Let’s forget about prestigious wines for a minute and focus on the multitude of awesome, lessor known wines and regions to explore. One region that continually flies under the radar is Spain. Spain is the third largest producer of wines in the world (after France and Italy) and you can drink through their best wines for a fraction of the cost of any decent Bourgogne or Montalcino.
Wondering where to look for great Spanish wine? At the moment, the Wine Grapes book has outlined 77 indigenous grape varieties of Spain (gold star if you’ve ever heard of Prieto Picudo!) and there are 69 unique wine regions (Rioja, Cava, etc). So, as you can imagine, getting into the wines of Spain can be a wee bit intimidating. Instead of giving up, start with this fun list of 16 wines that represent the best of what Spain has to offer.
By the way, the list is organized from light to dark, so you’ll find sparkling and white wines first, and deep dark reds and dessert wines last.
1. Reserva Cava
- Tasting Notes: Dry. Lime, white flowers, white peach and minerals with a long tingly finish
We’ve swooned about the delights of Cava before. This sparkling wine is made in the exact same process as Champagne but using Spain’s indigenous grapes (Macabeo, Parallada and Xarello). The Cava quality level to seek out is called Reserva and it closely mimics the aging requirements of Champagne and is identifiable by a green sticker seal on the bottle. You may spend a few more dollars than basic Cava (from around $17–$24), but these wines are worthy of all your serious celebrations.
- Tasting Notes: Dry. Meyer lemon, lemon/lime, white peach, citrus blossom
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Sauvignon Blanc drinkers delight in Verdejo (“Vurr-day-hoe”) for its dry crisp lemony taste profile. A great Verdejo delivers Meyer lemon, lemon and lime zest, and white peach notes with lots of tingly acidity. Verdejo is the perfect accompaniment to sitting on your fire escape, balcony, roof top or nearest park.
- Tasting Notes: Dry. crisp apple, lime zest, and pineapple with dry, salty, stony, flavors of citrus and peach
Region: Rias Baixas (“rhee-yus by-shus”)
White wine lovers delight upon discovering Albariño for its striking complexity despite its lithe, light-weight body. The grape grows close to the Atlantic Ocean on Spain’s far northwestern edge. Here in Rias Baixas, the climate is much cooler than the rest of the country and, for this reason, it makes for an amazing place for complex, lean, and elegant white wines. Albariño can also be found in Portugal where it’s blended into the famous Portuguese wine of summer: Vinho Verde.
4. Godello (“Go-dey-yoh”)
- Tasting Notes: Dusty apple and wood spice notes along with lean citrusy acidity
Region: Valdeorras, Bierzo, Monterrei
This Chardonnay-like white wine has only recently gained the attention of critics and sommeliers and is still a bit of a rare find. Wines of Godello are either aged in steel tanks or oak, producing two very different styles. The oak-aged wines have more intensity in the body with rich, creamy flavors wrapped in oaky woodspice notes. The tank-made Godellos leans toward more fresh and flowery citrus flavors that end with a zippy dry finish. This is a wine of Spain that is only just beginning to show its depth… and it’s deep.
5. Txakoli (“chok-kol-ee”)
- Tasting Notes: Dry. Crisp green apple, lime peel and saline with a tart lean finish
Region: País Vasco
Before capri pants were called capri pants, they were clam diggers. You’d walk out on the mud flats of a local estuary, dig up some clams or oysters, and open them while sitting in the sand. This is ideally the moment you’d pull out a bottle of Txakoli and drink straight from the bottle. It is the perfect palate cleanser.
- Tasting Notes: Strawberry, pink grapefruit and raspberry combined with the floral notes of roses
Regions: Rioja, Aragon and Navarra
Varieties: Preferrably Garnacha, Viura and Prieto Picudo
Before rosé was a wimpy pale orangish pink it was brilliant red like a pigeon blood ruby (gemologists, you know what I mean). Garnacha is the grape responsible for this outstandingly deep color and it’s arguably one of the finest varieties used to produce rosé. The Spanish will often mix in a little white Viura (aka Macabeo, the same grape in Cava) to add more floral and citrus flavors to the blend and it’s fantastic.
- Tasting Notes: Juicy blueberry, blackberry, soft tannins, fruity and easy-to-drink
Region: Castilla-La Mancha
Bobal is only just surfacing in markets outside of Spain and we are thankful. It tastes somewhere between a Syrah and a Merlot with softer tannins meshed with Spain’s lovely dusty minerality. Wines clock in around $10 a bottle and offer some of the best value in red wine.
- Tasting Notes: Wild strawberry, raspberry, allspice, ruby red grapefruit and roses with medium tannins and body
Regions: Aragon (including Somontano, Cariñena, Campo de Borja and Calatayud)
DNA profiling has shown that the most likely origin place of Grenache (same thing as Garnacha) is Spain. Perhaps we should throw out the French name for it and adopt Garnacha once and for all. Regardless of what you want to call it, Garnacha is the 2nd most important red wine in Spain (after Tempranillo). There are many regions that make outstanding Garnacha wines and some of the most devoted regions for the grape are found in and around Aragon. Wines take on a lighter, more fruity style with a subtle ruby red grapefruit note that makes it one of the most gratifying wines to taste blind.
- Tasting Notes: Sour cherry, pomegranate, blackberry, licorice and crushed gravel with moderate tannins and medium body
Regions: Bierzo, Valdeorras, Ribera Sacra
They say that Mencía likes a good view because it produces the most aromatic styles when grown in the steep rocky hillsides of northwest Spain. Mencía (“men-thee-uh”) has the aromatic depth of Pinot Noir but the intensity of Syrah and, for this reason, Spanish critics and winemakers believe the wine shows great potential. The wine has incredible structure (tannins and acidity) and you’ll find it tastes best with at least 4–6 years of bottle time.
10. Priorat / Montsant
- Tasting Notes: Raspberry, blackberry, cinnamon, allspice, spice cake, licorice with moderate tannins and a full body
Varieties: Garnacha, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot
One of the most famous wine blends of Spain grows in the ruggedly beautiful region of Priorat. As the story goes, the region was a very important wine area for nearly 1000 years, unfortunately it was abandoned when phylloxera took its tool. Finally, in the 1980’s a prodigious French trained producer (René Barbier) came across the region and saw its potential. Now, Priorat ranks amongst best full-bodied red wines of the world. The area of Montsant encompasses Priorat and offers exceptional value.
- Tasting Notes: Blackberry, plum sauce, black pepper, cocoa powder and roasted meat aromas with medium tannins and a full body
Regions: Murcia (including Yecla, Jumilla and Bullas)
In France, Monastrell is called Mourvèdre and is associated with a very fine winemaking region in southern Provence (along the Sea) called Bandol. Odd as it may seem, the same grape grown in Spain has only just started to rise in popularity and can still be found for well under $20. Monastrell has great aging potential and high antioxidant qualities. As they say: a glass a day keeps the doctor away!
12. Reserva Rioja
- Tasting Notes: Black cherry, roasted tomato, black pepper, allspice and vanilla with medium fine-grained tannins and a moderate body
Rioja (“ree-oh-ha”) is the most memorable and well-known region for Tempranillo in Spain. Tempranillo wines are particularly well suited to age and some of the best-tasting Rioja wines are drunk 8–12 years after the vintage year. For this reason, the region has a very strict set of wine classifications that involve aging. In fact, Rioja is one of the only regions in the world that requires wines be aged in American oak! For this reason, you’ll almost always find taste descriptions that include dill, coconut or vanilla–classic aroma compounds associated with American oak. One of the most exciting classifications in Rioja today is the Reserva classification. It is sort of like the “baby bear” of the Rioja aging system in that, it has just the right amount of oak.
13. Ribera del Duero
- Tasting Notes: Black cherry, blackberry mocha, black truffle and dried sweet herbs with moderate fine-grained tannins and a full body
Tempranillo takes on a bolder flavor profile in the valley of the Duero River (the same river that runs into the world-famous Port wine region of Portugal). And it’s in the Ribera del Duero that you’ll find several of Spain’s most exalted wineries including Vega Sicilia and Pingus. Despite the presence of high end wineries you can still find amazing wines for around $20 a bottle.
- Tasting Notes: Blueberry, black currant, fig, baking spices, scorched earth and chocolate with bold tannins and a full body
Variety: Tempranillo (aka Tinta de Toro)
The most tannic but expressive style of Tempranillo is found in the region of Toro. Here, the locals refer to the grape simply as “Tinta de Toro” or “red of Toro” because it seems very different than the Tempranillo of Rioja. This wine does well to age many years with outstanding examples coming into their prime with around 12 years of bottle aging. For this reason, Toro is an exciting area for cellar hunters.
15. Petit Verdot Blends
- Tasting Notes: Blackberry, black cherry, sage, violet and mocha with moderately bold tannins and body
Regions: Méntrida, Jumilla, Castilla La Mancha, Almansa
One would never expect to find an esoteric Bordeaux grape in the middle of Spain. And yet, Petit Verdot tastes better here than it does in its origin place. Beyond just Petit Verdot, the encompassing Castilla-La Mancha plateau produces many amazing red Bordeaux blends that are shockingly good. In fact, be sure to watch the Central Plateau of Spain as a burgeoning area for high end wine.
- Tasting Notes: Dry. Preserved lemon, jackfruit, brazil nut, saline and raw almond with a rich oily texture and medium to full body
Sherry is more like a whisky than it is a wine. The best examples of Sherry are quite dry, lean and delicately salty, making it the perfect thing to drink upon getting home from work (perhaps alongside a couple of almonds and olives). Most people store Sherry at room temperature, but it’s actually best served slightly chilled which freshens the aromas and makes it taste more crisp across the palate. There are several styles of dry Sherry, which include the very light and delicate fino and the intensely dark and rich oloroso.
The Wines of Spain
Explore the wines of Spain with this detailed map. 12×16 inches. Printed on spill resistant paper.