Spain leads world production

Spain has long planted the world’s most wine vine acreage, but their traditional horticulture methods meant they did not produce most wine.

Spain upgraded planting, trellising, and irrigation in recent years, and it paid off in 2013. Italy and France had difficult weather. Spain enjoyed good weather, and Spanish vineyards produced a world-leading 50m hectolitres, compared to 47m in Italy and 42m in France. For comparison, U.S. produces less than 30m hectolitres (one hectolitre is 26.4 gallons).

While Spain celebrates “most wine” status, Spanish winemakers face daunting task of selling the production, and they do so in face of a disconcerting decline in European wine consumption.

Spaniards, Frenchmen, and Italians still drink a lot of wine, they just don’t drink as much per person as they once did. A decade ago, Spaniards drank more than half the wine made in Spain. Today they only drink one-third.

That makes Spanish wine exports a consistent value. Spanish wine sales annually top $170 million in U.S.; there is flood of wines up and down price and quality scales. Reds get the attention; tempranillo is signature grape, Rioja the world-class region. You also can find tasty bargains with non-Rioja tempranillos, garnacha, monastrell, and mourvèdre.

There are superb bargains in sparkling wine, particularly from big makers Friexenet and Codorníu, and great whites, with viura the alpha grape.

Bottom line: Spanish wines are bargains now and there is pressure to make them more so. When variety, quality, and price combine, wine warriors saddle up. Put Spanish pours on your shopping list.

Tasting notes:

• Montecillo Rioja Crianza 2009. Bit of rustic bite; berry, dark cherry, bacon, tangy acidity, mild tannin; lively tempranillo. $12

• Bodegas Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva 2008. Tart cherry, strawberry; medium body, smooth, easy to drink; big value from major Spanish maker. $15

• Descendietes de J. Pétalos Bierzo 2010. Deliciously integrated; black cherry, smoke; gentle tannin, firm acidity; complex focused Spanish winner. $24

Last round: Every good recipe demands wine twice. When you are making the dish and when you are enjoying the dish.