The wines of Spain, like its people, are diverse, robust, and full of spirit. The roots of Spanish wine making go spanish vineyardsback thousands of years and form a proud heritage of quality. Nowhere is this more evident than in Andalusia, where sherry is the favorite drink.
A fortified wine (with distilled alcohol added before aging), sherry is actually several wines. Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and — the drink made famous by Edgar Allan Poe — Amontillado, are among the varieties of sherry.
The Fino and Manzanilla are younger, crisper more acidic. The Olorosos and Amontillados spend more time in the barrel, growing more mellow with age.
Often drunk as dessert wines, particularly by the British for whom sherry became something of a national beverage, they combine well with many other types of foods.
The British have more reason than Sherry to thank Spain, though. Not only did Henry VIII’s first wife come from this region, so did the well-regarded Carignan.
As you would expect, red wines are prominent in this land of plentiful sunshine and red soil. The Aragonese don’t disappoint, producing many full-bodied wines, full of rich color and aromas. The Grenache, of course, is considered a regional treasure by vintners in Spain.
Castilla, having it’s own literary tradition, produces wine equally deserving of prestige. To many, the entire region is considered one large vineyard. La Mancha, evoking visions of Don Quixote, is one reason for the reputation. It is argued to be the largest wine region in the world, though there are many Frenchmen who would, naturally, disagree.
Just to show how iconoclastic they truly are, from this center of wine making comes a white wine named Airen. Crisp and delightful, it ensures that no Spanish knight will need to slay any doubters.
Red wines are well represented, though, by the Tempranillo often blended with French varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Even Syrahs are starting to be found here.
North of Madrid you will find the whites of Rueda. Light and delicate, they’re created from a local variety called Verdejo. Sauvignon Blanc, also, is making an appearance.
But traditions in Spain evolve slowly and red is still dominant. Robust and heavy, Ribera has seen a renaissance in the the last few decades. The Tinto Fino, a variety of Tempranillo makes a complex red wine that ages well.
Mencia has its own tradition of red wines, based on the Cabernet Franc grape. Secluded near Castilla y Leon, these wines are intense. But lighter roses are a staple of the region, as well. A specialty white, made from Godello, is produced here too.
Catalonia, on the Mediterranean, has been making wine since the first Greeks arrived here. It continues those ancient traditions with vinos rancios that are only for the most hardy palettes. But, for those who prefer something lighter, Catalonia is happy to provide a white wine from the Penedes.
They will also cheerfully serve a sparkling wine from Cava. The latter is actually a type of Spanish champagne, but much more full-bodied than the French version, as you would expect.
But to get the most distinctive feel, it is the best to try one of the reds of Tarragona. Full-bodied, from Cariñena and Garnacha grapes grown in slate-enriched earth, it is the pinnacle of wine from Catalonia.
Last, but certainly not least, Galicia continues to make wines as it has since Roman times — though in recent times the whites have come to dominate. Here Celtic traditions mix with Roman to produce wines that combine beautifully with seafood like no others in the world.
The moist climate and reduced sunshine produce wines high in acid and delightfully crisp. Most are made from grape varieties grown only here.
Like so much about Spain, the country is richly filled with traditions but also reaching into the 21st century to produce wines that can compete with any from around the world.