Spanish flyers: how Spain moved to the top table

Tapa Roja Monastrell, Yecla, Spain 2019 (£7, Marks & Spencer) Of the big three European producers, France and Italy usually produce the most wine each year. 2021 has been a different story, however. According to figures released earlier this month by the international wine research body the OIV, a year of extreme weather events including unseasonal frost and record high summer temperatures saw wine production drop dramatically across the continent. The weather gods were particularly unkind to France, where output fell by almost a third on the previous vintage. That means Spain, which itself experienced a significant but lesser drop of 14%, and which is still some way behind Italy, is currently Europe’s second-largest wine producer. Similar movement is afoot if we turn from quantity to quality: over the past decade, Spanish wine has become so much more exciting and diverse. It’s now a genuine challenger on both scores to France and Italy, while still providing some of the continent’s best-value red wines, such as this spice-edged plummy number from the southeastern Spanish DO, Yecla.

Baldovar 923 Cañada Paris Blanco, Valencia, Spain 2018 (£19.95, One of the more exciting recent developments in Spanish wine is the way that producers in what were once considered lesser, out-of-the way regions have embraced various neglected and often very obscure local grape varieties. This is a big change on what was happening in the years just before and after the millennium, when big name “international” varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and syrah, or the big Spanish hitter, tempranillo, were dominating new vineyard plantings. Baldovar 923 Cañada Paris Blanco is an absolute archetype of new-wave Spanish white: it’s made from a grape variety exclusive to southeastern Spain, and rarely found on labels, and which most guides still deride as easy to grow, but not very interesting to drink. Grown at high altitudes (around 1,000m) above sea level, using organic methods, and made by a dedicated, low-production winemaker, using sensitive, low-intervention techniques, it produces something very lovely indeed: all gently flowing waves of stony minerals, white fleshy fruit and a squeeze of lemony citrus.

La Petite Agnès, Priorat, Spain 2019 (£14.99, Waitrose) For all the strides made by new-wave winemakers in remote, often very high-altitude vineyards from Valencia to the Gredos mountains around Madrid, to Ribeira Sacra in the northwestern province of Galicia, there is still plenty of fun to be had exploring Spain’s more established names and more familiar grape varieties. Certainly, two regions that were big players in Spain’s first wave of post-Franco vinous creativity in the 1980s and 1990s, Priorat and Ribera del Duero, seem to be having a productive second wind at the moment, as producers learn to tame the once popular, but now rather unfashionable excesses (of alcohol, oak and sheer bruising power) that had threatened to overwhelm their red wines. There’s a lovely balance for example in Waitrose’s introduction to the rocky Catalan region of Priorat, with a sensation of freshness underscoring the dense brambly fruit in this blend of garnacha and samso (aka carignan). Over on the high plateau of Castilla y Leon’s Ribera del Duero, meanwhile, the dark finger-stainingly vivid mulberry juiciness of the tempranillo in Quinta Milu Roble 2020 (£16.50, is an unalloyed joy to drink.