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7:00am Saturday 7th April 2012 in Lifestyle
Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris looks at some Spanish gems, and recommends some bright whites and ruby red Riojas.
The vines of Spain.
Steeped in history and blessed with a microclimate, Spain has been growing grapes since day dot and this exciting, fashion-conscious country boasts the biggest vineyard in the world.
Most of the famous regions are located along the River Duero, and with more acres under vine than any other land, the wines offer a tasting voyage of discovery from Rias Baixas on the north-western tip, to up-and-coming Priorat in the north-east, and most famously Rioja in the north.
The Spanish love to party, and inviting these cosmopolitan flavours to the table is a marvellous reason to hunt down the staple ingredients for a paella, tuck into a plate of Iberico ham and uncork a Spanish gem.
For a taste of Spanish sunshine to chime with seafood tapas, try ES Vina Ludy Albarino 2010, Rias Baixas (£7.48, Asda). Albarino (pronounced al-bar-reen-yo) is Galicia's trendy grape and this good entry-level white displays classic aromatic hallmarks with a mineral-laced, limey zestiness and peachy fruit.
But to really feel the cool breezes of the Atlantic Ocean and appreciate this picturesque, lush region, try the elegant Turonia Albarino Rias Baixas Quinta Couselo 2010 (£12.92, www.goedhuis.co.uk). A textbook albarino with subtle floral notes, it's fresh and zippy with orchard fruit flavours, a hint of nectarine, subtle spice and an earthy finish.
As one of northern Spain's leading white wine regions, Rueda is the Spanish answer to sauvignon blanc and worth flirting with now that summer's here. Palacio de Menade Rueda 2011 (£8.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk), made from the verdego grape, is zingy and fresh with honeyed peach aromas and a core of tangy pink grapefruit that works delectably well with manchego cheese and olives.
There's not doubting Rioja signals red for Spanish wine, but tipplers mustn't forget the virtues of a good, rich white Rioja such as Finca Allende Rioja Blanco 2008 (£20.40, www.bbr.com). The label may not get the pulses racing, but this glorious straw-yellow white made from a harmonious blend of malvasia and viura is quite delightful. Buttery and tropical, it triumphs on the palate with the slightest sherry profile and good acidity on the long finish. Good with food, Allende complements flaky fish and white meats.
Not all red Riojas are created equal, and the flavours of oak-aged tempranillo can vary from rounded vanilla and strawberries, to rich, dark and dense, and even to more leathery and earthy. Some modern bodegas are replacing American oak with French and most of the wines are blended with other varieties, but what is certain is Rioja's enduring appeal.
And you can't go wrong with Marques del Norte Rioja 2010 (£4.28, Asda), winner of Decanter 2011 Regional Trophy Best Rioja under £10. A medium-bodied, inky black with plenty of damson fruits, soft tannins and a cigar element, this wine punches above its weight.
Dense, oaky reds such as Baron de Barbon O/A Rioja 2010 (£7.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk) have complex savoury fruit flavours thanks to time spent in American and French barrels and the Baron certainly packs a punch with well-integrated oak, cherries, violet and blackberries, warm spicy wood and firm tannins.
With modern aromas of wild strawberries and raspberry, you can almost nose inside the barrel of Tesco's tempranillo temptress, Finest Vina Mara Rioja Reserva 2007 (£9.49, Tesco). This super wine spends 20 months in oak and it's seductive and powerful with jammy fruit, vanilla spice, cloves and silky smooth tannins.
A Spanish institution, Beronia wines have enjoyed a makeover since being acquired by sherry dynasty Gonzalez Byass, and its Beronia dos Maderas Crianza 2008 (£9.99, www.ocado.com) comes from one of the best Rioja regions, Rioja Alta, high up in the south. It spends 40 months in oak and the layers of rich flavour produce a gorgeous garnet red with a strawberries and cream nose, savoury spice, rich black fruits and a hint of mocha on the smooth, lingering finish.
Rioja Alta wines also have good ageing potential and Vina Alberdi, Reserva, La Rioja Alta 2005 (£14.95, bbr.com) is a top drop if you're in the market for a wine to impress. Predominantly tempranillo with a splash of mazuela (carignan), this elegant wine is a velvety smooth rhapsody with cedar and spice giving way to ripe plums, cassis fruit and redcurrants with fine tannins and good length - an executive drive in a line-up of fine wines.
:: Best buy If you haven't yet discovered the delights of a New Zealand pinot noir, Yealands winery is a good place to start. Yealands Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough New Zealand (£12.90, www.mustwines.com) is a delightful black cherry red with soft, round raspberry fruit, elegant, silky tannins and a little crunch on the long, savoury finish.
:: Liquid news With Thai New Year (April 13 to 15) around the corner, celebrate the Songkran festival with the crisp, refreshing taste of Chang Beer (£2.25, 640ml, Tesco), voted Asia's best premium lager at the World Beer Awards 2011. Chang means 'elephant' in Thai, and a symbol of happiness. Made with the finest malted barley, hops and deep-well water, it's brewed at the Cosmos Brewery in Thailand, and is the perfect long neck with a Thai green chicken curry.