WINE O’CLOCK: Would you like to say ‘hola’ to red wine with cola?
Spain devotes more land to growing vines than any other country in Europe but produces considerably less wine than France or Italy.
The discrepancy is largely down to climate. The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain, or so the song has it, but not a lot falls on the baked plains of La Mancha or on the Extremadura region, where summer temperatures regularly top 40c.
Vines are widely-spaced to make use of the limited moisture. They can make good wine in these regions, but not a lot of it.
Rioja is Spain’s best-know fine-wine region. Tempranillo dominates in the east with Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa in the Alava province.
In Rioja Baja, where the Mediterranean softens the climate, the juicier, sweeter Garnacha is the grape of choice.
Some excellent Garnacha reds are produced in the Atlantic-washed north west which is also the Spanish home of Albarino, a white that has become popular in Ireland. The Spanish version is not unlike the Vino Verde made on the other side of the border with Portugal, smoother than its Portuguese cousin but without its distinctive little sparkle.
Catalunya is the home of Cava, which at its best can equal Champagne and at its worst is pretty awful. This north east region also produces some good Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo.
Beware of the house wines in smaller bars and restaurants there. The patron may produce a ceramic jug filled with an oily red wine, somewhat like Sherry. The locals drink it with an equal quantity of water.
In the Basque country they have a scary version of this called Kalimotxo (or Calimocho) where the wine is mixed with cola. They say it is an acquired taste. I have no interest in acquiring it.
SuperValu is running a Spanish wine sale at the moment with some interesting offerings. They don’t include Kalimotxo, I’m happy to report.
The store singles out two for special mention.
Ciro Black Edition (Coupage Vina de la Tierra Castilla la Mancha). A blend of Spanish and French grapes. Ripe cherry flavour with a hint of spice. SuperValu recommends it as an accompaniment to a slow-cooked beef stew.
Ostra Pedrini (Verdosilla DO Valencia). A white wine from a local grape called Verdosilla . Distinctive lemon and lime flavours. Said to go particularly well with oily fish, such as mackerel or salmon.