Uncorked: Spanish varieties are popular, affordable
North of Madrid, surrounded by mountains and rivers, lie two major wine regions — Rioja and Ribera del Duero. They make some of Spain's most popular — and often most affordable — wines.
In these regions, the red tempranillo is the dominant grape. It's user-friendly, full of cherry and raspberry flavors, soft in tannin and acid, often with a hint of minerality.
The wines are light and soft enough to sip as aperitifs, crisp and fruity enough to serve with tapas, roast pork and chicken, even lamb.
Like many Spanish wines, they're aged longer than their counterparts in other countries before being released for sale.
For example, where in California or France could you buy a 2005 red wine (in this case the Conde de Valdemar Reserva) for $20? Often the Spanish wineries can because they have been family-owned for generations and thus free of the imperative of turning out big profits for corporate stockholders.
2008 Conde de Valdemar Crianza, Estate Bottled, Rioja (90 percent tempranillo, 10 percent mazuelo), Rioja: aromas of oak and vanilla, flavors of ripe tart cherries and licorice; $15.
2008 Valdemar "Inspiracion," Rioja (90 percent tempranillo, 10 percent graciano): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black cherries and bitter chocolate, soft tannins; $20.
2009 Conde de Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria (white wine), Alto de Cantabria (100 percent viura): golden hue, aromas and flavors of vanilla, citrus and minerals; $15.
2008 Valdemar Tempranillo, Rioja (100 percent tempranillo): aromas and flavors of tart cherries and espresso, light body, crisp; $10.
2008 Bodegas Antano Crianza by J. Garcia, Rioja (85 percent tempranillo, 10 percent graciano, 5 percent mazuelo): hint of oak, bright fruit flavors including red raspberries and currants, light and crisp; $10.
2007 Bodegas Antano Reserva by J. Garcia, Rioja (80 percent tempranillo, 10 percent graciano, 5 percent mazuelo, 5 percent garnacha): black raspberries and spice, rich and smooth; $12.
2010 Bodegas Antano Tempranillo by J. Garcia, Rioja (100 percent tempranillo): black cherry and vanilla flavors, light and lively; $8.
2005 Conde de Valdemar Reserva, Estate Bottled, Rioja (90 percent tempranillo, 10 percent mazuelo): hint of oak, rich black cherry and licorice flavors, very smooth; $20.
2008 Vina Arnaiz Crianza, Ribera del Duero (100 percent tinta del pais): very dark hue, aromas and flavors of red plums and black coffee; $22.
2011 Opera Prima Tempranillo, La Mancha (100 percent tempranillo): aromas and flavors of tart cherries and cloves, light body, crisp; $6.
Nonvintage Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava (sparkling wine), Penedes (50 percent macabeu, 35 percent parellada, 15 percent xarel-lo): big, active bubbles, crisp, aromas and flavors of Granny Smith apples and minerals; $10.
Nonvintage Jaume Serra Cristalino Rose Brut Cava (sparkling wine), Penedes (80 percent pinot noir, 40 percent trepat): lively and frothy, aromas and flavors of raspberries and cranberries; $10.
Fred Tasker has retired from The Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.