Spain has one of the world’s most expansive wine cultures with notable vineyard areas and distinctive native grapes reflecting enormous wine diversity in every region of the country. Arguably the most famous region is Rioja located in the Ebro River Valley in north central Spain.


In view of the Sierra de Cantabria Mountains, its vineyards are blanketed with tempranillo vines, Spain’s most planted red grape. The variety typically exhibits cherry fruit and savory notes of cedar, tobacco and leather. With moderate acidity, it still ages amazingly well. Thanks to Tempranillo, Rioja is home to some of Spain’s most internationally known reds. Historically, long aging usually in American oak and blending with other native grapes has balanced its distinctive flavors. In recent years, the time in barrel has been reduced but still is longer than most other wines. As seen with the following wines, we consumers benefit from the wines being ready to drink upon release.

Bodegas El Coto Coto de Imaz Reserva 2010 ($24). Founded in 1970, El Coto is now the largest owner of vineyards in Rioja. Under Rioja’s aging classification Reserva wines require at least three years aging, with at least one of those years in barrel.  This wine is velvety with nice vanilla notes.


In sort of a Spanish version of a Bordeaux blend, tempranillo in the 2005 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas “Bordon” Gran Reserva ($24) is complimented with garnacha, mazuelo (carignan in France) and graciano. Not surprising as this historic winery was founded in 1890 by a Bordeaux winemaker fleeing the phylloxera plague in France and his Spanish partners (hence the winery’s name). Generally made only in exceptional vintages, Gran Reserva wines have been regarded as Rioja’s pinnacle. They must have at least two years in barrel and three years in bottle. This one was aged three years in American white oak and three years in bottle. Fully mature, it is gentle yet still full of fruit. It is complex and drinks with richness, as noticeable oak is balanced with dried red fruits and subtle leather and savory notes.


Various clones of tempranillo are grown throughout Spain and often given names in the local dialect. Just west of Rioja, the large province Castilla y León is home to the Ribera del Duero and some of Spain’s greatest wines and most expensive wines. Also mostly planted to tempranillo, which here is known as tinto fino or tinta del país,  its vineyards surround the Duero River, which bisects the region.


There also are many bottles priced for everyday drinking. One such is the 2015 Bodega Matarromera “Granza” ($15). It is made with organically grown grapes, by a family owned estate winery operating only since 1988 but has established itself as a leader in sustainability. Granza is an elegant and complex wine with ripe black fruit aromas of blackberry and blueberry with violet floral background. Good complexity and long finish, smooth and persistent.


Also in the Ebro Valley just to the east of Rioja, wines from Cariñena, particularly those made with garnacha, offer great value and deserve more attention from consumers. Within the mountainous province of Aragón in northeast Spain that shares a border with France, the vineyards of Cariñena date to the Roman occupation of the area possibly as early as the 3rd century BCE. In recent years, more producers have taken better advantage of its limestone-rich soils’ ability to yield juicy garnacha grapes and many producers boast of their old-vine vineyards.


Known as grenache (French spelling) in the rest of the world, garnacha, originated in Spain and traveled to southern France in the eighth and ninth centuries. The high altitude, stony soils and arid conditions of Cariñena favor garnacha with a lush, balanced and juicy flavor profile. High toned strawberry, raspberry, and black cherry characteristics make for crowd pleaser wines. Hints of spice and fleshy texture round out its appeal.











Introduce yourself to these delightful wines with the 2015 Bodegas San Valero “Castillo Ducay” ($10), from a cooperative of 700 growers created in 1945. This wine is supplemented with 15% tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon. Young and fruit forward, it presents a husky palate but that is followed by sweet tasting fruit. Grandes Vinos y Viñedos (meaning “great wines and vineyards”) is a large joint venture of five cooperatives with vineyards throughout the region. Created in 1997, between them are responsible for one-third of the wine produced in the appellation. Their 2013 Corona de Aragon Special Selection ($15)  is a lush and earthy wine, emblematic of the fine values available from this region.


While tempranillo excels in Spain, it has been much less successful when tried in other countries. On the other hand, while garnacha is important but secondary in Spain, other fine examples are produced in southern France, Australia and certain places in California.


NOTE: Featured image courtesy

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.