Faced with the task of drawing up a list of the best wines to be found in Spain’s supermarkets, I initially felt like the main character in Juan Eslava Galán’s novel, En busca del unicornio (In search of the unicorn), which tells the story of a young man sent out to find a unicorn’s horn, so it could be ground down to supposedly increase the virility of Henry IV of Castile, also known as Henry the Impotent.
There is more and more variety in Spanish supermarkets, which must reflect greater knowledge on the part of customers” Wine expert Joan C. Martín
In this case, I was the one doing the searching, the unicorn horn was the wine list, and the impotent king was my editor. After accepting the challenge, I soon realized that I too was impotent, and so decided to enlist the help of a few experts: after all, there’s always somebody who knows more than you do.
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Assistance came in the shape of Joan C. Martín, a Valencia-based sommelier who has won any number of prizes, and is also the author of Los Supervinos 2016, which provides the lowdown on where to find the best supermarket wines in Spain.
To start with, there’s nothing “cheap” about buying wine in a supermarket. Spaniards have been demanding good quality wines to drink at home since at least 2008, when the crisis kicked in. Up until a decade ago, around 55% of wine was drunk in bars and restaurants, but since then, the balance has increasingly shifted toward home drinking. In response, there has been a rise in the number of wine shops, something that has not gone unnoticed by Spain’s supermarkets, which have responded by putting more, and better wines on their shelves.
Wander down the aisles of your local Carrefour, Alcampo, Mercadona, Eroski or Lidl, and you will find row upon row of wines, neatly arranged by color and region. Buying a decent bottle couldn’t be easier.
So, where to start? My favorite supermarket wine is definitely an Australian Syrah called Cimarosa sold in Lidl. It’s a screw top, and I like it because aside from costing just €2.99, if you pop it in the freezer for half an hour before lunch on a hot afternoon, it’s just perfect.
But digging a little deeper requires the services of our friend Joan, who not for nothing has spent half a year wheeling his trolley up and down the aisles of El Corte Inglés, Consum, Masymas, BonPreu, and just about every other supermarket in Spain, day in day out, tasting their wines, and scoring them all from one to 10.
Joan says he has been pleasantly surprised by the quality of Spanish rosés, as well as by the efforts of smaller, newer wineries. “There is more and more variety in Spanish supermarkets, which must reflect greater knowledge on the part of customers, who in turn have realized how many great wines there are in Spain,” he says.
The cheapest bottle of wine in Joan’s book is a Carrefour own-label Peñarrubia Tinto, a hearty red from Jumilla, which comes in at the scandalously low price of €1.83, which takes some beating. However, Mercadona’s Torre de Oria Crianza, from the Utiel-Requena region, certainly gives it a run for its money. I’ve tried the former, and have to say the price-quality ratio is as near peerless as makes no difference.
Moving up the scale we have the Terra Alta Clot d’Encis on sale at branches of Bon Preu for €3.65, a MO Salinas Alicante red at €5.62 from Eroski, El Corte Inglés, Makro, Aleasa, and La superior, and El Castro de Valtuille, a Bierzo that can be found in El Corte Inglés for €6.80.
At the top end of Joan’s range, the standouts are Tilenus Roble (Alcampo, €7.95), Quixote Tinto Reserva (El Corte Inglés, €10.41), the classic Santiago Ruiz Albariño (available just about everywhere at €12.45), and my personal favorite, the Finca Río Negro Reserva, a robust red from Guadalajara that you can buy in El Corte Inglés’ Club del Gourmet section for a reasonable €13.50.
If you’re into rosé, but don't like paying too much for it, then the best offer comes from Mercadona – a bottle of Castillo de Liria will set you back a little bit more than a ticket on the Madrid metro. The best-priced white the Valencian supermarket chain has to offer is the legendary Marqués de Riscal Rueda Verdejo at €6.65.
Joan says he was impressed by the range of wines available in Alcampo and Carrefour, although Mercadona is usually a safer bet. In my humble opinion, Carrefour is hard to beat, perhaps because of its French roots…
My conclusions? First, that buying wine in a supermarket doesn't make you a bad person. Second, that it’s worth stepping out of your comfort zone and sampling a wide selection of wines from your local supermarket, rather than going for your usual Rioja (not that I have anything against Rioja, on the contrary…).
And finally, a word to my editor: how about giving me a decent budget so I can travel round the supermarkets of Spain putting together my own list of wines?