One of the calling cards of a classic Spanish red wine, whether it’s a complex Rioja Gran Reserva, a concentrated Tinto Fino from Ribera del Duero, or a bold Priorat blend, is that it’s drinkable when young, but built to last.
But not all Iberian vintages are created equal. Some benefit from an ideal combination of controlled warmth, moderate precipitation and favorable harvest conditions. Others do not.
Standout vintages from the most recent decade are widely considered to be 2010, 2016 and 2019. The 2011, 2012 and 2015 vintages are, in general, very good vintages, albeit warm ones that produced fuller, lustier, more saturated wines.
That leaves 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018 as years where the weather across much of Spain didn’t fully cooperate. The result was widespread inconsistency.
Concentrating on what’s best, let’s start with 2010, a year that was excellent across Spain. Exceptional high-end wines were produced from Bierzo all the way east to Catalonia, a wine-rich swath anchored by Rioja and Ribera del Duero.
Consistent summer weather backed by a cool, dry early fall resulted in ripe yet balanced Tempranillo-based wines. It also produced exceptional Mencía in Bierzo, and superb Garnacha and Carignan in Catalonia.
Almost 11 years past that harvest, 2010 wines to seek out include Rioja Gran Reservas, which spend at least five years in cask and bottle before release, and Ribera del Duero Reservas and Gran Reservas.
On a par with that is 2016, another year in which winemakers could do little wrong. Many Gran Reservas from Rioja and Ribera will be released this year, and these wines should be snapped up and stored away for future enjoyment. As you cellar those 2016 Gran Reservas, enjoy the vintage’s Crianzas and Reservas with abandon. They’re as good as it gets.
Waiting to join those vintages is a more recent standout, 2019. Since those grapes were picked, Spanish winemakers have reported nothing but good things about the vintage. Time will tell if the 2019s are at the level of 2010 and 2016, or if they were overhyped because 2017 and 2018 were lackluster.
As for the decade’s very good years, 2011 was a hot, dry vintage that yielded mostly powerful Tempranillos and other reds. Some wines may be a bit too ripe and concentrated to be considered classics, but you won’t encounter any hollow, raw or underripe wines. The same goes for 2012, a drought year with small yields. Intense wines with strong tannins were quite common, but that means they’re good cellar dwellers.
While on the subject of hot years and powerful wines, 2015 is definitely one of those vintages. The harvest was praised widely in its immediate aftermath, but on the heels of two prior years fraught with ripeness and purity issues (2013 and 2014), it may have gotten more credit than it deserves.
Based on extensive blind tastings, I’ve found 2015 to be a typically warm vintage that produced mostly ripe, pulpy reds with not a lot of refinement. It was a strong year for brawny, dark and ripe wines, but one where that elusive perfect structure offered by Spain’s best thoroughbred reds is often missing.
And there you have it, a decade with some greatness, some laggards and much in between.
Spain’s Best Red Wine Vintages To Open This Year, By Region
* Indicates the highest-rated vintage(s) of those currently in their peak drinking window.
Catalonia: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016*
Rioja: 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010*, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Ribera del Duero: 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010*, 2011, 2012, 2014