Having just returned from a three-week trip to Spain and Portugal, I am ready to report on some of my impressions. As is common in most European countries, the food was universally excellent, even from small, unpretentious cafes, and wine was always an important part of the meal. A bottle of wine could be ordered for 15 to 20 Euros, but a better choice, as far as I am concerned, was "a glass of tinto (red)" or "a glass of branco (white)." The wait person would bring the bottle to the table, let you see what you will be drinking and then pour a generous glass. The typical price was 2.60 and rarely over 3.00 Euros, and the wine was nearly always a good Rioja. Some of my favorites were an El Circulo Crianza, a Fernandez de Pierola Crianza and a Muga Crianza. In Porto Portugal, I had a delightful glass of Grao Vasco Dao. The El Circulo is in the the traditional mode but with bold fruit overpowering the American oak traits of vanilla and dill; Fernandez de Pierola is internationally styled, with evidence of barriques and new French oak but very elegantly styled; reports on the other wines can be found below.
Rioja has always been considered an important wine region, and I expected to find Rioja wines dominating the wine lists in that area of northern Spain. But Rioja was also dominant on the wine lists I saw in Barcelona, Madrid, San Sebastian and Seville. I noticed very few Monastrell wines from Jumilla or Hecla that I have enjoyed at home over the past several years.