Spanish wines have always been popular, if not for their value, then for their delicate balance of innovation and tradition, but they’re experiencing a resurgence of sorts. Heck, even sherry – the wines of Jerez and Montilla – once thought to be of interest only to grandmothers or fuddy-duddies have become hip and fashionable.
Plenty of Calgary restaurants and wine shops have caught the Spanish wine bug, and no wonder. “Spanish wine is some of the best-value wine in the world, at any price … Spain is about humble wine makers, and also many fantastic female winemakers, working with fun, interesting and little-known varietals, making it exciting to try new wines,” says Leslie Echino of Blink restaurant.
“You can’t really pigeonhole Spain,” says Jayme MacFayden, co-owner of Ox & Angela. “The grape varietals you will find from Spain are as diverse and unique as the country, and the best producers are truly letting these lesser-known varietals speak for themselves.”
Much to the chagrin of the appellation system, where the best wine regions are recognized and delineated into specific areas, Spain has a few wines that transcend single geographical areas, such as Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine. Cava burst onto the international wine scene in the 1970s, mostly to fill a need for inexpensive sparkling wine. Since then, its star has waxed and waned, though recently it’s enjoying a “re-discovery” as a style of wine that enjoys a very reasonable price. And the quality in the bottle is better than ever. Most often, Cavas are made from macabeo, parellada or xarel-lo grapes, and interesting examples can be found from a number of regions.
Pago wines also transcend geography and are actually a category of wines (the word pago means “estate”). They’re the highest category wines that exist under Spanish law and come from some of the finest wineries or vineyard estates. They’re recognized for their unique and exceptional nature but aren’t limited to certain styles of wine or even grapes, as long as the wine comes from the estate and producers follow the winemaking and bottling rules stated by ministerial decree for each pago.
Rioja and Priorat are probably the best-known table wines from Spain. Rioja, named after the Oja River in northeast Spain, is a large region that produces a lot of wine in many different styles and quality levels. Extended barrel aging is common in Rioja, with reserva and grand reserva wines spending one and two years in barrel before bottling (with surprisingly little effect on the price we pay for the quality). Priorat is an appellation in Catalua (near Barcelona) that burst on the scene in the mid-1990s with intense and almost ridiculously good reds made from grenache and carignan. More recently, the neighbouring region of Montsant has been getting a lot of attention for great wines as well. Toro and Bierzo, as well as Rias Baixas and Riberio in northwestern Spain are also notable areas producing stunning wines.
Spanish wines are a solid investment for the cellar as well. Priorat wines in particular are perfect for the cellar, both short- and long-term. People looking for wines for dinner tonight or for the weekend are also in luck as the wines of Spain shine with versatility on the table. The reds are a great go-to for summer, providing body without much heaviness. They work very well with pork, sauces (ribs, anyone?) and a variety of barbecued meats or fungi. The whites seem to work however you want your whites to work. Rarely sweet, they have good body and plenty of flavour for seafood dishes, from freshly caught freshwater fish to cedar-plank salmon, as well as grilled chicken or Latin-style cuisine.
3 perfect pairings
Las Canarias: Dessert and Sherry
If you’re up in Calgary’s far northwest, check out Las Canarias in Country Hills. This casual-style restaurant showcases Spanish cuisine and wines. For a dessert, try the crema Catalan (very similar to crme brle) with the Alvear PX de Anada ($8 by the glass). The intense fruits of the sweet sherry bring it all together beautifully.
Las Canarias, 8888 Country Hills Blvd. N.W., 403-475-4165, lascanarias.ca
Blink: Steelhead Trout and White Grenache
Owner Leslie Echino is a big fan of the Celler Pinol l’avi Arrufi Grenache Blanc ($85) from Terra Alta, paired with Blink’s Lois Lake steelhead trout. The full-bodied, but crisp and mineral wine complements the Meyer lemon pure and Salt Spring Island mussels.
Blink, 111 8 Ave. S.W., 403-263-5330, blinkcalgary.com
Ox & Angela: Pork Belly and Txakoli
Owner Jayme MacFayden highly recommends the Eukeni Txakoli ($13 by the glass) enjoyed with the pork belly Montadito open-faced sandwich at Ox & Angela. The txakoli is a lightly effervescent Basque wine that is a pleasure to drink with pork belly.
Ox and Angela, 528 17 Ave. S.W., 403-457-1432, oxandangela.com
6 Spanish wines to try
Borsao 2011 Berola, Campo de Borja, Aragon, Spain
A grenache dominated with one-fifth syrah, this glass is toasty with tight black cherry, leather upholstery and cigar-box notes. Weighty fruits seamlessly integrate into the earth and tannin structure. It would be a shame to have it with anything other than a steak. $22.
Bujonis NV Cava Brut Reserva, Catalonia, Spain
Made from the traditional cava grapes along with a pinch of chardonnay, the nose is subtle, with melon rind, lemon and a hint of apple peel. On the palate, a little sweetness (about eight grams) brings a little body and some balance to those crisp acids. Bring on the scallops! $19.
Can Blau 2013, Montsant, Spain
A blend of mazuelo, grenache (called garnacha in Spain) and syrah, this is the sort of thing that works any night of the week. Big fruits and tannins in an “international” sort of style, with an earthy, black-licorice finish. A barbecue star is born. $25.
Pago Ayls “E” 2012 Tempranillo, Spain
The pago system can be a little confusing, but the wine doesn’t have to be. Orange peel, cherries, spice and smoke dominate the aromas, along with a few savoury characteristics. Not too heavy on the palate, the tannins are chocolaty and the fruits pure. I’m craving more pork, perhaps some charcuterie. $15.
Tinto Iturria 2010, Toro, Spain
Xavier Iturria established this winery in 2009 and quickly earned some fame for his wines. Using Tinto de Toro (tempranillo) and 10 per cent of garnacha, the nose here is the epitome of cherry fruit and spicebox. Bright, fruit driven and balanced, this would sing with pork or some barbecue. $23.
Unculin 2014 Tinto, Bierzo, Spain
Hailing from Bierzo in northwest Spain, this bottle is made from the mencia variety. Quite dark and plummy, with blueberry jam and a fairly intense vegetable-and-pepper character, its tight tannins should really work with beef – think steaks or something braised. $25.