The best Spanish reds have some of the softest, most sublime and earthy flavors of any wines anywhere

By the age of 30, I had visited every major wine-producingregion in Spain and had, in general, fallen completely in love withSpanish flavors ― vinous and culinary. One whiff of thesavory aroma of paella cooking on the stove and there I am again, ayoung American in Spain, on a mission to find the greatest paellaand the greatest Spanish wines to go with it. Spain had been (andcontinues to be) the best-kept secret in Europe.

Taking paella as my inspiration again this month, I've givensome thought to what a wine lover should know about the wines ofSpain now: First, that the best reds have some of the softest, mostsublime and earthy flavors of any wines anywhere. That gentlenessis due in large part to the fact that Spanish wines are aged forcomparatively long periods of time in oak barrels ―especially reds from the two top regions, Rioja and Ribera delDuero. In both places, wines are made mainly from the red grapeTempranillo (called Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero).

Among the dozens of Spanish white wines, the two to know aboutare cava and Albariño. Cava, Spanish sparkling wine, is fresh,crisp, and wonderfully inexpensive. Spaniards don't wait forspecial occasions; they drink it at the drop of a hat.Albariño is quickly gaining a cult following in the UnitedStates. Snappy, sassy, citrusy, and gingery, it's an enchantingwhite wine, sensational with seafood.

So what would a Spaniard drink with paella? Depending on theseason and what's in the paella, any of the above. In Spain, rulesare less important than discoveries.

IBERIAN STARS

Morgadio Albariño 2000 (Rias Baixas), $17. Pure andcitrusy, with hints of almonds, apricots, and ginger.

Bodegas Bretón "Loriñón" Reserva 1997(Rioja), $17. Nuanced and earthy, with coffee, vanilla, and leathernotes.

Hacienda Monasterio 1998 (Ribera del Duero), $30.Scrumptious chocolate and wild blackberry flavors, with a plushtexture.

Muga Rioja Reserva 1997 (Rioja), $17. Supple, with hints ofblackberry and mocha.

A SIP OF TRADITION

In Valencia, paella might be matched with either of twohauntingly dry, breathtakingly crisp styles of sherry ―manzanilla (light and elegant) or fino (powerful). Try Vinícola Hidalgo "La Gitana" Manzanilla (about $12) or Tio Pepe Palomino Fino (about $13).

Sunset's Wine Club

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