Wine in Spain
Over fifty percent of the European Union's vineyards lie in Spain and vino (wine), either tinto (red), blanco (white) or rosado/clarete (rosé), is the invariable accompaniment to every meal. As a rule, wine is extremely inexpensive and while low prices used to be equated with low quality, in recent years enormous investment has been flowing into the Spanish wine trade and standards have risen dramatically. The wines to look out for are whites from Galicia and reds from Rioja, Navarra and Ribera del Duero. Cava (Spain's champagne) generally comes from Catalunya and is a real bargain, whilst Andalucía is noted for its sherries and brandies. One thing worth knowing about Spanish wine is the terms related to the ageing process which defines the best wines; crianza wines must have a minimum of two years ageing before sale; red reserva wines at least two years (of which one must be in oak barrels); red gran reserva at least two years in oak and three in the bottle). White gran reserva guarantees five years' ageing (of which six months must be in oak).
The most common bottled variety you'll encounter in the more economical restaurants and comedores is Valdepeñas, a good standard mass produced wine from the central plains of New Castile; most Valdepeñas is ordinary if quaffable stuff, but the Los Llanos bodega produces an outstanding and affordable gran reserva . Rioja, from the area round Logroño on the edge of the Basque country, is rightly Spain's best known wine and available everywhere (Cune, Berberana, Marques de Caceres and La Rioja Alta are brands to try). Another top-drawer and currently fashionable region is Ribera del Duero in Castilla-León which makes Spain's most expensive wine, Vega Sicilia, besides other outstanding reds (Pesquera, Viña Pedrosa and Senorio de Nava are names to look out for). There are also scores of local wines - some of the best are Navarra (Chivite, Palacio de la Vega) and Catalunya (Bach, Raimat, Caus Lubis and Alvaro Palacios), a region which also produces the champagne-like cava (Codorniu, Marques de Monistrol); Galicia too, in the temperate northwest is producing some notable white wines (Ribeiro, Fefiñanes and Albariño are prominent producers). However, in most low-budget eating places you'll rarely be offered a wide choice of Spain's better wines, which tend to appear only in the higher-class establishments.
Dining off the beaten track may mean drinking whatever comes out of the barrel, or the house-bottled special (ask for caserío or de la casa ). This can be great, it can be lousy, but at least it will be distinctively local. In a bar, a small glass of wine will generally cost around ?0.30-0.60; in a restaurant, if wine is not included in the menu, prices start at around ?2 a bottle although you'll be paying at least double this and more for quality wine. If it is included, you'll usually get a whole bottle for two people, a media botella (a third to a half of a litre) for one. Be on your guard for the odd skinflint establishment which may try to get away with serving you a single glass of wine to comply with the "including wine" offer, thus obliging you to buy a bottle on top. A polite but firm word with the waiter is usually enough to secure your rights.
The classic Andalucian wine is sherry - vino de Jerez which refers to the wines produced in a triangular-shaped area to the west of the town of Jerez de la Frontera. Served chilled or at bodega temperature - fino (the Spanish name for dry sherry) is a perfect drink to wash down tapas - and, like everything Spanish, it comes in a perplexing variety of forms. The main distinctions are between fino or jerez seco (dry sherry), amontillado (medium dry), and oloroso or jerez dulce (sweet), and these are the terms you should use to order. Manzanilla is another member of the sherry family produced in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda; the vineyards' proximity to the sea gives it a delicate, briny tang and among Spaniards it is currently the most popular of all the dry finos . Similar - though not identical - is montilla , an excellent dry sherry-like wine from the province of Córdoba. The main distinction between this and the other finos is that no alcohol is added at the production stage, prompting the cordobeses to claim that theirs is the more natural product, but sales and popularity still lag way behind those of its rival.
Cerveza , lager-type beer, is generally pretty good, though more expensive than wine. It comes in 300-ml bottles ( botellines ) or, for about the same price, on tap - a caña of draught beer is a small glass, a caña doble larger, and asking for un tubo (a tubular glass) gets you about half a pint. Many bartenders will assume you want a doble or un tubo , so if you don't, say so. Mahou, Cruz Campo, San Miguel, and Victoria are all decent beers and good local brands too are worth trying, such as Estrella de Galicia or Alhambra.
Equally refreshing, though often deceptively strong, is sangría , a wine-and-fruit punch which you'll come across at fiestas and in tourist bars. Tinto de verano is a similar red wine and soda or lemonade combination which is a great refresher in high temperatures; variations on this include tinto de verano con naranja (red wine with orangeade) or con limón (mixed with a Fanta lemon juice).
In mid-afternoon - or even at breakfast - many Spaniards take a copa of liqueur with their coffee. The best are anís (like Pernod) or coñac , excellent local brandy with a distinct vanilla flavour; try Magno, Soberano, or Carlos III ("tercero") to get an idea of the variety, or Carlos I ("primero"), Lepanto, or Gran Duque de Alba for a measure of the quality. Most brandies are produced by the great sherry houses in Jerez, but one equally good one that isn't is Mascaró, produced in Catalunya and resembling an armagnac.
In bars spirits are ordered by brand name, since there are generally less expensive Spanish equivalents for standard imports. Larios gin from Málaga, for instance, is about half the price of Gordon's. Specify nacional to avoid getting an expensive foreign brand. Spirits can be very expensive at the trendier bars; however, wherever they are served, they tend to be staggeringly generous - the bar staff pouring from the bottle until you suggest they stop.
Mixed drinks are universally known as copa or Cubata , though strictly speaking the latter is rum and Coke. Juice is zumo ; orange, naranja ; lemon, limón ; and tonic tónica .