Grilling season is winding down and a friend called to invite me to dinner. Which is how I found myself seated around a large, round outdoor dining table facing a sizeable pan of rich, aromatic paella. The perfect dish to share. Especially if there’s wine.
Spain has the largest number of vines planted of any country in the world. (They’re not number one in production; that title still belongs to France.) Vines must be irrigated as drought can be a factor. Growers in Spain farm over 400 varieties of grapes but 80 percent of the vines really grow only 20 or so varieties. You’ll know them mainly for Tempranillo, Albarino, and Grenache (as well as Garnacha Tintorera — a Grenache-Petit Bouschet cross).
Interestingly, nearly 25 percent of Spanish grape production is a varietal you’ve probably never heard of called Airen, a white grape used mainly as a base for brandy and other oxidized, fortified wines.
Spanish wines tend to be food friendly and generally won’t break the bank. They’re perfect options for summer evenings and stand up to bold flavors like smoked meats, roasted peppers, and, well, paella. We gathered an armload of Spanish sippers at affordable price points.
You may know of Raventos Codoníu, the largest wine group in Spain, by way of their Napa Valley venture, Artesa. While the American house makes Califorinia wines from their ultra-modern facility in Carneros, cavas like this one are what they’re known for. This budget bottle is light with subtle red berry and citrus fruit and a clean finish with a super-fine mousse.
2019 Burgan’s Albarino ($14)
This recognizable summer standby is light and crisp with good fruit and acidity, and a dynamite drinker for the money. Made for Martin Codax, the largest cooperative in Rias-Baixes, more than 600 families on 3,000 small parcels grow the Albarino for these wines while working with the co-op’s team of viticulturalists to ensure quality and consistency across all growers.
2019 Enate Chardonnay-234 ($13)
“Totally unexpected” said one taster. If a Spanish Chardonnay from Somontano in Northeast Spain wasn’t strange enough, nearly everyone mistook this Enate for a Riesling or Alsatian Gewurtztraminer when they took that first sip. The fruit was downright tropical. However, it was a perfect pairing with the paella. The crisp acidity cut through any fat and the spices played perfectly with lychee and pineapple notes. While a blind taster might never identify it as a typical Chardonnay (or as a Chardonnay at all), it was great with the dish and a wine we discussed all evening. [Somewhat interestingly, Enate actually makes a Gewurtraminer, too.]
2018 Senda Negra Garnacha Tintorera Old Vines ($22)
We poured this one alongside the Chardonnay with the paella and it was an equally good pairing. The Senda Negra 100% Garnacha Tintorera (a cousin to Grenache) from the Almansa DOP was light but with great fruit and some smoky notes, perfect to stand up to the spicy paprika. “I could drink this red all day,” said one taster.
Castillo de Jumilla Reserva 2002 (N/A)
This wine had some unknown origins, but was a lovely ender to the evening. After some time to open up, this wine gave us the ruby fruit and cedar-tobacco nose the Jumilla region is known for, with its Temprenillo and Mouvedre blends. It was a fitting end to our mini-tour of Spain.
No lives were changed by these wines. But nothing beats a terrific dinner with friends, bolstered by interesting wines to talk about. “This makes me want to visit Spain now,” said one taster. “When we can.”