Spain seems to fly under the radar compared to neighbouring France when it comes to wine notoriety. Spain is actually the third largest wine producer in the world and has the most land dedicated to vineyards, having over a million acres. Spanish wines range from great value to the highly prestigious.
There are over 60 different regional districts producing everything from light and zesty Albariño to inky black Monastrell.
Spain consists of 7 distinct climate regions which are described as follows:
Northwest “Green” Spain
Galicia is the only sub-region where lush green valleys are plentiful and the common cuisine includes lots of fresh fish. Albariño is the champion grape of the sub-region called Rias Baixas (REE-us BYE-shus), which skirts the coast. The area specializes in zesty white wines and a few aromatic red wines made with Mencía (men-THI-yah) grapes.
The coast is a very diverse macro-region that contains the sub-regions of Valencia, Catalonia and Murcia. Catalonia is known for Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and a highly acclaimed red wine sub-zone, Priorat. Valencia and Murcia are warmer growing regions that produce a bulk of value wines from deep red Monastrell to aromatic white Malvasia and the widely planted Airén.
Ebro River Valley
The sub regions of La Rioja and Navarra are found in the Ebro River Valley. Here, Tempranillo is king and long-standing bodegas such as Lopez de Heredia and Marques de Murrieta make age-worthy wines. Navarra is known mostly for rosado (rosé) wine made with the Garnacha (aka Grenache) grape. The region also produces oak-aged white wines of Viura (Macabeo). In Basque country, zesty white wines called Txakoli (pronounced “CHAK-o-li”) are common.
Duero River Valley
The Duero River is the same river as the Douro in Portugal. This region is notable for the minerally white wine, Verdejo, of Rueda and the bold red wines of Toro, Ribera del Duero and Leon. The wine grape of this region is Tempranillo and in Toro it’s called Tinta de Toro, where it is considered to be a slight mutation of the Tempranillo grape.
The central plateau or Meseta Central is the inner plateau of Spain which is home to the capital city, Madrid. Some of the best value red wines of Spain can be found here made of Garnacha, Tempranillo and even the rare, Petit Verdot.
Andalucía is a very hot and dry region famous for Sherry. The even hotter, Montilla-Moriles produces fortified dessert wines that are called PX. An aged PX, such as those from Bodegas Toro Abala, have similar nutty-date flavors like Tawny Port.
The Islands (includes The Canary Islands)
The Islands of Spain offer a wide range of wines from Listan Negro-based reds to dessert wines made with Moscatel. The volcanic soils of the Canary Islands add a gritty taste of rustic minerality. Currently, there are very few exporters of the limited wines of the Islands of Spain although you can find a few from places like Tenerife.
My personal favourite Spanish wines include the red wines of Rioja, which are typically developed from the Tempranillo grape and primarily blended with the Garnacha grape.
Rioja wines are classified by the amount of time spent aging in barrels and bottles before they are offered for sale. The classifications are legal terms that indicate the quality level and aging requirements.
Crianza wines are aged in oak barrels for a minimum of one year. They then must be bottled a few months before being available for sale.
A Reserva wine must be oaked for a minimum of a year followed by at least 2 years in the bottle before being sold.
Lastly, Gran Reserva wines are made only with the best grapes, which have been hand-picked. These wines must spend a minimum of 2 years in an oak barrel with an additional 3 years in the bottle before being sold.
Generally speaking, Rioja wines have a much better price point than similar quality wines from other countries. Spain produces excellent wines at an affordable price and are well worth considering the next time you are shopping for wine.