10 Cool Things You Probably Don’t Know About Spanish Wine (but should)

Spain…a place so diverse yet the first thing that comes to mind for most is the grand region of Rioja, followed by wines like Tempranillo, Cava or Albariño. Dig in a little deeper and you’ll discover Spain has so much more to offer. So I’m going to let you in on ten little secrets — well, to be more precise it’s more like a few inside scoops, a few predictions and a challenge or two.


By the end of this post, you’ll be a savvy Spanish wine guru doing the funky Hondarribi Zuri dance.

1. The next big white: I know many of you have a long time love affair with Albariño, and who can blame you?  She’s rich and tart, with unrivaled character and finesse. But if you’re looking to cheat on Albariño, try Godello. It’s a superbly perfumed, aromatic white with arrays of mineral, peach and melon with zesty lemon-lime undertones. I wasn’t expecting to cheat on Albariño, but when mistress Godello does a little table dance, she’s hard to ignore.  Native to Galicia, Godello’s home is tucked away in a remote and rustic region known as Valdeorras although smaller plantings are found in the Bierzo Denominación de Origen (DO).  So now that you are in the know, keep your eyes peeled for Godello’s rising stardom.

2. The next big red: Everyone’s familiar with Spanish Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta and Monastrell, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Think Mencía. It’s not a well-known grape here in the U.S. but I predict it’s popularity will increase in the coming years.

It’s similar to a Cabernet franc producing a high quality wine with high acidity and a super-fragrant bouquet that will knock your socks off. Think fruity yet complex; sexy and structured; elegant and silky withcastro_ventosa1 aromas and flavors of black pepper, violets, mineral and earth enveloped with red and black fruits. If you want to splurge, go for the ’05 Castro Ventosa “Valtuille Cepas Centenarias” Mencia from Bierzo, which is spicy with mineral and black cherry notes. This is a wine that really showcases the Mencía profile with layered complexity and a sexy appeal.

I had an opportunity to try other great examples at a Spanish Wine Educators course, which were equally impressive. The ’06 Bodegas Casar de Burbia is one that fits the Mencía profile with youthful yet complex qualities with flavors of red fruit and dusty tannins.  The ’07 Tercer Motivo was earthy and well structured with dark fruits and mineral.


Calimocho. Chronicle / Craig Lee

3. Wine-based drinks: Many of you might be surprised that young adults in Spain don’t drink wine straight out of the bottle. Now I don’t mean that literally, I mean they usually mix it with coke, lemonade, Sprite or 7-UP. Tinto de Verano is one part red wine and one part gaseosa, which is low sugar lemonade. It’s sort of like Sangria but not, and you can substitute Gaseosa for Sprite or 7-Up. If you’re in the Costa del Sol region, it’s common for locals to drink this concoction as tourists drink Sangria. So the next time you’re visiting Spain and you want to be a cool cat, forgo the Sangria and ask for a Tinto de Verano. You’ll avoid looking like a tourist and you’ll get a little respect from the locals.

Another drink, Rebujito, is Fino mixed with Sprite or lemonade. Another ever-popular drink, calimocho or kalimotxo (in the Basque Country and Navarre) is a mixture of wine with coke.

4. Garnacha Tintorera: Wine Geek Alert! This red grape, also known as Alicante, is the only variety, along with Alicante Bouché, which produces colored juice. Press a grape by any other name and you’ll get clear colored juice. Garnacha Tintorera is widely planted in Albacete, Alicante, Orense and Pontevedra, and it’s considered a main variety in Almansa DO.

ribeiro_taza5. The Ribeiro drinking vessel: Ribeiro is a Spanish DO for wines located in the northeast of the province of Ourense (Galicia, Spain).  White wine represents about 80% of the wine produced, and most of it is made out of the Treixadura variety, which is native to the area. Tradition is to drink this light, fresh, fruity and floral wine out of a white cup called a ‘taza‘ or ‘cunca‘.

6. Navarra doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up: Big brother Rioja in the Ebro River Valley overshadows smaller DOs like Navarra, which is experimenting with a number of grape varieties and styles. In terms of red wine production, Garnacha and Tempranillo roughly account for 61% of the total grape production. Coming in at a distant third and fourth, Cabernet production is approximately 15% and Merlot accounts for roughly 12%. Lost for identity, I’d like to put Navarra out of it’s misery and pronounce Bordeaux blends for its future. Call me crazy, but some of the best wines I’ve tasted from this region are just that.

Take for example, the 2006 Bodegas Vina Magana Calchetas Navarra, which is a Merlot, Cabernet, Malbec blend. Its complex, concentrated and round filled with lots of blackberry, cassis and cherry notes. The balance was superb, ending with dry, ripe tannins. This was one of my favorite wines tasted during the Spanish Wine Educators class.

7. Cencibel: If you see this word on a bottle of Spanish wine, don’t fret. It’s another word for Tempranillo, often used in central and southern Spain, especially in the La Mancha region. Drink it, you’ll love it!

8. I predict Sherry will be your new addiction: I know what you’re thinking. I’m not drinking granny’s stale bottle of cream sherry. This might come as a surprise to you, but Sherry has so many different styles, its hard not to find one that fits your personality.  Once you try them, I’ll guarantee you’ll find one you like — and who knows, you might even find a mistress to keep Godello company.


So here’s the challenge — invite a group of friends over for a Sherry tasting. Have them bring different styles of Sherries and taste though a flight. Have plenty of food on hand like green olives, artichokes, nuts, asparagus, cured meats, shrimp and sushi.  The beauty about sherry is that it pairs well with foods that are difficult to pair with wines. To get you started, I’ve listed sherry styles and food recommendations:

Dry Styles:

tio_pepe21Fino: This style has a light, salty, nutty flavor with hints of yeast and dried fruits with bright acidity. Serve it well chilled.  Pair with sushi, green olives, artichokes, pickled items, asparagus, shrimp, and pistachio nuts.

Manzanilla: This style is light, crisp, and dry with a pungent, yeasty nose and delicate flavors of almonds and chamomile.  Serve chilled. Pair with sushi, green olives, artichokes, pickled items, asparagus, shrimp, and pistachio nuts.

Amontillado: Slightly pungent with a deep, complex nutty nose; light and smooth. Pair with gorgonzola, roquefort or stilton cheeses and toasted almonds.

Oloroso: Deep mahogany color with warm, round and complex flavors. Pair with cured meats, brie, toasted nuts and bitter chocolates.

Natural Sweet Wines: px

Moscatel: Intense mahogany color; very sweet, nutty, fresh & velvety. Pair with blue cheese, toasted almonds, dried fruits, sweet desserts or drizzle over vanilla gelato.

Pedro Ximenez: Dark mahogany color; deep aromas and flavors of dried fruits, toffee and liquorice. Pair with blue cheese, toasted almonds, dried fruits, sweet desserts or drizzle over vanilla gelato.


solera21Pale Cream: Slightly pungent, sweet, light and fresh with notes of almonds. Pair with fresh fruit, blue cheese, prunes, or spicy sausage.

Cream: Full-bodied, sweet and velvety with intense oloroso aromas. Pair with fresh fruit, blue cheese, prunes, or spicy sausage.

…and if you are interested in learning a little bit more about Sherry before your party, check out Catavino’s post, Sherry 101.

canary_islands9. Canary Island vineyards: If you had no idea that the Canary Islands produced wines, you are not alone as few wines make it to the U.S. market. If you have a chance to visit the region, head to D.O. Lanzarote, were you will see some of the most spectacular Viticultural landscape on the planet. The center of Lanzarote is a vast landscape of black solidified lava, and the outer edges of the lava field are terroir rich with volcanic ash called lapilli. Vines are planted in hoyos or trenches, (also called zanjas), and cairns protect each hollow to shelter the vines from the Sahara winds.  I can guarantee you won’t see anything quite like the Viticultural landscape of the Canary Islands.

10. Hondarribi Zuri & Hondarribi Beltza: White (zuri, in Basque) and red (beltza) are varieties used in the traditional Basque chacolí (a.k.a. Txakoli, pronounced chaw-KO-lee). The white version is common in Chacolí de Guetaria DO, and the red is ample in Chacolí de Vizcaya DO. This variety is as hard to pronounce, as it is to find it at your local wine store. Hondarribi-Zuri is pronounced “on-dar-ee-bee zoo-ree” — store this away for the next time you play a wine trivia game (ah hem, #VinQ!).

…and until next time, try a few Spanish wines and enjoy the diversity that Spain has to offer.

Oh, and if you’re looking to learn more about wines, follow me on twitter. You never know what I might leak out for the next big prediction or wine find.

Many thanks go out to The Wine Academy of Spain and to Catavino for sponsoring my attendance at the Spanish Wine Educators Program as well as to my professor, Estaban Cabezas, for all his knowledge and passion and to Simone Spinner for her assistance and sound advice :)