I'll admit I'm a little biased when it comes to Spain. If I walk out of the door, turn left, walk along, past a few stray dogs, past a couple of people on the pilgrim road to Santiago, past old men in blue overalls on tractors, down the red sandy slope, past two bodegas and keep going for a couple of minutes; I find myself in vineyards, surrounded by bush vines of Tempranillo.
The huge, gnarled vines that are twice as old as Bordeaux's oldest, sit in the sandy ground that protected them from the phylloxera bug at the turn of the century, and in areas that has been vineyard land since the Roman Emperor Trajan was in nappies. Amid these national monuments stand the modern wineries, pumping out some of the most fashionable wines Europe has to offer.
Spain is like this throughout. Although not all areas have sandy soils or very old vines, there is a confluent of the old and new that makes Spain so exciting. Although Rioja maintains its credentials as one of the greatest wine regions in the world (and not without its own modernisation), places like Ribera del Duero, Priorat, Rias Baixas, Toro, Somontano and Jumilla produce an array of some of the most impressive wines we are currently seeing.
Like almost all wine countries, however, there is a lot of pretty poor wine out there. Some of it even comes from the more modern stable of wineries. And like France, one hopes that much of the country's not-so-good bottles are sold to the domestic market. While many a shallow student of Spanish wine will bang on about the vast areas of Airén (a bland, white grape variety) planted south of Madrid, I have yet to see, let alone try, a bottle of it.
The enjoyment of Spain comes from being able to try so much wine that is historically old, yet still in its formative stages. You might not like all you are handed (some of it is definitely happier alongside a meal), but the pleasure is in the hunt.
© 2010 Oliver Styles - wine-life.co.uk - all rights reserved