Wine Folly - Map of #{name} Wine Regions

Spain

Spain enjoys a fascinating and diverse landscape, with both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, dry plateaus, and the Pyrenees mountains. Every one of Spain’s regions produce wine, including Cava, Rioja, and Sherry.

Table of Contents:

Introduction

Top Varieties
-100 Common Varieties

Gateway to the old world.

Spanish wines feature a dichotomy between bold fruit and dusty minerality that makes them fall between old and new world styles. The country boasts the highest vineyard acreage in the world, but yields are relatively low given the wide vine spacing and limited water use. Spain is the origin country of several top varieties like Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Monastrell. There are other varieties like Petit Verdot, that seem to perform better here than in their country of origin.

Top Regions
-2,409,000 Acres (2016)

Wine Regions

Spain can be organized into 7 overarching areas by climate.

“Green” Spain: The coolest areas include País Vasco and Galicia. Expect minerally, refreshing whites like Albariño, elegant reds like Mencía, and crisp rosado.

Catalonia: Catalonia has two notable specialties: Cava and Spanish GSM / Rhône blends. You must try a red from Priorat at least once in your life.

North Central Spain: The Ebro and Douro River Valleys are famous for Tempranillo wines but you’ll also find amazing Garnacha, Viura, and Verdejo.

Central Plateau: Known mostly for bulk production, but there are several surprising finds including old vine Garnacha and Petit Verdot. This area is primed for rediscovery.

Valencia Coast: You must not miss the smoky, bold Monastrell wines from Yecla, Alicante, and Jumilla.

Southern Spain: Sherry country.

The Islands: A tiny area with curious finds like Listán Negro (a fruity, dry red) and Moscatel (an aromatic dessert wine).

Good to Know

Spain champions the use of American oak in the Gran Reserva Rioja (Tempranillo) classification.

We may think of Grenache and Mourvèdre as a French grapes, but the origins are believed to be Spanish.

Wines to Explore

Full-Bodied Red Wine

Reserva Rioja

(Wree-yo-ha) Tempranillo-based wines that soften and become more complex with aging. The Rioja classifications of Reserva (1 year in oak/2 in bottle) and Gran Reserva (2 years in oak/3 in bottle) are a great way to taste the best of what Rioja has to offer.

Dusty Cherry, Dill, Dried Fig, Graphite, Sweet Tobacco

Full-Bodied Red Wine

Ribera del Duero / Toro

Two growing regions withstand sweltering summers in the Duero river valley to produce rich and tannic Tempranillo wines (called Tinto Fino or Tinta del Toro here) that exude sweet black fruit paired with scorched earthiness. Several of the world’s top Tempranillo estates are found here.

Raspberry, Licorice, Graphite, Exotic Spices, Roast Meat

Medium-Bodied Red Wine

Catalonian GSM Blends

The regions close to Barcelona, including Priorat, Montsant, Terra Alta and others produce their own variant of the GSM/Rhône Blend. What makes these wines intriguing is the frequent use of Cabernet and Merlot to add richness.

Leather, Sage, Schist Rocks

Medium-Bodied Red Wine

Garnacha

The true origins of Grenache are Spanish, suggesting we immediately adopt Garnacha as the grape’s official name! The regions of Aragon and Navarra produce fruity styles whereas old vine Vinos de Madrid have increased tannin and elegance.

Raspberry, Candied Grapefruit Peel, Grilled Plum, Dried Herbs

Medium-Bodied Red Wine

Bobal

A variety that’s planted in vast numbers throughout the Castilla-La Mancha where it’s often used in basic bulk “Tinto” blends. That said, a few producers make single-varietal wines that show how delightfully fruity and aromatic this everyday drinker can be.

Blackberry, Pomegranate, Licorice, Darjeeling Tea, Cocoa Powder

Full-Bodied Red Wine

Monastrell

Another Spanish-origin grape that the rest of the world calls by its French name, “Mourvèdre.” Incredibly dense, nearly opaque Monastrell wines can found in Southern Valencia, Alicante, Yecla, Jumilla, and Bullas. This Spanish delight is not to be missed!

Grilled Plum, Leather, Camphor, Black Pepper, Clay Pot

Medium-Bodied Red Wine

Mencía

A lighter-bodied, age-worthy red that’s grown in cooler, mountainous areas in Northwest Spain. The fruitiest styles are found in Bierzo and wines become more elegant/herbal as you move westward from Bierzo to Valdeorras to Ribera Sacra.

Dried Herbs, Black Plum, Spicy Red Currant, Coffee, Graphite

Rose Wine

Garnacha Rosado

A striking, ruby-colored rosé that’s made in a richer and more oily style than the famous onion skinned rosé wines of Provence.  The Garnacha-focused regions within Aragon and Navarra excel at rosado and always offer great value.

Cherry, Candied Grapefruit, Orange Oil, Grapefruit Pith, Citrus

Light-Bodied White Wine

Verdejo

A lean and lithe white that grows mostly in Rueda where sandy soils lend to wines with zesty, citrus aromatics and a highly mineral, saline taste. You’ll often find Rueda wines include a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo. The perfect taco wine.

Lime, Honeydew Melon, Grapefruit Pith, Fennel, White Peach

Light-Bodied White Wine

Albariño

One of Spain’s champion whites that grows best in the cooler climates of Rias Baixas (Rhee-yus By-shus). You’ll note wines become richer and more grapefruit-driven (vs. citrus and saline) from the inland areas where there are more clay-based soils.

Lemon Zest, Honeydew Melon, Grapefruit, Beeswax, Saline

Sparkling Wine

Cava

Spain’s answer to Champagne is made with the traditional method and includes the Spanish natives of Macabeo (aka Viura), Xarello and Paralleda. Even though the wines are often much more affordable than Champagne, the quality levels are technically similar.

Quince, Lime, Yellow Apple, Chamomile, Almond Cream

Dessert Wine

Sherry

Sherry wines include several special styles that age in partially filled barrels in order to develop a surface yeast called flor. The flor eats the glycerol in the wine and it results in a leaner, more delicate, and salty tasting wine. Manzanilla and Fino Sherry are two flor wines worth exploring.

Jackfruit, Saline, Preserved Lemon, Brazil Nut, Almond

Reading a Label

Today, it's common to find the grape variety listed on a bottle of Spanish wine. There are a few exceptions of course, including the classic regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, which are perhaps better characterized by the aging classifications of Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva.

Wine Folly - Spain Wine Classifications

DOP

Denominación de Origen Protegida. The highest quality tier of Spanish wine. There are 3 main sub-classifications of DOP:

Vino de Pago (VP):

("DO Pago") This is a single-vineyard wine. Currently, there are 15 Vino de Pagos mainly in Castilla-La Mancha and Navarra. Be wary, some wineries use "Pago" on the label but are not from an official Vino de Pago.

DOCa / DOQ:

(Denominación de Origen Calificada) A more rigorous quality standard that requires wineries must be located within the region where wines are labeled. Rioja and Priorat are currently the only DOCa.

DO

(Denominación de Origen) Quality wines made in one of the 79 official wine regions.

IGP

Good everyday wines. Wines from larger regional zones with slightly lower requirements than DOP. Wines are labeled Indicación Geográfica Protegida or IGP and sometimes labeled Vino de la Tierra (VdiT). There are 46 IGPs of Spain including the productive Castilla-La Mancha IGP.

Vino

(or Vino de Mesa or "table wine") Basic table wines of Spain with no regional specificity.  Many wines are labeled simply Tinto ("red") or Blanco ("white") and can be off-dry to improve the taste.

Notable Regions in Spain

Northwest Spain

The Northwest region is much cooler than the rest of the Spain. Rias Baixas and País Vasco are the coolest, specializing in zesty whites and lean, elegant reds. Moving south, the Cantabrian mountains stop the Atlantic chill and thus, the Duero river valley experiences both hot summers and icy winters. This combination results in some of the boldest Tempranillo wines of Spain. 

Northeast Spain

Northeastern Spain can be split into two major zones: the Ebro river watershed and the coastal hills that run from Tarragona to the Spanish border. The Ebro River valley is famous for its robust, fruity reds and rosés of Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Carignan. The coastal hills produce Cava and elegant, mineral-laced red blends which often include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot.  

Southern Spain

A great deal of Spain’s value wine comes from Central Spain from Castilla-La Mancha and parts of Valencia (including Castilla VT). Still, you can find excellent quality reds here, usually at great prices. As you move farther South, you get into dominant plantings of Palomino Fino and Pedro Ximenez which are used for Sherry of all kinds from dry to sweet.  

Common Label Terms

Today, it's common to find the grape variety listed on a bottle of Spanish wine. There are a few exceptions of course, including the classic regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, which are perhaps better characterized by the aging classifications of Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva.

Wine Folly - Italy Wine Label
  • RiojaTempranillo-dominant red wines and Viura-dominant white wines.
  • Ribera del Deuro and ToroTempranillo-dominant wines.
  • PrioratRed blends with a variety of possible grapes including Garnacha, Carignan, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and others.
  • JovenWine spends little or no time in oak. Applies to DOP wines only and also includes wines without an aging level listed such as basic Rioja.
  • CrianzaRed: 24 mos. aging with at least 6 mos. (1 year in Rioja and Ribera del Duero) in barrel. White/Rosé: 18 mos. aging with at least 6 mos. in barrel.
  • ReservaRed: 36 mos. aging with at least 12 mos. in barrel. White/Rosé: 24 mos. aging with at least 6 mos. in barrel.
  • Gran ReservaRed: 60 mos. aging with at least 18 mos. (2 years in Rioja and Ribera del Duero) in barrel. White/Rosé: 48 mos. aging with at least 6 mos. in barrel.
  • RobleMeans "oak." This term is a bit misleading because it's usually a young wine that's only spent a small amount of time in oak.
  • Noble(rare) 18 mos. in barrel.
  • Añejo(rare) 24 mos. in barrel.
  • Viejo(rare) 36 months aging and must demonstrate oxidative character (tertiary flavors).

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