A Journey in Wine: The Wines of Spain

You might’ve tried Rioja or Cava, or even sipped on a glass of Sherry once, but what more do you know about vino de España? Let’s explore the fascinating world of the wines of Spain.

Even though Spain’s history of winemaking dates back to the Roman empire, it’s only in the past few decades that Spain has come into its own as a quality wine-producing country. The country had a brief stint as the world’s largest wine producer by volume in 2013 and received recognition as a leader in the industry. Spain has since fallen to third place, but remains a top producer in the world today. 

Are Spanish Wines Organic?

Spain is the world’s largest producer of organic wine, with 1,21,000 hectares in 2019 (27 percent of the world’s organic vineyard area). The country has more than doubled its organic wine production in the last eight years and shows no signs of slowing down. Many wines are vegan as well, and are made with minimal intervention in the fining and filtration process. This results in wines with natural and unique flavours that are true to their terroir, or their place of origin.

Want a Taste?

WineCollective’s Via Terra Selection, made from a local variety of Garnacha, is a great example of Spain’s vegan and organic wine.

Are Spanish Wineries Sustainable?

Larger Spanish wineries are leading the charge when it comes to building sustainable wineries and storage facilities that blend in with their landscape. Beronia in Rioja Alta opened the first winery with LEED (Leader in Energy Efficient and Sustainable Design) status in Europe, using renewable energy sources and cutting-edge technology. Finca Montepedroso in Rueda had a winery built with typical materials of the area to blend in with the surrounding vineyards. Many Spanish wineries use caves or underground storage facilities to age the wines naturally. 

glass of red wine with olives and charcuterie

What Grape Varieties Grow in Spain?

Spain is home to around 600 grape varieties, although only roughly 20 are used for the majority of wines. Some winemakers have a renewed interest in these indigenous grape varieties, however, as they really bring character and, literally, variety to the Spanish wine scene.

Some of the most common red grape varieties grown in Spain:

  • Tempranillo is the most widely planted grape variety in Spain, and the grape that characterizes the popular Rioja blends.
  • Garnacha is often used as a blending partner with Tempranillo. It shows rich berry flavours and spice, and sometimes tomato leaf.
  • Monastrell is known as Mourvèdre in France. It has high tannins and acidity, with characteristic dark berry fruit.
  • Bobal is the second most-planted red grape variety after Tempranillo. The wines have a lively acidity, with aromas of dried berries and chocolate.

Some of the most common white grape varieties grown in Spain:

  • Albariño grows in northern Spain, where the grape develop thick skins due to the cool climate. The wines are aromatic and zesty, ideal for seafood.
  • Verdejo makes subtle, but rich white wines with plenty of lemon, grass, and, with age, almond aromas and flavours.

Where is Wine Grown in Spain?

Spain’s climate is mostly continental, with hot, dry summers and cold winters. Although the country is in the hotter climate range for wine, its network of mountain ranges highly influences vine-growing temperatures. Climates vary quite a bit throughout Spain’s wine regions, which fosters an incredible variety of wine in the country. 

Wines of Northern Spain

The wines of northwestern Spain are cool-climate wines, with the zesty whites of Rias Baixas as the most famous ones. Further west is the small wine region of Bierzo, producing great wines made from indigenous grapes Mencia and Godello. Some great Tempranillos come from this region, such as the outspoken Bodegas Neo Disco. Toro, Rueda, and Ribeira del Duero are further inland, protected by the Cantabrian mountains. 

Northeastern Spain is characterized by the Ebro river and its valleys. The upper Ebro river is important to the regions of Rioja and Navarra which produce the best exports of Tempranillo and Garnacha. Our Armentia y Madrazo Gran Reserva is a beautiful example of Rioja’s excellence, while Castillo de Eneriz Riserva is a bit more of a modern-day blend from Navarra. 

Wines of South-Eastern Spain

Jumilla, Valencia, Alicante and Bullas are the fastest-growing regions in Spain. Fruity and stylish reds are their champions, made in a richer, sweeter style. These wines give producers from California and Australia a run for their money!

Local varieties such as Monastrell are blended with international grape varieties like Syrah, like the 3000 Años from Bullas. Or Tempranillo with Petit Verdot or Cabernet Sauvignon, like this Nucli Tinto from Valencia (Tempranillo with Petit Verdot and Syrah).

This region is also home to Bobal, a light and easy-drinking wine, made in a similar style to the light Pinot Noirs of French Burgundy. Our En La Parra is the life of the party!

The Wines of South of Madrid

Closest to Madrid are the vineyards of La Mancha, one of the best-known tourist destinations in Spain. Our biodynamic Pablo Claro is from this region, a blend of local grape Graciano and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The south is most widely planted with Airén, which is the grape most commonly used in making brandy. As time goes on this region is changing from white to more red varieties. 

Wines of Spain: a vineyard in Rioja

Wines from La Rioja are among the most popular wines in the world. The first mention of the name Rioja as a wine-producing region dates back to 1092. In 1872 the introduction of railways in the country made it possible for wineries to get their wines to the coast, to be shipped to foreign markets.

Early wineries in the area wanted to keep up with the famous châteaux of Bordeaux and started exporting their wines, putting Spain on the map. Until the 1970s, most of Rioja was made by small farmers. The grapes were picked fast and then aged in old American oak for many years. In the 20th century, new winemaking techniques were introduced as well as winemaking laws by the European Union, which led to higher quality wines.

Wines of Spain: a vineyard in Penedes, Catalonia

Catalonia – Home of Cava: Spain’s Sparkling Wine

Cava is Spain’s sparkling wine, made with the same method of production as Champagne. However, the grapes are different. Champagne uses Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in their blends. For Cava, it’s a blend of Macabeo, with a combination of Xarel-Lo and Parellada to balance it out. As these are all white grape varieties, a small amount of Pinot Noir is planted in the area to blend in to make rose Cava.

Cava means “cave” in Spanish, referring to how these wines are made. Just like Champagne, these wines undergo a second fermentation in the bottle and must be cellared for a minimum of nine months on their lees (disintegrated yeast cells). The majority (around 95 percent) of Cava is made in Catalonia (in Penedès, pictured), but it may be produced in other regions as well. 

The Andalucia/Jerez Region: The Home of Sherry

Andalucia is cooler, due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s perfect for growing Palomino, Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel grapes, the main source in the production of Sherry. Next to Port, Sherry is one of the world’s best-known fortified wines in the world. Though not as popular in modern times as it once was, Sherry is still widely exported. It is produced in a wide range of styles from light and dry to rich and sweet, using the “solera” system which blends wines of different ages from different barrels.

How are Spanish Wines Classified?

As a member of the European Union, Spain has wine laws that comply with the EU standards. Spain has 70 DOs (Denominación de Origen) and two DOCas (Denominación de Origen Calificada), La Rioja and Priorat. 

What is a DO?

A DO is a Spanish classification for wines that come from a specific region or zone and is not a blend of different areas. Unlike table wine which can be a blend from different regions, this ensures that the wines come from the region stated on the label as required by law.

What is a DOCa?

DOCa-status is reserved for standout regions among the DOs. Their standout regions are higher than the DOs, and they must have demonstrated superior quality as a DO for at least 10 years before obtaining DOa status. This classification has been awarded only to Rioja and Priorat so far.

Aging requirements and Terminology

Aging wine in oak barrels is a common practice in Spain. Labeling terminology to indicate a wine’s age is strictly regulated by Spanish wine law.

Wines of Spain aging designations

Vinos de Pago

On top of the traditional DO classification system, Spain saw the introduction of “vinos de pago” in 2003, similar to a “first growth” classification in France. To become certified, the estate needs to demonstrate unique characteristics. The standards for these wines are higher than those of other DO’s and DOa’s. Vino de Pagos set their own appellation rules, but if they are located inside an existing DO or DOa their standards must meet or exceed those expectations. There are currently 20 Vino de Pagos but that number is expected to increase.

This is just a high-level overview of a country that is endlessly fascinating and still very much in development. Due to changing climate conditions, new wineries are popping up in the southern regions of Spain. It’s becoming easier to plant vines and have a successful harvest in these regions. The wines of the Spanish islands are also gaining traction. Here at WineCollective, we make sure to share our discoveries and rare finds with our members. Join us as we explore uncharted territories and discover wonderful grape varieties and unusual blends.