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Spanish wine guide: Reds

Spain and wine go hand in hand, and its wine culture stretches back millennia. Despite its small size, Ibiza played a huge role in Spanish viticulture. Some 2000 years ago the Phoenicians grew grapes and produced wine here, which they traded around the Mediterranean. Don’t leave without trying these five great reds and remember to ask for “vino tinto” not “vino rojo”!


If you’ve ever had a glass of Rioja, you’ve tasted Tempranillo. It is Spain’s most important and widely grown grape, and goes by a host of other names depending on what region it hails from. Look out for ojo de liebre, tinto fino, tinto de toro, or tinto pais — it’s all the same thing. It is a medium-bodied, medium-acidic wine that goes wonderfully with most food. Note the flavours of cherries and leather, with hints of vanilla. Rioja is the biggest producer and there are excellent vintages from Ribera del Duero.


The same grape as French grenache, Garnacha is a lighter-bodied red with lots of bright cherry fruit and a distinctive candied cinnamon or wine gum flavour. This distinctive flavour can make it a love-hate proposition, but if you like it, you won’t be able to get enough. One of the best ways to enjoy it is straight from fridge in the summer. Sounds crazy, but it is delicious chilled, especially with some salty crisps or olives.


For a true taste of Ibiza, you must have a glass (or three) of Monastrell. Known in the rest of the world by its French name, mourvedre, it is thought that the Phoenicians brought it to Spain as early as 500 BC. That means it may have been grown on the island for 2500 years! It is still the main red grown here. Pick up a bottle from Ibiza wineries Can Maymo, Sa Cova or Ibizkus. It is typically full-bodied and tannic, so best enjoyed with hearty food like grilled meat or strong cheese.


This grape is only grown in Spain and Portugal so seize the opportunity to sample its glorious complexity. Mencía hails from the north of Spain, primarily the Bierzo region, so it has a different flavour palette than the hearty, hot-climate reds from the centre and south. It is often compared to Pinot Noir for its delicacy and versatility. Young (joven) Mencía is fruity, floral and delicious cold — it tastes a bit like cherry Coke. When aged, it develops deeper flavours of strawberry, raspberry, and black liquorice. 


You may know this one by its French name, too: carignan. It is medium-bodied with relatively high tannins, acidity and alcohol. In other words, it’s great with food. Well-made Cariñena has a complex blend of fruit and spice flavours including cranberry, raspberry, cinnamon and star-anise. This makes it a great companion for all kinds of poultry, pork, lamb, and cured meats, as well as tomato-based pasta and Mediterranean vegetable dishes like samfaina (Catalan ratatouille).

Now you know a bit about Spanish wine the hard work begins – drinking it! Embrace the Spanish approach of sipping a few glasses in the course of an evening to guarantee maximum enjoyment and minimum hangover.

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