What to Drink in Spain: My 4 Favorite Alcoholic Drinks

If you’ve ever been to or even read about Spain, nightlife and boisterous chatter rising up from happy diners in crowded streets surely come to mind. And even more so, if you’ve lived here, you probably participated in this “eating on the street” lifestyle a number of times and found this way of living contagious.

It gets cold at night in some regions in Spain but that won’t stop people from chilling outside! (Santiago de Compostela, August 2020)

I love the way you can make a night of tapas (small plates) and drinks and spend less than you would for a full meal at a fancy restaurant. And what’s more, you never feel alone or unsafe with people about til the wee hours of the night, laughing, eating and enjoying the company of others.

While I am a social drinker at best (but I can go months without a full drink easily), there are a few types of drinks that taste their best when consumed on the Iberian Peninsula. Red and white wines from or near the Duero region (Duoro in Portuguese). Vermouth on tap paired with a plateful of olives at your local old man Spanish bar.

Yum!

These are just a couple of the rich, cultural experiences you can have through the drinks found and produced on the Iberian Peninsula for hundreds of years.

1. Tinto de Verano

While this drink, literally “summer red wine spritzer”, is a cross between red wine and either seltzer water or a lemon-flavored soft drink, it isn’t sangria (literally meaning, bloodletting). There is a myth that Spaniards drink lots of sangria in the summer and some guide books and travel websites encourage you to order it because you’re in Spain after all!

Contrary to that stereotype and while sangria originated in Spain and Portugal, it’s not the most popular drink among Spaniards. If you are used to going to Mexican restaurants in the US, it is but that’s not the case when it comes to refreshing summertime drinks in Spain.

Tinto de verano just sounds like a summer drink and paired with either seltzer water or lemon soft drinks, really does refresh you on a scorching hot day!

It can be served a lemon, lime, or orange slice (or all three) which may confuse you and lead you to think it’s actually sangria – but it’s not! It’s a refreshing homemade wine spritzer which will put all of those American style spritzers (Barefoot spritzers or Moscotos anyone?) to shame because it’s (usually) freshly mixed before it’s served.

The average price for a tinto de verano will fall somewhere between 2,50-3,50€/glass depending on where in Spain you are. (Expect to pay a bit more in Madrid and Barcelona)
Rooftop bars are a little bit pricey when it comes to alcoholic drinks and cocktails. I paid 7€ for this drink but thought of it more like 4€ for the drink and 3€ for the cover charge.
For these views and great company on a warm, quiet late July day, it was worth the price! (Roommate Óscar Hotel)

From my experience and after having lived in more than one part of Spain, I must give some tough love to the last region where I lived:

Galicia, I love you but there are two things that you just aren’t good at making: those two things are one, torrijas, and two, tinto de verano. Leave those to Andalucía (or Madrid), por favor! 😉

2. Vermouth

A cheesy baked potato at the Santiago de Compostela Tapas Contest with a fancy glass of vermouth back in November 2015.

I will honestly say that the first time I ever heard of the mysterious drink called vermouth was back in the late 90s when Andie MacDowell’s character in Groundhog Day said it was her favorite drink.

Sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist, please.”

I can quote most of this movie after having watched it a little over a dozen times, just ask my family. (It used to be a little bit of a yearly tradition for us.)

Fast forward years later and I just about see vermouth listed on the drink list around almost every Spanish bar I step inside. Madrid has several old man style bars where you can drink vermouth and eat olives. Other parts of Spain do not have these types of traditional bars so it’s really a unique thing and an acquired taste.

Anyway, I’m sure you’re wondering what vermouth tastes like exactly.

Well, first off, it’s an aromatized, fortified wine with added flavorings such as roots, flowers, seeds and herbs. It starts off as white wine and then changes color depending upon what flavors are added to it. Martini & Rossi is one of the most common brands you’ll see around Spain. I will confess that I used to think that a martini was just a drink that came from straight from bottle labeled Martini – oops!

Vermouth usually comes in sweet or dry formats. Spanish people tend to drink red vermouth (vermut rojo) and you’ll usually see it served with an orange slice in bars once summer begins. In fact, I had my first glass of vermouth the day the last day of a long visit to Madrid back in 2015 at a bar inside Parque de El Retiro. I paid 5€ for just the glass (barely anything to snack on too!) but the atmosphere and views made it worthwhile. (Expect to pay around 3-4€ normally, unless you’re on a rooftop bar)

From then on, I would order it whenever I wasn’t in the mood for wine and didn’t want to look silly ordering a tinto de verano on a soaking wet day in Santiago.

A rule of thumb: if you order a drink or eat near a major monument, you will be paying a lot more for the location!

For a beginner’s guide to Spain’s favorite aperitif, check out Spanish Sabores’ ultimate guide.

3. Wine

Red Wine (Vino Tinto)

In October 2015, I went on a tour of a few bodegas in the famed wine region, Ribera del Duero, with my aunt and uncle and fell in love with the Reserva and Crianza varieties of their crop. (For more info, visit Legaris’ website.)

Back when I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed study abroad student living in Sevilla, I was always blown away by the prices of bottled wine at the supermarket. Not as in sticker shock but in a “wow, how is it that cheap?” kind of way.

My parents prefer Californian wines and they have toured the vineyards in the central part of the state a couple times. I wasn’t necessarily old enough to try said wines so in a way I wasn’t able to enjoy the wines the US is known for.

Just as my mom fell in love with the rich, smooth taste of Napa Valley wines, I fell in love with the rich, full-body red Spanish wines. The oak or fruit-flavored under notes. The smooth, crisp taste. And I even switched from singing the praises of Rioja wines (which is one of the largest exported regions) to falling absolutely head over heels for the slightly drier, oakier tastes of wines from the Ribera del Duero.

One of my fondest memories while living in Santiago was going to Bar La Tita and ordering a glass of Legaris (Ribera del Duero) with a pincho de tortilla on the side (for free!)

In all honesty, looking back at the past ten years of enjoying Spanish wines and learning un montón of information about them, I never pictured myself becoming a fan of wine. I didn’t much like the taste of alcohol when I was a teen and early twenty something. I even waited until the ripe old (yet still extremely young) age of 21 to drink my own full glass of an alcoholic drink. (A frozen mango margarita in the middle of December at that!)

However, with all the benefits that come from drinking red wine a couple of times a week (even at lunchtime here in Spain!), there is major downside for me: how sensitive my teeth are to staining.

I got my teeth whitened for the first time just before my wedding last year but I’ve since refrained from drinking red wine for the time being. It’s still an amazing, world-class drink and if there was a way to fashionably drink a glass through a metal straw…I certainly would!

White Wine (Vino Blanco)

Pictured: a glass of Albariño at a Galician tapas bar in Chamberí, Ni Subo Ni Bajo. Expect to pay 3-4€ for a glass. House white wines will be cheaper, priced at not more than 3€/glass.

White wines tend to be a bit too dry and crisp for my taste so for years I stayed away from them. I was spoiled in the US by the sweet, fruity taste of moscato so drinking a variety of wine that could dry my mouth out didn’t really appeal to me.

Until I moved to Galicia a few years ago…

The oldest wine festival in Galicia (and the second oldest in Spain) is the Fiesta del Albariño, which usually takes place during the last few days of July and the beginning of August. Under normal circumstances, the village of Combados comes alive, and happy wine drinkers dress up and fill the streets with laughter and joy.

I haven’t been to this particular festival since the town itself is a bit hard to get to if you don’t have a car. Also, August is usually a time when most Spaniards go on vacation and don’t even think about working so money can be tight during this month.

Pro-tip: Rueda Verdejo wines, which are produced in western Castilla y León, are priced quite cheaply but are known to have a high alcohol content (around 15%). Be careful when drinking one of these wines on a hot summer day as they can quickly dehydrate you without you really realizing it.

4. Vinho Verde

Trying vinho verde in Porto with a classic Portuguese dish bacalhau com natas at Bacalhoeiro early August 2020.

I have a bit of an accidental history with vinho verde dating back to Spring 2016.

I was on Easter break and traveling with one of my friends in and around Lisbon. She had heard a little bit about vinho verde before our trip and something she wanted to do was try it while we were in Portugal.

It seemed like a great idea to me and I’m always on board to try a new wine so I joined her on her quest so to speak.

Unfortunately, we didn’t know that it cost quite a bit per glass (to us as English teachers in Galicia) so we shelved the idea and dreamed of trying it some time on a future return trip.

Well, fast forward to 2020 and I’m in Porto with my husband at a nice bacalhau specialty restaurant for dinner. The vinho verde on the wine list caught my eye as we were ordering and I thought: “I must order it! It’s now or never!”

And I’m really glad I did!

Our waitress explained that this type of wine is a little bit rare because it is produced in the Río Minho region. She emphasized that it is always and only produced there which is what makes it different from other Portuguese wines. It has a crisp, sour like taste and pairs very well with codfish.

The cost?

Well, it can run on the more expensive side as far as alcoholic drinks in Spain go: about 4-5€/glass.

If we hadn’t been traveling with backpacks during our short summer vacation, I think we would’ve come back to Madrid with 3 or 4 bottles of different wines – vinho verde included!

Honorable mention

Port Wine

Trying Port wine at my hostel in the center of Porto back in November 2014 – and back when I used to grow my nails long!

Port wine is one of the world’s oldest exported wines. Some of the bodegas located in Porto today have been run by generations upon generations and the traditional wine making process lives on to this day.

I was really excited to try Port wine during my first visit to the city less than two months after I moved back to Spain. I didn’t know much about how it was made let alone how it tasted but I was convinced that I would love it due to its rich, complex history. I figured that that history must of transferred to the wine itself and I would enjoy it just like others I talked to said I would!

One day I will have to write an entire post on Port wine itself because a brief mention here does not do it justice. However, I will describe it for you just to give you a preview of why I like it.

Remember I mentioned liking moscato back in the US? Well, Port wine is just as sweet! I wouldn’t say I have a sweet tooth necessarily but that I like a nice balance between sweet and savory.

Originating in the Duoro River valley, Port is a fortified wine produced with distilled grape spirits. It comes in several forms: red, white, rosé or an aged variety called Tawny Port (which can range from 25 years aged on up).

It’s seen as a dessert wine since it is very rich and sometimes aromatically intense in taste.

What types of drinks do you like from either Spain or Portugal? Any I missed or should try the next time I’m out for tapas? Let me know!