Lying just northeast of Rioja, Navarra used to be planted mostly to Garnacha, but Tempranillo has made rapid gains here, and there is also considerable Cabernet Sauvignon and even Merlot. As is the case in Rioja, Tempranillo dominates in the more Atlantic-influenced north while Garnacha is more important in the south, making warmer, more alcoholic Navarra wines with less aromatic complexity. Navarra is also a source of excellent Navarra rosado wines from its extensive plantings of Garnacha, whose fruity character is perfectly suited to making rose, and the region is arguably the world's second-best source for dry rosé wines behind southern France.
Spain has more acres under vine than any other country and ranks third in production behind Italy and France. Much of this output continues to be hot-country jug wine made to satisfy the everyday thirsts of the domestic and greater European markets. But many inexpensive Spanish wines that once were rustic, tired, or dried out have been replaced by bottlings that are lush, round, ripe, and cleanly made. Regions that previously made blended Spanish wines that were virtually too strong to be bottled on their own, such as Tarragona, Valencia, Yecla, Jumilla, and Toro are now firmly in the table wine business, even if these wines of Spain can be alarmingly high in alcohol.
At the high end are exciting new bottlings from the historically important Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions in north-central Spain and from the wild, hilly Priorat in Cataluña, in the northeast corner of the country. A new generation of Spanish wine makers has begun crafting wines in a distinctly modern international style: deeply colored, very ripe, and high in alcohol, generally aged in a high percentage of new French oak, and often quite pricey. The majority of these wines are based on Tempranillo, Spain's most distinguished red variety. While the ultimate quality and longevity of these Spanish wines are yet to be proven, these new bottlings have unquestionably captured the attention of wine drinkers both inside and outside Spain.
Although much of Spain bakes in the sun for at least half the year, the country actually covers a vast range of climates-from the cooler and much wetter Atlantic-influenced northwest, to the arid, blazing Mediterranean south and southeast-so vintage generalizations are tricky with Spanish wines. Moreover, the majority of Spain's better vineyards lie at relatively high altitude, where summer nights are cool even when afternoons are stifling. " e wines and is perfect with any chocolate dessert.
Medium to full-bodied wines with flavors of black cherry, plum, and tobacco
Roasts, hamburgers, other grilled meats
Merlot enjoyed a surge in popularity in the 1990s as consumers suddenly discovered that they could enjoy aromas and flavors similar to those of Cabernet in a fleshier, softer wine with smoother tannins. A wave of Merlot plantings followed, frequently in soils and microclimates completely inappropriate for this variety, and the market was soon flooded with dilute bottles from young vines and high crop levels, and weedy, herbaceous examples from underripe fruit. Many of these undernourished wines were overoaked in attempts to mask their deficiencies. Over the same period, a number of Cabernet producers began picking riper fruit and doing a better job managing their tannings during the making and aging of their wines. The result was an upswing of powerful, satisfying Cabernets that were far less austere in their youth -- and a sharp decline in interest in Merlot.
Still, California's best Merlots, some of which predated the vogue for this variety in the 1990s, continue to be some of the finest examples of this variety outside Bordeaux -- in the same quality league with wines from Washington State and Italy's Tuscan coast region. Expect to find broad, supple wines with medium to full body, typically with aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum, dark berries, dark chocolate, tobacco, and earth, and suave, fine-grained tannins. Merlot also rules in Pomerol, and nowhere in the world does this variety make more complete wines than on the flat, clay-rich plateau that lies at the heart of this appellation.