Bull's Blood. It's etched in my memory. Travelling all over small-town New Zealand in the 80s with a crew of 36 recording a live series of It's In The Bag, the show's assistant producer and floor manager Barry Russ took it upon himself to order the wine for each evening meal.

Whether it was Temuka, Kaitaia or Balclutha, Bull's Blood would be placed on the table. Rough, ready and reasonably priced, at the time it was Spain's gift to the world. We have all moved on - mercifully.

Forget the dirty, lazy winemaking approach, Spain has now embarked on a bold new initiative embracing new techniques, new standards and a genuine desire to compete with the best on the world's wine stage.

Spain is throwing off its reputation as producer of unrealistic potential and is seeking to position itself as the new darling of the wine world.

A warning: the Spanish like their wines supple and aged but with a big burst of oak. Consequently, they are not really for the faint-hearted. Nothing wrong, however, with red wines that reek of maturity, strength, intensity and grip. Inevitably they are designed to go with food - usually of the red meat, game and dry cheese variety.

La Rioja is Spain's region that is currently rocking the wine world. In northern Spain, it gets a lot of protection from surrounding mountain ranges and is perfect for growing the tempranillo grape, the darling of Spanish wine.

Tempranillo produces structural and elegant wines with bold juicy flavours and is often compared with cabernet sauvignon.

Some local producers experimenting with this variety - and with some success - include Trinity Hill, Yealands, Black Barn and Hawkes Ridge. As tempranillo needs lots of warmth and intense sunshine, Hawkes Bay is proving to be the best area for its cultivation.

Bodegasm Valdemar is one of Spain's biggest producers and a range of their wines are currently available locally at price points to cater for all budgets.

Well-balanced with fine acidity, they age well and, compared with other European wines of similar quality, are absolute bargains.

2006 Conde de Valdemar Crianza, $27
Mainly tempranillo with 10 per cent mazuelo (a local blending grape), it has big aromas of ripe red fruits and spice. A flavoursome, meaty red wine that goes well with game, roasts and mature cheeses.

2008 Hawkes Ridge 2008 Tempranillo, $29
Made from hand-picked grapes from a Hawkes Bay vineyard. A garnet colour with lots of black cherry, spice and leather aromas, it tastes of rich dark fruit and has excellent balance.