Taste: Spirits: Habla Espanol?

Philly wine drinkers are learning a new language

Spain, a sudden source of ultra-cool trends in everything from modest bar snacks to high-tech spins on haute cuisine, is defining food fashion in the 21st century. And Spanish wine isn’t far behind. Long associated with one-dimensional cheap red plonk, Spain is emerging as Europe’s hottest source of premium wines, often at irresistible values.

Among vintners, Spain is the girl you hated in high school — the smart, pretty one who was equally gifted in science, art and athletics. Spain does everything well when it comes to wine. Her whites are sprightly; her reds, sumptuous. The country is even a world leader in offbeat categories like dry rosé, and can count among its fortes both extremes of the specialty spectrum — fortified wines and sparkling wines.

Philadelphians’ recently acquired taste for tapas has triggered significant change in city wine lists, with many of Spain’s lesser-known styles increasingly available. Popular Nuevo Latino hot spots, like Pasión and Alma de Cuba, lean heavily on food-friendly wines from Spain, and wine-oriented venues like Ristorante Panorama and Vintage regularly feature them by the glass. Amada, Old City’s small-plates spot, makes every wine on its Spain-centric list available by the glass, from classics like sparkling cava and powerhouse red priorat to more obscure offerings like Northern Spain’s pink garnacha rosado and thick, inky monastrell from the South. Bar Ferdinand, the Northern Liberties traditional tapas pioneer, goes one step further, serving almost exclusively Spanish wines. Familiar icons of Spain, like sleek, bone-dry Galician albariño and seductively spiced rioja, are joined by forays into international styles, like luscious Catalan chardonnay and plump Manchegan shiraz. Sherries, the underappreciated fortified whites of Andalucía, are showcased in flights.

And Philly’s newest outpost for exploring Spanish wines is the freshly opened Tinto on 20th Street, a Basque-themed wine bar from Amada chef/owner Jose Garces. Tinto features the wines of the Pyrenean zone where Spain meets France, and there’s no better place to sample unusual Basque specialties like light, spritzy white bizkaiko txakolina — a definite departure for Philadelphians accustomed to French and Italian wines.

Marnie Old discusses wines, beers and spirits at marnieold.com. She may consult for some of the businesses she writes about.