Thought Spain was just Rioja and sherry? Think again. The sleepy giant of European wine is finally on the move.
Spanish wine used to come in two versions - oaky and very oaky. Now, there's less of an accent on keeping wines in barrel for lengthy periods and more on fruit flavor, and the wines are all the better for it.
Astonishing progress in the last decade has made Spain a hotbed of wine activity. Rioja now has several challengers for the red-wine crown, and the whites have improved out of all recognition.
The fragrant, berry-rich Tempranillo grape is the power behind most reds from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and the up-and-coming regions of Toro and Cigales. In Catalonia, old vine Garnatxa and Cariñena and newcomers Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot are being blended to impressive effect. Priorat is the trendy region, while neighboring Montsant also impresses.
In the northwest, try Bierzo reds made from Mencia, believed to be a relative of Syrah. Farther south, look for the juicy young reds of La Mancha and more serious fare from Jumilla made from Monastrell, France's Mourvèdre. Whites too are improving apace. Look out for fragrant Albariño from the Rias Baixas region, and the zippy Sauvignons and Verdejos from Rueda. And of course for sherry (see fortified wines).