SPAIN is gradually shedding its inferiority complex regarding wines, and it is high time.
Alongside the country’s world-beating culinary skills, its winemaking acumen is now up there with the world’s best in France and Italy.
According to the UK wine bible, Decanter, Spain is now very much part of Europe’s ‘Power Trio’.
In this year’s ranking of a record 18,250 wines, Spain matched France with eight ‘Best in Show’ medals, followed by Italy with seven.
On Spain’s performance in the summer competition, respected Master of Wine, Sarah Jane Evans MW stated: “Spain is the most exciting wine-producing country in Europe.”
Apart from the exciting improvements in the traditional winegrowing region of Rioja – which scooped 23 Golds and two Best in Shows – she singled out the Alicante and Galicia regions.
In particular, it was the north west appellations of Ribeira, Bierzo and Rias Baixas that she really liked.
Meanwhile a pair of Best in Shows came from Jerez, in Andalucia, both sherries over 30 years in age, from Harveys and Lustau.
It was a similar situation with America’s hugely-influential Wine Advocate, based on the scores of doyenne Robert Parker and his team.
Not only are Spain’s bodegas rapidly climbing up the charts, but in Marques de Murrieta, Spain now has a winery in the world’s top 10.
Thanks to scoring yet another top score of 100 this year for its Castillo de Ygay white ‘Reserva Especial’, it now ranks alongside the world’s best vineyards, including Cheval Blanc, Petrus and Chateau d’Yquem.
In total, 30 Spanish wines have so far scooped the maximum 100 score from Wine Advocate, which is nearly 15% of the total.
The reason it is not much higher is largely due to logistics and time, rather than anything else.
Until 2007, there were no Spanish wines in the 100-club, mostly as Parker rarely had time to try wines from Spain, after he categorised French, Italian and American ones.
Indeed, it wasn’t until 2013, that the guide started to take the country seriously, when it hired a professional full time wine expert.
And even that was controversial, with Luis Gutierrez, based in Madrid, previously being a senior executive at Tetra Pak.
That said, Gutierrez comes highly-rated in the wine world and tastes an average of 3,600 wines a year, according to Expansion newspaper.
He had a wine column in El Mundo newspaper and arrived on the scene having worked as the Spanish correspondent for the respected UK wine website Jancisrobinson.com.
Financial Times columnist Jancis herself is a regular visitor to Spain and even made an effort to visit Ronda for a series of tastings a decade ago.
She is now a keen advocate for the fast-improving wines in Ribera del Duero and has seen the country adapt to the high temperatures to make some fabulous wines today.
“After years on the sidelines of the world of fine wine, Spain is now a major player,” she says. “Investment and ambition in vineyard and winery are resulting in more and more rich – often highly alcoholic – spicy reds that are finding increasing favour among international consumers.”
In particular, she also praises the wide variety of local indigenous grape varieties and mixture of styles.
Another globally important wine critic, James Suckling, of the Wine Spectator, has recently praised the huge leaps Spain has made over the last decade.
In his Annual Report 2023 of 3,800 Spanish wines, he insisted the country is going through a ‘dynamic transformation led by an audacious new generation of winemakers’.
“They are shifting the focus of wine appreciation toward a lighter, more delicate style that highlights clarity and drinkability over opulence and richness,” he explained.
Apart from putting seven Spanish wines in his All-Time top 100 wines – including Lustau’s aforementioned 30-year-old Amontillado – he selected six for the perfect ‘100’ category this month.
For the record they are L’Ermita 2021, from Priorat, Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2012 and Viña El Pisón 2021, from Rioja, Comando G’s two wines Rumbo Al Norte 2020 and Tumba del Rey Moro 2021, from Madrid’s DO, and finally Ribera del Duero’s Pingus 2021.
And, in case you hadn’t guessed, these exquisite fine wines were already expensive, before Mr Suckling and Mr Parker put their global 100 top score rankings on them.
As a rule of thumb, most of the 100 score wines cost from €150.
According to the Spanish Wine Federation, Spain owns 13% of the world’s vineyards and is responsible for 25% of European wine production.
Spain can also boast of being the country with the most vineyards worldwide.
It has 70 DOs (denominations of origin) , 42 protected geographical indications, and 26 single-varietal wines.
Spain has its own local Peñin Guide which rates wines under the best value-for-money criterion.
SPAIN’S BEST 35 WINES
(Compiling Decanter, Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator’s scores, with vintages if particularly good)
- Castillo de Ygay Blanco Reserva Especial 1986, Rioja
- Castillo de Ygay Tinto Reserva Especial, Rioja
- Vina El Pison, Rioja 2004
- Contador, Rioja, 2004 and 2005
- Lalomba Finca Ladero, Rioja, 2018
- Finca Lagunazuri, Rioja 2018
- Las Beatas, Rioja, 2015
- Remírez de Ganuza Gran Reserva, Rioja 2004
- Numanthia Termanthia, Castilla y Leon 2004
- Pingus, Castilla y León (2004, 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2021)
- Vega Sicilia Unico, Castilla y Leon (1962)
- Rumbo al Norte, Comando G, Castilla y León (2016 y 2018)
- Tumba del Rey Moro 2021, Castilla y León
- Bodegas Alto Moncayo, Campo de Borja (2007 and 2009)
- L’ermita, Priorat (2013 and 2019)
- Clos Erasmus, Priorat (2004, 2005 and 2013, 2020)
- Nit de Nin Mas d’en Caçador 2020, Priorat
- Les Manyes 2016 de Terroir Al Limit, Priorat
- La Faraona, Bierzo, (2014 and 2018)
- Viariz La Muria, Bierzo 2021
- Las Tres Filas Mencía, Bierzo 2020
- Sorte O Soro, Valdeorras 2020
- Casa Castillo Pie franco, Jumilla 2020
- Mar de Frades, Albariño, Rías Baixas 2018
- Ramon do Casar Treixadura, Ribeiro, 2022
- El Corral Cremat Brut, Albet I Noya, Penedes
- Arrels del Priorat Ca Les Viudes Vi de Mare 100 Anys
- Don PX Toro Albalá Convento Seleccion 1946, Montilla Moriles, Cordoba
- Alvear Pedro Ximenez Vintage 2011, Montilla Moriles, Cordoba
- 1905 Amontillado Solera Fundacional Lot B 2016, Montilla Moriles, Cordoba
- Moscatel Valdespino Los Toneles, Jerez
- Reliquia Barbadillo de Palo Cortado, Jerez
- La Bota de Amontillado 49, Navazos, Jerez
- 30 Years Old, Oloroso, Lustau, Jerez
- 30 Years Old, Amontillado, Harveys, Jerez
And the local reccomendations…
The Peñín Guide to the Wines of Spain 2024 has awarded its maximum score to three iconic Spanish reds, two from the DO Ribera del Duero and one from the DO Rioja, and for the first time to a white wine, from the DO Rías Baixas. Specifically, the 100 points went to the Ribera reds Vega Sicilia Único Reserva Especial (which includes wines from the 2010, 2011, and 2012 vintages) and Pingus 2021 by Peter Sisseck, the Rioja La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 from 2010 and the Pontevedra Albariño Pazo Señorans Selección de Añada 2013.
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