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A Guide to Spain

November 06, 2019
A Guide to Spain

Spain has been producing wine for thousands of years and is the third largest wine producer in the world. A country that has over a million acres of land dedicated to growing grapes, there are around 600 grape varieties planted, although 80% of the countries wine production is primarily focused on around 20 grape varieties.

The regions and grape varieties:

Spain is a very diverse country and offers spectacular variety. Wine grapes are grown throughout every region in Spain and produces everything from table to highly prestigious wines. In Spain the wines are classified into different wine regions and each of these has their own set of laws and quality standards. There are around 69 wine regions which are referred to as ‘Designation of Origin” (D.O.).

Spain regulates wine production by region, restricting which types and styles of wine can be produced from which grapes in each region. These regions are situated inside each of Spain’s Autonomias (similar to states or provinces) and are delineated into DO (Denominación de Origen), and DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada) quality levels with DOCa referring to the peak of the scale. There are only two DOCa in of Spain and they are Rioja DOCa and Priorat DOCa. The rest of the named specific regions fall into the DO category.

Northern Spain

The geography and climate in Spain come together play a fundamental role in defining the many wine styles. In the North there are several regions which are important to Spanish wine production. These are:

  • Catalonia – Is situated in North-East Spain and has an attractive position alongside the Mediterranean coast. Catalonia is distinctive from Spain's other wine-growing regions because of the versatility of its wine styles. It is considered to be cava country and also popular for producing red table wines. Red wines made from Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Monastrell and Syrah are the stars.
  • Rioja – Conceivably Spain’s top wine region with vineyards tracing the course of the Ebro River for around 100 kilometres, with its mix of climates and terrains. The red wines of Rioja include Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Carignan in acclaimed red blends. Red wines produced here range from lean and high acid to opulent and soft, young and fresh to aged and complex.
  • Galicia – Nicknamed “Green Spain” Covers the North-Western corner of the Iberian Peninsula and is exposed on two sides to the Atlantic Ocean. Portugal is to the South, Castilla y Leon is to the East. Like its name suggests, the landscape is lush, has green rolling hills with rivers, valleys and rugged coastlines. This region is best known for its crisp white Albariño, but it’s also responsible for aromatic reds such as Mencia.

  • Castilla y Léon - Is in the northern half of the central Iberian Plateau and stretches around 350 kilometres from the centre of Spain to the North Coast, with rocky and dusty plains. One side connects the border of Portugal and on the other the region of Rioja. Red wines dominate here, with Tempranillo leading the charge. Other notable red which can be found here are Mencia, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

  • Navarra – Neighbours the powerhouse Rioja region and is equally as diverse and fascinating and should not be overlooked. Red wines that are produced here are made mainly from Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grape varieties.

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Image taken from SevenFiftyDaily

Central Spain

This region contains Madrid and the surrounding areas in the high plateau of Spain. The climate is very hot and dry, so the vineyards at higher elevations really shine.

  • Castilla-La Mancha – Majority of Spain’s vineyards are in Castilla-La Mancha, just a short trip from Madrid. The dry, desert-like plains of the region provide the lion’s share of the country’s table wines. Predominately reds but also grapes for brandy. Tempranillo is a leading variety here, with some of the best coming from Valdepenas. The style of tempranillo from central Spain is richer in colour and flavour than those in neighbouring regions in the north, such as Rioja. Grapes also found in this region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah.

  • La Mancha – The viticultural area covers a vast expanse of the central Iberian plateau, and is bordered by Valencia and Murcia to the east, Extremadura to the west, Andalucía to the south and Madrid to the north-west. This region has large plantings of white wines, particularly Airén, Macabeo, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

  • Valdepeñas – Is a mostly red wine producing region, and although not in the league of La Rioja or Ribero del Duero, it does produce some enjoyable oak aged wines.

Other wine producing regions in Central Spain include Jumilla, Almansa, Valencia, Mentrida, Mondejar, Manchuelo and Pagos.

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Image taken from Turism O Castilla La Mancha

Southern Spain

This region is located on the bottom or on the south part of Spain. The weather in this region varies due to the extreme differences in climate and geography. Snowy mountains to deserts, Southern Spain goes all the way from the southeast borders to the southwest border.

  • Andalucía - is a sun-baked and dry region famous for Sherry. This region has a beautiful coastline and diverse landscape. The wines that are grown and produced in this region range from light and refreshing Fino and Manzanilla Sherry to full-bodied, lusciously sweet Pedro Ximenez 'PX'.

  • Valencia – Is located in the centre of the sunny east coast. The varieties found here include Bobal, Monastrell, Garnacha, Tempranillo, Chardonnay and Sémillon.

  • Murcia – is a smaller region in the far south-eastern corner and is known for its Monastrell wines, the hot area and sandy soils are the perfect growing environment for the Monastrell grape.

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Image taken from Welcome to Seville

Some of the wine grapes that Spain is best known for include:

Tempranillo – Tem-pra-nee-yo is the varietal star in Spain, the noble grape and is most famously known for the red blends produced in Rioja and Ribero del Duero. Different regions have different names for this grape; Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero, Cencibel in La Mancha and Ull de Llebre in Catalonia. Tempranillo produces fresh and fruity young red wines, and can show cherry, plum and dried fruit flavours but it shows its best when oak aged.

Grenache/Garnacha – Gruh-nash plays an essential role in Spanish red wine production. This grape variety comprises the majority of the best wines of Priorat and is also used as a blending grape in Rioja and in Cava sparkling wines. Grenache produces fruity wines with raspberry aromas and herbal and spicy notes.

Carignan/Cariñena – Karin-yan/Car-ee-en-a can be found throughout the Mediterranean corridor and is often referred to as Carignan. The grape is typically used as a blending grape in Rioja and can add body and depth of colour to blends that have plenty of aroma and flavour. Rarely made as a varietal, this grape has characteristics of dark and black fruits, pepper, liquorice, spicy and savoury accents and bring structure and, weight and tannin to wine blends.

Albariño - Alba-reen-yo This white grape is one of Spain’s most famous varieties. Sometimes this Spanish grape varietal is thought to be the name of the appellation of origin where the wines are produced (Rias Baixas in the Northwest of Spain, in Galicia) Albariño wines are aromatic, crispy and with a distinctive aroma. It produces acid wines, but also with high glycerine that gives them a silky texture.

Bobal – Bow-bal is a grape is native to Valencia in the south of Spain and is a variety that produces structured, richly coloured and flavoured wines.

Monastrell/Mourvèdre – maw-nehs-trell/moor-veh-druh Is a typical grape of Murcia and the south of Valencia. This grape variety produces powerful wines with great structure and a strength. A bold, smoky red wine with huge popularity found throughout Central Spain and Southern France (where it’s known as Mourvèdre). Monastrell is the “M” in the Rhône / GSM blend.

Airén – I-rheen is Spain’s most widely planted grape and is predominately used as the base to make brandy. It is usually blended with other grape varieties due to its bolder style and low acidity.

Palomino – Pah-loh-mee-noh can be found in the southernmost part of the continent where it is made into quality Sherry, the very famous oxidized and fortified wines of Jerez.

Xareló Parellada and Macabeo (or Viura) -Shar-rehl-loh/Par-eh-lyah-duh/Mah-kah-beh-oh are the grapes traditionally used to make Cava. Xareló has a high acidity. Parellada brings aromas of blossom and green apple to Cava and Macabeo is also used as the main grape for the white wines of Rioja.

Arguably Spain has some of the best Old-World style wines in the world, there are many wines to choose from.

View all Spanish wines here