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Spain has a long history of producing wines and is famous for the legendary Rioja. However, there's far more to the country than just Rioja - hunt a little deeper and you'll come across an abundance of exciting wines, all begging to be tasted.
When it comes to Spanish wine, most people tend to think of Rioja. Rioja produces deliciously smooth red wines, made predominantly from the Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes and crammed full of caramel vanilla, and red fruit flavours. However, because of its reputation, quality wines from the Rioja region can be pricey, so if it's value for money you are after, you might want to look to the neighbouring region of Navarra, which produces Rioja rivalling wines without the price tag.
Although the majority of Spanish wine you'll come across will probably be red, make sure you try the whites too. Even though three quarters of the wine coming out of Rioja is red, 10% is white and these can be deliciously buttery fruity oaky wines. If you are looking for something intensely aromatic and bursting with peach and apricot flavours, you must try Albarino. Made in the Rias Baxas region in North West Spain, this is an increasingly popular Spanish white which works a treat with fish and seafood, and may leave a slight tingle on the tongue. Alternatively, try Spanish Verdejo if you like your whites soft and creamy, although for a zesty twist, try it blended with Sauvignon Blanc.
Half the battle when it comes to buying a decent bottle of Spanish wine is being able to decipher the jargon and terminology on the label. In Spain, specific terms are used to describe how old the wine is and how long it's aged in oak barrels. These are also indications of the quality of the wine. Vino Juven is literally young wine, bottled the year after it's grown and sold immediately. Crianza indicates that the wine has been aged for two years, and spent at least 6 months in oak (12 in Rioja) and is a relatively easy drinking and young wine. Reserva means that the wine has been aged for three years and spent a minimum of one of those years in oak, and Gran Reserva indicates that the wine has been cellared for 5 years with at least 2 in oak and is considered a high quality, mature wine.
Outside Rioja there is a world of wine discovery to be found within Spain. Down in the South, Yecla and Jumilla are deep black wines made from Monastrell and are full bodied, rich and full of tarry black fruit. Try the powerful wines from Priorat, the only other region apart from Rioja to be awarded the highest Spanish Classification, DOC status. This region has a unique soil known as Llicorella, which is made up of red slate and tiny sparkling particles of mica. The soil literally shines and reflects heat up to the grapes. These Spanish wines are intensely flavoured, full of fruit and can be monstrously alcoholic.
Cava is a sparkling wine produced in the Penedes region of Spain from the wonderfully named grapes Xarel-lo, Macebeo and Parellada. True, Cava might not have quite the same status as Champagne but it's made in the same way. Real Cava must have a four-pointed star on the base of the cork, so watch out for this indication of quality. It's a great little sparkler for parties and celebrations. What's more, it won't break the bank if you want to stock up on a few bottles.