Underrated Spain: Everything You Need to Know (and What to Sip Along the Way)

Spanish viticulture is seeing a renaissance like never before. Although big-name brands and mass-produced swill used to dominate the country’s winemaking scene, the past few decades have brought a massive shift in Spain’s mentality towards farming and vinification. 

Our co-founder Dustin Wilson, MS has witnessed the change right before his eyes. “Spanish wine has evolved so much since I’ve been in the industry,” he says. “When I first got started as a sommelier, a lot of Spanish wines were super modern, big, alcoholic, and overly marketed – therefore, not really interesting to me at all.” 

Dustin notes that what he's seeing now is a gravitation towards organic farming, emphasis on indigenous varieties, and non-interventionist vinification – basically a complete 180 from the Spain he used to know. “These ‘New Spain’ wines are super delicious and balanced. I’ve been thrilled to see how much the landscape has evolved over the last decade or so. It’s been very exciting to watch.” Though as always, knowing where to look (and who to drink from) is key.

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Dustin highlights Galicia, Catalunya, Valencia, and Madrid as a few of his favorite regions for drinking. Unsurprisingly, a bunch of our current go-to favorites come from these same areas. 

Take Galicia for example. This humid, northwestern Spanish region is a hotbed for hands-off winemaking. The region’s five main DOs (Monterrei, Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, and Valdeorras) are influenced by heavy rains, abundant sunshine, and tempering effects of the Atlantic Ocean. When farmed responsibly, all of these conditions work together to create healthy, exciting, and well-balanced fruit.

So which producers are we currently stoked about? We can’t get enough of what Alberto Nanclares is doing to pioneer terroir-driven, single-vineyard Albariño across the region. His saline-driven whites are some of our favorites to sip with raw bar snacks and happy hour favorites. For earthy, chillable reds that promise a good time, the wines of Dominio do Bibei and Guímaro are where it’s at. We recently discovered the former and are floored by the quality of the juice, and Guímaro will always remain one of our go-to faves (it’s basically one of our ‘house reds’ here at Verve Wine). 

Next, there’s Castilla y León. Although this region still churns out a good chunk of bulk wine, the hidden gems laden within its rugged terrain are definitely worth seeking out. Look at Raúl Pérez. This wizard-like vigneron is shaking up Bierzo’s game like never before. His unctuous, varietal Godellos and soil-driven Mencias stand up to countless Old World benchmark bottles. (For context, we like to think of Mencia as the Spanish cousin of Pinot Noir.) Best of all, the price points on these wines will cost you a fraction of what equally esteemed Italian and French juice would. If you’ve got a thing for Red Burgundy, Loire Cabernet Franc, or southern Italian reds, we’d give these a go.

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But it’s not all about Mencia. Elsewhere in Castilla y León and Vinos de Madrid, 4 Monos and Dani Jiménez-Landi are also crushing the red wine game. However, their focus is on peppery, red-fruited Garnacha. For an easy ‘happy hour at home’ sipper, 4 Monos Tinto (at just $25!) is a solid pick. For those looking to join us on a deeper dive into the world of single-vineyard Garnacha, Dani’s biodynamically-farmed wines are a great place to start. And if you’re really looking to get your hands on Spain’s next big thing, look no further than Comando G’s wines. These ‘Rayas-like’ bottles are textured, ageworthy, and hauntingly aromatic. We can almost guarantee that most reputable cellars will have at least a few of them tucked away.

A few tips for navigating the world of ‘New Spain’ wines (by variety): 

- If you like Pinot Noir, Gamay, or Cabernet Franc, give Mencia a go. Think of this grape as Pinot structured, Gamay fruit-driven, and pepper-tinged like Cab Franc.

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- Love Chardonnay? Then Godello may just be your new favorite variety. These rich yet balanced wines are equally refreshing, versatile, and food-friendly on the table. Two of our current favorite expressions are Vina Somoza’s ‘Neno’ and Raúl Pérez’s ‘Ultreia La Claudina.’  

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- Can’t get enough of acid-driven whites (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and beyond)? Give Albariño a chance. The salty, sea-influenced expressions coming out of Galicia promise to satisfy your need for something thirst-quenching – and if fresh seafood/raw bar favorites are on the table, even better. Check out expressions from Alberto Nanclares, Zarate, and Do Ferreiro for a variety of price points and vinification styles. 

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READ MORE: Five of Our Favorite Spanish Natural Wine Producers 

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