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Link Bait or Ignorance? A Reporter Gets Spanish Wine Wrong

Thanks to our friend Richard at a Passionate Foodie, I was pointed to an article that made me laugh, and then cry, and then realize that I had been duped by some clever Link Baiting. The article is titled, Spain’s Wines Fall Short of their Potential and is written by David Falchek.

“I have no doubt that Spain has made strides in quality. I’ll keep checking back with Spain, hoping to uncover a winner…Until then, I’ll reach for Spanish sherry and stick with table wines from California, France, Chile and Australia.”

Let’s start with his ending quote, because it’s fantastic to see sherry highlighted as a great Spanish wine! As you all know, we’re absolutely in love with sherry, but David isolates this style as the only worthwhile Spanish wine, while good table wines can only be found in California, France, Chile, and Australia, but not Spain. Remember this, as I’ll come back to it later.

First off, he begins his article stating that Spain is a hot and an up and coming wine region. Yeah! He got that right! We an emerging wine country, and our quality is unbelievable, but wait until you hear his next statement:

That’s because Spain, long a wine-producing country, has been changing. Spain has more vineyards than any country in the world, yet is a B-lister when it comes to quality.

Many of the county’s 3 million acres of vineyards are old, unproductive and not very efficient. The industry is being modernized and recreated. Spain has the potential to make a more profound mark on the wine world than Australia had in the 1990s or Chile in this decade.

I have yet to taste the results….

Spain is very much two different wine industries: the old, low-production, shaky quality industry and the cutting-edge next generation that replanted vines and invested in the new equipment and techniques.

At this point I checked the publishing date. From the sounds of it, I thought I was stuck back in 2000 when Spain was emerging from a period of renovation and really starting to examine what they were doing and where they wanted to be as a wine producing country? Today, it is hard to find the old, traditional, unsterilized winemaking practices of the decades past . Everywhere we travel throughout Spain, the modern and clean winemaking practices used in those “other table wine producing countries” mentioned above, are fully employed and adopted. If he had stated the above quote 10 yrs ago, I might agree, but at this point in the article, I just figured that he was trying to rile me up by bending the facts a bit. It worked, so I read on.

I’ve been to trade tastings where hundreds of Spanish wines are being poured and my impressions were confirmed. The best wines, from a quality/value standpoint, were the $12 and under category where the wines were refreshing, enjoyable and unpretentious

Their most expensive wines were good, but not as outstanding as you would expect a $70 bottle to be. Fancy packaging and outrageous prices do not equal quality.

When buying Spanish wines, you may see the word “criança,” which means the wine was aged in oak. Some common grape varieties used in Spain include tempranillo, Spain’s answer to deep, rich cabernet sauvignon, and the lighter and fruitier garnacha (known as grenache elsewhere).

This is funny. First, don’t get me wrong, wines that fall under $12 are great values and yes, many of the $70+ bottles are worth their weight in bottle, but the sweet spot is often in between the two and if this guy is only tasting at trade shows, I don’t have much to say to him. But that’s not the part that bugs me. What bothers me is that by this point in the article, I know the author is generally ignorant of Spanish wines when he uses the word: “criança”, meaning “child” in Portuguese, instead of using, “crianza”, a Spanish word meaning “to be aged in oak”.

Second, Tempranillo is not Spain’s answer to Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s like saying that Zinfandel is California’s answer to Cabernet Sauvignon. We actually have great Cabernets here in Spain, many of which are truly amazing. On the other hand Tempranillo is a unique grape that cannot, and should not, be compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, other than to compare how different they can be. Simple as that! Would you compare Zin to Cab? Not if you had any taste buds left in your mouth, or half a mind in your head. Also, the comment on the “lighter…fruitier garnacha”, come on, what’s light and fruity about dense powerful Garnachas of the Priorat, or better yet, the 100yr old Garnacha vines found in the region of Calatayud. There is nothing light and fruity about them!

At this point, I knew the article was not worth the time I took to read it, but I figured I’d browse the tasting notes all the same. Red Guitar came out as one of his favorites, a product from the wine giant Constellation Brands. Ironically, I know the people behind this brand, and that their goal is to make Red Guitar the Yellow Tail (Australia) of Spain. Granted, overall, it’s a good, varietally correct wine that is not terroir driven, but by no means, the best Spain has to offer. Far from it! In fact, it’s only made for the American Market, and has no distribution here in Spain. Hmmm, maybe this was a planted article? Who knows, maybe I should check with my friend.

I also want to point you to his next tasting note on a wine from the Priorat: “The only wine I tried that came close to channeling the Bordeaux style so many strive to copy is the Morlanda 2002 Criança Priorat Red Wine…” I can tell you for a fact Priorat is NOT TRYING TO COPY BORDEAUX! If anything, they are trying to mimic the Rhone, a region with much more in common with the Priorat. Though if I said this to a Priorat winemaker, I might get slapped. The Priorat is a unique and incredible winemaking region with many, many years of winemaking history. With wines that reach the highest pinnacle of winemaking, they have no need to try to mimic Bordeaux, a region that doesn’t even grow Priorat’s principle grape, Granacha.

The rest of his notes are not even worth mentioning, but I will finish by saying this: Spain is not a region that is still trying to find the modern world. Everywhere I go I taste wines of high quality and showing a uniqueness that is solely Spain indicating an amazing terroir. To write something so dismissive without doing some comprehensive research is just plain reckless and dumb. At least get your fact checking straight. I feel bad for the individuals who read this and take it for what it is, full of errors and mistruths. I hope that at least a few of them find their way to Catavino so we can help set the record straight!

What do you think of Spanish wines? Is there anything you would like to say to David?

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