Many Spanish wine lovers consider a Rioja or Ribera del Duero when looking for a full-bodied red wine. After all, some of Spain’s most sought-after and well-known red wines are from these two regions and their star red grape, Tempranillo, is the most widely planted throughout the country.
However, more than 100 red and white grape varieties are cultivated though Spain. If you are looking to expand your Spanish wine palate, you can discover some amazing red wines beyond Tempranillo. Some, like Garnacha, Monastrell and Cariñena are relatives of French grapes- Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan; still others are indigenous, one-of-kind finds. Seek them out on wine lists to give them a try or – even better- and drink the wines made from native grapes when traveling in Spain. Here are five to try:
Bobal: This bulbous dark blue-purple grape was once nearly extinct. However, Bobal has made a vigorous comeback in the Valencia region, most importantly in the D.O.s Manchuela and Utiel-Requena—the latter has embraced Bobal as its signature grape. Bobal is now Spain’s second most planted red grape variety after Tempranillo. One hundred percent Bobal wines deliver deep dark juicy fruits; think plum, blueberry and blackberry with a touch of spice. As they age, the flavor profile deepens to add cacao and chocolate notes. If you like Zinfandel, a voluptuous spicy Bobal is for you! Pair with barbecue, North African tagines, spicy meatballs or a traditional paella Valenciana with rabbit, chicken and snails.
Fun fact: The name is derived from bovale, the Latin word, referring to the shape of the grape clusters which are thought to resemble a bull’s head.
Cariñena: First off, there’s a region in northeastern Spain called D.O. Cariñena whose star grape is Garnacha, and then there’s the black-skinned grape called Cariñena. The grape also happens to grow in D.O. Cariñena as well as in D.O. Priorat and in DOCa Rioja where it’s called Mazuelo. Most often used in blending and known for being a little leathery and tannic, Cariñena is blossoming into its own spotlight, delivering single varietal wines with smoky, spicy anise and peppery black fruits. If you like a medium-bodied Rhône red, give Cariñena a swirl. Pair with roast turkey, eggplant lasagna, moussaka, grilled sausages and aged Gouda.
Fun fact: Known as Carignan in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon, this grape is considered a workhouse variety; in Sardinia it’s called Carignano (or Bovale Grande).
Garnacha: One of the most widely planted grapes in the world, Garnacha is said to have originated in Spainand was brought to other parts of Europe such as France and during the Crown of Aragon in the 12th to 17thcenturies. That’s why it’s sometimes referred to as “Tinto Aragones.” Like Cariñena, Garnacha thrives in hot, dry Mediterranean climates, which include many protected designation of origins (D.O.’s) in eastern Spain such as Calatayud, Somontano, Campo de Borja, Cariñena, and Terra Alta. The grape is the backbone of many Priorat wines, often blended with Cariñena and it is also used to make the red wines in Rioja Oriental (formerly known as Rioja Baja).
Historically Garnacha has been used as a blending grape, but one can now find many red wines made from 100 percent Garnacha. These wines pack powerful, spicy red berry notes and ripe soft tannins capable of long-aging and, with older vines, concentrated fruits. If you like red Rhône wines, Garnacha is your grape! Enjoy with slow-roasted lamb, truffled pasta, and mushroom dishes.
Fun fact: Garnacha’s sister grape in Sardinia, Italy is Cannonau, which is prized for its high levels of resveratrol, known for both heart-health and complexion boosting benefits.
Mencia: This red grape is most notably cultivated in D.O Bierzo, a cooler climate area in northwestern Castilla y León, and nearby D.O. Ribeira Sacra to the west in Galicia. Thanks to maverick producers like Álvaro Palacios who oversees Descendientes de J Palacios in Bierzo, Mencia is receiving more attention.The red wines used to have a linear and lean quality, but better winemaking and a push to a more modern style have delivered wines that are more earthy and concentrated with notes of red berries and anise. If you like Cabernet Franc, try Mencia. Pair with roasted duck, grilled pork, mushroom dishes and sharp Manchego or Cheddar cheeses.
Fun fact: Scientists once thought Mencia was a relative to Cabernet Franc, but DNA tests proved otherwise and point instead to a red Portuguese grape called Jaen.
Monastrell: Native to Spain, the full-bodied tannic red grape Monastrell, or Mataró, is known as Mourvèdre elsewhere in the Rhône Valley, south Africa and California. Mourvèdre is frequently used in Rhône blends along with Grenache and Syrah. One can find it in D.O.’s Alicante, Almansa, Jumilla and Yecla in Spain’s southeastern Mediterranean coast. If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, sip on some Monastrell. Pair with braised meats, slow-cooked stews, cassoulet or aged hard cheeses.
Fun fact: The name Monastrell may have been derived from monastario, harkening back to when monks first cultivated this grape in Catalunya.
Elsewhere there are lesser known but equally notable red grapes throughout Spain, coast to coast and island to island. I discovered a few at tastings in New York, such as a 100 percent Tintilla from Cádiz and a red wine from Mallorca made from three grapes native to the Balearic Islands. Both reminded me that terrific wine can be made anywhere; keeping an open mind and curious palate pave the path to delicious local discoveries and hidden gems.
Bodega Sierra Norte Temperamento 2016 (D.O. Utiel-Requena) 100% Bobal SRP $16
Rene Barbier Clos Mogador Manyetes Vi de Vila Gratallops 2015 (D.O. Priorat) 100% Cariñena SRP $63
Palacios Remondo Propriedad 2015 (DOCa Rioja) 92% Garnacha (old vines), 8% blend of indigenous varietals SRP $50
Enrique Mendoza La Tremenda 2016 (D.O. Alicante) 100% Monastrell SRP: $12
Guímaro Finca Meixeman 2015 , (D.O. Ribeira Sacra) 100 % Mencia SRP: $37
Alberta Orte Atlántida 2015 (VT de Cádiz), 100% Tintilla SRP: $28