While the best-known regions of Spain make compelling wines, there are excellent reasons to look elsewhere, writes James Suckling.

I spent several weeks in Spain last summer tasting nearly 800 wines, the second year I have devoted substantial resources to learning more about the country’s best wines. Lesser-known appellations are really changing the game. As regions like Galicia and the Canary Islands embrace their unique styles, they’re quickly taking centre stage.

In particular, the reds from Galicia and the Canary Islands are dynamic, emphasising terroir and offering optimum drinkability and structure for both early drinking and ageing. Traditional regions such as Rioja and the Ribera del Duero continue to make compelling wines, though some producers still make over-concentrated, black wines. These winemakers, along with the heavily commercialised ones, are going to miss the new future for Spain in the global market.

My favourite region from the tasting was Galicia, though it didn’t produce the highest-scoring wines. The area sits in the northwest like a cap on Portugal. Rather than the sun-drenched Mediterranean conditions and high summer temperatures experienced in much of Spain, Galicia’s climate is Atlantic, marked by cool summers and rainy winters. This gives the wines a natural tension of racy tannins and bold acidity that focuses the unique fruit characters.

“In both our whites and reds, we are looking to express what our microclimates and soils offer,” says one of the region’s leading producers, Eulogio Pomares, the owner of Zarate. “We like the natural tension and freshness that we find in our wines. But I also like fresh wine, so, in a way, I try to enhance this in my wines,” says the winemaker, who also produces in Ribeira Sacra.

As for the Canaries, I was particularly struck by the wines of Tenerife, the largest of the islands. Producers like Envínate and Suertes del Marqués have a way with beautiful delicacy and balance marked by a black pumice character derived from the volcanic soils. Most of the wines are blends of a near-endless list of local grape varieties. During the tastings, we couldn’t help but think of the island’s amazing terroirs and the unique influence of the surrounding Atlantic.

This is only the beginning, according to Jonatan García Lima, the owner of one of Tenerife’s pioneering wineries, Orotava. “These vineyards have been here for
500 years. What we have done is fine-tuned the winemaking and taken better care of the vineyards. The results speak for themselves.”

At the end of the trip, Ribeira Sacra proved to be the most exciting region for reds, which had a stony, mineral character with bright and linear acid and tannins that gave them extreme drinkability and freshness. They were complex and evocative, wines we wanted to keep drinking. The single 100-pointer was a Gran Reserva Castillo Ygay made mostly of viura harvested in 1986 from a very old vineyard. It was kept in wood for 21 years, with the final six years of ageing in cement. A truly exceptional, distinct, terroir-driven wine and probably one of the greatest white wines from Spain and the world.

“The future in Spain is not industrial wines that don’t reflect the terroir and uniqueness of their respective regions,” said Telmo Rodriguez of the wineries Remelluri and Compañia de Vinos de Telmo Rodriguez. “We must make and promote artisanal wines that emphasise great regions and vineyards.”

I agree wholeheartedly.