Spain’s Most Wanted Wines
© Vega Sicilia | Four of the top 10 come from Ribera del Duero’s Vega Sicilia.If you think you know what the most searched-for Spanish wines are, you’re probably right.By Tom Jarvis | Posted Wednesday, 28-Jun-2017
In many respects there are no surprises in the list of the most searched-for wines in Spain – which is entirely filled with red wines based on the Tempranillo grape, made by established names – but the intrigue lives outside the top 10.
The best known table wine regions Rioja and Ribera del Duero account for nine out of the 10 wines, with the latter all appearing in the top six. In turn three of the Ribera del Duero wines are made by Spain‘s best-known winery, Vega Sicilia, which gains the top spot and is also responsible for Pintia, from the Toro region.
So far, so expected, right? Looking briefly at the wines filling places 11-20 we do see some other regions – and other primary grape varieties – getting a look in among the Riojas and Ribera del Dueros. The Priorat region is known for its robust red wines, often based on Garnacha and Cariñena. It is arguably the third best-known region for Spanish reds, and Clos Mogador (#16) and Alvario Palacios L’Ermita (#20) make the top 20. The other regions represented are Jumilla, by Bodegas El Nido’s Clio – a deluxe blend of Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and Cabernet Sauvignon – and Penedès, via Catalonian giant Torres’ flagship Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon.
Una cosa llamó la atención con respecto a los entrantes riojanos. Las cuatro son Reservas o Gran Reservas de estilo tradicional, en lugar de las versiones influenciadas por Burdeos, que pasan un período más corto en roble. Esta preferencia continuó a través de los vinos 11 a 20, con vinos de CVNE , Lopéz de Heredia Viña de Tondonia y Murrieta Ygay Reserva.
What of white wines? Lopéz de Teredia’s Viña Tondonia Reserva Blanco is down in 44th place – below at least one pre-mixed Sangria – with its Gran Reserva sibling at #60. The first Albariño does not appear until position #77, and Cava first features at #114. While a brace of Montilla-Morillas Pedro Ximenez wines from Bodegas Toro appear in the 50-75 bracket, and a Sherry brandy reaches #97, we have to search down to Tio Pepe at #379 for the first Sherry. In terms of search popularity Spain is definitely confirmed as a red wine country.
Spain does lag behind Italy (the country against which it is most often compared) in terms of search popularity of its wines; for example, Italy’s top seven wines are more popular than Spain’s second most searched-for bottle.
On a positive note the Spanish top 10 scores well for value for money compared with other most-searched-for top 10s (give or take Pingus). The Italian top 10 features nothing with a pre-tax average less than $100 per bottle, while seven of 10 Spanish wines get below that mark.
1. Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva, Ribera Del Duero With a clear lead over the #2 wine there should be no surprises concerning the Spanish list-topper. Unico’s status is obviously tied up with its long history – Vega Sicilia has been operating since 1864. In terms of Unico’s position in this list, it helps that there are currently 67 vintages available on the Wine-Searcher database, dating back as far as 1936.
2. La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, Rioja DOCa A classically-styled Gran Reserva capable of a long life in the cellar once purchased. The estate was founded in 1890 and subsequently purchased the Ardanza winery in 1904. These two dates are commemorated in the names of the two wines. It is rather surprising that the 904 comes second in this list but the 890 ($127 average price) fails to make to make the top 20.
3. Vega Sicilia Tinto Valbuena 5°, Ribera Del Duero The junior wine of Vega Sicilia, sourced from specific vineyard blocks, Valbuena 5° is released after “only” five years aging (hence the name) in a mix of French and American oak barrels and vats, like Unico. The blend majors on Tempranillo with a varying amount of Merlot depending on the vintage.
4. Dominio de Pingus, Ribera del Duero This cult wine was first made in 1995 by Danish winemaker Peter Sisseck. He took that wine to the Bordeaux en primeur tastings and it caused a sensation when it gained a 96-100 rating from Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate. Production is only around 6600 bottles per year – around one-tenth of that of junior wine Flor de Pingus (which is itself the 12th most searched-for Spanish wine, and has a slightly less eye-watering average price of $95 ex tax).
5. Marqués de Riscal Reserva, Rioja DOCa From the most expensive wine in the top10 to the least costly. This is the core release from the large, historic Rioja firm known also for its stunning Frank O. Gehry-designed City of Wine complex featuring a hotel, restaurant and event spaces.The wine is mostly Tempranillo and the wine spends around two years in American oak barrels, and a minimum of one year in bottle before release.
6. Vega Sicilia Alion, Ribera del Duero Bodegas Alion is located nearby its parent estate, and produces wines intended for earlier consumption, priced more affordably. The wine, made entirely from Tempranillo, is aged entirely in new French oak barrels (unlike the other Vega Sicilia wines listed here) for somewhere between 14 and 20 months depending on the vintage. It then rests for 15 months in bottle before release.
7. Vega Sicilia Pintia, Toro The only top 10 wine from outside the big two regions, though its place on this list reflects the cachet of its famous owner as well as inherent quality. Toro wines were famous in the Middle Ages, and winemaking in the area dates back before the Romans. The area exported large amounts of wine to France during the phylloxera crisis of the late 19th Century, as its sandy soils gave protection from the aphid. Cuttings from its vines were used to restock other Spanish regions.
8. Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial, Rioja DOCa This single-vineyard wine with its striking historic label is only produced in the best years. The estate is one of the very first wine producers in Rioja, founded in 1852, when the eponymous nobleman introduced Bordeaux production techniques to the region. The Ygay property was established in the 1870s.
9. La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva, Rioja DOCa Another great value wine, this little sibling of wine #2 provides a convincing entry into the world of traditionally aged red Rioja. The wine has a higher proportion of Garnacha than the Gran Reservas 890 and 904 from the same producer.
10. Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva, Rioja DOCa This is Muga’s top red wine in the traditional style; along with Torre Muga (the winery’s co-flagship wine aged in French oak) it is based on fruit from the company’s La Loma vineyard a few miles from Haro; the grapes are the last to be picked to ensure maximum ripeness.