers bringing fresh ideas to the table, choosing the perfect Spanish wine depends entirely on the setting. However, we found the Burgundian charm and floral aromatics stemming from Petalos Del Bierzo’s mencia a fascinating alternative to Spain’s better known red wines.
Elsewhere, Paco Y Lola’s zesty albarino is a vibrant white at an excellent price, guaranteed to sparkle alongside seafood. For something a little more unusual – Alemany i Corrio’s charismatic Catalonian white, made from xarel-lo grapes, is a brilliant benchmark for Spain’s buoyant garagiste producers.
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