Skip to content
Home » The ultimate guide to Spanish wine

The ultimate guide to Spanish wine

  • by

The Spanish wine industry is experiencing exciting times. The 70 regions of Spain are full of energetic skilled winemakers who are creating increasingly unique and delicious wines that we can enjoy. The country’s diversity can’t be summarized in a single sentence, however the following guide provides some guidelines to the most important styles and regions, presented in a unique way from Carlos Read whose in-depth knowledge of the country is unmatched. He is also known as the most reliable UK specialist importer of Spanish wines. The regions that produce fine wines like Sherry (Jerez) as well as Rioja have their own distinct guides.

Spain is a country that is incredibly diverse even the tiniest glance at its physical terrain and its mountain ranges specifically, can serve to explain the vast regional distinctions created by the various natural obstacles.

The history of Spain is complex and complex, and Spain was not even beginning to form an entity until the middle of the 15th century. The infrastructure of the country was basically the product of its two principal foreign masters which were The Romans (from 3rd century BC through the fourth/fifth centuries AD) and the Moors (from 711 to 1492).

A brief overview of Spanish wine history

The former offered not only roads, aqueducts, or amphitheatres but also thirst and a significant export market. In around the turn of the century AD Rome alone was able to consume more than 20 million amphorae Spanish wine , that ranged from the sugary wines from Malaga and those clearetes (or mild wine) of the Amandi region, through the claretes (or light reds) from Amandi from Galicia (a popular choice, especially with spiced lamprey, from Augustus the Emperor Augustus) and finally, and including the Catalan wines of Tarragona and the whites of Alella. Hispanic popularity was so great that strict new limitations on plantation were imposed on colonies in order to safeguard the native producers.

The former despite the prohibitions in the Koran and the resulting symbolic replanting of a number of Spanish vineyards that produced raisins, were, according to modern standards, quite educated. The practices of the Christian populace were accepted as was the sale and production of wine. This however, in a smaller amount, helped keep the industry thriving. After the end of the war against the Moors and the deportation from the Jews production grew steadily because of the colonies that were expanding. Numerous foreign merchants were involved to fill the void created in the wake of the Jews.

Lateron, in the sixteenth century, following Christopher Columbus discovered America, the town of Sherry of Sanlucar de Barrameda became an important transatlantic port of trade and the wines produced in the region are said to be the first wines to be imported into America. So, Jerez/Sherry is to Spain the same way that Port can be to Portugal and deserves the benefit of its own guide.

There was also an incident of French intervention into Rioja but the actual revolution in winemaking takes place after Franco’s death in the year 1975. The 1980s were the beginning of an incredible technological advancement due to the introduction to stainless steel. The last few years have seen huge amounts of money flowing into new wineries. However, with Spain being the most stricken by recession European country, a lot of these are likely to shut down, which could mean restoring something of the natural equilibrium.

The DO System

The most important specifications of the DO (Denominacion de Origen) the wine quality control system with respect to ascending its quality are:

Vino de Mesais a simple table wine that is produced in vineyards that are not classified, can be blended and bears no vintage or details of the grape variety.

Vino de la Tierra: Akin to Vino de la Tierra: The equivalent of French wine de pays. Table wine with a geographically defined source, typically from a large autonomous region (ie. Vino de La Tierra of Catalunya) It will display a particular year of production and will provide details about the grape variety.

DO (Denominacion de Origen) is the equivalent to French VDQS, AC as well as Italian DOC and covers wines that are produced within the strict guidelines of the specific Consejos Reguladores (regional regulating council).

DOCa (Deonominacion De Origen California) is a similar one and mostly seen in Rioja which was where a few years ago, it was introduced with the intent that it would be applied only to the top producers. It was a disaster when it triggered many back-biting and jealousy that the majority of Rioja has now been declared DOCa!

In addition, special reference should be made to Cava which is the sole DO that is based on the method of winemaking (in essence, these are sparkling wines that are made using conventional methods) instead of geography.

The last two categories that are that are worth noting and most recently ones, include Vinos de Pago as well as Vinos de Pago Calificada (pago refers to the Spanish word for vineyard). They are single vineyards that have a distinct microclimates and an outstanding quality records.

There are over 70 DOs. As although the system might be laudable, as it might be, there’s one drawback to autonomys managing the system. The reason is that DO status is often awarded to encourage rather than a reward of actual efforts, improvement and growth. In the Canary Islands, for instance have an impressive nine DOs but surprisingly very few wines that are of high value and quality, other than the handful of delightful dry whites and dessert wines made by the malvasia grape. In the same way, Rioja is currently administered by three autonomous governments including that of Alavesa through the Basques, Alta by La Rioja and Baja by the government of Navarra.

Grape File

Indigenous Grape Varieties

Spain is home to a variety of grape varieties native to the country up to 600 varieties – but the majority of production is based on around 20 percent of these.

The most significant kinds are:

Pansa Blanca
Pedro Ximenez
Prieto Picudo
Tinta de Toro (tempranillo in Toro)
Tinto Aragones
Tinto Fino (tempranillo in Ribera del Duero)

Tempranillo Grapes

The most well-known is the well-known tempranillo, which is believed by some to be connected to pinot noir. It is the result of numerous monastic journeys toward Santiago de Compostela (see Galicia). It is a reference to ‘the small early one’ due to its size and the fact that it is ripe early It also comes with numerous names depending on the area where it is grown and may behave differently in relation to the place it is planted, as well as the soil and climate it must adapt to.

Foreign Grape Varieties

The Spanish drink very little foreign wines (the most recent available data shows that consumption is less than a quarter of 1 %!). The majority of them are content with domestically-produced cabernet, chardonnay, blanc, gewurztraminer and malbec, merlot verdot, sauvignon blanc and syrah, or blends of them. While international varieties of Spanish wines can be stunning, it is quite true that it is the native grapes that are the main focus of The Wine Society’s patrons because they produce some of the most intriguing wines.



The ancient kingdom that lies immediately to the South of Navarra includes Zaragoza as the capital city, and is comprised of 4 DOs.

Calatayud is the most western and most affluent, specializing mainly in garnacha made from old-vine generally dark and full-flavoured.

Campo de Borja – whose fantastic garnachas and tempranillos are generally more juicy and supple and have more intense red fruit flavors

Carinena is the southernmost and most homogeneous

Somontano is the most far east and coolestregion in the foothills and valleys of the Pyrenees Concentrating the most effective on international styles made of gewurztraminer, chardonnay and gewurztra there is also cabernet and merlot too.

The Balearic Islands

With a population of 900,000 people, these islands, which are located immediately to the south of Barcelona consist of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera, and Cabrera as well as a few smaller ones. Mallorquin is a language that is like Catalan however it is much heavier.

As with all islands, there is a lot of individuality However, unlike the Canaries in this case, the common sense prevails and there are only two Dos: Binissalem (with some 15 producers) and Pla I Llevant (with some 11 producers).).

Prior to the outbreak of phylloxera, there was about 27,000 hectares of grapevines in Mallorca however with tourism becoming as a major business, this is now closer to 700 acres. The black varieties of the island – manto callet, negro, fogoneu and fogoneu frances make dark, intensely flavored reds in a comparable style as garnacha. Monastrell and Tempranillo as well as other foreign varieties like cabernet, syrah and merlot and pinot noir, have also made their way to this region. White wines as well as the moll indigenous to Mexico prensal blanco and moscatel/muscat macabeo, and parellada there’s also Chardonnay.

The whites are equally fascinating with a strong aroma and often with a mineral quality. However, the high demand locally and the resulting high costs result in them not being seen outside of the islands.

Castilla y Leon

Valladolid the capital city in this region, is once the capital city of Spain (before the shift into Madrid from 1561) and is in various ways the religious, spiritual as well as military capital city of Spain. It is home to five DOs:

El Bierzo – way up in the north-west, close to the Galician border, specializes in mencia and godello but not as well with the mencia, but much more when it comes to the later. Outside of the DO specifically, there is the fascinating prieto picudo wine variety that can yield large, rich reds that have great structure and stunning flavor of purple fruits.

Cigales located to northern Valladolid Although it is most well-known due to its dry vigorous roses, has a few small-scale producers who concentrate on the stunning old-vine tempranillos.

Rueda located in towards the South-West of the City produces some of the finest moderncommercial whites available across Spain. They’re mostly made up of the greengage and gooseberry-scented verdejo selection (literally the largest green one) sauvignon blanc (it was the first Spanish region to cultivate the grape in any amount) as well as occasionally viura, which is used to enhance mid-palate.

Toro which is located in the south west is possibly one of the most rural areas with the most severe climate. the tintas de Toro wines are often very rustic. There are a few top producers, mostly cultivating their vines on pebbly soils and producing huge low-yielding, black-fruit-scented wines with a huge power (usually 14.5 percent) and that can age extremely over the course of a short time.

Ribera del Duero – is evidently the main DO in the region. The Duero river alters the extremes of climate of this hot, extreme region, which is vulnerable to severe hailstorms. It was named in 1985. success is due to excellent quality of the tinto Fino, which produces fresh, dark and elegant wines with a good structure.

Sheep, as well as the common porkers (all of which are killed during their early years) serve as the principal local diet. Its delicious local dishes includes its fantastic local black pudding and hams is a perfect match for the wines. The vegetarians will be better off in Rueda and those who enjoy significant charcuterie will find themselves in the right place in Toro.

Castilla la Nueva

About an hour’s drive south of Madrid is the huge DO La Mancha – so large that the principal wine grape, the white variety called the airen, is the world’s number single grape varietal. Its production is huge however, from Spain’s central meseta the climate is just too harsh to produce wines with a high level of quality (hence it’s relatively young Vinos de Pago DOs) and the region is geared toward large quantities and cheap prices instead.

In addition, Valdepenas DO is located in the southern part the southern tip of La Mancha and really is the name of the DO, which means as a “valley of stones. Cencibel reigns supreme here, making quality, cost-effective wines. Beyond that, there’s the obvious Don Quijote as well as Manchego cheese. However, in such a vast, constantly empty area, it’s not surprise that the former went crazy and the latter offers little to no actuality.

A complete country and trading empire before its tense and insecure incorporation into Spain The autonomy is comprised of 4 provinces: Barcelona Gerona/Girona/ Lerida/Lleida and Tarragona. There is a lot to praise about the Catalans who are hard-working and creative, who speak their native language (a mix of ancient French as well as Spanish) as well as whose lifestyle is, above all, collective and focused on group activities – for example, dancing (the Sardana, for instance) or love of creating the human equivalent of castles (castells) during fiestas.

Culinary specialties include butifarra (a sort of boudin blanc/white pudding) Calcots (chargrilled babies spring onions) served with the sauce romesco (a pure mixture of ground almonds, tomatoes, as well as olive oil) as well as the sobrassada (an unctuous, orange-colored, spreadable, chorizo-like look) and of course the ubiquitous tomaquet/pan con tomato it is just an uncooked baguette that is cut in two , coated with raw garlic sprinkled with olive oil and then into which ripe beef tomato is rubbed in – however, woe to anyone who doubts the method by which this process is carried out, since every person has their own deeply held belief!)

Principal DOs:

Alella is located 20 minutes to the north of central Barcelona was first awarded DO designation in the year 1956. is the second-smallest DO of the Spanish peninsula. It also, in addition to producing Cava and other wines, it is also home to pansa blanca, the pansa Blanca varietal (a close relative to the xarel-lo) and produces exuberantly refreshing and distinct white wines.

Penedes 30 minutes to the to the west from Barcelona is the heart in the Cava industry. It’s still white wines are composed of the same three of grapes grown locally macabeo, parellada, macabeo and the xarel-lo along with chardonnay. generally fresh, lemony and quick-living.

Its reds, typically comprised of tempranillo and carinena, garnacha as well as cabernet franc and merlot, tend to be dry and tannic.

Priorat(o) Priorat(o) – on the other hand, first granted DO status in the year 1954 It is located an hour to the south of Tarragona province. It is home to distinctive, highly fragrant reds that are made of garnacha with a blackberry flavour, which is that is grown on pure schist (or Llicorella) and frequently adorned with cabernet, carinena Syrah and merlot. A few scrumptious whites with a unique aroma are also produced made of garnacha Bbanca, xarel-lo, ximenez and occasionally extremely old Macabeo that is super lemony too.

Montsant is located immediately to the south. It utilizes similar varieties, but with totally different soil , which results in sharper styles.

Costers del Segre is located directly north in Lleida/Lerida province to the west of the backbone mountainous which is the northern boundary of Priorat(o) is comprised of three distinct areas. It has over the past decade, mostly thanks to its efforts by Tomas Cusine, acquired a large following for its silky elegant, sophisticated and minerally-scented reds made mostly from cabernet, tempranillo and merlot. It also makes fresh and poised whites.

The last DO worth mentioning, Emporda or in Spanish El Ampurdan is located located in Girona province which is located just 20 km less than France. The second-largest city in the province located in Figueras/Figueres has the incredibly circular Dali Museum and is also ideal for eating mushrooms. The stunning coast is mostly unspoiled. On slate and limestone soils and the help of a constant, year round breeze (the Tramontana) there are two varieties of producers. Boutique wineries that produce expensive wines using foreign grapes, or growers who focus on vibrant reds and whites that are made from local varieties, such as macabeo, garnacha blanca and muscat for whites, and the soft, minerally lead reds, made mostly by carinena and garnacha.


This beautiful region is the geographical extensions of Portugal. It is roughly as big as Belgium It is comprised of 4 provinces: La Coruna, Lugo, Pontevedra and O(u)rense.

With its breathtaking Atlantic coastline to the west and north, it is a true seafood and shellfish paradise along its long coastline. But the interior, which very few go, is just as stunning with massive valleys rivers, mountains, and mountains large-flavoured cuisines that are based on pork as well as eating the customary slaughter (matanza) of pigs that are raised in the home.

Its language (gal(l)ego) has a blend from Portuguese as well as Spanish with significant Celtic influences, probably because of a common fishing culture. It is evident in its deep-rooted tradition of music that includes bagpipes and country dance.

However, it is an area of dampness in the globe, with more rain than Scotland and its huge forests – predominantly maritime pine and eucalyptus have made it the heart of significant wood-based industries, like chipsboards and plywood. MDF was also created in this region.

Rias Baixas DO, the home of albarino is found in five distinct sub-regions located along the west of the Atlantic coast. In its core, the Salnes Valley in Pontevedra, the wines are typically pure albarino which is grown on granite and cultivated on high trellises that keep the grapes cool and out of the frequently wet soil. However, the region has expanded all the way towards the Portuguese border, where additional grape varieties like Loureiro (which is delicious, with a subtle rose-petal scent) and trixadura (which has a distinct Catty Apple character) are incorporated into various blends.

The albarino grape is so popular like that from maybe twenty wineries in the mid 1980s the number has risen to more than 400. The albarino grape variety, in its natural/uninterfered-with state should taste of ripe, often baked, sweet apple, although perhaps due to the influence of the Atlantic, it can have an underlying flinty, spicy character.

As the bottle ages the wine turns golden in color and develops a distinct petrol-like character. This is probably due to its influence on pilgrims coming from the north of Europe up to Santiago de Compostela, some have associated the grape with the riesling.

Galicia: The Interior

The DOs of the interior include Monterrei, Ribeiro, Valdeorras and Ribeira Sacra.

Ribeira Sacra (sacred riverbanks) located situated in Lugo Province devotes itself primarily to red wines that are made by the extremely awkward mencia variety that is still to be “tamed”. The most famous black variety in Galicia is very good with the meat-based dishes that are the most popular in the interior. It is usually served in tiny saucers or the tazas. It is also known as Ribeiro the region that is most famous for its wine production. Perhaps what it does best is dry, light applesy whites made from trixadura, which is usually blended with palomino.

Monterrei in contrast, which is located in a straight line to the east of Vigo which is within the Province of O(u)rense and is an DO that is practically Mediterranean in climate , but whose southerly and more interesting section is Atlantic and is so far to the south that it’s situated in Portugal. The first Spanish inhabitants of California were from this region, bringing vines with them . It is interesting that this stunning yet not-so-glamorous Galican region was named in Monterrey, CA.

Hereare a few producers focus on dona branca (a white variety that is all about lemons and featuring great acidity) as well as treixadura and godello (unctuous peach and grengage). Together, they make great wines with body and delicate (honeyed almond, lavender , and lemony apples) which will only improve with age.

In the final, easternmost central point, is Valdeorras the home of Spain’s finest godellos, which when handled properly, produces excellent whites.

La Rioja

This is the most well-known of Spanish wine-producing regions currently has around 600 wineries. The origins of the region are largely because of the French who arrived in the latter part of the 19th century in order to escape phylloxera. They revolutionized the winemaking process with two famous bodegas Murrieta as well as Riscal, were awarded Marchioneses to honor their accomplishments. Prior to the invasion of this friendly group the region had previously produced white wines. Being the country’s most important fine-wine production zone, Rioja deserves a guide by itself.