Editor’s Note: With more people opting to save money with Airbnb and Casa Rural (rural house) rentals when visiting Spain, it’s difficult to know how to stock your wine cooler. Enter any retail shop or supermarket and you’re flooded with options. Hence, this guide is a precursor to your next trip – a helpful “how to” model to seamlessly ease you into a relaxing and wine filled vacation.
Having recently moved into a smaller apartment – leaving my fully-stocked wine fridge behind- I was confronted with an interesting predicament. What does one do with an empty 24-bottle wine cooler? The fridge at my old place was just a compilation of individual bottles of wine I had shoved in there unpremeditatedly (wines I regularly buy and like to drink, bottles received or intended as gifts, winery samples, new wines I wanted to taste,…). Consequently, I rarely found more than one bottle of what I wanted in a given moment. Being a bachelor, this isn’t a big problem…until you organize a dinner party. In my case, every dinner with friends involved a last minute trip to the bottle-shop. With the chance to start anew, I’ve decided I need a more methodical approach to building up my in-home store of wines. (Photo by Dean Wissing)
Much like your Airbnb rental, 45 sq. meter bachelor pad in downtown Logroño is not the place to have a full-on cellar with a long-term wine collection; no place to take wine consumption seriously. Many in my position would just buy wine as the occasion or need arose, but being an aspiring wine-geek with an empty wine cooler at home, I suffer from a rare case of horror vacuii. Keep in mind that what we’re talking about here is cellaring wine in the short to medium term, of those Spanish wines you should always keep near-at-hand to be drinking straight away. Its all about having my favorites at home as well as other options suitable for any occasion.
EVERYDAY RED AND WHITE
Typically, if you’re going to rent an apartment while on holiday, you’ll most likely cook a handful of your meals there as well. And if you’re going to eat at “home”, you’ll want to drink there as well. Hence, it’s smart to keep a stock of red and white wines to combine with your everyday meals. I tend to look for reliable wines that are easy to find and affordable. The focus will be to buy three or four bottles at a time and regularly rotate them as quickly as I drink them. Purchases will depend on the season and cooking style. Now that its colder, along with classic Crianza from Rioja (my staple, my go-to wine); some medium bodied, lightly oaked and ready to drink versions of Tempranillo from DO La Mancha or DO Valdepeñas will make their way into the lineup this winter. The wines from these regions are affordable and pleasing…just remember to look for DO status on the label! Regarding whites, a crisp Verdejo from DO Rueda and a fresh stainless-steel fermented Viura from DOC Rioja are consistent and not overly pricey options. These wines are easy pours, palatable wines that don’t require a lot of thinking. Simplicity and comfort are the key.
“Aperitivo” is the Spanish custom of having a quick bite to eat prior to lunch. Its a very Spanish way of eating, drinking and socializing that takes place in neighborhood bars across the country. Living close to the downtown tapas bars (Logroño’s “aperitivo” hub), my new apartment has become the unofficial meeting place for friends prior to hitting the bars. It’s where we usually have a quick warm-up drink before the fun starts. One of my favorite wines for this pre-lunch tradition is Fino Sherry; the driest of the wines coming from D.O. Jerez/Xeres. Made with the Palomino grape and served chilled, this style is perfect when combined with small bites (almonds, Serrano shavings or cheese). I love its dry pungent acidity and nutty taste. Some friends prefer it when mixed 50-50 with lemon-lime soda and poured over ice. Called “rebujito“, this is a favorite among many of my friends as a summer refresher. (Photo via Jenny Downing)
No Spanish-themed wine fridge is complete without a couple bottles of Cava. Ideal for celebratory occasions -yet not exclusively- the multi-regional DO Cava is probably the best known sparkling wine from Spain. Made with mostly indigenous Spanish grapes (Xarel.lo, Macabeu -Viura- and Parellada) and sometimes adding international varieties, the non-vintage wines of some of the larger producers in Cataluña are household names here in Spain. The bone-dry Brut and Brut Nature styles are my favorite among the big names; nevertheless, stocking a couple bottles of vintage or aged Cavas from smaller producers -they go a step further in quality and complexity- is always a good idea as an alternative. Pink Cava (cava rosado) where red grape varieties like: Pinot Noir, Garnacha or Monastrell are added to the blend is also becoming very fashionable… It wouldn’t hurt to have a couple of bottles on-hand, as it also works as a gift to your host or a romantic wine to share!
RED AND WHITE FOR RICH FARE
Having a couple of bottles of stronger reds and whites with more depth is another essential for those who like entertaining or have a thick steak prepped for the grill. The more modern and full-bodied wines from DO Ribera del Duero are staples in this style among the reds, yet there is a great diversity of Spanish wines available in this genre. DOs and red varieties like Toro (Tempranillo/Tinta de Toro), Bierzo (MencÌa) or Calatayud (old-vine Garnacha) are big and bold and will work well with lamb, grilled red meats (recipes), chorizo (recipe),… Concerning food whites, barrel fermented whites from DO Valdeorras or DO Montsant are quickly becoming an outstanding option along with the (in my opinion, fundamental) bottles of barrel aged whites from DOC Rioja.
Living in Rioja, where I can readily buy an eight year-old Gran Reserva wine at the neighborhood corner store, the idea of having a cellar in the traditional sense seemed quite anachronic. Not a being a very long-sighted consumer, I never kept bottles of my favorites and find I miss some of the memorable Riojas from the 1998, 2001 and 2005 vintages (happily, I can alway’s raid my father’s cellar for these gems).
Now that I have a new wine cooler, I’m committed to keeping some. At least three bottles for safeguarding -I will buy as I get my hands on it- of my favorite vintage, producer and wine. Drinking these when they become scarce and have evolved is truly a gift for the wine aficionado. In your case, bring these bottles home and store them away. There’s something sentimental and heartwarming when you break open a bottle several years into the future and reminiscing about that one incredible trip to Spain. (Photo by cyclonebill)
THE EXPERIMENTAL SHELF
One of the things that makes wine unique is its diversity; new DOs, new producers, new wines and new grape varieties or blends are popping up everywhere, so experimenting and tasting new things is important. Being my group of friend’s wine expert, they’re always expecting me to open new, different and un-common wines that I’ve come across and liked. Among the up-and-coming DOs I’m diving into are: the newer single-variety white wines from Rias Baixas (Godello, Caiño Blanco, Louireiro,…), the Garnacha Blancas from DO Terra Alta and the MalvasÌas from DO Lanzarote. Among the reds, Monastrell from DO Yecla and DO Jumilla or Bobal from DO Utiel Requena. The idea is to buy two bottles, drink one and pour it for my more wine-oriented friends as the occasion arises. Get experimenting and discover your own favorites!
In summary, if you’re renting an apartment while on holiday, be savvy when stocking up on wines. There’s no reason for you to buy whatever is on the shelf because you’re unsure which is the “best”. Instead, take the suggestions I’ve provided above and experiment, explore and discover what you enjoy most. Again, there’s no “right” answer, but there definitely are some safe bets.