Spanish red wines get a lot of press for being good values, but shopping in that aisle can be as daunting as it is for France and Italy if you aren’t sure what grows where. Just as in the other European countries, much of Spain focuses on the grape varieties that perform the best in the local area. At its most simplistic, Spain can be divided into three “bands” for red grape varieties. The Tempranillo grape variety excels in central and northern Spain, Garnacha thrives to the northeast and the Monastrell variety reigns in the southeast.
The red wines of France can be intimidating to the uninitiated, but they are actually easy to understand by just knowing a few basics. French winemakers have had such success in matching the perfect grape variety to specific plots of land for so long, that these marriages have been codified into law. That means that each wine region can grow only the varieties that grow well in that area. Hundreds of years of trial and error have passed and wine buyers of today can generally be assured that any given bottle of French wine will taste as it should. That’s not to say that French winemakers are not allowed to experiment and innovate—they are, just under specific appellations. Once you know the best varieties for each region, shopping for French red wine is a snap!