How to Survive in the Jungle of Spanish Wines

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Baby Bacchus!  A hand thrown ceramic piece from Positano, Italy (Photo by Pia Alliende)

Baby Bacchus is alive and well in Spain. While you won’t find many Spaniards worshiping the Roman God of Wine, you will definitely find wine at most meals.  Wine is an important element of the Spanish gastronomical experience.  But, there are so many wines in Spain it can be a challenge to find a nice bottle of wine at a decent price.

The Spanish wine world is complex and I think Baby Bacchus gets a chance to laugh a lot at newcomers trying to navigate a wine menu in Spain.  I am sure he has laughed at me on many occasions.  I admit I am rather a wine rookie. I have lived in Spain now for 6 years, and maybe I am finally learning to navigate the wine landscape here. In this post, I offer 4 tips that I use for selecting a good value wine.  I should warn readers that rarely do I pay more than 12 euros for a bottle of wine.  I am cheap usually, when it comes to wines.

I learned to enjoy wine in Chile shortly after getting married there.  And, I became spoiled in two ways.  First, in Chile there are only a handful of well know wineries so you learn the landscape of the wine industry quickly, and second, to a large degree the prices reflect the quality.  You can find a good table wine for $6 and if you are willing to pay more, the quality of the wine usually improves in a direct relationship to price you pay.

I have found Spain to be very different. According to Wine Folly:

  • there are 2,000,000 vineyard acres in Spain,
  • there are more than 200 varieties of grapes,
  • and finally, Spain has the most vineyards in the world.

Try that on for size when you are selecting a wine!  And if you want to be further intimidated, cast your eyes on this map, which I found at Spanishwine.com.

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www.spanishwine.com

My first year here in Spain, I have to admit I drank some awful wine.  And very expensive by my standards.  Expensive, awful wine, …the worst combination of all. (Baby Bacchus giggles through his hands at this point).  I have a vivid memory of accompanying several family visitors on a walk through Sevilla.  We selected a nice looking restaurant with a patio, and we ordered meals.  We were in a bit of a celebratory mood, so along with the food, we asked for ¾ litre of a one of the more expensive wines on the list (@$36, I think).  The food was great, but the wine was horrible.   I think the main reason the memory remains vivid is because of how awful the wine was and what a surprise it was.

To learn the wine landscape in Spain, I first tried finding good table wines using price bands.  I started at $8 bottles, jumped to $11, then to $15 dollars a bottle, and even a few at $20.  Honestly, I found no relationship between price and quality.  Many of the $11 bottles were the best wine.  Some of the $8 bottles were better than $20 bottles.  It was very discouraging.

I have since learned to survive in the jungle of Spanish wines by following four rules.

#1. For home wines, I shop for wine at nationwide, low cost, supermarkets such as Lidl, and I buy the best quality bottle they offer, which is usually around 9 euros a bottle. Lidl does bulk purchases and can offer nice prices on a decent wine. Lidl usually offers a range of values, and usually the top of the line is not too expensive and a quite nice table wine.

#2. I ask questions of the store keepers. If I am stumped, I ask the store keeper to recommend a good “table wine”. They know which wines move off the shelf and usually the most popular wines offer quality and value.

#3. When I order wine at a restuarant, I just get the table tinto. I don’t do wine lists and usually the table tinto offers good quality at a decent price.

#4. Sometimes, I just bite a knuckle and take a chance on a wine – maybe because of a pretty label.  I have learned that you usually can’t go wrong with a Tempranillo from Rioja or a Ribera del Duero at a medium price.

If you are looking for a little more detail about Spanish wines, I recommend reading A Beginner’s Guide to Spanish Wine, by Stacey Gibson. The blog article provides a nice summary overview of the World of Spanish Wines.

Thanks for reading. Please remember, if you are looking for a unique gift, check out our webstore at www.cactuscanyonceramics.com. We currently offer many pieces of hand painted Spanish pottery for your tabletop, kitchen and patio, and we are always exploring new items to offer our customers. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

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3 thoughts on “How to Survive in the Jungle of Spanish Wines

    1. Thanks so much for the comment. When I started writing this post, I wanted to talk about “craft wines” in Spain, which I think is very similar to the craft beers and breweries in the States. But I got off track and decided to post about how I select wines in Spain. Sometimes you can get “craft wines” or local wines at restaurants when ordering the “tinto de la casa”, but usually they are just fine. Again, thanks for the comment. – Steve

      1. There are a few local ecological brewers of beer here but when I gave one to a Spanish neighbour he was very polite but I think preferred San Miguel type stuff!

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