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Which is the best Spanish Wine?

People often ask us “what is the best Spanish wine”. And the short answer is – there isn’t one. Or at least there isn’t one wine that ticks all the boxes in such a way that it puts itself above all others.

But that answer doesn’t tend to go down too well.

So, we’ve decided to have a crack at answering the question by taking several different approaches:

So, without further ado, let’s dive in.

Which Spanish wine ranks the highest?

There are plenty of experts out there who give wines a score (usually out of 20 or 100) to tell you how good they are. Some are better than others - the experts that is - and none of them are 100% objective. They are only human after all, and they will all have their particular tastes.

But if we’re going to look at which Spanish wines rank the highest, we thought we’d take a well-known Spanish ranking system as our guide: the Guía Peñín. Peñín have been judging the world of Spanish wine for nigh on 30 years now and every year they produce an extensive guide covering most, but not all, of the Spanish wines that are out there.

The Peñín scoring system rates wines out of 100, and as of their 2021 results, only 12 Spanish wines have been given the highest score of 99 points. And here they are:

  1. La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 2005 Gran Reserva - La Rioja Alta S.A. / Rioja D.O. Ca. / D.O.P. / España
  2. Enoteca Gramona 2004 Brut Nature - Gramona / Vinos Espumosos / Vinos / España
  3. Conde de Aldama "Bota No" Amontillado - Bodegas Yuste / Jerez - Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda D.O. / D.O.P. / España
  4. Pazo Señorans Selección de Añada 2011 - Pazo de Señorans / Rías Baixas D.O. / D.O.P. / España
  5. Peñas Aladas 2014 Gran Reserva - Dominio del Águila / Ribera del Duero D.O. / D.O.P. / España
  6. Arzuaga Albillo 2008 - Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro / Ribera del Duero D.O. / D.O.P. / España
  7. Dominio do Bibei - Dominio do Bibei / Ribeira Sacra D.O. / D.O.P. / España
  8. Conde de Aldama "Bota No" Amontillado - Bodegas Yuste / Jerez - Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda D.O. / D.O.P. / España
  9. Lapena 2018 - Dominio do Bibei / Ribeira Sacra D.O. / D.O.P. / España
  10. Viña El Pisón 2019 - Viña El Pisón / Vino de Mesa / Vinos / España
  11. Pingus 2019 - Dominio de Pingus S.L. / Ribera del Duero D.O. / D.O.P. / España
  12. Canta la Perdiz 2016 - Dominio del Águila / Ribera del Duero D.O. / D.O.P. / España

It's interesting to note the number of white wines on the list; welcome proof that Spain has a lot more to offer than just big, bold reds. And the presence of two Amontillados shows that Spain’s fortified wines are deservedly being taken seriously. They are exceptional wines in their own right, which have spent many years ageing gracefully in the cellar and yet cost a lot less than some of their more “glamorous” and better-known competitors.

Which is the most expensive Spanish wine?

OK, so that’s what the judges say. But we live in a free market economy, right? So surely the best wine will be the one that people are prepared to pay the most for? Well, you could spend a happy evening debating that point (ideally with a few glasses of wine to oil the conversation). But if you did want to take the more economic approach, here are some of the most expensive wines available in Spain today.

The out and out winner in this category would have to be Aurum Gold made by Hilario García at the Arumred winery. Based in Las Pedroñeras in the Spanish province of Cuenca, Hilario García is a tax adviser turned winemaker and, arguably, the producer of some of the highest quality grapes in the country. His secret is to inject high levels of oxygen into his vineyard’s irrigation system. This, García argues, has a marked impact on the quality and growth of the grapes as well as giving anti-bacterial properties.

The result is Aurum Gold, a wine which will set you back an eye-watering €25,000 a bottle. We’ve never had the opportunity to taste it (unsurprisingly), so we can’t comment on its quality. But whether any wine is worth what some people earn in a year is up for debate. But there you go.

At a more down to earth level - albeit still somewhere up in the clouds - we find Pingus from Danish winemaker turned Spanish wine king, Peter Sisseck. Sisseck is a hugely respected winemaker who has been making wines in Ribera del Duero since the mid-1990s. His Pingus 2019, which features in the Peñín top 12 list, will set you back about €1,300. But interestingly a bottle of the older Dominio de Pingus, Pingus 2003 is likely to cost you around €1,600, despite getting ‘just’ 94 Peñín points. Which shows that price and quality don’t always go hand-in-hand.

On that point, it’s worth bearing in mind that some wines are “built” to age and can therefore command a price premium as they get older. All of which means that judges’ tastes and scores represent a bit of a static picture and that a wine tasted at one moment in time may taste very different 12 months later.

Moving on, in the same price bracket as Pingus you’ll find Álvaro Palacios’ famous and highly-regarded L'Ermita (Priorat). Palacios is from a large family of Riojan winemakers. But he is best known for his role in “discovering” Priorat in the late 1980s and turning it into a mecca for red wine lovers. If you fancy adding a bottle of L’Ermita to your wine collection, then be ready to shell out between €1,200-1,400 a bottle depending on the vintage. We’ll have two please!

Then there’s La Faraona, a Mencía wine from Descendientes de J. Palacios in Bierzo. This is another Álvaro Palacios project, this time run jointly with his nephew Ricardo. Again, prices might vary slightly depending on vintage, but you can expect to pick up a bottle of La Faraona for around the €1,200 mark.

Prefer something white? How about a bottle of Castillo Ygay Blanco Gran Reserva Especial 1986 from Marques de Murrieta? Aged white Riojas are becoming a bit of a thing among collectors and wine writers, and the Castillo Ygay is particularly sought after because it’s not bottled every vintage but only when the winery considers it’s up to par. The 1986 vintage spent 21 years in the barrel before it was bottled and released! Even then, the wine magazine Decanter suggested it might be “still a touch on the youthful side”! And the price? A snip at just €850 a bottle.

So, now we know which are the more expensive Spanish wines on the market - and how much we’d have to re-mortgage the house to get hold of them!

“But what about the popular vote?” I hear you ask. “Surely if a wine is bought by lots of people it should be good?”

Well, not necessarily. There are some wine names which are almost ubiquitous in the marketplace. Wines like Campo Viejo and Viña Sol are on supermarket shelves everywhere. And Castilla La Mancha, produces more wine than all the other Autonomous Communities combined. But a very big chunk of that is put into basic table wine.

We’re not saying you won’t find a decent bottle of wine in a supermarket (although we prefer a more select approach). But if we want to try to identify the best wines in Spain, then looking at volume doesn’t really get us very far.

Which Spanish wines do the experts prefer?

With so many wines to choose from, what do the wine experts have to say? The answer is not clear cut, partly because the experts spend their lives tasting a huge range of different wines every day. So, pinning it down to a few bottles is a real challenge.

But some of them do give us a guide. One example is world-renowned Spanish wine expert Sarah-Jane Evans. Sarah’s a regular contributor to wine magazine Decanter and recently published her list of top ten Spanish wines for 2021.

As Sarah herself admits “the problem is, Spain is not a country to capture in 10 wines”. But she does a great job highlighting the breadth of wine the country has to offer. It’s great to see Cava, an unsung hero of the sparkling wine world, at the top of Sarah’s list, and also worth pointing out the wonderful Viña Mein white wine from DO Ribeiro in Galicia.

Then there’s another Master of Wine, Tim Atkin, who’s special reports on Spanish wine are highly regarded in the wine world. Among the many wines listed on his website, his top-rated Spanish wines highlight the Scala Dei vineyard in Priorat and the wines of Veronica Ortega in Bierzo.

Which Spanish wine is the best one for you?

So, there are many ways to crack this particular nut. But in the end, it boils down to one key question – “which is the best Spanish wine for you?”

And the answer really is “it depends.”

It depends on whether you prefer crisp light whites or bold, fruity reds. It depends on whether you want a wine to drink on its own or one to go with a hearty dinner. It depends on whether it’s a sunny afternoon or a cool winter evening. It depends, it depends, it depends.

And that’s the great thing about wine. There’s one for every occasion, and the more you explore, the more you discover. The only trick is working out which wine works best for the time and place you’ll be drinking it.

Which is where Simply Spanish Wine steps in. Our articles and online resources aim to equip you with enough basic information to help you identify wines that you might like to drink on a particular occasion.

Read through our articles on grapes and they’ll help you appreciate the different flavour profiles each can give to a wine. Head over to our section on regions, and you’ll start to see how geography and climate can influence the final flavour and characteristics of a wine. Listen to some of our producers and you’ll get a better understanding of how different approaches in the vineyard and in the winery can produce different wines.

Put all that together and you still won’t have a definitive answer as to which is the best Spanish wine. But you will be that much closer to being able to decide which wine might be the best one for you the next time you go to buy one (hopefully from us).


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