Even in hard economic times, Americans love wines from Spain. In fact, Spain surpassed France in wine exports last year, trailing only Italy in world popularity.
The reason: Spain's big, ripe reds and crisp, fruity whites fit American tastes.
Oh, and they're relatively cheap.
Regional variety is another attraction. In the northwestern corner of the country, Galicia's cool, rainy, Rias Baixas produces whites, especially albarinos, that enjoy growing popularity. Meanwhile, over in the sunny northeastern corner, the Costers del Segre area of Catalonia with its hot, dry summers and cold, harsh winters is flourishing under a new generation of vineyard owners who are producing good reds.
Also in Catalonia, 100 miles southwest of Barcelona, dry, sunny Priorato with its rugged terrain of crumbling schist has also been brought to life by modern winemakers who have rehabilitated the reputation of garnacha, a long-disrespected grape the French call grenache.
Northeast of Madrid in the Ebro River Valley, Rioja produces Spain's most popular wines. In winter, mountains protect it from harsh winds off the Atlantic, and in summer there's little rain but lots of cloudy weather, preventing massive sun exposure. Made primarily from the tempranillo grape, Rioja's reds can be drunk early, but there are also examples of elegant wines discovered in cellars dating back into the 1930s.
Straight north of Madrid, the Ribera del Duero gets icy Atlantic winds in winter and nearly twice the sunshine of neighboring Rioja in summer. Its main grape is also tempranillo, called tinto fino by the locals and “tempranillo on steroids” by wine fans. Rivaling Rioja's in quality, these wines include many of Spain's most expensive.
Ø 2009 Terras Gauda Abadia de San Campio, DO Rias Baixas (100 percent albarino): light and lively; very crisp; intense flavors of lemons, limes, kiwis; $20.
Ø 2004 Scala Dei Priorat, DOC Priorat (50 percent grenache, 27 percent cabernet sauvignon, 23 percent syrah), DOC: full-bodied and rich; aromas and flavors of blueberries and licorice; big, ripe tannins; very smooth; $27.
Ø 2006 Raimat Tempranillo, Costers del Segre (100 percent tempranillo), soft and rich, with black cherry and black pepper aromas and flavors; $10.
Ø 2006 Viúa Zaco, Rioja (100 percent tempranillo): intensely fruity; light body; black plum and coffee flavors; firm tannins; $15.
Ø 2004 Bodegas Bilbainas Viúa Pomal Reserva, DOC (100 percent tempranillo): intense tart cherry and vanilla aromas and flavors, medium body, crisp and lean; $21.
Ø 2005 Legaris Crianza, Ribera del Duero, DO (100 percent tinto fino): full-flavored
and full-bodied; black cherries and licorice; big, ripe tannins; smooth; $27.