By now, the secret is out: Everyone knows Spain is a reliable source of good value and high quality wines. Store shelves everywhere are stocked full of them: Crisp, refreshing whites like albariño and big bold reds, as well as sparkling cava that is far cheaper than Champagne.
If you already know a thing or two about red wines from Spain, you’re probably most familiar with tempranillo, the great indigenous Iberian grape. By far the most high-profile Spanish wine in the U.S., tempranillo yields huge and intensely flavored wines, often with a good deal of oak aging. Earthy, rich leather and fresh tobacco leaves are typical aromas of these often-tannic wines. If you’re even more of a wine hipster, you’ve surely sipped some in-the-know reds from Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra, or Priorat.
What’s great about Spain is that all these wines cost a fraction of comparable offerings from France or Italy. But the price of tempranillo and other trendy reds continues to rise along with their popularity, and it’s getting harder to find one under $10.
There is, however, another approachable Spanish red wine that doesn’t get a lot of attention. At my price point, instead of cheap versions of Spain’s great wines, I’ll often simply reach for garnacha. These wines remain largely under the radar, with plenty of delicious—and inexpensive—options.
Even if you don’t recognize the name, chances are you’ve had a taste of garnacha before. It’s the most widely grown red grape in the world. It goes by the name grenache, most famously in places like France’s Rhone Valley, California, and Australia where the grape is often used as the backbone for red blends. If a producer has a sad-looking malbec, a blasé merlot, or an overly-spicy syrah, grenache is usually brought in as the dance partner, to enrich their color and fruitier flavors.
Things are different with Spanish garnacha, since here, producers frequently make varietal wines. Unlike tempranillo, which runs the gamut from rustic to seriously profound, garnacha is rich and fruity, with a friendly personality that you don’t need to ponder over.
Although made in different styles, some oaked and a bit earthy, others unoaked and more ripened, the fruit you taste and smell in garnacha is always berry–raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or even a combination of a few. Clocking in at around 15 percent alcohol by volume, these wines are a little punchier than most reds. They may not be the best to drink glass after glass during happy hour, but there’s no greater Spanish wine for a party. Put simply, they were made for drinking.
During a recent tasting of garnacha I found that some are a little too much, like the 2011 Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines, which was too hot and made me not want to endure another burning sip. Others have a candied tartness that make your teeth hurt.
The best garnacha wines always have a great drinkability factor. They’re delicious and friendly, and because many fall in a price range that is even more welcoming–under $10–you can’t go wrong. Grab a bottle on your way to a party at a friend’s house and get lost in a glass or two together.
Lurra Garnacha 2011, 13.5%
Navarra, Spain, $7.99
Most garnacha wines from Spain are high in alcohol. This one, clocking in at only 13.5 ABV, is light ruby red in color and easy to drink. Delicate nose of tart cherries, followed by a taste of berries and a peppery finish. Sipping on a glass of this is like nibbling away at a handful of just-picked wild raspberries.
Calatayud, Spain, $7.99
Made from grapes grown in the highest elevated garnacha vineyards in all of Spain, this wine offers piercing aromas of licorice, rosemary, and black cherries. The spiced, baked fruit flavors and smooth finish that follow keep the high alcohol in balance. Tastes like a spiked version of grandma’s delicious blueberry pie.
Calatayud, Spain, $9.99
Many garnacha wines are heavily perfumed with fruit, but ripe berry aromas don’t dominate this dark ruby one. In addition to blackberries, it’s earthy and spicy on the nose. With full-flavors of stewed plums and ripe cherries and a tickling tannic finish, its no wonder this wine is one of the best-selling bargain garnachas.
Campo de Borja, Spain, $12.99
Okay, you got me! This one doesn’t exactly fall under $10. But for just a few bucks more, you take a step up the ladder and still get good value. Lively and vibrant purple in the glass with enticing aromas of plums, vanilla spice and a hint of mocha. Full-bodied with fruity flavors and silky tannins, it’s an always-reliable crowdpleaser. A perfect party wine.