50 shades of Spain

Don’t hate me, but I just returned from spending a few days in Ibiza, umm, researching wine. And lobster paella. I love my job.

50 shades of spain 2

On a serious note, I made sure I tasted a range of different Spanish grapes while holidaying on the island: albariño, verdejo, malvasía, tempranillo, macabeo (to name a few). This sudden streak of adventurousness was inspired by the fact that Spain is home to hundreds of different grape varieties. I’m not exaggerating, it cultivates approximately 600 grape varieties – arguably unsurprising given it is the most widely planted wine nation in the world. Spain may have been knocked out of the World Cup ludicrously early this year but at least it can hold the trophy of largest surface area under vine (cheers to that!).

In spite of tasting a range of grapes from different Spanish regions, the one that stuck in my mind was one of the most well-known wines: Rioja. When most people think of this style of wine, they think of a concentrated, full-bodied, high alcohol red. While this is indeed a pretty fair description, what many don’t appreciate is that winemakers in the region don’t stop at red.

It is for that reason that I want to focus this post on the different shades of Rioja – blanco, rosado and tinto (I also wanted to use the image below – I got a few funny looks when posing for the camera).


By the way, did you know that supposedly Rioja was named after the river “Rio Oja” which runs through parts of northern Spain? I do love etymology… now back to wine.

Blanco: white wine produced in Rioja is made primarily from the viura and malvasía grapes. These wines tend to be dry with high levels of refreshing acidity – making them ideal for a hot summer day! Expect a wine that is zesty, fruity (notes of citrus and pear) and ever so slightly aromatic. Generally these wines should be consumed young, but some will have been aged in oak barrels giving them nutty and spicy flavours. Delicious with white fish, chicken and tapas.

Rosado: these rosé wines are generally dry and are produced using the garnacha grape (perhaps better known by its French name, grenache). You can expect a wine that is bursting with ripe summer fruits (strawberry, raspberry, red cherry) and a balanced, refreshing finish. Absolutely delicious when the sun is shining – and even when it isn’t (if you’ve read my last blog post you’ll know I’m a fan of rosé). Drink alongside grilled shellfish or a plate of serrano or iberico jamon – or even on its own as an aperitif.

Tinto: red is what Rioja is famous for – robust, tannic wines made primarily from the Tempranillo grape. They can be oak-aged resulting in characteristic aromas of vanilla, coconut and cedar. Expect bold yet complex fruit flavours, spice and a relatively high level of alcohol – so don’t shy away from pairing these wines with equally bold dishes such as lamb chops or a hearty steak. They are classified based on the ageing period (and the price normally increases in line with the number of years aged): joven (or no classification) wines spend less than a year in oak, crianza is aged for two years, reserva for three years, and gran reserva for at least five years.

So there you have it – a whistle-stop tour of Rioja.

I’ll end on this note: Spain loves to produce Rioja wines, they love to drink Rioja wines, and they even love to throw Rioja wines. Yes, you read that correctly – every year in the north of La Rioja there is festival to soak each other in red wine. This festival took place last weekend and an estimated 130,000 litres of red wine was thrown over 10,000 thirsty participants. Sounds like fun… but let’s hope there were no bulls around!


Grapeful is a mobile app that helps you pair wine with food, discover new wine styles, view wine lists of certain restaurants, share wines with friends, impress a date with fun facts about wine, and much more. The app is available to download for free from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

7 thoughts on “50 shades of Spain

  1. Pingback: A battle on the pitch and in the vineyard | Through the Grapevine

  2. Pingback: France vs. Germany: battle of the rieslings | Through the Grapevine

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