Aoife Carrigy’s unusual Spanish reds
This week’s selection of Spanish wines homes in on the quartet of grapes – namely Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano – most famously blended in Rioja but which feature in other Spanish wine regions too.
Sometimes they are blended with international grapes, as in Navarra’s Bordeaux-influenced pairing with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Elsewhere, as in Toro and Madrid DOs, modern winemakers are experimenting with single-varietal expressions of the local soil and terroir. Tempranillo (or Tinta de Toro, Tinto de Madrid, Tinto Fino and various other synonyms) is Spain’s leading grape, the most widely planted red grape and integral to Spain’s most revered wines. Its significant tannins are often softened by oak, which encourages leather, tobacco and spice notes, or by blending with juicy Garnacha (Grenache) or international alternatives.
Another of Spain’s most widely planted reds, Garnacha’s ripe fruit flavours and low tannins lead it to be relegated to easy-drinking or blending status. However, its prominence in the fine wines of Priorat has helped to elevate its reputation. Graciano is more obscure, tending to hide in Riojan blends, to which it brings fresh acidity and perfume, although some winemakers are inviting it to take centre stage. Finally, Mazuelo (known as Cariñena or Carignan outside Rioja) is high in acidity, tannin and colour, and useful in blends with grapes lacking those characteristics.
If you love Rioja, isn’t it time to take a detour? It’ll always be there for you to return to.