After spending a week in the Catalan countryside where wine after wine turned my head, it's hard to understand why so few Spanish wines make it to Canada.
The answer may be that despite Spain's prolific production, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc do not play a major role in the Spanish wine culture and, as we know, North American retailers can't get enough of the standard varietal wines in their stores.
There's nothing easy about understanding Spanish wine because the names are, well, Spanish. But shouldn't that be the attraction? All you need is a little curiosity. Maybe it's the lack of conformity that is Spain's charm — that or the country's plethora of almost unknown grapes.
Many of Spain's indigenous varietals have tongue-twisting names but you'll be surprised by the ease with which they will delight your palate. Albariño, cariñena, garnacha, macabeo, mencía, monastrell, palomino, Pedro Ximénez, tempranillo, verdejo and viura are just a few of the grapes at the heart of delicious Spanish wines. All are worth investigating.
The well-known wines of Penedès, Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Jerez now jostle with Priorato, Rueda, Bierzo, Toro, Jumilla and more from the new face of Iberia. It's a country with a rich culture of food, art and music, and often, as you tour the countryside, you'll find each of those elements brought to the wine.
But here's an interesting point: While Spain has the most vineyards in the world, it does not produce the most wine. Naturally, a low-yielding vine that simply won't overproduce has to be an asset.
It could be that I love Spanish wine because it tastes so good with food, or it may have something to do with tapas and the fact we've all embraced the small plate concept, but I'll let you string the dots together.
In the aftermath of an intensive week, I wanted to share some of Spain's producers and wines that most impressed me and that are available in both private and government wine shops.
Miquel Torres Jr. and his sister, Mireya continue to push the boundaries of their father's business far from its Vilafranca, Penedès origins. Case in point: Torres Celeste Crianza 2010 ($25) from Ribera del Duero. Following on the delicious '09 vintage, the 2010 is equally fine. The style of this tempranillo red is modern and clean — definitely a juxtaposition when compared to days gone by in Ribera. The attack is fruit forward with glossy blackberry fruit with bits of black pepper, smoke and chocolate. Perfect with any lamb dish.
More traditional, except for its modern screw cap, is the Torres Vina Esmeralda 2012 ($13.50), first created in 1961. This Upper Penedès white blend is a delicious mix of 85/15 of moscatel and gewürztraminer that's a seamless match to spicy sushi dishes or your favourite Thai curry.
Still in Penedès, I recently took the time to visit the Cusine families to taste one of my favourite sparklers, Parés Baltà Cava Brut B N/V, Penedès, Catalunya ($20), this at the source in Pacs in the heart of the Penedès. "B" is a captivating mix of organically certified (and more recently bio-dynamically grown) parellada, macabeo and xarel.lo grown on several sites from 230 to 615 metres above sea level. The attack is fresh and dry, all with a creamy lees underbelly and nutty, pear/green apple flavours with a stony mineral finish. A food-friendly, holiday sparkler at a great price.